Mexico City wasn’t at all like what we expected.
Around us, we saw signs of an energetic, progressive, thriving metropolitan city.
New moms pushed decked-out strollers along tree-lined streets. Young professionals sipped lattes to-go while talking briskly into their Bluetooth headsets. People walked their toy dogs. Restaurant tables spilled out on the sidewalk, where friends were chatting up a storm.
If we hadn’t reminded ourselves that we were in Mexico, strolling the Condesa district of Mexico City, we would have thought we were out on a typical summer evening in a pleasant older neighborhood in Victoria or San Francisco.
If you’re thinking of visiting, we encourage you to have a well-planned Mexico City itinerary before venturing to this dynamic capital. There’s so much to see and do!
Mexico City itinerary overview
To help you make the most of your time, we’ve packed in some of the top things to do in Mexico City in a 3-day Mexico City itinerary.
Day 1 is all about exploring the Centro Historico, where you’ll find some of the best-known museums and Mexico’s historical landmarks.
Day 2 and 3 take you on a tour of other suburbs of the city, where you can catch a glimpse of Mexico City’s wonderful diversity and cultural richness.
You’ll see a lot of museums and historical landmarks on our list.
But don’t worry, we’ll also let you in on how you can appreciate Mexico’s social scene. We made sure to add some fun, relaxing night-time activities in this itinerary to give you the true Mexican fiesta experience!
Brace yourself – because Mexico City is likely to surprise you.
Why visit Mexico City?
This mega-city (population over 21 million) is so vast that, peering down from the plane, we couldn’t make out its edges.
But below we found a people-friendly, vibrant, buzzing hive of a place – a delight to explore on foot, with loads of historical treasures and an explosion of cutting-edge artistic, culinary and cultural venues.
It’s got lots of shady green parks and more museums than any other city in the world (over 150, apparently).
It’s quite safe too. Apart from a few (easily avoided) dodgier districts, you don’t need to worry about a trip to Mexico City any more than about a visit to New York or Miami.
And its air is clean most of the time – air pollution has dropped significantly since the city’s dirty days in the 1990’s. On our visit, the blue skies were smog-free.
Its name also holds a small surprise. It only recently officially changed to “Mexico City” (Cuidad de Mexico in Spanish) from “DF” (Distrito Federal), the moniker commonly used by the locals.
How many days do you need in Mexico City?
Not sure how many days to spend in Mexico City?
You won’t be able to see all of Mexico City in three days.
You could easily spend a week exploring all that the city has to offer, but three days in Mexico City (meaning four nights) is just enough to enjoy the top attractions, outlined below.
Day 1 – Historic center (Centro Historico)
Start in the Zocalo, the main square of the city.
As soon as you see it, you’ll know instantly why it’s the heart of Mexico City.
The plaza is humongous. Covering 3½ square miles, it’s the largest in all of Latin America, surrounded by national treasures on all sides.
If you head north, you’ll reach the entrance to the Metropolitan Cathedral. You can’t miss it – it’s the largest and oldest cathedral in Latin America.
The cathedral’s exterior is impressive enough with its three centuries-worth of architectural grandeur.
But the interior is even more awe-inspiring. Gold-coated surfaces, religious relics adorning every nook and crevice, numerous art masterpieces plus 16 chapels give visitors plenty to explore.
Behind the cathedral, you’ll find the ruins of the Templo Mayor, the main temple in the ancient Aztec City, Tenochtitlan (which is now Mexico City).
The spot holds great significance in Mexican culture.
This is exactly where it’s believed the eagle was sitting on top of a cactus, with a snake in its beak. Legend has it that an Aztec leader was told by the gods in a dream this would mark the spot where his people should settle.
Today, this image is the iconic symbol of Mexico City, hence its place on the Mexican flag.
Human sacrifices at Templo Mayor were common to appease the Aztec gods. It’s believed 4,000 prisoners alone were sacrificed here in December, 1487.
There’s a museum attached (Museo del Templo Mayor), which is definitely worth a visit to get the full background on this historical site.
Like most museums in Mexico City, Templo Mayor is closed on Mondays. It’s open from Tuesday to Saturday. Tickets cost 75 pesos (around $3.75 USD).
