To visit Mexico City is to dive into the vestiges of ancient civilizations and to stroll under the shade of modern skyscrapers.
To taste the best spicy beef tacos at a street food stall whilst sipping warm soda from a plastic bag and to enjoy a five Michelin star dining experience.
Experiencing Mexico City is also to buy luxury goods from international flagship boutiques in the capital’s most prestigious neighborhood and to acquire antiques or indigenous handcrafted products at the Sunday morning flea market.
You can dance all night at a fashionable nightclub and sing along with a mariachi band at a time-honored cantina. Or visit the Frida Kahlo Museum.
What to do in Mexico City?
You’ll undoubtedly want to admire contemporary art and appreciate the pre-colonial sculptures at the archeological national museum, and to listen to a free classic music concert at the public square and to endure other drivers’ sharp honking during rush hour.
All these apparent contradictions and polarities coexist in a colorful mosaic of organized chaos. Mexico City is definitively a loud, vibrant, and hasty paradox.
Therefore, take a moment to reflect on the type of trip you wish to bask in.
Do you consider yourself a sybarite and are interested in the gastronomic set-up and artistic happening of the metropolis?
Do you wish to know more about the religious involvement in Mexican idiosyncrasy through colonial times? Or are you an archeological site fan?
Are you backpacking, travelling for business purposes or making a quick stop during your honeymoon before flying to the golden Pacific coast? Are you really into sports?
Then you´ve got to live through the unique flamboyance of the lucha libre and the energy and passion of a Mexican football soccer match.
And, it wouldn’t be a trip to Mexico City without street food.
Use your distinctive needs and desires as the starting point of your tour. Visiting Mexico City is like visiting any other major capital city such as London, New York, or Tokyo.
There is something for every taste and for every budget. Be honest about your financial expectations, likes and dislikes, and most importantly about your schedule.
Mexico City is one of the largest and most densely-populated cities in the world.
herefore, you have to take into account the distance and the time it will take you to transfer from one place to another.
Bear in mind overcrowded streets, buses, and every other means of transportation!
In this instance, it could be very practical to group some of the things you would like to do by geographical area.
Proximity and connection (aka transport links) are two key words in order to have a successful trip. Stick to a neighborhood a day; and consider a three-day visit minimum to get a proper taste.
So, what are the top 30 things to do in Mexico City? Each of these are day trips.
Centro Historico and surrounding areas:
The city center, or centro historico, along with Xochimilco, is a UNESCO world heritage site, celebrated for its architecture, historical significance, and 20th-century upkeep.
- Plaza Garibaldi – Plaza where mariachis perform after the sun sets, surrounded by bars and shops
- Palacio de Bellas Artes – Performance hall and museum
- Alameda Central* – Oldest public park
- Templo Mayor Museum – Museum and Aztec archeological site
- Zócalo* (Plaza de la Constitución)- City´s huge main square
- Palacio Nacional – Government building with an impressive facade
- Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de María – City´s Roman Catholic Cathedral
- Palacio de Minería y Museo Manuel Tolsá – Private guided tours are available to the different building rooms and the museum is dedicated to a Neoclassical architect
- Gran Hotel Ciudad de México – 19th Century hotel with Art Nouveau decor
- Casa de los Azulejos* – Beautiful 18th Century palace which hosts a popular family restaurant
- Colonia Roma – Hip neighborhood with plenty of bars, restaurants, independent shops, and cafes
Polanco and Bosque de Chapultepec:
- Museo nacional de Antropología* – National archeological museum
- Museo de Arte Moderno – National modern art museum
- Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo – Hip contemporary art museum
- Castillo de Chapultepec* – Hilltop castle housing a history museum
- Zoológico de Chapultepec* – Zoo, lake, and park
- Acuario Inbursa* – New aquarium
- Papalote Museo del Niño* – Children´s museum
- Museo Frida Kahlo – Frida Kahlo´s former home and museum.
- Museo Nacional de Cultura Popular – Folk art national museum
- CoyoacánHistoric Center* – Shabby-chic former village filled with museums, cafes, bookshops, and bars
- Universum* – Interactive science and technology museum
- Museo Dolores Olmedo – Art museum set in a Hacienda
- Xochimilco* – Mexico City´s famous water canals
- Basílica de Santa María de Guadalupe – Guadalupe Shrine
- Estadio Azteca – Football soccer stadium
- Estadio Olímpico Universitario (CU) – Olimpic stadium
- Autódromo Hermanos Rodríguez – Car racing track
- Hipódromo de Las Américas – Horse racing track and sports complex
- Arena México – Lucha libre venue
Always check availability for public transport systems, some boroughs may not count with underground lines for example. If you hire a car look for public car parks (and their fares) or make sure the tourist site you are visiting offers space to safely park your automobile.
Please note that public car park rates can be very expensive and make use of Waze app or Google Maps to navigate through the quickest route.
After mobility you have to think about safety. Always book a taxi with a registered company (you can ask your hotels front desk to do so or to provide you a telephone number).
You may prefer to use your smartphone to book a private driver through a location-based app, such as Uber, Cabify or Easy Taxi. If you opt in for greener options there are reliable bicycle rental companies such as Ecobici.
If you are covering walking distances stay in the main avenues or in well-lit busy areas. Beware of pick pocket thieves. Travel light and keep your valuable things in a secure place. Finally, if you like one of those hop-on hop-off city tours there are trustworthy operators such as Turibús Mexico City.
Things to try in Mexico City
Any trip to Mexico City should include a mezcal tasting. This spirit, grown and produced in Oaxaca, is made of smoked agave, and can be sipped or mixed into a cocktail.
You’ll find mezcal tastings available at specialty mercados. Many cocktail bars also feature mezcal cocktails.
On a final note, residents of Mexico City are known as “chilangos”, who despite the daily stress of the hectic city life are a very proud urban tribe.
Typically Americans (and most foreigners to be honest) are called “gringos”. Do not take offense if you are called a “gringo” or a “güerita” (blonde) even if you are brunet.
In Mexico, as in many other Latin American countries, nicknames based on physical appearance or place of origin are common and most times endearing.
Wives may call their hubbies “gordo” which would translate as “fatty” and men may call their daughters “chaparrita” which means “shorty”.
Lastly, it is advisable to speak Spanish or at least learn the basic Spanish phrases before traveling to Mexico City.
This would allow you stay safe, negotiate better rates, and fully immerse in the culture of one of the most fascinating and thought-provoking cities of the planet.