Mexico’s capital city has long been on my desired list of places to visit. When the opportunity presented itself to plan a visit, I jumped at the chance to make this dream trip a reality. While I am typically a solo traveler, a friend joined me on this adventure to immerse ourselves in all the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of Ciudad De Mexico, commonly known as CDMX.
The Best Things To Do in Mexico City on Your First Visit
With so much to do across this great city, it was hard to decide what to see and do within six days. Here are seven things to do in Mexico City as a first-timer.
1. Ride The Hop on Hop off City Tour
An early discovery was the Turibus city tour, with excellent reviews for CDMX, featuring a single-day and two-day option, at around $21 per person for the two-day. With that ticket, you could ride four different routes throughout the city, getting on and off at your leisure to take in sites such as the Angel De Independencia (Angel of Independence) and the Zocalo (main square.) The tour also provided headphones that translated the pre-recorded description into eight languages. It was a great way to explore and learn about the sites, and it should be included for any first-time visit to the city.
2. Visit One of 150 Museums
Mexico City has more museums within its city limits than the powerhouse cities of New York and Paris. One of the most significant is the Frida Kahlo Museum, housed inside her original blue house in the Coyocan neighborhood. The museum is one of the top attractions and can often sell out, so pre-purchasing tickets for a timed entry on your date of choice is essential. The museum staff monitors access and only allows entry within 15 minutes of the scheduled time.
Tickets also include admission to the Diego Rivera Museum. Tickets are often purchased through a third party, so get email confirmation.
3. Peruse Through a Traditional Mercado
Mexico City’s diverse neighborhoods are each home to a traditional mercado or market. These markets are a one-stop shop for anything you want—from fresh fruit and vegetables to souvenirs, party decorations, and handmade clothing. For those who don’t mind tight spaces and vendors trying to coax you to check out their store, this is another fun way to experience Mexican culture.
We visited the mercado in Coyocan, two blocks from the Frida Kahlo Museum. They are also a great place to practice your Spanish and bargaining skills, as most shop owners are willing to make a deal.
4. Explore the Castillo and Bosque de Chapultepec
Planning a trip to the Bosque (forest) with its castle was at the top of my must-do list and should be for any first-timer. It is the oldest and largest urban park in Latin America and one of the oldest urban parks in the world. You hardly feel like you are in the heart of a major city here, which boasts many different types of trees. The park features many more sights worthy of another visit, including a botanic garden and an Archaeology museum.
One of the most impressive attractions is the castle which sits at the top of the hill overlooking the forest and surrounding the urban center. The small cost of around $5 per person (around $3 extra for a photo pass) makes it a bargain for the city views alone! After a short climb to the top, leave plenty of time to explore the expansive grounds, buildings, and gardens. It was the highlight of the adventure for me and another must-do for any first-time visitor.
5. Stroll Through a Park or Central Plaza
At the heart of Mexican culture is their love of parks, and Mexico City has some of the highest per capita in the world. The largest is Chapultepec, but also to be enjoyed are Alameda Central, the oldest park in the city, and the one in Coyocan. While sitting on a park bench, we witnessed street performers, vendors selling various goods, and couples and families enjoying time together.
We found locals to be amiable and engaging, and people-watching is one of the best ways to immerse in everyday life. Just get used to saying “No Gracias” as countless roaming vendors try to entice you to purchase their goods.
6. Ride a Tranjera Boat in Xochilmilco
Another must-do is a boat ride on a tranjera in the Xochilmilco area, about 35 minutes south of the city. A tranjera is a brightly-colored flat-bottomed boat, similar to a gondola, which can transport up to 20 people. The canals were formerly used for transport for the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, built on a lake where Mexico City now sits on top of. These boats are hired by the hour and come with a boat captain who controls the boats with a long wooden stick called a remo.
There are 11 ports (embarcaderos) that offer these rides. While on the canals, you can purchase food, beer, or a mariachi song from other vendors along the canal. The boats are cash only – make sure to take pesos – and depending on which port you use, you may need to negotiate the price.
7. Take in a Sporting Event
The timing of my trip was planned around attending two Major League Baseball games taking place in the city. Baseball is one of the most popular sports in Mexico, and Mexico City has its own team. A passionate fan base: They are loudly chanting, boisterous, and often singing during breaks in the action. The atmosphere was more electric than experiences in the United States–perhaps because beer is only $3 or less!
Other options for sporting events are Lucha Libre wrestling matches or futbol (soccer) games. If you don’t mind a little noise and want to experience authentic local life, attend a game or match, even if you aren’t a sports lover.
Getting Around Mexico City
One thing to note about Mexico City is a car is not necessary, as the streets and intersections were confusing, and parking looked challenging. The city's expansive public transportation system costs around 25 cents per ride, is very efficient but crowded, and we only used it successfully once. We mostly utilized Uber and the Mexican equivalent, Didi, which was easy and affordable. Taxis are not regulated and, therefore, not recommended, given the challenges of negotiating rates and communicating a destination to the driver.
There is so much to see and experience in Mexico’s largest city that a short trip can’t possibly cover. Our week thrilled us with beautiful sights, friendly people, fantastic food, and culture–an experience not to be forgotten soon. It may have been our first time in the city, but it won’t be our last. We cannot wait for another chance to return.
Kelley Dukat is a freelance writer, event planner and photographer based in the United States. She’s been traveling the United States as a nomad house and pet sitter for the last two years. For Wealth of Geeks, she writes about travel, news and side hustles. She has a Journalism degree from the University of Colorado at Boulder. She’s also working on a memoir and a series of personal essays.