If you are planning to visit Mexico City for the first time, the Mexico City travel tips contained in this post will help you stay safe and make the most of your vacation.
You are in good hands here because I have been living in Mexico for the last two years, have travelled the country extensively, and have spent a significant amount of time exploring all the different districts of Mexico City (CDMX).
I understand that Mexico is a place that a lot of people are nervous about travelling to for the first time (I definitely was when I first arrived here). So I have compiled a comprehensive list of Mexico City travel tips that I wish I had had when I first visited.
25 Mexico City Travel Tips for a First-Time Visitor
Spend time exploring the city’s different neighbourhoods
Mexico City’s various neighbourhoods (“barrios”) are one of the major draws of travelling here. Each one is like a different village in itself, and each one has its own distinctive personality and charm.
Roma Norte, Roma Sur and Condesa are popular choices among the Digital Nomad and expat crowds and are known for their eclectic boutique stores, quirky coffee shops, craft breweries and colourful street art. Nearby Polanco is an upscale district that could be likened to being Mexico City’s answer to Beverly Hills or New York’s 5th avenue.
Yet while being home to many luxurious malls and designer stores, Polanco manages to be elegant without being pretentious. There are also lots of great coffee and lunch spots here, with leafy views of Chapultepec Park.
Coyoacan, while a little out of the way, is another great district that is too frequently overlooked. Coyoacan is to Mexico City what Greenwich Village is to New York.
Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul is by far the most famous attraction in this area. However, once you arrive and start meandering around Coyoacan’s leafy streets, you will quickly find that the artist’s former home is the tip of the iceberg of what Coyoacan, with its European-style outdoor cafes and independent art galleries, has to offer.
Know which areas to avoid
One key distinctive difference in exploring Mexico City and other Mexican/Latin American cities is that you have to be mindful of where you are walking and which districts you are venturing into. You cannot mindlessly follow Google Maps as you might on say, a sleepy Greek island.
The Mexico City districts outlined above are generally very safe. The city centre and the area around Palacio de Bellas Artes are mostly safe, but as you may expect in a very crowded area that is popular with tourists, it is definitely somewhere where you need to watch your bags, as pickpockets do operate in this area.
Mexico City is a place where you can be in one area which is completely safe, and then walk a couple of blocks further down the road and find yourself in a sketchy district where you don’t want to be.
The Plaza Garibaldi district in the centre is known for its live mariachi performances but it is certainly a little rough around the edges. Absent-mindedly walk a couple of blocks further and you can end up in Tepito, a dangerous market area that is known as a place where criminal groups go to purchase basically anything they need, and fake/stolen goods are sold.
Iztapalapa, Ciudad Neza, Doctores and La Merced Market are other areas that are best avoided. However, these regions are a little further out of town so it is not the case that you could accidentally wander into them.
Think carefully about where you want to stay
Choosing where to stay in Mexico City is an important decision as the location where you base yourself can really impact your trip. You might think that staying as central as possible is the best choice, but the area around the Zocalo and the Palacio de Bellas Artes can be sketchy at night and you likely won’t feel comfortable walking back after going out for dinner.
Roma Norte and Sur, Condesa, Anzures and Polanco are great areas for first-time travellers. Coyoacan is great if you want something a little quieter and you want to hang out in a creative district loved by artists and writers.
However, Coyoacan is a bit of a trek from the centre of town and Mexico City traffic is often horrendous, especially at peak times, so you might find it annoying to be spending so much of your trip in transit and stuck in lines of traffic.
Check which airport you are flying into
There are now two airports in Mexico City after the Mexican capital’s second airport “Felipe Ángeles International” (NLU) opened in March 2022 to handle the significant overcrowding experienced by the principal airport. Most international and domestic flights generally still fly to the main Mexico City airport (MEX).
However, it is important to check the airport code when you book your flights so that you can see exactly where you will be arriving. NLU is almost 40km north of Mexico City, while MEX is 16km east.
If you have a couple of flight options available, scour through them and try and fly into MEX where possible. It will significantly cut down your travel time and overland expenses getting into the city centre.
Dress appropriately for a Mexican city
Do check the weather before planning your trip to Mexico City so that you can plan your Mexican packing list accordingly. A lot of people assume that Mexico = constant heat, humidity and sunshine but that is not true of all of Mexico.
There are so many different climates and geographies encompassed in this vast country and Mexico City is at a much higher altitude than coastal destinations like Cancun, Tulum and Puerto Vallarta so it is generally much cooler.
