Whenever someone asks me where I would recommend them to travel next, I always say Mexico City. This place is jam-packed with world heritage sites, mouth-watering street food, and friendly people. Even though the city is home to over 26 million people, you won’t feel like another face in the crowd. What Mexico City offers most is character.
It seems as if each street tells an ancient story here, and most restaurants have photos of their establishments from the days of black and white. Once you figure out how to navigate the metro and find your go-to taco stand, you will feel like a local in one of the world’s largest cities.
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Public Transportation in Mexico City
Navigating public transportation in a new city is always an intimidating thing, especially when the city happens to be one of the largest in the world. However, your time in Mexico City will be much more enjoyable the quicker you become comfortable taking the metro and Metro bus. The Metro bus requires a card for access, which you can buy at the airport or any main Metro bus station.
The only difficult part about the Metro bus is changing stations, as they can often be on different streets. I always have my maps.me out and handy whenever I’m changing buses. The metro is much simpler! First off, you don’t need a card in order to ride. Second, changing stations never requires you to exit the system. If public transportation isn’t your thing, I recommend using Uber. It’s typically much cheaper than a cab and you can simply just type in wherever you want to go.
Food in Mexico City
The food in Mexico City is the main reason I’ve gone back to the city six times. My favorite thing about the city is that there is a food stand on every street corner. In the morning, you will find ladies selling tamales, chilaquiles, coffee, and atol, a warm beverage made from corn. Around 10:00, the taco, huarache, quesadilla, and torta stands claim their territory for the day.
The street food scene in Mexico City is impressive, but the restaurants are where the true culinary masterpieces are found. My favorite Mexican dish is pozole, a thick stew made primarily with hominy and pork, but I also recommend trying enchiladas, pollo con mole, or Menudo. Mexico also offers many more vegetarian options than most Latin American countries, and I highly recommend trying a chile relleno torta (even to you carnivores out there).
Where to Stay in Mexico City
I cannot stress enough just how massive Mexico City is, and each neighborhood you visit feels like a completely different city. That being said, it’s important that you stay in a neighborhood that fits your vibe. It will make your impression of the city much better. The Centro Historico is the most convenient place to stay for those looking to visit all of the main tourist attractions in the city. It’s centrally located and there are plenty of restaurants, bars, hotels, and hostels to choose from. The biggest perk of staying in the Centro Historico is the access to public transportation.
If you are looking for a neighborhood where you can blend in with local hipsters, try and stay in La Condesa. This neighborhood was popular for beat writers Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, and it’s easy to see why. The area has much less traffic than other parts of the city, making your mid-morning coffee at a trendy café much more enjoyable. Condesa is also home to Parque Mexico, a great park to spend the afternoon observing some of Mexico City’s most eclectic individuals. While Condesa is hip, Zona Roma is its bohemian counterpart.
This neighborhood is adjacent to La Condesa and has recently been restored to return to its historical charm. Also, Zona Roma is a bit more affordable than La Condesa. The best part about staying in Zona Roma is the food scene. Just walk along Avenida Alvaro Obregon, the neighborhoods main street, and you’ll see what I mean!
10 Things to do in Mexico City
Frida Kahlo Museum
Frida Kahlo eccentric personality matches the city she spent the majority of her life in, Mexico City. I’m sure you’ve seen one of her self-portraits, in which she made no attempt to disguise her hideous unibrow. However, Frida’s art was an adamant depiction of her unique self. She is respected in queer communities today for being openly gender-fluid, bisexual, and unapologetically herself. Her family’s home, which is painted a deep blue color, was turned into a museum shortly after her death in 1958.
The house was shared by Frida and her famous lover, Diego Rivera, who was famous for his massive murals depicting traditional Mexican culture and history. Today the house is one of the most popular places to visit in Mexico City and by far the best place to appreciate the work of these famous artists. Spending a morning in this house is a great way to learn about an interesting era of Mexican history, but also will bring you to one of Mexico City’s best neighborhoods– Coyoacan.
