Distrito Federito, D.F. (pronounced Dey Ehffay), El Capital, or otherwise known as Mexico City is a city full of infinite experiences and absolute magic. This ancient city has now developed into a sprawling metroplex lined with history, culture and romance that would take more than one lifetime to explore. However, if you only had one-day, there are a few things you should be sure to experience before you return for more.
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What’s The Best Time To Visit Mexico City?
Mexico City was originally built on an island in the middle of a lake and lies in a valley, so the weather in Mexico City is great any time of year. But bring a jacket and umbrella because it gets cold at night and rains off and on throughout the day.
There are entirely too many festivals held in Mexico City that it would be impossible to list them all. But the five major ones are: Dia de los Muertos, Semana Santa, Diez y Seis, Dia de la Raza, and Dia de Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe. On these days you’re sure to be treated to parades, costumes and dancing in the streets.
a Few facts about Mexico City
Mexico City was originally the center of the Aztec Empire, one of the first civilizations. Remnants of their ancient temples used for human sacrifice can be found around the city. Mexico City is currently the second largest city in the Western Hemisphere (behind New York) and the eighth richest city in the world.
In addition, Mexico City boasts more museums than any other city on the planet. However, it is good to know that most museums are closed on Mondays, and on Sundays they are free to Mexican citizens and are extremely crowded.
One day in Mexico City itinerary
Follow this guide and make the most of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do during your one day in Mexico City.
Start your day off with breakfast in La Condesa
This area is one of the hippest and most fashionable residential neighborhoods in Mexico City. La Condesa, which means “countess”, was named after two condesas who owned the entire neighborhood. Take a stroll through the streets and admire the Art Nouveau architecture that is reminiscent of the Golden Age in Europe.
Visit Frida Kahlo’s house, Chapultepec Castle, the Zocalo OR The Museum of Anthropology
After you’ve had your fill of pastries and huevos rancheros, head on over to a museum. Now, normally museums are a bit of a bore and you can blow through them in about an hour (maybe you are dying to escape by the end of it), but museums in Mexico are completely different.
Each one tells a story, like a narrative collection within a building. In one day, you will only have the brainpower for one museum because of the loads of things you’ll learn and the hours you’ll find yourself lost in time. Depending on if you’re into history, culture, politics, art, or maybe a combination it all, you’ll need to decide on which one to go to. Here’s a list of the four most important places:
The National Museum of Anthropology is the most visited museum in Mexico and is within walking distance from La Condesa. It grew to be so large that the exhibits are now split in two places. The National Museum of Anthropology focuses on artifacts and history from the pre-Colombian era and modern day Mexican ethnography, while the National History Museum in Chapultepec Castle houses the artifacts from the conquest of Spain and modern Mexico.
Chapultepec Castle was built on the highest hill in the forest that lies in the center of the city and only a few steps away from The National Museum of Anthropology. Once used as a sacred place for the Aztecs, Chapultepec was transformed into a castle built by Mexican Emperor Maximilian I from Austria (yes, the Hapsburg Empire reached all the way to Mexico!).
Here you will not only find historical artifacts laid out in chronological order, but you will also find an immaculately preserved palace that is similar in grandeur to the ones you find in Europe, but better because it hasn’t been destroyed by two world wars.
If you’re not into anthropology and are more interested in a combination of politics and art, skip those museums and head on over to the Zocalo. This square has held the seat of government since the Aztecs and the buildings’ current materials are the original ones that belonged to Moctezuma II. You can find all of the history at Palacio Nacional.
Here is where you can tour the treasury, the parliament, but more importantly walk through a photo history of the power and conquest of Mexico painted on the walls by the famous Diego Rivera using Renaissance technique. The guides at the front will walk you through what each painting means. As you admire this grand piece of artwork, you’ll be even more impressed when you learn that all of his paints were made ancient Aztec style: from volcanic ash and natural colors from the earth.
Especially important to point out is Malinche, Hernan Cortez’s slave mistress. She was instrumental in the takedown of the Aztecs for the Spanish (although her history is controversial on whose side she was really on) and was the mother to the first mestizo (mixed Native American and Spanish) or what we consider Mexicans to this day.
But let’s say you’re not into politics at all and just want to see some Mexican art. An absolute must-see is Casa Azul: the birthplace, home, and final resting place to the legendary Frida Kahlo. This museum dubs as an art gallery showcasing an autobiography of Frida’s life through painting, furniture, and letters. You’ll see how she lived her life everyday and the pain she dealt with regarding her disability and Diego’s infidelities. She is the only female artist featured on national currency. You’ll need to catch the subway to Coyoacan to reach this museum, but it is well worth the journey.
