What to do in Mexico City (and why I love it)

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I’m fairly new to post-writing here at Frequent Miler so most of my posts spring out of someone in my life saying, “Hey, I’m going to XYZ place. What should I see?” This post is no different and contains all the major Mexico City recommendations I gave to my sister for her upcoming trip.

There’s so much to love in Mexico (and someday I’ll write about the road trip we did from Monterrey to Mexico City), but I was thrilled when my sister decided to add a whole week in Mexico City to her itinerary. In my opinion it’s worth a whole week on its own.

Where to stay in Mexico City

If you’re lucky, you’ll see these adorable dog obedience schools in Parque Mexico.

Mexico City is huge and you can get an entirely different experience just by staying in a different part of town. For instance we stayed in Zona Rosa one visit and quickly found out that this is the nightlife zone – not really my scene, but it could be perfect for someone looking for that kind of experience.

Instead, my favorite areas are Roma Norte and La Condesa. As a true millennial, I love the plethora of cute cafes and coffee shops. They’re also both within reasonable walking distance of the beautiful Parque Mexico and Parque Espana, (especially true for La Condesa). The Chapultepec Castle area is also a fairly reasonable walking distance for those who don’t mind longer walks. (~30 minutes from the La Condesa area and ~45 from Roma Norte.) Typically I try to book an Airbnb within walking distance of Parque Mexico and that will naturally land me in one of these regions.

Coyoacan

Coyoacan is a historic part of town where Frida Kahlo’s former house now serves as a museum. This part of town is beautiful and much more quaint-feeling. I wouldn’t spend my whole Mexico City visit here, but it’s great for one or two nights, and does put you slightly closer to the Xochimilco experience (which I’ll discuss more below.)

What to see in Mexico City

I’ve already mentioned Parque Mexico and Parque Espana which are lovely fixtures in any Mexico City day, but here are some other sites to add to the list.

View from Miralto Restaurant in Torre Latinoamericana:

View from Torre Latinoamericana

The Miralto Restaurant sits at the top of the Torre Latinoamericana skyscraper. I’ve never eaten at this restaurant and am not mentioning it as an actual restaurant recommendation, (though it may be delicious, I have no idea). I’m recommending this spot because it’s worth a drink or two at the bar just for the sunset view over the city.

Bosque de Chapultepec and the Chapultepec Castle:

Chapultepec Castle
Diego Rivera mural inside the Chapultepec Castle

The Chapultepec Castle is nestled within the Bosque de Chapultepec, a huge park area with enough space for an almost fair-like smattering of booths and food stalls as well as quiet green areas by the lake. The castle is free on Sundays (and therefore quite crowded) and has a ~$4.50 entry fee otherwise.

The castle is more than just a pretty building – it contains impressive museum exhibits as well, (including a huge Diego Rivera mural) and you should definitely allow plenty of time to see it all. (The last visit I forgot how extensive the interior exhibits were and spent way too much of my museum-stamina lingering around the castle portion of the exhibit.)

Paseo de la Reforma and the Angel of Independence (closed to cars on Sunday mornings): 

Angel of Independence
Biking Paseo de la Reforma on a Sunday morning

One of the central avenues going through Mexico City is the Paseo de la Reforma, recognizable for the Angel of Independence which sits in the middle. There are often interesting market stands lining parts of this avenue and it is closed to traffic on Sunday mornings. We used the city bike-share system called “Dezba” to enjoy biking the Paseo de la Reforma on one such Sunday morning.

Soumaya Museum (Free Admission)

Soumaya Museum

The Soumaya Museum is an impressive art museum with free admission. Absolutely worth a visit for anyone who enjoys art exhibits.

Templo Mayor Museum and Templo Mayor de México-Tenochtitlan:

Templo Mayor de México-Tenochtitlan’s downtown ruins
Templo Mayor de México-Tenochtitlan has Teotihuacan-like ruins right downtown as well as an impressive museum.

The Templo Mayor area includes a museum and a preserved section of ruins right downtown, quite close to the National Palace. Just like Chapultepec Castle, there is a ~$4.50 admission fee or it’s free on Sundays.

