Mexico City has been on travelers’ to-visit lists for years, but it’s perhaps never been cooler to visit than it is now. The Mexican capital is certainly having a moment. And it’s no surprise why: With an abundance of museums, historical sites, and vibrant markets, there’s no shortage of things to do in Mexico City, no matter which time of the year you visit.
The culinary scene in Mexico City is vast, its entertainment options seemingly unending, and its libations aplenty. Whether you’re drawn to the Mexican capital to check out cultural sites like the Frida Kahlo Museum and the Teotihuacán pyramids, or you’re lured by Lucha Libre, mezcal, and the promise of more types of tacos than you thought possible, you’ll never get bored in this chaotic yet charming city.
Here are some of the best ways to make the most of your time in Mexico City.
See how it all began at the Templo Mayor ruins
Located right next to the Zócalo, Mexico City’s main square, the Templo Mayor ruins are perhaps the most easily accessible pre-Hispanic site for visitors to Mexico City. Once one of the main temples of the Aztec capital—Tenochtitlán—Templo Mayor was destroyed during the Spanish conquest, and the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral was built over its remains.
What’s interesting about this site is that you can literally see different layers of Mexican history stacked on top of each other, with the cathedral and colonial buildings at the top and different iterations of the temple lying below, built by the previous ruler. You can see some of the ruins from the outside without needing to pay for an entrance ticket, but history buffs will appreciate a closer look at the Aztec artifacts found in the museum.
Peruse the stalls at local markets
Markets are pockets of everyday life in Mexico that travelers can experience for themselves with ease. Visitors should exercise caution while visiting some of them, as certain neighborhoods have a reputation for being sketchy or downright dangerous (Central de Abastos, for example, is located in the Iztapalapa borough and is best tackled with a knowledgeable guide, like the team at Eat Like a Local, while the markets in the Tepito neighborhood, considered a rough area near the historic center, are best avoided altogether). If you want to wander alone through stalls of fresh produce and local delicacies, head to Mercado Medellín, located in the now well-known and beloved Roma neighborhood, or Mercado Jamaica, known for its unending rows of flower vendors a 20-minute metro ride south of the historic center.
Those after handicrafts would do well to head straight to La Ciudadela, located downtown, where you’ll find handmade products hailing from every corner of the country. It can be touristy, yes, but you won’t find such a wide selection of keepsakes anywhere else in the capital. Other options for those based south of the city are Mercado Artesanal Mexicano in the Coyoacán neighborhood and the more upscale Bazaar del Sábado, a well-curated market in the San Ángel area that is only open on Saturdays.
Connect with Frida’s spirit
Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul is a mainstay of Mexico City. Once the family home of the treasured painter, this museum features some of Frida’s artwork, personal objects, and the rooms where she lived and worked. Be aware that this is on pretty much every traveler’s bucket list, so the lines and wait times can get intense. Make sure you book your ticket online to zip through the entrance—you’ll likely still find yourself appreciating Frida’s objects in the company of many others.
If crowds are not your thing, there are other places in the south of Mexico City where you can connect with Frida. Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo is an impressive work of architecture built by famed architect Juan O'Gorman, who was commissioned by muralist Diego Rivera (aka Frida’s husband) to build adjoining, yet separate, studios for the highly independent couple. Unbeknownst to many, the Frida Kahlo Park is a tranquil spot in the city where visitors can relax in the company of statues of Frida and Diego.
Embark on a food tour
There is street food on every corner of Mexico City, but so many options can become overwhelming. Enlisting the help of experts by signing up for a food tour is the best way to explore the capital’s culinary backstreets—and avoid tummy issues by unknowingly eating at less-than-sanitary places. (To be on the safe side, always drink bottled water—never tap—and steer clear of lettuce unless you’re ordering salad from a full-service restaurant, as it’s a known culprit of E. coli.)
Eat Like a Local runs several food safaris that cover everything from market tours to street snacks after dark. Whatsmore, the company has a strong sense of social responsibility and employs only women to lead the tours, paying fair wages to employees and suppliers alike, so you’ll be satisfying both your taco cravings and your conscience by choosing their tours.
