One of the most vibrant cities in the world, Mexico City is also a colossus in size and population. And this megalopolis of almost 9 million people stands out for its gastronomy, culture and entertainment. It is the second in the world in number of museums, there are more than 150, just behind Paris. Therefore, things to do and experiences to live in abound in Mexico City. I wrote this post with 30 best things to do in Mexico City that you can’t leave behind.
30 best things to do in Mexico City
Teotihuacan means “a place where men become gods” and the history of the city’s origin is crowded by legends and mysteries. Nobody knows exactly who built it and when. The timing of its rise and decline is also uncertain.
Teotihuacan would have been one of the largest and most important centers in Mesoamerica and at some point, its people, called Teotihuacanos, disappeared. Later the ruins were occupied by the Aztec civilization, which after wanderings found the place and considered it sacred. Teotihuacan was used for rituals, including human sacrifices.
Walking through Teotihuacan is walking through centuries – perhaps millennia – of history. It is the most important archaeological site in Mexico and the most visited as well.
The Zócalo, or historic center of Mexico City, is a place where you will find historic buildings, built by Spanish colonists and Aztec ruins. At the center of it all, Plaza de la Constitución with the immense Mexican flag fluttering surrounded by historic buildings like the National Palace, the Metropolitan Cathedral and the ruins of Tenochtitlan.
3) Templo Mayor
The Zocalo was the heart of Tenochtitlán, the city of the Aztecs, where the Templo Mayor was located, the main temple of that civilization. With Spanish domination, the colonists destroyed the whole of Tenochtitlán and erected their buildings on top.
Over the years, both Tenochtitlan and the Templo Mayor have been forgotten. Until archeologists literally unearthed this whole story in the late 1970s and early 1980s. More than 14,000 historical artifacts that are preserved in the Museo del Templo Mayor were rescued.
The remaining ruins of the Templo Mayor are next to the Metropolitan Cathedral and squeezed between the buildings that came in later centuries. But today it can be visited and we can appreciate part of what is left of this civilization.
4) Metropolitan Cathedral
The construction of the Metropolitan Cathedral of Mexico City began in 1573, approximately 50 years after the destruction of Tenochtitlan. It took years and years of construction and we can see that by the variety of architectural styles used.
If you think the church is crooked, you are not mistaken. In fact, both the Metropolitan Cathedral and the entire historic center of Mexico City are sinking. The fact that this whole region was a swamp before construction and throughout the years and earthquakes, Mexico City has been slowly sinking. Perhaps one day all of this will no longer exist.
5) National Palace
Located in Plaza de la Constitución, the National Palace, is the headquarters of the Mexican government. But what makes it interesting from the tourist point of view, is that the famous murals of Diego Rivera. One of the most important Mexican artists and who was the husband of Frida Kahlo. His art shows history of the Mexican people. Definitely the most beautiful artwork of the muralist, and we can appreciate inside the National Palace.
6) Bellas Artes
Leaving the Plaza de la Constitution, you can walk through the streets of the historic center towards the Palacio de Bellas Artes. It is one of the city’s postcards, beautiful on the outside and inside.
There’re always great exhibitions at the Palácio de Bellas Artes. I saw the exhibition Picasso & Rivera – Conversaciones a través del tiempo. Which featured works by these two masters and showed the similarity between their work, admission is free for some exhibitions.
7) Latin American Tower
Near the Bellas Artes Palace I recommend a visit to Torre Lationamericana. The tower had a famous point of view in Mexico City. The entrance costs 100 pesos. You can go in the late afternoon to enjoy the sunset.
8) Museum of Memory and Tolerance
The Memory and Tolerance Museum featured some of the saddest pages and chapters in our history. There are the holocaust, the genocide of Rwanda, Cambodia, Darfur, Guatemala and Yugoslavia.
But it is the extermination of Jews by the Nazis during World War II that is most striking. It is the largest exhibition, the most complete and where the tour begins. How the WWII developed and how the Nazis killed two-thirds of the nine million Jews who resided in Europe before the Holocaust.
9) Postal Palace
This beautiful golden palace was built in 1907 to work as the central post office in Mexico City, a function he still performs. However, the Postal Palace became a tourist spot due to its beautiful architecture, the work of the same architect from the Palacio de Bellas Artes, Adamo Boari. Among the architectural styles are art nouveau, art deco, rococo, neoclassical and moorish incorporated into the building. Take a look at the beautiful bronze staircase, built in Florence, Italy.
10) Monument and Museum of the Mexican Revolution
The Monumento de la Revolución was built in the 1930s. The idea was that it was part of the Legislative Palace, but at some point the building became the place that feature the history of the Mexican Revolution led by Emiliano Zapata and Francisco ‘Pancho Villa’.
The tour of the Museum of the Mexican Revolution begins by taking a panoramic elevator to a metal structure inside the dome. From there we take a walk inside the structure, then we go down a ladder to a amazing point of view. From this point, we have an excellent 360 degree view of Mexico City. You can even see the Zocalo, away.
