Things to do in Mexico City: Attractions, neighborhoods, and best sights
With its reputation for crime, most first-time visitors are surprised at just how safe they feel whilst strolling the streets of Mexico City. The majority of tourists enjoy a trouble-free visit to this cultured, colorful and often overlooked metropolis. If you take the precautions that you would in any major city, you are likely to have an enlightening, fun and fascinating time.
Mexico City is blessed with an abundance of museums. In fact, it is home to more museums than any other city in the world. Furthermore, many of them are free or cost a mere few pesos to enter. The city offers exceptional value to visitors, whether it be accommodation or delicious street food and the Metro is one of the cheapest underground systems on the planet (the equivalent of 28 US cents per trip). It’s easy to use and the perfect way to get around the sprawling capital.
It would take months to experience everything this absorbing city has to offer. The chances are that when you discover Mexico City’s delights, one visit won’t be enough.
Lucha Libre – Cheap and more fun than you could ever imagine!
Wrestling may not be on your agenda, but it is a quintessential part of Mexican culture and is without doubt, one of the most fun experiences you can have in Mexico City!
Whole families attend at Arena Mexico. The anticipation before the wrestlers enter the ring is intense. When they finally appear, the stadium explodes. Fans shout abuse at the bad guys and cheer for their favorites. Kids (and adults) wear the masks of their heroes. Food and drink vendors constantly make the rounds selling nachos and beer. A rollicking good night out!
Location: Arena Mexico, 189 Calle R. Lavista, Colonia Doctores, Cuauhtemoc/ Metro Insurgentes
Tickets can be purchased at the box office from 110.00 Mexican pesos (US $6.00)
Coyoacan – The most delightful neighbourhood in Mexico City
Coyoacan is a charming neighbourhood to the south of Mexico City’s center. Home to the Frida Khalo and Trotsky Museums, the area exudes a traditional vibe and provides an opportunity to enjoy a taste of small town Mexico in the big city.
The leafy main square is a perfect place to sit and watch the world go by. There are some excellent restaurants offering authentic Mexican dishes. Vendors sell delicious street food and it is especially lively at the weekends when stalls sell arts and crafts and dance performances take place.
Location: Coyoacan is on the Turibus (hop on, hop off) line. Alternatively, you can take the train to Metro Coyoacan and walk about twenty minutes from there.
National Museum of Anthropology – The largest and most visited museum in Mexico
This world class museum is the largest and most visited in Mexico. You will need to set aside a few hours to appreciate it fully. Visitors are taken on a fascinating journey through the geographical regions of Mexico exploring Aztec, Mayan and Teotihuacan cultures.
Artifacts are beautifully displayed and the building itself is an awesome architectural feat. Even if anthropological museums aren’t usually your thing, you won’t fail to be impressed.
Location: Avenida Paseo de la Reforma, Chapultepec Polanco
Ticket price 74.00 Mexican Pesos
Teotihuacan – An ancient city of Pyramids
Just thirty miles northeast of Mexico City lies Teotihuacan, a complex of majestic pyramids which was once the greatest city in Mesoamerica. Believed by Aztecs to be where God created the universe, it was mysteriously abandoned thirteen centuries ago.
These days it’s still an awe-inspiring scene. The sights are fairly spread out and the sun is often fierce, so hats and sunblock are a necessity.
Getting there: Take a bus from Del Norte Bus Station
Roundtrip approximately 110.00 Mexican Pesos – Entrance 74.00 Mexican Pesos – Tours cost approximately 730.00 Mexican Pesos from Mexico City.
Frida Kahlo Museum – A glimpse into the life of Mexico’s most iconic artist
Frida Kahlo is the most iconic Mexican who ever lived. The house where she grew up and later lived with Diego Rivera, La Casa Azul, is now a museum. Located in Coyoacan, the house provides a fascinating insight into the life of this multi-faceted artist. Wandering through the vibrantly decorated rooms, it’s easy to imagine not only the suffering that Frida endured from her illnesses, but also the raucous parties that would have taken place in the house.
Original art is displayed and the most poignant room is Frida’s bedroom, the scene of her death. Her wheelchair is on display, as well as her paints and easel. The garden is full of lush tropical plants, the blue house striking under the Mexican sun.
Location: Calle Londres 247, Del Carmen, Coyoacan – Ticket price 183.00 Mexican Pesos including photography fee
El Zocalo – The heart of the metropolis
This is the heart and soul of the city and one of the largest squares in the world. Since Aztec times, it has been a gathering place for citizens and visitors alike. Nowadays, it is frequently the scene of political protests and artistic and cultural events.
