Mexico City is a whopper of a city; a vibrant, sprawling metropolis with a population of 22 million. That number makes me, a Londoner, feel like a small-town girl. Known by locals as CDMX (Ciudad de México), it’s a city for foodies and culture vultures. There is a seemingly never-ending supply of restaurants, cafes, bars, along with dozens of museums and art galleries. With so much to see and do in Mexico City, it can be overwhelming deciding where to start. While you wouldn’t even scratch the surface staying here for a month, you can have a great time during a short stay. This 3 day itinerary will take you around historic landmarks, ancient ruins, and bustling neighbourhoods full of colour and life.
This is just a rough idea of what can be done each day, and can be easily adapted depending on whether you stay in the historic centre or elsewhere. Keep in mind that Mexico City is huge, can get very hot, has low humidity and high levels of pollution, so scheduling some rest time is wise!
Day 1 AM: EXPLORING THE HISTORIC CENTRE
The first stop for any tourist visiting Mexico City should be the historic centre. To begin, head to Mexico City’s main square, commonly known as the Zócalo, where you will be greeted by a giant Mexican flag waving proudly. Here you will find the National Palace (official residence of the Mexican President) as well as the Metropolitan Cathedral – the oldest and largest in the Americas. The cathedral, completed over three centuries, is a hodge-podge of different architectural styles well worth visiting. Afterwards, head around the corner to the ruins of the Temple Mayor. This was the main temple in what was previously the Aztec Empire’s capital city of Tenochtitlan. You can enter the museum for $85 MXN, or simply admire the ruins from the outside.
Afterwards stroll down the pedestrianised Madero Street and stop off at La Casa de Toño for some traditional Mexican dishes like Pozole and Chilaquiles before checking out nearby Palacio de Bellas Artes, a beautiful marble opera house displaying murals and other artworks. If you want something a little less touristy, you could try Museo Kaluz, a nearby gallery with a private collection of Mexican artwork from the 18th to 21st centuries.
DAY 1 PM: DRINKS AND DINNER IN ROMA NORTE
After a busy start to the day it’s time to take it easy. First make your way to Joe Gelato for some of the best gelato I’ve had outside Italy. The snacking doesn’t stop there though. Continue down the beautiful tree-lined streets into Roma Norte and join the queue at Churrería El Moro for some crispy churros and chocolate. As the evening draws in, go for some expertly crafted cocktails at one of the most highly regarded bars in the world – Licorería Limantour (advanced booking highly recommended). After a drink or two…or three…you will probably be a bit peckish. Luckily there are plenty of places to eat in this area like Taquería Orinoco, El Parnita, or Maíz de Cacao. Should you wish for the night to continue, try some Mexican craft beers at Escollo.
DAY 2 AM: TEOTIHUACÁN
Today it is time to leave the hustle and bustle of the city and visit one of the most important sites in Mexico – the ancient city of Teotihuacán. Located about 30 kilometres outside of CDMX, this large archeological complex was first settled around 400 BCE and is home to the impressive Sun and Moon pyramids, the former of which is the largest building at the site. While these are the main attractions here, there is plenty more to see, including beautifully preserved frescoes, the Avenue of the Dead, and the Temple of the Serpent (the only temple you can currently climb).
Teotihuacán has a fascinating history, with its origins still a mystery. It is useful to brush up on some information before going to fully appreciate what you are seeing. While you can hire guides on arrival, we used an app called SmartGuide which uses GPS to tell you about structures as you are walking by them – very clever!
This day trip will take around 6 or so hours, so it’s best to arrive at 9AM for opening to avoid the crowds and the heat. As there is little to no shade here, you should bring a hat with you or an umbrella to shield from the sun, as well as suntan lotion, water, and comfortable shoes. There is food available nearby, such as at famous La Gruta (a restaurant in a cave), but we just brought a little picnic with us to save some time and money.
Admission fee: $90 MXN (concessions available).