During the spring and summer months, it seldom gets hotter than around 77°F-82.4°F (25°C-28°C) here. Temperatures drop in the Fall and in the winter, you are looking at daily averages of around 15°C/59°F so you absolutely need to layer up like an onion and wear a coat at this time.
I often see online travel guides state that women should wear jeans, not wear skirts, or dress a certain way in Mexican cities and honestly, you should dress however you please and feel comfortable. (Within reason).
Mexico City is a wonderfully diverse city made up of residents from every race and background from all over the globe. You should feel free to embrace your individual style and sense of expression here.
That said, I would say that people don’t generally wear flip-flops or beach-style sandals here, even when it is super hot. (Partly due to hygiene concerns in the city, etc). So if you do so, you might find you draw attention to yourself as a tourist.
Make the most of Mexico City’s museums
There are tons of great museums in Mexico City and in fact, Mexico City is actually believed to be the city with the most museums in the world. (It is a close competition between Mexico City and London, UK and nobody is 100% certain which snags the title).
It is believed that there are around 170 museums and over 40 galleries in Mexico. That’s enough to keep you occupied for almost a year!
It can be overwhelming to know which ones to prioritise and choose but there are a few places that stand out. Even if you don’t consider yourself a “museum person”, you should stop by the National Museum of Anthropology.
This is the most visited museum in Mexico (for good reason) and contains extensive exhibition halls that showcase artefacts belonging to various ancient civilisations that have been excavated from across Mexico. If you enjoy art (or you just want to learn more about Mexican artists and culture), check out the MUAC (University Museum of Contemporary Art), Museo Tamayo and the Palacio de Bellas Artes.
Check which days Mexico City’s museums are free
Many Mexico City museums are constantly free to enter (such as the Soumaya Museum and Museo Jumex).
Others are free on certain days of the week. It is worth checking when and where you can get free admission so that you can plan your itinerary accordingly – especially if you are hoping to stick to a budget.
This article shares several Mexico City museums which are permanently free. Check the websites of the specific museums that interest you to see which days of the week they are free.
Many museums offer free entry for children under a certain age and are often free for Mexican nationals on Sundays.
You cannot drink the tap water
You cannot drink the tap water in Mexico City or anywhere else in Mexico for that matter. Although it is purified at the source, it gets contaminated with bacteria, dirt and other bugs en route to your tap so it isn’t safe to drink.
(Even Mexicans don’t drink it). Drinks and ice in bars and restaurants are always perfectly safe to consume because they are prepared with mineral water and businesses get ice delivered.
Most hotels will give you 2 complimentary bottles of water for each day of your stay. You can also purchase mineral water from any convenience store or kiosk.
Book your visit to the Frida Kahlo Museum in advance
Some Mexico City tourist attractions are so popular that you absolutely need to reserve your place to visit in advance and Frida Kahlo’s house is one of them. Tickets to Casa Azul, the home of the late Mexican icon, often sell out a day in advance and there is always a snaked queue down the street to get inside.
Book your ticket and timeslot online in advance and then show up 15-20 minutes before your time. If you just rock up at the museum without a ticket reservation, you will be turned away.
It is honestly a good idea to reserve most tours, museums and attractions in advance here, especially if you are travelling in spring and summer.
Read up on the earthquake risk
A scary reality of travelling to Mexico City is acknowledging that the city is in an area with a lot of seismic activity. CDMX was built on an ancient lake bed so the ground here is not the most stable.
Not to mention, Mexico as a whole is located in a subduction zone where the Cocos oceanic plate and the North American continental plate meet. Don’t terrify yourself worrying about earthquakes but it pays to read up on what to do in the event of one.
An earthquake could essentially rock Mexico City at any time. On April 3rd 2023, a mild 5.3 magnitude quake rocked the city, and a major earthquake caused many fatalities and injuries in 2017.
Make time to take day trips out from Mexico City
Mexico City is such a wonderful, culturally rich city with so much to do and see that you could easily spend weeks here and still feel like you haven’t gotten enough time. And with so much to offer, it can be hard to tear yourself away and see other parts of Mexico if you only have a limited amount of time in the country.
However, since there are literally dozens of wonderful day trips that you can take from Mexico City to archaeological sites, pueblo magicos, hiking trails and cute towns and villages that you can reach in an hour or two, it would be a shame to confine yourself to just one place.
Some great suggestions are as per the below.
