Three-Day Mexico City Itinerary: First-timers Guide

Three-Day Mexico City Itinerary: First-timers Guide
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I put together this extensive guide outlining my three-day Mexico City itinerary, along with where to stay, what to eat and drink, how to get around, and more. After just one visit, the city has skyrocketed to the top of my list of favorite cities in the world, so I can’t wait to return and see even more.

I can’t really remember when Mexico City first popped up on my radar as a place I wanted to visit, but it likely was around the time I learned about Frida Kahlo – I’ve been a huge fan of hers since I was a tween.

In recent years, the city had a prominent spot near the top of my bucket list, so within about a month of my friend Kristin saying she’d go with me, we were on a JetBlue flight from Boston. Even though we only had time for a four-night trip over Memorial Day weekend, we packed in as much as possible into those three full days.

The city ended up far exceeding my already high expectations, and I plan to go back as soon as I possibly can, since there’s still so much left for me to explore. In the meantime, I want to continue to spread the word about this welcoming, vibrant and fascinating place. Hopefully this three-day Mexico City itinerary will give you some inspiration and encourage you to plan your own trip – trust me, you won’t be disappointed! 

Chinatown in Mexico City, Mexico
looking up in Chinatown

Three Days in Mexico City

We had three full days in Mexico City, with two days on either end that were half travel days and half eating days. Both after landing and before taking off, we spent some time wandering around the Condesa neighborhood, and checking out a few cafes and restaurants.

Below is our three-day Mexico City itinerary, as well as:

wall that says "Frida and Diego lived in this house" at Casa Azul in Mexico City, Mexico
“Frida and Diego lives in this house”

Day 1 

La Casa Azul  

Touring La Casa Azul was the #1 item on my Mexico City “must do” list, so we went straight there our first morning in town. The “blue house” is where artist and activist Frida Kahlo was born and raised, and where she lived with her husband, Diego Rivera (her lover Trotsky stayed there too for a bit). She also died there at only 47 following a lifetime of health struggles. I’ve long been drawn Frida’s mystique, and I appreciate Diego’s political work as well, so I was thrilled to finally stand in a place that was so important to both of them.

La Casa Azul is obviously a popular attraction, so given the crowds, you don’t have too much time to linger as you tour the home. But you still get a good idea of how this tempestuous and talented couple lived as you pass through a series of small rooms, all of them packed with their art and personal possessions. In the spacious courtyard are exhibits of work by other Mexican artists, and some of Frida’s dresses and jewelry were part of a special display in a separate building.

Tip: You need to buy timed tickets online in advance – be sure to book early. You can show up without a ticket and wait in an overflow line, but you’re not guaranteed entry.

San Juan Bautista in Coyoacan in Mexico City, Mexico
San Juan Bautista

Coyoacan 

It’s definitely worth spending some time in the colorful residential neighborhood surrounding La Casa Azul, Coyoacan. Before our tour, we stopped at Coyoacan Market, an indoor market a few blocks away. Given that it was fairly early on a Sunday morning, a lot of the vendors weren’t set up yet, but we found a fantastic restaurant that was open, La Cocina de mi Mama, where I enjoyed a cafe latte and my first huevos rancheros.

After La Casa Azul, we took some time to explore Coyoacan, which had fully woken up while we were on the tour. There were several craft and art markets set up throughout the neighborhood, and we found another large indoor market, the Mercado Artesan Mexicano. The various plazas were packed with couples and families relaxing and enjoying their Sunday afternoons together alongside street performers and vendors hawking everything from balloons to rosaries – it was a really joyous environment. We also popped inside San Juan Bautista, which is supposed to be one of the most beautiful churches in the city, and walked through the quiet, shaded side streets to see the colorful homes.

cricket pizza (!) at Hilaria Terrace – I tried it and found it to just be crunchy pizza.

Craft Beer Tour 

When you think of Mexico, you don’t really think of “good beer.” (Sorry, Corona.) However, when we saw a craft beer tour offered through Airbnb Experiences, we thought the chance to learn about the country’s new-ish craft beer scene and sample a few local brews was too good to pass up. (Plus, we like beer more than mezcal.) 

So after spending time in Coyocan, we hopped in an Uber to meet up with our group. Our guide was Eunice, a former entertainment journalist who recently founded Tours Cerveceros CDMX to help tourists navigate the local beer scene (Fun fact: She employs all female tour guides!). She took us to four spots that we probably couldn’t have found ourselves: The Beer Company, Hilaria Gastobar, Hilaria Terrace, and Xolotl (The Beer Company has a small doorway, and the others entrances aren’t visible from the street – they’re located within larger buildings you need to pass through first).

