The largest city in North America, Mexico City is still a mostly hidden gem and ranks amongst the greatest cities in the world. When most people picture CDMX they get images of a dangerous, run-down city with slums and shanties littering the landscape.
That was my image of the city anyway, and after a friend convinced me to visit, needless to say, my low expectations were smashed and I’ve been here ever since.
With a population of over 20 million people, it’s obviously a massive city to explore with an insane amount of diversity and culture. Going from the classic colonial Coyoacán in the south to the hipster-esque Roma neighborhood in the center and exploring awesome rooftop bars in between, there is no shortage of adventure in this magical city.
While the past two years have taken a toll on the worldwide travel economy, Mexico has remained largely unscathed as they’ve been mostly open the whole time.
Beach towns like Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and Puerto Escondido have seen massive amounts of tourists and covid refugees flocking here from other countries. 2022 is no exception and still a great time to travel in Mexico. With that being said, here’s a personal list of awesome things to do in Mexico City!
1. Do a Booze Cruise in Xochimilco
Grab your amigos, and a couple of bottles of tequila or mezcal, and head south to the rivers and floating markets of Xochimilco. Here you can rent a river boat and guide for only 500 pesos ($25 USD) per hour, split between 4-20 friends, it’s a great bargain!
While you’re here, don’t forget to check out the Island of the Dolls, a creepy little island in the channels of Xochimilco covered in various dolls right out of a horror story.
Originally placed here by the previous owner who believed the dolls chased away the evil incarnation of a little girl who drowned here years ago. In 2001 he died of a heart attack, apparently around the same spot where the girl drowned. Scared yet?
2. Explore the Pyramids of Teotihuacan
Only a 50-minute drive from central Mexico City, this was once the largest city in Mesoamerica, around 1000 years before the Aztecs even arrived.
At its peak it held 125,000 or more people, making it the 6th largest city in the world at the time, around 1-500 AD. At 1.2 million m3, it’s the 7th largest pyramid in the world.
You can rock up to this amazing site on a bus and go exploring yourself without a tour guide. Standard entry to the pyramids is only 80 pesos ($4 USD). You will spend at least two hours exploring the archeological site.
If you’re feeling extra adventurous you can take a hot air balloon ride (on some days) overtop of the spectacular pyramids in the morning, just be prepared to wake up extra early. In my opinion, checking out these magnificent structures is one of the best things to do in Mexico City.
Tucked away at the edge of Bosque de Chapultepec is one of the best museums in Mexico. With amazing ancient relics from the Mayan era as well as cultural artifacts and displays from more recent times, you could spend hours here wandering around and still go back another day for more.
Entry costs only 85 pesos and there are two floors and an outdoor area to visit. It’s usually not busy during the week but on the weekends it’s crowded. It’s also closed on Mondays.
4. Chapultepec Castle
Not far from Museo Nacional de Antropología, in the middle of Bosque Chapultepec is the famous Chapultepec Castle. It is the only royal castle in North America.
Building began in 1785 by the Spanish Crown to house royalty. After that it was an observatory, military college and a guest host for foreign officials. It is now a National Museum of History. The castle was used to film parts of the Romeo & Juliet film and it is also said to be haunted – like almost every other castle.
5. Wander Around Coyoacán
Coyoacan is further south in Mexico City and only around a 40 min drive from the center. It’s a former village that has been swallowed by the immense growth of Mexico City. The name means “place of coyotes” in the native Nahautl language.
Hernán Cortés used the spot as the headquarters during the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs. It became the first capital of New Spain in 1521. The famous Frida Kahlo Museum is also located here, housed in the same building where she was born and later on lived for 13 years until she passed away.
This beautiful cathedral in the Zocalo (main square) was built up on an ancient Aztec sacred site from 1573 to 1813. The architect was inspired by Gothic cathedrals in Spain. There is no entrance fee to the spectacular cathedral and it’s definitely worth a visit.
7. Palacio de Bellas Artes
One of the most iconic and recognizable buildings in Mexico City, this palace is a fine arts cultural center that hosts music, dance, opera, and theatre events.
It is also known as the “Cathedral of Art in Mexico” due to its rich history in art exhibits and events. After many years of construction, the building was finally completed in 1934.
8. San Juan Mercado
This very unique market close to Chinatown in the historic center is really a hidden gem within Mexico City. If you’re looking for Mexican specialties, cuisines, and souvenirs you’ll find them here. But most people come here for bizarre and curious items.
You’ll be able to find any number of exotic animals, spices, and items from far-off lands. Also known as the “Chef’s Market” for the numerous amounts of high quality and fresh meats., they also offer insects, iguana, armadillo and lion burgers — yes, lion burgers.
9. Bosque Chapultepec
Take a stroll in the biggest city park in Mexico: Chapultepec Forest. With an impressive 1,600 acres, it’s two times larger than Central Park in New York City.
Within this spectacular forest you’ll find a zoo, several museums, an old castle (listed above), a lake with many activities, and even an archaeological site.
You’ll find people jogging around the many pathways, sunbathing, reading, meditating or eating at one of the several street stalls situated around the forest. You could spend a day here and still only see half of it.
10. Toy With Danger in Tepito
Head over to one of the largest markets in Mexico City, by some counterfeit Nike’s, and try not to get robbed. Tepito is a barrio in Colonial Morelos just north of the Zocalo and historic center. The barrio is mostly made up of a giant open-air market selling all kinds of goods.
Although it has a reputation for being one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Mexico City, it has an array of spectacular items on sale. From AK-47s to pirated DVD’s, counterfeit shoes, dirt-cheap street food, and even drugs.
It’s a place everyone will warn you not to go. Venture here if your own risk, go with friends, dress to blend in, buy a Dolce & Gabanna purse and get out! They don’t call it “Barrio Bravo” for no reason.
11. Explore Condesa & Roma
Known as the gentrified areas of Mexico City, here you’ll find all kinds of foreigners, from Gringos to Europeans. They are beautiful neighborhoods with an array of fantastic bars, parks, cafes, restaurants, and clubs.
They are also known as a very safe place to live compared to other areas of the city. I’d recommend visiting here next after you stay in the historic center if it’s your first time in the city.
12. Go on a Food Tour
For sure one of the best things to do in Mexico City is of course to eat! Considered to have some of the best food in Mexico and even the world, the style varies from cheap and delicious street food to michelin star restaurants. The famous restaurant Pujol is rated number 5 on the top 50 restaurants in the world.
If you don’t fancy dressing up for a classy dinner – Mexico City also has some unbeatable street food and small hole-in-the-wall restaurants. I highly recommend going on a food tour such as this to quickly get your bearings and become familiar with the city with the help of a guide.
13. Soumaya Museum
If you’re looking for one of the best free things to do in Mexico City, the Soumaya Museum should be on your must-see list. While there are 3 locations, the most famous is a striking curved structure in the Polanco district, with a wide-ranging collection of historical artifacts, modern art, and sculptures. It’s a great place to get a feel for the culture and history of the city.
The museum houses an impressive 66,000-piece collection, is a unique and captivating building that is free to the public. The entire collection was generously donated by Carlos Slim, making the museum a true treasure trove of priceless art. With admission always free, it is a great place to visit and take photos of its peculiar architecture.
14. Templo Mayor
For sure one of my favourite things to do in Mexico City is to simply explore the ancient ruins scattered all around the massive city.
The Templo Mayor, a sacred temple for the Aztecs, was believed to be the centre of the universe. Its destruction by the Spanish to make way for the construction of a cathedral, reveals the dark side of Mexico’s history. It is still possible to visit the ruins of this important historical site in Mexico City, which is located a few steps away from the Zócalo.
In 1987, the Templo Mayor was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and today operates as a museum. It is a combination of both an indoor museum and an outdoor archaeological area. You are able to witness the Aztec ruins by simply strolling around the excavation site, you can also enter for fee of 85 MXN pesos.
15. Go For a Bike Ride
One of the simplest and most enjoyable things to do in Mexico City is to simply rent a bike and explore the city on two wheels. With many designated bike paths and daily bike rental options such as Dezba, it’s no wonder Mexico City is one of the best bike-friendly cities in the world.
Not only is it typically quicker than renting an Uber or Didi (traffic in CDMX is notoriously bad) but it’s a healthy alternative to explore the city, going down back streets and discovering sites and shops you may have missed taking a car. Biking down Avenida Paseo de la Reforma is one of the best bike rids in the city.
16. Enjoy a Lucha Libre Match
Perhaps one of the most cliche things to do in Mexico City is to go watch a wrestling match known as “Lucha Libre” It is an integral part of Mexican culture, and the performers put on an incredible show. Whether you are a fan of wrestling or not, it is sure to be an entertaining and unforgettable experience.
The most popular spot is Arena Mexico, where you can see a fight on Tuesday, Friday, or Sunday. Fridays are the most thrilling, as it’s the start of the weekend. Here, you can experience the thrill of a live match, while cheering on your favorite team.
17. Drink 1L Cervezas for 50 pesos
In the middle of Zona Rosa is a cute grungy little walking street known as Calle Genova, this is a popular spot to experience the famous Mexico City nightlife. Here you’ll find all kinds of cheap restaurants, bars, and street vendors selling many different goods.
Settle in on one of the many bars with patios and ask for a 1L cerveza (price depends on the time). Pound a couple of these back and you’ll be on your way to having the best time in Mexico City.
18. China Town
Probably one of the last things you’d expect to be doing in CDMX is going to China Town, located in the historic center of the city, right next to Alameda Park.
Although China Town here is definitely not as large as other big cities, it is still possible to visit and appreciate the paper lanterns and iconic red arch entranceway present there. Taking pictures of these, exploring the unique items for sale, and eating at some of the amazing Chinese restaurants here is for sure one of the most unusual things to do in Mexico City.
Where to Stay in Mexico City
Mexico City is massive so deciding on where to stay can seem like a daunting task with so many awesome areas to choose from. There are a few main areas that you’ll want to consider, the most notably being: Roma, Condesa, Polanco and Centro Historico.
If you’re into history, museums and architecture then you’ll want to stay in Centro Historico, which is where you’ll see the impressive Metropolitan Cathedral, Mayan ruins and other historic sites.
If you want something more modern with lots of bars, restaurants, shops and a little more gentrified, then you’ll probably want to try Roma/Condes or Polanco, which are all quite close to each other. Polanco is one of the most expensive places to stay and doesn’t have as many things to do in this area of Mexico City.
Where to Stay in Centro Historico
Luxury: Zocalo Centro
Mid Range: Historico Central
For around $100 per night you can stay at this beautiful hotel right in the heart of the historic district, and it includes a free walking tour, one of the best things to do in Mexico City!
Budget: Hostel Mundo Joven Catedral
A beautiful hostel right next to the Cathedral, with rooftop bars that has amazing views of the Zocalo below, starting at only around $35 per night for a double room and shared bathroom.
Where to Stay in Roma/Condesa
Luxury: Brick Hotel
If you’re looking for luxury and don’t want to break the bank, Brick Hotel in Roma Norte is an ideal spot, around $400 per night but definitely worth it based on the amazing facilities included and the perfect location.
Mid Range: Capital Luxury Apartments & Offices
For around $85 per night you can get this awesome apartment studio with a kitchen and balcony located right on Medellin street which is situated right between Roma and Condesa, giving you easy walking distance to all the best nightlife spots in Mexico City.
Budget: HoM Monterrey
If you’re traveling on a budget but still want to stay in an awesome area and get the most out of Mexico City nightlife then HoM Monterrey is a great choice. For only $20 per night, you’ll get a private room in what is basically a hostel with a shared bathroom and kitchen. Located in Roma Norte, we think it’s an excellent deal.
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