Mexico City Travel Guide For 2023 (Everything You REALLY Must Know)

Welcome to Mexico City travel guide. In this travel guide, I will tell you everything that you need to know for your first visit. We’ll discuss the best things to do, the best areas to stay, and practical tips for how to get around, and perhaps most importantly, I’ll share a few things with you on what to expect in Mexico City.

What To Expect

What To Expect
What To Expect. Mexico City Travel Guide

The first thing you should really know is that Mexico City is big. Like, really big. With over 22 million inhabitants, it is considered a megacity and one of the biggest in the world.

If knowing that is already giving you some stress, if you think the city is going to be overwhelming, then actually, luckily, that’s not really the case. I think that’s because a lot of the things that visitors want to see are kind of clustered around maybe two or three different areas, and these areas happen to be very walkable and very inviting.

Certainly, I don’t have that sense that I’m in a megacity when I’m in Mexico City. What is overwhelming, though, is the sheer number of things that are to be done in Mexico City. So we’re going to dig into that in this article.

Best Museums

Best Museums
Best Museums. Mexico City Travel Guide

Mexico City is an absolute cultural powerhouse. The number of great museums is just staggering. And that’s maybe not something that everyone expects. When people go to Paris, Rome, or Athens, they know that there are going to be great museums, so they put some time in their schedule to check them out. I’m not sure if that association is as strong with Mexico City. But let me tell you: without exaggeration, the museums are incredible. Because there are so many of them, let me give you a bit of a starter pack.

The absolute must-see is the Anthropological Museum. You have to go to this because it has the biggest collection of artifacts from pre-Columbian civilization. The Aztecs, the Mayans, and the Olmecs—all of these civilizations are represented. Nowhere else in the world are you going to find a museum on prehispanic cultures quite like this, so that makes it a definite must-visit.

My second museum tip is a little bit different from what most travel guides seem to recommend. If you think of Mexico, you probably think of things like colorful flower patterns, stylized Day of the Dead figurines, and all sorts of indigenous motifs. That’s exactly what you’ll see at the Popular Art Museum. This underrated, medium-sized museum focuses entirely on folkloric art and handcrafts, which I think makes it a perfect introduction to Mexican culture.

Thirdly, something that is uniquely Mexican in a more contemporary way is the art by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. If you don’t know who these famous artists are, then I recommend watching the movie Frida with Salma Hayek, maybe on your flight to Mexico. This will shed light on everything about this artistic couple.

Diego Rivera was mostly known for his epic murals, so these really panoramic paintings have lots of detail and often show scenes from Mexican history. His works are kind of spread out across different buildings in the city, and it’s really worth checking out at least one of them. I think it’s cool to do it with a guide because if you have a good guide, they will use things depicted in the murals as little hooks to explain different things about Mexico.

The most famous mural is in the National Palace. Now, this is a government building, so they don’t let people in all the time. You need to make a reservation for it. If you don’t have a ticket, then you can go to the Diego Rivera Mural Museum, where you can see a different and very famous mural. Frida Kahlo’s works are spread across multiple locations. For example, you could go to the Museum Dolores Olmedo or the Modern Art Museum.

There’s also the Frida Kahlo Museum, which is in the house where she grew up. I think this is alright. It’s a little overpriced for Mexico. It’s also very popular, so it can get crowded or you have to queue up a lot if you don’t have tickets already. I prefer just seeing the art that she made. So that’s kind of my starter pack—my suggestions for getting a cross-section of art and history from Mexico. But I’m almost forgetting one more, which is the Templo Mayor.

Mexico City used to be basically a big lake. Even here, where I am right now, used to be water. And in the center of the lake was an island, and on top of that was a pyramid-like structure. Of course, the Spanish Conquistadors completely destroyed it when they conquered Mexico. Since only the foundational ruins of the Templo Mayor are left, you do need a bit of imagination to think of what this would have looked like in the past.

Still, it’s highly worth seeing, and it also has an adjacent building with numerous artifacts that cover some different themes and areas of the Anthropological Museum.

