Don’t underestimate all the things to do in Mexico City; the rich culture and history mean your days will be packed with sightseeing.
Mexico offers some fantastic travel destinations: the Riviera Maya and Cancun are some of the top honeymoon spots. With more than 750,000 square miles, Mexico offers islands, plenty of coastline, mountains and major cities. Mexico City, the capital, lies in the southernmost third of Mexico, basically right in between the coasts on the east and west. And there’s plenty of things to do in Mexico City! Surprisingly, Mexico City’s elevation is over 7,000 feet. History dates back to the 1300s, with influences of the native people still apparent today. Mexico City was once an island in a lake, though that lake is no longer there. The Basin of Mexico is a valley, surrounded by the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt. Some of these mountains are over 16,000 feet! Though it’s technically a tropical location, the higher elevation means that it isn’t often overwhelmingly hot.
Mexico City can be a really cool place to visit, especially if you’ve been exploring the beaches in the surrounding area. Take a day trip to Mexico City to experience the architecture, culture, and history of this huge city (in fact, one of the largest in North America). Or, spend a few days and take advantage of all the things to do in Mexico City. The museums, plazas, churches, and remnants of the Aztec civilization offer plenty of destinations to explore. Check out this article, too, for information about traveling to Mexico: Is It Safe to Travel to Mexico? Here’s the Scoop.
Things to Do in the Historic Center, or Centro Histórico
Here’s the jackpot of the historical sites in Mexico City, and it’s a great place to begin on your tour of the Mexico City attractions. You can most definitely walk around on your own, and get some great pictures of the cool looking buildings, statues and churches that you’ll see. However, this whole district comes alive when you get to hear the stories about the people who once lived there. Therefore, we suggest a tour of the historic center of Mexico City. It’ll help you notice things otherwise overlooked, and it’ll bring to life the reasons for the architecture, position, and statues around. We suggest spending half a day or a full day right here in the historic center since there are so many things to do in Mexico City right in this area!
Credit: Jeff Kramer
Within the historic center is the main plaza, called the Zocalo. This area becomes a gathering place for local events. It’s also called the Plaza de la Constitución, but mostly just referred to as the Zocalo. During the time of the Aztecs, it was the main ceremonial site. Head to this area to begin your sightseeing in Mexico City!
2. Metropolitan Cathedral
Credit: Nan Palmero
Just north of the Zocalo is the Metropolitan Cathedral. It’s one of the largest churches in Latin America. Work on it began in the late 1500s, and continued throughout the century, meaning there’s a blend of styles in the architecture. You can wander through the church, and check out the beautiful and ornate designs throughout the interior.
3. National Palace
Credit: US Department of State
Also located right near the Zocalo is the National Palace. The big draw here is the amazingly detailed mural by Diego Rivera. Across the interior walls, this famous Mexican artist depicts the history of Mexico. This panoramic mural was painted around the 1930s and is therefore still bright, vivid and totally impressive. Fun fact: Diego Rivera was married to Frida Kahlo for some time. In addition to the beautifully impressive mural that fascinates many tourists, the National Palace has a beautiful garden and fountains, too. The length of this palace (home to the ruling class) covers the whole side of the Zocalo. It's a popular place, and checking it out is one of the best things to do in Mexico City!
4. Palacio de Bellas Artes
About five blocks from the Zocalo is the beautiful Palacio de Bellas Artes. It’s a beautiful building with a tall domed top. At the very top is a statue with an eagle on top of figures which depict the arts. And that’s precisely what happens here. The beautiful auditorium within stages ballets and other events. You can check out the events happening at the Palacio de Bellas Artes here. Otherwise, you can simply walk around and admire the beautiful architecture of this iconic building, or pay to get inside. The impressive marble building also has art within, so it’s considered both a performance hall and art museum. Make sure you get to stroll past this massive building at night too, the lighting on it really makes it come alive!
5. Palacio Postal
Credit: Diego Delso
This impressive post office really made a statement for the branch of the government back in 1901. It’s definitely something you’ll want to stop in and see, especially because it is free and close to many other great historical sites. The series of staircases inside is probably the highlight. It looks like something out of Hogwarts and makes an awesome photo backdrop. See if you can find the iron dragon light fixtures on the outside! Stroll over the marble floors and check out the frescoes painted over gold. The Palacio Postal is a really neat place to stop in and see on your tour of all the things to do in Mexico City.
6. Museo de Arte Popular
Located a few blocks away from the Palacio de Bellas Artes is a really great art museum: Museo de Arte Popular. Outside, the bright white building is hard to miss. The inside is just as open and airy, with natural lighting from the huge ceiling of windows. There’s local and modern art here too. The exhibits are colorful, creative and just overall fun to look at. The whole museum isn’t huge, so it’s not too overwhelming to explore. That way, you’ll get to spend some time checking out all the interesting pieces here. Many people find this art museum to be their favorite of all the things to do in Mexico City! The beaded Volkswagen is a favorite, as well as the Day of the Dead exhibit.
