If you’re looking for things to do in Mexico City, then you’re in luck. This incredibly cosmopolitan urban center is packed with remarkable attractions. In fact, the city deserves to be among Mexico’s top vacation destinations.
It’s rather a shame that most people flock to the seaside when visiting this country. Of course, the beaches are beautiful and well worth many visits, but that doesn’t mean that Mexico City doesn’t offer equal enticements.
This capital of Mexico is North America’s most populous city, and it also is the oldest capital city in all of the Americas. The Aztecs founded the city in 1325, calling it Tenochtitlan. Originally confined to an island in the midst of Lake Texcoco, the city was conquered and then rebuilt by the Spanish in 1521.
Mexico City remained an important center for Spanish colonial life until Mexico achieved their independence in the 1820s.
Thanks to its long and colorful history, many who visit Mexico City say that it is comparable to some of the greatest European destinations. The downtown district alone has been occupied for more than 1,000 years, providing rich opportunities to explore history and culture.
Ancient ruins with prehistoric carvings, Spanish colonial churches and expansive plazas like the Zocalo are found throughout the city. The architecture spans centuries and a wealth of influences and styles.
Many visitors are stunned to find plenty of upscale shopping in modern, gleaming malls and boutiques along with marketplaces that sell locally crafted items that include leather goods, jewelry, painted tiles and much more.
Whether you are communing with a great artist at the Museo Frida Kahlo, exploring the hallowed halls of the Palacio Nacional or enjoying a few quiet moments at Chapultepec Park, you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to choosing things to see in Mexico City.
25 things to see and do in Mexico City
Here’s a list of the top 25 attractions and experiences that you won’t want to miss when you visit historic, vibrant Mexico City.
1. Take a Free Walking Tour
In a city that’s known for its traffic, one of the best things that you can do in Mexico City is to get out of your car and walk. If you’re near the Centro Historico, this is a particularly rewarding experience.
Free walking tours in the neighborhood introduce you to the Palacio of Bellas Artes, Alameda Central, Templo Mayor and the rich diversity of Mexican history. Several tour companies offer these free tours, but participants should be prepared with a bit of cash since your local guide will expect a well-earned tip.
This may be one of the best things to do in Mexico City shortly after your arrival. It provides you with a great introduction to the city’s history and highlights attractions that you’ll definitely want to explore later.
2. Hop the Turibus
These double-decker tour buses allow you hop-on and hop-off at the stops of your choice. Along the way, you’ll gain excellent introductions to each of the city’s districts as well as their fascinating history.
This service is critical to the visitor’s ability to see a great deal of Mexico City in comfort and with ease. Don’t underestimate just how massive the metropolitan area is. Turibus makes it possible to hit all the highlights.
There are four Turibus lines. The primary one runs from Zocalo to Chapultepec. If you only do one tour, make it this one. The other lines include a tour toward the southern end of the city that includes Coayacan, a tour of the modern and well-to-do Polanco neighborhood and a brief Basilica tour.
Turibuses run from 9 am to 9 pm seven days a week. Be aware that when the clock strikes 9 pm, service stops promptly wherever the bus is located. There’s no completing the route or taking you back to the stop where you embarked.
3. Take in the Art at Museo Soumaya
A generous gift to the city and the people who inhabit it from businessman Carlos Slim, the Museo Soumaya contains a fantastic collection of art. Some of it comes from Slim’s own private collection. In fact, the museum includes the largest collection of Rodin sculptures housed outside of France. Many of these were collected by Slim’s late wife.
The works of Renoir, Matisse, Degas and Daumier are on display as are outstanding examples of Mexican colonial art and portraits. Even some Asian artwork is included for a genuinely international experience.
Best of all, admission to the Museo Soumaya is free.
4. Visit Templo Mayor
This is one of the top sights to see in Mexico City. The ancient Templo Mayor was unearthed in 1978. Workers discovered an Aztec stone featuring the moon goddess, and before long, archaeologists were hard at work in the area.
