What to Do in Mexico City – Itinerary for 3 Days

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Visitors to Mexico are more likely to find themselves sunning on the shores of the Mayan Riviera or drinking on a beach in Cancun. Despite this, there are many incredible things to do during 3 days in Mexico City.

Mexico City is the country’s capital and North America’s largest urban area. Visitors are scared of the traffic, the supposed reputation for crime and the general density of it all.

The city, though, is probably the most underrated destination in Mexico, because actually, it has a lot to offer.

What it offers is a piece of the country and the culture that you can’t find on the beaches or in the hotel resorts.

This is modern, vibrant Mexico at its best. This is the capital city, and it shouldn’t be missed. It’s one of the most historic cities in the Americas. Before the Spanish, the Aztecs empire resided here.

Then in the colonial days, the city expanded and is now a huge metropolis with a refined cultural center filled with a plethora of activities to indulge in.

To inspire your travel to this excellent city destination, here’s our guide of the best things to do in Mexico City.

Don’t leave home without: Top 10 Mexico City (DK Eyewitness Travel Guide)


Things to Do in Mexico City – Ultimate Itinerary


First things first, you will want to sort your transportation for your time in the city. This will allow you to maximize your Mexico City itinerary and see the most you can over your 3 days. 

While it is possible to take the local bus or metro, we did this plenty, another fantastic option is the Mexico City Hop-On Hop-Off Tour. This ticket will provide you with transportation along a particular route that will hit all the major highlights in the city. 

This 24-hour ticket allows you to hop on and off around the city for 2 full days. It is a great way to get acquainted with the city and see the major sites without the hassle of using public transportation. 

There is also commentary that will also give you some insight into the city. I find this is always nice to hear when I’m out exploring. Pairing this tour with the Lonely Planet Mexico City (Travel Guide) will have you seeing the very best during your 3 days in Mexico City.


Day 1 – 36 hours in Mexico City


Zocalo in Mexico City

The first day of your Mexico City itinerary should focus on the spectacular Centro Historico area. This area is the heart and soul of Distrito Federal (the official name of Mexico City) so be sure to give it some time. 

You’ll be touring cathedrals, palaces, ruins and taking in some spectacular Mexican and Aztec culture here. The best part, if you choose to stay near the Zocalo (which we recommend) then you do not need to worry about transport the first day.

This means that you should purchase our Hop On Hop Off bus ticket on day 2 of your visit. 

Centro Historico

Opera House in Mexico City

The Centro Historico is the most interesting and central part of Mexico City. This is the historic center. This is where the Aztecs built their capital, Tenochtitlan, here in the 14th century.

Just a few centuries later, the Spanish Conquistadors arrived and destroyed the Aztecs. The Spanish built their new city on the remains of Tenochtitlan, and it eventually expanded into the sprawling metropolis of Mexico City, from this small, historic area.

Today, much of the city’s best sights are still found here, with Aztec temples and Mexican museums to explore in this beautiful part of Mexico City.

Our Top Recommended Tours:

Zocalo

Aztec cultural performance in Mexico City

Zocalo is Mexico City’s large, public square, a place found in the Centro Historico. Its official name is the Plaza de la Constitucion, but the locals prefer to call it Zocalo.

This square is, in fact, the largest square in the Americas, and one of the oldest too, as was used for centuries by the Aztecs before the Spanish arrived.

It’s a huge, open space in the center of Mexico City, surrounded by some of the most historic and important buildings in the capital.

Our Top Recommended Tours:

Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City

Metropolitan Cathedral

The Zocalo mentioned above is the main square of Mexico City like most colonial Spanish main squares features government buildings on one side, city buildings, shops, and a Cathedral.

The Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City is one whole side of the Zocalo (the second largest in the world behind Russia’s Red Square).

Built over centuries with materials from destroyed Aztec temples, the Metropolitan Cathedral is the largest cathedral in the Americas and center of the Roman Catholic Church in Mexico.

The cathedral features grand alters which are hundreds of years old. You will notice it is below street level. The cathedral has sunken over the centuries into the soft soil that is the lake Mexico City was built on.

The cathedral is open to the public at no charge. Be sure to look for Aztec dancers and drummers who perform around the Cathedral. They are part of the lively and vibrant panorama that is the Mexico City Zocalo.

Top Recommended Tours:

Palacio Nacional

National Palace in Mexico City

One of those grand and historic buildings found in the Zocalo is the Palacio Nacional. The site was originally the palace of Aztec emperor Moctezuma.

