Spending a day in Mexico City is a lot of fun. The Mexican capital is bursting at the seams with historic ruins, famous museums, and a mouthwatering gastronomy scene considered one of the best in the world.
In an ideal world, you would have more time to explore the Mexican capital, as a day isn’t enough time to even scratch beneath the surface. No matter how much you try to cram in, you will wind up leaving many wonderful activities on the table.
Still, sometimes our schedules don’t allow us a ton of flexibility. So, if your itinerary only affords you a quick layover in CDMX, you can squeeze a lot into 24 hours with a bit of planning. A local resident has written this Mexico City one day itinerary and will help you make the most of your limited time.
If you enjoy CDMX (and I am sure you will), you can always revisit it later.
A Perfect One-Day Mexico City Itinerary
Start your day sightseeing in Mexico City bright and early. If possible, it is a good idea to opt to stay in a relatively central district such as Anzures, Roma Norte, Polanco, or La Condesa. These neighborhoods make a great jump-off point for this itinerary’s key museums, sights, and tourist attractions in Mexico City.
They are also very safe and are becoming increasingly popular among an expat/Digital Nomad crowd. You can feel comfortable walking in these barrios, going back to your hotel after dinner, etc.
If you prefer to stay in Centro, you’ll be closer to the Metropolitan Cathedral, Casa de los Azulejos (House of Tiles), and Palacio de Bellas Artes, aka the Palace of Fine Arts.
Grab Breakfast In Polanco
Polanco is to Mexico City, what Beverly Hills is to Los Angeles. This is one of the Mexican capital’s most elegant and upscale districts. You’ll find some of the city’s best cafes and breakfast spots on its leafy, tree-lined streets.
The best eateries are located between Parque Lincoln and Américao, and many of the establishments here have won awards or are recognized worldwide. You can’t really go wrong wherever you choose.
Maison Belén is a great choice. This little French-style bistro serves international and European classics (from eggs benedict to syrupy, delicious French toast); their flaky French pastries are my favorite.
Alternatively, Cafe Toscano is a stunning spot styled like an old-fashioned library, and its menu serves traditional Mexican breakfast dishes with a modern twist.
For instance, spicy vegan chilaquiles and an interesting selection of breakfast burritos. At the end of the day, you can also plan to do a Polanco food tour, to sample foods in seven different restaurants.
Visit The Anthropology Museum
After breakfast, make your way to the celebrated Museo Nacional de Antropología (National Museum of Anthropology) nearby. Few landmarks in Mexico City deserve so much time as this world-class museum.
You’ll likely spend hours here on a guided tour, experiencing Mexico’s finest pre-Columbian art and artifacts.
This massive museum houses the world’s largest collection of Mexican artifacts inside 23 large rooms. Each room is beautifully curated, with audio guides available in several languages.
Walking through the giant exhibits, you’ll constantly be in awe as you see some of the world’s most well-preserved and impressive ancient artifacts.
Each section represents a different region or former Mexican empire. You’ll see the giant Aztec Sun Stone and artifacts from Tenochtitlan, the former capital of the Aztec Empire, which Mexico City was built on.
Another hall houses outstanding collections of artifacts from the Mayan Empire and the Olmecs, one of the oldest civilizations in the Americas.
What’s almost as impressive as the collections is the museum itself. The building is spectacular, with a large central fountain and modern design that’s framed among the trees and natural spaces of Chapultepec Park.
If you love learning as much history as possible, consider participating in one of the free guided tours. They run at frequent intervals, Tuesday through Saturday, from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. These hour-long tours are perfect for getting the most information about these impressive artifacts and exhibits.
Explore Chapultepec Park
The Anthropology Museum sits in the heart of Mexico City’s sprawling Chapultepec Park, offering convenient access. This vast green space is the largest park in Latin America, almost twice the size of New York’s Central Park.
Several stalls usually set up immediately outside the Anthropology Museum, where you can shop for artisanal goods and handicrafts such as oil paintings, handmade jewelry, homemade cosmetics, and other Mexican souvenirs.
Cruise over to the stunning Chapultepec Castle. Emperor Maximilian I and Empress Carlota, the Austrian nobility, once lived in this impressive building during their reign over the short-lived Empire of Mexico.
