Local businesses at a colourful colonial building in Coyoacan, a historic neighbourhod in Mexico City.
travel tips

Mexico City: what to expect when you visit

Auston Matta

Contributing writer

Mexico City is the first impression many travellers have of the country and it's worth spending an extended period of time in the capital if you can. Visiting Mexico City is a wonderful opportunity to immerse yourself in the bustling atmosphere of a big city and how you adapt to the Mexicans’ day-to-day living.

There's a good chance that travelling in Mexico City may not quite be what you imagined before you arrived. To help manage your expectations, here are some glimpses of life in the city to give you an idea of what it’s like - the good and the bad.

Mexico City skyline on a cloudy day

1. There’s a lot of pollution in Mexico City

When you arrive in Mexico City, the first thing you'll notice is the air quality. It isn’t very good, perhaps unsurprisingly for a city of its size with a huge number of cars. While the streets are kept clean (you'll regularly see store owners and residents sweeping outside their front doors) and people do not litter, it is still quite dusty, and many older buildings are blackened by the pollution.

Fortunately, given Mexico City's altitude and relative dryness, you shouldn't feel any adverse effects on your breathing. Saying that, you'll still notice that the pollution is there.

2. Many people ride bikes in Mexico City

Despite the enormous amount of traffic, you will see a vast number of people cycling their way around the city. In Mexico City, don't be shocked to see men and women, young and old, on their bikes.

The local administration is also making a concerted effort to encourage cycling, with various bike-sharing stations throughout the city offering free rides for the first 45 minutes.

Local businesses at a colourful colonial building in Coyoacan, a historic neighbourhod in Mexico City.

3. Mexico City is a foodie’s delight

If there's one word that comes to mind when thinking of Mexico City, it's food! Mexico City is a foodie's delight... And in addition to restaurants, nearly every corner of the city has street food options.

There are a seemingly limitless number of restaurants from fine dining to cheap finds serving local cuisine, all using healthy and fresh ingredients, including avocados, beans, chilies, tomatoes, and other vegetables. Various types of meat are typically used in tacos, tamales, and soups, such as beef, chicken, pork, and fish, as well as rabbit and lamb.

Eat anything that takes your fancy and don't worry about your waistline. Paletas, tostadas, aguacate ice cream, chilaquiles, churros con chocolate... The list goes on and they are all worth the calories!

4. There are vegetarian and vegan options

Believe it or not, vegetarian and vegan options are easy to find in Mexico City. In most restaurants or cafés, it's possible to ask if they have anything vegetarian or vegan - and they often do, but perhaps not quite as frequently as you'd find in Europe.

While you might struggle to find truly delicious vegetarian or vegan food in smaller towns, there are now plenty of holes-in-the-wall dedicated to serving up animal-product-free foods, such as a pot of grated carrot and jicama. Many of these places even allow you to enjoy a sustainable and plastic-free dining experience.

Wine glasses with head phones in the background in a bar in Mexico City

5. Mexico City has exciting and varied nightlife

Because Mexico City is such a large city, it should be no surprise that its nightlife is just as dynamic and diversified. The capital has a little bit of everything for every type of partygoer, whether it's sitting with a cocktail at an expensive bar or drinking at Mezcaleras and Cantinas.

The most popular party neighbourhoods in Mexico City are Zona Rosa (in Juarez), Roma, La Condesa, and Polanco. Zona Rosa is a little more laid-back and budget-friendly, plus it has a lively, gay-friendly party atmosphere. Make sure not to miss out on the opportunity to experience Mexican beer, mezcal, pulque, and creative cocktails, even if you aren't into the intense nightlife.

6. The metro is affordable and practical

Unlike the other cities in Mexico, Mexico City has a metro system that is pretty easy to navigate. It is one of the few metro systems in the world that uses pictograms to symbolise the stations and their names (presumably to assist persons who cannot read or who have difficulty remembering unfamiliar names).

Unfortunately, it's unsightly, filthy, and a little crowded, but it's affordable and practical. It's the cheapest way to go around the city, costing only M$5 per ride (around USD$0.25). Despite the fact that Mexicans are generally kind and courteous, they rush onto the metro without waiting for others to exit first, which can be frustrating. Nonetheless, the system is quite extensive, and trains rarely take longer than two or three minutes to arrive.

A woman walking past street art in Mexico City

7. There is good street art in Mexico City

There is a lot of urban street art in Mexico City, with much of it clustered around the neighbourhoods of La Condesa and Roma Norte, though it can be found elsewhere too. The street art generally well-kept and there isn't much graffiti at all.

Like in Buenos Aires, street art seems to be well respected as an art form. Indeed, Mexico as a country has a much stronger tradition of art in the streets than many other countries.

8. Customer service is very responsive

Just like all the other places you’ll visit in Mexico, you can find the people to be very friendly too in the capital. The most evident manifestation of this is in customer service, which appears to be very forward and always seeks to satisfy the consumer. I

f you're used to North American customer service in general, this won't surprise you, but if you're from Europe, you could find it a little excessive at times.

The exterior of the Museum of Memory and Tolerance in Mexico City

9. Mexico City has some intriguing museums

The city is full of museums of all kinds and it's worth spending a day of your Mexico City itinerary exploring them. As well as the famous Museo Nacional de Antropología and Museo Frida Kahlo, many galleries showcase contemporary and fine art. However there are also unusual and obscure musuems.

For example, the Museum of Antique Toys, the interestingly named Museum of Memory and Tolerance, and the Museo del Carmen, also known as the mummy museum. You can also visiti the Museum of the Object of the Object (MODO), which is as weird as it sounds.

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 Auston Matta

Author - Auston Matta

Auston runs the blog Two Bad Tourists and is also a freelance writer. His work has been featured in many publications including Attitude Magazine, Edge Media Network, The Houston Chronicle and ManAboutWorld Magazine.

Last Updated 11 October 2022

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