Mexico City is a sprawling, chaotic, messy city in the best way possible. Here you will find world-class museums, monumental churches, grand plazas, historic buildings, lush parks, and one of the best food scenes in the world.
Visiting Mexico City is a very memorable experience with travelers falling in love with everything about the city. Personally, the museum, parks, and food scene are what I love the best.
This travel guide to Mexico City can help you make the most out of your trip, save money, help you stay safe, and show you where to get all the good food!
Table of Contents
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Top 5 Things to See and Do in Mexico City
1. Walk through the Zócalo
2. Relax in Chapultepec Park
3. Participate in Dia de los Muertos
4. Visit Frida Kahlo’s House
5. Check out the art and history museums
Other Things to See and Do in Mexico City
1. Visit Castillo de Chapultepec
The only castle in North America to house sovereigns, Chapultepec Castle was built in 1725 as a large manor house for the Viceroy. Abandoned during the Mexican War of Independence in 1810, Chapultepec became the residence of Emperor Maximilian I and Empress Carlota in 1864. Today, Chapultepec Castle is home to Museo Nacional de Historia, which tells the story of Mexico from the time of Tenochtitlan to the Mexican Revolution. It’s open daily (except Mondays) from 9am-5pm. It costs 80 MXN.
2. Explore Templo Mayor
Mexico City is a hotbed of historical landmarks, particularly those dating back to the Aztec period, and there is no finer example than the Great Temple of Tenochtitlan. Located in the heart of the Historic Centre of Mexico City and Xochimilco, Templo Mayor is an example of life in Mesoamerica before the arrival of the Spanish. The Aztecs believed area to be the literal center of the universe, and it was here where they sighted the eagle perched on a cactus with a snake in its beak—the symbol of Mexico today. Admission is 80 MXN.
3. Eat in the Zona Rosa
One of the most popular neighborhoods in Mexico City, Zona Rosa is historically known for being the heart of the city’s gay community, and boasts an array of bars, restaurants, and nightclubs. This is the best nightlife area in the city. Make sure to dress well here too. Try places like Cafeteríra El Péndulo, Xaman Bar, and Cabaretito Fusión. If you have a taste for Korean barbeque (Zona Rosa has a huge Korean community!), head to Bi Won.
4. Visit the Museo Nacional de Antropología
Found within Chapultepec Park, this world-class anthropology museum is one of the largest museums in Mexico, at 45,000 square meters. Open since 1964, the museum houses a vast collection of sculptures, jewels, and artifacts from ancient Mexican civilizations. The museum is open daily (except Mondays) and costs 70 MXN.
5. Visit a megalibrary
Situated among gardens, the Biblioteca Vasconcelos is a temple to books, often referred to as a “megalibrary”. Opening its doors in 2006, the library features transparent walls and intentionally mismatched floors, six floors, and houses over 600,000 books! The library also offers cultural activities like concerts, plays, and dance performances, and there’s also a 26,000-square-meter garden filled with trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants.
7. Check out the Basilica de Guadalupe
The Basilica de Guadalupe is a Catholic church, basilica, and world-famous shrine, drawing thousands of pilgrims every year from all over Mexico. The yearly celebration of the shrine is on December 12th, which makes this a crazy, festival-like place to be during that time. Take time to explore the grounds, as well as the basilica and shrine. The old basilica was constructed from 1695-1709, built on the spot where the Virgin of Guadalupe had first appeared to the peasant-turned-saint Juan Diego in 1531. The old basilica began to sink in its foundation, and a new basilica was constructed from 1974-1976.
8. Marvel at the Soumaya Museum
Housing 66,000 pieces of Central American and European art, the Soumaya Museum displays works not only from Mexican artists like Diego Rivera and Rufino Tamayo, but also from Botticelli, Dalí, and Rodin, to a name a few. The museum was donated and constructed by one of the world’s richest men, Carlos Slim Helú. In Northern Mexico City, the Soumaya Museum is a stunning building covered with 16,000 aluminum hexagonal tiles, which sparkle in sunlight. It’s considered to be the most beautiful modern building in Mexico City. Admission is free, and it is open daily from 10:30am to 6:30pm.