Next, present a photo ID to get free entry into the National Palace (Palacio Nacional).
In its garden courtyards, signs point to the living quarters and official rooms once occupied by Benito Juarez, perhaps Mexico’s best-loved president.
Then, look for the brilliantly colored mural – “The Epic of the Mexican People in their Struggle for Freedom and Independence” – by Diego Rivera, one of Mexico’s greatest 20th century artists.
Rivera took years to paint this masterpiece, so massive it winds around the palace’s central staircase.
Related reading: There’s lots of cool art at the Diego Rivera Museum in Guanajuato! (it was Rivera’s former home and where he was born)
Palace of Fine Arts:
Lovers of the arts will want to check out the Palace of Fine Arts (Palacio de Bellas Artes) and marvel at its dazzling white marble exterior. Inside, admire huge murals painted by some of Mexico’s famous muralists.
If you’re lucky enough to be in Mexico City on the right days, you can buy tickets to watch one of their renowned, twice-weekly Ballet Folklorico performances.
The Palacio is one of the most beautiful buildings in Mexico City.
By getting tickets to watch the ballet, you’ll also get the privilege of seeing the theater’s stained-glass curtain made by New York jeweler, Tiffany, and its crystal ceiling dome.
Next, make a quick stop at the Palacio Postal. Really, a post office? Yep, it’s the Postal Palace.
With a grand stairway flanked by bronze railings, marble floors and gilded lamps, it’s one gorgeous building.
It still operates as a post office. But this post office makes buying stamps feel like a luxurious experience!
National Museum of Art:
Finish off your museum-hopping day at the National Museum of Art (MUNAL or Museo Nacional de Art), which houses the most important collection of Mexican art.
From ancient relics to 20th and 21st century art from Mexico’s most famous artists, the stunning building is packed with must-see art.
Of all the cultural activities in Mexico City, touring the National Museum of Art turned out to be one of our favorites. We enjoyed the rural landscapes, portraits and other artworks by Mexican painters little-known to foreign visitors.
For a truly entertaining, blood-pumping cultural experience, there’s no better way to spend your first night in Mexico City than by going to watch lucha libre.
It’s like WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) but even more colorful and acrobatic – and one of the top things to do in Mexico that you must experience for yourself.
The wrestlers (called luchadores) are divided into two types: “good guys” and “bad guys.” They’re outfitted in spandex and sequins and wear masks. There’s often a character dressed in drag too.
The three lucha libre arenas in Mexico City where you can see these entertaining performances are Arena Mexico Colonia Doctores (the largest), Arena Coliseo and Arena Naucalpan (the smallest and furthest away from the city center).
To get the most out of the spectacle, why not brush up on some of the most popular wrestlers? The backstory of each character is quite rich and interesting.
One of the most well-known luchadores is Ray Mysterio – he helped make lucha libre popular in the U.S.
Then there’s Blue Demon Jr. He now plays a superhero in a new Disney Channel comedy series and is running for mayor of a Mexico City borough.
Current big names to watch out for include Caristico, Atlantis and Fenix.
When you go, don’t be surprised if you find yourself joining in on the cheering and jeering of the crowd. You can even buy a mask of your new-found favorite wrestler at the match and wear it to really get into the spirit!
Day 2 – Chapultepec, Anthropology Museum and Condesa
Kick off Day 2 of your Mexico City itinerary with a stroll through Chapultepec Park (Bosque de Chapultepec), Mexico City’s largest park.
Covering over 685 hectares, it’s double the size of New York’s Central Park – one of the largest city parks on the planet!
The park is so grand that it even houses a castle – Chapultepec Castle (Castillo de Chapultepec).
It’s the only castle in North America where royals actually lived. Built in 1785, it was the home of Mexican Emperor Maximilian I and Empress Carlota in the 1860s.
The castle is now the National Museum of History (Museo Nacional de Historia).
We enjoyed taking some time to explore this wondrous castle and its exhibits (from ornate carriages to gem-encrusted serving trays) and sauntering through its lovely gardens.
If you’d like to hear stories about the castle and discover its rich history in more depth, here’s a highly-rated, small group, guided walking tour of the castle (2 hours). The tour is offered by Walking Through History, created by an art historian who loves Mexico.