Best Other Things To Do

Best Other Things To Do
Best Other Things To Do. Mexico City Travel Guide

A good place to start for a great overview of the city is the Tore Latin America. This is one of the tallest office buildings and will give you a 360-degree panoramic view of Mexico City. Of course, be sure to check out the impressive Zocalo, or main square, and its adjacent Metropolitan Cathedral, the largest and oldest in Latin America. If at any point you find the city a bit overwhelming, you can always escape to Chapultepec Forest. This huge city park is home to many museums and small attractions, as well as a beautiful castle on top of the hill.

Of course, there’s a lot of high-end dining and Michelin-starred restaurants in this city, and I see a lot of guides mention this, but to be honest, what I like to do is kind of look for a local kind of neighborhood restaurant. Of course, there is also a lot of street food in Mexico City, and I do highly recommend taking a chance to sit down on a plastic chair and maybe channel your inner Anthony Bourdain.

You can have a great lunch for like two dollars or something by getting some nice tacos on the corner of the street. If at any point you’re unsure what kind of taco to order, the default is usually listed first, which will probably be tacos al pastor. And more adventurous options like tripe or tongue tend to be further down the list.

Best Excursions & Tours

Best Excursions & Tours
Best Excursions & Tours. Mexico City Travel Guide

I’ve already mentioned many things you can do within the center, but there are also things a little bit outside of the center. The first place to consider going is the pyramids of Teotihuacan. This is an amazing archaeological site, and you can go there by yourself if you first take the metro to the northern bus station and then change to a bus. That’s what I did on my previous trip to Mexico City. It was really cool, and I climbed up to the top of the pyramid, but I was like, “Okay, I wish I knew a little bit more about this civilization,” and it had a little bit more texture and colour.

Another super fun excursion is to go to Xochimilco, which is about 40 to 50 minutes south of the center. Now this area has a lot of canals and a lot of water, and there are these really colorful boats that can take you around, and you can drink, eat, and enjoy music from some mariachi bands that hop between different boats there.

You might think it’s just a tacky tourist thing, but it’s a lot of fun, and it’s something that local residents like to do, especially on the weekends when it will be a lot busier. I think it’s nice to do this with the group because it’ll be a lot more fun and it’s easier to pay for the mariachi bands. If everyone chips in like a dollar, you have a pot of money that goes through the mariachi band. They play a few songs, and it’s cheaper and easier to do it that way when you’re with a bunch of people.

Finally, it’s a lot of fun to catch a Lucha Libre fight. This Mexican style of wrestling can be quite a spectacle. I thought it was fun to watch the show, but I also really liked watching the audience because they’re all screaming their lungs out, getting super worked up about what is happening on stage, and sometimes cursing a lot. Like, wow, are you doing this in front of your kids? But then they smile and walk out of there. Again, this is kind of fun to do with the tour because you’ll be with a bunch of people, and you can kind of comment on the match as it is happening.

Where To Stay

Where To Stay in Mexico city
Where To Stay. Mexico City Travel Guide

Where you stay in Mexico City is inevitably going to have a big impact on your experience. Because wherever your hotel or hostel is, that’s where you keep coming back, and so you get a different slice of the city for sure. I’ve seen lists of the top 20 neighborhoods to stay in Mexico City, but realistically, there are two areas that you are most likely to end up in.

El Centro
El Centro. Mexico City Travel Guide

One is El Centro, and that’s the area around the main square. There you find a lot of government buildings, monuments, and museums, and for just general sightseeing, that’s actually a really convenient base to have. Now, one downside of El Centro, in my opinion, is that there’s a lot of shopping streets, which is nice during the day when it’s very lively, but at night the shops close and they put down the rollers, and it kind of gives an empty feeling to El Centro at night.

La Condesa + Roma
La Condesa + Roma. Mexico City Travel Guide

It’s a bit different here in this area. This is La Condesa, and over there is Roma; these two neighborhoods are next to each other, and they’re very residential. They have lots of parks; they’re very beautiful. It’s almost like a fantasy version of Mexico City. It’s also a little bit upscale, and prices are also a little bit higher here, but I think for just a general vibe, this is a great area to stay. It is very hipstery; you can get your craft beers, your specialty coffee, your poke, your sushi—everything is here, but it is a bit more pricey and a bit more internationalized.

And if you’re allergic to the hipster factor, which is quite high here, then maybe you would prefer El Centro. But both of these areas are really great; they just have a different kind of experience.

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