In our previous post, we described our experiences in and around Mexico City’s Centro Historico district – the beating heart of the city and ground zero for Mexico’s history as a unified country. In this post, we’ll roam a little further afield and look at our favorite things to do in Mexico City beyond the Centro district.
NOTE: As always, photos are in galleries. Just click the first to click through larger versions of each.
1. Experience the Pyramids of Teotihuacan
Well, this one really is further afield – about an hour’s drive northeast of Mexico City. But it’s so worth it. The enigmatic city of Teotihuacan was once the largest city in pre-Columbian America, peaking sometime around the first century AD. The pyramids themselves are recognized as some of the most architecturally significant from that period. Teotihuacan is thought to be a religious center; in fact, its name means something like “birthplace of the gods” in Nahuatl. There’s speculation about exactly who the ancient residents were, occupying Teotihuacan centuries before the Aztec Mexica people arrived to settle what is now modern-day Mexico City.
Tip: We took a group tour to Teotihuacan through Get Your Guide, which also included a stop at the Virgin of Guadalupe Basilica (see next). The main advantage was that transportation was taken care of, and the tour also included a stop at a souvenir/artisan shop (kinda cheesy) and a nice lunch at a Mexican restaurant just outside the pyramid grounds.
2. Visit the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe
It’s hard to overstate how important the Virgin of Guadalupe is to the Mexican people. It turns out, Mexico City is ground zero for the series of miracles that have made Our Lady central to so many Mexican hearts and minds. In a previous post, we wrote more about about how the Virgin presented herself to an indigenous man, Juan Diego, in 1531 on Tepeyac Hill in what is now Mexico City. Whether you’re a believer or not, it’s a cool story – and Mexicans’ devotion to the Virgin is profound and deeply moving.
The Basilica complex is anchored by two monumental buildings – the original church, completed in 1709, and the modern, green-domed basilica. In the modern cathedral, you can view Juan Diego’s actual tilma (a type of cloak) imprinted with the Virgin’s image.
3. Take a Cruise in Xochimilco
The Mexico City borough of Xochimilco is best known for its network of canals, vestiges of Lake Texcoco – the lake upon which the Mexicas founded Mexico back in the early 14th century. (Again, we tell more of the story in a previous post.) Today, a large fleet of colorful, gondola-like boats called trajineras ply the canals and offer access to the chinampas, man-made islands that have been used for agriculture since Mexica times. Many of the chinampas are still under cultivation today, with nurseries selling all types of plants and flowers to the public. For all of these reasons, Xochimilco has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The trajineras are a big tourist draw, but they’re also hugely popular with locals looking to celebrate with a floating fiesta. Vendors float by offering all kinds of snacks, beverages, and souvenirs, and you can even hire a floating mariachi group to serenade your boat. For a fun, relaxing, and oh-so-Mexican experience, a cruise on a trajinera can’t be beat!
Tips: Any taxi or Uber driver will know where to take you for the best access to the canals and trajineras. It’s easy to hire a boat from any of the docks – you should be able to negotiate a price under $500 pesos (about $25) per hour. Take a group and split the cost – most trajineras can accommodate up to 20 people. Fridays and weekends are party days for Mexicans; for a more tranquil experience, go during the week.
4. Follow Diego and Frida’s Footsteps in Coyoacán and San Ángel
The pretty Mexico City borough of Coyoacán (Nahuatl for Place of Coyotes) is well-known as the birthplace of Frida Kahlo, but we didn’t realize that it was also the first capital of New Spain after conquistador Hernán Cortés conquered the Mexica in 1521. Cortés set up residence in Coyoacán for several years following the conquest.
Although it was something I’d dreamed of for a long time, we decided to take a pass on Frida’s Casa Azul – the Coyoacán house of her birth and also her death, now one of the most popular museums in all of Mexico. We’d heard from more than one party that it’s something of a tourist trap, and most of Frida’s most important artwork is elsewhere. Still, I regret passing it up . . . next time, I guess. If you want to see Casa Azul, be aware that you need to buy tickets well in advance, and photos are not allowed. More info here.
Not far from Coyoacán is another picturesque and historic town, San Ángel. Anchored by the landmark El Carmen monastery, San Ángel is also known for the side-by-side homes and studios of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Designed by noted artists and architect (and close friend of Diego and Frida) Juan O’Gorman, the houses are connected by an elevated walkway – and Diego lived there until his death in 1954. San Ángel borders University City, the sprawling campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).
5. If you don’t go to any other museums, visit these two.
Mexico is a city of museums; in fact, there are over 150. Of course we didn’t have time to visit them all, but the two that stood out for us are the National History Museum in Chapultepec Castle and the Anthropology Museum. These two should be at the top of the list for any CDMX visitor. TIP: It’s possible to see both in one day; they’re within easy walking distance to each other.
