Teotihuacán, State of Mexico
About a 30 to 45-minute bus journey from the city center is one of Mexico City’s most famous archaeological landmarks: the ancient city of Teotihuacán. While technically no longer a city, this is still easily one of the best day trips to take from Mexico City. Located in the State of Mexico, the pyramids and ruins that remain from this Mesoamerican settlement are truly magnificent. The Pyramid of the Sun and of the Moon can both be climbed, and from them you can take in the full scale of the UNESCO World Heritage archaeological site.
Tepotzotlán, State of Mexico
About a half an hour drive from the city center is Tepotzotlán. This tongue-twister of a city is often confused with the arguably more popular, hippy-influenced village of Tepoztlán, Morelos. However, Tepotzotlán is just as worthy a day trip and in fact has some incredibly cool sights: the Xalpa Aqueduct, built in the 18th century, is a key one, although the historic center also has some fantastic offerings. The Jesuit church in particular is one of the most striking examples of New World Churrigueresque architecture.
Toluca, State of Mexico
About a 50-minute drive away is the state capital of the Estado de México, Toluca de Lerdo. Second only to Mexico City in quantity of museums, this would make a great day trip for culture hounds who want to know more about the history and art of this country. Some particularly excellent museum options here are the Museo de Bellas Artes, Centro Cultural Mexiquense, and the Cosmovitral Botanical Garden, with its stunning stained glass murals. Toluca is also famed for being the chorizo-producing hub of Mexico, so take the opportunity to try some while you’re there.
About an hour’s drive from the center of the city is Cuernavaca, Morelos state’s capital. Full of royal residences, churches, and museums, Cuernavaca is a sleepy town known for an abundance of Spanish-language schools. Check out La Casa del Olvido (or Olindo), which housed Emperor Maximilian in 1866 during his attempts to forget his wife Carlota, or visit the nearby Las Estacas, home to the Bahidorá Festival. Now known as the “land of eternal spring,” Cuernavaca has numerous sights that will delight any visitor.
About an hour’s drive from Mexico City, or double that time if you take the bus, is the state capital of Hidalgo, Pachuca. Nicknamed la bella airosa for its windy climate, its sights are generally mining related, given that Pachuca was once a hive of mining activity. This mining city therefore has connections with Cornwall in the United Kingdom, and it is also the birthplace of the Mexican paste (pasty), which developed from the iconic Cornish pasty. But the British connection doesn’t end there – the city’s emblematic reloj monumental was built by the same company responsible for Big Ben.
About an hour and a quarter’s drive, but longer if you take the bus, is another state capital. This time it’s Tlaxcala in…well, Tlaxcala. Mexico’s smallest state – and the smallest state capital to boot – Tlaxcala is often an underrated day trip option, yet it has lots to offer the potential visitor. The majority of the tourist attractions here are pre-Hispanic in nature, so this is the perfect destination for the historically minded or archaeologically intrigued. Xochitécatl, south-west of Tlaxcala City, and Cacaxtla, on the state’s southern border, are perhaps the two best known archaeological ruins.
About an hour and a half away from Mexico City is the first state of Puebla offering, Cholula. This sleepy town offers the most outstanding views of the hard-to-pronounce mountains Popocatépetl and Iztaccihuatl. One of Mexico’s most important colonial towns, its architecture is colorful and dominated by churches. In fact, there are over 40 – incredible, considering the size of this once-great city. One of the biggest archaeological draws of Cholula is that it is home to the largest pyramid in the world – not by height but by volume – Pyramid Tepanapa.
About a two-hour drive from Mexico City and also located in the state of Puebla is the capital of the same name, Puebla. One of Mexico’s top five colonial cities, it is also one of the most attractive and attracts thousands of day trippers every year from the country’s capital. The fourth largest metropolitan area in Mexico and a buzzing, vibrant university town, Puebla is historic, yet has a modern appeal. One of the most enchanting landmarks in Puebla is the Ex-Hacienda de Chautla. This striking English castle is set in the middle of a lake and even hosts weddings.
Santiago de Querétaro, Querétaro
About two-and-a-half hours outside of Mexico City is Querétaro state’s capital, Santiago de Querétaro, known more commonly as Querétaro. Not only is its historic center recognized by UNESCO, it is widely considered one of the safest cities in Mexico and boasts gorgeous colonial architecture and vibrant buildings. With a wide selection of museums, churches, and former convents to explore, it’s the perfect, peaceful day trip. Plus, if architecture isn’t your thing, keep in mind that Querétaro also has a burgeoning vineyard culture and cultivates excellent wines.
About four hours from the capital is the city of Taxco, just over the border in Guerrero state. Widely recognized for its silver mining industry, some of the best silver products still originate and can be found in Taxco, but keep an eye out for marked-up cheap silver, which isn’t worth purchasing. One of Mexico’s pueblos mágicos, Taxco also boasts an intriguing cityscape: narrow, winding streets crawl through the city and offer vistas over the red-tiled roofs below. Santa Prisca church is arguably the most iconic of Taxco’s buildings.