If you haven’t hammered out your Mexico City itinerary yet, fear not! This city is massive, but there are ways to see all the important landmarks, cultural attractions and things to do in a few busy days. Lucky for you, Mexico City is a vibrant metropolis with all sorts of ways to have fun on any budget, from museums to taquerias. Here’s your ultimate three day hitlist, with options for a four or five day itinerary if you have time. Ready to explore?
Before you go…
Decide if you’re interested in the Frida Kahlo Museum, which is located in the neighborhood of Coyoacan. This museum jumped in popularity recently, so booking a ticket in advance is crucial. To book a ticket at a specific time as opposed to waiting in line (not recommended during high season), visit their website.
You’ll see that the admission amounts to approximately $12USD (230 pesos, and 250 pesos on weekends), which is far more than other museums in Mexico City. It’s up to you to decide if this is within your budget, because as you’ll see, travelling around Mexico City is very affordable by Latin American standards. You never have to spend a lot to have fun! Most other museums have admission prices at about half this price or may even be free.
Find the best hostels in Mexico City
When deciding where to stay, there are lots of options for a backpacker in Mexico City. Do you want to stay in the cultural region of the Historic Center (Centro Historico), or in the laid-back Art Deco neighborhood of Condesa?
- Selina Mexico City Downtown: This is where I stayed! It’s a huge hostel in the downtown Centro Historico and it used to be a historic hotel. Selina has lots of dorm rooms and lots of privates, plus ample common areas, a communal kitchen and a co-working space that you can book separately from your stay.
- Massiosare El Hostel: This hostel is also located in the Historic Center of Mexico City. It’s known for exceptional cleanliness, a great location and amazing staff. There are privates and dorms, and the prices are very reasonable. They also have two cats!
- Hostel Home: This hostel, located in the residential area of Roma, focuses on being ‘home.’ It was the first backpacker hostel in Mexico City and is proud of its welcoming atmosphere for all types of backpackers.
- B&B Distrito Condesa: This B&B in the Condesa neighborhood is not a typical hostel, but it is a great choice if you want some space and privacy during your trip. There’s an outdoor patio and free breakfast daily. Every room is a private and each has its own bathroom, so it may be worth a splurge if you’ve been travelling for a while.
- Casa San Ildefonso: With a location in Centro Historico only one block away from Templo Mayor and Zócalo, you’ll be able to hit lots of top sights on your itinerary if you stay here. The hostel is based in a historic building and prides itself on enhancing your journey through Mexico.
Selina Mexico City Downtown
Mexico City’s neighbourhoods
- The Historic Center (Centro) is also referred to as Downtown. Here you’ll be close to the Zócalo square, which is considered to be the centre of the city. This area is also home to lots of historic heritage buildings and museums.
- Condesa, Roma and Roma Norte are more residential and have large parks where lots of people walk dogs. These areas are also popular with expats and digital nomads, so there are more coffee shops, wide sidewalks, fun restaurants with English menus and relaxing vibes.
- Coyoacan is a bit outside the city centre, but there is a metro station in the area. This neighbourhood is authentically Mexican, with a large food market and the famous Frida Kahlo Museum. There’s also a public square, a cathedral and a budding bar street. It’s safe and you’ll have no problem walking around alone.
Day 1: A historic introduction to the city
- First, start your day by visiting the Zócalo. This is the heart of the city, home to the massive Sagrario Metropolitano, a huge stone cathedral. Walk around the square and see the families, vendors and street performers.
- Next, find the nearby Templo Mayor. This is an archaeological museum, right in the centre of this huge capital city! You can go in to learn all about the Aztec history of the region. If you walk around the Zócalo streets, you might come across more covered excavations. It’s amazing to see that Mexico City always has more history being discovered.
- Walk towards Palacio de Bellas Artes. This is one of the most iconic buildings in Mexico City, with a beautiful colourful top. Inside it’s a famous art museum, and the fine art differs from room to room. If you don’t wish to visit the museum, appreciating the building from the outside is quite something, especially at different times of day.
- From Bellas Artes, head towards Barrio Chino. Barrio Chino means “Chinatown” in Spanish and here you’ll find one main street of Chinese-influenced restaurants and shops. There are a good number of street vendors selling items like Chinese snacks and crafts.
