As we wrote before, Mexico City is one of our favorite cities. We’ve been there half a dozen times and every visit we discover something new and fun. Here are our 20 reasons why you should visit.
1. Explore Zocalo and Centro Historico
Zocalo, the city’s main square, is the most logical place where to start your Mexico City exploration. The sheer size of the square impresses and overwhelms a first-time tourist. This part of the city is the best place to learn about the brutality of Spanish colonization. You can admire the colossal Metropolitan Cathedral erected to intimidate the indigenous people and then across the street visit the remains of the destroyed Aztec Templo Mayor, whose stones the Spanish used as building materials for the cathedral. From exploring colonial buildings, baroque churches, and old plazas to appreciating Diego Rivera’s murals on the walls of the National Palace and Palace of Fine Arts, the historical center can easily keep you busy and entertained for a day or two.
2. Visit Museums
Mexico City is a city of museums, which is not surprising considering it is Mexico’s historical and cultural heart. Those who love history, art, and culture will find unending options here. To date, we’ve been to more than 20 museums and still only scratched the surface (there are more than 150 museums in the city). The entrance tickets are cheap, and some museums are even free (or free on Sundays). One of the best museums in Mexico and arguably in the world is the National Archeological Museum, where you can appreciate Mexico’s rich history. From Toltecs and Olmecs to Aztecs and Mayas, you can spend hours roaming the halls and learning about different civilizations that populated Mexico through an impressive collection of archeological finds including a giant Aztec sunstone, a colossal Olmec head, and a reproduction of a Teotihuacan temple.
3. Listen to Mariachi Bands at Plaza Garibaldi
Although the area can be a little bit sketchy in the evening (take a taxi there and back), Plaza Garibaldi is a great place to listen to mariachi bands that congregate here to get hired for an event or simply to play for tourists. You can grab a table at any of the restaurants on the plaza, order tacos, and listen to bands playing mariachi classics such as “Cielito Lindo” and “Guadalajara”. If you want to hear something specific, you can order a song, and the musicians will gladly play it for you. Just make sure you agree on the price beforehand.
4. Ride a Trajinera Boat at Xochilmilco
Mexico City’s Venice, Xochimilco is a network of ancient canals designed by the Aztecs in the south of the city. One of the most fun activities in Mexico City is to hire a colorful boat (trajinera) and spend an hour or two gliding the waters of these canals. Renting a trajinera on a weekday or in the morning on a weekend will almost certainly guarantee that your boat ride will be serene and peaceful, and you will get the place to yourself. On weekend afternoons, the place becomes boisterous and festive as chilangos (residents of Mexico City) flock here to party. The locals usually show up with coolers full of drinks and food, but there will be plenty of vendors on trajineras selling food if you get hungry or want to grab a beer or michelada. Please note that the price of a trajinera is the same regardless of whether you rent it for one person or twenty. So, doing it as a group activity is fun and economical. As of November 2019 (the last time we rented a trajinera), the hourly rate was 500 pesos (approximately $25).
5. Visit Frida Kahlo Museum
Located in a quaint Coyocan neighborhood, this house is a must for art lovers. Often referred to as Casa Azul (the Blue House) for the color of its walls, it is where the famous Mexican artist Frida Kahlo was born, grew up, and lived on and off with her husband-artist Diego Rivera for nearly 25 years until her death in 1954. Inside, the museum tells the story of Frida’s life and her complicated domestic and artistic relationship with Diego. The museum displays a collection of works by Diego and Frida, personal effects, photographs, and memorabilia, as well as works by other artists. When we visited the Blue House in 2008, there were hardly any visitors, and we bought the tickets at the museum on the day of the visit without any problems. Through the years, the popularity of the museum grew significantly. It is no longer possible to buy tickets at the museum. They must be reserved online and well in advance of the visit. So, plan accordingly!
6. Stroll Bosque de Chapultepec
Mexico City’s answer to New York City’s Central Park is Bosque de Chapultepec, an enormous park right in the heart of the city. The park provides respite from the city’s pollution, traffic, and other urban craziness. It is also home to excellent museums (including the National Archeological Museum described above), historical monuments, and the Chapultepec Castle, one of the two castles in Mexico and Latin America. The size of the park means that it never feels crowded, even on weekends, when the throngs of locals come here to relax.
7. Eat at Pujol
Located in a glitzy Polanco neighborhood, Pujol is currently ranked as the No. 5 restaurant in the world by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants. The chef, Enrique Olvera, is one of the most celebrated Mexican chefs, and eating at Pujol is a true gastronomic joy. We celebrated Julia’s birthday at Pujol several years ago by eating tacos omakase that included baby corn dipped in mayonnaise made with seasonal flying ants from Oaxaca, as well as mole madre, a chocolaty Mexican sauce that on the date of our visit had been aged for more than 1,000 days. Que sabroso! Reserve well in advance.