- Teotihuacan – An impressive Aztec city known for its grand pyramids
- Xochimilco canals – Take a gondola ride through the canal network while drinking beers and listening to music
- Puebla de Zaragoza – Cultured capital of the state of Puebla
- Cholula – Puebla state pueblo magico home to the world’s largest pyramid
- La Isla de la Muñecas – Creepy island within the Xochimilco canals where a local man decorated the trees with hundreds of dolls to supposedly appease a child ghost
- Tepotzotlán – Pueblo magico known for its handicraft markets and baroque churches
Carefully plan out your itinerary
There is so much to see and do in Mexico’s capital that even if you plan a 4-5 day Mexico City itinerary, you won’t be able to fit it all in. Nobody likes to over-plan to the extent that they have a rigid schedule that doesn’t allow them any flexibility or time to relax.
However, it is a good idea to roughly draft out what you want to see and do each day so that you make the most of your time and don’t spend too much time stuck in traffic, going back and forth across town, etc.
Suggested first-time Mexico City itinerary
A suggested (super condensed) four-day itinerary for CMDX is as follows:
- Day one: Have breakfast in Polanco, explore Chapultepec, visit the Anthropology Museum, dinner in an acclaimed CDMX restaurant
- Day two: Spend the morning visiting Teotihuacan, explore central CDMX, visit Palacio de Belles Artes, stop by Museo Mural Diego Riviera, walk down Av. 5 de Mayo and see the Casa de Los Azulejos. Experience Mexico City by night
- Day three: Spend a day in Coyoacan and visit Frida Kahlo’s house
- Day four: Take a gondola ride at the Xochomlico canals and spend your afternoon admiring the street art and the quirky cafes of Roma and Condesa
Don’t hesitate to use the metro
A lot of people seem to be afraid of using the metro in Mexico City and assume that it is dangerous. While you definitely need to watch your belongings and be aware of pickpockets, the same could be said of riding the metro in London, Paris, or anywhere else in the world.
Taking the metro can save you a fair amount of money too. (Ubers are affordable here but if you are taking Ubers multiple times a day, it quickly adds up).
Pick up a Mexico City Metro card
Pick up a metro card from a kiosk at any station and top it up with 50-100 pesos or so initially. With a CDMX metro card, you will be able to ride across town for just 5 pesos a journey.
Avoid the metro at rush hour
The Mexico City metro is the second largest metro network in the Americas (second only to New York) and is used by millions of people every day. While you may not always be able to get a seat, it is usually not overly crowded except at rush hour.
Rush hour is anywhere from around 8 am until 9.30 am, and from around 4 pm until 7 pm. When people are on their daily commute (like in any city), people are often crammed in carriages like sardines at this time.
Use Uber to get around safely
Uber and other domestic Mexican ridesharing apps like Didi and Indrive are the most popular ways for Mexicans to get around. In Mexico City, Uber is considered safer than using street cabs which might come as a surprise.
However, with the app, you can see a driver’s past references, rating and driver and vehicle information which you simply cannot see if you hail random taxis. Since scams and even “express kidnappings” (where a tourist is held at knifepoint and forced to hold over valuables) are problems in Mexico, you should always use Uber here and never jump into a random taxi.
Spend an afternoon in Chapultepec Park
Chapultepec Park is a gorgeous leafy green space in the heart of Mexico City that offers a welcome respite from the concrete jungle. Chapultepec is actually twice the size of New York Central Park and it is so full of attractions and activities, that you really could dedicate an entire day to exploring it.
The Museum of Anthropology should be your first stop. Sometimes, you will catch “Danza de los Voladores” performers in the little plaza just outside it.
Browse through the street stalls selling all manner of snacks, artisanal goods and bric-a-brac, walk along the length of Chapultepec Lake, and stop by the 18th-century Chapultepec castle. This is the only castle in North America to have housed royalty.
Mexican Emperor Maximilian I and Empress Carlota lived here from 1864 until Maximilian’s death three years later. You should buy tickets to the palace online in advance to save waiting if you can.
Try to spend at least five days in town if you can
4 or 5 days is a good amount of time for a first visit to Mexico City. You will still have an ultra-jam-packed schedule, but it is enough time to experience the different neighbourhoods, the key museums, and a couple of the highly-rated restaurants that the city has to offer.
If you dedicate only 2-3 days to Mexico City, you will be rushing around too much and you will find that you have to chop things out of your schedule. If you can spend a week in Mexico City, you can also do a couple of day trips to the villages and archaeological sites nearby.
Use your common sense safety-wise
When I visited Mexico City for the first time, even my Mexican friends in the Yucatan were a little concerned about it because historically, the city hasn’t been considered the safest place in the world. Mexico City can be safe, even for solo female travellers, provided you use your common sense.
Choose to stay in one of the areas recommended above, never walk alone at night (take an Uber instead), be mindful of which areas you are walking into, purchase a theft-proof backpack/money belt, and be aware of your surroundings.
