Updated: Oct 6
If you had asked me before I visited Mexico City what vibes to expect, I wouldn't have told you anything about European culture. I didn't know the streets housed grand buildings, tree-lined promenades, or featured cuisine from French to Spanish. I wouldn't have expected one of the world's largest ancient pyramids to sit a mere 30 minutes outside of town, and I definitely wouldn't have known that insects garnished most of my Mexican meals. With this melting pot of cultures, beautiful mountain air and colorful marketplaces, I was determined to explore many of the Mexico City neighborhoods, and I did it in just 3 days.
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Need to Know
Truth be told, all you really need is a long weekend to experience Mexico City, but you should linger longer. A few tips to begin:
It's 7,382ft elevation - higher than Denver - so be sure to drink lots of water and take it easy on your body the first day.
Being at higher altitude, the weather will be chilly in the morning and evenings but the sun will be brutal during the day, even if you don't feel the heat. Wear lots of sunblock.
Uber is available (or at least it was in 2018), watch the rating scores of your driver
Taxis are a good way to get around
There are subways that we didn't take, just be safe
Don't know where to stay? Start here: Show me hotel deals in Mexico
Mexico City's Best Neighborhoods
Although Mexico City boasts so many more neighborhoods to explore, the ones I've listed are the ones you can prioritize if you only have a few days to soak everything in.
I suggest focusing in on Polanco, Chapultapec, Centro Historico and of course making time to see Teotihuacan. Longer visits can merit time for San Angel and beyond.
Seek out Polanco for a feel of Europe. Tree lined streets and green spaces are plentiful in this area, along with old biddies walking their tiny poodles and teacup pups. Restaurants offer varied European cuisine and there's a lot of your standard Marriott style hotels in this area too.
Jaleo bar de tapas is a great place for dinner in Polanco. Spilling out onto the sidewalk this is one of many great people watching restaurants in the upmarket Polanco area.
Be sure to visit Chapultapec Castle and stroll through the park. If desired, visit the Anthropology museum.
Make sure to stop and try some Dorilokos, popular taco-inspired bags of Doritos topped with taco meat and garnish. A great snack!
If time, check out the famous zoo in the park.
Walk to Mercado de la Merced. Be aware you will see a lot of "Red Light District" type of stuff going on, and big crowds. Stick close together and browse the many lanes of shopping. You'll see more local stuff here than souvenirs. Think socks, belts, kitchenwares, etc.
If you want to get an insider view of the market, consider taking the Merced adventure tour.
Definitely stop and try any one of the dozens of stands offering "tlacoyos", a Mexico City street food. It's basically a tostada with all sorts of meat, onions and flavors on top. YUM.
For more touristy shopping, try La Ciudadela Market for typical Mexican souvenirs. From there, walk the 15 min to Palacio de Bellas Artes. It's a beautiful building in itself, but grab the best views at the secret cafe across the street. It's inside the Sears on the top floor. Order a coffee and snap some pics! It's called Cafe Don Porfirio.
Walk back towards Zocalo taking Paseo Madero. Here you will find a pedestrian street with shops, restaurants and cafes. Walk past Templo Mayor, through Zocalo square and main palace building.
Housing the third largest pyramid in the world, Teotihuacan is an outstanding day trip, best started as soon as you wake up. 31 miles NE of Mexico City, you can take a bus or we just ponied up and took a taxi.
You do not need a tour to visit the ancient city. Just arrive at the gates and buy a ticket. Even if it is a little chilly, bring a hat, sunglasses and lots of sunblock. We were beaten by the sun the day we visited.
Enjoy the VERY large complex on foot before taking a quick walk from the pyramids over to La Gruta. Literally "cave" in Spanish, this is a great little touristy spot for outstanding cocktails and food in a cave setting. A nice and cool respite from the beating sun after a long morning of walking.
You may also want to consider taking a tour instead of a taxi or public transportation. This tour offers early access to the pyramid complex, and a pretty cool tequila tasting experience. You get to try tequila, mezcal and even pulque - the "nectar of the gods". Even cooler? This tour is led by an archaeologist!
Want something completely unforgettable? Try this hot air balloon ride over Teotihuacan.
For a night cap, uber to the Roma neighborhood to try some pulque at La Nuclear Pulqueria. This area is definitely for the hipster night life scene.
Boasting as the "best night ever", you can even catch a unique tour in Roma neighborhood where you get to enjoy tacos, tequila and mezcal with your new tour friends before catching the infamous masked Mexican wrestling called Lucha Libre. Tacos and lucha libre? Yes, please.
Head down to the Saturday market at San Angel and pair it with lunch at the legendary San Angel Inn.
Take a boat ride (trajinera) through the Floating Gardens of Xochimilco. They are a colorful and fun way to experience what locals do in Mexico City.
Not familiar with Xochimilco? You can also try it in Cancun for more of a party atmosphere, but basically it's an opportunity to get out on the water on colorful boats with a picnic or some cocktails.
Coyoacan and the Frida Kahlo museum will have long lines to plan to arrive early!
Or, don't bother planning on your own and waiting in lines. This affordable tour offers a visit to Coyoacan, Frida Kahlo museum, and Xochimilco. Seems like a no brainer to me, if you've got the time in your itinerary!