Xochimilco Canal Boats:

Xochimilco is a quirky boat ride taking you through the canals of the Xochimilco region of the city in the far south. You can book these in advance or just show up to the canal area and start haggling, but it should cost around $20-$25 to rent an entire boat (and boat driver) for an hour or so. The boat ride is fairly scenic (and there are points throughout the tour where you can view these strange islands decorated with baby doll heads…) but the main idea is to bring your own food and drinks and day-drink or have a nice little floating picnic with your friends. It is quite far from the other sites mentioned above.

Lucha Libre at Arena Mexico:

We went to a Tuesday Lucha Libre event so the crowds were more minimal, but it was still fun seeing everyone get into the show.

Another quirky activity is to catch a Lucha Libre “show” at Arena Mexico. The price varies depending on the day but it should only cost ~$5 or so. Think of this more as a show than a sports event and you’ll have a blast.

Teotihuacan:

The Teotihuacan Archological Site and Pyramids are ~2 hours from Mexico City and are worth seeing for a day trip.

The Teotihuacan Pyramids and Archeological site is not in Mexico City, but close enough for a day trip. The entry fee is only ~$5 or so, but the greater cost will be getting there from the city. (Estimate around ~$45 and ~2 hours each way for a taxi or Uber, though as a cheaper option, there are buses which leave the pyramids around closing time and head back into the city.)

The pyramids are definitely worth seeing, though it is a long, traffic-filled drive and when we were there back in December, some of the sites were still closed (related to the pandemic I think.) Bring lots of water and snacks because it will be a long day.

Where (and what) to eat in Mexico City

The sites above should give you plenty to do in a week’s visit, especially when you add the mandatory leisure time eating delicious food, drinking great coffee, and strolling in the park. A few recommended dishes to get you started on your own food scavenger hunt though include tuna tostadas, cafe de olla, Chiles en Nogada, and of course some street tacos along the way. While it’s ridiculously easy to find great food in Mexico City and it hardly requires recommendations, here’s the list Drew’s been keeping of our favorite spots:

  • El Habenerito: This is a cute little spot which specializes in Yucatan food.
  • Taquería Orinoco: This is a hugely popular, multi-location taqueria which specializes in Chicharrón.
  • La Esquina Del Chilaquil: This is a unique and delicious street food vendor specializing in chilaquiles sandwiches which make a great breakfast dish.
  • Contramar: Fine dining sea food which will most likely require a reservation. More expensive than my other recommendations.
  • El Turuleto Tacos Del Var CDMX: One of the great things about Mexico City is that seafood is so prevalent that you don’t need to go the fine-dining route for great seafood. This spot is extremely casual but excellent.
  • Tacos Los Juanes: This is another street food stall which has the best al pastor street tacos I’ve ever had. But keep in mind, these food stalls usually change hands from weekdays to weekends. I believe the al pastor tacos appear on the weekend shifts.
  • Comedor Lucerna: This place requires a disclaimer. It’s a trendy food court where you can order from multiple bars and restaurants in the same cool patio-style eating environment. I really like the vibe but it only gets a spot on my list for Drew’s sake. (The seafood spot in this food court uses raw shrimp in some of their dishes which apparently makes me much more sick than it makes Drew, or perhaps I magically get all the raw shrimp bites and he doesn’t. I have no idea. But be warned and check the ingredients before you order – luckily they do typically indicate which dishes do and do not contain raw shrimp. This is probably a good warning for eating seafood in Mexico City in general, regardless of where. Watch for the words “camarón crudo”.)

Conclusion:

Mexico is underrated as a travel destination in my opinion, and this is true for its capital city as well. Hopefully these recommendations inspire you to do more than just transit through. If you also love CDMX, include your own recommendations in the comments below!

 

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Aloha808
Teo

Chapultepec has good views. But you will find more grandeur in the interior and more interesting exhibits at any house museum in Charleston compared to that palace

Dave

Hi Carrie, good to see you are writing again. I love to read Drew and your write ups before at Travel is Free. You got to write a article to introduce yourself. You had your own website before separate from Travel is Free. Last I hear was Drew was at Pointsguy. Also, what happen to the sharing of tools ( I think) community website you guys were working on before? Welcome back to miles and points community, and I am looking forward to your articles.

John

I concur with everyone saying that CDMX is underrated. We’re actually here now for our fourth trip in four years. So many fantastic restaurants and things to do. And a short non-stop flight from many places in the US. Add on that it’s on central time and it’s just a great, easy city.