Surrounded by historical buildings, including the impressive cathedral, National Palace and Tempo Mayor and outlying shops, it is a fascinating area to explore by foot.
Museum of Popular Art – A treat for the whole family to enjoy
Probably the most colorful museum in the world! Housed in a renovated art deco style fire station, Museo de Arte Popular is a contemporary space on several levels. On the top floor, a fabulous and flamboyant collection of pinatas hang from the ceiling.
Each exhibition room is a feast for the eyes, with a plethora of Mexican folk art on display. Many of the exhibits are Day of the Dead related – everything from skeletons on bicycles to ornately decorated skulls. It’s fun, quirky and in your face. Kids will adore it and adults will love it just as much.
Location: Revillagigedo 11
Ticket price 55.00 Mexican Pesos
San Angel – A delightful barrio full of arts, crafts and museums
There is a great deal to see in this picturesque neighbourhood, a suburb situated southwest of the city. Every Saturday, Bazaar Del Sabado, a sprawling artisan market sells jewellery, clothing and all manner of arts and crafts.
Strolling along the tree-lined streets, there are numerous independent stores and lovely colonial houses. The studio of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and Carillon Gil Museum of Modern Art are also located in San Angel.
Getting there: Metro Miguel Angel de Quevedo is about a five-minute walk to central San Angel or take the Metrobus along Insurgentes Ave and get off at Bombilla
Templo Mayor – An incredible excavation site in the center of Mexico City
Situated adjacent to the Zocalo, this combination of archaeological site and museum offers a compelling slice of Mexican history. The site was only uncovered in 1978 when an electrical company who were working in the street, inadvertently uncovered a monolith of an ancient goddess!
Over the next few years, buildings were demolished and excavation work took place. Over seven thousand artefacts were discovered. Nowadays, you can stroll the boardwalks and peruse the site. The museum itself is superb and offers an overview of Mexico City through the ages.
Location: 8 Seminario St, Cuauhtemoc
Ticket price 74.00 Mexican Pesos
Museum of Memory and Tolerance – A thought provoking experience
A visit to this modern museum is a powerful and intense experience. Over several floors, it covers the chilling history of genocide and human rights abuses throughout the world. From the atrocities of the Holocaust to Darfur, the exhibits are well presented and comprehensive.
The museum is a reminder of the dark side of human nature, but also does an excellent job in highlighting the importance of tolerance and understanding.
Location: Plaza Juarez S/N Centro, Cuauhtemoc
Ticket price 55.00 Mexican Pesos
Island of the Dolls – If you like horror movies, this is the place to head for!
This is undoubtedly the most bizarre tourist attraction in Mexico City. On the canals of Xochimilco, there lies a creepy island, where dolls in various states of decay hang from the trees. Rumor has it that the island’s caretaker was haunted by the ghost of a young girl who drowned in the canals. He started to collect dolls to appease the spirits that tormented him.
Since the caretaker died, the collection has been added to by visitors to the island. It's an eerie and atmospheric spot and not for the feint-hearted!
Getting there: To get to Xochimilco take the Metro to Tasquena and change onto the lightrail to Xochimilco. It takes two hours to reach the island by boat from Xochimilco Embarcadero.
The official price (per boat) should be approximately 730.00 Mexican Pesos each way.
Palace of Fine Arts – Cultural center and one of the grandest buildings in the city
Located in the heart of Mexico City, this spectacular palace is home to the greatest collection of muralist art in the world. The mural painted by Diego Rivera in New York was recreated here after it was removed from the Rockefeller Center because it included an image of Lenin.
The building is as impressive inside as out, with grand marble pillars and ornate decor. On certain nights of the week it is possible to attend the spectacular folklorico ballet at the theatre inside the palace.
Location: Juarez, esq. Eje Central, Del, Cuauhtemoc
Free entrance to building/ Ticket price to museum 147.00 Mexican Pesos and free on Sundays.
House of Leon Trotsky – Look around the house where Trotsky was murdered
This is the house where Trotsky spent the last year of his life hiding from Russian Stalinists. After several assassination attempts, he was murdered in his office with a pick axe. The house has been preserved as a museum and left exactly as it was when Trotsky lived there. It is an intriguing glimpse into his time in Mexico City.
Austere and somewhat bleak, it is run by an organisation supporting those seeking political asylum. A couple of rooms have been added showing pictures of Trotsky with family and friends.