Today, the castle is home to the National Museum of Culture and has plenty of beautiful exhibits worth seeing, plus one of the best views in the city.
After the museum, take a walk through the green open spaces of the park. People from all over the city come here to escape the hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle.
Make sure to enjoy the park like the locals do by walking around the Lago de Chapultepec. This gorgeous pond has many beautiful birds, street food stands, and even paddle boat rentals.
Before the Spaniards arrived in Mexico, Chapultepec Park was a retreat for Aztec rulers. The famous Aztec ruler Nezahualcoyotl built his summer home here. Today, you can see a statue and fountain honoring the former Aztec king.
If you have time, another quirky but fun thing to do in the park is to visit the Zoológico de Chapultepec. The zoo is one of the busiest in the world and houses hundreds of animal species.
You’ll see animals such as giraffes and pandas and native wildlife endemic to Mexico, like the Mexican wolf and the howler monkey.
Spend The Afternoon In Coyoacán
After exploring the magnificent green spaces of Chapultepec Park, head south to the suburb of Coyoacán.
Just under an hour south of the capital, Coyoacán is a unique destination with a rich history. It’s also the former home of famous Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.
The city’s name means “place of coyotes”. Within its tree-lined streets and beautiful laid-back atmosphere are fascinating museums, historic buildings, and a popular food scene.
You’ll feel like you’ve traveled hours away, even as the city’s tallest structure, the Mítikah Torre Residencial, stands nearby.
Starting in Jardín Hidalgo, you’ll want to experience the relaxing vibe of the central plaza, with its coyote fountains, street performers, and relaxing, family-friendly vibe.
From here, you can enjoy a short walk to many museums, such as the National Museum of Popular Culture, if you have time.
Then, it’s time to grab food and souvenirs at the local market, Mercado de Coyoacán. Here, you’ll find the traditional and super popular Tostadas de Coyoacán.
Enjoy these crispy tortillas covered in delicious savory toppings ranging from ceviche to rich mole. The choices are endless, and you’ll want to return for more.
Visit Frida Kahlo’s House
While you’re in Coyoacán, you can’t miss visiting the bright blue Frida Kahlo Museum. The world-famous artist spent much of her life in this beautiful space, also known as La Casa Azul.
During a tour of Frida Kahlo’s Museum, you’ll see her personal items, painting supplies, and even the bed which she painted from. You’ll also likely find long lines for this iconic destination, so book your tickets in advance.
Once you’re inside the blue house, you’ll get to take your time experiencing the life of Frida Kahlo through photos, art, and the spaces where she painted. Exhibits such as her former bed and the mirror, which she used to paint while injured, are on display.
Famous Mexican and international personalities such as Nelson Rockefeller and Dolores del Río used to visit Frida and her husband, Diego Rivera, at the house. You can still see letters and gifts that famous people brought the couple.
At the end of the walkthrough, you’ll also see the iconic clothes the artist wore throughout her life. From her famous traditional dresses to her everyday household items, you’ll experience Frida’s incredible life and career all within her former home.
After walking through the space, you can head to the gift shop or enjoy a quiet moment in the courtyard. As many guests do, you’ll love sitting outside and watching the plants and birds, just as Frida once did when she called this beautiful space home.
Try The Famous Street Food Or Fine Dining
As the sun starts to go down, Mexico City becomes a haven for foodies. Every corner comes alive with street food vendors. If you’re feeling adventurous, try one of these establishments when a long line of customers is waiting.
Locals know what’s good, and if you see a line of hungry people, it’s a sign that there’s something delicious at these food stalls worth trying.
Another must-try is the hundreds of taco stands throughout the city.
Mexico City is the nation’s capital and largest city, so you’ll find every style of taco imaginable. You won’t have to look far to find the best tacos. The city itself is famous for its tacos al pastor, a staple in Mexican culture.
These flavorful tacos are made with marinated meat cooked on a Lebanese-style spit and garnished with a wedge of pineapple and plenty of hot sauce.
If tacos and street food aren’t your thing, try any number of Mexico City’s award-winning restaurants. These hubs of cuisine make everything from traditional classics to Michelin-starred works of art.
