Mexico City (aka CDMX, Cuidad de Mexico) is the capital of Mexico, usually visited by fewer travelers than the more popular Yucatan peninsula. In addition, it »enjoys a reputation« of being very polluted and one of the most dangerous capitals.
You know what we say?
After all, Mexico City has almost 10 million inhabitants and, like in any other major city in the world, there is a certain amount of smog and a few neighbourhoods that are best avoided at night. Saying that, we somehow ended up booking a hotel on the periphery of one such neighbourhood and nothing happened 😀 . Otherwise, the city is completely safe for travelers and offers countless possibilities for exploring.
We spent more than a week in Mexico City, zigzagging the neighbourhoods and we felt that we barely scratched the surface. But since most travelers don’t have so much time (there’s never enough vacation days in the year, boohoo), I put together a perfect itinerary for 4 days in Mexico City for first-time visitors, including tips on where to stay and what else to see if you can add an additional day or two to this Mexico City Itinerary.
Just to let you know… Mexico was the second country we visited during our yearlong honeymoon, so we were pretty much newbies to long term travel and – er- blogging. 😀 But nevertheless, if you are at least a teeny-weeny of a low-key stalker (umm, guilty as charged here😳), you can binge-read a few short travel stories from our first “honeymoon country”, Cuba.
4 DAYS IN MEXICO CITY
CDMX consists of several neighbourhoods and in this itinerary for 4 days in Mexico City I will focus on 4 of them with extra tips for visiting another two.
To make it easier for you, I’ve prepared yet another interactive map, yassss!
Day 1: CENTRO HISTORICO
The best idea is to spend your first of 4 days in Mexico City in the Historic City Center. The Centro Historico is super easy to navigate and many famous buildings are close to each other.
To get a first impression of this enormous capital, head to Zocalo, the main square in the old part of the city. There’s a lot of hustle and bustle going around and there’s a good chance you’ll stumble upon a performance or two. The Zocalo is dominated by a grandiose cathedral, impressive on the outside and inside.
History-lovers should visit the Templo Major (archaeological excavations next to Zocalo) or the Palacio Nacional (National Palace). While functioning as the official premises of the current president of Mexico, the palace is also a museum which features a gallery of Diego Rivera’s works.
Good news: admission is free (but you need to show an ID with a photo – no photocopies, just originals!)
Another famous building close by is Casa de los Azulejos (House of Tiles). The street beside it can be slightly crowded in the late afternoon when the light is at its best and a battle is going on to get the best Insta spot with the illuminated blue tiles as a background 😉
So, if you aren’t after the perfect pic, visit the building in the morning.
By now you will be hungry, so it’s time to dive into taco heaven! You won’t need to look for long, as the streets are packed with taco stands which offer countless varieties, including veggie ones.
Now, a word of advice here. Perhaps it’s good to ask in advance what is gonna end up in your taco since eyes, brains or intestines are not an uncommon ingredient in the Mexican taco.
Btw, very important question: How do you feel about “cilantro”?? (Feel free to answer in the comments!) Aaaah, Bojan and I can’t stand it and were utterly miserable when everything was covered in it. I guess we’d enjoy our tacos much more if we weren’t be pulling out the green stuff all the time😂
After stuffing yourself with a super-healthy lunch, continue by wandering around the narrow streets north of Zocalo among endless market stands. While countless plastic toys are not a particular pleasure for the eye, the market is interesting for an insight into daily life.
In the late afternoon head to Garibaldi square, where you’ll find the Tequila and Mezcal Museum.
Needless to say, a visit to this museum is OBLIGATORY. Like in any other proper alcohol museum (oh, believe us, we’ve been in too many. Thinking twice, perhaps we should rebrand our blog to drink&travel!?)… wait, where was I? Oh, I remember. Like in any proper alcohol museum, the entrance fee includes a free tasting of different mezcals.
And this is where we experienced an epiphany.
We knew nothing about mezcal before and I wasn’t a big fan of tequila, because …we have a history, us two (who doesn’t, right?!). But this was something totally different! The slightly smokey taste of the drink itself is followed by an orange with worm-chilli salt (yep, not warm, it’s actually worm) and was completely new to us. We were sold immediately. This was soooo much better than tequila that becomes “drinkable” after, er – what, the fifth shot?
The terrace of the museum looks over the Garibaldi Square where at sunset mariachi start playing their popular hits – mariachi & mezcal? Yes, please.
