Guys, let me tell you: if you’re headed out for 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.
And that’s not even the best part–because 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 spend a fantastic 3 days in 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.
3 Days in Mexico City Itinerary
Day 1: Centro Historico
On the first of your 3 days in Mexico City, it’s time for Centro Historico! Mexico City’s historic 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 the 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 in 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!
We visited the Centro Historico independently, however, if you would prefer a bit more structure on your first day in Mexico City, check out this Mexico City walking tour!
Day 2: Teotihuacan
The second day of our 3 day Mexico City itinerary is all about the ruins!
Wake up and head to Teotihuacan.
About an hour outside of town sits Teotihuacan, one of the coolest things that we saw in the area. 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 followed this excellent guide from The Girl and Globe with no hiccups and ended up spending about $7.50/person on round-trip transportation and the park entrance–an absolute steal for such an impressive place.
Prefer not to travel to Teotihuacan independently?
Check out this well-reviewed tour of Teotihuacan that includes transportation to and from Mexico City, or if you’re a ruin buff, consider splurging on a private tour with an archaeologist–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: Parks & Museums
On day three in Mexico City, it’s time to hit the parks!
Start 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! They 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.
Say hi to Alameda Park.
If you have the time or inclination after visiting that Palacio de Bellas Artes,, next door is the pretty Alameda Park–much smaller than Chapultepec, 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 Latioamericana: 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.
Getting Around Mexico City
Mexico City is incredibly easy to get around. Its well-developed metro system runs 5 pesos (about $0.25) a ride, and that combined with the metrobuses (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 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!
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More Time in Mexico City?
You will never run out of things to do in Mexico City. If you have more than three 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.
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. I have many thoughts on that that will likely be the subject of upcoming posts, but for now, let’s say this: 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 3am in Mexico City–but I wouldn’t recommend it anywhere else, either.
Do you need to speak Spanish in 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!
- SteriPen — To make tap water safe to drink in Mexico City–we loved having ours and have used it in 7+ countries without issue.
- RuMe Medium Shopping Tote — Perfect for shopping at the markets!
- 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!
- Pacsafe — To protect valuable belongings in your lodging.
Ultimately, we adored 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.
Don’t visit Mexico City without travel insurance! We use and recommend World Nomads for their affordability, ease of purchasing & the clarity of their contract.