Useful Mexico City travel guide for savvy travelers

Useful Mexico City travel guide for savvy travelers

Mexico City is a sprawling city with so many neighborhoods and attractions and history that it’s not possible to see it all on a quick trip. That said, this thorough guide will give you the best ideas of sites to see in this historic and modern city. It’s a useful Mexico City travel guide with many cultural points of interest — all at affordable prices.

There aren’t many major urban centers where you can ride a tour bus on a 24-hour pass for under $10, or take in panoramic views from a skyscraper for a few dollars. Museums with amazing history cost as low as three dollars; and you can see amazing art by one of the country’s most well-known artists — for free!

Any combination of sites below could make for an excellent overview of Mexico City on time and money budgets. Take your pick and make your quick trip to this vibrant city a memorable one. Or, stay longer, or go back – and see it all. It’s a city Earth Vagabonds have been to more than once, and one we plan to visit again.

Ready for adventure? Let’s go!

Mexico City travel guide by Earth Vagabonds

Subway rides

Let’s start our Mexico City travel guide with getting around because things are spread out over the urban center. The subway is easy to navigate. Look at the map here.

Tickets are 5 pesos, less than a quarter.

An interesting point: there are subway cars for women only. Usually those cars are at the front of the platform. They are marked pink signs that say “women only.” Men can be dogs and women deserve peace. I so love Mexico.

Torre Latinoamericana and two museums inside the tower

To me, Torre Latinoamericana looks like it’s tilting every-so-slightly on its side. This tower has survived some large earthquakes with no problem. It was the tallest building in Latin America when it was built in 1956.

Go up to the 44th floor for great views of the city. Go on a clear day, and try to go in the morning or early afternoon when the sun is high enough to enjoy the panoramic views without looking into the sun (also the smog may not be as heavy in the mornings). You will get a map that shows points of interest from the different views on the observation deck.

There is a small museum a few floors down from the observation deck that has an exhibit featuring the history of buildings in Mexico City. Go see this if you have any interest in architecture or a general interest in the city’s past. The photos are fabulous, and most displays have at least one sentence in English. This museum also includes, of course, the history of Torre Latinoamerica, from planning to building to today.

Admission for the observation deck and the architecture museum is 120 pesos, or about $6.21 USD. Fact: this was the biggest splurge on this entire long list, and it’s still a steal.

Tedly looked up the price to go to the top of the Empire State building. It’s $34 for the standard observation spot, $80 to skip the lines, $175 for the premium tour. (Of course, that’s NYC – no other place like it on the planet.)

Back inside Mexico City’s Torre Latinoamerica, there is another small, temporary museum to honor the city’s centennial celebration. This cost another dollar. I enjoyed this exhibit as well, but it would have been nice if some of the displays had a bit of English – everything was only in Spanish.

The tower’s website is here.

One last point: after the latest large earthquake in Mexico City in 2017, tower officials declared the structure in “perfect condition.”

Templo Mayor

Before the Spanish arrived, indigenous life flourished in what is now Mexico City – on the parts that weren’t underwater. (Most of Mexico City is on an old lake bed). Ruins from those indigenous cultures are underneath today’s city streets. That’s what Templo Mayor is all about: it’s a museum and its grounds display some of those ruins right in the heart of the city. The museum is huge and we easily spent a few hours there. Since we travel to learn about areas we visit, this site is a natural for our Mexico City travel guide.

Admission was 70 pesos. Visit the museum’s website for hours.

Palacio de Bellas Artes

This building is gorgeous. People go for special events, like special concerts and performances. People also go for some art inside, including a fantastic mural by renowned Mexican muralist Diego Rivera called “Man at the Crossroads,” also known as “Man, Controller of the Universe.” This mural is one of my favorite spots, and so I had to include it in our Mexico City travel guide.

There is so much going on in this mural – as with all of Diego’s work. The overriding theme I see in all of his work is starkest in this mural: humility versus greed past and present, and what it could mean for our future. (Pictures below.)

I didn’t see the theaters in the Palacio when we went, because there were no special performances during our visits so far. But definitely check out the Palacio’s website to see what’s playing while you are there — you might luck out with something great.

Central Alameda Park (commonly called Hidalgo Park)

Right outside the Palacio is a large, lush green park with free public WiFi. This is Mexico City’s oldest municipal park. There are fountains, benches, lovers, families. Sometimes there are small performances or bands. Bring a snack and chill before you head to your next point of interest.

It borders avenidas Hidalgo and Juarez. A map of the park can be found here.

Palacio de Correos de Mexico

Close to Hidalgo Park, this is a cool, quick stop. I spent the better part of two years in Mexico and I once saw a mailman. I have seen post offices in some places, and mail slots in some homes, but mail in Mexico… well, it can take some time. A friend claimed he mailed something to Germany and the recipient received it a few years later.

