Top 25 Things to do in Mexico City

Mexico City
Mexico City

Having grown up in this huge, sprawling metropolis, Mexico City remains one of my favorite places to visit. My husband Tony has also become a big fan since the first time I brought him along for a trip during college, and he now proclaims it his favorite city in the world.

For the many of you who always ask for my advice about the basics, here is a list of the top 25 things I recommend for first-time visitors (in no particular order):

Me in the bathroom at the Latin American Tower-- picture the views from the bar!
Me in the bathroom at the Latin American Tower-- picture the views from the bar!

1) Have drinks at the bar on top of the Torre Latino Americana (the Latin American Tower) at sunset.

2) Visit the Bazaar Sabado in San Angel (a famous indoor/outdoor arts and crafts market only on Saturday mornings). You can eat breakfast on the patio of Saks Restaurant or grab stellar margaritas at San Angel Inn nearby.

A selection of limited-edition tequilas and mezcals at the Bazzar Sabado.
A selection of limited-edition tequilas and mezcals at the Bazzar Sabado.

3) Rent Segways and ride down Reforma Avenue on Sunday morning when this main thoroughfair is closed to traffic. Afterwards, grab a drink on the terrace of the St. Regis Hotel, overlooking the Diana statue.

Sara Tony Segways
Sara Tony Segways

4) Ride the big red Turibus to get acquainted with the city layout and all the different neighborhoods. You can board the bus at various locations and also get on and off at each stop to explore (ticket is valid all day).

5) Visit Chapultepec Park: you can tour the Castle where Emperor Maximilian lived, take a mini-train around the park grounds, see the pandas and hairless dogs at the Zoo and even rent a paddleboat to cruise the lake.

Tony enjoying some delish tacos at Los Panchos.
Tony enjoying some delish tacos at Los Panchos.

6) After your visit to the park, hit up Los Panchos for all kinds of mouthwatering and typical tacos (near the Camino Real).

7) Visit the Zocalo (or main square downtown) and take a “bell” tour at the Cathedral. If you do it before noon you will be up on the rooftop as the bells rings at 12—a pretty surreal experience.

A view of the Cathedral from the Majestic Hotel downtown in the Zocalo.
A view of the Cathedral from the Majestic Hotel downtown in the Zocalo.

8) While you’re downtown, eat lunch at Azul y Oro or Padrinos. A new excellent addition to this area I tried on my last trip is Lismoneros.

9) After lunch, stop at the historic Opera Bar for a tequila and sangrita—you can see the bullet holes in the wall shot by Mexican hero Pancho Villa.

10) Catch a showing of the Ballet Folklorico at Bellas Artes (the Palace of Fine Arts), also downtown (on Wednesdays & Sundays only).

Walking around downtown you'll find tons of interesting places--including this famous bakery and wedding cake shop.
Walking around downtown you'll find tons of interesting places--including this famous bakery and wedding cake shop.

11) Every Friday at 8PM a trolley leaves from alongside Bellas Artes on a Mezcal Tour (mezcal is similar to tequila- contact # (55) 5491 1615).  Taste different varieties of this trendy alcohol while inside the Panteon San Fernando graveyard. Afterwards you can stop at El Moro for the ultimate churros and hot chocolate.

12) Visit the Anthropology Museum—even if you’re not into museums, the building itself is incredible and you can see the Indian Flyers of Papantla put on a great show in front every hour or so. If you are into museums, my Mom’s two favorites are the Dolores Olmedo and the Franz Mayer.

My sister-in-law Cassie and me mastering our porrones at the same time at El Meson del Cid.
My sister-in-law Cassie and me mastering our porrones at the same time at El Meson del Cid.

13) Have dinner at El Meson del Cid on a Saturday—Medieval night. You’ll be taken back in time among the jesters on stilts, the dinner procession including a whole roasted pig, and the “King” and the royal family in full costume. The most fun is drinking red wine out of the porrones--- you have to essentially pour the wine into your mouth from a spout and then move the porron farther and farther away, creating a flowing steam of wine.

14) Walk around the Polanco, Condesa and Roma (the most happening the stylish neighborhoods).  In these areas:

Eat at El Bajio (old-school Mexican & great breakfasts), Contramar (trendy with fresh seafood) or El Cardenal (traditional).  Get drinks on the rooftop of the Condesa DF Hotel.

Tony sampling a certain mezcal at La Botica in Condesa.
Tony sampling a certain mezcal at La Botica in Condesa.

15) Other good bars in Condesa: Mojito Room, La Botica (mezcals), XampanieryaPata Negra, and La Bodega (live Cuban band on Fridays). It’s also fun to grab a round of giant margaritas at Villa Maria—and by giant I mean the biggest you have ever seen—in really cool flavors like coconut and tamarindo.

15) While we're on the subject of drinking, make sure to try the famous alcoholic beverage drunk by the Aztecs (and now making a comeback) called pulque at Las Insurgentes on Insurgentes Avenue.

16) Also in the Polanco neighborhood, make reservations for a table at the Argentinian restaurant La Vid on a weekend night. Drink red wine and eat empanadas while watching an excellent tango show featuring two couples, a live guitarist and a special performance involving ropes and cigarettes that will leave you breathless.

The piles of the scrumptious toppings at Tostadas Coyoacan.
The piles of the scrumptious toppings at Tostadas Coyoacan.

17) Visit the main plaza in Coyoacan in the south—grab micheladas (ice cold beer with fresh lime juice) at Cantina La Guadalupana and eat fresh humongous tostadas inside the Mercado de Coyoacan at Tostadas Coyoacan (one of Tony’s faves). After lunch, stop by Corazon de Maguey for a mezcal tasting, or a really cool array of mezcal-based cocktails.

Tony Mezcal Tasting
Tony Mezcal Tasting

18) While in this neighborhood, you can also visit Casa Azul (Frida Kahlo’s house) or take a narrated trolley tour along the quaint streets.

19) Take a boat trip in Xochimilco (canals on the south side of the city)—you can order buckets of beer to bring on board and boats filled with Mariachis or selling yummy snacks will come up next to your boat.

The specialized boats we had made with our names for our wedding-- on the canals of Xochimilco.
The specialized boats we had made with our names for our wedding-- on the canals of Xochimilco.

20) After your boat trip, have lunch or dinner at El Arroyo and try to catch a live show or mock bullfight (groups can call ahead to participate). The restaurant specializes in homemade chicharron, barbacoa and carnitas.

My sister Amy participating in a mock "bullfight" at El Arroyo Restaurant.
My sister Amy participating in a mock "bullfight" at El Arroyo Restaurant.

21) Check out the vibrant salsa dancing nightlife at Mama Rumba or Mambo Café.

Tony about to dig into some tacos al pastor at the local Charco de las Ranas.
Tony about to dig into some tacos al pastor at the local Charco de las Ranas.

22) Eat tacos al pastor at one of the branches of Charco de las Ranas (and order the fried cheese to start).

23) Try a big bowl of steaming pozole at La Casa de Tono in the Colonia Santa Maria la Ribera.  Afterwards walk down Salvador Diaz Miron (the big street right nearby) to your left and look for a bakery on the corner—you’ll be blown away by the selection of delicious Mexican pastries.

24) Take a taxi to Garibaldi Square and catch an evening variety show at Guadalajara de Noche (including typical Mexican dancing, singing and rope tricks). Before or after, grab a ponche de Granada – a specialty drink at nearby Tenampa.

25) Before you go, browse Nicholas Gilman's terrific blog Good Food in Mexico City to get the most updated information on new foodie outposts all over the city.