Casa Azul is not the only historical site to see in Coyoacan. In fact, simply walking through the neighborhood feels like exploring a cultural relic. The narrow alleyways, colorful colonial homes, and large plazas will make you feel as if you are traveling back in time. The Plaza de Coyocan is a great place to start your adventure, and it dates back to the 1600’s.
The plaza is filled with vendors selling jewelry, textiles, or the famous grasshoppers. If you’re a curious eater like myself, you will definitely want to try these little creatures. There are also plenty of cafés to get your coffee fix in between visiting museums and exploring the neighborhood. I recommend planning to spend a whole day of your trip to Mexico City in Coyoacan.
The Zocalo and Cathedral
The historical center of Mexico City is another area that you will want to plan on spending an entire day or more exploring. There is simply so much to see and do! The Zocalo is the central plaza of Mexico City, but it doesn’t feel like an ordinary plaza. Why? Well, this plaza is the size of around 8 football pitches! In its center is a massive Mexican flag surrounded by some of the most important government buildings in Mexico. Another important building surrounding the square is the Metropolitan Cathedral.
This church is one of the oldest and largest in Mexico City, completed in 1813. Right next to the Cathedral is Tenochitlán, a site of ancient Aztec ruins. Standing at the epicenter of one of the great civilizations makes you feel very connected to history, especially as you see the city that has grown out of their Aztec roots. Following the main street to the west is a good opportunity to shop and see street performers. The street is blocked off to cars and will lead you to another one of Mexico City’s crown jewels- the Palacio de Bellas Artes.
Palacio de Bellas Artes
The Palacio de Bellas Artes is the most prominent cultural center in Mexico City. Once you see it for the first time, you will understand why. This immense structure towers over one of the largest parks in Mexico City. The palace is made of white marble, and the architecture alone is a reason to visit. Inside it houses a massive art collection, and you can even see some of Diego Rivera’s most famous murals.
The building is also used for different concerts and theatre performances. The park outside is also a great area to stretch out your legs and sample some of Mexico City’s best street food. I recommend coming at night and trying some churros! Nearby there is the Police Museum, the Museum of Memory and Tolerance, and also the Torre Latino, one of the best places to catch a view of the city. Be sure to give yourself enough time to enjoy one of the most iconic areas of Latin America.
The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Mexicans are a very Catholic crowd, with around 85% of the population practicing the religion. It seems as if every restaurant has a crucifix on its wall. The religion runs very deep in the culture, thanks to the influence of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Legend has it that Mary, the mother of Jesus, appeared to Juan Diego on a hill outside of Mexico City in the early 1600s. She urged him to convince the bishop to build a church in her honor.
When he refused, she told Juan Diego to pick a bouquet of flowers to present to the bishop. When he opened his shroud with the flowers inside, an image of Mary was imprinted on the inside. This “miracle” convinced the bishop to build a church on the hill, and the church can still be visited today. In fact, there are multiple churches on the hill today, and you can see the original shroud on the wall of the largest and most recently built cathedral. Many argue that the miracle was falsified as a way to convert indigenous groups to Catholicism in order to facilitate the Spanish conquest. No matter what your opinion of the history may be, this site is a place to dive into a historical wormhole.
The National Museum of Anthropology
If you really want to dive into history though, there is arguably no better museum to visit in the world than the National Museum of Anthropology. History buffs will want to plan on spending a few days here. It’s simply too large to try and see in one day. There are 23 rooms and the museum is over 4 square kilometers in total. The museum has a large focus on ancient Mexican history, but it also tells the story of the evolution of mankind.
The museum is inside of the largest park in Mexico City, the Bosque of Chapultepec. The park is home to many different attractions, including the famous Chapultepec Castle. It’s also a great place to spend some time away from the crowded streets of the city. I really recommend visiting the Museum of Anthropology shortly before or after going to Teotihuacan, another one of Mexico City’s most important historical landmarks.