Location: Circuito Interior (Avenida Rio Churubusco) 410, Del Carmen, Coyoacan
Ticket price 40.00 Mexican Pesos
Metropolitan Cathedral – The most ancient and largest cathedral in Latin America
The huge sixteenth century cathedral dominates the Zocalo, Mexico City’s historical center and is both the largest and oldest in Latin America. Slightly lop-sided, due to subsidence and earthquake damage, it is magnificent sight, both inside and out.
Mass on Sundays is both a spiritual and spectacular experience, with hundreds of candles burning and the ethereal sound of the choir echoing throughout the building.
Location: El Zocalo
Soumaya Museum – The most diverse art collection in Mexico City and it’s free!
Designed by Fernando Romero, this building is an architectural wonder, reminiscent of New York’s Guggenheim.
The interior houses a private collection of art by the European masters including Van Gogh, Monet, Renoir and Degas. The top floor is devoted to the sculptures of Rodin and includes The Thinker, one of his most famous pieces.
Location: Blvd Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra 303, Col Ampliacion Granada, Miguel Hidalgo
National Palace – See the best of Diego Rivera’s murals free of charge!
This building has been home to government since the Aztec Empire was in power. The biggest draw here are the vast Diego Rivera murals, which depict Mexico’s tumultuous history. Painted between 1929 and 1952, they are a splendid sight and the detail is extraordinary.
The courtyard has a lovely cactus garden and is also home to several cats. It’s a peaceful oasis in the heart of the city and a perfect area to sit and enjoy the tranquil surroundings for a few minutes.
Location: El Zocalo
Free entry, but I.D. is required
Xochimilco – Enjoy the festivities on the canals of Southern Mexico City
Colorfully painted boats ply the canals loaded with Mexicans who often come here to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. Floating mariachi bands play a tune for a hundred pesos and vendors sell food and beer. Each of the boats has a picnic table which are usually overflowing with food and drinks.
The atmosphere is festive and it’s a fun way to experience Mexican culture and kitsch. It’s especially lively at weekends and if you prefer a more peaceful boat trip, it is best to visit during the week.
Getting there: Take the Metro to Tasquena and change to the Lightrail. Get off at Xochimilco and it’s a ten-minute walk to the embarcadero, where you can hire a boat.
The official rate is approximately 360.00 Mexican Pesos per hour per boat. Ignore any tout who try and persuade you to pay more.
Antique Toy Museum – Funky and fun, the most unique of museums
Two thousand toys from all over the world are featured in this delightfully bizarre museum. Owner, Roberto Shimizu started collecting the toys at age ten and now has one million, most of which are in storage.
The period of toys on show range from the 19th century all the way through to the 1980’s. In addition to a few classics, there are also some rather more offbeat exhibits. All four floors are brimming with vintage toys and packed into display cabinets constructed from salvaged items. It’s chaotic and crazy, but fun for both children and adults. On the rooftop, there’s some cool street art/graffiti.
Location: Dr. Olvera 15, Colonia Doctores
Ticket price 55.00 Mexican Pesos
Tequila & Mezcal Museum – Enjoy a free sample of Mexico’s favorite liquid refreshment!
Located in the slightly sleazy Plaza Garibaldi, it’s worth a visit to the Tequila and Mezcal Museum to sample Mexico’s two most celebrated tipples. The museum is housed in a contemporary building, where the visitor can learn about the history and production of the liquors. The most striking exhibit is a wall of hundreds of bottles, many of them displaying spectacular labels.
Afterwards, head to the roof top bar, where you receive a complimentary shot of both tequila and mezcal. You can sit and watch wandering mariachi bands play their haunting sounds in the plaza below and soak up the atmosphere.
Location: Plaza Garibaldi
Ticket price 66.00 Mexican Pesos
Chapultepec Park – Enjoy a stroll in the largest urban park on the planet
Tourists and locals requiring refuge from frenetic city life head to Chapultepec Park. This 1,600-acre green space is the largest urban park in the world. Within its environs are the Museum of Anthropology, the Rufino Tamayo museum, the zoo and Chapultepec Castle.
There are miles of walking trails, lakes and plenty of trees offering shade. It’s a family-friendly park and always busy on a Sunday when families stroll along eating ice-cream or settle down for a picnic on the grass.
Location: Metro Chapultepec
By Susan Jane King
Additional photo credits: Lucha Libre by Mandy on Flickr