PRO TIP for dinner: The oldest restaurant in the city, Hosteria de Santo Domingo. We promise you won’t be disappointed.
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Day 2: POLANCO
On the second day of your 4 days in Mexico City head to the Polanco neighbourhood. Spend the morning wandering around Chapultepec Park.
A tip: instead of sitting in a coffee shop, grab your morning dose of happiness at Starbucks by the park and sip it at the bench while observing the locals.
Chapultepec park is even bigger than the famous Central Park in New York, and you can easily spend a whole day here. The squirrels here are behaving like cute puppies, but be careful – they may steal your snacks. Bojan was left without an ice cream after one of them hacked it out of his hand. 🙂
In the middle of the park, there is a ZOO. Although we usually don’t go to zoos (for, er – obvious reasons. Animals in cages and all that, you know.), we peeked inside since the entrance is free. However, we were pleasantly surprised by the vastness of the zoo and the size of the place the animals had.
And I’m gonna admit, I was excited when I saw a hippopotamus for the first time. Otherwise, the zoo also features a giant anteater, a polar fox, a rare type of panther and giant pandas. Those were super busy eating their eucalyptus. Bojan said they look just like us while Netflix-ing.
In Chapultepec park, you’ll also find the only true medieval castle in America (Castillo de Chapultepec), built by a Spanish nobleman from which there is a remarkable view over the city.
However, we opted to visit an Anthropological museum on the other side of the park. The latter is huge and you should give at least an hour or two (and this timing was suggested by Bojan, who is not into museums at all; so if you’d ask me, I’d tell you 4 hours at least 🙂 ). The exhibitions take you through all the great cultures that lived on the ground of modern Mexico.
DAY 3 – TEOTIHUACAN
Time for a day trip from Mexico City! Teotihuacan ruins are an architectural wonder that one should not leave out when visiting Mexico City. The magnificent complex of awesome pyramids is located an hour away from Mexico City. We recommend you spend most of the day there.
How to go there
You can go to Teotihuacan with a tour or independently. We did the latter, as it is extremely easy to get there. To avoid crowds, take Uber or the subway early in the morning to the bus station Autobuses del Norte, where you can buy a return ticket. Just make sure you buy a ticket to the ruins and not to the nearby town San Juan Teotihuacan.
When the bus enters Teotihuacan, it first stops at door no. 1 (the main entrance), where almost all passengers go out. Of course, we did too. 😊
Once you’re there…
It is best to climb onto the sun and moon pyramids early in the morning when there are not many people there. The pyramids are located at the far end of the complex, so we suggest that you take the bus to door no. 2 or 3 (you can buy entrance tickets to the complex there as well). This way you can climb the pyramid of moon first thing in the morning. You’ll be rewarded with a beautiful view across the entire complex.
It took us almost half the day to explore all of the complex on our own and while for our budget the self-guided trip was a perfect solution, we did regret not hearing more about the history of the place. After all, ruins are just a bunch of stones until somebody gives a story and with it meaning to them. 😛 So we’d recommend you take a tour if you want to get a better sense of the place (now we are smart, right, after we did the opposite).
PRO TIP: Climbing on the pyramids is much tougher than it looks! The ascent is steep and steps were knee-high. So wear proper shoes. And there is no shade, so make sure to bring sunscreen, sunglasses (I swear by Oakley since they seem indestructible, a fact that clumsy me greatly appreciates!) and enough water.
DAY 4 – CONDESA, ROMA and ALAMEDA CENTRAL
The last day in Mexico City take it easy and take the opportunity to walk around the “chic” neighbourhoods of Condesa and Roma, which are quite different from the rest of the city.
Start with a late breakfast and coffee in one of the cute coffee shops in Condesa. After that head to the Parque Mexico where you’ll be able to see many dog walkers on their morning duties. I mean, 5 wiener dogs, bumping into each other while trying to find the perfect poop spot.. does it get any cuter than this?!
After a hearty lunch and a beer or three in one of the restaurants in Roma (I told you it’s a “take it easy day”, I meant it 😉 ), take a stroll along Avenia Reforma. This is a European style boulevard which stretches all the way from Chapultepec Park and is lined with swanky hotels and restaurants.
