Mexico City Travel Guide

A Visitor's Guide to Mexico's Capital City

Mexico City, known in Spanish as el Distrito Federal and commonly referred to as el D.F. (pronounced "el day-effay"), is the capital of Mexico. Its name was officially changed from Distrito Federal to Ciudad de México in 2016, but you may hear it referred to by either name. As one of the largest cities in the world, and with nearly 700 years of history, Mexico City can be intimidating, but has an abundance of attractions and services for travelers of all types. This Mexico City travel guide will give you an introduction to this fascinating destination.

Mexico City Location

Madero Street Mexico City
© Suzanner Barbezat

Mexico City is located in south central Mexico at roughly equal distance from the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. To the south, Mexico City is bounded by the state of Morelos and to the north, east and west, it is bordered by the state of Mexico. Nestled in a valley between volcanic hills, Mexico City was founded on an island in a lake, the Lago de Texcoco, which was later drained. The city's soft subsoil and the draining of the area's groundwater is causing Mexico City to sink at a rate of 4 to 12 inches (10 to 30 cm) each year.

Mexico City's elevation is 7349 feet (2240 m) above sea level.

History of Mexico City

Tenochtitlan as depicted by Diego Rivera

Mexico City was founded in 1325 by the Mexica (also known as the Aztecs). They called the city Tenochtitlan. When the Spaniards arrived in 1519, they were deeply impressed by the size, beauty and orderliness of the city. During the colonial period, however, the prehispanic structures were razed and the colonial city was built on the ruins of the Aztec capital. Mexico City has been the capital of the country through its entire history, as well as the country's political, economic, and cultural hub.

Today the metropolitan area has an estimated 22 million inhabitants, roughly a fifth of the country’s population.

Mexico City Weather

Mexico City's climate tends to be temperate due to its elevation. Summers are pleasant and winters are mild, though during the winter months there is the occasional night frost. The average annual temperature is 62°F (17°C). May is the warmest month of the year, and January is the coldest. Buildings do not have central heating, so if you're visiting during the winter months, keep this in mind and be sure to pack warm clothing. Rainy season in Mexico City lasts from June through September. Statistically the wettest month is July.

Read more about the weather in Mexico.

Mexico City Sights & Attractions

Palacio de Bellas Artes
© Suzanne Barbezat

Mexico City is rich with culture and offers plenty for visitors to see and do. Here are the top ten sights you shouldn't miss. The best way to get to know Mexico City's historical center is on foot: take a walking tour of Mexico City. Art lovers will be enchanted by all the city has to offer: it has more museums than any other city in the world, and statues and murals abound. Mexico's capital is a great choice for budget travelers, you'll even find a lot of free things to do in Mexico City.

Where and What to Eat

Tacos Al Pastor
Creative Commons photo by Daniel Roy

As Mexico's cultural hub, in Mexico City you'll find a wide variety of specialties from all over the country, as well as international options. From gourmet restaurants like Pujol and Izote to street side taco stands and everything in between, you're bound to eat well in Mexico City. If street food intrigues you yet you find it intimidating, take a street food tour with Eat Mexico. Also read restaurant reviews and get more info about dining in Mexico City from Good Food in Mexico City.

Getting There

When you arrive in Mexico City, you will likely be arriving at the Benito Juarez International Airport or one of Mexico City's four bus stations. In either case, be sure to take an authorized taxi to your destination - although hailing a cab on the street is not as risky as it used to be, it's better to play it safe.

Getting Around

© Suzanne Barbezat

A great way to explore Mexico City is on the Turibus, a hop-on hop-off double-decker open air sightseeing bus with stops at several of Mexico City's main sights. The most economical way to get around is by taking public transportation. The Mexico City metro is large but fairly easy to navigate. When taking taxis, it's best to take authorized taxis or ask your hotel to call a taxi for you.

Day Trips from Mexico City

© Suzanne Barbezat

There are many options for day trips from Mexico City. The major archaeological site Teotihuacan is located 25 miles from Mexico City. This is a large site with a few museums, making for a great day trip. Other archaeological sites that can be visited as day trips include Tula in Hidalgo state, Malinalco in the state of Mexico, and Xochicalco in Morelos state. Valle de Bravo in the state of Mexico and Cuernavaca or Tepoztlan also offer fun options for day trips from Mexico City.

Fun Facts About Mexico City

  • People from Mexico City are known as chilangos.
  • Mexico City has a population of over 20 million inhabitants, making it one of the world's most populous cities.
  • Mexico City's nickname is the City of Palaces, "La Ciudad de los Palacios".
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