Mexico City is probably the most surprising city I’ve ever visited, and definitely the most underrated. 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. We set off to spend 3 days in Mexico City, but we left wishing we had stayed much longer.

Things to do in Mexico City - Paseo de Reforma

The reality of Mexico City

Perhaps it was because I had low expectations, but Mexico City was a pleasant surprise. In fact, in my opinion, 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.

 

Is Mexico City safe for travel?

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. Still, it is probably the question we get asked the most about Mexico City. As with anywhere else you travel, just don’t let your guard down and trust your gut instinct and you should be fine. For us, we were comfortable taking our toddler to Mexico City, and never felt unsafe during our stay.
Mexico City with kids - Palacio de Belles Artes

3 days in Mexico City: Itinerary and where to stay

There is a lot you can see and do if you have 3 days in Mexico City because many of the popular attractions are in a short distance from each other.
We stayed at Barcelo Mexico Reforma on the beautiful tree-lined street of Paseo de la Reforma. The hotel was beautiful, ideally located, and had a wonderful restaurant located at the street level. This hotel makes for a perfect base for exploring the historic center and the downtown area.
Here is our recommended Mexico City itinerary:

Day 1

Stroll through Alameda Central Park
Palacio de Bellas Artes
Mid-morning coffee with a view (find out where below)
Metropolitan Cathedral
Templo Mayor
Zócalo
Dinner at Sonora Grill at hotel

Day 2

Stroll down Paseo de Reforma
Angel of Independence
National Museum of Anthropology
Chapultepec Castle

 Day 3

Monument of the Revolution
Explore Historic Old Town
Eat your weight in street food
El Moro Churros

 

Top 10 things to do in Mexico City in 3 days

Staying along Paseo de Reforma, we were only a short walk from the historic center of Mexico City, where you’ll find several sights you will 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

What to do in Mexico City - Mexico City itineraryIn 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

3 days in Mexico City itineraryIn 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

Mexico City street art in Historic Old TownStrolling 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

What to do in Mexico City - Angel of IndependenceWhile 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.

Monument of the Revolution

Things to do in Mexico City in 3 days - Monument of the RevolutionJust 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.

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

Palacio de Belles Artes - Mexico City 3 day itineraryPalacio 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.

Eat street food

Things to do in Mexico City - eat street foodWhile 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!

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.What to do in Mexico City - eat churros
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.

Other things to do if you have more than 3 days 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 spending just 3 days in Mexico City, you probably won’t have time to see or do much more than the things listed above. However, if you plan to spend a couple of weeks in Mexico City, you’ll find even more great ideas of things to do here.
Finally, here are a few other tourist sites to consider if staying longer.

Teotihuacan

This well-known ancient city is home to one of the largest pyramids in the world and sits right outside of Mexico City. A day trip to Teotihuacan is definitely worth doing!

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. You can definitely fit this into a full 3 day itinerary for Mexico City. However, we stayed longer at some of the other attractions, and did not have time to visit during our stay. It offers some of the best views of Mexico City though.

Why Mexico City is the most underrated city in the world

Since returning home, I’ve actively been looking for airfare deals to go back to Mexico City. This trip 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. Surprisingly though, we did not meet or see even one other person from the United States while in Mexico City. Considering its close proximity and the number of tourist attractions we visited while there, you would think we would have met at least one other US resident. But I truly believe, most people from the US simply overlook Mexico City. So if you’ve considered visiting, don’t let the misconceptions and the dangerous perceptions of Mexico City keep you away. And give yourself at least 3 days in Mexico City, if not more!
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Have you ever been to Mexico City, or do you have a question or comment about things to do in Mexico City? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

26 thoughts on “3 days in Mexico City: Itinerary + Top 10 things to do”

  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 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.

  4. 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 😀

  5. 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? 🙂

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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…

  9. 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.

  10. 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?

  11. 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!

  12. 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!

  13. I moved recently to Mexico City because of my husband’s work and can only reassure that it is one of the most captivating cities in the world! The unique puzzle of complitely different atmosphere and character of it’s neighborhoods makes it amasing and truly interesting. San Angel is another incredible part of the city. A real old Mexican pueblito. ….after having lived in Rome, Bangkok, Dubai, Milan and Frankfurt – I can only say, that I love it and find it incredibly fascinating.

  14. Mexico is somewhere I keep putting off visiting because of safety issues and traveling with the kids, but you’ve definitely reassured me – and Mexico City looks amazing! I had no idea there were so many amazing (and child-friendly) things to do there. I’m definitely going to do some research, we might have to book a trip!

    1. Mexico has a bad reputation, but it is truly one of my favorite countries. Most of the safety issues are all along the border and drug related. If you avoid those areas of Mexico, and you aren’t into the drug scene 😉 then Mexico is a great place to visit!

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