National Museum of Anthropology:
Next stop? The National Museum of Anthropology (Museo Nacional de Antropologia), the grand-daddy of Mexico City’s museums and among the best in the country.
As one of the top tourist attractions in Mexico City, it doesn’t disappoint – it masterfully displays Mexico’s history from pre-Columbian times to the Spanish conquest.
Visiting this museum is absolutely one of the best things to do in Mexico City!
We took in eye-popping exhibits, like the gigantic 25-ton Aztec “sun” stone from the 15th century and fearsome Olmec stone heads.
We also learned that the Aztecs centered their empire around present-day Mexico City.
You’ll spend several hours here, before realizing you must move on. Because, if you’re like us – after all that culture and exploring – you’ll be ready to indulge in a true Mexican-style evening of cocktails and dinner.
Introducing… La Condesa! Mexico City’s hub of nightlife and activity.
Whether you’re in the mood to dance the night away, or to have a relaxing evening tasting fine Mexican cuisine and sipping a fancy margarita at a roof-top bar, the Condesa neighborhood is where to go for an evening on the town.
Day 3 – Frida Kahlo, Trotsky and Coyoacan
Frida Kahlo Museum:
On Day three of your 3 days in Mexico City, we recommend heading straight to the Frida Kahlo Museum (Museo Frida Kahlo) – also known as La Casa Azul (the Blue House).
Located in the Coyoacan borough, it’s a must-see in Mexico City.
Frida Kahlo has secured her position as one Mexico’s most treasured artists, extending way beyond her marriage to the famous Diego Rivera. Her art is revered as a celebration of indigenous Mexican culture and for its bold feminism.
Frida’s turbulent personal story is both tragic and fascinating. Don’t miss the opportunity to learn about her physical and emotional suffering, as depicted in her series of self-portraits and stunning works.
You’ll want to buy your tickets in advance.
Leon Trotsky’s House:
A short walk away you’ll find the Leon Trotsky House Museum (Museo Casa de Leon Trotsky).
Trotsky is famous for being a Russian Marxist revolutionary who sought asylum in Mexico after being exiled from the Soviet Union.
He settled in Coyoacan, in a second home owned by Frida and Diego (and went on to have an affair with Frida). He was later assassinated in Mexico City in 1940.
Visitors are welcomed into his former home, and you can see things just as Trotsky left it. It’s a piece of history well-worth taking the time to enjoy.
Next, have fun exploring Coyoacan.
It’s one of Mexico City’s most charming neighborhoods, full of eateries with tasty local delicacies and excellent shops.
Need a java hit? Two of the best coffee shops in Mexico City are in Coyoacan.
The Coyoacan Market (Mercado de Coyacan) is also an iconic part of the neighborhood.
This local market is the perfect place to pick up Mexican souvenirs and gifts.
Hand-painted figurines, colorful Day of the Dead skulls, wooden Mexican toys. You name it. You’ll find it. Prices are inexpensive, and you can put your bargaining skills to work also.
Take your time strolling along the stalls, and make sure you stop for a taste of what locals say are the best tostadas in Mexico City.
But save room because you’ll also want to sample Coyoacan’s quesadillas, ceviche and any other tempting treat that catches your eye!
Do you love Mexican food? Then check out these very yummy (and funny) facts about Mexican food!
If you visit Mexico City on Sunday
Now, what if your 3 days in Mexico City happen to include a Sunday? Well, then, you’re in luck!
On Sundays, the Paseo de la Reforma, the city’s grandest boulevard, is closed to all car traffic until mid-afternoon – a Mexican tradition that makes it a people-magnet.
And what a spectacle!
On a sunny Sunday morning, we joined the locals thronging the Paseo.
Families pulled their kidlets down the street in wheeled wagons, roller-skaters glided by and teens in sporty clothing rode bicycles, raring to go at the lights.
Red-nosed clowns were out entertaining wee ones.
And there was a group practising yoga.
Oh, and how fun! A crowd of fitness buffs was zumba-dancing to throbbing music.
We also noticed many eco-friendly bicycle stands and rental shacks with modestly-priced rental bikes – and people lined up in front waiting to rent one.
