Planning Your Trip
Itineraries & Day Trips
Things to Do
What to Eat & Drink
Mexico City is a huge and vibrant megalopolis with a fascinating history dating back to the time of the Aztecs. As one of the world's largest cities by population, Mexico City can be intimidating, but it’s a vibrant, engaging place with an abundance of attractions and services for travelers of all types. This Mexico City travel guide will give you an introduction to the multi-faceted destination and has the information you need to plan your stay.
Planning Your Trip
Best Time to Visit: If you can, plan your trip for the springtime, specifically late March or early April. At this time of year, the weather is warm during the day and cool at night, and the jacarandas are in bloom throughout the city.
Language: Spanish is the main language spoken but there are several indigenous languages spoken in Mexico City (mainly Nahuatl, but also Mixteco, Otomí, Mazateco, and others). Many people who work in the tourism industry speak English, but the general population does not, so learn some Spanish phrases before you go!
Currency: The Mexican peso (MXN) is the currency. The symbol is the same as a dollar sign ($), so be sure what currency prices are listed in (it will usually be pesos, but occasionally services offered to tourists are listed in US dollars).
Getting Around: A great way to explore Mexico City is by taking the Turibus, a hop-on-hop-off, double-decker, open-air sightseeing bus with stops at several of the city's main sights. However, the most economical way to get around is with 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 one for you. Alternatively, get an Uber.
Travel Tip: On Mondays, most museums (but not all!) are closed, as is the first section of Chapultepec Park, so plan alternative activities if you’re in town on a Monday. Some ideas: go shopping, visit churches, go to Tlatelolco archaeological site (which doesn't have a museum), or visit the floating gardens in Xochimilco.
Things to Do
There is something for everyone in Mexico City. You can learn about the country's history, enjoy art in public spaces and museums, sample delicious food, shop until you drop, or enjoy a fun night out on the town. Art lovers, foodies, history buffs, and museum geeks will all be over the moon. As the site of the first Olympic games in Latin America and in a Spanish-speaking country, sports history fans will be plenty entertained and even nature lovers will find something of interest (start by checking out the botanical garden on the UNAM campus)!
There is much more to do in Mexico City than you will have time for, so when planning your itinerary, do your research and prioritize. Be sure to leave plenty of time for getting from one place to the other—and for meals! Here are a few activities to get you started:
- Visit the Historic Center of Mexico City on foot, making stops at the Templo Mayor archaeological site which was the main temple of the Aztecs, the Metropolitan Cathedral which is Latin America’s largest and oldest cathedral, and the Palacio Nacional to see murals by Diego Rivera. The Historic Center is one of four UNESCO World Heritage sites in the city along with Xochimilco, the house of Luis Barragán, and the Central University City Campus.
- Visit the National Anthropology Museum to learn about Mexico’s rich history and current ethnographic makeup.
- Go to the luchas! Spend a fun evening watching a lucha libre wrestling show.
What to Eat and Drink
Mexico City is the country's cultural and geographical hub, and you'll find a wide variety of specialties from all over the country, as well as international options. From street side taco stands to gourmet restaurants like Pujol and Quintonil (which are considered among the world's top 50 restaurants), and everything in between, you're bound to eat well here. If street food intrigues you but you find it intimidating, take a street food tour to get an introduction so you’ll know what to order when you venture out on your own.
As for drinks, you can try some of the traditional beverages made with agave, mezcal and pulque (not to mention tequila), or check out one of the city's stylish cocktail bars for the latest mixology creations. Some of the most iconic places to grab a drink include Bar La Opera (which has bullet holes in the ceiling from the time of the Mexican Revolution), and Miralto bar on the 40th floor of the Torre Latinoamericana overlooking the Palacio de Bellas Artes.
Where to Stay
There are endless options for accommodations in Mexico City including Airbnbs, boutique stays, and luxury hotels. Decent economical options abound in the historical center and Colonia Tabacalera (near the Revolution Monument). Stay at Hotel Zocalo Central or Downtown Mexico for a home base in the center of town with nice views. If you’d rather be a bit further away from the hustle and bustle, check out boutique hotels in La Condesa and Roma neighborhoods such as Red Tree House or La Valise. If you’re looking for luxury, you can enjoy an upscale stay at the St. Regis or the Four Seasons on Paseo de la Reforma, or Las Alcobas in swanky Polanco district.
Explore the different neighborhoods you can stay in, and our recommendations for the best boutique hotels.
You will most likely fly in to the Benito Juarez International Airport (MEX) or perhaps Toluca (TLC). If you’re arriving over land from a different destination in Mexico, your point of arrival will probably be one of Mexico City's four major bus stations which are situtated in four corners of the city. From your arrival point, take an authorized taxi or Uber to your accommodation — although hailing a cab on the street is not as risky as it used to be, it's better to play it safe. Driving in Mexico City is not recommended for first time visitors as it’s not an easy city to find your way around and traffic tends to be congested.
Culture and Customs
There are a few cultural differences and customs that you should be aware of in Mexico City. In general, Mexicans tend to be more formal than people from the United States and Canada. Even though you're on vacation, it's a good idea to dress somewhat conservatively—Mexicans rarely wear shorts or tank tops in the city, so if you don't want to stand out too much, try to dress like the locals. It’s important to greet people before asking a question with a buenos días (good morning), buenas tardes (good afternoon), or buenas noches (good evening), depending on the time of day. Also, keep in mind that por favor (please) and gracias (thank you) are words that you cannot over use.
Mexican mealtimes may be on a different schedule than what you're used to, with the main meal of the day taken in the afternoon between 2 and 4 p.m. In restaurants, the server will not bring you the bill until you request it. Ask for “la cuenta, por favor,” or make a sign of writing in the air. Check your bill to make sure, but usually the tip is not included, and you should add 10 to 20 percent tip depending on the level of service. Tipping is customary in bars and restaurants, but not so much in food stalls and markets (though always appreciated). It's also customary to tip bellhops and cleaning staff at your hotel.
Mexico City is a truly affordable city and offers outstanding value at all price points. It's an excellent vacation destination for anyone on a budget. Of course each traveler will have to decide for themselves what's worth a splurge and where they want to cut back, but there are a few simple ways to maximize savings during your stay:
- Follow the Mexican mealtime schedule: have a big breakfast, which is generally the least costly meal of the day, then hold out until 2 or 4 p.m. for another large meal—you can find restaurants serving a multi-course "comida corrida" fixed price meal, and then if you're hungry at night, grab some tacos.
- Get around using public transportation. The Mexico City metro only costs a few pesos and is fairly easy to figure out. Consider it part of the adventure!
- Don’t buy overpriced drinking water and snacks at your hotel or tourist sites. Hopefully your hotel offers purified drinking water so you can refill your own bottle, but if not, make sure you buy your water, drinks and snacks at a corner store to carry with you or to have at your hotel during the night.