3 Days in Mexico City Itinerary for First-Timers
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Aaaah Mexico City. I think it’s the real city that never sleeps. There’s so much going on in Mexico’s capital, from exciting night life, a dynamic food scene, a history stretching over millennia and more festivals than you can count. It’s vivacious and non-stop – no amount of days is too many.
And although it is growing as a popular tourist destination, it still is relatively un-touristy like certain places in the country *cough* Cancun *cough*.
Yet Mexico City is well worth the visit. Many people have qualms about the safety of the capital, but honestly, in the areas that you’ll want to be hanging out in, it’s fine. There are some important things you should consider to stay safe during your Mexico City itinerary, but I’ll cover them all in this post.
You might be wondering – ‘I thought you were in Australia Claire?’ (sadly that hasn’t actually been true for nearly a year), what makes you qualified to write this 3 days in Mexico City itinerary? Well, apart from London, it’s the city I’ve spent the most time in. In total, I have probably spent about a year of my life living in CDMX, most of which was spread over 4 years when my dad worked there. So don’t worry, even though I’m only returning from 4 days in Mexico City this time, I know this capital pretty damn well!
There are so many things to do in Mexico City that you could spend weeks here. If you really want to see the city, I’d honestly advise spending seven days in Mexico City, but 3 days is enough to get an essence of the city. Many travellers in Mexico make it their first stop in the country before moving onto Oaxaca and then venturing to the east coast, or finish here after doing the opposite route.
So, this 3 days in Mexico City itinerary will cover the real highlights of the city – with some recommendations for other things to do in Mexico City if you have the time. I’ll include:
- The Teotihuacan Pyramids
- A boat tour at Xochimilco
- Frida Kahlo’s House
- A walking tour
- A historical tour
- The best museums in Mexico City
- Where to find the best view of Mexico City
- Which suburbs are worth a stroll around
- And more..
So, let’s delve into it! Here’s your 3 days in Mexico City itinerary.
Day zero lets you get to Mexico City safely and find your destination. If you’re arriving into Mexico City airport, you can reach the city by secure cab, Uber or the subway.
Do not get into a random taxi at the airport. Make sure you only take a licensed cab from a registered sitio or an Uber (which are safe to use in Mexico City). Even if a car looks like a taxi, it might not be, and kidnappings in unofficial taxis do occur. This is one of the main things you need to do to stay safe in Mexico City.
Terminal one of the airport is connected to line 5, where you can connect to lines 1, 3, 4 and 6 and reach locations like Chapultepec, Juanacatlan (for Condesa) and Coyocan. To get to most of the central stations you’ll need to change twice. I only really recommend getting the metro if you’re confident in your Spanish and/or are a seasoned metro taker and have minimal baggage.
Where do I stay in Mexico City?
If you haven’t booked your Mexico City accommodation yet, now is your chance! There are so many hotels and hostels throughout the city. I’d recommend first timers to choose hostels or hotels in Condesa or Roma; which are cheap, relatively central and safe neighbourhoods. If you’ve got a bit of cash to spare, you could consider Polanco or maybe even a nice hotel in Reforma.
My recommendations are:
Hostel: With 6 or 8 bedroom dorms on offer or private en-suite rooms, Stayinn Barefoot Condesa is a great option for backpackers. Enjoy free WiFi, chill out areas, a rooftop bar and a communal kitchen. Click here to reserve.
Budget: Right by the Zocalo is Hotel Castropol. With reasonable rates for a comfy double room, you’ll be right in the centre of the city so will be able to save time on your Mexico City itinerary! Bedrooms include a flat-screen TV, private bathroom and free WiFi. On site is a bar and restaurant. Click here to reserve your space.
Mid-Range: Close to Reforma is Hotel Plaza Revolución. Offering free WiFi and parking, the modern rooms feature air conditioning, a private bathroom, a flat screen TV and all include complimentary breakfast. Click here to book today.
Luxury: Check out Barceló Mexico Reforma Hotel for luxuries like a heated pool, a spa and fitness centre. Rooms have a TV with cable channels, deluxe en-suite bathrooms, desks, safes and air conditioning, amongst other features. Also on site is a bar and restaurant, and a highly rated breakfast is included within the room rate. Click here for more information and to book.
Free Walking Tour
It’s early in the morning and you’re ready to start your Mexico City itinerary! My first recommendation is a free walking tour. It is legitimately free, but tips are appreciated and kind of expected. It’s great value for what you get, so do tip away. It’s a good idea to book online (no costs incurred) to let the tour operators know how many people will be attending. Click here to reserve your spot.