Eventually, the Templo Mayor, which also may be referred to as the Pyramid of Huitzilopochtli, was excavated. As late as the 16th century, it was the center of religious life for the city’s Aztec residents.
Now complete with a museum displaying more than 6,000 excavated artifacts, this is one of the top tourist destinations in the city. Jewelry, masks, tools, figurines and numerous other types of discoveries are on display on several levels. If you’re a history buff, you may need to spend a few hours here.
See also: Where to stay in Mexico City
5. Tour Xochimilco by Boat
Also known as the “Floating Gardens,” the Xochimilco district features in excess of 50 miles of canals. Each mile is bordered by incredibly lush gardens and gorgeous historic homes. The best way to see it all is from the deck of a brightly painted trajineras boat.
This is an extremely popular pastime for locals on the weekend. Pack a picnic to take along, and have your requests ready for the floating mariachi bands that makes the scene even more colorful and memorable.
This UNESCO World Heritage site is located about 40 minutes to the south of the city. A taxi from the center of the city can take you to the main Embarcadero Belem dock where you can hire a boat. Be sure not to miss this attraction, which is one of the top things to see in Mexico City.
Check this tour: Xochimilco & Coyoacan Full-Day Tour with Frida Kahlo Museum
6. Shop Zona Rosa
In addition to being a fantastic place to shop, Zona Rosa also serves as the center of LGBTQ culture in Mexico City. Here, you’ll find a wealth of gay bars and other shops and services that have a distinctively inclusive atmosphere. Whether you’re shopping, dining or partying, this is one of the best things you can do in Mexico City.
7. Indulge in Churros at El Moro
Who doesn’t love those crispy lengths of fried bread generously dusted with cinnamon and sugar? If you’re looking for things to do in Mexico City and you love these classic desserts, then El Moro needs to be on your itinerary.
The bakers at El Moro are masters at churning out churros. They’ve been doing it for more than 80 years, so you can trust that they know their business like no one else.
You’ll find the original El Moro in the city’s historic center as well as satellite locations in Polanco, next to Parque Mexico, in Cuauhtemoc, the Pink Zone and elsewhere.
8. Walk the Zocalo
As a Spanish colonial settlement, Mexico City was meticulously laid out with a central plaza around which were gathered government buildings, military headquarters and a church.
Because the Spanish built Mexico City as the capital city of New Spain, its central square was particularly grand. It is encircled by 17th-century buildings that are architectural marvels.
Although it’s officially called the Plaza de la Constitucion, the square is more popularly known as the Zocalo, which translates to “pedestal.” Mexican citizens planned an oversized monument to independence for the spot, which meant that they built the pedestal, but construction never went any farther.
The Zocalo, even with its namesake pedestal removed, is a major tourist attraction. No visit to the capital could be considered complete without a stop here.
9. Get Lazy at Chapultepec Park
If you want to relax like the locals, then you’ve got to spend a few hours exploring this expansive 543-acre park. Enjoy a picnic beneath a tree that’s several centuries old, then paddle a canoe on the lake. Explore the jogging path or consider a ride on the miniature train.
Chapultepec also is the home of Mexico’s president, which is known as Los Pinos. La Feria amusement park and the City Zoo similarly are found within the park’s environs.
Chapultepec Park is the center of the community’s life in many ways, making it one of the best things to do in Mexico City. Whether you decide to relax with a picnic and a nap or visit some of the many museums and gardens within the park, you’ll have a memorable time.
10. Taste the Nightlife
Unsurprisingly, Mexico City is home to an amazingly diverse and lively nightlife scene. You can boogie the night away at hot dance clubs like 1OAK and Mama Rumba or experience the local music scene at El Imperial.
Hookah Santa Fe offers a one-of-a-kind experience that makes you feel like you’ve been transported to a swanky spot in the Middle East that features an incredibly diverse array of cocktails.
Bars and pubs like El Diente de Oro, La Nacional and The Black Horse are waiting to delight you with fiendishly clever cocktails and alluring tapas dishes.
