The largest city in the Americas, Mexico City is still a mostly hidden gem and ranks amongst the greatest cities in the world. When most people picture CDMX they get images of a dangerous, run down city with slums and shanties littering the landscape. That was my image of the city anyway, and after a friend convinced me to visit, needless to say my low expectations were smashed and I’ve been here ever since.
With a population of over 20 million people, it’s obviously a massive city to explore with an insane amount of diversity and culture. Going from the classic colonial Coyoacán in the south to the hipster-eqsue Roma in the center and the most dangerous Ecatapec in the northeast, there is no shortage of adventure in this magical city.
While the past two years have taken a toll on the world wide travel economy, Mexico has remained largely unscathed as they’ve been mostly open the whole time. Beachtowns like Playa del Carmen, Tulum and Puerto Escondido have seen massive amounts of tourists and covid refugees flocking here from other countries. 2022 is no exception and still a great time to travel in Mexico. With that being said, here’s a personal list of awesome things to do in Mexico City!
1. Do a Booze Cruise in Xochimilco
Grab your amigos, a couple of bottles of tequila or mezcal and head south to the rivers and floating markets of Xochimilco. Here you can rent a river boat and guide for only 500 pesos ($25 USD) per hour, split between 4-20 friends, it’s a great bargain!
While you’re here, don’t forget to check out the Island of the Dolls, a creepy little island in the channels of Xochimilco covered in various dolls right out of a horror story. Originally placed here by the previous owner who believed the dolls chased away the evil incarnation of a little girl who drowned here years ago. In 2001 he died of a heart attack, apparently around the same spot where the girl drowned. Scared yet?
2. Explore the Pyramids of Teotihuacan
Only a 50 minute drive from central Mexico City, this was once the largest city in Mesoamerica, around 1000 years before the Aztecs even arrived. At it’s peak it held 125,000 or more people, making it the 6th largest city in the world at the time, around 1-500 AD. At 1.2 million m3, it’s the 7th largest pyramid in the world.
You can rock up to this amazing site on a bus and go exploring yourself without a tour guide. Standard entry to the pyramids is only 80 pesos ($4 USD). You will spend at least two hours exploring the archeological site.
If you’re feeling extra adventurous you can take a hot air balloon ride (on some days) overtop of the spectacular pyramids in the morning, just be prepared to wake up extra early. In my opinion checking out these magnificent structures is one of the best things to do in Mexico City.
Tucked away at the edge of Bosque de Chapultepec is one of the best museums in Mexico. With amazing ancient relics from the Mayan era as well as cultural artifacts and displays from more recent times, you could spend hours here wandering around and still go back another day for more.
Entry costs only 85 pesos and there are two floors and an outdoor area to visit. It’s usually not busy during the week but on the weekends it’s crowded. It’s also closed on Mondays.
4. Chapultepec Castle
Not far from Museo Nacional de Antropología, in the middle of Bosque Chapultepec is the famous Chapultepec Castle. It is the only royal castle in North America.
Building began in 1785 by the Spanish Crown to house royalty. After that it was an observatory, military college and a guest host for foreign officials. It is now a National Museum of History. The castle was used to film parts of the Romeo & Juliet film and it is also said to be haunted – like almost every other castle.
5. Wander Around Coyoacán
Coyoacan is further south in Mexico City and only around a 40 min drive from the center. It’s a former village that has been swallowed by the immense growth of Mexico City. The name means “place of coyotes” in the native Nahautl language.
Hernán Cortés used the spot as the headquarters during the Spanish conquest of the Aztecs. It became the first capital of New Spain in 1521. The famous Frida Kahlo Museum is also located here, housed in the same building where she was born and later on lived for 13 years until she passed away.
This beautiful cathedral in the Zocalo (main square) was built up on an ancient Aztec sacred site from 1573 to 1813. The architect was inspired by Gothic cathedrals in Spain. There is no entrance fee to the entrance fee to the spectacular cathedral and it’s definitely worth a visit.
7. Palacio de Bellas Artes
One of the most iconic and recognizable buildings in Mexico City, this palace is a fine arts cultural center that hosts music, dance, opera and theatre events. It is also known as the “Cathedral of Art in Mexico” due to it’s rich history in art exhibits and events. After many years of construction, the building was finally completed in 1934.
8. San Juan Mercado
This very unique market close to Chinatown in the historic centrer is really a hidden gem within Mexico City. If you’re looking for Mexican specialties, cuisines and souvenirs you’ll find it here. But most people come here for the bizarre and curious items.
You’ll be able to find any number of exotic animals, spices and items from far off lands. Also known as the “Chef’s Market” for the numerous amounts of high quality and fresh meats., they also offer insects, iguana, armadillo and lion burgers — yes, lion burgers.
9. Bosque Chapultepec
Take a stroll in the biggest city park in Mexico: Chapultepec Forest. With an impressive 1,600 acres, it’s two times larger than Central Park in New York City. Within this spectacular forest you’ll find a zoo, several museums, an old castle (listed above), a lake with many activities and even an archaeological site.
You’ll find people jogging around the many pathways, sunbathing, reading, meditating or eating at one of the several street stalls situated around the forest. You could spend a day here and still only see half of it.
10. Toy With Danger in Tepito
Head over to one of the largest markets in Mexico city, by some counterfeit Nike’s and try not to get robbed. Tepito is a barrio in Colonial Morelos just north of the Zocalo and historic center. The barrio is mostly made up of a giant open air market selling all kinds of goods.
Although it has a reputation of being one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Mexico City, it has an array of spectacular items on sale. From AK-47s to pirated DVD’s, counterfeit shoes, dirt cheap street food, even kilos of drugs.
It’s a place everyone will warn you not to go. Venture here if your own risk, go with friends, dress to blend in, buy a Dolce & Gabanna purse and get out! They don’t call it “Barrio Bravo” for no reason.
11. Explore Condesa & Roma
Known as the gentrified areas of Mexico City, here you’ll find all kinds of foreigners, from Gringos to Europeans. They are beautiful neighborhoods with an array of fantastic bars, restaurants and clubs.
They are also known as a very safe place to live compared other areas of the city. I’d recommend to visit here next after you stay in the historic center if it’s your first time in the city.
12. Drink 1L Cervezas for 50 pesos
In the middle of Zona Rosa is a cute grungy little walking street known as Calle Genova. Here you’ll find all kinds of cheap restaurants, bars and street vendors selling many different goods. Settle in on one of the many bars with patios and ask for a 1L cerveza (price depends on the time). Pound a couple of these back and you’ll be on your way having the best time in Mexico City.