Whilst a few years ago most people would simply pass through Mexico City on the way to the beaches of the Yucatan Peninsula or the colonial cities of San Miguel de Allende and Oaxaca, visiting Mexico City has now become more and more popular and the city has been gaining the kind of tourist numbers and international reputation that it rightfully deserves. There are an incredible number of things to do in Mexico City; it’s culinary scene (and particularly for vegan food) is very much on the up, and rumour has it that there are 365 museums in Mexico City – enough for a different one every day for a whole year.
As the seventh biggest city in the world, figuring out what to see and do in Mexico City in three days can therefore be a bit of a challenge. And that’s before you even begin to consider the number of day trips from Mexico City that are possible!
To help you navigate this amazing sprawling city, here is my guide to how to spend three days in Mexico City, which includes my favourite places to visit in Mexico City, and the best things to do, visit and see during a short trip to Mexico City.
Day 1 – Centro
Enjoy an Authentic Mexican Breakfast at Mercado San Juan
Start the day at Mercado San Juan on the edge of the Centro. Browse the speciality food stalls and then pull up a stool at one of the many fondas for a breakfast plate of chilaquiles verdes with frijoles, washed down with a freshly made aqua fresca.
Begin at the Centre of Everything at The Zocalo
After enjoying your bargain breakfast, and no doubt partaking in some of the best people watching in the city, head north east for a 20 minute walk to the main square – the Zocalo – which has been at the very centre of the city since pre-Hispanic times.
On any given day there’s usually something going on at the Zocalo, either some kind of celebration or protest, or a procession marking a religious holiday or Saint’s day. It’s not the most picturesque of settings, but an excellent way to start your orientation of this amazing city.
On the north west corner of the Zocalo, past the Catedral Metropolitana, you can see what’s left of the Templo Mayor which formed the centre of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. The ruins themselves are a little strange, completely hemmed in on all sides by the modern city, but there’s a whole lot going on around here, including traditional mayan cleansing ceremonies and a daily market for tourist nicknacks and souvenirs.
Join a Free Walking Tour of CDMX
The best way to see the city (which is big and sprawling) is via a walking tour from someone who knows a lot more about CDMX than me. We joined a free tour from Estacion Mexico, which leaves from outside the Catedral twice a day, every day. The tour takes around three hours, and includes the key city sights, including La Catedral, Templo Mayor, Iglesia de Santo Domingo, Palacio de Bellas Artes and Chinatown.
It’s incredibly comprehensive, with loads of information about the history of the city thrown in, and our guide was incredibly knowledgeable and friendly. It’s a great way to cover a huge amount of ground in a relatively short period of time, though please be aware that whilst it’s technically a free tour, it’s good etiquette to tip your guide if you enjoyed the walk!
See Diego Rivera’s Famous Murals at the Palacio Nacional
At the end of the walking tour, head back to the Zocalo and make a beeline for the Palacio Nacional, which has been the home to the rulers of Mexico since Aztec times.
A warning that you will need ID to enter the Palacio Nacional. One per party will do, so be prepared.
The large complex is beautiful, and it’s a lovely place to just spend some time strolling and exploring. There’s a good little museum about the life of Benito Juarez, but the star attraction here is the spectacular murals by Diego Rivera telling the history of Mexico.
These murals, commissioned by a government intent on redefining a sense of national identify, are spectacular. The climax is undoubtedly a large triptych on the main staircase which shows pre-Hispanic Mexico, the arrival of the Conquistadors, and the ongoing conflicts but, ultimately, hope, of the 20th century. Be sure to spend some time exploring the smaller murals on the second storey too which show pre-hispanic culture.
Try (and Love!) Pulque
By now you’re tired because it’s been a long day, so head to Pulqueria Las Duelistas for some much needed refreshment. Here you’ll find nothing but pulque, a pre-hispanic fermented drink made from agave sap. It has a slightly sour and funky taste, a bit yoghurt-y (though it’s entirely vegan), though thankfully comes in a variety of delicious flavours to help mask the taste of “blanco”, or plain, pulque, which really should be avoided unless you’re very adventurous. Las Duelistas is a bit of an icon in the city and a very uniquely CDMX experience, so make sure you find time to visit!
Dine & Drink the Night Away with the Hipsters in La Condesa
For dinner, and evening entertainments, I’d recommend a trip to the neighbourhood of La Condesa, a relatively calm and hip district to the west of the centre. Los Loosers, just on the northern edge of the district, is a world class vegan eatery that serves a terrifyingly large selection of mexican/korean fusion dishes. Everything here is delicious, the staff are friendly, and it’s achingly cool, so you can feel like you’ve found the hottest spot in the city. It’s always full, and doesn’t take reservations, so be prepared to wait outside for a table. Once replenished, hit the bars of Condesa – Pata Negra, Baltra and La Clandestina are personal faves.