8. Attend a Soccer Game at Azteca Stadium
Azteca Stadium is one of the most well-known soccer stadiums in the world. The stadium hosted two World Cup finals and witnessed both Pele and Maradona hoisting the World Cup trophy (in 1970 and 1986, respectively). It is here Maradona scored the “Goal of the Century” that happened only 4 minutes after his other infamous “Hand of God” goal against England. “The Game of the Century” was also played here, between Italy and West Germany in 1970. The concrete behemoth with a capacity of over 80,000, Azteca is a true temple for soccer enthusiasts. We visited it in 2019, and my childhood memories came back rushing when I stepped inside this iconic stadium. Your best bet to enjoy Azteca is to catch a game of the MX Liga, Mexico’s top-tier soccer league. Club America and Cruz Azul play their home games here. Or, if you are lucky and can score tickets, you can come here in 2026 when Azteca will host another World Cup.
9. Attend Saturday Artisanal Market in San Angel
If you happen to be in Mexico City on a Saturday, a great thing to do is to visit San Angel, a neighborhood right next to Coyocan, for its weekly artisanal market (Sabado Bazaar) that takes place at Plaza del Carmen and nearby shops. Painters, potters, sculptors, and various creative types from all over Mexico gather here to display their artwork, transforming the area for a day into a center of Mexican creativity. The prices range from just a couple of dollars for very simple souvenirs and trinkets to thousands of dollars for alebrijes (brightly colored wood carvings) from Oaxaca. There are plenty of eating options in the area, so coming here makes a great outing for both souvenir shopping and dining. Several years ago, we visited the Saturday market and spent the entire day browsing paintings at the plaza and the shelves of nearby galleries filled with Mexican folk art. The highlight of the visit was meeting a talented local artist Carlos Castrosos Garcia (“Cuentos Castrosos”) and purchasing one of his lovely watercolors.
10. Visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe
Being the capital of a devout nation, it comes as no surprise that Mexico City shows off many beautiful and historic churches and cathedrals. One place of worship that especially stands out is the Basílica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This church is dedicated to Saint Mary, who, according to a popular religious belief, first appeared to a local peasant on a hill outside of Mexico City in December of 1531. The church, constructed on the hill where the miracle occurred, is a major draw for the millions of pilgrims, who visit the church around December 12, the day when Saint Mary is celebrated. Visiting this place is a special experience allowing for a better understanding of Mexico. The church is part of a larger religious complex that includes the old and the new church and other religious buildings. Getting there via public transportation is possible (we have done it), but you can probably save time by getting an uber or taxi there and back.
11. Eat Your Way Through the City
If you could not score a reservation to Pujol, no reason to be upset. Mexico City is a gastronomical paradise, and there are endless options here to explore the rich Mexican cuisine. It is difficult to define whether Mexico City has its own distinct cuisine (some might say that barbacoa and tacos al pastor are the local delicacies), but the best thing about this capital city is that you can sample food and regional specialties from all 31 Mexican states. Because Mexico City attracts people from all corners of Mexico, you do not need to leave the city limits to try tlayudas from Oaxaca, chiles en nogada from Puebla, or aguachiles from Sinaloa. To paraphrase Stefon from SNL, Mexico City has everything. Explore it!
12. Stroll or Ride Paseo de La Reforma
Paseo de la Reforma (known as Reforma to the locals) is one of the main thoroughfares dissecting the city. The wide avenue is one of the most beautiful in the city and has a very European feel. The avenue is flanked by trees, skyscrapers, and modernist sculptures. The historical monuments, including the postcard-pretty El Angel de la Independencia, are situated on and along Reforma. Several years ago, the city started to do something cool. For several hours on Sundays (from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.), Reforma becomes vehicle-free allowing residents and visitors to walk, rollerblade, and bike on it. It is one of the most popular activities in the city on Sundays. Don’t miss it!
13. Learn About the Modernist Architecture of Luis Barragan
If you are interested in architecture, you will love Mexico City. While the colonial architecture was something we expected, the modernist architecture of Luis Barragan was a real surprise and revelation for us. The best way to learn about the genius of this Mexican architect is to visit the houses he designed. The two masterpieces, Casa Estudio Luis Barragan and Casa Gilardi, are located next to the Bosque de Chapultepec and within walking distance from each other. Casa Estudio Luis Barragan, now a UNESCO Heritage site, is the house that Barragan designed for himself, while Casa Gilardi was the project that he undertook late in his career for one of his clients. These two modernist houses display the signature style of Barragan combining simplicity and minimalism with the juxtaposition of colors. We took guided tours at both places, and each time we were joined either by foreign architects or architecture students who came to Mexico City to see the works of Barragan with their own eyes. For them, this was some sort of a pilgrimage. While we do not have any specialized training in architecture, we enjoyed the guided tours, too.