- Head to Taquería Tlaquepaque for lunch, an excellent taqueria that’s a favourite with locals in the area. You can get tacos, tortas and great fresh juices served in massive chalices. You can’t go wrong with anything on this menu!
- Visit Mercado de San Juan 78 Arcos De Belén. By now, you might be tired, but it’s time to shop till you drop. Pick up interesting food items or spices at this huge central market, where you can marvel over all things authentically Mexican.
- Your friends will want to know if you had a chance to see a “Lucha Libre” fight at Arena Mexico, so book your Lucha Libre tickets beforehand or with the help of hostel staff. Lucha Libre is a dramatic and entertaining event loved by Mexicans and visitors. The show features several types of fighters, and as you’ll start to notice, it’s always the bad guys vs. the good guys.
- If you have time in your evening, head back towards Barrio Chino after the show and have a drink at Cantina “Tio Pepe,” one of the oldest cantinas in the city. This bar feels like a throwback to an earlier time (because it is!), and you might even notice that the restrooms used to be male only. The fact is that the bar didn’t welcome women until only a few decades ago!
Day 2: Chapultepec Park and Condesa
- Take the Mexico City metro to Chapultepec. As you exit, walk towards the greenery!
- Find Bosque de Chapultepec (Chapultepec Park): This is the city’s biggest park and it is magnificent. Inside there’s a castle, a lake and more. First, visit the Chapultepec Castle, followed by the Museo de Arte Moderno (Modern Art Museum). Here you’ll get a taste of modern Mexican and Latin American art from a variety of different styles.
- Explore Jardín Botánico del Bosque de Chapultepec. Even if you’re not a huge fan of plant life, it’s cool to see how this botanical garden has been built with a focus on succulents, sustainability and design.
- Go towards Chapultepec Lake. Loop around it and follow the crowds to the “CDMX Letras” to take a famous photo with the letters “CDMX” for “Ciudad de Mexico.”
- Tortas for lunch! If you’re already hungry, head toward Área de Comida de Chapultepec for some tortas, which are Mexican sandwiches. Yum!
- Head out of the park and walk by the rainbow-colored tunnel of Centro de Cultura Digital (the Centre of Digital Culture). You can visit between 11am and 7pm.
- Walk around Roma Norte: this is a residential neighborhood that is becoming popular with expats and travellers. Most restaurants will be English-friendly and you can stop by cool cafes like Drip Cafe Especial for an espresso.
- Head to Condesa. This beautiful neighborhood is defined by its two parks, Parque España and Parque México. There are lots of paths lined with trees, and people tend to walk their dogs here.
- Have an ice cream snack to keep cool at Nevería Roxy, a vintage-style ice cream parlour where you can get sorbets in flavors of Mexican fruit, like guava.
- Walk through this awesome neighbourhood and stop by El Péndulo, a bookstore-cafe that charms everyone who comes in.
- Eat dinner at El Tizoncito, a taqueria with a great menu and great prices, and as soon as you sit down a server will bring a tower of totopos (corn chips) with a few types of salsa. It’s a great perk!
Day 3: Coyoacan markets & museums
- Get to the Coyoacan neighborhood on the metro. The station is called “Coyoacan” and is on metro line 3. To get to the places of interest in Coyoacan, it’s a safe and pretty simple walk of about 15 minutes from the metro to your first stop…
- Visit the Frida Kahlo Museum! Line up for your entrance and make sure you have your ticket printed for showing to the ticket-takers. Once inside, make sure you check out every building, including the special exhibit on Frida Kahlo’s clothes and the story behind each garment. There’s also a movie that’s continually shown, and it’s a great learning experience.
- Stop by the Mercado de Coyoacá, where you can eat lunch and fill up on snacks at an awesome local market. From clothes to fruit to tostadas, you’ll find everything delicious here. Try a tostada and admire the towering bowls of fillings, ranging from vegetarian options to seafood to meats. This is a local neighbourhood speciality, so you can grab a bunch and share with friends.
- There are plenty of other things to see in Coyoacan, making it such a nice place to spend a relaxing day. Walk by or visit the big Parroquia San Juan Bautista (famous church) and then relax in the park and watch the people go by.
