22 million can’t be wrong, right? Mexico City is, in fact, the G.O.A.T (greatest of all time). Full of fantastic culture, history, and architecture, Mexico City is unlike any city I’ve ever been to. Here's why.
When I first approached the idea of visiting CDMX, I thought it would be like Medellin, Columbia, or San Jose, Costa Rica. But it wasn’t. CDMX is a unique, authentic, one-of-a-kind place that stole my heart.
About CDMX (Ciudad Mexico)
Mexico City is currently located in the heart of Mexico. 7 hours from the ocean on both sides and sitting at an elevation over 7,000 feet (over 2,000 meters). The city is jam-packed with flats, lush foliage, trendy restaurants, delicious coffee shops, and everything in between.
Many of the nicer neighborhoods are incredibly walkable. I stayed in Condesa which is the hip, artistic neighborhood of Mexico City. It's so walkable that you easily could take 20,000 steps a day and still not see it all. Condesa's not the only great neighborhood, though. Other notable tourist-friendly areas include Roma Norte, Polanco, Coyoacan (where Frida Kahlo’s house is–more on that later!), Zona Rosa, and Centro Historico.
We toured several areas of CDMX but got a real local experience from our friend, Alex. She was born and raised in CDMX and showed us places many tourists miss out on. From our tour with Alex and our wondrous wandering, here are the top 10 must-see places in Mexico City.
1. Chapultepec Castle
Considered the only castle in the western hemisphere actually inhabited by royals, Castillo de Chapultepec, or the Chapultepec Castle is an amazing historic building where Mexican Emperor Maximilian I and Empress Carlota lived and flourished. It has several stories, over 110,000 square feet, and holds important Mexican history within the Museo Nacional de Historia that's housed in the structure.
The castle is a must-see because of its amazing collection of historical items dating back to before the birth of Christ and all the way to the modern-day. It also dawns the best view (in my opinion) of Mexico City offering a 360-degree view above the tree tops.
The cost of entry is 80 pesos (or $4 USD). Walk around, relish in Mexican history, and pretend to be a royal for an afternoon.
One of numerous Mexican pyramids built by the Aztecs, Teotihuacan is a must-see day-long event. Here you’ll be able to scale ancient Pyramids and witness one of the greatest architectural marvels in the western hemisphere.
Teotihuacan was constructed before the birth of Christ and served as an economic center for trade, commerce, and government. It has several pyramids with spiritual significance like the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon. Also in the area, you’ll be able to explore a museum with ancient artifacts from the area. Even better, you'll get thousands of steps as you scale the structures just like the Aztecs did.
Getting to Teotihuacan isn’t too difficult from the center of Mexico City. I recommend catching a Cabify (a cheaper, local Uber) and sitting back for the nearly hour-long drive. Expect to pay 80 pesos (or $4 USD) for one all-day entry ticket.
3. Templo Mayor Museum
Probably the most hidden architectural site within Mexico City limits, the Templo Mayor Museum was a temple for the Mexica people who originally inhabited the area (way before when it was Tenochtitlan). The temple is now a series of ruins located behind the amazing Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral near downtown.
This temple gives you Rome vibes in that you'll be strolling to get a coffee and then out of nowhere BOOM a ruin appears. You can’t physically enter the temple for obvious reasons but you can get a great view from above. You can lean into the history by looking over glass barriers that peer into the site. You'll be able see where different rooms in the building were and how the Mexica people structured the building. This ancient site is free and can be visited any time of day.
4. Frida Kahlo Museum
The remarkable Frida Kahlo left visitors an unexpected gift when she passed in 1954: her home and studio. Shared with the famous Mexican muralist, Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo's house, now a museum, is a monumental place that cannot be missed when visiting Mexico City. Its iconic blue walls hold decades of her original artwork, pottery, clothing, and more.
When you walk in, you’ll immediately be swept away by her self-portraits that documented her life as a German-Mexican woman living in a time of revolution. Many pieces of work reference her life as a little girl, her unfortunate car accident that left her bed-ridden for nine months, and her time in the USA with her then husband, Diego.
You’ll walk through several important rooms like her kitchen, bedroom, studio and garden all of which dawn original possessions and artwork. Her home is breathtaking, moving, and the most authentic representation of Frida Kahlo’s life.
Foreigners can visit the museum for 230 pesos (or $11 USD) for 1.5 hours. Pay an extra 30 pesos and you can take photos of her original work.
