Mexico City is probably the most surprising city I’ve ever visited. Gearing up for our trip, I didn’t get that pre-trip excitement. I wasn’t feeling giddy about going somewhere new. In fact, the day of our flight, I woke up almost dreading the trip. Truthfully, I expected to hate Mexico City. Everything I’ve ever heard about Mexico City was negative. I had heard it was a dirty, smog-filled, over-populated, crime-ridden place. It’s a common perception in the United States. We were actually visiting to prove that perception wrong, but a part of me feared we would prove it right.

The reality of Mexico City

Perhaps it was because I had low expectations, but Mexico City was a pleasant surprise. In fact, I would argue Mexico City is better than Paris. It’s beautiful, full of culture, has hundreds of museums, the food can’t be beat, and the people are friendly and welcoming. Additionally, it is also significantly less expensive than Paris. While I’m sure there are parts of Mexico City that are not safe for tourists, the same is true for parts of New York City, Los Angeles, and other major cities in the United States.

What to do in Mexico City

We stayed near the historic center of Mexico City, so we were in walking distance to a lot of the sights you would want to visit on a short trip. Here is a look at the top ten things to do in the culture capital of Latin America.

Metropolitan Cathedral

Parenthood and Passports - What to do in Mexico CityIn the center of the city is the beautiful Metropolitan Cathedral. It is the largest church in the Americas. The cathedral is free to enter and just as stunning as some of the famous European churches. Attached is a tabernacle which is used as a baptistry. The church bells toll every hour. Our daughter, Avery, was positively gleeful watching the bells toll. This was one of her favorite things on our last Europe trip, too.

Zócalo

Parenthood and Passports - What to do in Mexico CityIn front of the cathedral is the large open plaza Zócalo. It is giant and often used for large festivals and events. It is also a popular spot for protests, as we witnessed while we were there. Although half of the plaza was closed off during our visit, when it is fully open, roughly 100,000 people can fit in Zócalo. By far, it is the largest plaza in the Americas, as well.

Templo Mayor

The Metropolitan Cathedral was erected right where an ancient Aztec temple once stood, so literally right in the heart of this major city you will find ancient ruins and pyramids. In addition to visiting the ruins, there is a museum you can tour filled with artifacts found at the site.

Historic old town

Parenthood and Passports - What to do in Mexico CityStrolling through the historic center of Mexico City was one of my favorite activities. Vibrant street art and murals, shops, and markets make for a fun and exciting atmosphere. Besides just taking it all in, there is no particular attraction. It’s just a cool part of town with awesome vibes.

Paseo de la Reforma

Parenthood and Passports - What to do in Mexico CityWhile we were in Mexico City, we stayed in a hotel along Paseo de la Reforma. It is a wide avenue lined with tall trees. You will find several unique sculptures, monuments, and fountains in this modern area of the city. There are also some great restaurants that offer a fine dining experience. One of the most famous monuments along Reforma is the Angel of Independence. The tall column with an angel on top towers above the street in the middle of a busy roundabout. It is dedicated to the Mexican War of Independence.Parenthood and Passports - What to do in Mexico City

Monument of the Revolution

Just off of Reforma you’ll find another monument that shouldn’t be missed. The Monument of the Revolution is a large four pillar monument dedicated to the Mexican Revolution. Remains from several important heroes of the Revolution are buried and memorialized there. Parenthood and Passports - What to do in Mexico City

National museum of anthropology

There are more than 250 museums in Mexico City. Of those, the National Museum of Anthropology is the largest and most visited of all of them. It is an enormous collection of artifacts from Mexico’s rich Aztec history and the colonization of Mexico. It is about a two mile walk directly down Paseo de la Reforma. When planning your itinerary, keep in mind that all museums are closed on Mondays.

Palacio de Bellas Artes

Parenthood and Passports - What to do in Mexico CityPalacio de Bellas Artes is one of the most iconic buildings in Mexico City. The opulent neoclassical building hosts theatrical performances, operas, and art exhibitions. The dome roof is my favorite part of the building. It is colorful and seems to shimmer when the sun hits it. We went to the top floor of the Sears building across the street where we were able to get an amazing birds-eye-view of Palacio de Bellas Artes. On the sixth floor, there is a small coffee house where you can sit out on a terrace and enjoy the picture-perfect view.Parenthood and Passports - What to do in Mexico City

Eat street food

While we enjoyed one night of fine dining on Paseo de la Reforma, we also made sure to taste the delicious street food. Mexico City has some of the best street food in the world. Tamale carts, street tacos, sweet corn with lime juice and chili powder. It’s not only fantastic, but it will be definitely keep you on budget. Street tacos for a dollar, sweet corn for .80¢. You can eat inexpensively and enjoy every bite! Parenthood and Passports - What to do in Mexico City

