Mexico City, the capital of Mexico, is the most populous city in North America and the largest Spanish-speaking city in the world. It is located on a plateau at an altitude of 7,000 ft. It is a vibrant capital full of activities, outings, cultural and culinary discoveries.
What to visit in Mexico City
The city is very rich culturally and has an impressive number of museums and tourist sites. Here are our recommendations based on the ones we visited.
Chapultepec is the Central Park of Mexico City. We recommend to spend one or two days in the area to fully enjoy it. Most activities are free. Our program:
- Visit the Chapultepec Castle: the entrance cost about 70 pesos. Be careful because it is forbidden to enter with water, food, a backpack, an umbrella or a tripod (among others) but there is a cloakroom. The visit is really incredible and take a good few hours. The castle is divided between an impressive museum and a period reconstitution of some rooms. Temporary exhibitions are also excellent. This is a visit we highly recommend, the location is great and offers a beautiful view of the city.
- The Anthropology Museum: is the largest and most visited Mexican museum with the bonus of a free entrance. The museum is dedicated to the pre-hispanic civilisations of Mexico’s archaeology and history as well as the ethnography of the country current indigenous peoples. We learned a lot about the ruins that we will intend to visit later in Mexico. We also found many answers to our questions about the Mayan and Aztec civilisations. The rooms inside the museum are incredible, and there are impressive reconstitution of temples (from the outside to the inside!).
- The zoo impressed us a lot because of the animals diversity and their proximity (the lions just had to take a little jump to join us). However we were shocked by the state of deterioration and the animal pens size. Although the visit is free, it is not a visit we recommend.
There is more to do in the park. For example, you can visit the Feria de Chapultepec (an amusement park) or the botanical garden but we did not have time to see it. Finally, the park includes more street vendors than tourists but no restaurants. We recommend to bring a picnic for lunch and visit the adjacent neighbourhood, Polanco, for a trendy dinner.
The city centre is the most active and busiest district. The visit takes one to two days. Our best things to do are:
- Zócalo Square: which has a very (very) big Mexican flag. Unfortunately it was not raise the day of our visit but we have been lucky to stumble upon a surprise book fair (and you all know how Clementine loves books).
- The Palacio Nacional: we were able to see some impressive murals painted by Diego Riviera (Frida Kahlo’s husband).
- The Catedral Metropolitana.
- Templo Mayor ruins and museum: packed and less impressive than Teotihuacán. If you do not have time for an excursion to Teotihuacan we recommend to visit the ruins and the museum. Otherwise just enjoy the free part of the visit.
- La Ciudadela market.
- The Palace of fine arts: the entrance is not free but we could see two murals from Diego Riviera in the lobby. We then went for a walk in the nearby Alameda Central Park.
A colourful residential area with lovely alleyways, old houses and many things to do and see around the beautiful parks. A good area to dine and have a drink more peacefully and serenely than in the centre. We also recommend some visits:
- Frida Khalo museum (in her childhood’s house) although the price is much higher than the other attractions it is a must do. The rooms are partly reconstitution and partly exhibitions of the artist’s work as well as many photos. We advise to book your tickets online to avoid queuing.
- Centenario Garden.
- Plaza Hidalgo.
- Parroquia San Juan Bautista.
- Leon Trotsky House Museum: we simply observed it from the outside but it is possible to visit it.
Book Nerds in Mexico City
There are a lot of bookstores in the city selling new and second hand books, a real treat! The district of Chimalistac on Miguel Ángel de Quevedo Avenue contains the largest concentration of bookstores in the city. Fondo de Cultura Economica Octávio Paz, Casa del Libro or La Torre de Viejo are some we enjoyed visiting.
The library Biblioteca de México Jose Vasconcelos visit is truly incredible. It is huge, there are many rooms with great collections to explore. It is also a very good place to have a coffee in the beautiful courtyard’s gardens or to buy stationery at the small covered market.
Day trips outside of Mexico City
Although Mexico City is very large and there are plenty of activities we recommend to plan some excursions outside of the city to discover more about the country’s culture and history.
The ride on Xochimilco‘s canals is a popular place for tourists and locals where we sail aboard boats called trajineras. Xochimilco is often compared to Venice but it is certainly less romantic and more of a party place (even more on weekends). The boats are rented by the hour for about 500 pesos but do not forget to negotiate, we managed to reduce the price by half. During your journey you will meet: bands (the famous mariachis), vendors of flowers, drinks, toys and food, floating bars and of course friends or families celebrating. We went to Xochimilco by public transport and walked from the metro station.
On the way back we suggest to stop by Dolores Olmedo museum which was highly recommended but we were short on time to visit it.
The archaeological site of Teotihuacán‘s visit is essential. It was by far our favourite day, we will cherish the memories forever. It is an ancient city built about 200 years before J-C. This site has the largest Mesoamerican pyramids and at its peak period it accomodated about 200,000 inhabitants.
You can spend at least 5-6 hours exploring it. Keep your strength to climb up the pyramid of the Sun to the top and halfway up the pyramid of the Moon. Do not miss to visit the feathered serpent temple. Then stroll down the Avenue of the Dead and do not hesitate to go to climb on buildings which do not have a prohibition sign. There are also several museums to visit all around the site. We did not regret to have brought our picnic which we enjoyed from the top of a building with an incredible view of the two pyramids.
