Mexico City is easily a capital city you could get lost in; whether stopping by for just 48 hours, or spending months soaking up the vibrant atmosphere of Mexico’s cosmopolitan capital, you’ll never run short of things to do and see. Here’s our selection of the top 20 sights, attractions and points of interest you absolutely must visit in Mexico City.
Located in the upscale Condesa neighbourhood, Parque México has been an icon of both the zone and the city for decades and is easily one of the loveliest urban green spaces in the capital. As well as being surrounded on all sides by Art Deco buildings, the park is also home to some similarly impressive stand-out pieces, most notably the sleek blue and white Clock Tower.
From an iconic park to an iconic building, the image of the sparkling orange-roofed, bright white Palacio de Bellas Artes is one you may already know. A staple feature on any Mexico City guide and promotional material, this Art Nouveau/ Art Deco building is best known for its impressive collection of murals, shimmering tiled roof and Tiffany glass curtain.
Sitting at the heart of the historic centre, the sinking Catedral Metropolitana is an unmissable Mexico City sight and literally and figuratively, given the towering shadow it leaves over the city’s zocalo. The oldest cathedral in Latin America, the Catedral Metropolitana is made from the stone of a Mesoamerican pyramid and took three centuries to build.
Not a sight as such, the southern neighbourhood of Coyoacán is worth at least a day of your time to fully explore. Whether you’re a fan of Frida Kahlo, art in general or even just bustling plazas, this quirky, artistic barriois an essential visit. Don’t miss the coffee from Café El Jarocho, or people watching in the central plaza, Plaza Hidalgo.
Named after Carlos Slim’s late wife, Soumaya Domit, the Museo Soumaya (Plaza Carso) is a glittering architectural treat amidst unremarkable business blocks in the center of Polanco. Rising from the ground like a silver geometric dream, it’s filled with plenty of artwork from the European Old Masters and even has some 20th-century Mexican pieces too.
If you’re looking for fresh food, or even just want to soak up the sights, sounds and smells of a traditional Mexican marketMercado de la Merced is a must. Here, you’ll find piles of fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as plenty of food puestos(tip: eat at the busier ones!). However, keep your wits about you, as it can be disorientating and getting lost is easy.
If you wander down Paseo de la Reforma at any point in your Mexico City visit, which you should, you’re bound to stumble across the Monumento a la Revolución. This towering triumphal arch (the largest in the world) houses the remains of Mexican Revolutionaries Pancho Villa and Lázaro Cárdenas, as well as a viewpoint and excellently curated museum.
Mexico City’s UNAM (Universidad Autónoma de México) is so sprawling that its southern campus is practically a mini city in its own right. In fact, it’s actually known as University City and plays host to not just university buildings, but also an epic, Instagram-friendly sculpture park, the MUAC art gallery and the iconic Biblioteca Central. Recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, spend a day wandering around this top attraction.
A rather more underrated and out of the way attraction than those already mentioned, Santa María la Ribera’s elaborate Kiosco Morisco seems somewhat out of place in the heart of Mexico City, given that it’s more or less an oversized, Islamic-inspired bandstand. Impromptu martial arts lessons and mother and baby dance classes take place there on a daily basis. Plus, it’s just around the corner from the Biblioteca Vasconcelos.
The world’s third most visited religious site, and the top Catholic destination, the emblematic and culturally important Basílica de Guadalupe can’t be dropped from any Mexico City itinerary. Legend states that this is where the Virgen de Guadalupe appeared to Cuauhtlatoatzin in the 16th century, but even if that’s not the case, both the old and new basilicas are still architecturally impressive.
Frida Kahlo is the inescapable representation of Mexico’s artistic heritage on a global level, whether you like it or not, and although her house is somewhat of a tourist trap, with long queues and pricier entrance fees, it is also one attraction that can’t be skipped over. Housing many of her personal possessions, artworks and relics, the gardens are especially tranquil and the décor of her rooms is particularly intriguing.
Bosque de Chapultepec, a.k.a. the lungs of Mexico City, is another sight you shouldn’t omit from your Mexico City itinerary, as actively exploring this vast forest is highly encouraged. Filled to the brim with top museums, the Castillo de Chapultepec is a particular highlight; once the backdrop for scenes in Romeo + Juliet,it is now a humble Museo Nacional de Historia and former Royal residence.
Although the Museo Nacional de Antropología is also located in the aforementioned Bosque de Chapultepec, it more than deserves an entry of its own, especially given that it’s Mexico’s most visited tourist attraction. Housing a truly jaw-dropping number of artifacts, relics and temporary exhibits related to the Mesoamerican history of Mexico, everyone from history buffs to the casual observer will leave impressed.
While there is far more to Xochimilco than the colorful, iconic trajineras (canal type boats), which float up and down the many chinampas (canals) of the region on a daily basis, you can’t really afford to miss a half-day visit to this top tourist attraction. Either buy food and pulque from the floating vendors or pack some beers and sandwiches, but be sure not to get scammed on the price.
Is it cheating to add in two whole neighborhoods as one entry? We don’t think so, especially as Roma and Condesa both have so much to offer the passing or even long-term traveler in Mexico City. Right in the heart of the capital, these hipster hangouts are overflowing with quirky bars, restaurants and art galleries, as well as some of the city’s top street artworks. Don’t go with a plan of attack, just explore at your own pace.
Towering over the Palacio de Bellas Artes and offering bird’s eye views of the popular, family-friendly Parque Alameda, as well as the city as a whole, heading to the Torre Latinoamericana for dinner or drinks is never a bad idea. The best time to go is right before sunset, so you can see the capital in all its daytime glory before catching the capital transform into its glittering, night-time best.
Rather sadly known best for the student massacres of the last century, Tlatelolco’s Plaza de las Tres Culturas is still a worthy entry on our guide to Mexico City’s top attractions, bringing together as it does the three distinct cultural heritages that make up modern Mexico. Pyramids mark the Mesoamerican past, whilst the colonial Templo de Santiago symbolises the Spanish Conquistador’s influence on the culture, and the Torre de Tlatelolco marks present day modernity.
In Colonia Xoco you can find one of the most outstanding but overlooked attractions in Mexico City – the Cineteca Nacional. Almost sculptural in design, its sleek, white outer shell conceals within numerous relics of the Mexican cinema scene, as well as a handful of screens that regularly host indie films and beautifully curated film cycles. While going to cinema might seem like a mere rainy-day exercise, at the Cineteca it’s anything but.
You don’t go to Arena México in Colonia Doctores for the sake of it, but rather you go to catch one of the iconic lucha libresthat are hosted year-round in the country and are especially popular in the Mexican capital. Mildly homoerotic, the entertaining if slightly ridiculous luchasare one of those cultural events that you can’t pass up the opportunity to watch.
Our final must-visit Mexico City attraction is actually located just outside the city, in the State of Mexico. However, the famed and to this day mysterious Pirámides de Teotihuacán are some of the capital’s most accessible and impressive sets of archaeological ruins, so we couldn’t exactly leave them out! Climb the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon and marvel over the lengthy Avenue of the Dead, but don’t forget to take water and sunscreen.