Materials from Moctezuma’s home and palace were used to build the palace for Hernan Cortes the conqueror of Mexico. This building served as the home of the Viceroy of Spain to Mexico and is the seat of the Mexican federal executive branch.

Today the National Palace is the seat of the President and many other government figures and departments, but you can still explore its elegant, Spanish style, colonial interiors and admire the grandiose architecture from outside.

The hidden gems here, are the famous Diego Rivera murals which are on display, depicting Mexican history from as far back as the Aztec creation stories and on to the modern era. Don’t miss this masterpiece when looking for things to do during your 3 days in Mexico City.

The National Palace is free of charge. Note: Bring a driver’s license or passport with you which will be held until you exit.

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Gran Hotel Ciudad

The Gran Hotel Ciudad is the most historic hotel in Mexico City and one of the most elegant buildings in the historic center.

If nothing else, pop into the lobby and take a look around. It’s a fabulous old building.

Simply click this link to book your stay at Gran Hotel Ciudad today.

Templo Mayor

Templo Mayor in Mexico City

On the National Palace side of the Metropolitan Cathedral is the Templo Mayor – Great Temple of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan.

The astonishing Templo Mayor was built by the Aztecs to worship their gods, as far back as the 14th century.

It saw several redesigns until the Spanish Conquistadors simply destroyed it when they ravaged the Aztec capital.

The pyramid was deconstructed and its materials used to build the grand buildings of Mexico City including the Cathedral and the National Palace.

Its exact site had been forgotten. Discovered and excavated in the 1970s and 1980s, the base of the pyramid and a museum to house the thousands of artifacts found is located on the site.

The ruins are today one of the most visited sights in Mexico City and an intriguing look into the often overlooked, pre Spanish history of Mexico.

Our Top Recommended Tours:

Go to the Ballet Folklorico

If you’re 3 days in Mexico City itinerary lines up with the Ballet Folklorico schedule at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, then you absolutely need to attend during your trip.

The legendary performance features a full manifestation of the history of Mexico City. Of course, performed through dance and musical interpretation. It is a stunning event and something you shouldn’t miss. 

Not to mention that the Palacio de Bellas Artes is beyond opulent. This stage features a 24 ton Tiffany glass curtain that is one of a kind, something that is found nowhere else in the world. This alone is worth the ticket to the ballet.

Check dates and buy your tickets: Skip the Line – Folkloric Ballet Admission Ticket in Mexico City


Day 2 – Mexico City Must See


Now that you’ve seen the best of the historic downtown, it is time to venture into some of the other districts in the city. What you do on this day is going to vary widely depending on your interests.

Keeping this in mind, I have decided to highlight multiple things that can be done on day 2. Sadly, though, I don’t think it is humanly possible to do them all in one day. 

You will need to pick and choose what to do. It may also be possible to add one or two of these items to day 1, depending on how quickly you get through the stuff in Centro Historico. 

It may also be possible to add some of these things to the afternoon on day 3 when you get back from the pyramids (which is non-negotiable, you HAVE to go).

Museum of Anthropology

Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City

The Museum of Anthropology is located in Mexico City’s huge Chapultepec Park. It is recognized as one of the best Anthropological museums in the world.

Its exhibits include items recovered from the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, goods from Teotihuacan, and materials from the Maya of the Yucatan, and the earlier culture of the Olmec people.

This museum is huge and insanely interesting. If you are able to, give yourself a full day to explore it. If you don’t have that time, then at the bare minimum you need a solid half-day to see the best of it. 

I recommend getting here around 30-45 minutes before opening time on day 2. This way you can get your tickets quickly and get inside right when it opens to maximize your day. 

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Paseo de la Reforma

Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City

Paseo de la Reforma is the longest, widest boulevard in Mexico City. It cuts through much of the important, central part of the city, and this tree-lined avenue is one of the most walkable streets in Mexico City.

There are bars, restaurants, cafes, and shops along its length and it’s a great way to navigate between different areas of the city. It’s also a great spot to buy freshly made orange juice by street vendors. 

Don’t worry, they use bottled water and the juice is delicious!

Our Top Recommended Tours:

Polanco

Polanco in Mexico City

Polanco is the swankiest district in Mexico City. This is where visitors can find the city’s best – and most expensive – hotels and restaurants.

It’s always a lively and busy area, especially in the evenings, and if you enjoy shopping, this is the place to go if looking for retail-related things to do in Mexico City.

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Chapultepec Castle

Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City

Chapultepec Castle, also known as Mexico’s National History Museum sits on a large hill overlooking Mexico’s Chapultepec Park.

