What’s your favorite part about visiting a new place? For us, it’s the excitement and all the new-ness. The new foods to taste, new sights to see, and new neighborhoods to walk.
But that excitement quickly dissipates as we get lost in the maze of guidebooks, pins, and Insta stories in attempts to suss out which experiences are worthwhile and which are over-hyped. When it comes to what to do in Mexico City, we got your covered. Between the city’s never-ending sprawl, massive population, and eons of of history, there’s a lot to digest in Mexico’s capital city.
Here are the 11 things you need to do to on your first trip to Mexico City:
Start at El Zócalo
Begin your trip with a visit to Mexico City’s main square, the Plaza de la Constitución (aka El Zócalo). We know, a lot of other guidebooks suggest it too as a must-see place in Mexico City but that’s because it’s well worth it. Yes, you’ll see quite a few tourists, so go early to avoid crowds. As one of the largest city squares in the world (!), this spot has been a gathering place dating back to Aztec times. Add to it that within just a few blocks you see everything from political buildings and a cathedral to temples, and, well, it’s like a one-stop-shop for sightseeing in Mexico City.
See Ruins On Par With Rome
Practically still on the Zócalo (okay, just a few feet to the side) is the ancient Aztec temple and UNESCO World Heritage Site, Templo Mayor. We’re giving Templo Mayor special attention because it’s one-of-a-kind. As one of the most magnificent and historical places in Mexico, this is one of the places in Mexico City that you absolutely cannot miss. Templo Mayor was originally created as a temple dedicated to the gods of war and rain. These days, there is a museum and archeological site on view at this sacred site.
Visit North America’s Only Castle
Speaking of photos, a majorly Insta-worthy spot is Chapultepec Park (particularly pretty at sunset and sunrise btw). Not only is it the perfect spot to relax and take in Mexico City, but it is also one of the largest parks in the Western Hemisphere. Made up of three sections, the park houses everything from North America’s only castle (aka Chapultepec Castle), museums, landmarks, running trails, and recreational activities.
If you go on a Sunday, try to bike over because that’s when the boulevard that borders the park (Paseo De La Reforma (aka Reforma)) is closed to cars but very much open to bikes! We’ll be biking and brunching on our trip (a pretty good travel combo if you ask us)!
Get Your Art and Design On
The streets of Mexico City are always alive with architecture, art and design. And, from Frida to Diego Rivera and be it street art to classical, Mexico City has always been a booming art destination.
Visit museums dedicated to Mexican artists such as Palacio Bellas Artes, which has been commonly deemed as the "cathedral of art" in Mexico. This gorgeous Neoclassical museum has an exquisite Art Deco interior with many famous Mexican murals. Of course, no visit to Mexico City would be complete without taking a visit to the Frida Kahlo Museum. The iconic blue clay house is home to many works from Kahlo, Diego Rivera and other Mexican folk artists.
Round out the art part of your Mexico City trip with a little design time. The Archivo de Diseno y Arquitectura is an excellent source for all things art and design in Mexico. It features many modern and unique pieces of work. La Biblioteca Jose Vasconcelos and Casa Gilardi are masterpieces in architecture - absolute must-see places in Mexico City to make your trip memorable. Not to mention, they’ll add some aesthetics to your Insta feed.
Shop One Of The Biggest Markets In Latin America
As food lovers, we love to visit markets when we travel and always try to make wander around both a modern grocery story and a classic market. In Mexico City, that classic food market is Mercado La Merced. As one of the largest markets in Latin America, you can find all sorts of Mexican ingredients from dried chiles and handmade sweets to street food and produce and live animals. Mercado La Merced has been a permanent fixture in Mexico City since the 1860s and it's a beast of a market.
Our advice: go with someone who knows the market (like our friends at Eat Mexico) and give yourself hours and hours. Also, as with any crowded place, stay vigilant and watch your wallet, leave your valuables at home, and try to stay out of the way they many workers crisscrossing the market with often enormous crates.
Sample Some Street Food
With a reputation as one of the world’s great street food destinations, you must, must, must give yourself ample time (if not half a day!) to try the street food. Mexico City has countless street food vendors selling everything from ancient foods to breakfast quesadillas to tacos and aguas frescas. We’d start listing off some of our favorite places, but, truth be told, it’s easier to join one of the numerous street food tour operators in the city.
Our pick is our friends at Club Tengo Hambre who are always searching out new foods and are some of the most knowledgeable food people we know!
Taste High End Food
For nights out on the town, high end restaurants have made CDMX a culinary landmark. You can find every type of international cuisine that you can think of, but some of our favorites include restaurants such as Quintonil, Pujol, Cicatriz, and Merotoro.
What do all of these places have in common? An excellent selection of unique and modern twists on traditional Mexican dishes. On the menu, you’ll find quesadillas, tacos, arróz, and other Mexican delicacies that will leave you wanting more. The only catch? Snagging a table at these spots can often be near impossible. But we’ve got you covered!
Just hit up the Salt & Wind Travel concierge desk (write us here) and we’ll help you out!
Get In On Mexico City’s Pulquerias
When visiting Mexico, most think that the drink of choice should be tequila or mezcal. A third lesser-known but equally important drink worth trying out? Pulque. Made from the fermented sap of the agave plant, pulque was a drink for priests and noblemen in ancient times. These days the drink is having a moment with younger Mexicans who love the history and the acquired taste. Head downtown and socialize at Pulquería Duelistas, where you’ll find young locals enjoying the carefully crafted pulque cocktails.
Then Taste One Of The City’s New School Cocktail Bars
The yin to pulque’s yang? A drink from one of Mexico City’s new-school cocktail bars. Licorería Limantour brought craft cocktails to the city when they back in 2011 and, since then, Mexico City has become a legit cocktail town. Bars like the sleek Fifty Mils and vibey Xaman have further upped the mixology ante and helped Mexico City waves on the international mixology scene.
Sidle up to the bar and have the bartender recommend something for you because more often than not we end up loving the drinks that we’d never think to order. Not even sure where to start? We’ve got that all settled. We’ll be visiting all the hot-spots on our upcoming trip to Mexico City.
Make Time For Churros
Round out your day with dessert at El Moro. This classic type of Mexican establishment has, you guessed it, churros. El Moro has a wide variety of the timeless dessert and a lot of history behind it as well.
Churros may be an original Spanish dessert, but the Mexicans hold their own and the perfect example of that is El Moro. Having a hard time deciding from the extensive menu? We recommend finding churros with nutella, dulce de leche, or hot chocolate.
Do The Classic Day Trip
Teotihuacan is an ancient city about an hour outside of Mexico City. How the city was built is a mystery, but the Aztecs claimed it after their discovery of the land. This area is massive, so allow yourself a day to explore all that is has to offer. Learn all about the history of the ever-changing inhabitants, religion (inhabitants had a pulque god!) and the excavations going on at the site.
Pack your hiking boots and make sure you hit this must-sees! If you’re short on time, make sure to see the main attractions and what you saw in your high school history textbooks: Avenue of the Dead, the Pyramid of the Sun, the Pyramid of the Moon and the Citadel.
Those are our recs for the must-see sights for your first trip to Mexico City. Have any others to add? Let us know in the comments below!
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More Mexico on Salt & Wind
- Travel With Us To Mexico City
- Mexican-Inspired Cocktail Recipes Beyond the Margarita
- Breakfast Churros with Cinnamon Sugar
Opening photo by Kristen Kellogg