THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN MEXICO CITY
Mexico City doesn’t get the credit it deserves. Being the largest city in North America, it’s insane how many travelers skip over it altogether or if they do visit, they only give it a day. It’s worth at least a few days, but a week would be better. It’s more charming than many people realize and there’s a variety of neighborhoods to choose from all offering a different experience.
The odd thing about Mexico City is that for a capital with a population of 21 million people, it’s really not as hectic as you’d expect. It manages to retain a laidback vibe because it’s spread out over 573 square miles (nearly twice the size of New York City). For example, if you’ve ever traveled to chaotic Delhi or Bangkok this feels like a cakewalk.
Ciudad de Mexico is a city we fell in love with and we hope you do too. Here’s our handy list of the very best things to do in Mexico City.
1. Climb the pyramids at Teotihuacan
Visiting Teotihuacan is one of the best things to do in Mexico City. Did you know you can summit the third largest pyramid in the world there? But don’t go just to climb the pyramids, go into the museum and learn something about the civilizations that called the city home. Although not technically in Mexico City itself, it’s an easy day trip that’s only an hour away.
You can either take a tour or do it on your own, but the important thing is to go early! That way you avoid the heat and beat the crowds. Read our full post to learn more about this mysterious Mesoamerican city and how to make it to Teotihuacan for an unforgettable sunrise.
2. Party on a boat at Xochimilco
I’m on a boat! Located on the fringes of the southern part of Ciudad de Mexico lies a few of the last remaining water channels that once made up a larger portion of the area. The capital city may now sit in a dry basin, but it was once a swampy marshland. Canoeing was a common method of transportation before the Spanish drained the area after colonization.
Ride a trajinera (a flat bottomed boat) with your friends, pack a cooler full of beer, hire a mariachi band, and make a day of it. Another place you should visit is Isla de las Muñecas (Island of the Dolls) if you’re into dark tourism.
3. Visit Frida Kahlo’s home at Casa Azul
Nestled into Coyoacan, one of Mexico City’s notoriously charming neighborhoods, there’s a bright blue home where Frida grew up. First with her family as a child, and later with Diego Rivera.
You’ll have the opportunity to step inside her kitchen, bedroom (where she died), and her former art studio. Her wheelchair is still parked in front of an easel as if she was just there painting moments ago. After you make your way through, take your time roaming around the bright blue courtyard and basking in her greatness.
4. Chapultepec Castle and Chapultepec Park
Take a walk in the park, have a picnic, or cruise around on an electric scooter. One of the more peaceful places in Mexico City, it’s a great escape from the surrounding concrete jungle. Consider visiting the Chapultepec Zoo and to sneak a peek of the pandas or if you’re not into zoos, head directly to the castle.
Castillo de Chapultepec sits on top of an imposing hill inside a green swathe of trees that spread across the largest park in Mexico City. The iconic regal building has checkered floors, colorful stained glass windows, and magnificent views of the city below.
Completed in 1864, it was the former home of the Emperor of Mexico Maximillian I. From 1882-1939 it was also the official residence of every President. This is the only castle on the continent of North America, don’t skip it.
5. Learn something at the National Museum of Anthropology
Mexico City is world-renowned for its museums. There are hundreds of them, and Museo Nacional de Antropología is one of the best. The museum does a beautiful job of preserving and explaining Mexico’s indigenous legacy. It’s well-curated and it far exceeded our expectations.
Make sure you give yourself enough time (we stayed for four hours!) there are 23 exhibit rooms. You’ll learn about evolution, the various cultures of pre-Hispanic times in Mexico, and see major artifacts like the Aztec sunstone. You’re sure to come away from it a wiser person. Therefore, if you visit one museum in Mexico City this should be the one!
6. Stuff your face with tacos al pastor
Tacos al pastor are tremendous. Lebanese immigrants brought their methods of cooking with them to Mexico in the early 20th century. The Middle Eastern practice of spit-roasting marinated meat quickly spread into Mexican food culture. Tacos al pastor are the result of that fusion. Corn tortillas filled with slow-roasted pork, slices of pineapple, chopped onion, and cilantro are now one of Mexico’s most popular street foods.
Pastor tacos are good almost anywhere, but they’re especially tangy and juicy at El Huequito (open since 1959), a gourmet taco restaurant Bourdain once claimed was “shockingly good”. He wasn’t joking, sit down and order the pastor especial con queso. Squeeze some fresh lime over it, add a touch of salsa, and you’re all set!
7. Stand in awe of Diego Rivera’s best mural art
You can’t leave Mexico City without spending time staring at Diego Rivera‘s murals at Palacio Nacional or Palacio de Bellas Artes. Palacio Nacional houses his giant three-panel mural, The History of Mexico, a masterpiece that took him a whopping 22 years to complete. The wall on the right depicts the ancient Aztec culture, the center summarizes revolts by indigenous peoples against the colonial Spanish and French, and the left illustrates Mexico’s modern political struggles. It’s an impressive sight!
At Palacio Bellas Artes you can find Diego Rivera’s infamous mural Man, Controller of the Universe. The three-panel mural incorporates both social and scientific themes. Initially entitled Man at the Crossroads it shows a man caught between the ideas of socialism and capitalism.
The Rockefeller family originally commissioned the piece for the Rockefeller Center in NYC. Destroyed before its completion, it was highly controversial for its depiction of Lenin. Critics wrote it off as “anti-capitalist propaganda”.
The current mural at Palacio de Bellas Artes is a smaller recreation using photos of the first painting before its destruction. Finished in 1934, it stands as a reminder of the struggle between freedom of expression and economic power.
8. Watch a Lucha Libre fight at Arena Mexico
Drink a giant michelada and watch middle-aged masked men in leotards bodyslam each other. Sounds fun right? If you’re lucky you might even see KeMonito. Sure it’s cheeseball, but that’s all part of the fun.
To start, buy yourself a mask outside the arena, next get ready to join the madness. Cheer for your favorite heroes and boo the rest! Seeing Lucha Libre live is one of those things you’ll look back at and always laugh about. Be sure to buy your tickets in advance online from Ticketmaster or buy them in person at any Gandhi bookstore.
9. Wander Biblioteca Vasconcelos CDMX’s most impressive library
You’ll wish you were a student again when you step into this labyrinth of learning. The seemingly infinite levels of bookshelves make you feel like you’re in a futuristic Hogwarts.
This mega library was dedicated to Jose Vasconcelos, a cultural leader of the Mexican Revolution. He is best known for his idea of a “cosmic race”. He believed that in the future there will be a fifth race that is a collection of all the races and it will transcend our traditional concepts of identity. Cool thought, right?
Have you been to Mexico City? If not, are you considering a visit?