It has served many purposes in its history including a military academy and site of the 1847 battle of Chapultepec, where U.S. Marines stormed the castle and occupied Mexico City during the Mexican – American War.

Famous names who participated in the battle included Ulysses Grant, Robert E Lee, Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson, George Pickett, and James Longstreet. The Marines’ Hymn commemorates this action with the line “From the Halls of Montezuma…”

This imposing building has the distinction of being the only royal castle in North America.

It was the government seat of Mexican Emperor Maximilian I (brother of Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph) and Empress Carlotta (Daughter of Belgian King Leopold).

The Castle is still adorned with rooms, furniture, and carriages from their time.

This is also the largest and most open green space in the city. There are acres of land here to be walked and enjoyed, with a large central lake and a multitude of paths to take.

The park is also home to many cultural sights, including the marvelous Museum of Anthropology and the Chapultepec Castle.

Wear comfortable shoes as it is a long walk to the top of the hill with difficulty compounded by Mexico City’s elevation. At the top is a wonderful view of the surrounding city.

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Casa Azul

Casa Azul in Mexico City

Casa Azul (Blue House) is the family home of Frida Kahlo, arguably the most famous female painter of the 20th century. This home has untouched living areas when Frida Kahlo and her husband, the famous muralist Diego Rivera, lived there.

Rooms have been renovated into galleries to present paintings by Kahlo and Rivera and a recent expansion includes galleries displaying dresses worn by Kahlo who was known for wearing traditional Mexican clothing.

The district that it resides in, Coyacan, is also worth spending some time in. Wander the streets, take in the street art and eat some fantastic food at the cafe on the corner near Casa Azul. Hot tip, get the churros!

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Xochimilco

Xochimilco - 3 days in Mexico City itinerary

Located in the southern part of Mexico City, you can find the famous canals of Xochimilco. This series of canals is all that remains of the vast water transport system built by the Aztecs when they founded the city and built Templo Mayor.

Today, visitors can book a spot on one of the wooden, handmade and colorful gondola-like boats that take visitors on cruises while food vendors, artisans, and mariachi bands float past.

This site is best experienced on a weeknight unless you like heavy crowds. It is a very popular place for locals on the weekends. You can also visit the eerie, purportedly haunted Island of the Dolls.

My hot tip for Xochimilco is to visit around lunchtime and instead of buying food from a boat vendor, instead hit up the street taco stalls at the entrance and take a picnic lunch onboard. 

Top Recommended Tour: Private Tour: Xochimilco, Coyoacan and Frida Kahlo Museum


Day 3 – Mexico City Itinerary


I know, the first two days sound exhausting and you’re probably thinking that you want to just take it easy on day three. Sorry, but you simply cannot! I’ve saved the best for last.

Taking a day trip out to see the massive and magnificent pyramids of Teotihuacan is on the itinerary today.

This site is virtually unknown to most people and I’m telling you, they are as spectacular as the Pyramids of Giza. Trust me, I’ve been to them twice!

Most tours out to the pyramids also include a stop at the Guadalupe Shrine, which I’ve also included below, and a tequila factory for lunch. It’s a fabulous day outside of the fast-paced city and one that you will probably remember the most from your visit to Mexico City.

The Pyramids at Teotihuacan

Pyramids of Teotihuacan in Mexico City

The Pyramids at Teotihuacan are a Mexico City must see! They predate the Aztec civilization and were contemporaries of the grand Mayan cities such as Tikal and Copan.

When the uninhabited city was discovered by the Aztecs they could not imagine a city so large and grand having been built by humans. They named it the birthplace of the gods.

At its climax in the first century, more than 125,000 people lived in the city making it one of the largest in the world at the time.

Climb the pyramids of the Sun and the Moon, walk the Avenue of the Dead and see the house of the Jaguar and the representations of the plumed serpents. This is a must-see for any Mexico City itinerary!

Teotihuacan is about 45 minutes from Mexico City and is best visited as part of an easily arranged tour.

Read more The Amazing Mexico City Pyramids of Teotihuacan

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Shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe

Shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe in Mexico City

The Shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe is the most visited Catholic pilgrimage site in the world. It is the place where it is said Virgin Mary appeared to the peasant Juan Diego.

There are several churches on the site that date back as far as the early 1500s.

The holy artifact presented to the bishop of Mexico by Juan Diego is housed behind the main altar. It can be viewed continuously…even during masses and weddings by a people moving sidewalk behind the altar.

