What to Do in Mexico City: The Ultimate Drinking, Eating, & Exploring Guide From a Girl Who Lives Here (ME!)

Mexico City is absolutely huge, and each neighborhood (or colonia) is incredibly different from the next. Because you could easily spend a weekend, a week, or even a month exploring all that Mexico City has to offer, I’m going to break down the what to do in Mexico City by neighborhood, and you can pick and choose based on the amount of time you have to spend in Mexico’s amazing capital.

Within each neighborhood, I’ll also recommend an affordable place to eat that hits the Joy and Journey trifecta: fabulous food, delish vegetarian options, and something extra-special about it (wine slushies, Mexican “bungee” jumpers, the largest Tiffany glass ceiling in the world, you get my drift).

Each activity, restaurant, museum, and beyond is not only beloved by me, but approved by my many diverse guests (including my mother-in-law, my brother, my sister, and friends!) Read on to discover exactly what we would do together, if you were to come visit me in my adopted home city!

What to Do in Mexico City

(by neighborhood)

What to Do in Mexico City


What to Do in Mexico City:
Spend a morning (or more) in Chapultepec

Chapultepec Park Squirrel
one of the many things you can see in Chapultepec: a friendly squirrel!

One of Mexico City’s most famous green spaces, Bosque de Chapultepec (Chapultepec Forest) is absolutely huge at over 1500 acres. In fact, it is the biggest city park in the Western Hemisphere!

Even if wandering a city park doesn’t seem at all appealing, don’t dismiss Chapultepec yet. The “lung” of Mexico City is also home to some of the city’s most major attractions, including Chapultepec Castle, Chapultepec Zoo, and the Museum of Anthropology.

Chapultepec Castle

Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City
how gorgeous is this castle?

The only royal castle in North America, Chapultepec Castle was once home to the Mexican Emperor Maximilian I (from Austria) and Empress Carlota, before he was captured and executed by the Mexican government in 1867. For a number of years after the Second Mexican Empire, the castle was used as a residence for Mexico’s presidents. Since 1944, the castle is open to the public and home to the National Museum of Cultures, while the official presidential residence is in Los Pinos.

Chapultepec Zoo

Mexico City Chapultepec Zoo
a peacock in the Chapultepec Zoo

With more than 200 different species and nearly 2000 different animals, Chapultepec Zoo is the second largest zoo in Mexico, and one of the best known in the world. Chapultepec Zoo is particularly famous for its giant panda breeding program. It became the first zoo outside of China to successfully breed pandas in captivity, and has been home to eight live births.
Entrance is FREE!

Museum of Anthropology

Mexico City Anthropology Museum
in front of the Museum of Anthropology’s center plaza fountain

Generally acknowledged to be one of the greatest archeological museums in the world, the Museum of Anthropology boasts 25 exhibit halls with over 44,000 square meters of exhibit space. It is home to important archeological and anthropological finds all the way from the Aztec area until now. It is the largest and most visited museum in all of Mexico.

Where to Eat in Chapultepec, Mexico City: Plaza in Front of Museum of Anthropology

Tlayuda Mexico City

a tlayuda – sorta like if a really crispy thin crust corn tortilla pizza and a Mexican salad had a baby

Here, vendors hawk souvenirs, knickknacks, and snacks, along with my favorite street food the tlayuda. After grabbing a few snacks, make your way over to the little park punctuated by a tall pole. One of the most interesting sights in Mexico happens regularly here.

A group of Native dancers and a priest will climb up the almost 100 foot pole. While four of the dancers throw themselves off the top (still attached by ropes around the ankles), the priest plays a flute and drum. The four falling dancers (representing the elements of air, fire, water, and earth) make 13 revolutions each around the pole to represent in total the 52 year pre-Hispanic cosmic cycle. The practice is supposed to have started over a thousand years ago as a prayer for fertility and harvest.


What to Do in Mexico City:
Check out the Historic Center

Belles Artes in Mexico City
Belles Artes in Mexico City’s Historic Center – also a good spot if you’re an art-lover

Also known as Centro Historico or simply Centro, this is the central neighborhood in Mexico City. And at the center of the Centro is the Zocalo, surrounded by some of the most important buildings in Mexico City (over 1500 of which have been declared historically important).

Zocalo

Zocalo of Mexico City
a fairly empty Zocalo

The largest plaza in all of Latin America (with the capacity to hold almost 100,000), the Zocalo has been an important gathering place for Mexicans for centuries. This square hosts ceremonies, political proclamations, parades, religious festivals, and even protests.

