Essential Itinerary For Short Trips
Cancun. Puerto Vallarta. Cabo San Lucas. Mazatlan. When you think of Mexico, your imagination immediately pictures you sipping on a margarita on a beach. Mexico City is not the first place you think about when someone tells you they are moving to Mexico. But an estimated 1.5 million US citizens live in Mexico, with most of them choosing Mexico City. Mexico City, or CDMX (Ciudad de Mexico) for short, is a hot spot for retirees and expats looking for cosmopolitan city living on a low-cost budget.
Mexico City is massive. The metro area is actually similar in size to New York City. If you love city life, Mexico City will fit the bill. Need a nature break? Mexico City has that covered to. Chapultepec, Mexico City's version of Central Park, is one of the world's largest city parks. Not enough? Need to get out of the city? You are an easy day trip to pre-Aztec ruins of Teotihuacán or the artsy town of Tepoztlán.
Mexico City is filled with enough parks, museums, galleries, and monuments to overwhelm anyone who hasn't live in a colossal metropolis before. This guide helps you navigate through the chaos. We focus on the best places to visit in Mexico City for new expats.
What Are Essential Itineraries?
These bite-sized guides focus on the Top Sights to See and Best Things to Do for New Expats.
Written in collaboration with my network of expats and experienced travelers, you get up-to-date first hand knowledge and local tips.
Perfect for short trips, these overviews for visiting a new city are available for download.
1) Chapultepec Park
The massive Chapultepec Park (Bosque Chapultepec) is the oldest urban park in Latin America and is on every best places to visit in Mexico City list. The park covers more than 1,600 acres and is full of green spaces, gardens, lakes, monuments, fountains, and cultural exhibits. You can spend an entire day here and still not see and do everything.
Locals flock to the park to escape the busy city and enjoy leisurely walks, picnics, and plenty of activities for all ages. All the kids love a trip to the zoo or boating on the lake. You have the option to enjoy the activities, or you can take in some Mexican history and culture. There are impressive historical monuments and no less than nine museums teaching the history of the city and country of Mexico in the park.
Sights include the striking Chapultepec Castle, home of the National History Museum, which sits on top of a hill overlooking the park. You can also see the El Papalote Children's Museum with incredible displays like a floor to ceiling rain forest and a five-story maze. But if you only visit one museum in Mexico City, it should be The National Museum of Anthropology. This world-class museum displays awe-inspiring artifacts and collections from the past 3,000 years.
You are not done seeing everything yet. There is also an amusement park, a cemetery, and the Los Ninos Heroes Monument. Need an energy boost to keep going? You will find refreshments available at food courts, restaurants, and at many snack and drink stands throughout the park.
Travel Contribution: Live Dream Discover
TRAVEL TIP : I love the energy in Mexico City. But if you need to take a break from the chaos, a 1.5 hour $35 flight on Aeromexico delivers you to one of the best Mexican beach towns, Sayulita. Play in the surf or lay in the sand, this small town of 2000 nature lovers is the perfect place to decompress and unwind.
2) Chapultepec Castle
Mexico City is a terrific destination for fiestas and food (nothing beats an authentic Mexican street taco). But, every now and then, it is helpful for you to add a little history and culture. Enter Chapultepec Castle – one of the top places to visit in Mexico City.
From almost anywhere in the city, Mexico City's affordable public transportation can get you to the castle. Located in lush, photogenic Chapultepec Park, the castle's central location makes it easy. A cheap and extensive public transportation system is another reason Mexico City is such a great place to live.
A long stroll up the sloping walkway gives you time to enjoy the park's beauty. The castle itself is vast and open, perfect for travel in the coronavirus era. The entrance fee of 80 pesos (€3) is well worth it for the city views alone.
Chapultepec, meaning "hill of grasshoppers" in Nahuatl/Aztec language, has a fascinating history. At one time, the hill was on an island in the center of Lake Texcoco. By the time the Spanish built the castle in the early 19th century, the lake was gone along with any lingering Aztec power. The castle later housed the Emperor of Mexico and, eventually, several presidents. Finally becoming home to an extensive collection of Aztec and colonial treasures displayed in the National Museum of History.
Today, visitors come to enjoy both the museum and the expansive city views from the castle's gorgeous, tree-lined terraces. Whether you lean toward the visual or educational, Chapultepec Castle is well worth a few hours of your time.Travel Contribution: Routinely Nomadic
TRAVEL TIP : For first-time visitors to CDMX, the city is vast and can get confusing at night. If you take a long flight arriving late at night, you may consider staying at one of the hotels near the airport. It will be easier to get your bearings and find proper housing in the morning.
3) Zocalo in Mexico City
The Zocalo, or Plaza del Zocalo, is the main square in Mexico City and one of the most popular destinations. It's the largest square in all Latin America and capable of holding up to 100,000 people.
The plaza has a long history dating back hundreds of years to Aztec times when it was the Tenochtitlan's ceremonial center. Today, the square serves as a gathering place for Mexican cultural celebrations and political protests. The Zocalo acts as a natural landmark for locals to meet. With the plaza's famous massive flag flying overhead, said to be the largest flag in Mexico, it's hard to miss.
The most notable buildings bordering the Zocalo are the Metropolitan Cathedral to the north, the National Palace to the east, the Federal District buildings to the south, and several shops and restaurants to the west.
