After over a year of living in Mexico City, I am more obsessed with this city than ever before. CDMX is a city with unparalleled cultural attractions, a world-renowned gastronomy scene, and expansive parks. I have never once felt unsafe in Mexico City and I’m so glad I didn’t let my preconceived notions, or the misconceptions of others, prevent me from living in this enchanting city. Even now, I still feel as though I’ve barely scratched the surface of this enormous city. There’s a never-ending (and constantly expanding!) list of things to see and do. But if I had to narrow it down to my top things to do, the following would make the cut…
Top Things to Do in Mexico City:
1. Palacio de Bellas Artes
This lavish palace of fine arts is one of the jewels of Mexico City. I’ve been dying to see a concert, ballet, or opera here. But even if you don’t catch a performance, Bellas Artes is definitely worth a visit. It boasts impressive marble interiors and murals by practically every major national muralist, including the famed Diego Rivera. After touring it, walk to the nearby Palacio de Correos, by far the most opulent post office I have ever seen. Fun fact: It was designed by the same Italian architect who designed Bellas Artes.
DwD Tip: Make a day of touring downtown, the historic center of the city. First visit Bellas Artes and Palacio de Correos. Then walk down pedestrian-only Madero Street toward the Zócalo and visit the Cathedral and Palacio Nacional (see #2). Warning: this area is always swarming with people. If you’d prefer a more relaxed outing, explore downtown on a Sunday when the main avenue is closed to cars. Don’t miss the Angel of Independence on your way!
2. Zócalo / Historic Downtown
Even before the Spanish arrived, the Zócalo was Mexico City’s center square. Hundreds of years later it is still buzzing with activity and is full of history. Plan on spending some time here because there’s a lot to see! First stop by the Cathedral. If you’re lucky, you’ll stumble upon a mass and get to hear the impressive organ.
When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in Mexico, they destroyed the “pagan” temples of the Aztecs and used the stones to construct a Cathedral. In the 70s, the ruins of the Aztec’s central temple (Templo Mayor) were unearthed just to the right of the Cathedral. Today, you can visit the open-air archeological site and learn more about its history at the museum.
Next, visit Palacio Nacional (pictured above). Built on the site of the last Aztec emperor’s home, this enormous palace was originally the home of the Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes. Since gaining independence from Spain, it has served as the seat of the Mexican government. Head up the stairs and you’ll find Diego Rivera’s massive mural representing the entire history of the Mexican people.
DwD Tip: Once you’ve worked up an appetite, go to El Mayor for an amazing view of the Aztec temple ruins or to the magical Azul Histórico for lunch. Dining in the courtyard of a 17th century estate is only fitting after a day of touring palaces!
3. Chapultepec Castle and Park
The first time I visited Mexico City, I toured this opulent imperial castle overlooking the city and was absolutely blown away. Did you know Mexico was an empire not once but twice?? The story behind this castle and the emperor who lived there is a fascinating and important part of Mexican history. Perched on a hill in the middle of a forest, the view of the city is also unbeatable.
After touring the castle (or before), stroll the grounds of Chapultepec Park. It is one of the world’s great urban parks and is over twice the size of Central Park! It would take ages to cover it all so I’d suggest wandering through it on your way to the famous Anthropology Museum (see #10) or to contemporary art museum Museo Tamayo.
4. El Bazar del Sábado (Saturday Bazaar)
If you find yourself in Mexico City on a Saturday, make sure you stop by this colorful bazaar. Housed in a grand colonial plaza in the historic neighborhood of San Angel, Bazar del Sábado will give you a real sense of Mexican culture. It also presents an excellent opportunity to pick up some of the country’s best handcrafted jewelry, woodwork, ceramics and textiles. Across the street, you’ll find a market of traditional indigenous products. Along the way you’re bound to discover the perfect regalito, or little gift, for your friends and family back home.
After shopping, you have several dining options: 1) The plaza’s courtyard where you can eat fresh-off-the-pan quesadillas while watching traditional Mexican dancers. 2) A food market full of delicious options just a couple of blocks down from the bazaar. 3) San Angel Inn, a beautiful old hacienda converted into a restaurant serving traditional Mexican cuisine.