9. Attend a lucha libre
Mexican free wrestling is a favorite pastime among locals. Extremely entertaining and affordable, lucha libre takes wrestling to a whole new level, and the cheers and heckles from the crowd add to the fun. Grab a beer or a shot of tequila, and get ready to holler some Spanish jeers – and whatever you do, do not look away during a match as anything can, and will, happen. General seating tickets can be as little as 56 MXN each. Don’t go with a tour or book ahead of time—you’ll pay a lot more. Do not buy from scalpers either, because the police are always around and you’ll get in trouble. Look for a taquilla (ticket booth) sign to be sure that you are paying the right price. Do not bring your camera, as you will be forced to check it at the door.
9. Visit the UNAM Botanical Garden
If you need to escape the hustle and bustle of Mexico City for a little while, The Botanical Garden at the National Autonomous University of Mexico is the perfect place. Keeping with the Aztec traditions of having gardens for both medicinal and ornamental purposes, there is also an added focus of conservation and environmental education. Built on top of and around lava formations from the eruption of the volcano Xitle, visitors can explore the naturally formed grottoes, ponds and waterfalls. This garden has the most diverse cactus collection in the world (800 different kinds!), and ponds full of koi and turtles, an orchardarium, and a medicinal garden. This green space is not only a haven for people, but the local wildlife as well. Keep an eye out for woodpeckers, owls, hummingbirds, rattlesnakes, lizards, and the Pendregal tarantula, which is a species only found in this small area of Mexico City. Admission is free.
10. Have some tacos at Taqueria los Cocuyos
There are tons of taquerias around Mexico City, but this 50-year-old establishment in the Historic Center has a vast array of meats to choose from. They have standard fillings like carnitas or chorizo, but why not try a tripe, brains (they have a creamy consistency), or tongue (this melts in your mouth like pot roast) taco? For only $1 USD per taco, you can’t go wrong with any of them (Also, Anthony Bourdain absolutely loved this taqueria…need I say more?)
For information on other cities in Mexico, check out these guides:
Mexico City Travel Costs
Hostel prices – -During peak season, the price per bed in a 4-6 bed room start at 300 MXN per night, whereas a private room for two ranges from 600-900 MXN per night. Free Wi-Fi is standard and many hostels also include free breakfast.
Budget Hotel Prices – Nightly rates for a budget 2-star room in Mexico City start around 270 MXN, while a 3-star room will range from 400-550 MXN.
Airbnb is also an option in Mexico City, with private rooms starting at 250 MXN (though most are around 400 MXN). Entire homes and apartments start at 500 MXN and go up from there.
Food – You’ll find a lot of rice, beans, fruits, and veggies like tomatoes, corn, avocado, and peppers in Mexican cuisine. Typical Mexican dishes include tacos, mole (a sauce with lots of ingredients, often including chocolate), salsa, enchiladas, tamales (stuffed corn pockets), pozole (hominy stew topped with onion, avocado, and chili) guacamole.
Street stalls and markets are the best way to go for authentic and inexpensive food. Tacos, quesadilla, sopas, tortas, and other street foods are generally 15-45 MXN. Sometimes, you’ll find tacos for as cheap as 10 MXN. In Mexico, street food is the best – and most affordable- option.
A meal at a local Mexican restaurant will cost you around 75-135 MXN. Look for the ones filled with locals as that is generally a sign that the food is really good.
A beer is about 20 MXN in the street but double that at a restaurant.
Tap water is not safe to drink in Mexico. Bring a portable water purifier or use bottled water (LifeStraw makes a good one.
If you plan to cook your meals, expect to pay between 500-585 MXN per week for groceries that will include rice, vegetables, chicken, tortillas, and beans. However, with street food so cheap and, most hostels and hotels without kitchens, it’s best to simply eat local rather than cook.
Backpacking Mexico City Suggested Budgets
If you’re backpacking Mexico City, you will spend at least 1,050 MXN per day. This budget will get you a hostel dorm, street food and self-cooked meals, local transportation, and a few attractions (such as museums and galleries) each day. If you plan on eating out more or drinking, you’ll need to add another 100-300 MXN per day.
On a more mid-range budget of about 1,700 MXN per day, you can stay in a budget hotel or Airbnb, eat at restaurants serving cheap traditional cuisine for every meal, visit more attractions, have a few drinks, and take the occasional taxi.
A luxury budget will cost you at least 4,925 MXN per day and up. You will stay at a four-star hotel, eat out for all your meals, have plenty of drinks, take taxis everywhere, and do some guided trips.
You can use the chart below to get some idea of how much you need to budget daily, depending on your travel style. Keep in mind these are daily averages – some days you’ll spend more, some days you’ll spend less (you might pay less every day). We want to give you a general idea of how to make your budget. Prices are in MXN.
