Planning to spend 3 days in Mexico City? You’re in for a real treat!
Mexico City is one of the most surprising cities we have ever visited–the sheer aliveness of the city is captivating, and it teems with energy 24/7 in a way that is commonly associated with cities like Bangkok and New York.
It is the largest metropolitan area in North America and is home to a fascinating culture, tons of history (the Aztecs and colonizing Spaniards to start!), and the only royal castle on the continent.
From the incredible museums to the extensive (and cheap!) public transportation, to the history, to the downright delicious food, Mexico City is a destination that should be on any traveler’s radar.
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And that’s not even the best part.
From the customs agent who welcomed us into the country with a broad smile and a “Bienvenidos a la Ciudad de México!” to the police officers who took a friendly stroll with us in the park while good-naturedly questioning us about American culture, the welcoming people were the real gem of Mexico City.
We lost track of how many people offered us directions unprovoked, the number of men who offered me their seat on the train, and the number of welcoming smiles we received daily (we also lost track of how many tacos al pastor we ate, but that’s a different subject).
Here are the nuts and bolts on how to enjoy a fantastic 3 day Mexico City itinerary, based on our own trip to Mexico City.
We can’t share exactly how to locate all of the friendly people, but I’m sure you’ll find them–they were around every corner during our visit.
The Perfect 3 Days in Mexico City Itinerary
Day 1: Discover Centro Historico.
To kick off your 3 days in Mexico City, head directly to Centro Historico!
Mexico City’s historic central neighborhood is beautiful, and the European-influence-with-a-Latin-American-twist flavor is obvious.
Start in the Zócalo.
Mexico City’s main square is the perfect place to start your first day in the city, and just about anything could be going on when you arrive.
Since we visited in December, the entire square had been turned into an artificial ice skating rink and toboggan sledding hill in honor of Christmas!
Duck into the Metropolitan Cathedral.
Within steps of the Zócalo is the Metropolitan Cathedral, which is breathtaking and immediately reminded me of the cathedrals we saw in Spain–especially those in Seville and Toledo.
Like the Spanish cathedrals, this one is heavy on gold accents.
Visit Templo Mayor.
Right next door to the Metropolitan Cathedral is Templo Mayor, an impressive set of Aztec ruins that are right in the heart of the city.
In addition to admiring what’s left of the architecture, you’ll be able to read a bit about the Aztec religion.
There are signs in English and Spanish, which is not something to take for granted when visiting Mexico City!
Step into the National Palace.
From Templo Mayor, head to the National Palace.
The palace is home to some beautiful murals by the famous Diego Rivera, and the murals make up one complete art piece named “The History of Mexico.”
In addition, the palace itself is a piece of Mexico’s history: many of the materials used in the building today predate the arrival of the Spanish in the country!
Day 2: Take a day trip to Teotihuacan.
The second day of our 3 day Mexico City itinerary is all about the ruins!
Wake up and make your way to Teotihuacan.
About an hour outside of town sits Teotihuacan, one of the most magnificent places to visit in Mexico and an absolute must-see when visiting Mexico City.
This city was founded around 200 CE and abandoned around 750 CE–long before the Aztecs ever got there.
When the Aztecs found this empty, impressive city 450 years after it was abandoned, well… it’s no surprise that they gave it the name that we now use for the city in English: The City of the Gods.
While some people might recommend not including a visit to Teotihuacan on a 3 day Mexico City itinerary, preferring to stick to the city itself, we disagree: Teotihuacan is too impressive to miss, and is a great way to break up day one and day three, both of which are heavy on city sights!
Tips for Visiting Teotihuacan
We spent about two hours in Teotihuacan, which was less than we would have liked–we went late enough in the day that we had to keep an eye on the time to make sure we made it back to the city at a comfortable hour.
I really encourage making your way to Teotihuacan as early as possible, and enjoying the city for a longer time, with fewer crowds.