Taste the difference between tequila and mezcal
You may think you know what tequila tastes like, but until you’ve sampled its four varieties side-by-side (blanco, reposado, añejo, and cristalino), you won’t discover its nuances. Those with foggy memories of doing shots of liquid fire often have their minds blown when they taste a quality tequila in Mexico—which should be sipped slowly. Top-shelf tequilas, such as the cristalino variety, are smooth and can even taste faintly of anise. For a tequila tasting, order a few shots of different varieties at any bar or restaurant and sip them slowly to taste the difference—Herradura and Don Julio are two premium brands to try.
And then there’s mezcal. Tequila’s smokier cousin is made by roasting the core of the agave, which is how mezcal acquires its distinct smoky flavor. While tequila is a type of mezcal made from blue agave, mezcal encapsulates a vast array of spirits, meaning mezcaleros have more leeway in terms of which agave plants they can use to produce mezcal. This translates into mezcal's wide range of flavors. To taste different types of artisanal mezcal, go to Mezcalia in the Roma neighborhood, a small shop that holds frequent mezcal tastings.
Catch a performance of the Ballet Folklórico in Bellas Artes
Palacio de Bellas Artes is a stately marble building in downtown Mexico City akin to Mexico’s opera house. While it’s worth a visit in its own right, attending a performance of the Ballet Folklórico de México is bound to be one of the highlights of your trip. The dance troupe was founded by dancer and choreographer Amalia Hernández with just eight members in 1952, but it quickly rose to fame. These days, Amalia’s dance troupe holds three performances per week; tickets can be purchased via Ticketmaster.
Soak in the views from the Torre Latinoamericana
Located opposite Bellas Artes, the Torre Latinoamericana was the tallest skyscraper in Latin America when it was built back in 1956. Several buildings have since dwarfed the Torre Latinoamericana, but its observation deck on the 44th floor still provides unparalleled views of the Mexico City skyline. Should you choose to grab a drink at the bar on the 41st floor, you can bypass the lines and entrance ticket and head straight up in the elevator. The views aren’t exactly the same as on the viewing deck, but they’re pretty close.
Explore the huge park known as the city’s green lungs
Occupying nearly 1,700 acres on the western part of the city, Chapultepec Park is one of the biggest parks in the Western Hemisphere—it’s estimated to be twice the size of Central Park—and is often referred to as the green lungs of Mexico City. The park houses renowned museums like Chapultepec Castle, the National Anthropology Museum, and the Museum of Modern Art, but it’s also home to a zoo, a botanical garden and several restaurants. Visitors can take part in an array of activities, from hiring a boat on the lake to spreading out a blanket for a picnic with friends.
Discover unusual museums
Mexico City is home to some 180 museums, so visitors can have their pick of things to do, even on rainy days. If you’ve been to all the more-famous museums, check out the ones specializing in more niche topics. MUPE, the Perfume Museum, is an immersive space located in a 19th-century building in downtown Mexico City that aims to communicate the history and culture of perfume in Mexico through its 400 well-curated pieces.
Those with a sweet tooth will be pleased after a visit to MUCHO, the Chocolate Museum, where you can learn about the history and production of chocolate and cacao through your senses. It’s located downtown, and the gift shop—full of artisanal chocolates—deserves some of your time at the end of the visit.
Cheer with the crowds at Lucha Libre
Mexican wrestling is kitsch, sure, but it also makes for a great night out, especially if you’re traveling with friends. Get in the mood by buying a giant cup of michelada (a refreshing drink made with beer, lime juice, assorted sauces, chili peppers, and optional Clamato juice), and join the crowd cheering for your favorite masked wrestler. While the show takes place on the ring, don’t forget to observe the crowd; watching children get fully immersed in the experience is part of the fun. Once back outside, pick up a colorful mask or two to take home. They make great souvenirs.