Mexico City Travel Guide: Money Saving Tips
Compared to Mexico’s resort areas, Mexico City is a whole lot cheaper. Nonetheless, if you’re not mindful of where your money is going, you could end up spending a lot. Here are some ways to save in Mexico City:
- Eat street food – Save money on food by eating at the big markets or from the vendors on the street. You’ll get big, flavorful, and filling meals for only a few dollars. If you’re wary, just eat wherever you see children eating. If kids can eat that food, you’ll be fine!
- Couchsurf – Use Couchsurfing to stay with locals who have extra beds and couches for free. Plus, you get a local host who will show you around and, in a city this size, you’ll want one!
- Go on a free walking tour – Learn the history behind the places you are seeing and to avoid missing any must-see stops in Mexico City. Estacion Mexico Free Tours has a historic downtown tour that can show you what the city has to offer.li>
- Save money on rideshares – Uber is way cheaper than taxis and are the best way to get around a city if you don’t want to wait for a bus or pay for a taxi. The Uber Pool option is where you can share a ride to get even better savings (though you can get your own car too). You can save $15 off your first Uber ride with this code: jlx6v.
- Drink less – Alcohol is cheap in Mexico City, but it’s definitely more expensive at bars and clubs. Try to buy your alcohol from a local store instead of drinking at the bar if you’re on a budget.
- Take public transit – Public transportation is the most affordable way to get around. You can purchase a rechargeable Smartcard at any of the metro stations and you can use the card for the metro and metro buses.
- Being a water filter – Since the tap water here isn’t safe to drink and single-use plastic is bad for the environment, bring a water filter. LifeStraw makes reusable bottles with a built-in filter so you can ensure your water is always clean and safe.
Where to Stay in Mexico City
Still need a place to stay on your trip? Here are some of my favorite places to stay in Mexico City:
For more hostel suggestions be sure to check out my list of the best hostels in Mexico City!
How to Get Around Mexico City
Public Transportation – Mexico City is very large and the best way to get around is the subway (metro) system. It’s usually busy and crowded but it’s efficient. You’ll have to buy a rechargeable smart card at any of the Metro stations for 16 MXN (this includes the first 5 MXN ticket), and you can use the card for the metro and metro buses. A public city bus costs 6 MXN. You also can ride a Microbus (or a Pesero as it’s commonly known), which are privately-run. A ticket for these is between 2.50-4 MXN.
Alternatively, Turibus is a touristy hop-on hop-off bus with four routes in Mexico City. These buses can be a good way to get your bearings and discover areas of the city you may want to explore further. A 1-day ticket is 160 MXN on weekdays, and 180 MXN on the weekends.
Bicycle – For bike rentals, check out EcoBici, the first 45 minutes is free, and the first hour is 14.47 MXN. Each hour after is an additional 44 MXN. A full day is 112 MXN. After you’re done riding, you can return the bike to any kiosk with an open dock (indicated by a green light).
Taxis – Taxi fares start from around 25 MXN and then each kilometer is an additional 16 MXN. Don’t hail a taxi which is passing on the street. Instead, take one from outside a hotel or restaurant as these are authorized taxis and safer to use.
Ride-sharing – Uber, an alternative to taxis, operates in Mexico City and is pretty cheap. The Uber Pool option is where you can share a ride to get even better savings (though you can get your own car too). You can save $15 off your first Uber ride with this code: jlx6v.
When to Go to Mexico City
Summer (June to October) is the rainy season in Mexico, but mostly in the center of the country. You can expect it to rain each day heavily, but the downpour is usually short. It hardly ever rains in the northern part of the country, and humidity is thick in the south and along the coastal areas. Temperatures during this time are somewhere between 79-90°F (26-32°C). April to June are typically the hottest months with temperatures averaging a high of 80°F (27°C).
Semana Santa is one of the biggest holidays in Mexico, next to Christmas and Day of the Dead. It takes place the week before Easter, when a re-enactment of the crucifixion takes place. Día de la Independencia takes place September 16th, but the celebrations begin the night before in Mexico City’s Zócalo, complete with fireworks. FYI: This is Mexico’s independence day, not Cinco de Mayo which is a celebration of the battle of Puebla which takes place in the state of Puebla, to the south of Mexico City.