Bicycling as a way of getting around Mexico City is a popular growing phenomenon, and some bike lanes have sprung up in the city too. (Mind you, we personally still wouldn’t bicycle around the city, what with all its traffic.)
The rich assortment of public art along the Paseo de la Reforma vied for our attention as well.
The golden Angel of Independence atop a tall column dominates one grand traffic circle.
And, yes, we could kind of see that the very modern, golden “El Caballito” sculpture looks like a stylized horse.
No doubt about it – the Paseo de la Reforma is one of the best places to visit in Mexico City on a Sunday! (And it’s free too…)
More time? Day trips from Mexico City
So you actually have more time – lucky you! You’re spending 4 days in Mexico City.
(Or maybe you’ve decided to skip some of the suggestions in our Mexico City trip itinerary and want different ideas on what to do in Mexico City in 3 days.)
The following are two more top Mexico City attractions. They make great day trips.
Floating gardens of Xochimilco:
Ancient canals, enjoying a leisurely boat ride, soaking up the festive atmosphere…
No, it’s not Venice, Italy. It’s Xochimilco, a small city about one hour away from Mexico City’s center.
They say that Xochimilco may be the last existing link to the Aztec civilization.
The Aztecs anchored rafts to the bottom of Lake Xochimilco, and created gardens for growing crops (called chinampas) on top of the rafts. Willow trees were planted around the edges of the floating gardens to help contain the beds.
Today, the chinampas are used to grow flowers – making Xochimilco one of the most delightful gardens in the world!
Top that with live mariachi music while floating along the canals, and you’ve got yourself a truly magical local experience.
If you’d like to kill two birds with one stone (combine the Day 3 activities with Xochimilco), this full-day guided tour (with hotel pick-up in Mexico City) takes you punting down the canals of Xochimilco, as well as to Coyacan and the Frida Kahlo Museum.
A day trip to the Teotihuacan pyramids is another highly-recommended option if you have four days in Mexico City.
Also known as the City of the Gods, Teotihuacan is the largest and most important pre-Aztec city in Mexico. Located about 30 miles northeast of Mexico City, it was built between the 1st and 7th centuries A.D.
A lot about this marvelous archaeological site – designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 – is still a mystery. But we do know that it was home to ornate stone palaces and soaring pyramids, where more than 25,000 people lived.
There are two main pyramids – the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon. The trek up to the top isn’t an easy feat. You’ll definitely be huffing and puffing, but it’s totally worth it when you reach the top!
You can either go on your own or book a guided tour at the entrance. A tour is the best way to get the full history of the site and appreciate its special significance, but you’ll get a grand view at the top either way!
From the main bus station in Mexico City, it takes about an hour to reach Teotihuacan. It gets crowded – and very hot if you’re traveling in the warmer months – so you’re better off getting an early start. Entry starts as early as 7:00 am.
Better yet, beat the crowds and make life easy for yourself by going on a guided early-morning tour leaving from Mexico City, with skip-the-line entry to Teotihuacan (followed by a tequila and mezcal tasting).
Where to eat in Mexico City
With all this sightseeing, your tummies will be rumbling – we know ours were! Luckily, there’s no shortage of amazing places to eat in Mexico City.
We highly recommend seeking out a wonderful place we stumbled upon, Café Tacuba, which caught our eye with its beautiful stained-glass windows.
Inside, a treat awaits. It’s an elegant, traditional Mexican restaurant, with female servers outfitted in starched white caps and aprons.
You may find it difficult to narrow down your selection with all of the tasty traditional dishes you’ll find on the menu. For a hearty snack, we settled on their signature spicy hot chocolate and Mexican chicken sandwich, which were delicious!
Later we discovered the cafe/restaurant is a bit of an institution – there’s even a local band calling itself “Café Tacuba.”
Il Becco Restaurant:
Another recommended spot is an Italian restaurant.
Say what? Awesome Italian food in Mexico City? You bet!
If you’re ready for a modern take on Italian cuisine, you must try Il Becco restaurant at the lovely Four Seasons Hotel. It’s a great place to replenish all those calories burned off after a full day of touring.
Part of the high-end Becco group of restaurants in Mexico, Il Becco tickled our taste buds with artichoke-and-pistachio risotto and linguine with lobster.
