Scenic view at Basilica of Guadalupe with Mexico city skyline at sunset

3 days in Mexico City: an itinerary for first-time visitors

Planning a trip to Mexico City? Here are our picks...

Stay: Casa Goliana La Roma

Walking tour: Custom private tour

Food tour: Polanco food tour

Experience: Lucha libre in Mexico City

Day trip: Teotihuacan early morning tour

Wondering what to do with three days in Mexico City? With a population estimated at over 22 million, Mexico City is located at 2,250m above sea level in the Valley of Mexico. As the world's sixth largest city, there’s no shortage of things to do and see in Mexico City. In fact, narrowing it down is the hard part.

Mexico City has some of the best food in the world, stunning architecture and a museum for every occasion. Although it often has a bad reputation, crime is mainly related to gangs, and Mexico City is pretty safe in the touristy areas. And no visit here is complete without a lycra-clad lucha libre match.

This Mexico City itinerary includes some of our favourite places and activities, which will give you a taste of this fascinating city.

An aerial view of Mexico City on a sunny day

How long should I spend in Mexico City?

As mentioned above, Mexico City is huge and it’s impossible to do the city justice in just a few days. There’s so much to do in this vast city that you might think just three days isn’t enough. And you’d probably be right – ideally, we’d recommend a week to get a better feel for the city.

Saying that, Mexico City is usually just the arrival point for a holiday to somewhere else in Mexico, like Oaxaca or Merida – and this means visitors have limited time in the city. For a first look at this enigmatic city, three days is a just about enough time to sample a bit of everything.

Looking down on people outside the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City

Day one - Centro

For the first day, it’s essential to explore the Centro Historico area. It’s where the most famous landmarks and museums of the city are, and there’s always something going on. Head to the Zócalo, Mexico City’s massive main square, and visit the Metropolitan Cathedral, Templo Mayor Aztec Ruins, the National Palace and the many other museums in the area.

One of the best views in the city can be found at the Palacio de Bellas Artes. The building is absolutely stunning but best seen from above, find the Finca Don Porfirio coffee shop in the Sears department store for the amazing views over the sunset-coloured roof tiles. For a bit of people watching pop next door to Alameda Central Park, the oldest park in the city, it’s always buzzing with tourists and locals and is a great place to rest for a bit.

Centro is also packed with great food options. Replenish yourself after all of that sightseeing with a churro and a hot chocolate at the famous Churrería El Moro, open 24 hours a day. It can get busy though so expect to queue. An absolute favourite if you don’t feel like waiting around is Pastelerías Esperanza, it’s a bakery that has just about everything your heart (or stomach) could desire. It’s always worth a stop here to get some lunch to go, perfect for busy days spent sightseeing.

In the evening visit one of the many fine dining options in the city. La Casa de las Sirenas is one of the most popular, it’s a historic venue with amazing terrace views, serving traditional & contemporary Mexican dishes. Limosneros is another well known eatery serving up adventurous takes on classic Mexican dishes, in a beautifully rustic stone interior.

A Mayan temple surrounded by plants at the National Anthropology Museum in Mexico City

Day two - Roma

The hipster heart of Mexico City, Roma is actually split into two districts; Norte and Sud. Both are loved by locals and tourists alike. After an earthquake decimated the area in 1985, it has slowly been rebuilt and was designated a “barrio mágico” in 2011. Wander the leafy streets in search of original boutiques, amazing street art and the perfect pan dulce.

Roma has made a name for itself as one of the best places to visit for foodies in Mexico City. Sample some of the best local street food at Mercado Roma. Definitely try some Tacos Al Pastor if you’ve never had them, and wash it down with a local craft beer or mezcal. A top tip: not many stalls are open until the afternoon so it’s better to visit for lunch or an early dinner rather than brunch.

Spend the afternoon immersed in history at the Museo Nacional de Antropología. It’s filled with large stone carvings, Mayan and Aztec artefacts, as well as a huge collection from Teotihuacan. It’s best to do a guided tour as there is just so much to see and not all signs are in English. If history’s not your thing there are plenty of unique book shops to while away an afternoon in Roma too, like Casa Universitaria del Libro. For something a bit different there’s also the Museum of the Object of the Object (MODO), which is as weird as it sounds.

