In this Mexico City travel guide, we highlight our top ten things to do in Mexico City and talk about the city’s best neighbourhoods. From where to get the best views of the city, to where to watch Lucha Libre, our Mexico City travel guide covers the city’s main neighbourhoods and the best day-trips.
Mexico City was founded by the Aztecs, according to prophecy, on the spot where they found an eagle clutching a serpent atop a cactus. Imagine the awe-struck faces of the first Spanish arrivals in the city, a fluorescent, floating city that was, at the time, one of the wealthiest, most populous and cleanest cities in the world.
Modern Mexico City is literally built on those ruins – enormous stone relics can be found at several of the city’s metro stations. And the story of the city since Aztec times is no less fascinating. Our Mexico City travel guide unravels the best places to explore, adventure, eat and sleep in the city and nearby.
Mexico City Top Ten
- Teotihuacan (Sun and Moon temples)
- Monarch butterfly migration
- Castle Chapultepec
- National Anthropology Museum
- Murals of Diego Rivera
- Lucha Libre (Mexican wrestling)
- Palacio Nacional
- Corona Capital festival
- Frida Kahlo’s house
- Colonial Coyoacan
Mexico City Travel Guide: Neighbourhoods
Our Mexico City travel guide is broken down into the city’s best neighbourhoods. You could easily spend more than a day in each of them, so plan your accommodation around the neighbourhood where you most want to spend your time. They each have quite a different feel about them.
The literal centre of the Aztec universe, Mexico City’s enormous zocalo (main square) is ringed by the city’s most important historic buildings. The Cathedral is the oldest and largest cathedral in Latin America. You can walk inside the Cathedral most days. Behind the Cathedral is the Templo Mayo (Aztec ruins).
The Palacio Nacional contains an excellent mural by Diego Rivera (bring a form of photo ID to ensure entry). Another of Diego’s murals can be seen in the very small Diego Rivera Mural Museum. The grand Bellas Artes museum is home to Rivera’s best mural (in our opinion), Man at the Crossroads.
The central area of Mexico City has some of the best museums in the city. The Museum of Popular Art features incredibly colourful Mexican handicrafts and folk art. The Museum of Memory and Tolerance documents the Holocaust and genocides across the world. It’s a sombre but highly educational and eye-opening museum.
Important note: many attractions in Mexico City can become extremely busy, especially on weekends and holidays when entrance is often free for locals. Avoid peak hours whenever possible, especially for Teotihuacan, Templo Mayo, the Mueso de Bellas Artes and Frida Kahlo’s house.
Condesa’s leafy streets and high-end eats are the equal of any European capital. This district, built up around Mexico City’s financial sector, sits next to the vast and enchanting Chapultepec park. Definitely head up the hill to Chapultepec Castle, where famous Mexican leaders held court in the past and where you can get a great view of the city’s skyscrapers.
There are a number of excellent museums in Chapultepec park, including the National Museum of Anthropology (expect to spend at least half a day in this museum) and the Modern Art Gallery.
Condesa is reasonably close to the Soumaya Museum, a beautiful building a little further from the centre. The Soumaya Museum is dedicated to the old masters — if you’re not a fan of the old masters, you won’t be a fan of the museum.
Narvarte, Roma, Doctores and other parts of Mexico City
While Coyoacan and Condesa are our favourite neighbourhoods in Mexico City, other areas of the city make for perfectly respectable base camps. Narvarte has some of the city’s cheaper accommodation options, Roma is particularly popular with tourists for its boutique shopping and Doctores is close to Condesa but cheaper.
In this part of town, you can watch Lucha Libre in the aging Mexico Arena. Tickets available at Ticketmaster consoles located throughout the city (you can also buy tickets via Ticketmaster online). We didn’t know what to expect at Lucha Libre, but we had a fantastic fun time. You can buy a Lucha Libre mask outside like we did to remember the night too.
I breathed a sigh of relief when I first reached the cobblestone streets of Coyoacan. Mexico City is a very cosmopolitan place, so much so that it can at times feel like a world apart from the rest of the country. Coyoacan, however, has a refreshing old-style, bohemian vibe. The cheaper rental prices mean the neighbourhood is more mixed and has more students than other areas of Mexico City. We spent a week here sharing a cool Airbnb apartment but could’ve stayed even longer.
Join the free walking tour in Coyoacan to orientate yourself and get a feel for the neighbourhood’s interesting history. You’ll pass by the Church of Hernan Cortes, commissioned by the conqueror himself, and the beautiful cultural centre. If you’re keen on Mexican handicrafts, also check out the Mercado Artesanal Mexicano.
Arrive early to Frida Kahlo’s house to avoid the huge queues. We arrived about thirty minutes before it opened to get a ticket and it was still busy! Just a few blocks away is Leon Trotsky’s house, which is now a basic museum.Note that Coyoacan is a little further from the Centro Historico than most of Mexico City’s districts.
Day-Trips from Mexico City
Teotihuacan is a stunning archaeological site about an hour’s bus journey from the capital. You can take the metro to the capital’s north terminal and a bus to the site from there. The runs are perfectly doable without a guide and getting there is quite straightforward. These ruins were absolutely spectacular, so do not miss them.
Monarch Butterfly Migration
I was completely baffled by the absence of reasonably priced tours to see this wonder of the natural world. We went to watch the glorious Monarch butterfly migration in early December with a private driver (because that was the cheapest way). It’s a very long day trip from the capital but worth every moment of travel time. The butterflies only fly when it’s hot (who can blame them?) so it’s best to see them in the afternoon or to spend a couple of days at the reserve if your budget can stretch to it.
Where to Stay in Mexico City
We stayed in Airbnbs the whole time we were in Mexico City. We moved around a little more than would’ve been ideal but fortunately we had some great places.
Condesa private room (2-4 people) – This was our favourite accommodation in Mexico City. Staying in leafy green Condesa was lush, and this place was only £12 per night. The host, Luis, was super friendly.
Coyoacan private room (2 people) – We had a lot of fun staying in a shared apartment with Elis. This place had a warm, friendly and laid-back studenty vibe to it. It was really close to Coyoacan market and just around the corner from some good bakeries. Great for a couple wanting to socialise in bohemian Coyoacan.
Escandon whole apartment (2 people) – This retro studio apartment is in the basement of a block of flats. It’s spacious and cosy with a green grocer and a great espresso place nearby. If you want a good value place to yourself in the city, then this is the Airbnb for you.
Navarte whole apartment (4 people) – Modern apartment located in Navarte neighbourhood. We stayed here when our two good friends came to visit us in the city. It’s great value when split between four people, very modern and super well-equipped.
Check out our favourite budget Airbnb recommendations for Mexico.
Getting around Mexico City
I had a love/hate relationship with Mexico City’s metro. It’s crowded, painfully slow, and I saw passengers coming to blows in the male-only section of the train. Yet at the same time, the system is ludicrously cheap and will get you to where you need to be eventually. As long as you avoid rush hour, you should find it a reasonable way to get around the city. Uber provides an excellent backup option.
Is Mexico City safe?
With the help of several thousand well-armed police officers, Mexico City has managed – much to everyone’s surprise – to distance itself from the country’s drug war. As a result, Mexico City feels far safer than other Central American capitals.
I was never a victim of crime at any point in my four-week trip to Mexico City (or at any time during my nine-month trip around Mexico). My friend, however, had his iPhone stolen on the metro. I’m not sure what lessons can be learned from this, if any. Use our anti-crime tips and your trip will (probably) be a safe one.