11) Chapultepec Grove and Castle
The grove is an immense and well-kept green area in the heart of the city and neighboring the National Museum of Anthropology. I’ll talk about it in the next topic.
In the castle we have a beautiful view of Mexico City. Inside the castle there is a museum, with many murals, works of art and pieces that tell the history of Mexico, such as the country’s first flag and some original preserved environments.
More than a beautiful palace, it was a place revered by the Aztecs before the arrival of the Spanish. They believed that there was an entrance to hell in a cave on the hill of Chapultepec.
After Hernán Cortés conquered Mexico and wiped out Aztec civilization, the Spaniards built Chapultepec Castle there, which was the seat of the Spanish Viceroyalty, until the country became independent in 1821.
12) National Museum of Anthropology
Definitely the National Museum of Anthropology was one of the most spectacular places I have visited in Mexico City. The museum impeccably feature the history of the old civilizations in Mexico.
The museum is divided into two parts: ethnology and archeology. In ethnology they speak of the people who lived in Mexico, in the north, in the south, in the mountains, in the gulf region.
In archeology is the most interesting, there is Teotihuacán, Mayas, Aztecs … If you have a short time, go straight to the Teotihuacán side – and if possible – before visiting the ruins of the city of Teotihuacán and Tenochtitlan, as it will certainly make a lot more sense for you.
13) Angel of Independence
One of the symbols of Mexico City, the Angel of Independence (whose official name is Monumento à la Independencia) is located between the historic center and the Chapultepec Grove. In the middle of Avenida Paseo de La Reforma, the golden angel shines 46 meters high. What many people don’t know is that the monument – which opened in Mexico’s centenary in 1910 – is actually a mausoleum. Inside are the remains of 14 heroes of the country’s independence.
14) Soumaya Museum
The Soumaya Museum is one of the newest in Mexico City, opened in 2011 and quickly became one of the most famous in the city. Either on his collection of over 66,000 works, or his giant silver coated building of thousands of hexagons. In the collection we find masters like the Mexican Diego Rivera and Rufino Tamayo, in addition to European Matisse and Degas.
15) Frida Kahlo Museum
The experience at Casa Azul (Blue House) goes far beyond the thousands of souvenirs with the face of Frida that we find all over the world. And don’t expect to find the most famous artworks by the Mexican artist either. In Casa Azul we immerse ourselves in the intimacy of Frida, it’s the same house where she grew up and where she spent the last years of her life. Visit the dining room, the bedroom, the studio where she painted and the stunning gardens.
The whole creative universe, all the dramas of Frida and everything that this unique woman lived through. Certainly one of the best experiences I have in Mexico City.
Frida died in 1954 and since 1958 Casa Azul has been a museum dedicated to the her. The house is located in Coyoacán, one of the districts of the Mexican capital and received about 25 thousand visitors per month. It is one of the most visited museums in Mexico City.
You can make an online visit to the Frida Kahlo Museum. Take a look.
16) National Cinematheque
I discovered the National Cinematheque entirely by chance, when I returned from the Frida Kahlo Museum to the center of Coyoacán. The cinematheque was opened in 1974 and remodeled in 2012. It is one of the best places in Mexico City to enjoy a good movie, or just have a coffee in its internal, wooded courtyard.
17) Coyoacán Market
Coyoacán Market was founded in 1921 and become one of the most emblematic street markets in Mexico City. And they sell everything, from fried chapolins (small edible crickets) to the most traditional and original Mexican handcrafts. It is an excellent place to enjoy authentic Mexican street food and of course, buy souvenirs to take home.
18) Roma Market
A friend who lives in Mexico took me to this place, Mercado Roma (Roma Market) is a fancy version of street markets with a nice food court. If you want to taste good Mexican street food, but don’t feel safe about the sanitary questions, Mercado Roma can be a good option.
The market is also the perfect place to taste Spanish wines, eat tapas, buy expensive cheeses and snacks. You’ll find plenty of vegan options and a beer garden on the terrace with great beer options.
19) Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe
The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, is the second largest sanctuary in number of visitors in the world, only behind St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican.
The Sanctuary of Nossa Senhora de Guadalupe is actually a large complex with other churches, museums and monuments dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe. No plenty of free time, jump straight to the Old Basilica, opened in 1709, it is the most beautiful building and the most important of all.
It is one of the most unusual tours in Mexico City, the Lanchacinema is a cinema session in the middle of the lake in the Chapultepec Grove. On the first Saturday of each month, a large screen in the lake shows classic films and visitors enjoy it on small boats. An aquatic version of the cinema drive-in.
The place is known as the Mexican Venice, Xochimilco is a set of canals on the outskirts of Mexico City and where the Aztecs moved around. On the artificial islands, they planted vegetables to feed the population of Tenochtitlan, the great Aztec city that existed in what is now the Mexican capital.
More than a tourist place, the tour of the Xochimilco canals is a program that Mexicans people do. It’s in boats that whole families have breakfast, have lunch, have their parties and even weddings.