We tried a good variety of beers that afternoon – Mexican lager, gose, red lager, pale ale, and stout (most were full pours) – while learning about the fledgling craft beer industry. And we enjoyed a few snacks as well – I even braved a bite of cricket pizza while enjoying the incredible views from Hilaria Terrace.

Day 2 

Cathedral de Mexico City 

We learned the hard way that, unfortunately, not much is open in Mexico City on Mondays. However, the cathedral was. So that was our first stop that morning after successfully navigating the city’s incredibly clean, efficient and affordable subway system to get to the city center.

The Metropolitan Cathedral, which sits on the north side of Zocalo, is the oldest and largest cathedral in all of Latin America. Its construction spanned three centuries, so it’s worth a stop both to learn about its historical significance and to take in its eclectic blend of architectural styles. Mass was going on while we were there, so we couldn’t see much of the main altar – and no photos allowed! – but there was a smaller gold altar in the rear that was quite ornate.

Tip: If you’re planning a short trip and want to see the museums, remember to plan around the Monday closures!

the ruins of Templo Mayor in Mexico City, Mexico
looking over the ruins of Templo Mayor

Zócalo

Step out of the cathedral and you’re in one of the largest squares in the world, Zócalo, aka Plaza de la Constitución. After gawking at the ginormous flag at its center and the elegant government buildings that ring the exterior – including the Palacio Nacional and Palacio del Ayuntamiento – we decided to head down a side street. Passing several other (closed) museums, we came upon a very lively street market – vendors had blankets laid out with their wares, which included everything from homegoods to jewelry. 

We also stopped at the viewing platform to see the ruins of Templo Mayor, the sprawling Aztec complex that the Spanish destroyed when they arrived in the 1500s. I was particularly disappointed that I didn’t get to tour this museum – that’s on the list for the next trip!

la Secretaria de Educacion Publica in Mexico City, Mexico
The murals at la Secretaria de Educacion Publica celebrate Mexican history and culture, and depict his usual anti-capitalist themes.

la Secretaria de Educacion Publica

This was probably my favorite attraction in Mexico City just because I’ve never seen such a massive quantity of art displayed in such an unique location. Part office building, part museum, the “Education Secretariat” has more than 300 Diego Rivera murals lining its walls, which – in his words – capture “the very life of the people.” It was quite amusing to be reading about and photographing these masterpieces while government workers were going about their daily business.

Tip: You need at least one official ID per group to enter, so don’t forget to bring someone’s passport.

Day 3

Chapultepec Castle gardens in Mexico City, Mexico
Chapultepec Castle gardens

Chapultepec Castle

If you have the time, you could easily spend a day or more Chapultepec Park – after all, it’s twice the size of Central Park in New York City. But we only had the morning, so we hopped on the subway and headed straight to the Castle on our third morning. After a steep hike up Chapultepec Hill – once a sacred Aztec site –we were rewarded with phenomenal views of the park and city from the top.

Dating back to 1725, the castle is the only one in North America to have ever housed royals (Emperor Maximilian I and Empress Carlota). Today it houses the National Museum of Cultures, and along with viewing displays of Mexican history and art, you can see rooms decorated as they would have been in the mid-19th century.  

Tip: Wear comfortable walking shoes! And even though you’ll be walking a lot, you can’t bring water or food into the museum. There are lockers at the bottom of the hill.

interior of the Palacio de Belles Artes in Mexico City, Mexico
standing at the top floor inside the Palacio de Belles Artes

Palacio de Belles Artes

Even if you’re not seeing a show, the Palacio de Belles Artes is an architectural and artistic masterpiece that’s still worth a stop. While the exterior was built in the art nouveau and neoclassical styles, the interior, which is open from the lobby to the glass ceiling, has an Art Deco vibe. Lining the second and third floors are gigantic murals by Mexican artists, the most notable being Diego Rivera’s El hombre en el cruce de caminos (Man at the Crossroads), which was rejected by New York’s Rockefeller Center for its anti-capitalist themes. While we were there we also viewed an exhibit of black and white photography.

Tip: You do need to purchase a small ticket to view the murals, special exhibitions and the Museo Nacional de Arquitectura on the third floor. On the ground floor there’s a cafe that’s open to the public.

the Gran Hotel lobby in Mexico City, Mexico
looking down at the Gran Hotel lobby – check out that roof!