5. Museum of Anthropology
Housing one of the most amazing collections of ancient Mesoamerican artifacts, the Museo de Anthropología or the Museum of Anthropology is an absolute must-see in Mexico City. Before you even enter the behemoth of the museum, you’ll be struck by live performances depicting Aztecan ceremonial dances or be entranced by Danza de Los Voladores (Dance of the Flyers) where men swing elegantly from a 30-meter pole to the sound of a wooden instrument.
When you enter, you’ll experience never before seen artifacts (some as large as a house). Pieces of pyramids, tools, clothing, stones, instruments, and more. The museum is so large and comprehensive, that you may need several hours (and breaks) to get through it all. But, it’s worth every second and penny you spend.
What you’ll see in the Museum of Anthropology will put the pieces of the ancient civilizations that lived in Mexico into context. Leaving you with a greater understanding and appreciation for the modern-day country. The museum costs 75 pesos (about $4 USD) for an all-day visit.
6. Madero Street
You may walk by Madero Street and think it’s just another tourist zone, but, in fact, it's much more than that. Madero Street was named after Mexican revolutionary, Francisco I. Madero, and has been one of the most popular streets in Mexico City since the colonial times. It was one of the first streets to be drawn on the Spanish-made city made above the ruins of the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan.
Today, you’ll enjoy its energetic and pedestrian layout with amazing shopping and food nearby. It’s busy but active offering a space for locals and tourists to interact. You’ll know you’re on Madero Street because of the wood-colored walkaway that lines it's nearly third of a mile length.
Notable buildings to see on this street include:
The Torre Latinoamerica, a skyscraper that was once the tallest building of its time
The Church of San Francisco
The Borda House, home of Spaniard Jose de la Borda
7. La Bodeguita del Medio
The Cuban revolution didn’t just stay in Cuba, it spread to Mexico City, too. La Bodeguita del Medio is an iconic restaurant serving cuban dishes. It used to be a hangout for revolutionaries and still is perceived as place of dissent, free thought, and creativity.
On nearly ever inch of the building’s walls are names of people who have made their mark, literally. The place is graffitied with visitor names, hearts, images, and other markings to symbolize, we were here and still are.
Outside of the ambiance, you’ll find the best cuban food in central Mexico City. Slow cooked meats, twice fried plantains, rice, beans, and the whole shebang. You don’t want to miss a memorable culinary and cultural experience here.
8. Museum of Mezcal and Tequila
While most tourists never get to see the Museum of Mezcal and Tequila, I say it’s a must-see and drink experience. Tourists usually skip this part of town because it’s right next to an up-and-coming neighborhood, Tepito, which struggles with poverty and violence. However, if you don’t mind a little danger, this museum offers a whole lot to see and drink.
Enjoy mezcal cocktails or tequila shots on the museums open-air patio overlooking the Mariachi Square (more on that next). Try an array of typical drinks in unique flavors and aromas, while learning the history of these local beverages.
9. Mariachi square at the Plaza Garibaldi
The Mariachi bands located at the Plaza Garibaldi was one of my favorite places to be in the city. Here you’ll find dozens of Mariachi musicians dawning traditional clothing that symbolizes the various regions of Mexico where the music is played. Here, for a few dollars, you can be surrounded by a band playing an orchestra of music just for you.
Mariachi instruments and styles vary depending on the region in which they’re coming from. Some bands have 5-string guitars, violins, and trumpets while others have harps, accordions, and flutes. Whatever your style, spend a few minutes wandering the square, pull out some pesos, and prepare to be serenaded.
10. Mercado Medellin
For the freshest produce in central Mexico City, go to Mercado Medellin or the Medellin Market. Think of this place as the Grand Bazaar of Mexico City. It’s an enclosed building where hundreds of vendors set up shop and sell their goods. Everything from freshly caught fish to spices, you’ll find everything you need to make a delicious meal.
Seasonal fruit can also be found here including figs, papayas, and others you can hardly find anywhere else. Keep in mind, prices are not negotiable. Most vendors have set price that are competitive with their neighbors. When shopping here, what you’re looking for is the best smelling, looking, or ripest fruit. Not the best price.
Once you find your stash of goodies, pay in cash (hardly any vendors in the market accept debit or credit cards), and return happily back to your accommodation for a tasty meal.
Only 5 days in the city? No problem. Don’t skip these spots
You can't go wrong with the 10 places on this list. Whether you’re in Mexico City for 3, 5 days or even 10 days, all of the places mentioned will give you a glimpse into the historic and present day Mexico City. You'll be left with a sensory appreciation of how deep Mexico’s history goes and the ways it's still evolving. Enjoy!