Mexico City Travel Guide for First-Time Visitors

Mexico City is one of the most visited cities in the world, attracting millions of Mexican people and international tourists every year. With its historic landmarks, rich cultural heritage and delicious restaurants, it’s easy to see why. My boyfriend and I spent six nights there and did a ton of research beforehand, trawling through blogs and Youtube channels. In this post I’d like to share what we learned, clarify your questions and put your mind at rest if you’re nervous about visiting such a huge city.

What are the must-see tourist attractions in Mexico City?

You certainly won’t be bored in Mexico City as there are a seemingly endless number of things to see and do in this vibrant megapolis. Mexico City, known as CDMX to locals, is home to over 150 museums, which range from classical history museums to more unique ones such as the Tequila and Mezcal Museum! A must-visit is the National Museum of Anthropology, an enormous complex that shows off stunning artefacts from Mexico’s fascinating history. For art lovers there is the Frida Kahlo Museum, a beautiful blue house where Mexico’s most famous artist lived and worked. In the Historic Centre you will find beautiful colonial-era buildings like the Metropolitan Cathedral as well as the ancient Aztec ruins of Temple Mayor. 

And while there is a lot of sightseeing and culture to absorb, the main reason for many people visiting Mexico is the food! Sure, you can find Mexican food everywhere these days, but you need to visit Mexico to experience the real deal. There are so many different dishes and local specialities to try, some of which I’d never heard of until I got there. Mexico City has some fantastic street food along with some of the world’s finest restaurants such as Pujol. Don’t forget nightlife either, with many amazing bars to be found in neighbourhoods like Roma Norte for some delicious Mezcal-based cocktails. 

How many days in Mexico City are enough?

I get the impression you could spend a year in Mexico City and still not see or do everything! However, realistically, most people have limited travel time so I would suggest 3 to 4 days in order to visit the main tourist attractions and the most popular neighbourhoods. I stayed for six nights which allowed for a day trip to Teotihuacán (one of the highlights of my time in Mexico City). However you could easily fill seven to ten days there. 

What is the best time of year to visit?

The best time is in the dry season between October and April. We were there in February and it was a great time to visit. It was warm and sunny during the day and colder at night. Nightly temperatures of 7-10°C (45-50°F) are common during the dry season so you should bring a jacket and hoodie. The rainy season runs from May to September. You should expect warmer temperatures and some rain. 

If you want to be there on one of Mexico’s most significant holidays, visit at the beginning of November for the Day of the Dead celebrations. Mexico City hosts a huge citywide parade the Saturday before the actual holiday.

You should also consider Mexico City’s altitude. The city is located about 2,240 metres, and those not used to higher altitudes can easily get altitude sickness. If you also factor in the traffic fumes and air pollution, it’s a good idea to include some flexibility in your itinerary in case you need a day or two to adapt.

Is Mexico City safe for tourists?

For the most part – yes! There’s no denying that bad things happen in Mexico but there is also some intense scaremongering and demonising happening in the mainstream media. Mexico welcomes millions of tourists every year and the majority of people don’t experience any problems. Tourism is big business for the country and the government puts a lot of resources into ensuring the safety of visitors.

If you’ve travelled to a big city before, you should apply the good practice you already know about travel safety. I am very safety-aware (thanks to growing up in London with paranoid parents!) and I didn’t experience any moments in Mexico City when I felt even slightly uncomfortable or unsafe. If you make safety a priority (not an afterthought), listen to your intuition and avoid unsafe places, you can have a fantastic time in Mexico City (and throughout much of the country). 

If you’re going to use public transport, be aware of your surroundings and be careful of pickpockets. You should carry your backpacks on your chest, with the straps over your shoulders. If you’ve got a handbag, hold it with the zip/opening facing you (or ideally with your hand over the fastening). Don’t have anything in your front or back pockets. If you want to travel at a quieter time, avoid rush hour (7am-9am and 5pm-7pm).

If you’re a woman travelling alone, you can use the female-only sections of the Mexico City metro and buses. On the metro, it is the front carriages, and on buses it is a clearly marked section (either at the front or back). These areas are women and children only. 