Treat your palate to a culinary experience
Foodies can expect to find a playground for their taste buds in Mexico City. Once you’ve had your fill of street food, it’s time to check out the rest of the culinary scene, from fine dining restaurants to eateries offering interesting creations and new takes on staples. Mexico City is home to three of the winners from 2023’s The World’s 50 Best Restaurants: Quintonil and Pujol (in the upscale Polanco neighborhood) and Rosetta (in La Roma). Book these well in advance if you want to see what all the fuss is about.
But remember: You don’t have to spend a fortune to eat well in Mexico City. Give Mexican-style omakase a go at Expendio de Maíz, where you put your faith fully in the cook’s hands and let them serve you whatever’s on offer that day (omakase works without a menu). And if you love birria, don’t leave the city without trying the quesabirrias from El Compita Taquería. They’re as juicy and as flavorful as they look. Both of these eateries are in the Roma neighborhood.
Admire the Diego Rivera murals
Diego Rivera was quite a prolific painter and often commissioned to paint murals—unlike a lot of artists, he was lucky enough to be famous during his lifetime. You can see plenty of his works on a visit to Mexico City, especially around the historic downtown. The National Palace houses one of Rivera’s most impressive works, but you’d be wise to also check out the murals at the nearby Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso and the Museo Mural Diego Rivera, which was built to display a famous Rivera mural rescued from a hotel that was destroyed during the 1985 earthquake.
Get up early to experience Xochimilco at dawn
The Xochimilco canals are a great way to get a glimpse of what life was like in pre-Hispanic times, when crops were grown on floating gardens called chinampas. But these days, Xochimilco attracts the city’s revelers who like to party to loud mariachi music aboard trajineras—ornate flat-bottomed boats that can fit around 20 people. To avoid the crowds, the best way to visit Xochimilco is at first light. Anais Martínez from The Curious Mexican’s Xochimilco at Dawn tour takes visitors along the canals to a chinampa before enjoying a farm-to-table meal prepared by a guest chef. You can book this culinary adventure through Devoured!, her tour company.
Immerse yourself in Surrealism
Frida Kahlo may be the most well-known Mexican artist internationally, but she’s not the only female painter revered in this part of the world. Spanish-born Remedios Varo and British-by-birth Leonora Carrington are two artists that Mexicans consider their own on account of having spent most of their adult lives producing great works of Surrealist art in Mexico.
You can view Remedios Varo’s art at the Museum of Modern Art, and stay tuned for the imminent opening (sometime in 2023) of a new Carrington museum in what was once her home in La Roma. There are already two Leonora Carrington museums in the country, one in Xilitla and one in San Luis Potosí.
Visit the Teotihuacán pyramids
Don’t leave the city without visiting the Teotihuacán pyramids. Located an hour north of Mexico City, this archeological site is best visited on a tour, primarily for the help it provides getting there and back, as public transport options to Teotihuacán are scarce. Arrive early to avoid the crowds, and consider signing up for a hot air balloon ride to get a bird's eye view of the Teotihuacán valley. Actual flight time is around 50 minutes, depending on the weather conditions, but the tour itself lasts about 5–8 hours; it often includes transfers to and from the city, breakfast (you’ll likely be collected from your hotel before 5am so you can see the sunrise from the hot air balloon), and time to explore the pyramids. Aztec Explorers can help you organize several Teotihuacán experiences.
Going Picks for can’t-miss things to do in Mexico City
There’s no right or wrong way to spend a day in Mexico City, but some excursions help you get just a bit closer to the culture, food, and fun in ways that other activities simply can’t. Here are Going’s picks if you’re looking for the absolute best-of-the-best ways to experience everything that the Mexican capital has to offer.
- Eat Like a Local food safaris
- Devoured! Xochimilco at Dawn tour
- Aztec Explorers hot-air balloon ride over Teotihuacán
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Other Mexico City guides
- The Travel Guide to Mexico City
- The Layover Guide to Mexico City
- Mexico City: The Mexican Capital with 150+ Museums—and Almost As Many Types of Tacos
- Where To Stay in Mexico City
- Day Trips From Mexico City
- Mexico City Itinerary: 2, 3, or 5 Days
- Xochimilco: The Venice of Mexico Where Gondolas Meet Mariachis