- There’s also Jardin Centenario and the Mexican Craft Market next to Plaza Hidalgo for all the shopping you might want to do. Always try to bargain!
- If you stick around before dinnertime, hop around Mercado de Comida de Coyoacán, which is open until 8pm. There are several friendly food vendors here, selling all sorts of tacos, tostadas, tamales, sopas and more.
If you’ve got a little longer to spend before your next destination, why not make a four or five day Mexico City itinerary? We’ve got plenty of suggestions on what you could get up to next…
Day 4: Boating in the canals
On a four day Mexico City itinerary, a uniquely fun activity is to take a boat ride in Xochimilco (and learn to say this fun name!) Xochimilco is a canal region of Mexico City outside the city centre, with the main attraction being a boat ride on a gondola.
To get to Xochimilco, take a taxi, car or ride-share. A good time to leave the city center for Xochimilco is around 11am as the ride can be up to 60 minutes. Boating in Xochimilco is ideal to do with a friend or two and is most fun with a big group. So, ask around your hostel if anyone’s up for going. The more the merrier!
Once you find a boat driver (this is not hard, as every person who visits the area wants to find a boat driver, and the drivers want to find boat guests!), get ready for a fun day. You’ll want to make sure you have ample cash, as it’s best to grab some snacks you can pick up along the way.
As you travel through the canals you’ll pass boats with vendors selling Mexican snacks like tacos, tamales and pulque (it’s a slimy agave drink – some people love it, some people can’t stand the texture). You’ll also pass mariachi bands in full costume, and you can pay them to sing a traditional song to your boat!
Most boat rides in Xochimilco last 2-3 hours. If you want to stop at any of the restaurants along the riverbanks, your driver will wait for you. Make sure you take lots of photos during this super Mexican experience!
When you take a taxi back to town, grab dinner at Mercado Roma in the Roma neighborhood. Here you can try craft foods from all around Mexico and enjoy them in a large, sociable indoor hall. If you want to head straight for some awesome tacos, try Orinoco Taqueria, a well-known spot. The taco al pastor is fantastic, and there will be heaps of jamaica juice to quench your thirst.
Day 5: Go see the pyramids
With a five day Mexico City itinerary, it’s time to get out of the city and check out the famous pyramids of Teotihuacan! Get in explorer mode and check out this amazing world heritage site, home to big stone pyramids, namely el Piramide del Sol (Pyramid of the Sun) and el Piramide de la Luna (Pyramid of the Moon).
- Pro tip: go as early in the day as you can! While this is a sizable historical landmark with a lot of space, visitors tend only to want to climb the biggest two pyramids. You can wind up shuffling around with crowds, especially on weekends.
- Get there: You can book one of many guided tours (ask your hostel staff!) or go by public bus. To go by public bus, take the metro to Autobuses del Norte from wherever you’re staying and look for “el bus para Teotihuacan.”
- What to bring: It can get very hot most times of the year in Teotihuacan, so bring sunscreen, a hat and a water bottle. It also helps to bring some of your own snacks in a backpack, if you don’t want to rely on what’s being sold near the park entrance.
If you’re coming back by bus, find your way to your hostel by metro. If you’re returning via a tour, your tour driver may drop you at your accommodation if your sweet talking is up to scratch.
For the last night of your trip, treat yourself to a tasty dinner at El Pescadito in la Condesa for seafood, or La Pitahaya Vegana in Roma for creative vegan Mexican cuisine. For dessert, you only live once, right? Get in line at Churrería El Moro Parque México for one more sugary churro. Now you’re a Mexico City expert!
I’d love to know what you thought of my ideas for a Mexico City itinerary, so feel free to get in touch with me. Trust your adventurous instincts and get out to explore! Let me know your favorite sights in the comments below.
Are you ready to go? Check out our hostels in Mexico City for a great and affordable place to stay.
About the author:
Becca Siegel is a travel writer based in Brooklyn, NY, USA. She runs the @halfhalftravel travel website and Instagram with her boyfriend and travel partner, Dan. Becca has spent some serious time abroad, from living in China and Hong Kong for 2.5 years, to working remotely in Europe and Latin America more recently. Favorite place on earth: Hong Kong. Favorite hostel: Hostel Mamallena, Boquete, Panama Follow me on Instagram: @halfhalftravel