Opening times: Open 365 days a year, 9 am to 5 pm. Sundays are the busiest day as Mexican nationals and residents have free entry.
How to get to Teotihuacán
Teotihuacán can be easily reached by bus from Autobuses del Norte. The journey takes around one hour (traffic depending) and costs 120 MXN return per person. We had no issues with the bus, though it was quite busy on the way back (we had to sit on the floor by the driver!). If this doesn’t sound appealing, there are multiple other options, including guided tours, taxi/uber, or driving yourself.
DAY 2 PM: EXPLORING COYOACÁN
It will be around 2/3pm when you get back to CDMX so you will no doubt want a little rest after all that exploring in the intense Mexico heat. After a nap and some freshening up, it’s time to head back out. Take the metro or an Uber to Coyoacan, a colourful neighbourhood in southern CDMX, known for its colonial architecture, cobbled streets and lively markets. The buildings are painted in brilliantly bright colours, and there’s some very cool street art too. It is also where the Frida Kahlo Museum is. If you plan to visit here, make sure you book ahead as tickets are rarely available on the door.
After, go to the plaza in Coyoacan centre. This area comes to life in the evenings with musicians and dancers and is a great spot for some people watching. Get into the spirit of things by having a flight of Mezcal at Corazón de Maguey before joining the locals at one of the many restaurants or street food stalls nearby.
DAY 3 AM: NATIONAL MUSEUM OF ANTHROPOLOGY
After breakfast, make your way to Auditorio metro station in Chapultepec Park. From here it is a short walk to the National Museum of Anthropology. This sprawling complex houses some 600,000 artefacts from various periods throughout Mexico’s history, dating back to the Maya civilization. The most famous exhibit is Piedra del Sol (Aztec sun stone). With so much to see you should give yourself a good few hours to explore. Unfortunately, as with many museums in Mexico, there’s no audio guide available in other languages and the majority of the display boards and captions are in Spanish. If you are an early bird you could also walk around Chapultepec Park before the museum.
Admission: $90 MXN (concessions available).
Opening times: Tuesdays-Saturdays 9am to 6pm. Closed Mondays. Sundays are the busiest day as Mexican nationals and residents have free entry.
DAY 3 PM: LA CONDESA AND VIEWS OVER MEXICO CITY
Now sufficiently full of Mexican history, it’s time to become sufficiently full of Mexican cuisine. For a delicious lunch in a stylish and bustling setting head over to Contramar in Roma Norte, a renowned restaurant specialising in superb seafood. It has an extensive menu but some must have dishes are the tuna tostadas and the white fish with red chilli and parsley sauces. It’s a little pricey but oh so worth it! After lunch, have a little stroll around the quaint streets of nearby La Condesa and Parque Mexico. This beautiful park has an Audiorama – a small area where there is soothing music, comfortable chairs, and an agreement not to make phone calls or disturb other people. This is something I’ve never seen before, but it needs to be in all parks!
In the evening head back into the historic centre to experience Mexico City’s world famous street food scene. Gorge yourself on Tacos al Pastor, Birria, Elotes, Tlacoyos, Tortas, and much more. However, before you put yourself into a food coma, take the elevator up the Torre Latinoamericana for spectacular views and a cocktail to end your time in this wonderful city.
MORE THAN 3 DAYS IN MEXICO CITY?
If you have more than 3 days you can easily spread out the recommended itinerary, as well as adding other things like a visit to the Floating Gardens of Xochimilco, the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and Chapultepec Castle. You could even fit in a day trip to Taxco – Mexico’s Silver City.
As this itinerary shows, Mexico City is a fantastic destination, offering visitors a wide variety of cultural, historical and culinary experiences. I hope this post has given you lots of ideas about how to optimise your time there and have a truly unforgettable holiday. For more tips on travelling to CDMX, check out my Mexico City Travel Guide for First-Time Visitors.
Ciao for now
Izzie, the Curious Sparrow