The colorful boats are known as “trajineras” and all have women’s names and country flags. They go up and down the channels, some collisions can happen, but nothing serious. The ride is slow and curious. One thing you will learn while visiting Mexico is that there’s no hurry and the tour boat in Xochimilco is just like that. Slowing down mi amigo.
22) Street food
In Mexico you’ll find many street food “tiendas” scattered around the cities, along with them, many Mexicans enjoying tacos, tamales, pambazo (my favorite), cochinita … just to mention a few.
Lose the fear of street food and enjoy tasty dishes and paying a small fraction of what is charged by famous restaurants. Just be careful with the pepper.
23) Dolores Olmedo Museum
The Dolores Olmedo Museum is a true oasis in the urban chaos of Mexico City. The place is an old Hacienda from the end of the 16th century. The museum makes a perfect combination of nature and the best of Mexican art.
Dolores Olmedo was a friend of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, she was responsible for keeping Frida’s personal objects for 50 years and which today are on display in an annex of Casa Azul.
And Dolores did an invaluable job preserving some of the most important works by Frida, Diego Rivera, Angelina Beloff and Pablo O’Higgins. The museum also has many pieces of art, archaeological artifacts and temporary exhibits.
If you are looking for iconic artworks by Frida Kahlo, the Dolores Olmedo Museum cannot be left out of your itinerary in Mexico City.
24) House Studio Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo
The couple of artists had this property made up of three houses, where both had separate residences and were connected by a bridge. The unusual house is a project by Mexican architect Juan O´Gorman. Frida and Diego lived there between 1934 and 1941, when Frida returned to her parents’ house, Casa Azul (Blue House), where she lived until her death in 1954. Diego lived in Casa Estúdio until 1957, when the muralist’s death occurred. Casa Estúdio’s collection is more focused on Diego’s work, while Casa Azul became the universe of Frida.
25) Lucha Libre
It’s impossible to visit Mexico and not watch a Mexican Lucha Libre Mexican. And the most popular addresses are Arena México and Arena Coliseo. For those who don’t know, the fights are not real fights, but an almost theatrical staging. Even though it’s a fake fight, it’s the most loved sport in Mexico. Even more than soccer, believe me!
The people goes insane at the Arena México (the largest in the country) with their favorite fighters and every movement is celebrated by the fans.
26) Museum of Popular Art
As I said, Mexico City has more than 150 museums and the MAP – Museum of Popular Art, is the perfect tour for lovers of good Mexican art. The museum has in its collection more than 3 thousand pieces that cover all styles of colorful Mexican art.
27) Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico
One of the most classic hotels in Mexico City is also a tourist spot in the city. The Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico is located in the Zocalo. The place was opened in 1899 as a department store for the wealthy Mexicans of that time.
However, what impresses most is the hotel’s interior, all in art nouveau. Take a look at the spectacular curved staircase, a replica of the staircase at Le Bon Marché in Paris. The neoclassical elevator and the incredible Tiffany stained glass ceiling, imported from France in 1908.
28) Luis Barragán Home and Studio
If you love architecture and design, you need to visit the home of celebrated Mexican architect Luis Barragán, which has been transformed into a museum. The place is located in Hidalgo, a simple house with a gray facade that holds a universe where the architect explored the use of lights, shadows and many colors.
29) La Lagunilla Flea Market
Mexico City’s most famous flea market, happens every Sunday in Morelos, close to Mexico City International Airport, yet easily accessible via the Mexico City metro. In addition to antiques, the street market is a good place to buy handicrafts and decorative items. And of course, as in every street market in Mexico City, you’ll find many food stalls.
30) Jumex Museum
The museum have one of the largest private collections of contemporary art in Latin America, like Andy Warhol, Martin Kippenberger, Cy Twombly and Damien Hirst. The museum is in a beautiful building designed by British architect David Chipperfield. And the cool thing is that the Jumex Museum is next to the Soumaya Museum, ideal for a combined visit.
Well folks, these was the 30 best things to do in Mexico City, as you can see. I hope you enjoy the tips for your trip to the Mexican capital.
Where stay in Mexico city: best hotels
I stayed at the One Ciudad de Mexico Alameda hotel. The room was a good size, comfortable bed, good bathroom. Breakfast is simple, but served well.
In this same region, another highly recommended hotel is the NH Mexico City Historic Center. The hotel offers a restaurant, gym, bar and lounge.
Anyone looking for an excellent option in the heart of the historic center of Mexico City, my tip is Santo Domingo Hotel Boutique. The hotel is located in an old mansion that has been revitalized.
The Hilton Mexico City Reforma is ideal for those looking for comfort, great accommodation in the historic center and can invest a little more in a hotel.
Now, those looking for comfortable accommodation at low prices, City Express Ciudad de Mexico Alameda is an excellent option.
If you are looking for luxury, St. Regis Mexico City is an excellent option. One of the best hotels in Mexico City, St.Regis Mexico City has large and comfortable rooms, 3 restaurants, a swimming pool, a gym and luxury amenities.
Mexico City Marriott Reforma Hotel is an excellent option in Mexico City in the Reforma region with affordable prices.