El Moro Churros

While we are on the topic of food do not go to Mexico City and skip churros. If you’ve never tried a churro, it is a popular Mexican dessert. It is cylinder-shaped pastry, deep fried and covered in cinnamon and sugar. It is crunchy on the outside and soft and doughy on the inside. Churros are often served with melted chocolate, caramel, or other dipping sauces.
While you can buy churros from a street vendor or churros cart, I particularly enjoyed our experience at El Moro Churreria. Just a few blocks from Palacio de Bellas Artes, this small churreria is inexpensive and the staff are extremely friendly. The churros are the best I’ve ever tasted! You get 4 for approximately $2. Although we shared an order, I wished I would have splurged for my own order. One person can definitely eat all four. And don’t worry about a fork. This dessert is best eaten by hand. Parenthood and Passports - What to do in Mexico City

Other things to do in Mexico City

While all of these attractions are within walking distance of each other, there are other areas of the city that will require taking a taxi or public transportation. If just visiting Mexico City for a few days, you probably won’t have time to see or do much more than the things listed above.
However, a few other sites to consider if staying longer.

Teltihuacan

This well-known ancient city is one of the largest pyramids in the world and sits right outside of Mexico City.

Coyoacán and Frida Khalo museum

Take a boat ride through the waterways of Xochimilco and discover the colonial beauty of the artsy community of Coyoacán. Visit the Frida Khalo museum and learn more about this fascinating female leader.

Chapultepec Castle

This is near the Museum of Anthropology, however, we did not have time to visit this popular attraction during our stay. It offers some of the best views of Mexico City.
Since returning home, I’ve actively been looking for airfare deals to go back. This trip to Mexico changed my perspective on a lot of things. Perhaps most importantly, it taught me not to believe everything you hear about a place. There is so much to see and do in Mexico City, and it’s just a short flight from the United States. If you’ve considered visiting, don’t let the misconceptions and the dangerous perceptions of Mexico City keep you away.
Have you ever been to Mexico City? Leave us a comment and let us know your thoughts!Parenthood and Passports - What to do in Mexico City

21 thoughts on “Mexico City: the most overlooked city in the world”

  1. I have been to Mexico probably a dozen times and have yet to visit the city. Great tips and pics! Bookmarking for when I actually make it there!

    1. It’s so tempting to just go to the beaches in Mexico because the beaches are so incredible. I went to Mexico numerous times before finally visiting Mexico City. And now I love both parts of the country equally.

  2. I have heard so many good things about Mexico city! I am visiting beginning of November, so I will definitely save this article!

  3. I;m glad Mexico City turned out to be such an amazing experience. Oddly, I have only heard good things about it and the country.

  4. I love the historic old town and the palacio de bellas artes, these are kinds of places I like to visit. It’s more accessible for those living in the US, so far for us from here in Dubai, that’s why I’ve never actually considered it. Good post, will refer to it when I plan a trip.

  5. I couldn’t agree anymore, Mexico City is really surprising, I too like you wasn’t feeling excited about it before I arrived, I thought it would be just another city where I fly into, get my baring’s and head off to explore the rest of the country but how I was wrong. I fell in love with Mexico and that love affair started with Mexico City. So glad you guys enjoyed it too 😀

  6. Not sure I personally would’ve called it the “most overlooked city in the world.” I’ve heard a lot of great things about that city, and this post really solidifies that! Palacio de Bellas Artes looks absolutely gorgeous, and the Chapultepec Castle sounds really cool! Too bad you hadn’t had time… if only there were more hours in the day right? 🙂

  7. Glad you liked Mexico City! We are taking our toddler for his first visit in November. Chapultepec (specifically, the zoo) and Xochimilco were on my list as things I thought he’d especially like but I’m going to have to add the Palacio de Bellas Artes as well–I’ve only seen it from the street so now I want to check out your views.

  8. That’s amazing you think it’s better than Paris; though I’m not a big Paris fan, so I can believe you on this! I love the Palacio del bellas artes and all the museums there; I can’t wait to return there soon.

    1. I wasn’t the biggest Paris fan either. Perhaps I just had really high expectations of it and so it didn’t live up to what I anticipated. I guess it was the opposite with Mexico City. Since I didn’t expect to really like it, it far exceeded my expectations.

  9. I have the same apprehensions about Mexico City. Glad there a bit unfounded. Like you said, every big city has their dangerous areas but as long as I’m smart about it seems like some really cool things to visit. I wonder if anyone has made it through all the 250 museums…

  10. I had the same apprehension about Mexico City before I went last year, but absolutely fell in love with it! So much that I’m going back over Labor Day! So much to see (and eat) there that I just had to go back.

  11. I’ve only heard negative things about Mexico City too until this post! But I think that a lot of cities in Latin America get a bad rap for being dangerous, whether or not it’s actually true. It definitely looks vibrant and lively though. Which was your favourite neighbourhood in the city?

  12. I’ve never been to Mexico City but you’ve made me want to go even more! I’ve only been to Tijuana and Juarez (not glamorous places at all, ha) for volunteer trips as a kid. I’d love to go back and explore more. I love Mexico!

  13. It’s great to hear that you were pleasantly surprised by your experience in Mexico City! I’ve recently mentioned the idea of going there to my boyfriend and he seemed so uninterested. I think mostly because we don’t know too much about the city, so I’m going to have to share this with him because I am intrigued!

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