Eat street food for lunch
By this time you’ll be starving and will want to eat. The only acceptable thing to eat for lunch in Mexico City is street food. If you don’t eat the street food in Mexico City, you’re basic. There are carts lining the street, and the most you’ll pay for an entire meal is $1.50. That would include two tacos or 5 taquitos and a Mexican coke. You won’t regret it. You can gauge how good a cart is by the amount of people standing around it.
By afternoon, you’ll want a siesta. But if you have the stamina to keep pushing through, stop over at Bellas Artes and catch the Ballet Folklorico. Although definitely better to buy tickets ahead of time, you may be able to get last minute seats to see traditional Mexican dance and music.
If you’d rather not do the ballet, you can be serenaded by mariachis in the Venice of Mexico called Xochimilco. The colorful boats floating down the canals are the perfect mix of fun and romance.
Dinner along the Paseo de la Reforma
For dinner you can choose any of the 5-star restaurants that are sprinkled throughout Mexico City and along the Paseo de la Reforma. It has become an up-and-coming magnet for food connoisseurs galore. For a cheaper option, more street food or sit in an outdoor seafood café and order micheladas until you drop in Roma or La Condesa.
By nightfall watch a Luche Libre fight
Besides its active nightlife, there is one very Mexican thing to do at night: the Luche Libre Fight. This wrestling match takes place in the Arena Mexico and consists of grown men in spandex fighting in capes and masks trying to pin each other down while bikini-clad women walk around the stage and dance around. The masks date back to the Aztecs and are used to invoke the “power of the gods.” The de-masking of an opponent is the ultimate level of defeat. In real life, it is similar to something like a circus with vendors calling out what they are selling in the middle of the aisles, and the crowd yelling things like “Midget! Midget” or “Your mom has hairy balls!” Most of the fun is in watching the fans interact with the wrestlers. Just remember they only perform on certain nights of the week, so check the box office. You can also buy tickets from scalpers outside.
Where to stay in Mexico City?
Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico
Avenida 16 de Septiembre 82, 06000 Mexico City
If you’re looking for grandeur, look no farther than Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico, a hotel built in the 1800’s, designed in Parisian Art Nouveau style. This was originally one of the first department stores in Mexico but has now been transformed into a hotel right in the center of the city.
Roma/Condesa are hipster neighborhoods with young professionals walking their dogs and sitting in outdoor patio cafes. This neighborhood is also ideal for being near the subway system, tourist sites, and is safe for touring around fancy bars at night. My favorite place to stay here is at an AirBnB run by the grand nephew of the famous Mexican artist Diego Rivera, and who comes packed with passion and knowledge of the country itself.
day trips from mexico city
While Mexico City is a bustling metropolis full of amazing sights, it is well worth it to organize a day trip and head out of town a bit. Some truly magnificent places can be explored this way.
Teotihuacan pyramids form an incredible archaeological site whose origins are still quite mysterious. It predates the Mayans, but is nevertheless an incredible feat of engineering and architecture. Naturally, Teotihuacan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, but the great thing here is that you can actually be accompanied by an archaeologist to explain it all to you. Climb the Sun Pyramid or the Moon Pyramid (or both) and behold the incredible skill of their creators.
Puebla and Cholula
Puebla is another impressive Mexican city – its incredible historic center is also a UNESCO Site because it combines numerous styles on thousands of different buildings. However, if you head out to the western outskirts of the city, you will come to Cholula. At first, you may think there is not much here, but then you will realize that the nearby hill is actually the largest pyramid in the world. And it even has a church on top of it! Amazing!
If you’re looking for a more active day trip from Mexico City, why not head to Iztaccuhuatil Volcano? Don’t worry, it’s dormant. You can have some breakfast nearby before you start your climb, and then you have the freedom to climb to more than 15000 feet (about 4,500 meters) if you can take it, of course. But no matter where you end your climb, the view of the nearby Popocatepetl volcano will be something special.
Taxco is a beautiful little town known for the silver it produces. Therefore, it is a great place to go souvenir shopping, but just walking down its picturesque streets will be rewarding enough. To get right in the middle of things, get to Santa Prisca, the church on the main square. Obviously, you will want to visit it, but among the people on the square you will be able to sense a different Mexico than that of the hectic metropolis.
Piedra Herrada Sanctuary
Now this is something really special. Thousands of monarch butterflies come to Mexico every year all the way from Canada, and this place is completely dedicated to them. You can learn all about this fascinating creatures, but it doesn’t have to be boring – the nearby lake provides loads of opportunities for some good clean fun.
Extra Tips for visiting Mexico City
– Mexico’s metro system is comparable to some of the busiest metro systems with some of the lowest fares in the world (roughly 30 cents USD) and arguably the most organized.
– Mexico is a city that operates on negotiation; so do not be afraid to set your own price.
– All in all, Mexico City is a place that offers you unique experiences that you won’t be able to get anywhere else. A mix of poor and rich, new and old, paintings and performances, you are sure to have an unforgettable adventure!
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