The Gran Hotel

The Gran Hotel is an absolute gem. Even if staying there is not in your budget, it’s worth checking out to gawk at the magnificent Tiffany ceiling – yes, the entire ceiling! If you have some time, head up to the bar and restaurant. For some reason we were two of only about 10 patrons in the entire place that afternoon, and the only ones who were seated on the narrow balcony. We enjoyed incredible, unobstructed views of Zócalo with our margaritas.

ceramic skulls at La Ciudadela Market in Mexico City, Mexico
I picked up one of these as a souvenir!

La Ciudadela Market

This market is supposed to be one of the best in the city with goods ranging from textiles to home goods to jewelry and much, much more; however, I cut it a little too close and made it there about 30 minutes before closing. I ran around to get a sense of the vast offerings and came away with just a colorful orange skull.

Tip: The market closes at 6 p.m. and even at 5:30 p.m. most of the vendors were closing up. So definitely plan on getting there earlier in the day.

What Else to Do in Mexico City

Two notable attractions I left off the itinerary for this first trip were the National Museum of Anthropology, the largest and most popular museum in the country, and the ruins of Tenochtitlán, which are 25 miles northwest of the city. Because both take a full day to visit, I decided I’d leave them for the next trip.

Where to Eat in Mexico City

beans and cheese on toast at a cafe in Condesa in Mexico City, Mexico
my favorite coffee shop breakfast – beans and cheese on toast!

Breakfast (& Coffee)

Obviously the food scene in Mexico City is a major draw for travelers, myself included, and the coffee scene is impressive as well. We started out each morning by visiting one of Condesa’s cute cafes like Enhorabuena Cafe or Clara y Ema. One day we treated ourselves to a more substantial meal at Cafe de Tacuba, which has been in business for more than 100 years. The wait staff wear traditional uniforms, and the best part is that you get to choose your pastry from a heaping tray presented at your table.

What else: El Jarocho in Coyoacan is known for its traditional Mexican-style coffee, and two popular chains are Cielito Querido Cafe, which I’ve heard called “the Mexican Starbucks,” and Punta del Cielo. Our friends also highly recommended having breakfast at Expendio de Maiz Sin Nombre, which makes fresh tortillas every morning, but we ran out of time to check it out, unfortunately.

soy "meat" tacos at Restaurante Vegetariano in Mexico City, Mexico
my soy “meat” tacos at Restaurante Vegetariano

Lunch

Unfortunately the taco scene in Mexico City isn’t particularly vegetarian friendly. My friends greatly enjoyed El Huequito and Los Cocuyos – local favorites located just a few feet away from each other – while I stood by and sulked (not really, but…). I did find one all-vegetarian restaurant near the city center, Restaurante Vegetariano in El Mejor del Centro, where I had tacos with soy “meat.” There were also many vegetarian and vegan options to choose from at The Green Corner in Condesa (our first meal in town).

What else: We didn’t have time for El Califa, a more upscale taqueria. Also, according to my research, there are several vegetarian and vegan taco shops in Roma.

cup of corn and cheese from street vendor in Mexico City, Mexico
One night I had street corn for dinner!

Dinner

Since we were on a bit of a budget, we opted out of joining our friends at Pujol – one of the world’s best restaurants – but we did all have dinner together at Nicos, another one of the city’s top spots. The atmosphere was very relaxed, and for only about $30 USD per person, we had drinks, guacamole and several hearty fish and vegetable appetizers. 

What else: Multiple friends also recommended Máximo Bistrot Local, Fonda Fina and Porfirios for dinner.

churros at El Moro in Mexico City, Mexico
a plate of deliciousness at El Moro

Dessert

Following our craft beer tour, we stopped at El Moro, which has been serving churros since 1935. There are several locations throughout the city, but we went to the original (it’s open 24/7!). The menu is pretty simple – churros, hot chocolate and ice cream sandwiches – and we kept it simple with a single order of churros with both chocolate and caramel dipping sauces. They were perfectly crispy and sweet, and the perfect way to end the day.

Another popular Mexico City staple is Neveria Roxy – one of the locations was across from our apartment in Condesa. In business for more than 70 years, it still retains its 50s vibe and is always packed. The ice cream is made with water and not milk or cream, so it has more of an Italian ice texture, which I found refreshing. 