National Palace

Temporary Exhibit in the National Palace, Mexico City
temporary exhibit at the National Palace / National Museum

Home to the offices of the President, the national Treasury, and the national Archives, the palace is located on the entire east side of the Zocalo. It is free and generally open to the public to enter, with beautiful gardens and amazing Diego Rivera murals to see. The central balcony of the palace is where the President rings the bell on September 15 to celebrate Mexican Independence.

Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral

Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City
the Cathedral

Mexico City’s Metropolitan Cathedral is one of the largest and oldest cathedrals in the Western Hemisphere (and arguably the most beautiful). Construction began in 1573, and wasn’t completed until 1813, though stabilization upkeep work continues. You can visibly notice the crookedness of the church as it is sinking, with different parts sinking at different rates (most of Mexico City was built on a lakebed and some older buildings have sunk considerably).

Where to Eat in Centro, Mexico City: Gran Hotel Rooftop

Having a Margarita at the top of the Gran Hotel, Mexico City
one of the few things that can make me smile this big? a margarita THAT big

My FAVORITE view of the Zocalo and historic downtown is from inside the Gran Hotel’s rooftop restaurant. The Gran Hotel is a sight to see in itself, it has one of the largest Tiffany glass ceilings in the world, and is seriously old-school elegant. The rooftop margaritas are under 100 pesos (and sometimes further discounted), but get there right at 1pm to enter as the restaurant opens and score a table with the best view. The tortilla soup is vegetarian (per my last check) and delicious, and the guac is phenomenal as well.


What to Do in Mexico City:
Wander Condesa and Roma

Roma and Condesa Mexico City
a typical view in Roma or Condesa

These two districts are perfect for strolling, and filled with street art. The wide sidewalks and tree-lined streets feel very European, and the avenues are filled with cafes, restaurants, and bars. These two neighborhoods are among the best in the city for scoring vegetarian and vegan cuisine, and many of the street carts offer vegan options. There are also many yoga studios (some classes in English, remember to bring your travel mat) and natural centers in these districts.

Parque Mexico and Parque Espana

What to do in Roma and Condesa, Mexico City: Go to Parque Espana or Parque Mexico
lots of greenery, a few naked statues

Two of my favorite parks in all of Mexico, these green spaces have ample benches for sitting, reading, and people watching. You can observe local life, from dog trainers educating 20 canines all lined up, to couples strolling hand in hand, and of course street food vendors selling ice cream (nieves) and potato snacks.

Where to Eat in Roma and Condesa, Mexico City: Volver

What to do in Roma and Condesa, Mexico City: Eat at Volver
VEGAN burgers at Volver… the wine slushy was downed too quickly for a photo this time

One of my favorite spots to grab a little bite to eat also offers wine slushies. I need to say that again. WINE. SLUSHIES. The restaurant has a morning and an afternoon menu, and offers mexican classics (vegetarianized or veganized options as well) along with tasty burgers for carnivores and herbivores alike.


What to Do in Mexico City:
Don’t skip Polanco

Polanco Mexico City
streetside view of Polanco

The neighborhood I call home is often passed over by budget and short-stay travelers as it is rumored to be expensive and boring. But it is home to some of my favorite street food stalls, catering to office workers. Just take a wander down almost any side street, and you’ll see what I’m talking about. If you CAN’T find street food for yourself (or you’re a bit frightened), no worries. Try a street food tour.

Soumaya

Polanco Mexico City Soumaya Museum
how crazy cool is this building?

Carlos Slims’ museum, named after his late wife, offers some amazing collections of Dali, Rodin, and more. The building itself is a work of art, with shimmering hexagonal plates and appearing different from every angle. Perhaps best of all? It is totally free to enter!

Where to Eat in Polanco, Mexico City: Brunch at Sak’s

What to do in Mexico City: Have Brunch at Saks
we’ve got a lot of mimosas going on

If street food isn’t really your thing and you’re after a higher end meal, brunch at Sak’s is a MUST. They’ve got traditional Mexican dishes (you MUST try chilaquiles at least once during your visit), and an awesome atmosphere with occasional live music. Sundays you should definitely make reservations, or plan to wait. Get a spot on the patio for the most atmosphere, though indoors is beautifully decorated it can get a bit noisy.


What to Do in Mexico City:
Visit Frida in Coyoacan

What to do in Mexico City: Visit Coyoacan
Frida’s famous Blue House – I wonder why they named it that? 😉

Coyoacan is an artsy neighborhood full of street food (as usual), artisans, and a lively market. But what it’s best known for, of course, is Frida’s blue house.

Museum of Frida Kahlo

What to do in Mexico City: Visit Frida Kahlo Museum
wearing my nerdy camera pass on my chest

Go early, as the line seems to lengthen throughout the day, and a late afternoon visit means risking missing the cut-off time for the last visit. The museum takes at least an hour to get through (more if you’re a Frida fanatic), as interesting exhibits are placed throughout her old home. In the back garden, temporary exhibits are also displayed, one of my favorites being Frida’s wardrobe, with many of her beautiful and unique designs that she herself wore.

