When visiting Mexico, many tourists fly into Cancun and stick to the tourist-friendly route through the Yucatan Peninsula. This is a shame, because there are some fantastic things to do in Mexico City.
Teotihuacan is one of the best ruins in Mexico and can easily be visited in one day, along with some other key structures in the city if you take a tour. You should also spend a day wandering the streets in the city centre and checking out the architecture, churches and museums.
Mexico City may not have a reputation for being the safest place, but it’s by no means scary to explore either. If you’re sensible, you should have no problems. Lock your main valuables in a locker in your hostel using a secure padlock, carry money and any other small valuables in a slash-proof neck pouch, don’t display your camera when you’re not using it and be subtle when referring to your map or guidebook. A shoulder bag carried in front of you is also a good option for keeping an eye on your belongings.
There are a number of hostels situated in the old town near the Metropolitan Cathedral, and they make a great base for exploring most of the following locations on foot. If you’d prefer a luxury hotel in Mexico City, a good neighbourhood on which to focus your research is Polanco, a little to the west of the city centre.
THINGS TO DO IN MEXICO CITY
PLAZA DE LA CONSTITUCION (EL ZÓCALO)
It’s a good idea to start your tour of the best things to do in Mexico City close to the city centre as this is one of the most tourist friendly parts of the city. From here, you can easily book tours, find local transport links and walk to nearby points of interest. One of the largest city squares in the world, the main plaza in Mexico City is known as the Zócalo and, during Aztec times, it was the main ceremonial centre. Today, it still plays host to artistic and cultural events, ceremonies and festivals, and surrounding it are a number of buildings worthy of your attention.
Bordering the north side of the Zócalo is the Gothic-inspired Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de María. Its construction began in 1573 and continued in sections until 1813. Due to its intricate facades, portals and bell towers, which were constructed during three architectural periods, it makes for an interesting place to explore, both inside and out.
SAGARIO DE LA CATEDRAL ASUNCION (METROPOLITAN TABERNACLE)
To the right of the main cathedral, the Tabernacle was built to house the archives and vestments of the archbishop. The outside of the building is intricately ornate. When festivities are not blocking the view, make your way to the south side of the square to take in the two buildings side by side.
Home to the offices of Mexico’s President and the Federal Treasury, the national palace is located on the east side of the Zócalo. The Aztecs also ruled from this site. High above the middle door hangs a bell called the Campana de Dolores, which was rung in the town of Dolores Hidalgo by Padre Miguel Hidalgo in 1810 at the start of the War of Independence. These days, on the eve of Independence Day each year, the president delivers a ‘grito’ from the balcony beneath it, meaning he shouts ‘Viva Mexico!’ to the crowds below.
This skyscraper can be seen from most parts of downtown Mexico City and thanks to its height, location and history, it’s one of the city’s most important landmarks. It was also the world’s first skyscraper to be built successfully on seismic land. During the 1985 earthquake, which caused significant damage to many buildings throughout the city, one of the building’s designers and engineers, Adolfo Zeevaert, was inside his office on the 25th floor and was able to experience first-hand the movement of the tower as he watched several other structures crumble around it.
Sometimes, the most interesting sights are not where your guidebook suggests you should go. Try wandering down a few busy side streets and see where you end up. On one particular plaza, people were practicing using hula hoops and juggling balls. Also, look out for the men playing wind-up music boxes.
CALLE 5 DE MAYO
For a break from attempting to see everything on this list of things to do in Mexico City, swing by Calle 5 de Mayo. It’s busy and colourful and feels safer than some of the quieter market streets and you can do a spot of shopping or buy yourself a taco. This street also leads directly from the Catherdral to the Palacio de Bellas Artes, which is well worth a look.
PALACIO DE BELLAS ARTES
An important cultural centre, the Palace of Fine Arts hosts theatre and ballet performances. The outside is primarily neoclassical and art nouveau, while the inside is primarily art deco. If you get the chance to explore, check out the murals by esteemed artists such as Diego Rivera.
BASILICA OF OUR LADY GUADALUPE
Further afield, to the north of downtown Mexico City, lies the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. It was here that Our Lady of Guadalupe was believed to have appeared to Saint Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, and his cloak with her image is housed in the basilica. Each year, several million catholics make pilgrimage to the site. The area is surrounded by shops selling tacky religious souvenirs, rosary beads and replicas of the Lady.
One of the best things to do in Mexico City it to take a tour of the Teotihuacan ruins. It’s best visited as part of a day tour, although you can work your way there on various forms of public transport. Take sunscreen as there’s very little shelter from the sun. If possible, it’s best to avoid Sundays because you will have to queue for a couple of hours as you worm your way up the Pyramid of the Sun.
TRAVELLING ON THROUGH MEXICO?
Find out whether you should swim with whale sharks at Isla Mujeres or Holbox, and help to save the cenotes (some of the best dive sites in Central America) by going cenote diving in Mexico and raising awareness of the impact resort development is having on their destruction.
Inland, join one of the Oaxaca tours, explore San Cristobal and visit the waterfalls on the road from San Cristobal to Palenque. Laguna Bacalar in the south (near the border with Belize) is also worth a look.