11. Explore Anthropology at the National Anthropology Museum
The Museo Nacional de Antropologia is Mexico’s most popular museum in addition to being one of the finest anthropology museums in the world. Consisting of 10 buildings, it’s also one of the most expansive of this type of museum as well.
The Aztec and Mayan halls are the most popular, and they are incredibly well-executed. If you’re short on time, concentrate your efforts here. Those with more time will want to be certain to explore even more of Mexico’s culture and history. Be sure to allow plenty of time.
12. Pick up Handcrafted Items at Mercado de La Ciudadela
If you’re excited about picking up some hand-embroidered clothing, Talavera pottery, leather goods, papier-mache skulls and much more, then you need to visit Mercado de La Ciudadela. It’s simply the best place to pick up handcrafted items in Mexico City.
If you’re lucky enough to visit this market in the Centro neighborhood on a Saturday, you’ll be treated to open-air dance performances. Coupled with the chance to pick up unique souvenirs, this is a can’t-miss experience.
13. Catch a Performance at the Palacio de Bellas Artes
A stunning theater where breathtaking performances are an everyday occurrence, the Palacio de Bellas Artes is the home of the world-renowned Ballet Folklorico de Mexico. Spending an unforgettable evening in one of the theater’s plush seats is one of the best things to do in Mexico City.
Ballet Folklorico performs at the Palacio twice a week. The program typically features a rich variety of dance forms from Aztec ritual dances and Jalisco agricultural dances to a wedding celebration and a fiesta in Veracruz. This always proves to be a magnificent evening and a great way to experience a broad expanse of Mexican culture.
When other performers are in town, the Ballet Folklorico may move to Chapultepec Park’s National Auditorium so be certain to check the schedule before you arrive.
14. Tour the Basilica de Santa Maria de Guadalupe
A noted religious site since 1531, the current basilica is of much more modern construction. In fact, it was built on the original site in the 1970s. In addition to the newer basilica, the site features a far older church, a museum, a library and a gift shop.
Of the thousands of people who visit the basilica each year, most say that it is one of the best things to see in Mexico City whether you are Catholic or not.
15. Venture Out to Teotihuacan
If you would like to spend a half-day outside the city, then arrange a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage Site known as Teotihuacan. It’s the home of spectacular pre-Columbian pyramids, some of the largest in the country.
Among the attractions is the incredible Pyramid of the Sun and the Palace of the Plumed Butterfly. To learn even more about the site and its importance, stop for a while at the Museo de la Sitio, which is packed with fascinating artifacts.
If it isn’t too hot and you’re wearing comfortable shoes, be certain to climb the steps to the top of at least one of the Pyramid of the Sun or the Pyramid of the Moon. From the top, you’ll gain a breathtaking view of the entire settlement. Any pictures you take here will definitely be worth 1,000 words.
Teotihuacan is just over 30 miles to the northeast of the city. Many tour companies offer excursions that are quite affordable, and many of these include a guide.
16. Explore the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico
Also known as the Central University City Campus of the National University of Mexico, this attraction is a UNESCO World Heritage Site too. The campus is absolutely beautiful and is packed with a cultural center, the Mexican Olympic stadium, the Central Library for Mexico City and a nature preserve in addition to 40 academic institutions.
One of the primary reasons for visiting the campus is to view the exquisite work of famous muralists such as David Alfaro Siqueiros and Juan O’Gorman. If you’re a fan of modern artwork, be sure to budget time for the excellent University Museum of Contemporary Art.
17. View El Angel de la Independencia
Chances are good that you’re already familiar with this high-flying golden statue. It seems to be featured in nearly every film and television show that boasts Mexico City as a location. Seeing it in person is far more impressive.
The statue stands in the downtown district, a massive column with a bronze statue of the Greek goddess Victory on top. The monument was installed as a commemoration of Mexico’s war with Spain in which the country won its independence. Since then, it has also become a war hero mausoleum.