Perched atop a high hill in Chapultepec Park, the Chapultepec Castle/National History Museum has a storied history. Built in 1785 as the summer home of the Viceroy of New Spain, the castle has also served as a military academy, observatory, the royal residence of Emperor Maximilian I and Empress Carlota, and official residence of Mexico’s presidents up until the 1930s. Chapultepec Castle became the home of the National History Museum in 1939.
At the museum, you’ll see reminder after reminder of the fabled Niños Héroes. These were six young military cadets (the youngest only 13) who died defending the castle against the United States during the Battle of Chapultepec, in the final days of the Mexican-American War in 1847. The martyred Niños have reached celestial status in Mexico, honored with a national holiday and monuments all over the country.
The National Museum of Anthropology is a true national treasure, honoring the rich history and cultures of the many indigenous nations whose presence is still felt deeply throughout Mexico. The museum’s current home was built in 1964 and consists of 24 exhibit halls. On the ground floor are the Archaeology Halls, each highlighting a different pre-Columbian civilization. The largest is devoted to the Mexicas, founders of the sophisticated city/state that would become Mexico City. On the second floor are the Ethnography Halls, tracing the vivid cultures of present-day indigenous groups throughout Mexico.
6. Stroll Roma and Condesa
Mexico City’s Roma Norte and Roma Sud neighborhoods, bordered by Condesa, were originally developed for the city’s wealthiest residents in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. By the 1950s the neighborhoods were in serious decline, and many homes and buildings were devastated by the great earthquake of 1985. But in the past couple of decades, gentrification has transformed Roma Norte, Roma Sud, and Condesa into Mexico City’s hipster epicenter, with an unrivaled culinary scene and many beautiful restored Neoclassical, Art Nouveau, and Art Deco buildings and fountains that harken back to a different era.
Lodging. Upon our return to Mexico City after visiting the beautiful towns of Guanajuato and San Miguel de Allende (posts coming!), we spent two more nights before flying home to Colombia. This time we stayed in the Condesa district, in the Casa Condesa Amatlan. This boutique hotel was perfectly situated within walking distance to Parque de Chapultepec, the Chapultepec Castle, and the Anthropology Museum. It was also a great base for exploring more of Condesa and Roma Norte, with restaurants galore.
Here were our favorite dining experiences in Roma Norte and Condesa:
- Contramar. John made our reservations well before our trip for the fantastic seafood restaurant. It was well worth the effort – I’m getting hungry just looking at their website!
- Vecchio Forno. Outstanding Italian food and super-friendly servers. After almost three weeks in Mexico, wewere craving anything that wasn’t a taco – and Vecchio Forno filled the bill.
- La Vineria. This cozy little spot was on the same block as our hotel. Eclectic menu and great wine list.
- Fonda Garufa. Our hotel host suggested this spot for breakfast, and it was fantastic.
- Sala Gastronómica. This is the fabulous restaurant inside the Museum of Anthropology prides itself on its menu inspired by six regions of Mexico, including a unique take on corn. A great place to take a break and enjoy a lovely meal while you’re visiting the museum.
- El Tizoncito. This friendly joint claims to have invented tacos al pastor (although it’s not the only one to make that claim!). At any rate, those tacos were delicious, washed down with a cold Indio.
Years back, I remember reading about some well-regarded, well-read Mexican, a sophisticated and intellectual kind, held in high esteem by his peers despite those shortcomings, who confessed that he’d never been to Teotihuacan and wasn’t really interested in checking that off his bucket list. And now I can confess that I’ve never been there, nor to the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, although I have been to many other pyramids and santuarios de Guadalupe. So much to see and do in CDMX, so little time, even for those of us who’ve lived in this country for decades.
That’s so true – we feel like we barely scratched the surface of CDMX. We were also on a mission to see as much as we could in the short time we had. So we ticked off all the standard tourist draws as well as a few less-visited spots. I think it’s a truism that locals don’t always visit all the wonders of their home countries. We have Colombian friends, for instance, who say we’ve seen more of their country than they have! I know that applies to us regarding the United States.
I think the Guadalupe Basilica would be really interesting to you, based on your recent post about the Virgin!
Great suggestion, I love the colourful trajineras! Maggie
Thanks, Maggie! That was a fun day.
You really hit the major sights around CDMX! Great photos.
Nice bit on MX City….but I am sad that you did not go inside Frida’s Casa Azul! It is also sad that there are so many more crowds now than when my husband and I went in 2004. We did not find it touristy when we went…hardly anyone was there!
I was sad too. And then we saw the mob scene there, and knew we would be shuffled through with a million other people. No time to stop, contemplate, absorb. The same as our terrible Mona Lisa experience at the Louvre. Plus, no photos were allowed.