Be warned: if you’re not used to the altitude, climbing those pyramids is going to make you feel very out of shape!
Though many people choose to take tours to Teotihuacan, we went on our own and found the process very easy and safe.
We ended up spending about $7.50/person on round-trip transportation and the park entrance–an absolute steal for such an impressive place.
… But that being said, if and when we go back to Teotihuacan, our visit will be quite a bit pricier, because it will absolutely include a bucket list-worthy hot air balloon ride over the pyramids.
Prefer not to travel to Teotihuacan independently?
Check out this well-reviewed tour of Teotihuacan that includes transportation to and from Mexico City.
If you’re a ruin buff, consider splurging on an early morning tour–not only will you learn a ton, you’ll get early access to the pyramids and get to see them before the crowds set in!
Day 3: Mexico City Parks + Museums
On day three in Mexico City, it’s time to hit the parks!
Start your day at Chapultepec Park.
Sitting at roughly twice the size of Central Park in New York City, Chapultepec Park is home to peaceful clusters of trees, the friendliest squirrels I’ve ever seen (the locals feed them like we Americans feed ducks at ponds–they’re definitely not shy!), nine museums, and plenty of snack stalls and souvenir stands.
Head to the Anthropology Museum.
After checking out some of the natural spots in Chapultepec Park, head over to the Anthropology Museum!
Often touted as the best museum in Mexico City, the Anthropology Museum is well-known for its collections of archaeological and anthropological artifacts dating back prior to the Spanish arriving in Mexico.
Please note that, like most museums in Mexico City, the Anthropology Museum is closed on Mondays.
If you want to make sure you get the most out of your Anthropology Museum experience, consider a guided tour!
Tours are inexpensive and a great way to make sure you hit the highlights.
Go see Chapultepec Castle.
Yep, also in the park–it’s a big place!
Chapultepec Castle is known for its gorgeous gardens, intricate building, and fantastic views of the Mexico City skyline from where it is perched on top of a hill.
As the only royal castle in North America, we consider it a must-see on any 3 days in Mexico City itinerary!
Visit the Palacio de Bellas Artes.
If you’ve seen photos of Mexico City, you’ve seen this building: its beautiful golden dome is practically synonymous with Mexico City itself.
The Palacio de Bellas Artes hosts Mexico City’s fine arts museum–which is a worthy choice because the building is a work of art unto itself.
You’ll need to cross town from Chapultepec Park to get here: we recommend hopping on the metro and getting off at the Bellas Artes metro stop.
Stop by Alameda Park.
If you have the time or inclination after visiting that Palacio de Bellas Artes,, next door is the pretty Alameda Park.
This little park is full of pretty fountains–though honestly, I preferred the view of the park from above!
Climb the Torre Latinoamericana.
Right across the street from the Palacio de Bellas Artes is the Torre Latinoamericana.
For a small fee (90 pesos/person, about $4.41 USD), you can head to the top of the building and snap photos of the surrounding city and mountains from the 44th floor. The view is spectacular!
Stop by the House of Tiles.
From the top of the Torre Latinoamericana, you’ll be able to see your final stop of the day: a pedestrian road next to the Torre Latinoamericana stands right in between the tower and the House of Tiles.
The unmistakable House of Tiles building is absolutely gorgeous and worth observing and photographing!
We didn’t go inside to visit the cafe, but that is always an option.
… and the Palacio Postal.
Step inside the Palacio Postal, also called the Correo Mayor, and you may wonder for a second if you’re in an opulent palace or a functional government building with a calling as mundane as handling mail… and the answer, of course, is a little bit of both!
This stunning building is more than 100 years old and is still a fully functioning post office, but don’t forget to check out the small museum on-site, as well.
Getting Around During Your Mexico City Itinerary
Mexico City is incredibly easy to get around, especially for a city of its size!