5. Floating Gardens of Xochimilco
Although this is a classic tourist activity, it’s still a lot of fun and the perfect activity for a nice afternoon. Xochimilco (meaning “garden of flowers” in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztec’s) is also rooted in history. Fun fact: Mexico City was originally built on a lake. Xochimilco is the last remnant of the vast system of causeways, canals, manmade islands and floating gardens that existed during the time of the Aztecs. Select a colorful trajinera and spend your day cruising these ancient canals. It’s crazy to think that these floating gardens once fed the largest city on Earth (the ancient Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, present-day Mexico City).
DwD Tip: For a fee, a mariachi trio will float along beside you and play songs at your request. And if you forget to pack a picnic, don’t worry, you can easily hail beer and snacks from your boat.
6. Teotihuacan Pyramids
Although it takes about 1.5 hours to get to Teotihuacan from downtown Mexico City, it’s definitely worth the trip. Teotihuacan is the site of many of the largest pyramids built in pre-Columbian America and they are all well-preserved and climbable. The Pyramid of the Sun is one of the most imposing in the world and, if you’re like me, you’ll be panting by the time you’ve reached the top. The view, however, is vale la pena (worth the pain).
DwD Tip: For a more meaningful experience, visit the Teotihuacan exhibit at the Anthropology Museum (see #10) before you go.
*For tips on navigating Teotihuacan click here
7. Wander around La Roma & La Condesa
If you’re over touristy activities and want a little peace and quiet, head to the trendy neighborhoods of La Roma and La Condesa. Roma and Condesa are adjacent neighborhoods full of colorful old buildings, leafy trees, art galleries, an impressive food scene, and hipster vibes. Start by walking through the beautiful Parque Mexico. Then stroll the streets around the park, stopping at cute boutiques and cafes along the way. The best streets to wander are Amsterdam, Colima, and Orizaba. While you’re there, take advantage of some of the city’s best restaurants. Contramar, Maximo Bistro, Rosetta, Lardo, Blanco Colima, and my new favorite, Meroma, are just a few great possibilities.
8. Indulge in the city’s food scene
If you haven’t heard, Mexico City has an incredible food scene that’s currently taking the culinary world by storm. You can get any kind of food you’re looking for, from mouth-watering street tacos to amazing fine dining experiences. Word of advice: go with an open mind (or, rather, stomach). Authentic Mexican food doesn’t taste like your favorite burrito place back home–it tastes much, much better.
Don’t leave Mexico without trying tacos al pastor (tacos with pork fresh off the spit), gringas (quesadilla with meat), chicharrón de queso (grilled, crispy cheese), tostadas (the tuna tostadas at Contramar are the best in the city), sopes (fried tortilla dough with refried beans, cream, lettuce, salsa and cheese), and fresh fruits like mamey, mango, and papaya. For late-night greasy, authentic goodness, go to famous late-night taqueria El Farolito. If you want to eat at one of the best restaurants in the world, go to the renowned Pujol (often described as “elevated street food”). And yes, it’s worth the hype.
9. Frida Kahlo House and Museum
A visit to Mexico City isn’t complete without visiting the home of Mexico’s most famous icon–Frida Kahlo. Located in the charming colonial neighborhood of Coyoacan, la Casa Azul is the home Frida grew up and ultimately died in. A tribute to her life and work, the blue house showcases some of her most famous paintings. Today, it remains almost exactly as she left it and gives you an intimate look into Frida’s life.
DwD Tip: Buy tickets online in advance here in order to skip the long line. If you haven’t already, I’d also recommend watching Frida, the movie starring Salma Hayek, before you go.
10. Anthropology Museum
Mexico’s National Museum of Anthropology is an excellent introduction to the country’s pre-Hispanic history and culture. Visiting this museum on my first trip to Mexico City really opened my eyes to the fact that, contrary to the media’s depiction, Mexico is not a homogenous country. It is a country made up of many ancient civilizations, each with its own language and traditions.
The Anthropology Museum houses thousands of pre-Hispanic treasures and many of the most important findings from archaeological digs across the country. Highlights include the original Aztec calendar unearthed in Mexico City, giant stone heads of the Olmec civilization from Veracruz, a jade mask found in a Mayan ruler’s tomb, and my personal favorite—an Aztec ruler’s exquisite headdress made from vibrant blue and green quetzal feathers.
*Side note: In the months to come, I’ll be writing blog posts answering all your burning questions about life in Mexico / recommendations for visiting CDMX. But in the mean time, if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me. I love hearing from you! Also, explore more Mexico posts here!
Have you been to Mexico City yet? If so, what was your favorite thing you did? If not, would you like to go? Comment below!
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