Another thing to watch out for is corrupt police. Before we went to Mexico we had heard stories of police extorting money from tourists for minor infractions. Once we got there we met people who had been threatened with jail time if they didn’t give the police cash. While extortion is rare, it is something to keep in mind so make sure you are aware of the local laws and actions that might be illegal in Mexico which aren’t in your home country (e.g. drinking alcohol in public). If the police stop you or accuse you of a crime, use your own judgement on how you wish to proceed. We met people who handed over cash rather than arguing, as well as those who insisted on being properly charged and given a ticket (incidentally this made the police give up and move onto the next victim).

How do I get around Mexico City using public transportation?

Public transport in Mexico City is excellent; there is an extensive network of buses and metro lines, which are affordable and super easy to use. The metro consists of 12 lines organised by different colours and numbers and is a lot clearer than many other cities I’ve been to. The most central lines which connect the historic centre to popular neighbourhoods Roma Norte, Roma Sud and La Condesa are lines 1, 2, 3 and 8. You can find a map of the metro system here

The metro only costs 5 pesos per journey, whereas buses cost 6 pesos. If you’re going to use public transport a lot like we did, it’s worth buying the rechargeable Mexico City Metro Card so you don’t have to queue up for tickets each time. A Metro Card costs 15 pesos and you can add extra credit whenever you need to at any underground station or metrobús station. There are also some private retailers around the city who will recharge your card.

There are regular buses and a special kind of bus called metrobuses, which are at street level and follow most of the same stops as the underground lines. These have the advantage of being able to cut directly across the city, which saves time. Each ride costs 6 Pesos and you can pay with your Metro Card.

Is there Uber in the city? 

Yes! Uber is readily available and very cheap in Mexico City. Many people use it day and night instead of driving themselves or using public transport. You should use Uber at night, especially if you’re travelling alone. They are generally safer than regular taxis, some of which aren’t officially licensed.

What’s the best way to book my accommodation?

My boyfriend and I usually rent through Airbnb if we are staying somewhere for more than three or four nights. For hotels and hostels, we compare options on Booking, Hostel World and Agoda. We pay particular attention to price and location and I read every review (starting from the most recent) looking for red flags. In Mexico these were usually related to noisy neighbours and no hot water! 

Where should I stay in Mexico City?

There are so many neighbourhoods in Mexico City, it can be overwhelming trying to decide where to stay. Each has its advantages and disadvantages so consider what kind of atmosphere you want, as well as transportation links and distances from the main tourist attractions and sights. While there are dozens of neighbourhoods to choose from, I have listed the most popular areas to stay below. 

  • Centro histórico: This is where we stayed during our time in Mexico City and enjoyed the convenience of being within walking distance of many of the city’s tourist attractions. There are great public transport links and plenty of accommodation options, restaurants and bars to choose between. It also has a great street food scene. However, it can be loud and crowded, so not the best choice if you want somewhere calm to relax after a long day’s sightseeing.
  • Roma Norte: Very picturesque with beautiful architecture, amazing restaurants and cute cafes. Close to large parks like Chapultepec Park and Parque Mexico. A good choice if you’re looking for a walkable, safe neighbourhood with a chilled vibe. 
  • La Condesa: Very similar to Roma Norte but a little more lively at night. Mexico City’s best nightlife spots right here. There are some pretty parks like Parque Mexico and Parque España if you need somewhere to recover from too much Mezcal the night before.
  • Zona Rosa: Next to the historic centre, this neighbourhood is known for its nightlife, restaurants, shopping centres and markets. It’s the most LGBT-friendly part of the city.  
  • Coyoacan: This is considered to be the colourful neighbourhood in Mexico City. It’s safe, family-friendly, artistic and with bohemian vibes. There are contemporary art galleries and museums, along with popular markets. However, it’s 40 minutes south of the historic centre so you will need to use Uber or public transport a lot if you stay here. 
  • Polanco: The poshest, most luxurious neighbourhood in Mexico City, full of fancy hotels, pristine parks, high-end restaurants, swanky cocktail bars and upscale shopping. Its main shopping street Avenida Masaryk is nicknamed the “Rodeo Drive of Mexico City”. It is therefore noticeably more expensive than other areas. 