The Virgin of Guadalupe is the patron of the Americas. The site was visited twice by Pope John Paul II.

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3 Days in Mexico City Itinerary Planning Tips


The rest of the information in this post is basic planning tips and information for putting together your Mexico City itinerary. This includes some thoughts on where to stay, safety, getting around and when to visit. 

Currency is the Mexican Peso and you will be able to easily pull this out at ATMs at the airport and throughout the city. Practice normal safety precautions when using ATMs on the street. 

It is also possible and quite easy to purchase a Mexico SIM card at the airport when you arrive. This will give you LTE phone service during your stay, making it easy to use maps, look up restaurants and book tickets on the fly. 

Be sure you have an unlocked phone to take advantage of that. Otherwise, WIFI is prevalent everywhere at hotels, restaurants, and cafes around the city. 

Where to Stay in Mexico City

Guide of Things to do in Mexico City

Mexico City is a sprawling place, but that means there is plenty of accommodation available for travelers, ranging from cheap hostels to high end, luxury hotels.

There are literally hundreds of options available, to suit any taste, style, and budget.

We have put together the Ultimate Guide on Where to Stay in Mexico City for those who are looking for a more of a deep dive into where to say in Mexico City. 

For first time travelers to Mexico City, it’s recommended to stay in the Centro Historico, the main area of the city, close to all of the historic sights and a friendly and touristy area.

In the Centro Historico, there is possibly the widest range of accommodation in the city, with local hostels standing side by side with well known international brands.

Those looking for the best, most luxurious and expensive hotel options should stay in Polanco, the richest, most affluent neighborhood, home to some of the finest restaurants and bars in Mexico City.

Outside of the center, Condesa is a lovely, peaceful area, where many charming boutique hotels and hostels can be found, all still within easy reach of the main sights, but far enough away to be removed from the bustle.

Read reviews and check prices with our Hotel Search Engine, that gives you the best hotel deals found on the web. Our search engine pulls results from all of the major booking places, including Expedia, Hotels, Booking and more. All the options, all the deals, all in one place and just for you.

How to Travel to Mexico City

Guide of Things to do in Mexico City

The airport is located to the east of the central area and depending on traffic and your exact final location, transfer by car or taxi can take as little as 30 minutes.

In rush hour though, expect this to be a lot longer! The airport is also connected to the metro system, although you will need to walk out of the main terminal to find it. This is a very cost-effective method of transport to take into the city.

By bus, it would actually be possible, although a long journey, to reach Mexico City from the US in the north. There are also bus routes branching out across the rest of the country from the city. There are no train connections anymore, however.

Getting Around Mexico City

Guide of Things to do in Mexico City

Mexico City is large and it’s sprawling. At peak times, the traffic can be a mess along with the dense network of streets and roads, as in most major capital cities around the world.

It can be a lot quicker to travel around Mexico City by using the public transport system, particularly the metro system, which has an extensive network of 12 different lines.

The metro is cheap and fast, but it can become crowded during rush hour too. The central, historic area of Mexico City is small enough to be walked around, and there are in fact many walking tours you can join to enjoy the main sights on foot.

The Best Time to Visit Mexico City

Guide of Things to do in Mexico City

As a city destination, it’s perfectly possible to visit Mexico City all year round. The weather is always a constant warm temperature, and there is a wet and dry season.

The rain hits the city between May and October, and it can rain a lot. With lots of indoor attractions, however, if you carry an umbrella then this shouldn’t deter you.

The dry season runs from November to April, and this is also peak season, when hotels and flights may cost more. The weather is excellent though in these months, particularly in the slightly cooler December and January period.

Is Mexico City a Safe Destination to Visit?

Guide of Things to do in Mexico City

Many travelers are put off from visiting areas of Mexico outside of the established and well-known resort and beach areas.

Mexico has a reputation in the news for violent crime and gang-related incidents. This isn’t unwarranted, however, in the historic and touristy areas of Mexico City, it is mostly unfounded.

Some of the city’s suburbs and particular areas should be avoided if you are new to Mexico City, but generally, if you are visiting the main sights, there shouldn’t be a problem with any violent crime.

The main issue is pickpocketing, especially on the crowded metro system, so be careful when traveling on public transport through the city.

More on Mexico:

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Ultimate 3 Days in Mexico City Itinerary


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About Lina Stock

Lina is an award-winning photographer and writer that has been exploring the world since 2001. She has traveled to 100 countries on all 7 continents. Member: SATW, NATJA, ATTA, ITWA



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