Best Things To Do in Mexico City
Even the most ambitious travelers have difficulty exploring all of Mexico City, so you should carefully plan your days (or consider tagging along on one of the best Mexico City tours). Popular activities include exploring the famous Metropolitan Cathedral and the Frida Kahlo Museum. Favorite cultural institutions are the National Palace presidential residence and the Palace of Fine Arts. Also, be sure to stroll the Central University City Campus, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that's famous for its 20th-century architecture.
Updated April 23, 2020
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Located within the famous Chapultepec Forest, the Museo Nacional de Antropología (National Museum of Anthropology) holds artifacts from Mexico's pre-Columbian era, dating from about 100 B.C. to A.D. 1521. The facility houses artifacts, including the famous Aztec Calendar Stone, known as Piedra del Sol, as well as the famed 16th-century statue of Xochipilli, the Aztec god of art, games, beauty, dance and maize (among others). The museum offers a look at how tradition, culture and life were formed in all regions of Mexico.
The museum is so extensive that many travelers claim you can spend a whole day exploring the many collections and exhibits and recommend giving yourself plenty of time to explore. As one of the largest and most visited museums in Mexico, the grounds are also home to a gift shop, a cafeteria, a locker room and the National Library of Anthropology and History.
- #2View all Photos#2 in Mexico City5.3 miles to city centerChurches/Religious Sites, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND5.3 miles to city centerChurches/Religious Sites, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
The Basílica de Santa María de Guadalupe (Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe) is an important religious site in Mexico City. The first shrine built to honor the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe was erected in 1531 on Tepeyac hill, but the first basilica dedicated to the Virgin Mary was not built until 1695. However, nearly 300 years' worth of construction and environmental damage threatened the integrity of the basilica, so a new basilica was built on the same plaza in the 1970s.
Today, the complex has many features including the basilica, the ancient church, a gift shop filled with religious items, a museum and a library. Visitors extolled the basilica, saying that it is a must-see whether you are Catholic or not. Though Mass is held frequently, reviewers noted that the layout of the buildings helps visitors avoid interrupting worship. In addition, past travelers said a variety of tours were available from Mexico City (some of which included Teotihuacan) and said it was a great way to have a fully-informed experience. The basilica is also often featured as a stop on hop-on, hop-off bus tours.
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Considered the cultural center of Mexico City, the Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts) is a must-visit. The exterior of the palace showcases art nouveau and art deco-style architecture, while the inside features marble floors and vaulted glass windows.
In addition to its architectural grandeur, the building hosts cultural events in the national theater, including music, dance, theater, opera and literary performances. The museum at the palace also holds several famous murals, including the work of the famous Mexican muralist Rufino Tamayo. On the top floor, you'll find the National Museum of Architecture, which showcases the work and lives of famous Mexican architects, and multiple art museums and galleries.
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Before Spanish colonization, Templo Mayor served as the religious center for the Aztec people. When Spanish conquistadors arrived in the late 14th century, the temple was among many that were destroyed and built over. It wasn't until 1978 that the temple dedicated to the Aztec gods Huitzilopochtli and Tláloc (gods of war and water) was unearthed in the heart of Mexico City. Today, the area remains an active archeological site and the adjoining museum houses more than 7,000 artifacts from the site.
Recent visitors said it's fascinating to see the ancient ruins that are tucked away in the center of the city. Many said it's worth spending time in the museum as well, but the site and scale can't match up to the massive Museo Nacional de Antropología. Still, the whole complex has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site and is one of Mexico City's most popular attractions.
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One of many UNESCO World Heritage sites in the Mexico City region, Teotihuacán (teh-oh-tee-wa-can) contains some of the largest pre-Columbian pyramids in all of Mexico. The site contains many popular constructions, including the Palace of the Plumed Butterfly, which showcases various columns of winged creatures, and the awesome Pyramid of the Sun, which sits at the heart of the small city. The nearby museum, Museo de la Sitio, also holds many artifacts from the period.