Its well-developed metro system runs 5 pesos (about $0.25) a ride, and that combined with the metro buses (buses with their own dedicated lanes, also 5 pesos per ride) will take you just about anywhere you need to go inside Mexico City.
If you’d like to do some quick, efficient sightseeing without a lot of walking or navigating of public transportation, Mexico City’s popular hop-on/hop-off bus is a great option.
If you want more dedicated transportation (though fair warning: traffic is heavy), Uber is considered the way to go.
Common advice is to only take taxis that you call ahead of time, rather than those that you hail on the street, though we didn’t test that advice either way.
An exception to the taxi rule is the airport: when you walk out of customs, several official taxi companies have desks set up for you to buy a ticket into town, which you then walk outside and hand to the taxi driver.
It’s a very efficient system and went off without a hitch for us.
Looking for more transportation advice in Mexico City? Check out what Mexico City expat Laura has to say!
More Time in Mexico City?
You will never run out of fun things to do in Mexico City.
If you have more than 3 days (or you just prefer a faster pace for your 3 days in Mexico City itinerary–we prefer more of the do-some-sightseeing-then-relax schedule these days), try adding on the Frida Kahlo house museum, or one of the many other museums in the city.
If your Spanish is good, head to the top of the Metropolitan Cathedral for a 40-minute tour and to catch some beautiful views from above, or go to Mercado Roma for some more upscale, trendy food.
Try visiting one of the many markets, which are held for everything from flowers to witchcraft supplies.
If you’re up for something touristy, try the neighborhood of Xochimilco.
Don’t want to do too much planning? This popular tour will take you to both Xochimilco and the Frida Kahlo museum!
If you just want to relax? The neighborhoods of Roma and Condesa are considered wonderful for wandering around and finding a cafe to enjoy for the afternoon–when you’re deciding where to eat in Mexico City, those are both great options are well.
A Note on Museum Closures in Mexico City
We made a major, frustrating, rookie mistake on our own Mexico City itinerary: we didn’t check when the museums are closed.
Because of this, we planned to spend our last day in Mexico City visiting the Anthropology Museum, National Palace, and Frida Kahlo house… only to find out that all of them were closed because it was Monday.
If your 3 days in Mexico City fall over a Monday, check what is open and plan accordingly: much of the city, such as restaurants, etc, seemed to operate as business as usual, but museums were virtually all closed.
Safety in Mexico City
Mexico City (and really, Mexico in general) does not have the best reputation for safety–especially among Americans.
For us, Mexico City feels about as safe as a tourist as any other large city we have visited.
Research what neighborhoods you want to visit, carefully choose where you want to stay in Mexico City, behave with common sense, and take normal precautions.
Like most major cities, the areas stricken with crime and poverty and the areas typically visited by tourists do not have much overlap.
We never felt remotely unsafe in Mexico City and behaved exactly as we would anywhere else without incident, including taking public transportation, carrying our camera, and hitting all the major attractions that we were interested in.
I wouldn’t recommend stumbling home drunk at 3:00 AM in Mexico City–but I wouldn’t recommend it anywhere else, either.
Do you need to speak Spanish When Visiting Mexico City?
Spanish is enormously beneficial when traveling in Mexico City.
We only had two people even attempt to speak English with us while we were there. The conversations I mentioned at the beginning of this post all took place in Spanish.
There are workarounds for not speaking Spanish (phrasebooks, Google translate, body language) that will get you by, but I would definitely recommend studying as much as possible before you go.
I know basic conversational Spanish, and Jeremy is fairly proficient in it.
We didn’t have any issues, but definitely keep in mind when planning a trip here that this is very different than many places in Europe, where if you are an English speaker attempt and to stumble through their language, there’s a good chance that whoever you’re speaking with will just answer you in English!
What to Pack for Mexico City
Check out our complete packing list for Mexico & Central America for full packing details, but for a quick look, here are a few things we definitely recommend bringing to Mexico City!
