You could live in Mexico City for a lifetime and still not discover all it has to offer. Each time you step out of the door there’s something new and unexpected to keep you on your toes. But everyone has to start somewhere, and with that in mind we’ve put together a guide to how to tackle the capital of Mexico, covering all cultural bases, in just five days.
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Keep it simple and give yourself time to adjust to the altitude (Mexico City sits 7,200ft/2,200m above sea level) by starting off with a visit to the key landmarks in the historic center.
9am: Have a quick breakfast at El Popular, and tuck into their legendary – and enormous – plates of chilaquiles (corn tortillas cut up and covered in green or red salsa or mole sauce). After you’ve fuelled up, the obvious place to begin exploring is the zócalo. This is the central square of Mexico City and ringed by important buildings such as the Metropolitan Cathedral and the National Palace. If you’re lucky, you might be there on a day when there’s a big event taking place.
11am: Afterwards, head off to Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes for much-needed culture. Opened in the early 20th century, this art deco building is an icon of the city and has a huge collection of murals by some of Mexico’s most prolific artists, as well as international artworks and well-curated temporary exhibits. We recommend spending at least a couple of hours there.
1.30pm: Get some lunch on the go from any of the street vendors that can be found in the nearby Chapultepec park, or on the streets leading up to it. It’s a brief walk to the park from the museum and you can enjoy the sights of Paseo de la Reforma on your way. Find a bench and watch the squirrels scrabbling up and down the trees, on the lookout for tourists offering them food. After you’ve eaten, stroll around the park – it’s the largest inner-city green space in Latin America. If you have the time and inclination, take the quaint train up to the Castillo de Chapultepec and marvel at the exhibits – and the impressive stained-glass windows – found in this historic building.
7.30pm: Try to make it before sunset to the Torre Latinoamericana for drinks in the Miralto bar (and food in the restaurant if you’re feeling peckish). The best time to visit this towering Mexico City building is just before the sun sets, so you can soak up the views by day and night. If you’re female, head to the ladies’ bathrooms and grab the cubicle that has the completely glass wall for a restroom visit with a view.
Take in a different, but equally fascinating, part of the city on day two by heading south to Coyoacán.
9am: Get a speedy breakfast at the excellent Café Avellenada, which offers some of the best coffee in the city plus a selection of cakes and pan dulces (sweet Mexican pastries).
10am: Pay a visit to Casa Azul, Frida Kahlo’s old house that is now a museum containing her personal possessions and some of her most recognizable artworks. Make sure to beat the crowds and either have a pre-bought ticket or be there early, as the queue can be incredibly long. It opens at 10am most days.
12pm: Your Casa Azul ticket allows entry to Diego Rivera’s old house too, now known as the Anahuacalli Museum. Head there straight after and make sure to go right up to the terrace and take in the views over Coyoacán.
2pm: Grab lunch at the Mercado de Coyoacán. This fantastic indoor market was said to have been frequented by Kahlo, and it has a great assortment of foods. Either eat as you browse or head to the neighbouring Jardín Centenario to enjoy your lunch al fresco. Alternatively, give seafood a go at El Jardin del Pulpo.
3.30pm: Pop over to the Leon Trotsky Museum before it closes and take advantage of this amazing and weirdly underrated Coyoacán destination. Guided tours are available in both Spanish and English.
5pm: Return to the Jardín Centenario and spend the rest of the afternoon enjoying the sunshine and atmosphere, and exploring the adjacent Plaza Hidalgo. Perhaps stop by Centenario 107 for a drink before you return to your accommodation.
Another day, another neighbourhood – or two! Day three should be spent soaking up the atmospheres found in Roma and Condesa, two of the trendier areas of the city.
9am: Grab breakfast at the amusingly named Chilakillers, which can be found on the bottom corner of the Condesa district, in neighbouring Tacubaya. Their namesake chilaquiles come in some delicious – killer, you might say – combinations.
10am: After breakfast, wander up through Condesa and admire the surroundings. This is one of the nicest neighbourhoods in Mexico City and worth just strolling around and enjoying. Stop at any of the boutiques, shops and cafes that take your fancy and enjoy a less hurried day than the previous two.
2pm: By now you’re probably a bit peckish, so go over to the Roma branch of the excellent Cafebrería El Péndulo and browse the books while you wait for your food. This quirky destination is a firm favourite with visitors to Roma and it’s easy to see why.
3.30pm: Round off your afternoon by browsing some of the excellent boutiques in this area. We recommend Goodbye Folk, Naked Boutique and 180˚ Shop, however there are a limitless supply of options if these don’t take your fancy.
8pm: Pop back into Roma after a quick outfit change and test the waters at some of the excellent and super cool bars in the neighborhood.
Take a trip to Xochimilco on day four and enjoy one of the most popular cultural experiences in Mexico City, the lively trajinera trips down the canals.
9am: Pick up some breakfast from a street vendor or a café of your choice in the city center; you’ll be spoilt for choice, trust us.
10am: Head to the underrated building of the Secretaría de Educación Pública, more colloquially known as the SEP. You may have to pre-book for a tour of the building, but you’ll probably be able to get in either way. A tranquil enclave away from the bustle of the city, it’s always free of tourists and has some of Diego Rivera’s most impressive murals. Take time to enjoy them.
12pm: Follow the directions on the metro to go right into the south of the city towards Xochimilco, where the trajineras (canal boats) can be found. It’s a long journey, but worth it. When you arrive, follow the directions that point towards the embarcaderos (piers). Make sure you negotiate the price with your trajinera vendor, as they may try to overcharge initially. The canals are full of boats selling pulque (an alcoholic drink made from maguey plants), beers and even food, so have some change to hand also.
Finally, after giving yourself some time to get used to the altitude, you can dedicate day five to that most touristy of pursuits: visiting Teotihuacán and climbing the pyramids.
7am: Given that it can take around an hour to get to the pyramids by bus, make sure you’re up early to beat the crowds and can get there for the specified opening time. This way, you get the best pictures and the most tranquil experience possible. Plus, you don’t have to wander around this entirely unshaded archaeological site in the midday heat. Make sure to take a good few hours to enjoy the site, and hire a tour guide if you prefer to have a more thorough explanation.
1pm: You’re probably hungry and thirsty by now, so drop by La Gruta for some lunch before you catch your return bus back to the city center. This restaurant is right next to the site and super easy to find, plus it serves a selection of Mexican favorites.
7pm: Head over to Arena México for the final evening of your trip to Mexico City and enjoy the luchas libres (professional wrestling matches). An interesting cultural experience that is worth indulging in at least once, you’ll be left with anecdotes for years to come.