What are the parts of Mexico City to avoid?

From my research, I learned that you should avoid Tepito, Doctores, Itzapalapa and Ciudad Neza. These neighbourhoods have higher crime rates than other areas of the city, but it is unlikely you will want or need to go to these areas.

How expensive is Mexico City?

How much you spend in Mexico City will depend entirely on how you travel. It is one of those cities for any budget. If you are on a small budget, you can easily get by on around €30 a day if you stay in a dorm, use the metro and stick to cheap tasty street food (the cheapest we saw were 12 peso per tacos). Sightseeing is also affordable, with many museums costing around €5 euros for entry.

My boyfriend and I spent around €90 per day in Mexico City (including accommodation), but we stayed in a nice Airbnb apartment, ate out at mid-range and higher-end restaurants (in addition to street food), went to bars, did a lot of sightseeing, and used a good amount of Ubers. Generally you should budget €40 per person per day (including accommodation). 

Is there free wifi in Mexico City?

Free public wifi isn’t widely available in Mexico City so you shouldn’t rely on using it. Instead, you should buy a cheap Mexican SIM Card with data so you always have access to a map and can call an Uber whenever you need one. You can get a SIM card at the airport or any Oxxo convenience shop in the city (Mexico’s equivalent to 7-11). It will cost around 25% more if you buy at the airport, so you could buy it later once you’ve checked into your accommodation.

I recommend the company Telcel as it is the largest service provider in Mexico, so you’ll have the best reception possible. I paid 200 pesos (around €10/$11 USD) for 3 Gigabytes over 30 days. Telcel prepaid SIM card options all come with free unlimited calls and texts within Mexico. They usually include unlimited social media (Instagram, WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter) which doesn’t count towards your data usage. If you use up all your data, you can easily top up (recarga) at any Oxxo or Telcel store. 

Can I drink tap water in Mexico City?

Unfortunately Mexico tap water is not safe for human consumption so you should consider the following:

  1. Checking in advance if your accommodation provides filtered water 
  2. Buying a reusable water bottle such as Lifestraw or Water-To-Go Bottle
  3. Buying large bottles of water to take back to your Airbnb/hotel room (Oxxo stores, pharmacies and supermarkets have them). We bought a big old 20L container for about €2-3 which lasted our entire stay.

Will I get food poisoning?

Unfortunately, most people get a stomach bug while visiting Mexico due to the different bacteria in the food and water. It’s so common there’s a nickname for it; “Moctezuma’s revenge”, which is particularly prevalent with tourists who eat street food and uncooked vegetables. However the street food is tasty, it seems like a worthwhile payoff. Just make sure to bring some anti-diarrhoea tablets with you, especially if you have long bus or plane journeys planned! 

What is the tipping etiquette in Mexico City?

For good service, 10% is standard for restaurants and bars. For particularly good service, 15% or 20% is acceptable. It’s not customary to tip for street food but it would be appreciated. However, you are under no obligation to tip as service is not included in your bill. Even when we tipped, servers often looked annoyed that we didn’t give them even more, which was disappointing.

Is it easy to find English-speaking locals in Mexico City?

Around 50% of the time the waiters, waitresses, bartenders and shop vendors we interacted with spoke some English. So it’s a good idea to learn some key words and phrases in Spanish beforehand. Locals will appreciate it much more than if you default to English or assume they will understand you. My boyfriend and I spent around four months practising through Duolingo (a free language app) and Youtube, which was really helpful for our holiday. 

I hope this has been useful for planning your trip to Mexico City! If you have any other questions, please ask them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.

Ciao for now

Izzie, the Curious Sparrow 



  1. Useful information here, thanks for sharing. We may get to Mexico one day only hearing good things about it. Nice to read about the main places to stay 🙂


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