Day 2 – Roma & Museums
Enjoy a Delicious Vegan Breakfast at Pan Comido
Rise as early as you can (depending on how much mezcal you drank the night before) and head to Pan Comido in Roma for a hearty breakfast. This incredibly cute stop serves up insanely affordable vegan and vegetarian versions of traditional Mexican classics, alongside great coffee and fresh juices.
Stroll through the Roma District
Take some time to explore the Roma district on foot. Beautiful shops and buildings line the streets, particularly around Colima, Amsterdam and Avenida Alvaro Obregon and you can easily spend a few hours strolling, and enjoying the occasional stop at cafes such as Cafe de Raiz, Dosis Cafe or Casa Cardinal or at Helado Obscuro for vegan ice cream or a paleta (ice lolly).
Shop for Souvenirs at the Roma Antiques Market
Head east to Jardin Dr Ignacio Chavez for the Roma Antiques Market which is open all day every Saturday and Sunday. There’s a mix here of junk alongside some really good finds, and it’s a great place to pick up a unique souvenir of your trip.
Explore Mexican Mercados
At the south and western edges of Roma you’ll find two contrasting versions of the Mexican Mercado. On Campeche, near the busy Avenida Insurgentes Sur, you’ll find the sprawling Mercado Medellin, my favourite market in the whole city. Aside from being huge, Medellin also sells pretty much anything you could ever need, including a good selection of imported foods and goods. It’s particularly fun to visit close to national festivals such as Dia de Muertos or Independence Day to find the stalls selling an amazing array of festive goods and decorations. If you’re self catering, then markets in Mexico are the best place to buy cheap and fresh produce, though beware of the inevitable tourist premium. Ask prices before you touch anything and don’t be afraid to walk away if you feel uncomfortable!
A few blocks north from Medellin is the modern hipster equivalent – Mercado Roma. This modern reinterpretation of the Mercado is basically a fancy food court and bar, with a few produce shops scattered around the edges. It’s a nice place to chill for a while, enjoy some artisan Mexican beer from Paradigma or get woozy on Mezcal from Finca Robles.
Have Vegan Tacos to Die for at Por Siempre
For the best vegan food in the city, skip on the offerings at Mercado Roma and make a beeline for Por Siempre Vegana Taqueria on Manzanillo, just south of the junction with Avenida Insurgentes. This food truck serves up the kind of delicious vegan tacos that I dream about, for between 15 and 20 pesos each. Here you can try pastor, chimichurri, chicharron, chorizo, and all those other Mexican taco staples you see for sale on every street corner across the city, all free from animal products. It’s amazing. If you have time for just one meal in CDMX, make it at Por Siempre.
Get Your Fix of CDMX Museums at Museo Dolores Olmedo
If you’re still raring for more, spend some of your time in the afternoon exploring one of the many museums in the city. Rumour has it that there are 365 museums in Mexico City, that’s enough for one per day for a whole year, so guaranteed there’s at least one here that will pique your interest.
Most tourists head south to Coyoacan to the Frida Kahlo Museum (be sure to book tickets in advance if you want to go!) but my favourite museum in the city is the Museo Dolores Olmedo, located on the southern edges of the city, easily reachable by Uber or Taxi. The museum is located in the former home of Dolores Olmedo, a businesswoman, philanthropist and musician, and close friend to Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. In the 1990s she converted her home to a museum, showing her personal collection of pre-Hispanic and modern Mexican art, and it hosts the greatest collection of works by Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in the world.
Each year, around the festival of Dia de Muertos, the museum also famously hosts a spectacular offrenda, with an accompanying themed exhibition. When we visited, the theme was death rituals from around the world, each one reenacted by an array of cartoonish papier mache skeletons. There’s also a pack of Xoloitzcuintli dogs that live on site, and pre-hispanic cultures are regularly celebrated through temporary exhibitions and markets.
Day 3 – Teotihuacan
As one of the biggest cities in the world, Mexico City can be a little overwhelming. Coupled with that is the fact that the greater Mexico region is jam packed full of amazing things to see and do, so it’s a bit of a no-brainer that you should try and find time for a day trip during your stay.
Teotihuacan is one of the most important pre-hispanic settlements in Mexico, dating back to around 200 BCE. At its peak, around 500 CE, the city is estimated to have covered around 11 1/2 square miles and housed 200,000 people. Now all that’s left is the central portion of the city, including the Avenue of the Dead, lined by small structures, and the immense Pyramid of the Sun and the smaller Pyramid of the Moon. There’s also a great museum and some smaller domestic scale areas with preserved frescos around the site.