Tours meet outside of Palacio de Bellas Artes and go past lots of different destinations in the city centre including the Cathedral, Torre Latinoamerica, a really swanky Sanbornes restaurant and the Zocalo. You’ll learn loads about the city’s history and the culture of it today, as well as get your bearings in the centre of the city – always handy for your first day. Tours are in English and Spanish – you might find that one guide speaks both languages in the same tour.
The tour takes between 2-3 hours and concludes in the Zocalo, which is widely regarded to be the centre of Mexico City.
After the tour, it’s time for some lunch. I recommend heading down to famous lunch restaurant, Zefiro.
It’s a Mexican fine dining restaurant – not the cheapest food you’ll eat in Mexico City but it won’t break the bank. It has a lovely, old-school atmosphere and delicious food, with some vegetarian and vegan options. It’s only open during lunch time, and as it is the number one rated restaurant on TripAdvisor, it’s a great spot to check off during your 3 days in Mexico City.
Do consider tipping in Mexico when you’re dining out – as a general rule, I’d tip 10% but it does depend on where in the country you are and what kind of establishment it is.
Palacio de Bellas Artes
After lunch, I’d recommend heading inside the Palacio de Belles Artes to see the interior of this stunning building. Construction of the Palacio began in 1905 and there are plenty of neoclassical and art noveau features typical of the period both inside and out to admire. Nowadays the building houses different art exhibitions, telling the story of Mexico through art. It also operates as a concert hall.
Next, take a walk around Parque Alameda, located right next door. It is one of Latin America’s oldest parks and is a pleasant green lung in the city. It’s survived floods and earthquakes and is now known as one of the safest parks in Mexico City. Have a stroll around, grab an elote (corn) as a mid-afternoon snack and enjoy.
Finally, visit Torre Latinoamericana, a building that is admired by architects from all over the world, mainly for the simple fact that not even Mexico City’s strongest earthquake has ever left so much as a crack in a window. So you should be pretty safe going up to the lookout point!
Costing 110 pesos to ascend to the 37th floor, the view gives you a view over the entire city and the mountains beyond. There’s a small café at the top-selling very overpriced USA-esque food; I’d recommend grabbing refreshments elsewhere. It’s a really awesome view though, even on a cloudy day. You’ll get a sense of how Mexico City was constructed in the crater of an ancient volcano and will start to understand why it is victim to so many natural disasters! You’ll also get a sense of the sheer size of this place – it’s one big city.
Reforma is always worth a stroll down as well. Located around a 25 minute’s walk from Torre Latinamerica (with lots to see on the way), it reminds you of the modernization of Mexico City.
After 4 months in Oaxaca, I found it amazing to see skyscrapers again! There are also some really fun seats which for some reason are my most vivid Mexico City memory from when I was 14. I didn’t have a pal to take a photo of me on the seats this time, so check out this Kodak moment of me and my sister circa 2004:
After heading back to your hotel to freshen up (from Reforma, you can walk to Roma or back to central or take the subway), maybe grabbing some street tacos en-route if you’re peckish, head out to a Lucha Libre.
Lucha Libre is a Mexican wrestling match. I’m not the biggest fan of watching combat sports (or non-combat sports, for that matter), but people here love it and as long as the participants are consenting adults, I guess there’s nothing wrong with it! There’s a great atmosphere and lots of snacks and drinks – it’s definitely a pretty unique thing to do in Mexico City. Where you need to go depends on what day it is – check out this post for more details on where to watch Lucha Libre.
Frida Kahlo’s House (Casa Azul)
Today, we are going to voyage south of the city. Heading to Coyacan, first we’ll visit Frida Kahlo’s old digs in Mexico City. You can purchase tickets in advance (highly recommended to avoid queues) by clicking here. Coyocan is on line 3 of the metro and it is about a half hour walk from the station to Frida’s casa, so factor plenty of time in to get there. You could also check rates on Uber, of course (I couldn’t resist the 5 peso metro fare though).
If you have time before your slot, check out Pan Gabriel. It’s a vegan bakery and cafe, with so many amazing dairy and egg free treats. Think chocolate eclairs, coconut cream tarts and cheesecakes – they’re all absolutely delicious!
Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul is just around the corner. I’ve only been here once and I’m gonna be honest, I wasn’t 100% blown away. It’s very busy and I kind of felt like I was on a school trip. I didn’t get the time to really appreciate everything as the line is constantly moving.