Pujol and Quintonil are some of the best restaurants that continuously push the boundaries of global cuisine. If you want a culinary experience, few places can top Mexico City.
Enjoy The Nightlife
After experiencing the city’s food scene, it’s time to hit the town for some nightlife. Being one of the largest and most cosmopolitan cities in the Americas, it’s no surprise that Mexico City is a party-goer’s paradise.
Neighborhoods like Polanco and Roma are where locals go to enjoy the night and have fun.
If you love live music or clubbing, the city is full of clubs and music venues where fans of any genre can find something they like. From Mariachi to techno, the city’s music scene will captivate you like nowhere else.
The city is a music capital home to iconic artists and bands such as Café Tacvba, Molotov, and Aida Cuevas. You may find the next big thing or even find yourself watching a live performance from one of the greats in Latin American music.
One of the most popular late-night activities is Lucha Libre. Mexican wrestling, or Lucha Libre, is as celebrated as any sport in the country. Visit famous venues such as Arena México or Arena Coliseo to see the non-stop excitement of the sport.
After watching a Lucha Libre match, it’s time to do what the locals do: eat. This is the time when people congregate in front of bars, restaurants, and street food stands to eat, drink, and socialize. Grabbing a taco and a beer with friends or strangers and enjoying the night is one of the best things to experience in Mexico City.
Visit the Historic Zócalo (Extra)
This magnificent square is the historic center of Mexico City and is well worth a visit if you have time. Before the Europeans arrived, this area was the center of Tenochtitlan and the heart of the Aztec Empire, where temples, palaces, and governmental buildings were mixed with lively markets.
Today, you can walk through the remnants of the ancient capital by visiting the fantastic Templo Mayor de México-Tenochtitlan. This timeless museum is where the ruins of the Templo Mayor still stand. Inside, you can wander the halls and learn about the artifacts on display.
If you still have time, plenty of other museums surround the main square. If you love history, check out the Museo Histórico Palacio Nacional or the Museo Nacional de las Culturas del Mundo INAH.
Art lovers should find time to visit the Antigua Academia de San Carlos. This amazing museum is full of exquisite sculptures, murals, and paintings and was one of the first art museums in the Americas. On top of the incredible art, you’ll love the 18th-century building that the museum is housed in.
Before leaving Mexico City’s historic downtown, walk down the iconic Av Francisco I. Madero. Along it, are shops, museums, restaurants, and the organ grinders. These once-cherished street performers are the keepers of a dying art, so make sure to show them some love.
After walking down the historic Avenue, consider visiting the Torre Latinoamericana. This 44-floor skyscraper was the tallest building in the city for two decades. What makes a visit here so fun is the tower’s observation deck.
From here, you can get a bird’s-eye view of Mexico City and look down to see the stunning architecture of the Palacio de Bellas Artes.
Getting Around Mexico City
It is easy to get around Mexico City, and the capital’s public transportation is some of the best in North America. The city’s metro system provides a cheap and easiest way to get around, often faster than driving.
The expansive metro links the most popular tourist sites and all the neighborhood’s main attractions. Even better, using the metro stations is easy, even if you don’t speak Spanish.
Another convenient way for visitors to get around the city is by Uber. Uber in Mexico City is very safe, and although driving sometimes takes longer, the metro can be crowded.
The city’s metro system stops running at midnight, making Uber a great option, especially if you want to enjoy Mexico City’s notoriously fun nightlife.
Planning your trip to Mexico City?
Final thoughts On Spending A Day In Mexico City
Mexico’s capital may lack the ocean views of Puerto Vallarta, but its appeal comes from its rich history, architecture, and cultural importance.
Spending one day in Mexico City is a highlight of any trip to Mexico. The country’s capital is unlike anywhere else on the planet, and after your one-day taster itinerary, you will no doubt feel inspired to come back for more later.
This guest post was written by Melissa
Melissa Douglas is a British Travel Writer based in Mexico. She has over 7 years of experience in writing for global travel media and manages the website Mexico Travel Secrets where she encourages people to venture off the beaten path in Mexico.