It’s no secret I love Mexico and Mexico City is where I fell in love with this beautiful country. I’ve been fortunate enough to visit several times now. Whether it’s your first visit or your tenth, I’ve come up with a few must do’s in Mexico City. Be warned; you might just fall in love too.
Must do #1: Ride the Turibus
You might think riding the bright red doubledecker Turibus is just too touristy but let’s face it, you are a tourist and Mexico City is large. 21 million people large. Riding the bus allows you to see more or the city than you would just walking around.
The Turibus is also a cost effective way to get around the city. You can purchase a hop on/hop off option and use the bus to get around all day. The buses leave from various popular locations throughout the city and several route options are available. You can even do several of the routes they offer in one day on a single ticket if you want. The Turibus runs every day of the year, 9 am – 9 pm. They come equipped with audio guides in eight languages and free WiFi.
If you are looking for something with a little more adventurous, the Turibus offers themed tours too. There’s a Lucha Libre route and tour that includes an actual lucha libre fight and they offer a cantina tour, kind of like a pub crawl but with some of the old school cantinas. Another option is to do the tour at night. The monuments and fountains on the Reforma are beautiful at night. Even if you’ve done the day tour, the night tour gives you a different perspective.
Must Do #2: Paseo de la Reforma
La Reforma is one of Mexico City’s most famous landmarks. This busy road, was designed after the wide European boulevards. It cuts through the city center and initially was just for members of the royal court to get to the emperor’s castle but in 1867, it opened to the public. As Mexico city grew, neighborhoods and businesses were built around it. If you take Turibus ride, it will include the Reforma.
Now, it’s more than just a way to get around, the Reforma is lined with green spaces and parks. Wide pedestrian medians give the public plenty of room for a “paseo” or strolling around. One of the Reforma’s best features are all the roundabouts, or glorietas in Spanish, that honor famous Mexican heroes and historical events.
La Reforma is so popular with Chilangos, that on Sundays from 8 am to 2 pm, it’s closed to motorized vehicles and is open to just open to all forms of non motorized transportation.
Must do #3: El Zocalo
Mexico City has some really beautiful neighborhoods; Polanco, Roma and Condessa, to name a few. But the true heart of Mexico City, is the Historic Center with it’s main square or El Zocalo. The largest square in Mexico and third largest in the world, this plaza has been named an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The location is where the modern Spanish city was built over the Aztec sites the colonizers wanted to forget.
Since the Zocalo is so large, it’s the main gathering place for anything that goes on in Mexico City. From art and food festivals to gardens and protests, there’s always something happening.
The Zocalo is also the center of government in Mexico City. Visit the National Palace, where the President reenacts the call to war or “el grito” that triggered the Mexican War of Independence every September 15.
Must Do #4: Metropolitan Cathedral
In the Zocalo, you’ll find the very detailed and ornate Metropolitan Cathedral, number four on the must do things to do in Mexico City list. The original cathedral dates back to 1573, and other sections were added in subsequent years. With twenty five bells, sixteen chapels and two of the biggest organs in the Americas, it’s amazing. It’s also on list of 100 most endangered sites because of dropping water tables and sinking in the area. This is due to the fact that Mexico City was basically built on a lake.
You can go into the cathedral but remember it is a real church so dress accordingly and be mindful of the people there to worship. While the Cathedral and the Zocolo are definite must do’s, it’s what’s under the Zocalo that brings us to number five.
Must do #5: El Templo Mayor
Long before Mexico City as we know it was built, it was the city of Tenochtitlan, home to the ruling Aztecs or the Mexica people. When the city was conquered by the Cortes and the Spaniards in 1519, the Templo Mayor, their main temple for worship, was ransacked and torn down. Wanting to erase the evidence of the Aztecs, The Spaniards built over these Aztec structures.
While the existence of the temples were never forgotten and from time to time, artifacts were found, excavation of the area just wasn’t a priority until, in the late 70’s, when the Mexican electric company discovered a large disc from the 15th century. That discovery caught the attention of the right people and excavation work was started in earnest.
To date, they’ve found thousands of objects and the work is still ongoing. The indoor covered Templo Mayor Museum, near the ruins, houses some of those artifacts. The museum is open daily for a small fee. There’s also a series of boardwalks outside that connects the ruins that can be explored for free. The disc that was found in the 70’s is on display at the Museo Nacional de Antropología.
It’s surreal to see the Aztec ruins in the middle of the city, knowing that you are looking at the ruins of what the Spaniards saw when they came to conquer Mexico City. A must do in Mexico City.
Must do #6: Plaza Garibaldi
While Mexico is credited with the origin of many music genres, no doubt mariachi is what it’s most famous for. Plaza Garibaldi is the place to go to experience authentic mariachi music. Mariachi bands travel from all over Mexico to Mexico City just to perform in the plaza.
Located near the Historic Center, it’s a short walk from the Zocalo. Though it’s open all day and night, the real fun and carnival like atmosphere doesn’t start until after 10 pm. There are cantinas, restaurants and street food, as well as some murals featuring famous Mexican singers.