Travel Insurance — We don’t ever suggest traveling without travel insurance–anything can happen, and an epic trip to Mexico City is definitely a case of better safe than sorry. We use and recommend Safety Wing for trips to Mexico.
Pacsafe — We can’t recommend our Pacsafe enough: this travel safe is affordable, sturdy, easy to pack, and will help keep your valuables safe in your hotel room (not that you should need to worry much about theft in the Yucatan, but it’s better to be safe than sorry!).
Comfortable Day Bag — We currently use Pacsafe’s sleek anti-theft backpack and love it, but if you don’t want to shell out the cash for this trip, that’s totally understandable. Just aim for something comfortable to wear, not flashy, and medium-sized–we used a Northface Jester backpack for years and loved it as well.
Weather-appropriate clothes — Far from the hot temperatures Mexico can be associated with, Mexico City maintains a crisp, cool climate year-round. Check the weather before packing your bags!
Ultimately, we adored our time in Mexico City!
We fully plan to go back–and not just to hit the museums that we were disappointed to miss.
This is a city that is teeming with life and activity and is exciting for anyone interested in food, culture, history, archaeology, art, or any other number of fascinating subjects, and 3 days in Mexico City could never be considered a waste.
Don’t let this under-the-radar city slip by.
10 thoughts on “The Perfect 3 Days in Mexico City Itinerary”
Ah, Mexico City, one of my favorite places on earth! The food is incredible, the people are so friendly, and it’s just so vibrant and fun. It reminds me a lot of NYC but a whole hell of a lot cheaper. I definitely agree with you that it helps to know Spanish here and honestly in most of Latin America. Luckily I’m almost fluent, but when I went to Mexico City with my ex who didn’t know a word, I was the translator for virtually everything which got a bit tiring! I hope to go back to Mexico next year…. it’ll be so interesting to hear everyone’s thoughts on Trump. But then again from what my Mexican friends tell me they have a bit of a Trump figure of their own as president 😛
You’re the second person that I’ve heard the NYC comparison from! I’ve never been to NYC (huge oversight, I know), but I’m looking forward to comparing the two. Definitely much cheaper here! Hope you make it back–among other things, the Trump conversations are definitely interesting, and I doubt they’ll slow down in 2017.
I totally agree that Mexico City is under appreciated. My daughter and I had an amazing trip there last summer, and I would fly back any weekend I could (if I had the time and money!). We stayed in Colonia Roma and spent parts of our days just wandering this fun and funky neighborhood. along with its neighbor. Condesa. We, too, felt perfectly safe and used public transportation and Ubers to get around. When you go back, do visit Frida’s house – it was a highlight!
We didn’t get to spend enough time wandering the neighborhoods–that’s definitely on the list for next time, along with Frida’s house! I agree about weekend trips: from where we are from in Texas/Oklahoma, a Mexico City weekend getaway would honestly be easier and cheaper to pull off than one in California or the northeast! Hopefully Mexico City will get a little more love in coming years, because it certainly deserves it.
I can’t believe I skipped Mexico city to spend three days at Teotihuacan. While I certainly enjoyed my three days at the pyramids and the archaeological park, I see that I missed so much in Mexico city!
Time to plan a return trip! With your love of history, I can imagine Teotihuacan had a huge draw for you. 🙂 We loved it there, but the rest of the city definitely deserves a visit, too!
We are going to be staying in Mexico City in November and wonder about your best suggestions for hotels.
We stayed in an Airbnb in Mexico City in the past and I haven’t researched much about particular hotels, but I can tell you that when we return to Mexico City, we’ll look for a well-reviewed hotel in Roma or Condesa and stay there!
The Guadalupe shrine was also interesting. It span a huge area and a lot to see. I love Coyoacan and Roma Norte, Condessa and Polanco. I walked the Avenida Reforma which was enjoyable. You can bike at the sidewalk as well. Zona Rosa is also nice.
We can’t wait to go back and explore more! Hopefully soon. 🙂