That said, the Palacio de Correos is beautiful and ornate. It’s in use, so you can’t go all over the place, but you can see the intricate architecture from one section of the lobby area.

A map of its location is here.

National Palace

No Mexico City travel guide is complete without including this palace. This was a free visit and two things stood out to me.

First, the living quarters of Benito Juarez is truly a special place. This former Mexican president is honored all over the country with statues and parks and streets named after him. He is the only president honored with a national holiday.

The museum showcases his family’s living areas and some personal memorabilia, special photos, and the room where he died. I didn’t feel any special energy in the room where he died in 1872 – but I did feel something in front of his and his wife’s portrait in a nearby room. (Tedly didn’t deny feeling some kind of special energy there, as well.) This is definitely a special space.

The second thing that stood out to me was another fantastic Diego Rivera mural called “The History of Mexico.” Both Rivera and Juarez had love for the common folk, and this theme is evident in this giant mural on a massive stairwell. It’s ironic because though the Mexican government commissioned the painting in 1929, Rivera was no fan of authority.

Admission is free, but you must leave ID at the door to get a visitor badge. This is a place where day-to-day government operations are run, so sometimes the sights are off-limits to tourists if there is a big political event. That happened to us – we meant to go there on day one, but an event had the palace closed to the public, so we were able to circle back on day two.

Since Mexico City is sinking a few centimeters each year due to its development on an ancient lake bed, and because it suffers from earthquakes, there are portions of the palace that have obviously been structurally reinforced. I saw this more here at this location than in other buildings we visited.

The National Palace is on the Zocalo, or main city square (which is yet another thing to visit). A map is here.

Secretary of Education Building

My favorite place to see a collection of Rivera’s fantastic work for free is at the nation’s education department headquarters. The volume is incredible – the guy just kept painting and painting and painting on the first floor courtyard, some stairwells, and much of the second floor corridors.

Each mural is story in its own right, but taken together the entire thing tells a giant story. There are 235 panels done by Rivera (!), and more murals were done by other artists.

We can easily spend a couple of hours here, and my neck will hurt from looking up at all of this wonderful art.

Admission is free, as it’s in the working area of a government building, like the National Palace. You’ll see people at work in rooms while you are marveling at Rivera’s fantastic art. And that’s what the artist would have wanted.

If I had to pick just three panels at this site as favorites, they’d be: The Orgy, Wall Street Banquet, and The Arsenal.

Massage by vision-impaired at Plaza Santo Domingo

We once stopped at a cafe in a small park at the Santo Domingo church after looking up at Rivera’s amazing murals in the education building. My neck was a bit stiff.

While sitting in the park with my coffee, I saw people giving massages in those ‘sit up’ chairs. The service was only 70 pesos so I went over and had an amazing massage – as good as it can get in a public place while you are sitting up and leaning your face on a plastic covered cushion (I used my scarf as a buffer).

Turns out, the people giving the massages all are vision impaired. The massage was supposed to be 20 minutes, but I got more like 26 minutes. I gave the woman – who made me feel so much better – a big fat tip.

I do not know if they offer this every day, since there is no store front, but swing by and give it a try if you’re in the area and need a quick refresher. A map of the park is here. The massage chairs were on the east end.

Casa Churra

All this sightseeing made us hungry! For authentic Mexican food, we stopped at Casa Churra on a pedestrian street near the Zocalo. We chose this place because it was packed with locals. That’s always a good sign. Plus – vegetarian pozole was on the menu! It was quite tasty, but a churro with chocolate as a total splurge for dessert is what really made me smile. All that – and it was reasonably priced.

Honestly, Mexican food is my favorite. I could include more places to eat, but then this would be called the Mexican City food guide instead of the Mexican City travel guide.

There are a few locations of Casa Churra. Their website is here.

Casa Churra dessert as mentioned in the mexico city travel guide by earth vagabonds

Pedestrian streets

Pedestrian-only walkways through the more touristy part of town are an excellent way to take in the sights. Locals meander through the wide alleys, too, and so I’m including these pedestrian streets in our Mexico City travel guide.

Almost every large Mexican city seems to have pedestrian roads – San Cristobal and Oaxaca City come to mind. These are great for strolling along at your leisure with no worries about cars (except for the occasional cross street).

Locals trying to make a buck will set up an impromptu market with their goods laid out on the ground – everything from hair brushes to headphones to hats.

These streets are usually packed with mobs of people, as you can see in the distance of the photo below.

woman standing on a pedestrian street as mentioned in the mexico city travel guide by earth vagabonds

Markets

Speaking of markets, one time we stayed in an Airbnb near the Mercado Jamaica – a huge and delightfully smelling market. Never saw so many beautiful flowers in one spot in my life – and that’s what makes this market special. The arrangements were spectacular. Think FTD or flowers.com on steroids. The website is here.