Still, Frida Kahlo is an iconic Mexican figure, and visiting her former home is a top thing to do in Mexico City for a reason! It is very beautiful and it displays her very interesting life well. She suffered two disabilities as a child, which turned her to painting, and the museum is an interesting reflection on her philosophy and ideas. It’s not huge, so it will probably only take you an hour to go around.
Leon Trotsky’s House
Not far from Frida Kahlo’s joint is Leon Trotsky’s house (yes, they did used to hang around together back in the day – and even had a secret love affair!).
He moved to Mexico in exile from Ukraine in 1936 and set up base here in Coyocan until his murder in 1940. The museum details this chapter in his life. Much of it is only in Spanish, although it is fairly easy to understand as lots of words are similar to their English translations. It is a cheap (entry is just 40 pesos and doesn’t need to be prebooked) and a much calmer activity after Frida’s!
Next up is Xochimilco. If you’re spending your 3 days in Mexico City with friends, think about splitting an Uber for this journey as the public transport route takes a while and can be very crowded. But if you’re a solo traveller, are keen to only spend 16 pesos on your journey or love soaking in the experience of public transport in different cities (that’s me!), the metro is fairly straightforward.
Head back to Coyacan and take the subway to Tasqueña, at the end of line 2. Then transfer to the Tren Ligaro, which costs a princely 3 pesos. You’ll need a reloadable card for this journey, costing 10 pesos, but it can be shared between multiple people. Xochimilco is the last station on the route, and be prepared for an absolutely packed out journey.
Once you alight, there are signs to the trajineras (the colourful boats pictured below, which access the hanging gardens). If you get lost, you’ll find that people in Xochimilco are exceptionally friendly, and will gladly point you in the right direction – you probably won’t even need to ask.
Xochimilco is something that should be on everyone’s Mexico City bucket lists. It’s essentially a network of canals and floating gardens, with lots of opportunities to learn about the area’s heritage. Enjoy listening to mariachi bands, the taste of cold Mexican beer and the splendour of bright boats and even brighter flowers.
The boats are all operated by tours – try to pal up with other tourists if you’re travelling solo. You should be able to get a two hour tour for around 500 pesos – which can of course be split between however many of you there are.
The Island of the Dolls is probably Xochimilco’s most famous landmark and is very eerie – the original owner Santana Barrera used it to pay his respects to a dead girl that he found floating in the canals by hanging a doll there. He became convinced he could hear the girl speaking to him, and started collecting more dolls and hanging them up whenever he heard her voice. Nowadays, there are thousands of dolls, and the island has a very chilling feeling.
After your tour, head back to the city centre, either by Uber or the reverse metro route I’ve mentioned above.
Drinks at a Speakeasy
You’ve gotta get up really early tomorrow if you want to stick religiously to my Mexico City itinerary (which you don’t have to, of course – it’s highly recommended though ;)) so treat yourself to just the one beverage tonight. A great novelty place to enjoy a drink is one of Mexico City’s speakeasies.
Hanky Panky Cocktail Bar is a great option – you need to contact them on Facebook to find out where to go – once you reach the directions given you’ll be taken through a disused taqueria, into a storage cabinet and finally into the small bar area. It’s a great place to enjoy the novelty and have a couple of drinks.
Set your alarm for an obscene hour, because today is a packed one.
First, we’re venturing out to the Pyramids. Yep, there are pyramids in Mexico – and they’re almost cooler than Giza’s equivalent because they were made to be climbed. To reach the pyramids, you need to take a subway or Uber to the Norte bus station and then catch a one-hour bus from there. For detailed instructions on how to get to Teotihuacan, check out this post.
To fit in everything we’ve got on offer today, I’m recommending you go really early. Like, try and be on a bus for 7am. The pyramids open at 8am and in the morning it is not only cooler, but there are so many less people.
You’ll arrive at the pyramids at 8am, and 2 and a half hours is all you really need to explore. If you’re on a bus back to the city by 11am, you’ll be in good stead to visit our next spot!
But first, what makes the Teotihuacan pyramids so fabulous? Well, Teotihuacan was one of the first great cities of the Western Hemisphere and its origins are a mystery. The Aztecs used the city, but it was hand-built long before their time. If that doesn’t amaze you, I don’t know what will. Nowadays the ruins nod to the Maya, Mixtec, and Zapotec cultures and act as a crucial spot to learn about ancient Mexican civilisation.
You can pay for an audio tour or even a fully guided tour, if you so fancy. Be sure to take plenty of water (Teotihuacan gets hot!), suncream as there is virtually no shade, and wear some decent walking shoes and comfy hiking/ jogging pants.