(Bonus: The bill is less than many Italian restaurants back in Canada or the U.S.)
You might also like to read this: If you’re cravin’ pasta, there are some really good Italian restaurants in Cabo San Lucas
For some of the best Mexican dishes like enchiladas and duck mole, try family-owned Restaurante Nicos.
This mother-and-son team has made its mark for consistently delivering excellent service, using only locally-sourced ingredients, and for cooking up delectable traditional food.
Nicos’ owners have kept the restaurant in business for over 60 years.
They were awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award for their contribution to Mexican cuisine at Latin America’s Best Restaurants awards in 1998 (and made the list of Latin America’s 50 Best Restaurants for 2020 too).
For coffee, brunch or tapas, head on over to the Mercado Roma in the happening Roma Norte district – Mexico City’s coolest hood (though neigboring Condesa may contest this).
This modernist, three-story gourmet food hall has tons of food stalls selling sushi, quiche, salads, tacos, macarons, churros (like doughnuts) and more from top local restaurants, along with comfortable community seating areas.
The upper floor is a breezy rooftop beer garden.
Located in the upper-class Polanca district, Quintonil has been rated one of the world’s 50 best restaurants for several years now.
Go for the 10-course tasting menu showcasing Mexican cooking with a creative twist. Think dishes such as charred avocado tartare with ant larvae, roast chicken with macadamia nut mole and burnt corn ice-cream.
Get a table in the garden-like room at the back if you can, and make reservations in advance.
You might have gathered by now that Mexico City has an amazing food scene. And one of the best ways to get a taste of its cuisine is to join a walking food tour.
Where to stay in Mexico City
We stayed at both of these hotels in Mexico City and can highly recommend them:
Four Seasons Hotel Mexico:
In the 5-star category, the Four Seasons Hotel Mexico, D.F. has been completely renovated and boasts a small outdoor pool. It’s conveniently located a ten-minute walk from the National Museum of Anthropology.
Read our hotel review: There are at least 7 things to love about the Four Seasons Mexico City
The Red Tree House:
The Red Tree House is a lovely, top-rated B&B in the old-world Condesa neighborhood. Its free evening wine hour is a hit with the international mix of guests (as are its rates, which are very reasonable).
Read our hotel review: The Red Tree House is the best B&B in Mexico City
Best time to visit Mexico City
Because of its high elevation (some 7,400 feet above sea level), the climate in Mexico City tends to be pleasant year-round.
But in winter, it can get chilly, and in summer it rains.
So if you want to visit Mexico City when the weather is the most comfortable, the ideal months are March to May. With average temperatures between 22 and 30 degrees Celsius, you’ll enjoy Mexico’s glorious warmth without the intense heat or rain.
Bonus: In February and March, the Jacaranda trees and lavender flowers bloom, so parks are a palette of purple.
Keep in mind that with great weather comes a bigger tourist crowd. You won’t have any of the top sites to yourself, but you won’t have to worry about extreme weather putting a damper on your itinerary.
Another good time to go to Mexico City is between October and December, when the weather is also mild and dry.
To avoid frequent rain, don’t plan your trip to Mexico City during the months of July and August.
Final thoughts on spending 3 perfect days in Mexico City
If you’re like us, you’ll be a bit sad leaving Mexico City.
Yes, a three-day Mexico City itinerary will let you see and experience many of the vibrant city’s highlights. We certainly hope this itinerary has helped!
But don’t be surprised if it just leaves you wanting more. On every day there, you realize you’re still only barely scratching the surface.
Like, what about having time to explore more of the hip area of Roma? And, wouldn’t it be amazing to visit Mexico City during the Day of the Dead?
There are two art museums we wish we could have seen too.
The Museo Soumaya showcases billionaire Carlos Slim’s extensive $700 million art collection of Rodin sculptures and paintings by Van Gogh, Matisse and Monet. And the Museo Jumex displays the largest collection of contemporary art in Latin America.
So, we leave you on this positive parting note – there’s always next time!
Pin this so you can save this post for later
Photo credits: 6 to 12, 16, 20 to 23 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase | 28 Il Becco | 29 Restaurant Nicos