14. Attend Lucha Libre aka Mexican Wrestling
A fun way to spend a weekend night in the city is to attend a lucha libre event. Combining the elements of wrestling and a well-coordinated show, lucha libre is a beloved pastime for a lot of Mexicans. Each wrestler (luchador) has a nickname and an individual colorful mask and fights to unmask the opponent. Flying over the ring and knocking down the opponents in a dramatic fashion, luchadors are more performers than athletes and do everything to entertain you. These events are fun and rowdy and keep fans on their feet. There are two lucha libre venues in the city: Arena Coliseo and Arena Mexico. The latter is more famous and even known as the “Cathedral of lucha libre”. Located in Doctores (not the safest of all of Mexico City’s neighborhoods), it is recommended that you take a taxi to and from the arena.
15. Spend a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Central Park
This cute park in Centro Historico is one of our favorite places in the city. The park is great for people-watching or just relaxing on a bench enjoying the shade and delicious Mexican street food. Adjacent to the park, there is one special place that should not be missed - Museum Mural Diego Rivera. The museum hosts only one work by Diego Rivera but what a masterpiece it is. Measuring 51 x 15 feet, this enormous mural, called Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central, depicts famous people of Mexico and important historical events with the Alameda Central serving as a backdrop of this who is who of Mexican history. You can learn a lot about Mexican history but just studying this mural. Years ago, there were comfortable plush sofas, where you could sit, relax, and even have your own dream in the Alameda Central. Our first visit to this museum was on a Sunday afternoon (a pure coincidence) and the mural left a lasting emotional impact. Every time we are in the city, we try to stop by to see it again.
16. Visit Unique Libraries
Mexico City’s libraries serve the important function of providing access to books and knowledge to the residents of the capital. For the visitors, they also provide another opportunity to see the creative side of Mexico. The Central Library, located on the campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), is a good example. Resembling a giant boombox, the building is covered with a mural called Historical Representation of Culture and is one of the strangest library buildings you can find in the world. So much so that UNESCO recognized it and the university’s campus as World Heritage. Another library, Library Vasconcelos (named after José Vasconcelos, the former president of the National Library of Mexico) has a unique futuristic interior design, looking like something out of a sci-fi movie with the bookshelves hanging precariously in open space.
17. Attend a Dia de Los Muertos Parade
Although it is a relatively new thing in Mexico City, a colorful Day of the Dead parade is a sight to behold. If you happen to be in the city around this holiday, join thousands of spectators lining up at Paseo de la Reforma to see elaborate floats, dancers, and performers showcasing this important Mexican celebration. To get into the festive mood, you can also have your face painted to the Day of the Dead theme (the locals are not offended and love that the foreigners share their culture with them) or munch on deliciously sweet pan de muerto. One practical piece of advice is to get to the parade route as early as possible and preferably somewhere along the route and not where it starts and ends. There will be a lot of people!
18. Climb the Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan
After visiting the National Archeological Museum and learning about Teotihuacan, it is time to explore this ancient city built by pre-Aztecs. Located 25 miles northeast of the capital, getting to Teotihuacan via public transportation is possible by taking a bus from the North Bus Terminal. At the entrance to this archeological site, you can hire a local guide who can take you around and explain the history of this place. One of the best things to do at Teotihuacan is to climb the Pyramid of the Sun, one of the temples of this ancient city. From the top, you can see the layout of the place including the Street of the Dead and the Pyramid of Moon, another temple. Make sure to bring plenty of water, sturdy hiking shoes, and a hat.
19. Take a Day Trip out of the City
Mexico City’s central location makes it a perfect base for more than a few great day trips. In addition to visiting the pyramids of Teotihuacan, you can visit many attractive towns, including pueblo magicos (magic towns), near the capital. Puebla, Cholula, Tlaxcala, Tula, Tepotzotlan, Cuernavaca, and may others. Each place has something unique and interesting worth exploring. All these day trips are doable via public transportation, and, as we already wrote, Mexican buses are top-notch!
20. Explore Mexico City’s Neighborhoods
Mexico City is a city of colonias (neighborhoods). While not every neighborhood is safe, and you should always check with the locals on the safety of the places you are venturing into, walking the city’s neighborhoods is the best way to get up close with the city and its residents. Condesa, Roma, Polanco, San Angel, and Coyoacan. The list of our favorite neighborhoods is long. We hope that you visit Mexico City and find your own neighborhood that you fall in love with!