Mexico City Itinerary Must-Dos for First Timers
Create a Mexico City itinerary fast with this list. On your first visit to Mexico City, you may be overwhelmed with the sheer amount of things to do on vacation. Sitting at 7,349′ (2,240 m) elevation, Mexico City is surrounded by twenty-three volcanoes and was built on top of a lake when the Aztecs settled the area, then known as Tenochtitlán. After conquest, the Spanish drained the lake in a failed attempt to find fertile soil and built Mexico City on top of the Aztec ruins. You can still see remnants of this around the city. Today, Mexico City continues to sink every year as the ground continues to settle.
With a population of about 9 million people, Mexico City has something to offer every type of traveler. Whether you want to see Aztec ruins, baroque Cathedrals, historic murals or art, it is all here. Practice your Spanish speaking skills, download your favorite translation book or app, and start planning your next favorite city away from home. In this post, you will learn the must do activities in this Mexico City itinerary for first timers.
Mexico City Itinerary Day 1: Teotihuacán
Located about an hour northeast of downtown Mexico City, Teotihuacán is a must-see in your lifetime. The area was used by the Mexica, and is known as the “Place where the gods were made; city of the gods.” The Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon are the stars of this archaeological site, where you can easily spend 3+ hours touring. Highly consider booking a tour with transport to/from the city with a guide to give you insight into the location. As with most tourist destinations, arrive early for less crowds. Pro Tip: For those of you arriving to Mexico City from sea level, consider making this stop your first activity so you can enjoy the area before altitude sickness hits your body.
Basilica of Santa María de Guadalupe
Located in northern Mexico City is the catholic pilgrimage site of Basilica of Santa María de Guadalupe. This is the famous location where Juan Diego first saw the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. The symbolism behind her image is vast, as she stands on top of the moon, emphasizing her power over the Aztec god. Payment to enter the basilica and see the cloth is required and a must for any history buff out there. Tours that combine the basilica and Teotihuacán will be your most convenient option.
Mexico City Itinerary Day 2: Museo del Templo Mayo
Located in the historic center of Mexico City, the Templo Mayor Museum is the place to visit for a glimpse into the Aztec civilization. As you may already know, the Spanish built Mexico City on top of ruins. When electrical lines were being installed, workers found remnants of Aztec temples. The Coyolxauhqui monolith was discovered here, which depicts a violent death of the female deity of the same name. It is said that this imagery was a warning to any enemies of the Aztecs.
At this museum you will find numerous exhibitions about the Aztecs, including explanations of deities and corresponding rituals, stone carvings, agricultural history, and pottery. The lobby of the museum hosts the famous skull nail wall and the monolith of Tlaltecuhtli. Tickets can be purchased online or in-person at the museum. Stop by this museum to challenge your stereotypes of Aztec culture and get a glimpse of the magnificent craftsmanship of the Mexica. When you are done, walk around the Zócalo and get a feel for the historical center of Mexico City.
Mexico City Itinerary Day 3: Xochimilco
Another must for your Mexico itinerary are the world famous canals of Xohimilco. You may have seen photos of beautifully decorated trajineras staffed with guides navigating the canals as their guests enjoy food, mariachis, and vendors. This destination is a great way to celebrate birthdays, special occasions, or enjoy the weekend on water. Oddly enough, you can thank former dictator Porfio Diaz for the idea and the Mexican Revolution for bringing this leisurely activity to the people. Reserve your boat in advance, prices for this activity are fixed, and choose from multiple different docks throughout the barrios within Xochimilco to customize your experience.
However, this is more than a weekend party destination for your Mexico itinerary. These floating gardens are a testament to the history and culture of the area. The pre-Hispanic agriculture of the area continues to thrive, as locals farm using traditional techniques. Chinampa is a type of agriculture invented by the Aztecs that allows crops to grow on shallow lake beds to this day. You will find markets filled with plants and flowers here, as this is the preferred choice for locals to purchase these items. Xochimilco is filled with living history and traditions, making this a must for your Mexico itinerary.
Museo Frida Kahlo
One of the most popular museums you must add to your Mexico City itinerary is the Frida Kahlo museum in Coyoacán. Frida Fahlo was a Mexican painter known for her self-portraits, nature, and other paintings inspired by Mexico. Her work explored themes of identity, gender, class, chronic pain and more in Mexican society. This museum is the home where Khalo was born, raised, lived with her first/repeat husband Diego Rivera, and later passed away. Rivera donated the home with intentions that it be turned into a museum to honor Kahlo in 1958.
The Museum’s other name is “Casa Azul,” as the house is painted blue and cannot be missed. The history of this house also involves Russian Marxist Leon Trotsky. A friend of Kahlo and Rivera, Trotsky was able to obtain asylum in Mexico and stayed in Casa Azul for a couple years. You will find additional works inside the museum, plus the best gift shop for those who need an official Frida souvenir. Buy your ticket online ahead of time as tickets may sell out a week or two in advance.
Now that you have five recommendations for your Mexico itinerary, you are ready to have a great vacation in Mexico. Travel into the past of Aztec history by visiting Teotihuacán, Templo Mayor or Xochimilco to get yourself thinking about the pre-Hispanic life of the area. History buffs will enjoy seeing the image of Our Lady on the fantastically preserved Tilma at the Basilica of Santa María de Guadalupe.
And finally, how can you not stop at the Museo Frida Kahlo to learn more about Mexico’s famous female artist? As you walk around the city, you will begin to notice some things are in the same spots they were over 500 years ago. Even after the Spanish conquered Mexico, the history and culture of the people remain. Consider the past, present and future as you experience these must do activities in this Mexico City itinerary for first timers.
The Basics – Mexico City Itinerary for First Timers
Best Time to Visit:
Spring for sun as locals head to the coast, Summer for the rainy season, Fall for cultural festivals, Winter for less crowds.
How to Get There:
Fly into MEX, Benito Juárez (international airport). Two additional airports are also available: Felipe Ángeles International Airport and Toluca International Airport.
Uber, the metro (the first cars are reserved for women and children during rush hour, look for the pink gate), Metrobús (wheelchair access), or your chevrolegs.
Mexican peso MXN$ or your favorite travel credit card
Spanish (Latin America)
Polanco for foodies and proximity to fun restaurants and the Chapultec bosque. Roma Norte for those who want to co-work. Downtown for party hostels.
What to Eat:
La Otilia for a 100% gluten-free experience, including pastries!
Azul Historico for a variety of regional Mexican dishes
Los Cocuyos for authentic street tacos from all parts of the animal (cash only, exact change is best)