Food Tour of Roma
You’ll no doubt be peckish after ascending the hundreds of stairs to reach the top of the pyramids, but don’t tuck into some street food just yet; your next stop is a delicious food tour to sample some of Mexico City’s finest cuisine.
If this isn’t your first time here, you’ll know that I’m a vegan. And I want to tell you about the fantastic vegan tour in Mexico City. I ate and drank to my heart’s content and tried veggie versions of some of Mexico’s favourite dishes – including the famous taco al pastor with seitan instead of meat.
It also included a vegan burger, biscuits, more tacos and lots of delicious agua del dias.
The tour takes around 2.5 – 3 hours and shows you Roma, one of Mexico City’s most interesting neighbourhoods. You’ll learn lots about the area of the tour, including exactly why it looks so French! Check out my full review of the tour here or visit Tasty Bites food tour website by clicking here. Let them know who referred you when you book onto the tour as well, por favor!
Bosque de Chapultepec
Finishing the tour at around 4, I’d recommend spending the last few hours of daylight in the Bosque de Chapultepec. Check out the castle, take boats out on the lake if you desire, and just enjoy being in the largest green lung of the city.
The Museum of Anthropology is here, which many people consider a must-do in Mexico. However, it’s not a museum that you should rush seeing. If you decided not to visit Frida Kahlo’s joint, I’d recommend you do this on the morning of day two, or if you have more than 3 days in Mexico City, check it out then.
If this is your last afternoon in Mexico City, just spend it enjoying the park and maybe take a stroll over to Polanco, which is a wealthy neighbourhood that’s really pleasant to stroll around – giving you yet another edge to this huge and complex city.
Night Out in Condesa
If you’re not staying in Condesa, head there anyway for your last night in Mexico City. It’s one of the best areas for nightlife in the capital, and you’ll no doubt find something to tickle your pickle here.
Extra Things to do in Mexico City
If you don’t fancy some of the activities on this Mexico City itinerary, or have more than 3 days in Mexico City, check out this list of other things to do in Mexico City.
The Museum of Anthropology
Like basically every colonised country, there was so much history and culture to Mexico before imperialism took over. The Museum of Anthropology celebrates this, containing the largest collection of Mesoamerican exhibits in the world.
There are sections dedicated to the rich indigenous cultures of different areas of Mexico and it really dives into the customs and traditions that are still celebrated today. It’s a huge museum and will take up nearly an entire day on your Mexico City itinerary, but if you do have an extra day it is highly recommended you check it out – especially if you are continuting your travels in Mexico and Central America.
Apparently there is a a tie between Mexico City and London for being the city with the most museums in the world. This means that there’s one for everyone, but the Museo Suomaya, which has free entrance, is one of the most impressive.
The exterior is bewitching, made out of thousands of glimmering mirrors. The exhibits include paintings and sculputres from the likes of Dali and Renoir. It is located in the Polanco neighbourhood.
Paseo de la Reforma on Sundays
If you’re in Mexico City on a Sunday, make it the day you stroll down Paseo de la Reforma. Cars are prohibited from the area during the morning and you can rent bikes, joining the swarm of cyclists in the area, or take part in a giant open air Zumba session. It’s a great way to sweat off one to many tequilas the night before!
Visit Mercado de la Merced or one of the city’s many other markets
Mercado de la Merced is Mexico City’s largest market, and it really is an experience. You can purchase anything here – from fresh fruit to souvenirs, it’s easy to get lost for hours wondering the alleys.
It’s got a rich history, stretching back from the 17th century – and still manages to maintain its authenticity. Head there to buy presents to take home, eat some authentic food or grab some fresh ingredients to make a tasty meal. It’s a feast for all the senses.
Day Trips from Mexico City
If you have yet more time, here’s some of the best day trips from Mexico City. We already mentioned Teotihucan, which is more like a half day trip and is essential on a visit to CMDX, but other options include:
As far as Mexican cities go, Puebla is pretty underrated. Just two hours from CDMX, but very much a city in its own right (and actually one of Mexico’s largest), there’s plenty to do here to pass a day or longer.
From delicious food, to colourful old buildings, to checking out antiques on Frog Alley, a day trip to Puebla is a perfect opportunity to explore a different type of Mexican city. Plus, the city is overlooked by a snow-capped volcano – could it be more scenic?
Itza – Popo National Park
On my first trip to Mexico circa 2004, we literally drove to a viewpoint of Popacatepetl volcano, just to take a picture and then go back to the city. And the only reason for that was because my sister (who was nine years old at the time) had learnt the following song about the volcano at school and we all couldn’t stop singing it:
I don’t advise that you do such a pointless day trip like that, but Itza-Popo national park actually has some really cool hikes. You can watch Popo actually erupt and climb a little bit up Itza. Check this post by Slight North about the different hiking options in the park and their costs.
Fun and not very impressive fact: I’m half Cornish (before you say ‘isn’t Cornwall part of England?’ I would like to challenge you to take this debate up with my Cornish relatives – and I wish you luck). My ancestors seemed to get everywhere where there was stuff to mine, so of course they made it to a city in the Mexican Sierras.
Pachucathe is capital of Hidalgo state and has a kind of British air about it, with pasty shops lining the streets. Close by is Real del Monte, which houses the world’s only pasty museum. It’s also very spacious and colourful, and is a wonderful spot to visit to escape from the madness of Mexico City for a while.
In another neighbouring state is the colonial town of Taxco, which is surrounded by mountains and is centred by a baroque church. There are lots of hills to wander up and down, which afford beautiful views, and lots of jardins, restaurants and little cafes.
This is by no means an exhaustive list – there are dozens of feasible day trips from Mexico City and these are just the ones that I am most familiar with. Still, for your first time in Mexico City itinerary, you should find enough to sink your teeth into here!
Mexico City Safety Tips
Seriously, Mexico City is not as dangerous as many people think. Don’t be a fool and wave your valuables around in quiet areas (just as you shouldn’t in London), and you’ll most probably be fine. All of the touristy areas mentioned above are safe as anything in the daytime, and reasonably safe at night – do take caution if you’re out after 11-12 though.
If you’re carrying a shoulder bag while walking around at night, hold onto it to avert bag snatchers.
Where to avoid in Mexico City
There are some less than desirable areas in Mexico City where you don’t really want to spend much time in, especially at night. The area near the TAPO bus station, where I stayed when I first arrived in Oaxaca, is one of these. Others include:
- Doctores (where the Lucha Libres are often held – take care after the match)
- Iztapalapa and especially the La Joya part of the neighbourhood
- Tlalpan, Xochimilco and Tlatelolco are all fine and worth visiting in the day but should be avoided after dark.
- Ciudad Neza
Transport in Mexico City
The Mexico City subway is jam-packed, sweaty and a general good time. The risk of violent robbery on this transport system is very low – but the risk of pickpocketing and bag slashing is possible. I even noticed that my front pocket on my backpack was unzipped one day after being on the metro – luckily I had nothing in it. When using the subway, wear trousers or shorts with zip pockets and zip valuables up in there, or keep them safe in an internal pocket of your bag.
If you’re a female solo traveler, you might feel more comfortable in the women and children’s carriage which are on most metros.
Northern Lauren has some good tips for the Mexico City metro – check ‘em out.
Don’t hail taxis on the street. It’s not safe to do in Mexico City. Use Uber, which registers all its cars, get taxis from a registered Sitio or ask your hotel to call you a cab with a known driver.
All that aside, common sense is enough to keep you safe in Mexico City.
Do I need Spanish to visit Mexico City?
Being completely honest, I think I’d have struggled a bit in Mexico City if I didn’t have a word of Spanish. While you don’t need to be fluent, it does help to be able to ask basic questions.
If you’re a solo traveler staying in hostels, you might be ok as there’s a good chance you’ll make Spanish-speaking friends and be able to get tips from the staff. But if you’re in an Airbnb or a hotel and neither you or anyone you’re travelling with speaks a word of the language, brush up on it before you go. Download DuoLingo or watch this 300 Spanish phrases video, at least.
Mexico City Packing List
You can check out my full Mexico packing list for a complete guide of what to pack for Mexico, but here are some Mexico City specific suggestions (click through on the names to find the product on Amazon):
- An unlocked smartphone loaded up with apps like MapsMe and Uber
- Comfy shoes to walk around the city in
- Gym clothes
- Money belt
- Water to go filtration bottle
- High-quality camera – I recommend the Fujifilm X-A5
- Lonely Planet for Mexico
- Spanish Phrasebook
Where to go from Mexico City
Even though I’ve been to Mexico City like 12 times, I don’t really know the area around it that well. That being said, Guanajuato is loved by many travellers, and although it is another big city, Guadalajara and its surroundings have some real charms as well (like the birthplace of Tequila!).
That being said, most travellers tend to head to the South West after 3 days in Mexico City – a region that I can help you out with! Taking a ADO bus to either Puebla or further south to Oaxaca – check out my crazy huge bumper Oaxaca travel guide to learn all about this city – is a great way to see some more of Mexico.
If your travels are taking you further south to Guatemala, check out this awesome Guatemala itinerary that covers the whole country.
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