Where to Eat in Coyoacan, Mexico City: Coyoacan Market

What to do in Mexico City: Eat at Coyoacan Market
this guy runs a fish stall (perfect for my pretty pescatarian BFF pictured), but he was more than willing to whip me up a salad

While you’ll find almost NOTHING that explicitly seems vegetarian, you’ll find that most vendors are more than willing to work with you, given that you’ve got a bit of Spanish skills (or a Spanish-English travel dictionary) and a bunch of creativity and flexibility. Don’t ask for vegetarian (that’ll earn you a straight up NO)- ask for vegetables, beans, cheese, or whatever else you’re willing to eat, and see what you get!


A few more things to do NOT in one of my favorite Mexico City neighborhoods…


What to Do in Mexico City:
Spend a Saturday in Xochimilco

Mexico City Xochimilco Ema and Me
tequilas with my MIL

The Mexican version of a booze cruise, Xochimilco is like a tequila-fueled miniature of Venice. You’ve got to see it to believe it, and experience it to appreciate it, so don’t just take my word for it. Try to round up a few friends if possible, as Xochimilco is most fun experienced with a few good amigos and a LOT of alcohol. And snacks. Don’t forget snacks. Word to the wise: afternoons, on the weekend, are the best time to visit. This is one attraction where you actually WANT a crowd.

Where to Eat in Xochimilco, Mexico City: On the Xochimilco Canals

Xochimilco Mexico City
fresh corn!

Vendors float down the river in boats, selling corn, snacks, and occasionally sweets. Somehow, buying ANYTHING from a canoe-thing feels a hell of a lot more fun. If you want something more substantial, there are a few restaurants located along the path, where you pull up and order. Or do like us cheapasses do, and bring your own food!


What to Do in Mexico City:
Go to Ciudadela Market

Ciudadela Market Mexico City

It’s my favorite place to buy souvenirs. They might be a bit pricier than anywhere else you’d look in Mexico City, but just barely. And the comfort of being in a building (no blaring sun) and ease of having them all in one place is SO worth it!


What to Do in Mexico City:
Take a day trip to Teotihuacan / aka the Mexico City Pyramids

What to Do in Mexico City: Teotihuacan Pyramid Day Trip
listening intently to my guide: he’s probably talking about human sacrifice right now

For this trip, I really advise going with a Teotihuacan tour and NOT cheaping out by taking a bus and wandering around the so-called Mexico City Pyramids by your lonesome. This tip has (almost) nothing to do with safety and everything to do with your enjoyment. Viator especially offers some great Teotihuacan tours (linked here) starting at just $20, which includes a guide to explain all the nitty-gritty details, including about the priests that used to cut their penises open in a sacrifice to the gods. You don’t want to miss that.Make SURE to wear comfortable shoes (I like my Vibrams), as you’ll be doing a lot of walking, especially if you want to climb the pyramids.

Most tours also stop at Basilica de Guadalupe and/or a tequila shop (you get to see where tequila comes from and take free samples), which are also worthy visits.


What to do in Mexico City:
If You’re Short On Time

Mexico City Hop-On Hop-Off Tour Bus

If you’re super short on time (or just don’t feel like navigating Uber, metro, and buses) – try the hop-on hop-off tour bus. I did it with both my brother and my mother-in-law, and everyone had a blast!

The bus goes past all the major sites – including Chapultepec, Polanco, Roma and Condesa, Centro, and Coyoacan. Don’t forget the sunscreen (I really recommend this all natural, organic version) – we got fried sitting out on the top deck!


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What to Do in Mexico City

 

**Since writing this article, I’ve since moved out of Mexico City (wahhhhh, sad face) but I visit at least once a month and stand by all of my suggestions above. I’ll continue to update this article with any new favorites, and feel free to email me with any personalized questions!**

 

Did I miss any of the best things to do in Mexico City that you’d recommend?

4 Comments

  1. Belinda Casson
    March 23, 2017 / 6:21 pm

    I love this!!!!

    • March 24, 2017 / 4:05 pm

      I love YOU! And miss you lots!!

      Good memories in Mexico City <3

  2. Girl Scout
    July 30, 2017 / 10:55 pm

    This is brilliant! So useful, I have searched the Internet trying to find the letters that spell out Mèxico in the red, white and green of the flag. It would be a massive help if anyone knew where they were? Thank you!

    • JoyAndJourneyEdit
      July 31, 2017 / 9:01 am

      Hi! So glad I could help… I’m not sure what you mean? I think you could use Canva.com to create the word “Mexico” in red white and green though?

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