Stop at the Plaza de la Republica to take a few photos of a huge monument (or go up, if you fancy spending a few more bucks) and then head to the Artesania market. After you’ll buy all the souvenirs you need (and some more), continue to the Alameda Central Park. Located here is the marvellous Palacio de Bellas Artes. (you know, that building that is featured on every pin of Mexico City).
Wanna get super cheesy (but kinda cool cheesy)?
The best view of the palace is from the rooftop bar across the street. Sipping a cocktail and admiring the palace in the sunset colors is definitely a kinda cool cheesy way to finish your 4 days in Mexico City. 😊
MORE THAN 4 DAYS IN MEXICO CITY?
If you have more than 4 days in Mexico City or aren’t particularly interested in one of the above activities, we’d suggest one (or all!) of these options:
FRIDA KAHLO MUSEUM
One of the most famous things in Mexico City is the house of artist and feminist Frida Kahlo. Frida was born and died in the house and she lived here with her famous husband (the same Diego Rivera who painted the murals in Palacio Nacional!). The stark blue house is now one of the most famous museums in the city with long queues (so we’d suggest you come early or book a ticket in advance and skip the queue)
We did not visit the museum for two reasons: Bojan got caught up with watching those weiners in Mexico Park and I also didn’t know much about Frida (Except the movie starring Selma Hayek I watched some time ago), so we didn’t feel like queuing. But the reviews of the museum are excellent, so if you’re interested in her life, I’d totally suggest you visiting the museum.
If you’ll visit the Frida Kahlo museum, take some time to explore the neighbourhood itself. The artisian market (Mercado Artesanal Mexicano) and food market will keep you busy for a few hours!
Xochimilco area is like “Mexican Venice”. In the past, Mexico City was made of channels (who knew, huh?), but now you can only see what remains of them in the southern part of the city. Buy some snacks, rent a gondola and …simply enjoy. Pretend you are in Venice and take some cute pics if you must 😛
WHERE TO STAY IN MEXICO CITY
While in Mexico City, we wanted to be close to the hustle and bustle, so we opted for a place near Centro Historico:
Hotel Mala Vecindad is a beer-themed hotel close to “centro historico” and next to a subway station, which makes transportation super easy – this may especially come in handy if you have only 4 days in Mexico City and want to see as much as possible. Beside beer-themed rooms and a quirky interior, the hotel offers delicious breakfasts, an office area (yes digital nomads, I’m looking at you), a rooftop bar and – of course – their own craft beer. What else would you wish for, right?!
Since this hotel is in the center, the area is lively and authentic, but keep in mind not to walk around alone with your flashy new camera late at night. 😉
SOME OTHER OPTIONS IN MEXICO CITY
Backpacker’s budget: Hostal Regina Down Town Mexico City – a quirky backpacker hostel right in the middle of the city. You’ll find dormitories and private rooms there and the hostel has a cafe, bar and restaurant. The reviews are great as well!
Somewhere in the middle: You prefer nice apartments over hostels? Then the Boutique Downtown Apartment 1204 will be just for you. Pictures speak for themselves, I’d say. The apartment has a fully equipped kitchen and there is a fitness center in the building. So, for those who like to eat healthy during your holiday, this is a perfect choice.
Swanky vibes? Ok, we get you. By we I mean me since Bojan couldn’t care less for a room he sleeps in (*sigh*). The five-star Hotel Marquis Reforma is a luxurious option yet still not completely on the high end regarding price, which is a win-win situation.
MORE ABOUT MEXICO
Heading further south after 4 days in Mexico City? Well, in this case, make sure not to miss the incredible Oaxaca, our favourite city in Mexico or try surfing in Puerto Escondido (I did and, er – got smacked in my face with a surf board too many times).
Feeling adventurous? Cozumel island is one of the best places in Mexico to get your PADI certification or at least try a fun dive or two.
Actually, Mexico is so big that a one-month itinerary barely covers half of the country! 🙂
And btw, did you know that as a backpacker you can travel in Mexico for as little as $40 per day or less? Yaay! Check our Mexico travel budget breakdown to get an idea about the costs. But if travelling by car, make sure not to repeat our, ummm – car rental disaster, so take a look at Rentalcars.com in advance and read all the details.
And speaking of disasters… if you are by any chance planning on going from Mexico to Belize overland… don’t be like us, don’t pay that wannabe tax!
Have you already been to Mexico City? Did you visit something else you really liked? Tell us and the other vagabonds, we’re always eager for some new travel tips! 🙂
And pinning is winning, so pin this right away!