Although there are many tours, we opted for the self-guided tour. It is the cheap option and it allowed us to go early to avoid the other tourists. To do the same, simply take a bus from the Autobuses del Norte station. In the station go to door 8 to buy your tickets at the office Autobuses Teotihuacán (with a small pyramid logo above). We paid 104 pesos for the round trip. It takes 1 hour to get to the archaeological site. For more information on how to get to Teotihuacán on your own, we suggest to read the following article which was really helpful: https://sightdoing.net/how-to-visit-teotihuacan-without-a-tour/.
Activities and nights out
A must do activity is to attend a Lucha libre match at the Arena México. This is a Mexican wrestling game where most fighters wear a mask. The matches are played by teams of 1, 2 or 3. The moves are very impressive and the good atmosphere is guaranteed! It is possible to buy tickets in advance at at the Ticket Master ticket office of one of the Gandhi shop (a bookselling chain). According to the locals, Mexico City is the best place to experience a match and the shows are the most authentic on Friday nights at the Arena México.
Mexico City is also known for its speakeasy bars. We went to Maison Artemisia, an absinthe bar. Good luck finding them!
Moreover, don’t miss on tasting tequila, mezcal or pulque. We tested these local spirits at Corazón de Maguey.
Where to eat
Of course people come to Mexico City for the food!
The capital offers great opportunities to taste the culinary specialties from different regions of Mexico. Restaurants offering dishes from the state of Oaxaca are very popular. The region is known for chocolate and moles (sauces accompanying meats). We recommend the Mole Negro: a spicy chocolate sauce usually served with chicken. The mixture may surprise you the first time but it is really delicious. La Coyoacana is a place we recommend for a mole negro.
If you have a slightly higher budget, Los Danzantes is a cosy restaurant where you can enjoy many Mexican specialties.
For your typical breakfast, go to Mesón Antigua . While eating you can enjoy the rooftop terrace and the view on the park.
Tacos: you can find them on every street corner and in almost every restaurant, though the prices are very variable. In the district of Coyoacán we tried the Super Tacos Chupacabras. We were told it is the best value for money (15 pesos per tacos).
For dessert: churros! Like tacos, you’ll find them on every street corner. Pay attention to the Churrería signs. We loved the Churrería General de la República. They saw us multiple times on the same day.
Eat Lactose Free in Mexico City
The essential sentence t know is: Soy allergica a la lactosa: leche, mantequilla, queso y crema.
Mexican savory food is mainly oil cooked, but be careful to ask for no cheese and no cream (relatively easy to spot in case of mistakes). You can eat most tacos with no worry.
For desserts it is more difficult, all cakes and pastries contain milk. But churros are dairy free!
Where to sleep
Choose a reassuring accommodation where you can leave your passports and valuables. Rather than staying in the tourist centre, we chose to get an accommodation in the beautiful and quiet area of Coyoacán. It was also an opportunity to enjoy this neighbourhood’s many bars and restaurants. The area is a little out of the way but you can easily reach the centre with one of the three subway lines around.
We booked our accommodation on Airbnb and were very pleasantly surprised. Indeed, our hosts, Julieta and her daughter Erica, welcomed us very nicely and gave us a lot of advice on what to do and see. To book this room follow this link: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/21935541?s=51. To get an Airbnb discount visit our Tips and Discounts page or register by following this link: https://www.airbnb.com/c/cbaudet7.
Tap water is purified at the source but the distribution system can be contaminated. To avoid the unfamous “tourista”, it is strongly recommended not to drink it. The norm is to buy mineral water bottles. To reduce the impact of plastic waste we prefer to filter tap water. Ice cubes are usually made from purified water but we avoid taking the risk by checking with the waiters (in case of doubt ask sin hielo when ordering). Visit our Tips and Discounts page for discounts on portable filter systems or water bottles with filters.
Finally, be careful with unpeeled fruits or raw vegetables unwashed with filtered water.
By being vigilant and changing your habits you should not have any issues (we have been fine so far!).
Mexico City is a very big city. As in all major cities and capitals you have to be careful. Always keep an eye on your belongings, especially in tourist areas and public transport. Leave your passports, credit cards, jewelry and valuables at the hotel or at your host’s. When walking around we used secret pockets to store our money and important papers. However, we kept some cash easily accessible for our daily purchases.
Public transport is widely used and will save you money. Indeed, a metro trip costs 10 pesos and it is between 2 and 5 pesos for a bus ride. The City Mapper app will is a great guide. It is recommended not to take public transport at night.
Be careful not to board on an illegitimate taxi, prefer the use of applications like Uber. If you do not have access to the app walk into a restaurant or a hotel and ask them to call a taxi for you. The prices are also very affordable and a journey of about 30 minutes / 7 miles will cost you between 150 and 250 pesos. Always agree on a price before getting inside.
In the city, there are neighbourhoods to avoid such as the districts of Doctores, Guerrero, San Rafael or Morelos which are located around the centre. Unless imperative, avoid venturing into these neighbourhoods and if a street does not inspire you follow your instinct and take another path.
For a complete version of the recommendations, consult your government website before your departure.
Clémentine’s reading and film (and telenovela!) list
- Rough Guides Snapshot Mexico: Mexico City is the guide we used.
- Rough Guide to Mexico is a very complete guide if you plan to also visit other parts of Mexico.
- Frida‘s movie which narrates the artist’s life. Watch the movie before visiting the museum in order to recognise the place and the photos.
- La Casa de las Flores telenovela (on Netflix), we warned you it’s a telenovela!
- The novel Like Water for Chocolate from Laura Esquivel : a novel (adapted to a movie) whose magical realism refers to the great works of Latin American literature. The narration is mixed with traditional cooking recipes.
Feel free to check out our other articles on Mexico.