Visiting Mexico City for the 1st Time? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

Visiting Mexico City for the 1st Time? Here’s Everything You Need to Know

I don’t know about you, but Mexico City was always a dream destination for me. When I finally visited, it met all my expectations and more, so I’m so excited that you’re going to get the opportunity to experience it soon too! Mexico City’s history and culture, abundance of parks and green spaces, and the food — I could go on and on about the food — made it one of my all-time places I’ve visited, and I’m pretty sure that you’ll feel the same. 

Read on for all the tips you need to make your first time in Mexico City a success!

And if you’re thinking of visiting other cities in Mexico while you’re there, you’ll want to check out this 3-week Mexico itinerary. It includes Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca City, Puebla and Cholula, as well as Mexico City.

Disclosure: Some of the included links may be affiliate links, meaning that at no cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. I recommend only products and companies I trust and have used. Thanks for your support!

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What To Know About Mexico City Before You Go

How many days is enough in Mexico City?

If possible, you’ll want to spend at least four or so days here, so you have time to take in most of the amazing sites, explore the many unique neighborhoods, and eat some of the world’s best food, while going at a somewhat relaxed pace. I definitely wouldn’t spend less than three days here for your first time in Mexico City, especially if one of those days falls on a Monday, when most museums are closed. And on the other hand, if you really want to enjoy Mexico City at its fullest, you could easily spend a week or more here.

What’s the weather in Mexico City?

Mexico City is fairly temperate weather-wise. It’s usually in the upper 80s in the summer, and low 70s in the winter, dropping into lower temperatures at night.

No matter when you travel, it’s not a bad idea to pack layers, as it can get chilly during the evenings, as well as an umbrella — Mexico’s rainy season is from May through September.

Keep in mind that Mexico City also has a fairly high elevation of around 7,349 feet above sea level. Between this and air pollution, you may experience some symptoms like light-headedness or nose bleeds for a couple days while you acclimate. You may very well not experience any symptoms, but plan to take the first couple days on the easier side just in case, and be sure to stay hydrated. 

What’s the currency?

At the time of writing (April 2024), 1 USD is 16.62 Mexican pesos. Although many places will accept credit cards, some places, especially street vendors, will be cash only, or will charge an additional fee to use your card, so you’ll want to have cash on hand. 

How do you get around Mexico City?

Ubers are relatively inexpensive and are very accessible. However, keep in mind that traffic here can be rough, so make sure you factor that in with your timing. As far as public transportation, there are both buses and the Metro, which are highly accessible. The Tarjeta de Movilidad Integrada (Integrated Mobility Card) is M$15 ($0.88 USD) and will allow you to easily access buses, trains, cable cars, and bikes. Get more information here.

Best Things to Do in Mexico City

Mexico City is so many things. A cultural and culinary destination. A giant city full of parks and tons of green space. A haven for architecture and history buffs. You could easily fill up your time if you decided to spend weeks here. In fact, just writing this post has me already plotting my next visit. 

With that said, here are some top destinations to visit and things to do on your first visit.

A quick reminder that most museums are closed on Mondays!

Coyoacán

Let’s start off with my personal favorite destination in Mexico City, Frida Kahlo’s House, “Casa Azul.” This beautiful museum, located in the Coyoacán neighborhood, was the former home of legendary artist Frida Kahlo, and for some time, for her husband Diego Rivera as well. This home is full of artifacts, clothing, furniture, personal items, and of course, art. Frida Kahlo is such an iconic figure in Mexican culture and abroad as well, and getting a glimpse into her life is worth the visit. Plus, the home and garden is absolutely gorgeous. When I visited, there was also a special exhibit dedicated specifically to her clothing. It dove more into her identity, which was really interesting.

Admission is $320 Mexican pesos, which is $19.45 USD.

Museu Nacional de las Culturas Populares

Also in Coyoacán is the Museum of Popular Culture. This is a relatively small museum with a number of interesting exhibits covering different aspects of Mexican culture. It’s $15 Mexican pesos to enter, which is just under $1 USD.  

Mercado de Coyoacán and Parque Allende 

While in Coyoacán, stop by Parque Allende. This little park feels extra special on weekends, when you can find local artists selling their work. It’s a great place to pick up a piece of art either as a gift or for yourself. 

Across the street is also the Mercado de Coyoacán, a colorful market filled to the brim with everything from food, textiles, gifts, flowers, and more. Stop by for lunch and just take some time wandering through the stalls. It’s been serving the local community since 1921, although it was initially in a different location.