You may not want to go all the way to this market from wherever you’re staying in Mexico City just to see flowers, but check out what markets are near wherever you are staying. Local markets always are always a fun, inexpensive way to experience a culture.

Lucha Libre bleacher seats

What Mexico City travel guide would be complete without the famed Lucha Libre? Go here to experience some silly fun!

If you don’t want to run the risk of bodily fluids or bodies falling on you, seats up high are just as good as the ones on the floor. The bleacher seats on the uppermost level are concrete, and cold on your fanny. I sat on my jacket. We had a total silly blast..

Ticket prices vary by your seating. Bleacher seats are only a couple of bucks.

Tip for buying tickets

Don’t get ripped off: go straight to the box office. Don’t let the scalpers or the ‘helpers’ rig you into buying tickets. These men stand right in front of the box office. Some of them wear neck badges that make them look official but they’re not – and they’re looking for gringos to make a buck off of.

I don’t fault them for trying to make money, and you may decide to use them for better tickets you may not be able to get at the box office.

The wrestlers and their fans rule the house at Arena Mexico. For a schedule and location info, the official arena site is here.

Turibus tour bus

Turibus is a must do if you have all day to devote to this. You can get all over this sprawling city for a nominal fee on a day pass for under $10. If you plan your own sightseeing route, you can use it as a public transportation bus. That’s a cheap price for getting around any city!

If you plan your day well enough, you can use the tour bus as transportation from one side of the city to another as needed, and skip pricier cab fares, while learning about sites in the city. Or, you can stay on the bus for an entire route and listen to the actual tour. Or, listen for awhile, hop off to explore something, and hop back on another bus when you’re ready. Tedly likes to say if this had been NYC, it would have cost a hundred bucks easy.

There is Turibus, and Turitours. For more money, you can take other, official tour routes around Mexico City, such as to Teotihuacan, north of the city.

Info on Turibus and Turitours is here.

Diego Rivera’s & Frido Khalo’s homes

So you’ve stopped at Diego’s murals listed on this Mexico City travel guide, and you’re now a fan. You might want to check out his home, which doubled as an art studio.

I felt incredible energy here and highly recommend this stop for anyone interested his art, life, and outlook on life. At Diego’s studio and home, Frida’s separate but connected home was interesting to visit, as well. Both buildings are connected by a walkway on the top floor, and both are now museums. Info can be found here.

We also went to Frida Khalo’s childhood home, which is where she went to die. That is also now a museum, and worth your time. It’s in a different part of the city. Info can be found here.

Diego’s and Frida’s homes, and Frida’s childhood home, are in different neighborhoods. A map showing each location is here. Admission to each was a nominal couple of dollars.

Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe

This site, with a shrine and several buildings, is sacred to Catholic Mexicans, and so it’s on this Mexico City travel guide.

The church is built near the hill where the Virgin of Guadalupe is said to have appeared to Juan Diego. The newer Basilica has the original cloak of Juan Diego, which holds the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The image is behind the altar, downstairs. Crowds move by it on a conveyor walkway. This lets you stand in place and look at it – but it keeps you moving and you go quickly by the image. (Tedly got the money shot of the cloak, pictured below, with his fancy camera.) Millions of people go to see this every year so the crowds are large.

Every time we are anywhere in Mexico around December 12, we enjoy the celebrations honoring Our Lady of Guadalupe Feast Day. There are processions and parties in the days leading up to this holiday all over the country – especially in Puerto Vallarta.

It was moving to visit this place even though I’m not Catholic, because the standing before the image is such an important pilgrimage site to this faith.

A map is here. The official website (Spanish only) is here.

Mexico City travel guide extras

Need even more ideas? No problem. Of course, there’s more to see and do.

I’ve mentioned Teotihuacan, north of the city. That site has the famed Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon. That’ll take most of a day, if you have the time.

Also, there are good places for cheap eats with views overlooking the Zocalo, as well as the famous Revolution monument. This is a must do, if you have the time, and maybe even if you don’t — try to make the time. This square is famous, and often public events happen here such as concerts.

Another dont’ miss: the amazing anthropology museum. Especially if you are fascinated with history. We spent many hours here.

I hope some of the ideas on this Mexico City travel guide will help you enjoy your stay and save money in this fabulous, culturally important and fun major urban center. And, I hope there are no earthquakes during your visit.

This guide was updated on November 19, 2019.

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Ellen

Early retired budget traveler. Earthy Goddess. Former journalist. For humanity. Breast cancer warrior, now living flat. Loves chocolate, coffee, stories, puppies.
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