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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.
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. A travel budget for Mexico doesn’t have to break the bank.
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.
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 arrived in Mexico City after spending a few days in the beach town of Cancun. If doing the same, don’t make the common mistake of packing only warm weather clothing! Mexico City sits at a high elevation and tends to get cold. Luckily, it was somewhat warm during our 3 days in Mexico City, but you’ll want to pack appropriately and avoid these other Mexico travel mistakes, too. 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:
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.
In 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.
In 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.
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 the ancient ruins and pyramids of Templo Mayor. In addition to visiting the ruins, there is a museum you can tour filled with artifacts found at the site.
Historic Old Town
Strolling 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
While 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
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.
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 Bellas Artes is one of the most iconic buildings in Mexico City. The opulent neoclassical building hosts theatrical performances, operas, and art exhibitions. You’ll also find some of the most spectacular and famous Diego Rivera murals inside Palacio de Bellas Artes. 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
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!
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.
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.
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 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!