A wall of art in a park

Polanco 

Chapultepec Park 

This park in the Polanco neighborhood is absolutely massive. Seriously, I may have gotten slightly lost. With that said, it’s completely worth visiting (just don’t be like me and screenshot a map first). Not only is it beautiful, but you could easily spend the day just here, as it’s also home to a number of interesting museums and other activities. 

Some highlights include the Museo Nacional de Antropología, or the Museum of Anthropology, which is the most visited museum in Mexico, according to the Mexico City government website. It’s home to over 20 permanent exhibits about Indigenous cultures, and is full of fascinating artifacts and artwork. Admission is 95 Mexican pesos, or $5.63 USD.

Another well-known spot within Chapultepec are The Natural History Museum. You could easy spend an hour or two in the museum — it’s 95 pesos to enter, or $5.79 USD. Purchase your tickets either in-person or online here

Oh, and did I mention it’s also located in a castle? 

That’s right. Known as the Castillo de Chapultepec, the castle served many purposes over the centuries since construction began in the 1780s — it was once a military academy, an imperial and presidential residence, an observatory, and then from 1939 on, the history museum. Its location is also particularly significant, as it was a sacred spot for the Aztecs.

I know I’ve already mentioned that Mexico City is an amazing place for parks, but it’s worth saying again. Maybe I’m just jaded after living in the LA area for several years now, but I was seriously impressed by the abundance of green space for such a giant city. 

Condesa, Roma Norte

Parque Mexico, located near the beautiful Condesa neighborhood, was another spot that wowed me. Full of tropical greenery, fountains, a pond, and lots of places to sit and people watch, this park feels clean, safe, and like the perfect place to wander through or just recharge for a bit. 

Speaking of Condesa, definitely spend some time here and in the next neighborhood over, Roma Norte. Both neighborhoods are charming, artsy, and full of gorgeous architecture and interesting cafes, restaurants, and boutiques. 

Centro

Now heading into another main neighborhood in Mexico City is Centro. 

Although you’ll find beautiful architecture throughout Mexico City, one of the most stunning buildings is here. 

The Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts) is a gorgeous cultural center and art museum initially built in the early 20th century. This UNESCO-recognized museum is decorated with murals by some of Mexico’s most iconic artists. It also hosts regular Ballet Folklórico de México, opera, and orchestra performances. Admission is 75 pesos, or $4.50 USD from Tuesdays through Saturdays, or visit on a Sunday for free.

For a look at Mexico City from above, visit Torre Latinoamericana. This 545-foot-high Downtown skyscraper is no longer the tallest building in Mexico City, but it was the first major skyscraper in the world to be built on a highly active seismic zone. Regardless, it’s the best place to get an amazing panoramic view of the city. Prices can vary, but last I checked it was 200 pesos, or $12.20 USD to go to the top. There’s a little cafe where you can sit and enjoy the view as well. 

La Ciudadela in Centro is the spot to shop for souvenirs. Since opening during the 1968 Olympics, this artisan market has sold arts and crafts items from throughout Mexico. Textiles, sculptures, dishes and glassware, mirrors, and more, are just some of the items you can find here. 

Zócalo

This large public square in Mexico City’s historic downtown is full of gorgeous buildings, vendors, restaurants and more, and has been the site of numerous parades, performances, and demonstrations throughout history. 

This is also where you can visit Templo Mayor. This ancient Aztec temple, dedicated to Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, and Tlaloc, the god of rain and agriculture was located in Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec empire. Admission to both the archeological site and on-site museum is 95 pesos or $5.79 USD. There is no entry fee on Sundays. 

Where to stay in Mexico City for your first time

The historic downtown area, right near the famous Zócalo, is a great place to stay in Mexico City, especially for your first time. 

Selina Mexico City Downtown is beautiful, has an onsite restaurant, and is in a very central location close to other food options and sightseeing. Get more information and book here.

Massiosare El Hostel is an even more affordable option that I also stayed in. Also in the Downtown area, a downside is that it’s on the 4th floor for a historic building (definitely a pain when you have a suitcase to lug up and down) but worked for a couple nights. Get more information here.

Condesa and Roma Norte are also really popular neighborhoods for tourists to stay in. They’re beautiful, walkable, and considered to be safe. 

Condesa Cibel is a beautiful, highly-rated boutique-style hotel. 

Casa Lalique is another affordable, highly-rated option in a great location.

What to eat and drink

As we talked about earlier, Mexico City is the ultimate foodie destination (I hate using the word “foodie” but I’ll excuse myself this time). 

While what to eat and drink in Mexico could definitely be its own post (stay tuned for that), here’s a list to get you started. These are all very common foods that will be easy to find throughout the city, perfect for your first time in this culinary destination.