P T

Went to Mexico City for my honeymoon in 1974 and loved it. Then went back five years ago, quite a change, but still fabulous food.

traveler

Hi Carrie, thanks for this. We just booked a two week trip to Mexico city in late January and were excited to see this post! We really miss your Freakinflyers blog as well as Travel is free. Nostalgic for the simpler points and miles days. Hope for peace in Ukraine

PM1

Thanks Caroline! Very helpful.

AlexL

Love the post and learn a lot. It has attractions, neighborhood to stay, and places to eat. It tells me the admission fee and hidden gems. I made the suggestion for a segment similar to this for FM on the air at the beginning of the pandemic, so I am happy to read this article and it did not disappoint. Hopefully there will be more to come.

Steve Kent

It’s still very dangerous. My friends got robbed and had to leave.

DaveS

Nobody ever gets robbed in the United States? Mexico City is like most places – be aware of your surroundings, don’t advertise ostentatious wealth on the streets, don’t carry too much cash. There are a few select places in the world where crime doesn’t happen, but most of the world calls for attentiveness.

Cavedweller

Use a black cover on ur Apple $20, a 70 yea old lady in SF got beat up for her Ip 7 ..
Be Aware and go where you feel safe so it’s a Fun Trip..ALOHA

Last edited 1 month ago by Cavedweller
LarryInNYC

Was sorry to hear you got robbed. Then, you know, not so sorry.

Aloha808

Great list! But in addition to the National Museum of Anthropology (a must see), please add….To stay: the Hilton Reforma is my favorite. Make sure you have executive lounge access, they have a great one with awesome food and a wonderful view of the city. To see: the pyramid at Tenayuca. On the drive there you’ll see old houses with ancient stone blocks that were taken from Aztec buildings. Also the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral. To eat: Mexican style hot chocolate in Coyoacan…Cafe El Jarocho has my favorite.

P.s. please see Voladores de Papantla if you get a chance. There are some good ones that perform right outside of the National Museum of Anthropology.

Last edited 1 month ago by Aloha808
Tonei Glavinic

Small correction: Dezba isn’t “the city bike-share system” – it’s just one of several private companies that operate in the city, like Lime does in various places in the US. The city bikeshare system is Ecobici, which has a much larger service area and many more bikes 🙂

LarryInNYC

One of the world’s great underrated cities.

My 2 cents:

  • For those interested in “artesanias” (handicrafts) the market at La Ciudadela is great.
  • The Ballet Folklorico, a theatrical performance of traditional dances, is outstanding and not just for people who like dance — it’s more like a Mardi Gras level spectacle.
A B

Just a few: (1) thrifting in Roma Sur, (2) high fashion in Polanco district, (3) beautiful Bellas Artes theater and the national post office building, (4) stylish original Art Deco buildings in the Centro and in Condesa, and (5) the Saturday Art Market in San Angel! Mexico City is the best.

Aleks

Would definitely add Archeological Museum – such a unique place with indoor/outdoor expositions, and great collection of pre-Columbian art.
For the Teotihuacan there is no need for expensive taxi – there are regular busses running from/to few metro stations on the schedule. The site is huge, so plan your time there accordingly, but surely the highlight of the entire MC trip.
Other highlights are well described in this article, but Christians (or curious) can add several really rare places to visit if desired. MC is great for architecture spotting with so large variety of building styles – from pyramids to super modern.

Aloha808

The National Museum of Anthropology

Charlie

At the Teotihuacan Pyramids and Archeological site I highly recommend hiring an official guide to show you around. We started off without one and went back to the entrance to hire one because I knew we were going to miss the she significance of the place. It was the best money we spent, we learned so much from him.

Ley

So enjoyed your writing style and the suggestions of what to do and where to eat in Mexico City. I’m now thinking about visiting the city as a result of your article and am looking forward to reading more of your travel ideas.

Roamingredcoat

Mexico City is definitely underrated as most Americans go straight to the resort/beach areas. Passed through the city on the way to Rapa Nui and stayed a few days over Día de Muertos. The geographics leading to smog and some terrible traffic definitely aren’t great, nor the terrible waits at immigration, but overall somewhere to visit.

SamBam

When the wife and I first went to MC, our first reaction was: why this tendency to travel to Europe by so many of us….usually losing several days here and there b/c of jet lag? When we could fly several hours south and more or less be in the same time zone.

MC is an amazing amazing city. Safe, fascinating, historical….and with amazing tacos. I encourage any and everyone to go to MC. It’s a superb destination.

Oh and Caroline did a great job on the review. Except….more emphasis on tacos. They are soooooo good. And everywhere. Al Pastor is the signature taco from MC.

Just GO

Hal

Mexico city is fun to definitely underrated. Better food and hotels than Cancun IMO and not hot. Toledo is a great rooftop bar too.

Travelin'Dandy

We love Mexico City and became addicted to it after our first visit earlier this year, immediately booking a trip back when we returned home. But reading your post made me realize the double-edged sword of travel, that those of us who travel often are forced to confront at some point: we ruin what we love. There are fewer and fewer paths not beaten anymore and, now that travel has become such a commodity, it will become harder and harder to avoid the bowdlerizing of places thus far less sullied by tourism. Enough feet can completely transform a place, even if they only leave footprints.

Aloha808

Interesting point, but I wouldn’t worry too much about tourists ruining Mexico City. I’m sure people have been saying similar things about Mexico City for many years. But it’s the biggest city in the Western Hemisphere and it’s survived 3 separate conquests starting with the Spanish. She’s tough, she’ll be alright.

Travelin'Dandy

While I agree in general, Mexico is a particularly unique example vis a vis its relation to the U.S. For decades even Mexican-Americans (and I’m not pulling a card here, but I am in that group, growing up in Southern California) held Mexico as unsafe. In fact, I think the mayor has even gone out of the way to talk about police presence being needed in Mexico City (when we were there we witnessed a MASSIVE amount of militarized police presence). I think the younger generation of American traveler is no longer scared of going to Mexico City (and there was a fear before, and even now the state department advises against going many places [https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/traveladvisories/traveladvisories/mexico-travel-advisory.html] and that lack of stigma will lead to an influx that, until now, the city hasn’t seen before.

Obviously every place has its resiliency. I guess posts like this seem like a double-edged sword to me. But perhaps “purity” is a fiction anyway.

LarryInNYC

(1) Yes, purity is a fiction. We all imagine that the first time we see a place it’s pristine, and when we go back it’s been ruined by hordes of thoughtless tourists. But the fact is that when we saw it the first time it had already been subject to decades or centuries of tourism and we were the thoughtless tourists ruining it from what it had been twenty years before. We confuse a path unbeaten by us with an unbeaten path, but it’s not true.

Yes, some places are getting “loved to death”, but I’m not too worried about Mexico City.

(2) I don’t think “bowdlerized” means what I think you think it means (or, perhaps, you have a victim of auto-correct).

Travelin'Dandy

No, I did mean it in that context.

Aloha808

Right on. Well, Mexico is a pretty big place. Mexico City itself has had safety issues as long as I can remember. I actually grew up there until the age of 12, and almost all my family there has had past experiences of either getting robbed or beaten or worse, etc. Is it any worse now safety-wise than 40 years ago? Somewhat perhaps. Than 17 years ago? Then it’s probably about the same. The root cause of the violence is mostly poverty, which has consumed Mexico for a long long time.

That being said, the people in Mexico City (and Mexico in general) are amazing, and for every bad story I can give you a dozen beautiful ones.

As far as purity, yeah that’s a fiction, partly because Mexico is so diverse, which is one of the many things I love about it. Plaza de las Tres Culturas should really be like “mil culturas”. Hasta la proxima.

P.S. For those of you who like traveling off the beaten track, if you like Mexico, I highly recommend you check out the Philippines as well. The foods are totally different (for the most part), but the cultures and people have a lot in common.

Last edited 1 month ago by Aloha808
Travelin'Dandy

I’m not here to argue, but I’m talking about the conception of Mexico (and that includes Mexico City) in the American mind. It has for ages been portrayed as dangerous and many people have avoided it (save for Cancun and the other resort areas) for that reason. Now that we are in the travel-blog era those kinds of misconceptions can be rectified, and that will have consequences.

That’s all.

Cavedweller

My mailman is from the Philippines and sees my Travel. He told me fly with him stay at his house the food is great and FISHING is better.ALOHA

Last edited 1 month ago by Cavedweller