Outside the Historic Center
7. Bosque de Chapultepec
This area refers to one of the largest city parks. It’s also where many great attractions in Mexico City are located. Bosque de Chapultepec translates to Chapultepec Forest. Located to the west, it spans over 1,600 acres! The area was once a haven for Aztec rulers. The park also houses some main attractions including the Chapultepec Castle, the Chapultepec Zoo, the Museum of Anthropology, and the Rufino Tamayo Museum. The park itself is beautiful, with plenty of trees and paths lining the water. Strolling around here is one of the best things to do in Mexico City!
8. National Museum of Anthropology
Mexico City’s museum scene is pretty strong. In fact, there are over 160 museums in the city itself! The National Museum of Anthropology covers a huge amount of the world’s natural history. It’s one of the largest and most visited around. The artifacts within cover the settlement of the Americas, and regions within Mexico. It’s easy to spend many hours here in the National Anthropology Museum. There are over 23 exhibits and the museum itself is huge. However, walking around is easy and the museum is well-designed. Plus, the fee to get in is relatively inexpensive, so if you want to head back another day to catch what you missed, you can! We suggest buying tickets in advance since it’s one of the top things to do in Mexico City! Buy tickets for the National Museum of Anthropology here.
9. Chapultepec Castle
This castle is so cool! Admittedly, the exterior isn't anything totally impressive, but the location on top of Chapultepec Hill and the ornate interior make it fascinating to tour! It is definitely a must-see for sightseeing in Mexico city. Construction began in 1785, after the viceroy ordered a house for himself. The location on top of the hill was highly desired. Even before that time, it was ceremonial grounds for the Aztecs. Walking up the hill reveals some good views, and the grounds are beautiful and well-manicured.
Once inside, you’ll get to see some beautiful staircases, frescoes, and wall paintings. There are art galleries and rooms staged with furniture, artifacts and gorgeous chandeliers. There is quite the walk up to the castle, but then you get to rest in the courtyard and take in the views! Choose a beautiful sunny day to visit this castle, since it’s one of the best things to do in Mexico City!
South of the heart of Mexico City is a really neat area called Coyoacan. It refers to a whole neighborhood area, formerly a village. The plazas and narrow streets provide less touristy atmosphere than the central areas. It’s a great place to see that’s off the beaten path in Mexico City, at least slightly. You’ll find some great street food and souvenirs here in Coyoacan. Plus, there’s some interesting architecture and colorful buildings around each corner. There’s a great indoor market. Additionally, the museum for Frida Kahlo is here in Coyoacan. The royal blue color of the building will let you know that you’ve arrived!
11. Basilica of Our Lady Guadalupe
Credit: Jan Zatko
North of the historic city center of Mexico City, you’ll find the Basilica of Our Lady Guadalupe or Basilica de Santa Maria de Guadalupe. This church is especially famous because of its image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, arguably one of the most famous religious icons in all of Mexico. It is both a church and a shrine, for the Our Lady of Guadalupe was apparently seen. Many make pilgrimages to this destination, around December 12, which is Our Lady of Guadalupe’s Feast Day. A newer, circular building has been built to house the famous image. This is next to the basilica, and the unique circular shape allows people within to see the image from all around.
Additionally, the surrounding grounds make the visit worth it, too! An outdoor garden honors the moment when Juan Diego witnessed the virgin; it is beautiful. Smaller churches and shrines around feature some beautiful art. The whole atmosphere here at the Basilica is quieting and peaceful, with many people kneeling and in amazement for the religious significance.
12. Templo Mayor
Credit: Tristan Higbee
This archaeological site and museum reveal a bit into the life of the Aztecs. The site was a temple to the gods. Originally dedicated to two gods, there were shrines on top of a pyramid with staircases. During the time of the Spanish colonization, the temple was destroyed and built over. However, in 1978 archaeologists unearthed this historical site to reveal the remains of the temple. The staircases of the temple are clear amidst the ruins and raised footpaths allow you up close to the archaeological site. The museum helps to bring to life some of these ruins. The museum isn’t overwhelming in size, with about eight rooms. The artifacts and information provide insight into the culture and life of the Aztecs.
There are so many things to do in Mexico City. Make these first on your list.
Mexico City offers some great historical sites, museums, and parks. Perhaps Mexico City wasn’t on your bucket list, but we suggest considering it! The rich history and cool architecture around every street corner make for a fascinating day of sightseeing. With the famous beaches relatively close by, consider planning a trip to Mexico where you’ll get to have the best of both worlds: relaxing on the beautiful beaches, and sightseeing in the city!
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