Tacos aren’t the most underrated food item, I know. But it’s safe to say that tacos in Mexico City are on a whole other level compared to what we usually experience in the US. Whether you opt for a sit-down restaurant, or from a street vendor, you won’t be disappointed. Al pastor (marinated pork) and asada (grilled steak), are particularly popular.

Churros with chocolate or caramel are a dessert I typically overlook when I’m at home, but are the perfect sweet snack in Mexico City. Lightly coated in sugar and cinnamon, they’re even better when served with a hot chocolate to drink.

Tlayudas are a traditional Oaxacan food consisting of a large crispy tortilla filled with meat, cheese, beans and other toppings. They’re sometimes compared to a pizza, but in my opinion, they’re closer to quesadillas.

Chicharrones, seasoned and fried pig skin, are typically eaten on their own with a spicy salsa or wrapped in tortilla. 

Chilaquiles are a popular breakfast food consisting of fried tortilla chips topped with salsa and eggs. They’re also delicious when served on a large roll as a torta. 

Also hailing from Oaxaca and Puebla is mole, which is a sauce frequently paired with chicken or fish. However, mole doesn’t mean just one thing, and it can be made with a number of different ingredients and flavor combinations. Mole negro is probably the most common, and famously contains chocolate as well as chiles and other seasonings. 

(By the way, if you’re thinking of visiting Oaxaca, check out this Oaxaca City guide filled with all the best things to do — and eat and drink — there.)

Horchata is made with rice milk and cinnamon. Traditionally, it’s dairy-free, and so delicious. It’s both soothing and refreshing, and one of my favorite drinks to order.

Agua de Jamaica is a hibiscus tea. It’s sweet without being too sweet, has a bit of tartness, and is super easy to find. 

Micheladas are a classic cocktail somewhat similar to Bloody Marys, except it swaps vodka for beer and uses its own blend of spices and seasonings, typically including Clamato (clam juice) and hot sauce. To be totally honest, this one isn’t really my cup of tea (I’m not a Bloody Mary fan either), but these are suuuper popular and worth a try if you haven’t had one before!     

Other important tips

You will want to avoid drinking the tap water here. Make sure all water comes from a sealed bottle, and be careful about ice, or any fresh produce that could’ve been washed in water. You’ll even want to use a water bottle to rinse your toothbrush. Make sure to pack some probiotics and other medicines in case you end up with traveler’s sickness. (Check out this guide with other travel must-haves to add to your packing list!)

Mexico uses the same plugs as in the US, so you won’t need any international adapters to charge your electronics, luckily.

Your phone may even work normally without getting a new SIM card, depending on your phone provider and plan. But be sure to confirm this before you leave. If not, getting an eSIM through Airalo is easy and affordable. 

Is Mexico City safe?

Safety is an issue that typically arises when people talk about Mexico. While feelings of safety can certainly be subjective, to be honest, despite considering myself a relatively anxious person, I felt completely safe when I was there.

It is a major city, so like anywhere, you’ll want to take basic precautions like being aware of your surroundings, not wandering alone at night, and not having all your money with you when you go out for the day. 

While there are some areas you’ll want to be more cautious, these aren’t any touristy areas where you’d likely be going on your first trip, anyway. Check out this safety guide with more advice.

xoxo, Tess

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8 Comments

  1. Marilyn
    April 20, 2024 / 11:38 pm

    I haven’t visited Mexico in ages, but would love to. These are very helpful tips, especially for people who want to experience the culture and explore. Thanks!

    • Tess
      Author
      April 21, 2024 / 1:28 am

      Thanks so much for reading! I hope you get to go back to Mexico soon 🙂

  2. April 21, 2024 / 3:36 am

    I’m so happy you had a fantastic first visit to Mexico City!

    • Tess
      Author
      April 23, 2024 / 2:32 am

      Thanks so much, Susye 🙂

  3. May 11, 2024 / 6:45 pm

    Love your MExico posts! I really would love to visit Mexico, and I would try to start in Mexico City, because of modernist architecture but feel slightly intimidated as it’s a big city. Your posts will really help with planning.

    • Tess
      Author
      May 11, 2024 / 7:03 pm

      Thanks so much, Anja! Mexico City has such amazing architecture! I totally get feeling intimidated — luckily it’s super tourist-friendly and isn’t too difficult to navigate. I’m sure you’ll love it 🙂

  4. May 12, 2024 / 5:04 am

    One of my friends visited Mexico City (I’ve never been), and he raved about the Vegan food and loved his trip. Looks like a vibrant city with amazing historic architecture, vibrant colors, delicious cuisine, and I love how you mentioned safety.

    • Tess
      Author
      May 12, 2024 / 7:28 pm

      I feel like everyone I know who’s been has loved it!! it’s definitely one of my favorite places I’ve visited 🙂

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