I’m glad you got to see Casa Azul without crowds. Wish we could have seen it then.
More and more I am feeling the pull to visit Mexico. Your pictures are just beautiful and really give a good feel of the places you visited!
Thank you so much! Mexico is so colorful that the photos just take themselves. Hope you can visit there someday!
Wow, I can really see why one needs at least a week to visit Mexico City and surroundings. As I mentioned before, we saw Teotihuacan sixteen years ago, but skipped the city as we were driving and living in a different truck camper.
One day, I hope to be a real tourist again (something I haven’t been for two decades), visiting places at ease, while staying close by in a comfortable establishment, eating out, and enjoying myself. Without stresses, money concerns, and dogs. 🙂
Hi Liesbet – any plans to go back to Mexico with your new camper? We had to retire in order to really travel the way we prefer. Wish we’d done it when we were young, but I guess there’s a time for everything. Your time will come! We loved all your experiences in the Baja, which brought back so many memories of our cruising days 🙂
Nope. We are not returning to Mexico for now. We are coming to South America next, remember? 🙂 I just hope you two will still be in Columbia whenever that happens.
We should be here – you never know with us 🙂 Keep us posted.
I’ve not explored much of Mexico yet, and especially not Mexico City. There appears to be so much to do within the center and outside of it, and it merits a return to the country sooner than later!
Hey guys you’re giving us so many ideas for both San Francisco and Mexico City – we’re keeping all of this info. Our plan is to head to Mexico next when we complete our CA road trip and end up back near LA – so somewhere around July 20th. Your posts are so helpful and are giving us so many ideas.
Thanks, you two! We look forward to seeing your posts about San Francisco, our old stomping ground, and Mexico. Glad the post is helpful! Are you in California now?
No not yet – we fly out on Wednesday (15th)
Another excellent post on extraordinary Mexico City! Nice photo choices too. Happy trails!
Thanks, Henry! Hope life’s treating you well. 🙂
Timing on reading this is perfect as we are planning a MC visit next winter. We were there last year for a food tour…but did not see everything. We fell in love with the city and want to return. I will use all your advice as we plan our itinerary.
I’m so glad the post is helpful! You probably saw our first installment as well, Things to Do in Centro. Good luck with your planning and have a great trip!
Over the past few years my hubs and I have really started to enjoy bird watching as amateurs. I’m sorry to say we were very close to this region but missed it. However, I suspect we will be back in Spain soon, we love it there, so hopefully can add this to our itinerary. I’m saving for future reference. Great post and great photos.
Hmm, I think you meant this for Annie Haycock’s post? 🙂
These are some great suggestions! I visited Mexico City several years ago & missed all these. I plan to head back soon & will definitely be coming back here for all the details.
Thanks, Sue – glad the post is helpful! You might have seen the one just before this, Things to do in Centro. When I started working on Mexico City, I realized there was no way to cram everything into a single post! Enjoy your trip back to CDMX.
We visited Mexico many times – mostly for the beaches. But are sorry we never made it to Mexico City. I love the variety of things there are to do outside of the central city area. And I loved the green space available for strolls.
Thank you! Mexico City really was a revelation – we never expected to see and do as much as we did. And the parks – especially Parque Mexico – are beautiful!
Teotihuacan! Those massive pyramids have fascinated me for a long time. It will be a dream come true if I see them in person.
Many many thanks for this post (I just bookmarked it!). And I appreciate the list of recommended restaurants as well.
Those pyramids really were spectacular, Bama! I think I see a trip to Latin America in your future 🙂
An excellent guide on what to do outside of Centro. I particularly love the look of your lunch at the pyramids of Teotihuacan
That WAS a good lunch, now that I think about it! Glad you enjoyed the post 🙂
Your posts are fascinating. You do such a great job in sharing your experiences and I am grateful because I always pretend I’m following you around. Stay well and enjoy each day. Cheers, Muriel
Thanks so much, Muriel! We’re happy to have you follow around 🙂 Hope you’re well – sending hugs.
¡Magnífico blog!. Os deseo mucha salud y muchos viajes. Ojalá nosotros podamos superar problemas de salud y volvamos a poder viajar…. la vida es un viaje peligroso pero ¡ tan bella!, el mundo es tan bonito, hay tanto que ver y tan poco tiempo. Saludos.
Os invito a también a mi blog de viajes, ¡genial poder compartir experiencias viajeras!.
Great photos and write-up!
Would love to visit one day…
Thank you for visiting our blog!
I love your pictures of Mexico and the history you present here; I’ve learned new things about Mexico that I didn’t even know. I would love to go to Xochimilco, it is one of those places that have been on my travel list for a while, so glad you were able to travel there and share with us your experience!
Thanks, Liz! I hope you get to see Xochimilco and other CDMX sites someday!