Never before have I landed in a city with so many enticing attractions and diverse neighborhoods. Mexico City, also known as CDMX, is oozing with culture, food, history, and art. The loud and constant pulse of the city offers endless possibilities for any traveler.
Brad and I stayed in the heart of the city in the Centro Histórico for three weeks. We balanced our busy days with relaxing ones to truly take our time.
Below I organized an itinerary with our favorite things to do to help you plan a trip. Whether you have a few days or one week, the days are tailored around districts to be efficient while allowing room for spontaneity. Feel free to mix up the days according to your preferences!
Three Days in Mexico City
One of my favorite ways to introduce myself to a city is by participating in a walking tour. Plus, how can you beat a free one? Brad and I joined an English speaking guide who took our group all over the Centro Histórico explaining the history of Mexico City.
Within the area is the massive El Zócalo, or main square, which proudly displays the Mexican flag. On the north side of the plaza is the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral, which began construction in 1573, after the Spanish conquest over the Aztecs. The National Palace to the east has a red tezontle (volcanic rock) façade.
Some remnants of the ancient Aztec city, Templo Mayor, are viewable nearby via a walking platform and museum. Head over to Alameda Central, a park with lush trees and fountains with classical figures, if you need a relaxing refuge from the crowds.
For an authentic lunch favorited by locals hit up El Sazon starting at 1:00 PM. The green enchiladas are so flavorful and worth the wait (don't be intimated by the line out the door, it moves fast). For dessert, the selection at Pastelería Ideal will satisfy any sweet tooth craving.
One of the most striking architecturally designed buildings in Mexico City is the Palacio de Bellas Artes with its ombre yellow and orange roof tiles. The Neoclassical exterior is juxtaposed with an Art Deco interior. We bought nosebleed tickets for $300 pesos ($15 USD) per person at the box office just before the Folkloric Ballet of Mexico show featuring various cultural dances and mariachi music.
TIP: Purchasing tickets at the box office is much cheaper than online due to processing fees.
Within the vast Bosque de Chapultepec park is the Museo Nacional de Historia Castillo de Chapultepec, a grand museum atop a hill with views of the city. Spend a few hours learning about the history of Mexico from its indigenous cultures to rise of independence. The artifacts, furnishings, and gardens are breathtaking. Tickets cost $85 pesos ($4.10 USD).
TIP: Bags are thoroughly checked before entry. No food, water, camera tripods, or selfie sticks are allowed inside.
Take a stroll down the iconic Paseo de la Reforma and admire the gilded El Ángel atop the monument celebrating the Mexican War of Independence, 1810-1821. The modern avenue is lined with skyscrapers, restaurants, and hotels. Be on the lookout for quinceañera (a celebration of a girl's 15th birthday) photoshoots at this popular location!
Let's get ready to rumble! End the night with an entertaining freestyle wrestling match at Arena Mexico. Lucha libre has both male and female athletes in colorful face masks performing aerial maneuvers. Join the crowd in cheering on various favorites while enjoying a cold cerveza (beer).
A visit to Mexico City isn't complete without a day trip to the ancient pyramids of Teotihuacán! The complex spans 8 square miles with plazas, temples, pyramids, and residences dating back to 100 B.C. Walk along The Avenue of the Dead to gaze upon the Pyramid of the Sun, Pyramid of the Moon, and Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent within the Ciudadela.
Booking a guided tour or planning a solo excursion is easy! Check out my post, A Visitor's Guide to the Teotihuacán Pyramids, for more information.
Five Days in Mexico City
South of the main city center is the quaint neighborhood of Coyoacán. Wander through the colorful streets and sample various Mexican dishes. We enjoyed a hearty desayuno (breakfast) at Cabo Coyote, a tasty gelato at Casa Visconti, and pasta at Bravissimo Ristorante.
One of the main attractions in Coyoacán is the Frida Kahlo Museum (La Casa Azul). Art lovers will relish seeing her home, studio, clothes, and paintings. Informative placards are written in Spanish and English detailing her complex life. The museum requires tickets to be purchased online for $290 pesos ($14 USD) with a specific entry time; only a photography ticket can be bought on site.
TIP: A debit card is the only acceptable form of online payment.
Coyoacán was our favorite neighborhood in Mexico City! We adored weaving our way between the local Mercado stalls and buying a few pieces in the pop up art fair across the street.
The Museo Nacional de Antropología is the largest and most popular museum in Mexico. The chronological design is easy to follow with two floors. Brad and I completed the lower level featuring pre-Columbian exhibits of Olmec, Aztec, and Mayan civilizations in 4 hours. I recommend an early start if you want to see the entire museum in one day. Tickets cost $85 pesos ($4.10 USD).
Spend the evening in the side-by-side neighborhoods of Roma Norte and La Condesa. Trendy cafés, cocktail bars, and outdoor restaurants line the tree covered streets. Try Campobaja for deliciously fresh seafood dishes and afterward head around the corner to Traspatio for elevated cocktails. The area is a great place to unwind.
Seven Days in Mexico City
If you happen to be visiting Mexico City between November and March, consider a day trip to the Mariposa Monarca Biosphere Reserve to see thousands of monarch butterflies fluttering within an evergreen forest. There are five locations open to tourism: Sierra Chincua, El Rosario, La Mesa, El Capulin, and Piedra Herrada.
We booked a tour with Azteca Explorers for $1050 pesos ($50 USD) per person. Our English speaking guide explained the lifecycle and cultural significance of the butterflies while our group hiked up the mountain in the El Rosario colony. Witnessing the magic of these butterflies was one of the best experiences of my life!
Spend a couple of hours cruising along the extensive canal system in gondola-like boats called trajineras in Xochimilco. Artificial islands called chinampas, invented by the Aztecs for growing crops, are still used today. Listen to mariachi bands as you grab snacks and drinks from vendors who will anchor alongside.
Each boat should cost no more than $500 pesos ($24 USD) for a minimum one-hour ride. Use the Embarcadero Nuevo Nativitas, which is the official port. I highly recommend going with a group during the weekend for more of a party atmosphere. Our couples ride was too low-key, but still worthwhile!
The metro system (subway) is a reliable and affordable way to get around CDMX. Each ride costs $5 pesos ($0.25 USD) after you purchase the rechargeable metro card for $15 pesos ($0.75 USD) at any station. Most of the aforementioned attractions we were able to reach with ease.
Uber, taxis, and city buses are also available. Traffic can be intense, especially during rush hour. Either way, prepare for a lot of walking to explore the sites!
Where to Stay
There are a lot of places to rest your head at night in Mexico City. Brad and I stayed in an Airbnb mainly to have access to a kitchen and washing machine. Besides, we needed a break from hostels!
• Centro Histórico - A perfect starting point for your daily excursions. Plenty of attractions, cheap eats, and stores. This part of the city is loud with heavy traffic and crowds of people, which can feel overwhelming at times. We generally felt safe, but made sure to keep an eye out for pickpockets.
• Roma Norte/La Condesa - Home to eclectic vibes, boutique shopping, and trendy restaurants. Although expensive neighborhoods, the lush scenery and quaint atmosphere are worth it for a peaceful stay.
• Coyoacán - This district combines relaxation and affordability. The southern location will extend travel times, but compared to the other areas it has a feeling of home away from home.
In a Nutshell
No matter how you choose to organize your adventure, Mexico City has everything you could ever desire in a massive metropolis. Even after three weeks, I felt as though I only scratched the surface. The way in which this city has changed over time from the Aztecs up until now is truly fascinating. The cultural evolution of CDMX is everywhere you look!