It’s no secret I love Mexico and Mexico City is where I fell in love with this beautiful country. I’ve been lucky enough to visit several times now and I know my love is here to stay. Whether it’s your first time 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
The first thing I always recommend first timers do when visiting Mexico City is ride the Turibus. You might think riding the bright red doubledecker bus is just too touristy. But let’s face it- you are a tourist and Mexico City is large. 21 million large. Utilizing the the bus gives you a nice overview of the city and allows you to see neighborhoods you might not get to see if you were walking.
The Turibus is also super cost effective way to get around if you choose the hop on/hop off option. During the week, adults tickets are about $8, children are $4 USD. On weekends and holidays, adults are $9, children $4.50 USD. The tours run every day of the year, 9 am – 9 pm, have audio guides in eight languages and WiFi. It’s a good deal.
You can catch the bus from various locations throughout the city and just get on and off at any of the stops. There are several options of routes thru the city and you can even do several options in a day on a single ticket if you want. There are also some theme routes such as cantinas and a lucha libre route.
Even if you’ve ridden it before, change things up and do a tour at night. Last year I did the night tour option of the Reforma (see #2) and the monuments and I loved it. Seeing the city in a different perspective and lit up at night was so pretty.
Must Do #2: Paseo de la Reforma
La Reforma is one of Mexico City’s most famous landmarks. This road, designed after wide European boulevards, cuts through the city center. Initially it 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 subdivisions were built around it. If you take a turibus (#1 must do) ride, you’ll no doubt end up on the Reforma.
Now more than just a way to get around, the Reforma is lined with ornamental plants and green spaces to give it a park like atmosphere. There are pedestrian medians, so people can “paseo” or stroll around. Perhaps one of the most outstanding features are the roundabouts, or glorietas in Spanish. Most feature monuments of famous Mexican heroes and events. My favorite is the Diana fountain.
The modern day Reforma takes on many roles. It’s used to celebrate and commiserate, protest and show off. It’s so popular that on Sundays from 8 am to 2 pm, it’s closed to vehicles. You can walk, skate, or ride bikes with thousands of other Chilangos that come out to enjoy it.
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 that includes it’s main square or El Zocalo. The largest square in Mexico and third largest in the world, it’s been named an UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s the area upon which the modern city and it’s past civilization, dating back to the Aztecs, was built.
Since it is so large, it’s a main gathering place and serves many purposes: political, spiritual, and artistic. From art and food festivals to gardens and traditional dance ceremonies and even protests, there’s always something exciting going on.
The Zocalo is also the center of government in Mexico City. Must see buildings includes 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
Located in the Zocalo, the very detailed and ornate Metropolitan Cathedral is number three on my 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 huge. It’s also on list of 100 most endangered sites because of dropping water tables and sinking. This is due to the fact that Mexico City was basically built on a lake.
While the Zocolo is a definite must do, it’s what’s under the Zocalo that brings us to must do number five.
Must do #5: Templo Mayor
Long before Mexico City as we know it was built, there was 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 existence of the temples were never forgotten and objects were found from time to time, excavation 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 the objects. You can visit that museum (for less than $4 USD) and then wander around the site outdoors on a series of trails that have been built for maximum viewing.
You can see the disc that was discovered in the 70’s on display at the Museo Nacional de Antropología.
It’s quite a sight 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.
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 a must for experiencing it first hand. Mariachi bands big and small 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 what song to request, I’ve got you covered. Here’s a few of my favorite Mexican classics that are easy to pronounce if you don’t speak Spanish:
- Mexico Lindo y Querido
- Mujeres Divinas
- El Rey
- El Ultimo Beso
- Volver Volver
SouthernerSays: Remember 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 as cute as El Moro and that has been around since 1935.
El Moro was opened by a Spaniard living in Mexico who longed for the churros he used to get in his hometown. He wanted them so much, he opened his own restaurant and named it after the Arabic or Moor, who made the churros back in Spain. El Moro was born.
If you’ve never had them, churros are basically flour, water and salt. Once fried to a golden crisp brown, classic churros are rolled in sugar and sometimes cinnamon. Crispy on the outside but dense and chewy on the inside. To get even more of a sugar high, order one of the eight hot chocolates available 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: Visit a Museum
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 appealing should be easy.
The National Museum of Anthropology, the Museo Nacional de Culturas and Museo Soumaya are all some of my favorites.
Museo Soumaya located in Polanco is the one I visited most recently. 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 take photos and not go inside.
But you should definitely go inside. After all the entrance fee is free! 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.
There are also 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.
On my Mexico City museum wishlist 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 $7 USD at the current exchange rate. If you want to have a drink in the bar, admission is free.
Must do #10 Palacio de Bellas Artes
The Palacio de Bellas Artes is probably one of the most recognized buildings in Mexico City. It’s definitely one of the top things to do for a first timer or someone returning. The building was built in 1932 and serves as a cultural center for the city. It’s used for concert, exhibitions and other notable events.
One of the longest running events held there is the Ballet Folklorico. The ballet presents the history of Mexico through dance and costumes and is beautiful. I was lucky enough to see it when I went to Mexico City for the first time when I was 15. I would encourage anyone who wants to learn about Mexico to go see it.
Must do #11 La Casa de Azulejos
One more building that needs to be on your list of must do’s in Mexico City is visiting the Casa de Azulejos or House of Tiles. This building was once a private residence. The tile and the detail that went into it will blow your mind. It now belongs to Grupo Sanborns, a restaurant and department store chain in Mexico and some Central American countries. They did a renovation and it’s now a store and restaurant.
Most people want to visit just to get photos of the outside but if you get a chance, try and plan to have a meal there.There is a more formal dining room option or if you are alone, there is counter service that still serves the full menu. The food is so good. I had the best enchilada suizas I’ve ever had. All the food is served on their signature blue and white plates.
Must do #12 Eat Street Food
You simply cannot visit Mexico City without trying some street food. You will see stands all over the city selling some type of food. So whether it’s tacos, quesadillas or tlacoyos, you have to give it a try.
The existence of a lot of street vendors doesn’t mean that they are trying to get around health code or regulations. Because Mexico City is so large and seems to be constantly in motion, it makes sense that the people going about their day or night, and commuting would need to pick up food or something on the run. It’s their equivalent to fast food.
It’s also just a way of life for them. Selling food in the streets of Mexico City dates back to pre-Hispanic times.
If you are from a place that’s not accustomed to street food, your first inclination might be to think that it’s unsanitary. If you are concerned, here’s a few tips:
Look for somewhere that has a lot of people. Especially locals. Also is it busy? Does it have long lines? Start slow. Don’t just go your first day and eat a bunch of street food. Give your body a chance to adjust to being in a new country, then try something.
Want more info? Here’s a street food guide to help you out.
“Taking it as a whole, Mexico is a grand city, and,
as Cortes truly said, its situation is marvelous”
Edward Burnett Tylor
Mexico City is one of the most fascinating cities in the world. There are way more things to see and do than what I listed here. A weekend or even a week really isn’t enough to see it all but this list of must do’s in Mexico City will give you a good start.
So what are you waiting for? Have you booked your ticket to Mexico City yet?
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