Getting to Teotihuacan
Getting to Teotihuacan is pretty easy. Coaches leave pretty regularly from Terminal Central de Autobuses de Norte, on the northern edge of CDMX, easily accessible on the metro network. At the terminal head to the far left as you enter and you’ll see a kiosk with an “Autobuses Teotihuacan” sign and probably a decent queue of tourists. Pick up your ticket here, which will be for a specific departure time, and your return ticket will be open (redondo abierto). Head to your left again and out to the departure gates; your bus will leave at platform 6 or close by and will say “Piramides” on the front. If you’re not sure, show your ticket to the driver and they’ll let you know if you’re in the right place!
The journey to Teotihuacan takes about an hour and it’s a pretty nice ride. The coaches are comfy and there are some lovely views of the edges of the city. The coach will drop you just outside the entrance to the site, from where it’s a short walk, past the ticket office, to the Pyramid of the Sun.
Tips for Exploring Teotihuacan
Some top tips for exploring the site: it gets hot, so arrive as early as you can, bring a hat, sunscreen and plenty of water. There are some kiosks inside the site, as well as just outside on the road, but prices are inflated here and food options in particular are limited, so if you have dietary requirements like us then best to bring a pack up. Plan to spend a good few hours at the site, probably as long as you can bear; we managed around 4 hours but didn’t get to see everything before the heat and our sore feet finally got to us.
Once you’ve exhausted either the site or your bodies, heading back to CDMX is pretty straight forward. Head back out to the ticket booth, the same way you came in and turn immediately right. Across the road from you is a bus stop, and every 20 mins or so a bus back to the city will appear.
Getting Around Mexico City
Mexico City is a big, sprawling metropolis, and it’s virtually impossible to visit all of the attractions and top things to see in Mexico City on foot and without using some form of public transportation.
It’s incredibly easy to get a taxi in the city, and though we heard rumours about kidnappings and muggings, I have a feeling this is a bit of an urban legend. However if you’re at all worried about your safety then it’s pretty easy to use Uber around the city, and it’s usually a little cheaper than the regular taxis too.
The cheapest way to get around is via the city’s excellent public transport system, which includes buses (Metrobus), trams (Tren Ligero) and a metro system. The network can get pretty busy, especially at rush hour or during festivals, and big disruptions are not uncommon, but for the price and the opportunity to experience CDMX properly, it’s absolutely worth figuring out. Thankfully full journey planning info is available on the Citymapper app. Furthermore, all metro trains have at least 2 women-only carriages at the front of each train, which I would recommend using, not least because they’re usually a lot less busy than the rest of the train. Signs and barriers on platforms will direct you to the right place.
For the metro you can purchase single tickets on a “per ride” basis, but for the Metrobus and Tren Ligero you need to buy and top up a fare card, which is available from machines at pretty much every station. It’s worth mentioning that ticket queues can be pretty huge so for the 10 pesos it costs to buy the card, the queue jumping benefits make it well worth it. Fares are 5 pesos for the metro, 6 pesos for the Metrobus and only 3 pesos for the Tren Ligero, so it’s an incredibly cheap way to navigate the city.
Getting to Mexico City from Benito Juarez International Airport
Mexico City’s international airport is located on the north eastern edge of the city. Most International flights arrive and leave from Terminal 2, but bizarrely enough there’s only a metro station at Terminal 1. There’s no direct link between the two terminals for arriving passengers, so you’ll need to get a public bus to travel between the two. Alternatively, the Metrobus #4 leaves from outside both terminals and stops at the Terminal San Lazaro, where you can change to one of many other buses and metros to take you across the city.
Where to Stay in Mexico City
The most tourist friendly parts of the city are located in the south and western parts, in the neighbourhoods of La Condesa, Roma & Chapultepec. The artsy & residential district of Coyoacan, famous for being the home of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, is also a good option if you want something a little quieter, though be prepared for a longer trek to the main sights.
We stayed in an AirBnB in Roma Norte, and loved the location. The area has plenty of bars, a good smattering of vegan restaurants and some excellent shops and boutiques. In hindsight, the vegan food offerings are so good in CDMX that a kitchen is absolutely not necessary, and we rarely used it, so we would happily book into a hostel for our next visit.
Though it’s a bustling huge megapolis, which can easily feel overwhelming, Mexico City is nonetheless a cosmopolitan and incredibly exciting modern city, with centuries of culture and history at its heart. I hope that you are inspired to plan a visit, and that you enjoy spending time there as much as I do!