While many travelers were amazed by the daunting monuments, some had a few tips to make your trip easier: The souvenirs are pricey, but some haggling in Spanish will help you score a better deal. Visitors also recommend bringing along your own bottled water, wearing sensible shoes and applying sunscreen as the site provides very little shade. Also, if you're able, visitors suggest climbing the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon for a bird's-eye view of the massive complex. Recent travelers also recommend booking a guide and transportation ahead of time to fully enjoy the experience, noting that it helps not having to stress about getting to the site. Check with your hotel to see if they can recommend a preferred vendor. Several of the best Mexico City tours also make daytrips to the site.
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Officially known as Plaza de la Constitución, El Zócalo is the main public square and one of the most recognizable places in Mexico City. It contains a giant Mexican flag at its center and has been the centerpiece of public gatherings since the days of the Aztecs. The site also hosts annual, widely attended religious events during Holy Week and for Corpus Christi. Several historic buildings also border the square, including the city's national cathedral, the National Palace and federal buildings.
You could spend a couple hours looking around the Zócalo, and some travelers suggest you start your visit at sunset. Mexican soldiers march out into the square at sunset to take down the flag, offering a great photo opportunity. Some travelers even recommend heading to the square more than once.
- #7View all Photos#7 in Mexico City4.6 miles to city centerSightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND4.6 miles to city centerSightseeing, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPE2 hours to Half DayTIME TO SPEND
The main park in Mexico City, Bosque de Chapultepec (Chapultepec Forest) was once the temporary home of the Aztec empire after its citizens migrated to modern-day Mexico City in the 13th century. Today, the 1,600-acre Chapultepec is Mexico City's largest and most popular park, and a gathering place for families seeking respite from the busy and crowded city.
Divided into three sections, the park is home to many cultural interests, such as the presidential residence, the former presidential palace, a zoo and several museums (including the highly recommended Museo Nacional de Antropología). The park also hosts numerous military monuments and effigies of Aztec kings, as well as restaurants and an amusement park, plus lots of green space for stretching. What's more, the park features a large lake, where visitors and locals alike can rent paddleboats or rowboats to putter around the water (a particular highlight for kids). On the weekends, local vendors fill the park and sell everything from souvenirs to art to snacks.
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Mexico's national cathedral – the vaulting, austere, ornate church on the Zócalo's north end – was once the site of an ancient Aztec precinct, so it has housed the city's spiritual core for centuries. The cathedral was built between 1573 and 1813 after the Spanish conquest of Tenochtitlan and is considered one of Mexico City's many must-see attractions. Highlights of the cathedral include five naves, 14 chapels, underground catacombs and a painting by famed Spanish artist Bartolome Esteban Murillo.
Depending on your interest in Mexican history and architecture, you could spend anywhere from an hour to a half a day at the cathedral. Recent visitors said the massive structure is stunning to behold, and even if you don't want to take the time to explore the inside, it's worth the photo op of the exterior. The cathedral is open daily from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and admission is free. Note that the bell tower is closed for structural safety issues. For more information, including Mass times, visit the cathedral's website (in Spanish).
- #9View all Photos#9 in Mexico City2.5 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND2.5 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
This folk art museum features handicrafts from all across Mexico and details the country's history and its many cultures. Exhibits include glasswork from Tecali, pottery from Michoacán, masks from Chiapas and alebrijes, the colorful painted animal figures from Oaxaca, among other treasures. Make sure to take a look at the building itself – the 1920s art deco building was the former headquarters of the fire department.
Recent visitors said this is a lovely place to enjoy traditional folk art and say not to miss the gift shop for souvenirs – it has unique pieces that you won't find elsewhere.
- #10View all Photos#10 in Mexico City6.9 miles to city centerMuseums, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND6.9 miles to city centerMuseums, Sightseeing, FreeTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
The Universidad Nacional Autónoma de Mexico (Central University City Campus of the National University of Mexico) includes 40 academic institutions, the Mexican Olympic stadium, a Mexican cultural center, a nature preserve and the city's Central Library. The entire campus is now designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The city's famous muralists have made their mark on the campus, and travelers recommend you check out the work of famous painter David Alfaro Siqueiros at the Rectorate Tower or the work of Juan O'Gorman at the Central Library. The campus also holds the University Museum of Contemporary Art, an excellent spot for viewing Mexico's more recent cultural offerings.
- #11View all Photos#11 in Mexico City4.7 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND4.7 miles to city centerMuseumsTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
Luis Barragán was a prominent Mexican architect renowned for his modernist style, and his former home – now converted to a museum – is one of the finest examples of his work. The museum is an off-the-beaten-path attraction that travelers say will please all, even those not schooled in architectural history, though some recent visitors have complained of rude staff. The house is known for its vivid colors, brilliant use of natural light and its impressive garden with a maze of corridors and trees. In 2004, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Recent visitors said the history of the house, in addition to its interesting architecture, is captivating. Access to the house is only offered by guided tour (offered in Spanish and English) and you have to make a reservation online in advance (the museum suggests booking at least two months prior). Also note that children 9 and younger are not permitted in the museum. The museum is open every day except Tuesday. Admission for non-Mexican citizens is 400 pesos (about $21). You'll find the Casa Luis Barragan located just off the Constituyentes metro stop on the orange line. For more information, head to the house's website.
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The National Palace holds the federal executive branch of the Mexican government and sits along Mexico City's main public square, El Zócalo. The palace itself is a massive, ornate building that contains several gardens, murals and fountains. Its highlights are the Diego Rivera murals painted in panoramic style across the palace's walls, which visitors say are a must-see. These murals depict the stages of Mexican history, from pre-Columbian days to the current age.
Admission is free and travelers say that a typical stop should last about one to two hours. Be sure to bring your passport or other identification to gain admittance. The palace is open Tuesday through Sunday (closed Mondays) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. More information can be found on the government's website.
- #13View all Photos#13 in Mexico City10.1 miles to city centerMonuments and Memorials, Sightseeing, FreeTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND10.1 miles to city centerMonuments and Memorials, Sightseeing, FreeTYPELess than 1 hourTIME TO SPEND
Flanking the Paseo de la Reforma in downtown Mexico City, El Ángel de la Independencia is a column monument topped by a bronze depiction of the Greek goddess Victory, one of the most beloved symbols of the city.
Originally built to commemorate Mexico's war with Spain for independence, the structure has also evolved into a mausoleum for war heroes. Recent visitors said it is an impressive sight.
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One of the best-known museums in Mexico City exhibits the life and work of its most famous artist: Frida Kahlo. The museum, located in the Coyoacan suburb, is also known as La Casa Azul (The Blue House), and was Kahlo's former residence. It hosts some impressive examples of her works, but travelers say that the best part of visiting the house is seeing where the artist lived and painted.
Recent visitors to the property said it's a must-see for fans of the artist and shows her life and work in a very personal light. Travelers also highly recommended purchasing admission tickets online in advance to avoid lines (which are sometimes an hour wait or more). If you want to take photos, there is an additional modest fee. Several of the best Mexico City tours also make stops here and explore the Coyoacan neighborhood in-depth.
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The southern borough of Xochimilco is a bit of a trek for some tourists, but most say what's waiting for you is worth the journey. Travelers visit this largely agricultural town for its long stretches of picturesque canals, located in the historic center. You can board the colorful open-air boats, called trajineras, to take a trip down the waterways to a wildlife preserve and some floating gardens. The experience also comes with a show: Music boats with mariachi bands float down the canal beside you. Many of them even sell tacos, corn and tortillas, so bring a little extra cash for some refreshments. Along the water's edge, you'll find restaurants and souvenir stores.
Most recent visitors enjoyed the fun carnival-like atmosphere, though some complained it can get too crowded for comfort.
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