Depending upon when you visit, you may encounter a gathering of sports fans or a political demonstration. If you happen to drop by on an ordinary day with other tourists, you’ll have a better opportunity to capture a great snap.
18. Take a Time Out at Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico
Whether you book a room at this glorious hotel or not, it’s worthwhile to at least step inside to explore the lobby. It’s located on the Zocalo, and when it opened in 1899, it as a department store.
A wonder of art nouveau architecture and style, this building has been meticulously maintained over the decades. With the antique elevator, a Tiffany stained-glass ceiling and a staircase that’s an exact replica of the staircase at Le Bon Marche in Paris, this is one of the most popular things to see in Mexico City.
19. Spend an Hour at the Palacio Nacional
The National Palace houses the Mexican government’s federal executive branch. It sits adjacent to the Zocalo, so it’s easy to combine a visit with other popular sites. The palace is both massive and ornate, including murals, gardens and beautiful fountains.
Look for the Diego Rivera panoramic murals on the walls. These depict Mexican history beginning in the pre-Columbian period and extending through the modern-day. Admission is free for this fun and informative attraction.
20. Indulge in a Paleta from Helados y Paletas la Gloria
Located adjacent to charming Coyoacan Park, Helados y Paletas la Gloria is one of the best places in the city to get a paleta, which is a fruit-based ice pop. Take your treat into the park where you can enjoy it in style. The surroundings make it feel like a bohemian escape in the midst of a bustling urban area.
21. Make a Pilgrimage to The Blue House
Frida Kahlo’s home, which is now known as the Museo Frida Kahlo, is carefully preserved to give visitors a rare glimpse into the artist’s private life. A visit here lets you see not only the art she created but also pieces that she collected.
This is the house where Kahlo was born and where she died. Devotees of her work consider this stop one of the top things to see in Mexico City.
If you’ve ever wanted to gain a better understanding of the artist, her life and her work, don’t pass up an opportunity to spend a few hours at her home. It’s located in the Coyoacán neighborhood, and only a nominal entry fee is charged.
22. Dance to Mariachi Music
One of the best places to spend an evening in Mexico City is in the Plaza de Garibaldi. This is where you’ll find numerous Mariachi bands strolling through the square while entertaining the patrons at the outdoor cafes. With their meticulous costumes and soulful playing, this is one of the most unforgettable things to do in Mexico City.
23. Eat Your Way Through San Angel
From one end to the other, the San Angel neighborhood is packed with traditional-style restaurants where you can enjoy exquisite cuisine without breaking the bank. From sautéed peppers to slow-roasted pork, you can’t beat the mouth-watering aromas.
To make the most of the neighborhood’s many delicious offerings, consider enjoying drinks and appetizers at one spot, an entrée at another and dessert at a third. You may want to enjoy an after-dinner drink at yet another hot spot.
24. Meditate at the Catedral Metropolitana
Another attraction that ranks among the top things to do in Mexico City, the Catedral Metropolitana appeals to lovers of art, architecture, religion and history. Construction on the massive cathedral began in 1567 and carried on all the way through 1788. Consequently, it features a fascinating mix of Mexican churrigueresque, neoclassical and baroque architecture.
The massive size of the cathedral is causing it to sink into the dry lake bed on which it stands. Accordingly, you’ll see plenty of scaffolding and lots of work going on to preserve this architectural marvel.
Admission to the cathedral is free, and it is open from 8 am to 7 pm every day, although visitors are asked not to tour the facilities during mass.
25. Enjoy Tapas and Wine at Mercado Roma
Residents vociferously protested when the city proposed building this market just a few years ago. However, that opposition has died down as more and more people realize just how charming this mixed-use installation is.
The highlight of the Mercado Roma is the food and drink. Three stories tall, it’s possible to eat and drink your way through the building, enjoying tapas, cheeses, Spanish wines and much more as you go. A breezy upstairs patio provides a lovely spot to enjoy a beer and a fine view.