Mexico City is immense. Around 22 million people live here, but most foreign tourists don’t bother to visit, or severely underestimate what it has to offer. According to Visit Mexico’s website, Mexico City is the city with the largest number of museums in the world. Couple that with a UNESCO-listed centre, UNESCO listed cuisine, and more activities than you can shake a stick at, Mexico City really is the place to be. Whatever you are into, you will find something to please every taste; here is just a sample of what there is to do in this magical city.
TOP THINGS TO DO IN MEXICO CITY
1- Explore the Historic Centre
The UNESCO-listed ‘Historic Centre’ of Mexico City includes the Zocalo Main square,which often hosting free concerts and events, Latin America’s largest Cathedral which you can admire from inside or take a tour up the bell towers for a unique view, and the Palacio Nacional Government building which houses a magnificent Diego Rivera Mural (free entry but you must bring ID with you).
Just behind the Cathedral, you will find the Templo Mayor museum, revealing the huge temple which was built when the city was founded. You can see some of the ruins from the street, or enter the museum for a closer look at the artefacts they unearthed inside.
2- Shop till you Drop in the Markets
Ciudadela Artisan Market is hands-down the best place to buy souvenirs in Mexico City. This huge market is jam-packed with handicrafts, from painted skulls and beautifully beaded artwork to silver jewellery, and everything in between. Foodies will be in heaven in San Juan Market, renowned for its exotic meats, imported products, herbs, spices and delicious mole salsas, as well as fresh meat, fish, fruit and vegetables.
The brave can try local specialities like chapulines (crickets), worms and even scorpions! La Merced is the biggest market in the city, a vast maze of stalls selling everything from cookers to clothes – including a section in the centre called Sinaloa Market, dedicated to potions, rituals and witchcraft!
3- Admire the Palacio de Bellas Artes
A wonderful building which is as magnificent from the outside as it is on the inside, the Palacio de Bellas Artes is a theatre and museum. Buy a ticket for the Folkloric Ballet, a riot of colourful traditional dance, or enter the museum for a magnificent collection of murals from Mexico’s most important artists, as well as several rooms with temporary exhibits.
*Insider Tip* One of the best places to admire the building is across the street from the SEARs department store; take the escalators to the top floor and snap a photo out of the window.
4- Gorge on Mexico’s History in the Anthropology Museum
My favourite museum in Mexico City, el Museo Nacional de Antropología is Mexico’s most popular tourist attraction. This behemoth of a museum tracks the history of Mexico’s inhabitants from the development of the human species through to the conquest and beyond. With fascinating exhibits on all indigenous cultures in Mexico, the highlight for me was the large room at the far end of the courtyard, dedicated to the Mexica people. Here you will find the magnificent Aztec sun stone, which is worth the visit alone. The museum is so huge you could easily spend a full day here, although there is so much information to take in perhaps two separate visits would be better!
5- Visit the Frida Kahlo Museum
Frida was never particularly famous or revered while she was alive – she was more commonly known as the wife of Diego Rivera. However, in recent years her popularity has grown worldwide, following the 2002 film with Salma Hayek, and Frida’s association with the feminist movement and fashion, with designers such as Jean Paul Gautier using her trademark corsets as inspiration. The museum is known as The Blue House, and is where Frida grew up, and later, where she and Diego lived for a time until they moved into separate homes.
The museum offers a fascinating insight into her life, from childhood and her accident to married life with Diego. There is a small amount of her work exhibited here, as well as photographs of her and her family and friends, and a temporary exhibition of her clothes which were found several years after her death.
6- Get Lost in Chapultepec Forest
Literally translated as grasshopper hill, Chapultepec is definitely worth spending a full day in. Come here for your fix of greenery in Mexico’s concrete jungle – this really is a forest filled with trees, and plenty of scampering squirrels. The forest is also home to some of the best museums in the city, including the excellent Anthropology Museum, as well as the Museum of Modern Art, the Tamayo Museum, Chapultepec Castle, and the Natural History Museum.
Here you will also find the zoo, botanic gardens, a boating lake, and tons of stalls selling everything from snacks to cuddly toys, as well as street performers providing entertainment for the kids. It is a huge area, and many of the museums are free for everyone on Sunday, which also means the park gets packed. Watch out for special events like the monthly night picnic or film on the lake!
7- Take a boat ride at Xochimilco
Not usually on visitors’ lists due to its location an hour or two outside of the centre, Xochimilco is definitely worth a visit if you can get there. The rivers and floating islands here offer a glimpse into Mexico City’s past and how the Aztec (Mexican Indigenous) people lived. Admittedly it is touristy and a little gimmicky now, but go early in the morning for a more peaceful ride along the river on colourful boats captained by Mexican gondoliers.
If you prefer more of a party vibe, go on the weekends or holidays when hundreds of boats take to the water, filled with drinking and dancing Mexicans. Flag down a passing boat-load of Mariachis who will serenade you for 120 pesos a song, grab a taco from a floating food stall and drink michelada beers to your heart’s content.
8- Join the Madness at Lucha Libre Wrestling
Nothing says ‘Mexico’ quite like watching masked men leap around a ring in skin tight lycra while the crowd bay for blood. A spectacle of acrobatics and hammy acting skills, it is hard not to love the craziness of a Lucha Libre fight. Deeply ingrained in Mexican culture, Lucha Libre has to be seen to be believed. Just have a few drinks, pick a side to yell at, and enjoy the show!
9- Sample the Street Food
Mexican cuisine is one of the only cuisines in the world that has been designated as Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO, and street food here is surprisingly good – and cheap! The range of food is impressive, and the fun is sampling things you’ve never heard of! Much more than just tacos, you’ll find tlayudas, elotes, quesadillas, sopes, juices, and more. Just find a stall with a queue of people, and join it. A word of caution though, never trust a Mexican who tells you the salsa is not hot! If you’re sensible, try a dot of salsa on the back of your hand before smothering your food in it.
10- Be Awe-Inspired at Teotihuacan
Although not technically not in Mexico City, a day trip to the Pyramids of Teotihuacan is one of the most popular things to do here. The Teotihuacan complex includes the 3 rd largest pyramid in the world – the Pyramid of the Sun, a temple to the feathered snake god Quetzalcoatl, and the pyramid of the Moon.
What really makes this site unique is that you can still climb up the pyramid and enjoy the spectacular views from the top! You can also arrange a dawn hot-air balloon ride over the pyramids for an extra special experience.
By Claire Sturzaker, Tales of a Backpacker
Claire began blogging as a hobby, then left her office job in 2015 to travel solo around South America and write about her adventures. Now back in Latin America and travelling full time, her blog Tales of a Backpacker is designed for travellers on a budget who are still willing to splurge on once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Aiming to seek out the best food, drink and experiences in a destination without breaking the bank, she loves to share stories and inspire others to travel.