In November, the streets and cemeteries of Mexico come alive as locals celebrate Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead), a time when locals hold all-night vigils and commune with loved ones who have died. It’s also a time of parties and parades and sugar skulls. An unforgettable experience, especially in Mexico City.
How to Stay Safe in Mexico City
The media (especially the American media) likes to paint Mexico City as a dangerous place to visit, but the reality is that a lot of Mexico City is completely safe. While petty theft (including bag snatching) is really common here, most of the conflict is between the authorities and Mexican drug cartels, which will have little impact on your trip.
In Mexico City, stay away from neighborhoods like Tepito and Iztapalapa, and be aware of your surroundings in large crowded markets where it is easy to be targeted by pickpockets.
The people who tend to be involved in some sort of incident are usually drinking or doing drugs or taking part in sex tourism.
Stay away from that stuff.
Locals are friendly and helpful. If you’re not sure about a neighborhood, ask a local, they will tell whether or not it is a good idea to go there. You’re hostel/hotel can help tell you where to go.
That isn’t to say that you shouldn’t take precautions.
Another important safety tip to keep in mind is the drinking water. While Mexico’s water purification and treatment systems have improved, it still is not safe to drink ordinary tap water when visiting. Use a LifeStraw to avoid single-use plastic and ensure your water is safe.
Keep an eye out for common scams against tourists, such as fake ATMs, taxis that don’t use a meter, and questionable tour operators.
If you need emergency services, dial 911.
Always trust your gut instinct. Avoid isolated areas at night, and be aware of your surroundings at all times. Make copies of your personal documents, including your passport and ID.
If you don’t do it at home, don’t do it here! Follow that rule and you’ll be fine.
The most important piece of advice I can offer is to purchase good travel insurance. Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past.
Mexico City Travel Guide: The Best Booking Resources
These are my favorite companies to use when I travel to Mexico City. They are included here because they consistently find deals, offer world-class customer service and great value, and overall, are better than their competitors. They are the ones I use the most and are always the starting points in my search for travel deals.
- Momondo – This is my favorite booking site. I never book a flight without checking here first.
- Skyscanner – Skyscanner is another great flight search engine which searches a lot of different airlines, including many of the budget carriers that larger sites miss. While I always start with Momondo, I use this site too as a way to compare prices.
- Airbnb – Airbnb is a great accommodation alternative for connecting with homeowners who rent out their homes or apartments.
- Hostelworld – This is the best hostel accommodation site out there, with the largest inventory, best search interface, and widest availability.
- Couchsurfing – This website allows you to stay on people’s couches or spare rooms for free. It’s a great way to save money while meeting locals who can tell you the ins and outs of their city. The site also lists events you can attend to meet people (even if you’re not staying with someone).
- Booking.com – The best all around booking site that constantly provides the cheapest and lowest rates. They have a no money down policy, great interface, and the widest selection of budget accommodation. In all my tests, they’ve always had the cheapest rates out of all the booking websites.
- Intrepid Travel – If you want to do a group tour around Mexico, go with Intrepid Travel. They offer good small group tours that use local operators and leave a small environmental footprint. If you go on a tour with anyone, go with them. And, as a reader of this site, you’ll get a discount when you click the link!
- Rome 2 Rio – This website allows you to see how to get from point A to point B the best and cheapest way possible. It will give you all the bus, train, plane, or boat routes that can get you there as well as how much they cost.
- EatWith – This website allows you to eat home cooked meal with locals. Locals post listings for dinner parties and specialty meals that you can sign up for. There is a fee (everyone sets their own price) but this is a great way to do something different, pick a local’s brain, and make a new friend.
- World Nomads – I buy all my travel insurance from World Nomads. They have great customer service, competitive prices, and in-depth coverage. I’ve been using them since I started traveling in 2003. Don’t leave home without it!
Mexico City Gear and Packing Guide
If you’re heading on the road and need some gear suggestions, here are my tips for the best travel backpack and for what to pack!
The Best Backpack for Travelers
Straps: Thick and cushy with compression technology that pulls the pack’s load up and inwards so it doesn’t feel as heavy.
Features: Removable top lid, large pocket at the front, hydration compatible, contoured hip belt
If you want something different, refer to my article on how to choose the best travel backpack for tips on picking a pack and other backpack suggestions.