If you’ve always wanted to be serenaded by a mariachi but didn’t know any songs besides La Cucaracha and La Bamba, I’ve got you covered. Here’s a list of a few of my favorite Mexican classics. They’re even easy to pronounce if you don’t speak Spanish.
- Mexico Lindo y Querido
- Mujeres Divinas
- El Rey
- El Ultimo Beso
- Volver Volver
Southerner Says: don’t forget to tip your mariachis!
Must Do #7: Eat Churros
You can eat churros in a lot of countries but there’s something extra special about eating churros in a churreria that’s has been around since 1935 and is as cute as El Moro.
El Moro is the creation of a Spaniard living in Mexico, who longed for the churros of his hometown. He wanted them so much, he started his own restaurant and named it after the Arabic man or Moor, who cooked the churros he loved so much back in Spain.
If you’ve never eaten churros, they are pretty simple. Flour, water and salt. But once they fried and rolled in sugar they are anything but basic. Crispy on the outside but dense and chewy on the inside, they are addictive. To get even more of a sugar high, El Moro also serves eight different hot chocolates for sipping and dipping.
El Moro has five locations, open twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. So when the craving hits in the middle of the night, there’s no excuse to not go.
Must do #8: Museo Soumaya
If you are the person who doesn’t usually visit museums when you travel, you might want to reconsider when in Mexico City. There are said to be around 150 museums in the city. With all those to choose from, finding something you like should be easy.
Museo Soumaya located in Polanco is one of my favorites . Even the exterior is a work of art. Six stories tall and covered in 16,000 aluminum tiles, it’s a photographer’s dream. You might be tempted to just take photos for the gram and not go inside.
But you should definitely go in. There are works of art from Monet, Renoir, Degas, Rivera and Van Gogh, just to name a few. Besides sculptures, many gold and silver items, the museum has almost an entire floor devoted just to old coins, medals and banknotes.
Museo Soumaya also has temporary exhibits and shows. When I was there, they were presenting an interactive show featuring different types of dance, with elaborate costumes and fun music. Best of all, it’s free.
On my Mexico City museum wishlist next is Frida Khalo’s Blue House museum.
Must do #9: El Torre LatinoAmericana
As one of the world’s first skyscrapers to have been built on land prone to earthquakes, The Latin American Tower was the tallest building in Mexico City for a long time. While it’s no longer the city’s tallest, it’s still worth a visit for some impressive views. Most notably you get a great view of the Palacio de Bellas Artes.
At 44 stories high, there is a platform for viewing on the top floor and on the 37th floor, and also a restaurant and bar. You can also learn about the history of the tower in two museums on the premises. The torre is open every day from 9 am to 10 pm. Admission is $120 MXN which is a little less than $6 USD at the current exchange rate. If you want to have a drink in the bar, admission is free.
Must Do #10: Eat Street Food
A visit to Mexico City wouldn’t be complete without trying some of the delicious street food. The selling of street food actually dates back to pre-Hispanic times. There are plenty of stands all over the city where you can get anything from a juice in the morning to dinner in the evening. They do know what they doing.
Why is there so much street food in Mexico City? Convenience. Mexico City is a city in constant motion. People are commuting and working day or night. They need to eat and street food is Mexico City’s fast food.
If you’ve never tried street food before or are from somewhere where street isn’t popular, you might think that food cooked outside is unsanitary. But this isn’t necessarily true. Street food vendors are required to have a license and maintain health codes.
Here’s a few tips for a good street food experience. Look for places that are busy and have a lot of people. Do they look like locals? Locals are a good indication if something is good. Start slow. Don’t get to Mexico City and go crazy and run out and eat all the street food. Give you body time to adjust. Especially if it’s your first time there. Also start with something you are familiar with. You can never go wrong with tacos.
Must Do #11: Palacio de Bellas Artes
The Palacio de Bellas Artes is probably one of the most recognized and photographed buildings in Mexico City. Built in 1932, the building itself is a work of art. It serves as cultural center offering concerts and other events.
One of the longest running shows they feature is the Ballet Folklorico. The ballet presents the history of Mexico through dance and costumes. It’s a visually stunning show and you will learn so much about Mexico.
Southerner Says: while you are at Bellas Artes, check out Alameda Central, the oldest public park in the Americas.
Must Do #12: La Casa de Azulejos
Mexico City is full of amazing old buildings. Another one that should be on your must do list is La Casa de Azulejos. Once a private residence, the “house of tiles” is covered on the outside by blue and white tiles from the state of Puebla. In the early 1900’s, it was purchased by Grupo Sanborns, the company behind the popular department store chain in Mexico. They renovated the house and turned it into their flagship store and added a restaurant.
Inside and out, the house is amazing. Full of art, frescoes and gorgeous tile. Diners can choose to eat in the main dining room that was once the courtyard. It’s now has a ceiling of stained glass. Or if you are looking for something less formal, there’s a full service bar that serves the same delicious food. They even serve it on their signature blue and white china.
What should you eat at La Casa de Azulejos? Enchiladas Suizas of course!
El Distrito Federal
So there you have it. 12 must do’s in Mexico City. Just because I picked 12 doesn’t mean there isn’t more to see and do. It would take a lifetime of exploring to see what all this fascinating city has to offer.