I encourage you to visit both the Metropolitan Cathedral and National Palace for their extraordinary architecture and historical significance. The Metropolitan Cathedral is over 200 years old and features Gothic and Baroque architecture. The interior is even more impressive than the exterior. The architecture of the National Palace is equally remarkable. But the Palace, with its famous murals by renowned Mexican artist Diego Rivera, put it over the top.
To get a bird's eye view of the Zocalo, head to one of the commercial buildings on the west side of the square. You'll find that the restaurants on the upper floor are the best spot for photos. It's also the perfect place to grab lunch and a cocktail while taking in the activity from the Zocalo down below.
Travel Contribution: Rock a Little Travel
Perfect for first time visitors, this Things To Do In Mexico City guide is available for download.
4) Museo Nacional de Antropología.
A visit to Mexico City is not complete without seeing its most iconic museum, the Museo Nacional de Antropología. It sits in an extension of the Bosque de Chapultepec, with its façade jutting out of the forest. This museum has the most extensive collection of Mexican art and artifacts, despite the many other niche museums in Mexico City.
Don't rush into the museum, instead check out the clearing in front where there is a tall post. Here the voladores de Papantla fly from the post in a dance that dates back to before the conquest, rotating 13 times each around the post for a total of 52 rotations - the Mexica century. This dance is performed every 30 minutes for tips from 11am to 6pm when the museum is open.
Now, head into the museum, starting with Introducción a la Antropología and move counterclockwise. I always advise seeing the museum before visiting Teotihuacan to get a better idea of its history and culture. Make sure you don't skip these highlights: the four basalt warrior columns from Tula's Temple of Tlahuizcalpantecuhtli, the 20-ton Olmec head carvings in the Oaxaca room, the recreation of Pakal's tomb in the Maya room, the Sun Stone in the Mexica (Aztec) exhibit, and the fantastic umbrella roof in the courtyard.
The exhibits' explanations are translated into English so you can understand what you see in the museum. You can also take advantage of the free one-hour guided tours in English (10:30, 12:30, 13:30, 15:00, and 17:00 except Sunday). The Anthropology Museum is open Tuesday-Sunday from 9am to 7pm, and the entrance fee is 80 pesos or about $4 US.
Travel Contribution: When I Roam
INSIDER TIP: If you are not a fan of crowds, avoid the museums on Sundays. Museum entrance is free for Mexican citizens on Sundays.
5) Casa Azul
One of the most fascinating and popular places to visit in Mexico City has to be the home of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera at Casa Azul. Translate as the "Blue House," their home is located on a quiet tree-lined street in the Colonia del Carmen neighborhood of the city. Casa Azul is a real homage to the art and lifestyle of two of Mexico's most celebrated artists.
It is a fantastic experience to see the personal world, collections, and private space of this couple. You will find Frida's personality in the art found in every aspect and corner of the home and gardens. The house is painted in a vivid and colorful blue exterior, and the interior is also vibrantly adorned with yellows, reds, and blues. The bright palette inspires the artists in all of us. Inside the home, you'll find personal collections, beautiful art, and delightful design elements that create such a lovely and stunning home.
The hordes visiting this museum dictate you pre-scheduled a guided tour of the house and gardens. Better yet, aim for an end of the day or early morning tour to avoid waiting in long lines.
After Frida died, her husband Diego donated the house and personal collections in 1957 to a museum dedicated to her iconic life and dedication to everything Mexican from the pre-Hispanic artifacts, Mexican folk arts and crafts to colorful local ceramics and personal memorabilia around the home.
Travel Contribution: Travel Photo Discovery
INSIDER TIP: First time traveling abroad? Having printouts of important documents (passport, visa, hotel reservations, etc.) is a good backup in case anything gets lost or stolen. Take a look here for additional packing tips.
BONUS SPOT: Teotihuacan
When one thinks about Mexico's cultural heritage, he or she will inevitably think about the Aztec and Mayan Empire, groups of indigenous people that dominated the area pre-Columbian era (before European influences). Many of their influences are still seen throughout Central America, such as Chichen Itza in Mexico or Tikal Ruins in Guatemala. Yet, there is one spectacular ruin that often gets neglected, Teotihuacan.
Located roughly 30 miles/50 km north of Mexico City, Teotihuacan, also known as City of the Gods, has one of the largest ancient pyramids in the world. The Pyramid of the Sun is 733 ft/ 225 m across and stands 246 ft/75 m high.
When visitors first see the ruins of Teotihuacan, many immediately think, "Wow, that is an impressive Aztec ruin." They cannot be more incorrect. At first glance, Teotihuacan features the same type of architecture seen in many other ruins in the region. The iconic right angle stacked block design is hard to miss. But, the founders of Teotihuacan actually preceded the Aztec empires by about 1000 years!
Because Teotihuacan is so old, no one knows the exact date when it was founded. Experts say that Teotihuacan might have been established in 400 BC, though it didn't become the most powerful city in the region until the 400 AD. At its peak, experts believe that around 200,000 people lived in Teotihuacan.
When the Aztecs arrived in Teotihuacan many years later, Teotihuacan was already completely abandoned. No one knows what exactly happened, but experts believe that it was due to a civil war and social unrest. The city did have 200,000 people, after all!
When you visit Teotihuacan now, you can still see ruins of their original structures. The unmissable structures are the Pyramid of Sun and the Pyramid of Moon, both of which had tremendous significance at the time.Travel Contribution: Living Out Lau
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