What to Pack for Your Trip
- 1 pair of jeans (heavy and not easily dried, but I like them; a good alternative is khaki pants)
- 1 pair of shorts
- 1 bathing suit
- 5 T-shirts (Unbound Merino is my preferred company. If you’re a member of NM+, you can get 15% off your purchase)
- 1 long-sleeved T-shirt
- 1 pair of flip-flops
- 1 pair of sneakers
- 6 pairs of socks (I always end up losing half)
- 5 pairs of boxer shorts (I’m not a briefs guy!)
- 1 toothbrush
- 1 tube of toothpaste
- 1 razor
- 1 package of dental floss
- 1 small bottle of shampoo
- 1 small bottle of shower gel
- 1 towel
Small Medical Kit (safety is important!!!)
- Hydrocortisone cream
- Antibacterial cream
- Hand sanitizer (germs = sick = bad holiday)
- A key or combination lock (safety first)
- Zip-lock bags (keeps things from leaking or exploding)
- Plastic bags (great for laundry)
- Universal charger/adaptor (this applies to everyone)
- LifeStraw (A water bottle with a purifier)
Female Travel Packing List
I’m not a woman, so I don’t know what a woman wears, but Kristin Addis, our solo female travel guru, wrote this list as an addition to the basics above:
- 1 swimsuit
- 1 sarong
- 1 pair of stretchy jeans (they wash and dry easily)
- 1 pair of leggings (if it’s cold, they can go under your jeans, otherwise with a dress or shirt)
- 2-3 long-sleeve tops
- 2-3 T-shirts
- 3-4 spaghetti tops
- 1 light cardigan
- 1 dry shampoo spray & talc powder (keeps long hair grease-free in between washes)
- 1 hairbrush
- Makeup you use
- Hair bands & hair clips
- Feminine hygiene products (you can opt to buy there too, but I prefer not to count on it, and most people have their preferred products)
For more on packing, check out these posts:
Mexico City Travel Guide: Suggested Reading
Maya Roads: One Woman’s Journey Among the People of the Rainforest, by Mary Jo McConahay
Mary Jo McConahay has been living and traveling in the remote areas of Central America for three decades, so she knows a thing or two about the region. Maya Roads is her fascinating account of the people, politics, and archaeology of the rainforest, otherwise known as “the cradle of Maya civilization.” It’s a beautiful chronicle of not only the sheer beauty of Central America and the resilience of its people, but also the region’s harsher side – like drug trafficking and intense violence.
Walking the Americas, by Levison Wood
This is the true story of Levison Wood’s 1,800-mile trek across the Americas, through eight countries from Mexico to Colombia. He works his way down through Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama – meeting refugees in Nicaraguan camps, friendly locals, and dangerous wildlife along the way. Some of his tales are harrowing, but mostly you’ll want to be right there with Wood, enjoying secret waterfalls and making awkward negotiations with policemen.
The Conquest of New Spain, by Bernal Diaz Del Castillo
This is an actual first-person account of one of history’s most devastating military events, when Hernan Cortes and his crew violently overthrew the Aztec Empire. Bernal Diaz Del Castillo was a soldier of Cortes, and his storytelling is powerful and vivid. He describes what it was like for the Spanish arriving in Mexico in 1520, and their shock when encountering the city. He goes on to talk about the cruel treatment of the natives and the Spaniards’ exploitation of them for gold and treasure, and then the eventual conquest of the city. It’s a gripping read.
On Mexican Time: A New Life in San Miguel, by Tony Cohan
Tony Cohan is an American writer from Los Angeles who moved to the quaint 16th-century town of San Miguel de Allende with his wife, Masako. Having fallen in love with Central Mexico on a previous visit, Cohan and his wife decided to sell off their house in California and head south to begin a new life amongst cobblestone streets and raucous daily fiestas. This is his memoir as the couple buy a fallen down 250-year-old house and begin to familiarize themselves with the ups and downs of living in Mexico.
Alone in Mexico: The Astonishing Travels of Karl Heller, 1845-1848, by Karl Bartolomeus Heller
Karl Bartolomeus Heller was a 21-year-old aspiring botanist from Austria who traveled to Mexico in 1845 to conduct research and collect specimens. This is the first English translation of his incredible memoir as he moves from living in the mountains of Veracruz to traveling onward to Mexico City, Puebla, and Cholula. Other adventures include a journey by canoe through southern Tabasco and Chiapas, eventually returning home with thousands of samples. This is one of the very few accounts of travelers visiting Mexico during this time period, making it a very rare gem indeed.
Mexico City Travel Guide: Related Articles
Want more info? Check out all the articles I’ve written on backpacking/traveling Mexico City and continue planning your trip: