Though Mexico City is one of the largest cities in the world, it is just in the past decade or so that travelers are finally giving Mexico City the recognition it deserves as a metropolis filled with incredible museums, parks, restaurants and landmarks. The city has the second highest number of museums in the world, just after Paris, and contains the oldest and largest urban park in the Americas, double the size of New York City’s Central Park. The city is home to more than 40,000 restaurants, and dozens of museums and is one of the most affordable large cities in the world. While Mexico City may seem overwhelming for a first time visitor, it is indisputably one of the most dynamic cities in the world, and has something to offer every traveler, whether that be nature, art, food, shopping, history and more. With so much to do and see in the city, visitors are often confused on where to begin their adventure in D.F., as the locals call it.
While one could spend years in the city without doing everything, here are 13 things to do during your first trip to Mexico’s beautiful capital. If you are looking for something to do at night, check out this article on things to do in Mexico City at night.
1. Experience Dia De Los Muertos
Dia De Los Muertos, or in English, Day of the Dead, is undoubtedly one of the best times to be in Mexico. The city undergoes a magical transformation as elaborately decorated sugar skulls, and intricate offerings or “ofrendas” line the streets of Mexico City. Dia De Los Muertos is actually a two day affair, and three if you count October 31, which is celebrated as Halloween in Mexico. November 1 is All Saints Day, and the adult spirits come to visit their families. November 2 is known as All Souls Day, when families go to the cemetery to decorate the graves and tombs of their relatives with offerings. During this time, tourists will find the streets full of marigolds, the flowers of the dead; pan de muertos (the bread of the dead); sugar skulls; cardboard skeletons; tissue paper decorations; fruit and nuts; incense, and other traditional foods and decorations.
2. Go on a classic boat-ride through the canals of Xochimilco
Xochimilco is a beautiful day-time activity for those looking to spend a relaxing day enjoying Mexican art, food and music. Located right outside the center of the city, tourists are able to spend the day boating through the canals of Xochimilco in a traditionally decorated boat, while enjoying traditional Mexican cuisine, a mariachi band, mescal and more.
3. Visit the famous Chapultepec park
Chapultepec Park is a green haven in the middle of the concrete jungle of Mexico City. It is one of the largest parks in the Western Hemisphere, spanning over 1,695 acres (686 hectares). Here, visitors can spend the day outdoors and rent a boat on Lake Menor, or stroll through the Botanical Gardens. It’s not uncommon for impromptu musical and theatrical performances to take place throughout the outdoor grounds, which means travelers can encounter a concert or a play just by walking through the park!
Address: Bosque de Chapultepec I Secc, 11100 Mexico City, CDMX, Mexico
Website: Chapultepec Park
4. Wander the halls of Chapultepec Castle
In the middle of a sprawling metropolis is an imperial gem that will not only take you back in time, but make you feel like a royal just by wandering the corridors. Originally used to house the Mexican Emperor Maximilian I, it is the only castle in North America to ever house royalty. The castle has since been converted into a museum, but original rooms such as the Emperor’s bedroom, the royal office, the princess’ room and more are preserved for viewing. The majestic castle also has a foyer, tower and balcony with surreal city views that offer a sharp contrast from the old-fashioned, regal feel of Chapultapec Castle.
Address: Bosque de Chapultepec I, Bosque de Chapultepec I Secc, 11100 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
Website: Chapultepec Castle
5. Explore the pyramids of Teotihuacan
North of Mexico City lies the ancient ruins of the city of Teotihuacan. Built in 300 BC, the enormous ancient city was inexplicably abandoned centuries before the arrival of the Aztecs, who referred to it as the “Birthplace of the Gods.” While the mystery of why Teotihuacan was abandoned has yet to be solved, it is said to have likely been the setting for sacrificial rituals to the Gods. The mystic site is without a doubt one of the most enigmatic, spiritual and impressive sights in the western hemisphere. To this day, the original detail in the stones of the pyramids and temples can still be seen. While the entire day can be spent navigating this vast archaeological site, the two main attractions are the Pyramid of the Sun, and its counterpart, the Pyramid of the Moon, at the top of which one can see all of Teotihuacan and nearby towns. While travelers can explore Teotihuacan for themselves by taking a bus from Mexico City, there are also private charters, and even guided tours led by archaeologists. For those with a love of history, art and culture – Teotihuacan is a must-see.
Address: Ecatepec Piramides km.22 + 600, Municipio de Teotihuacan, Estado de Mexico
6. Take a stroll along Paseo de La Reforma
Paseo de La Reforma is Mexico City’s Wall Street and Capitol Hill all rolled into one. From politics to banking and more, this one avenue is home to some of the most influential businesses and government entities in all of Latin America, as well as a commercial hub for shopping and dining. Visitors exploring Paseo de La Reforma will feel like they are in the center of the world – from fast walking business people, to protesters to street vendors, everyone who gathers in Paseo de La Reforma are there to be seen and heard. While walking along this famous avenue, travelers will encounter some of Mexico City’s most famous sights and monuments, including Monumento a Cuauhtémoc, La Angel de Independencia, Fuente de La Diana Cazadora, Monumento a Colón, The Mexican Stock Exchange and more.
7. Go bar hopping in La Condesa
The neighborhood of La Condesa has earned its reputation as a trendy hotspot for the city’s young professionals, artists, and party-goers, so needless to say, the neighborhood has plenty to offer in terms of nightlife. A night out in La Condesa can mean anything from a drink at a swanky rooftop bar like Condesa D.F. to a full on dance-party experience like at ARTICBAR. The neighborhood has plenty of spots to check out, but if you’re interested in seeing it for yourself, the best way to explore the nightlife of La Condesa is to get in a cab and go from one place to the next! With cheap drinks, lively crowds and a neighborhood like La Condesa, the possibilities are endless.
Address: Av Veracruz 102, Cuauhtemoc, Condesa, 06700 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
Website: Condesa D.F. Hotel
8. Fine dine and wander the streets of Polanco
If you were ever curious to know where the social elites and top-tier businessmen of Mexico City live, shop and dine – the answer is Polanco. With its stunning mansions, upscale stores, restaurants and hotels, Polanco represents a finer side of Mexico City, one that offers a strict contrast from rougher areas merely miles from the posh neighborhood. This neighborhood is both touristy and residential, and has a luxe elegance that attracts many to its beautiful parks and clean sidewalks. While Polanco is definitely not the best bargain for a place to stay in Mexico City, it definitely offers the luxury and comfort many travelers are looking for. Though Polanco is one of the areas of Mexico City that is quickly being dominated by American retail and food chains, there are still plenty of delicious authentically Mexican restaurants like Pujol, which features an innovative take on traditional Mexican cuisine, and Quintonil, a concept restaurant that creates Mexican dishes to look like floral arrangements.
9. Try street food in Coyoacan
In the southern part of Mexico City lies Coyoacan, a neighborhood that houses several of Mexico City’s favorite attractions, such as the lush Vivero Coyoacan Park, the Frida Kahlo Museum, the Universidad Autónomo de México, the largest university south of the U.S., as well as two side-by-side public squares – the Plaza Jardín Hidalgo and Jardín Centenario, prime hang-out spots for local families, young people, street food lovers and tourists. Coyoacan is also where you’ll find some of the most delectable street food in all of Mexico City, especially at Coyoacan Market, where you’ll find mouthwatering, freshly prepared eats like tacos, tostadas, and more!
10. Visit the word class art museum, the Palacio de Bellas Artes
Mexico is no stranger to world famous artists and architects, from Diego Rivera to Geraldo Murillo, the Mexican people place high value in their art, and nowhere is this more prominent than at the Palacio de Bellas Artes. This must-see museum is among the most important of the city’s plethora of sites and attractions. Completed in 1934, the Palace is a hub for visual arts, dance, music, architecture and literature. The building itself is home to two museums, the Museo de Palacio de Bellas Artes, which hosts temporary exhibits, and the Museo de Arquitectura, an architecture museum that occupies the top floor of the building. Grand murals by world famous Mexican artists overtake the top floors of this magnificent white-marble palace. On the ground flood, there is a restaurant and bookstore. While the museum is an incredible hub for culture and art, the palace itself is an iconic Mexico City landmark, and to get a breathtaking view of Mexico City, with the Palacio de Bellas Artes in it, be sure to check out the 44th floor of Torre Latinoamericana, across the street from the museum.
Palacio de Bellas Artes
Address: Av. Juárez, Centro Histórico, 06050 Ciudad de México, CDMX, Mexico
Website: Palacio de Bellas Artes
11. Shop for traditional Mexican trinkets at the Mercado de La Merced
If you were to spend a lifetime in Mexico City, you would likely still not be able to thoroughly explore all of its markets. The markets of Mexico City are indisputably the best places to get fresh produce, unique spices, hand-made clothing, souvenirs and delicious street food. While there are an infinite amount of markets to explore in Mexico City, La Merced, the largest market in Mexico City, is undeniably the most magnificent of all. The market is like a maze, and those who visit are forced to navigate the twisting passageways and crowds of people, all in search for the perfect taco stand or porcelain-painted sugar skull. For those looking to see an authentic Mexican marketplace in action, there is no place like Mercado de La Merced.
Mercado de La Merced
Address: Calle Rosario s/n, Merced Balbuena, 15810 Venustiano Carranza, CDMX, Mexico
12. Marvel at beautiful architecture in Centro Historico
As a bustling metropolis, Mexico City can often intimidate tourists visiting the city without a clue where to start. The Zocalo, the main square of the city, is the perfect place to get your bearings, sight-see and get magnificent pictures of the historic center of the city. This part of the city was once the main center of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan. Today, the Zocalo is filled with pre-Hispanic ruins and majestic colonial buildings. Go a few streets over and you will find business executives, tech moguls and politicians, but in the Zocalo, time stands still. It is here that Mexico’s past and present intersect. The Zocalo is one of the largest squares in the world where people gather year-round for civic and cultural events as well as celebrations.
13. Take a day trip to Santiago de Queratero
After spending some time in the hustle and bustle of Mexico City, there is no better place to get away for a day trip than to the beautiful city of Santiago de Queratero, approximately two and a half hours outside of the center of the city. Though significantly smaller than Mexico City, Santiago de Queratero has over half a million inhabitants of its own, and is emerging as a commercial center in Mexico. The city has done a phenomenal job of preserving its historic downtown, which was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996. Its colonial town is filled with several Mexican treasures, including stunning colonial mansions, immaculate cobblestone walkways, and quaint plazas. The city has a historic past that includes being the setting for the declaration of independence from Spain in 1810, and the place of signing of the Mexican constitution in 1917 – making it the perfect place for anyone interested in Mexican history, culture and picture-perfect views.
Santiago de Queratero
Website: Santiago de Queratero
The Latin city that never sleeps
As the powerhouse of Latin America, Mexico City is undoubtedly a super-city that serves as a hub for commerce, entertainment, world policy and more. While CDMX has previously been seen as an off-the-grid destination, it is rapidly turning into a city with infinite tourism potential. Its world-class art, incredible museums, unparalleled food scene, vibrant nightlife and friendly locals make the city an unforgettable travel destination.