A lot of this is common sense wherever you go. When you arrive in Mexico City, you might be surprised by just how comfortable you feel here.
Be mindful of your budget
Mexico is not necessarily as cheap as people seem to assume. This is particularly true of Mexico City and in tourist destinations like Cancun, Tulum and Playa Del Carmen.
You should expect to pay between 100 and 250 pesos for a meal out in neighbourhoods like Coyoacan, Roma and Condesa.
In chic cocktail bars and rooftop bars, a cocktail can cost well over 100 pesos too. For a mid-range budget, you can easily find an Airbnb in Condesa or Coyoacan for less than $50 USD a night, while more upscale hotel rooms and suites close to Chapultepec and Polanco tend to start from around $100 USD.
You can definitely find dorm beds in centrally-located hostels for as little as $10-$15 a night, and you can save a lot of money if you choose to cook for yourself, eat street food, or seek out cocina economicas. Just don’t assume Mexico is Southeast Asia-level dirt cheap because you will be in for a surprise.
The admission prices for most museums tend to be between $5 and $15 but of course, many are also free.
Don’t be afraid to experiment with street food
People often associate street food with getting sick and being a victim of Montezuma’s revenge but that isnt always the case. (I have been living in Mexico for 2 years and have only been sick twice, and I already have IBS and stomach problems).
Frankly, if you don’t experiment with the street food in Mexico, you are missing out on a huge part of the experience. Just use your common sense when choosing a tiangui or market to eat from.
Choose places where there are lots of locals dining or waiting to be served and never eat anywhere where the food looks like it has been left out a while. Some of the best places to sample street food eats in Mexico City are:
- Mercado La Merced – Mexico City’s largest market, which dates back to 1936
- Mercado de San Juan – Great for exotic types of meat, burgers and steaks
- Medellin Market – Flavors from Colombia and wider Latin America
- Sullivan market – great for tacos, pambazo bread and antojitos
Consider taking an organised tour to get your bearings
Taking an organised tour is a great way to get your bearings in any new city and the same rings true of Mexico City – especially if you are nervous about exploring Mexico. Better still, exploring with a local means that you have a Mexico City “expert” on hand to help you find places you never would have discovered independently.
A number of local companies offer free (tip-based) walking tours. This free tour runs every day of the week and leads tourists to non-touristy parts of the city.
You can also find a lot of great tour options via Viator and Get Your Guide.
Enjoy Mexico City’s social scene
If you are travelling to Mexico City solo like I did (or even if you aren’t and you just want to meet new people), you will be pleased to hear that it is very easy to meet fellow travellers, expats and locals.
There are a lot of Facebook groups which are very active and where you can simply create a post introducing yourself, and see who wants to hang out/grab coffee, etc.
Many often organise events and a lot of these groups also have their own Whatsapp chats where you can make plans with other people with similar interests.
Some good ones to add to your radar are summarised below:
- Foreigners in Mexico City
- Foreigners & Expats in Mexico City (CDMX)
- Foodies in Mexico City (CMDX)
- Women in CDMX (Mexico City)
- Hiking in Mexico City
Managing your money in Mexico
It is always a good idea to exchange a small amount of money for Mexican pesos before your trip.
However, rather than carrying wads of cash, just take a couple of hundred dollars worth or so and then withdraw more at an ATM when you arrive.
It is a good idea to open a borderless bank account with Revolut, Charles Schwab or Wise. That way, you will not be charged foreign conversion fees.
You may need to pick up a Mexican SIM card
If you have a US or Canadian phone plan, it may include calls and data coverage for Mexico so do check before you travel. However, if you are travelling to Mexico from further afield (UK, Europe, etc), it pays to pick up a Mexican sim card so that you can stay connected.
Not all bars, restaurants, etc have free wifi here. While it is nice to disconnect when you travel, don’t underestimate how useful it is to be able to check directions on a map, search recommendations, etc.
There are a couple of different network providers in Mexico but I would recommend Telcel. You can pick up a sim card from any Oxxo convenience store and you are looking at around 200 pesos for a 30-day “paquetes amigos” plan with unlimited social media use, texts and calls, and a generous amount of data
Final thoughts on these Mexico City travel tips
I hope that you find these Mexico City travel tips useful! I have been living in Merida in the Yucatan for the last couple of years and after travelling to 13 Mexican states and dozens of cities, Mexico City is one of my favourite places in the country by a mile.
After your trip, I am sure that it will be one of yours too. Stay safe and have a wonderful time in Mexico!
If you need anything, please do not hesitate to reach out to me! Buen Viaje! Melissa xo