Teotihuacan is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is home to the largest pyramid in the western hemisphere, the Temple of the Sun. This place is about 30 miles outside of Mexico City. So I recommend trying to find a tour so you don’t have to worry about trying to arrive via public transportation. Also, a guide will make your visit much more memorable, as you will be able to learn all of the interesting details of this fascinating place.
Teotihuacan was found by the Aztecs in 1600 but was actually inhabited by the Toltecs much earlier. Experts predict that the city was at the height of its power around 400 AD. When you arrive at Teotihuacan, you will first see the massive Temple of the Sun. Be sure to make the effort to climb to the top of the pyramid so you can overlook the entire area. You will surely marvel at the size of the entire city built thousands of years ago.
Mexico City is not just a place for history buffs. The city is modern, hip, and full of interesting traditions, one of my favorites being Lucha Libre. Lucha Libre is one of the most exciting sports you can watch in Mexico City. Grown men out on masks and wrestle one another, often using acrobatic-like moves to submit their opponent. The best part about the wrestling is the narrative that so often accompanies the fights.
Don’t worry though, there is no blood or violence at the event! It’s all an act put on to please the crowd. (Shhh, don’t tell the kids!) The best place to watch this hilarious spectacle is Arena Mexico, which is located near the Centro Historico. There are fights on Tuesday and Friday nights. Be sure to bring a few extra pesos to spend on snacks inside the arena!
Xochimilco is another area of Mexico City where you can plan on spending your entire day. You can book a tour to make things easier for yourself, but I recommend trying to arrive here independently. There is a whole neighborhood to explore here, but the highlight of the place is the canals. You will want to hire a boat to take you around and visit some of the floating gardens/ islands of the area. Be prepared to barter with the operators of the boats!
Once you are on the boat, kick back and relax. If a boat offers to attach to yours and play some mariachi music, take them up on the offer. Once you are done on the canals, head to the local market in Xochimilco to get some good grub. You can also visit a local pulquería to try pulque, a creamy alcoholic beverage made from agave. This neighborhood should be on your Mexico City itinerary.
Visit a local market
While I do love to go sight-seeing, one of my favorite things to do when traveling is get lost in a local market. Mexico City has plenty of markets to keep you busy. There are tianguis, which are open-air markets that are usually set up on the weeks. I recommend visiting the tianguis in San Felipe de Jesus, a market only open on Sundays. It’s enormous!
The Mercado de San Juan is a personal favorite for the food-lover inside me. But no market in Mexico City, or the world for that matter, will top the Mercado Sonora. This market is home to the wizards and witches of Mexico City, and you will find potions for just about anything you crave in life. Make sure you are aware of your pockets at the market.
I hope you fall in love with Mexico City as I have. Like I mentioned earlier, I could not recommend the city highly enough! I recommend spending at least a week or more here. After a few days, you will start to feel at home in a city so peculiar, you will be dying to understand it. Oh and one last piece of advice– go easy on the hot sauce!
Recommend budget tours in Mexico City
- Early Morning Teotihuacan Pyramids Tour with a Private Archeologist
- Mexico City Super Saver: Teotihuacan, Tlatelolco, and Guadalupe Shrine Plus Xochimilco and Frida Kahlo
- Teotihuacan Pyramids Private Day Trip with Archeologist from Mexico City
- Private Full-Day Museums of Mexico City Tour
- Day of the Dead Tour in Mexico City with Xochimilco Canal Ride
- Mexico City Markets and Food Tour
- Mexican Wrestling: Experience Lucha Libre in Mexico City
- Walking Tour Chapultepec plus Chocolate and Churros Tasting
- Cuernavaca and Taxco Day Tour
- Puebla and Cholula Full-Day Tour from Mexico City
- Real del Monte y Prismas Basálticos
- Mexico City Hop-On Hop-Off Tour
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