What else: Have as many Mexican pastries as possible. Two of the best bakeries are Pastelerías El Globo and Pasteleria Ideal.

drinks at Xampaneria in Condesa, Mexico City, Mexico
our lovely last night drinks in Xampaneria

Where to Drink in Mexico City

Our first night in town, we checked out two popular cocktail bars in Roma dinner at Nicos: Aurora and La Limantour for creative cocktails. Aurora is a cozier, smaller bar – we were able to grab a small table on the sidewalk – while La Limantour was brighter, louder and multi-level. 

The next night we were in the mood to sit outside, so we made the 10-minute walk to the Condesa Hotel for drinks at its chic rooftop bar, Condesa DF. The crowd was a mix of stylish expats, tourists and locals, and you could sit at tables or lounge on couches, or stand and peer down through the open roof to the lobby far below. Our last night in town, we walked to La Xampaneria in Condesa. That had my favorite scene – there was live music and a few larger groups of friends having a good time, but it wasn’t too crowded. I had a champagne margarita, which I’d love to have again.

What else: I’ve heard Casa Franca is good for live music and El Departmento is good for dancing.

subway station in Mexico City, Mexico
Of all the subway stations I’ve been in in the world, I think this was the cleanest!

How to Get around Mexico City

Uber is very easy to use in Mexico City, and it’s safe and affordable. We mainly used it to get to/from the airport and at night to return to our apartment. Otherwise we took the subway or walked everywhere. We were shocked to discover that the subway system is extensive, and the trains are incredibly clean and efficient As a bonus, it’s quite cheap – only 5 pesos for each ride.

street in Condesa in Mexico City, Mexico
The streets of Condesa were so clean! There were people out sweeping the sidewalks every morning.

Where to Stay in Mexico City

We opted for a two-bedroom Airbnb in Condesa, a quiet neighborhood with tree-lined streets and colorful, stately homes. Our apartment was quite simple, but the location was excellent, and the price was right – about $75 per night including fees. If I went back, I’d probably stay in another Airbnb in either Condesa or Roma. 

What else: As for hotels, I’ve also heard good things about CDMXHostelArt Gallery and Hotel Catedral.

Santa Muerte at Zocolo Market in Mexico City, Mexico
Santa Muerte watches over Zocolo Market

Is Mexico City safe?

I got a lot of questions about safety in Mexico City from my well-meaning friends, family and colleagues prior to the trip. I admit I was unsure myself as to whether or not my friend and I would feel safe there as women traveling by ourselves.  HOWEVER I’m very excited to share that there was never a time that we felt unsafe in Mexico City – not once. We constantly remarked about how we felt much safer there than at home in Boston. We spent most of our time in Condesa, Roma and Centro Histórico, and we were never hassled by vendors. We didn’t experience any street harassment, and we never saw anything that made us comfortable. 

Of course, Mexico City is still a big city, and I would recommend taking standard safety precautions as you would in any other city – such as, be careful with your belongings, use caution when out at night, especially when drinking, and always know where you are and where you’re going.

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Banner image: view from the Gran Hotel balcony


13 thoughts on “Three-Day Mexico City Itinerary: First-timers Guide”

  • I used to live in Mexico City and wholeheartedly agree, it is one fo the world’s great cities. When you go back, if you are able, try chile en nogada (it is vegetarian, but not vegan). You’ll find it on menus in September primarily, around Mexican Independence Day, because the dish looks like the Mexican flag (and also that’s when the pomegranate are in season). Buen provecho!

  • Wow I can’t believe I was last there in 1989 whilst we were on honeymoon in Acapulco. We only had 2 days there, one of which was out to the temples, so we didn’t really get to see much of the city. There seems to be so much that we missed.

  • Mexico has never been on my radar, but the more I read about the food scene in Mexico City, the more I want to visit! There seems to be such a wide variety of things to eat I am not sure 3 days will cut it! Last year I went to a Frida Kahlo exhibit at the botanical gardens in Tucson and learned so much about her life – it was SO interesting!

  • Very informative and useful tips. I love your photos. I haven’t been to Mexico yet but I really hope to go soon. I also love Friday Kahlo’s work.

  • Very helpful information. Mexico City is very high on my list. Thanks for all the info. The Cathedral and the Gran Hotel look like nice places, along with everything else you listed.

  • The beer tours were brand new info for me even though I’ve been to Mexico City, great tip! I’m heading back in January and looking for new things to do 🙂

    BTW – Roma Norte is the hotspot for vegetarian food in the city. Some great vegan taxo joints that are good enough that non-veg eaters will love it too.

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