In the evening spoil yourself at one of the many local eateries. Plaza Río de Janeiro is a great spot for people watching, and there are some wonderful international restaurants to eat at. The all vegetarian “Los Loosers” is a local favourite, offering Japanese-Mexican fusion dishes. Then dance the night away at Mama Rumba, one of the best salsa clubs in Mexico City.

Pyramids at Teotihuacan archaeological site in Mexico

Day three - Teotihuacan and Lucha Libre

If it’s your first, and maybe only, time visiting Mexico City you cannot miss Teotihuacan. It’s best to get there early to avoid the heat and the crowds. You can find tours here easily from Centro Historico (including an early morning tour), but it’s not hard to do it yourself by bus. It’s worth noting that the museums are all closed on a Monday in Mexico City, but Teotihuacan remains open, so plan your days accordingly.  Like many archaeological sites in Mexico, it’s busiest on Sundays, as it is free entry for Mexicans.

The ancient Mesoamerican city is an impressive size at around 21km² during its epoch. Built around 100 BCE it’s believed to be one of the biggest cities of the time, and the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas. But it remains shrouded in mystery: Although many assume it’s Aztec, it was actually just named by them after they discovered it. Little is known about the people who lived here, and the ancient language carved into the rock is yet to be deciphered.

At Teotihuacan you can actually climb many of the pyramids, giving you a unique perspective of what it was like in its heyday, unlike the protected ruins at Chichen Itza. Some murals also still remain in the Palace of Itzpapalotl, the mural of the jaguar, and in the residential complex of Tepantitla.

For a late lunch, after a busy morning exploring the ruins, visit La Gruta. A restaurant in a huge cave, it’s the perfect place to cool down and try some amazing Mexican dishes with a modern twist. The atmosphere is just incredible, with friendly staff and lighting by candlelight.

The great thing about visiting Teotihuacan early is you have time in the afternoon to relax. In the evening, experience a completely different side to Mexican culture by watching the lucha libre at Arena México. Even if you don’t understand wrestling at all, lucha libre is an enormous amount of fun to watch. Bright, colourful costumes, flamboyant acrobatics and masked heroes and villains make for a thrilling spectacle that you don’t need to fully understand to enjoy the theatrics of. It’s a family affair, with grandmas and children chanting along in the crowd, and sometimes on the stage!

Colourful boats in the Xochimilco canals, Mexico City

If you have more time in Mexico City

  • Coyoacan is the place to go if you want to feel like a local in Mexico City. With a bohemian vibe, laid back residents and colourfully painted houses, this area is easily walkable and a great place to stay a while. Although Mexico City isn’t expensive, this area is even more affordable and is a very safe part of Mexico City. Great spots to visit include Viveros de Coyoacán, the Frida Kahlo museum, Plaza Hidalgo, Jardín Centenario and the Juan Batista church.

  • There are some great day trips from Mexico City, it’s hard to choose just one. A trip to Xochimilco Ecological Park offers colourful trajinera boat cruises, a flower market & the chance to see wading birds in the vast wetlands. You can also explore the caves and relax in a thermal river at las Grutas de Tolantongo, while a visit to the UNAM Central Library provides some of the most dramatic architecture and art in the city.

  • Another day trip or overnight stay from Mexico City that I would highly recommend is the Monarch Butterfly Reserves. Each year between November and March, Monarch butterflies arrive in Mexico by their thousands to spend the winter in warmer climes. Seeing this mass migration is mind blowing and easily one of the greatest natural spectacles on the planet. For the adventurous you can do it yourself by bus, but there are also tours available.

Make the most of your stay by reading our guide on where to stay in Mexico City and our Mexico City travel tips.

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Jo Williams

Author - Jo Williams

Jo Williams is a freelance writer with 10 years' experience working in travel and tourism. A Brit who got fed up with the 9 to 5 corporate life, she sold everything to become a full-time wanderer.

Jo has travelled to over 70 countries and worked throughout Europe for a major tour operator. She hopes to inspire you to work less and travel more.

Last Updated 9 February 2024

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