Mexico City is a popular layover city. I have had a few friends who have spend one day in Mexico City on their way to other destinations and others who prolong their connecting flight for a few days. Perhaps you’re adding Mexico City onto a packed Mexico itinerary. Either way, you can easily fill one or two days enjoying this amazing city.
While I wouldn’t recommend trying to squeeze everything into only 2 days in Mexico City, I do think you can still get a little taste of the culture, history, and food of this fantastic place in just a few days.
Where to Stay in Mexico City
If you’re only going to be in Mexico City for two days, I highly recommend booking a hotel in the neighborhood where you’re going to spend the most time. If it’s your first time to the city, definitely book a hotel in the Historic Center (Centro Historico). That way you’ll be able to head straight out and explore all of the fascinating architecture and history and the best museums without having to get an Uber or waste time on the Metro.
It’s a popular spot, so you definitely have to book a few weeks, if not months, in advance. If that’s booked out check out larger chains like the Hilton on Reforma where you can often get a good deal on a room.
If you’re on a budget, there are a few nice hostels in the Historic Center such as Mexico City Hostel and Hostel Mundo Joven Catedral. The Mundo Hoven is a particularly social place if you are traveling solo and want to meet some other travelers.
What to Do for 2 Days in Mexico City
Day 1 – Zocalo and Surrounding Area
You can easily explore most of the city center in a day, but it’s definitely going to be a full day! I’m going to make the assumption that you’ve arrived late the night before or very early on day one so that you have a full day of exploring ahead of you. The Zocalo is packed with a ton of free things to do in Mexico City, but don’t skip out on the interesting museums, either.
If your hotel doesn’t offer breakfast, head to El Cardinal. It’s a little bit of a fancy spot, but it’s still very reasonably priced and they do an awesome breakfast. Start with a big bowl of their house-made hot chocolate and be sure to dip your sweet conche in it (it’s a little round bread roll).
Once you’re all fueled up, walk down the main pedestrian street, Madero, passing by plenty of tucked away churches and fashion shops until you get to the zocalo. The zocalo is the main square where you’ll find the cathedral and parliament building.
Head inside the cathedral first and have an explore of the different chapels. Notice how uneven the ground is thanks to all of the earthquakes the cathedral has endured over the last 400 years or so. Try to time it so that you’re leaving the cathedral right around the change of the hour. Every hour on the hour between 10 am and 5pm, you can take a tour for 20 pesos that brings you up to the roof of the cathedral. They ring the bells and you get an awesome view of the surrounding square.
Then head next door to Templo Mayor. This is a really well-preserved Aztec Temple with a museum that is really interesting. Most of the information is in Spanish, but you can get the gist of things and there are a lot of amazing artifacts that have been removed from the temple and are now stored inside the museum. Entry costs 70 pesos.
One last thing to do before lunch is to cross the street and enter into the National Palace. You’ll have to bring your passport for identification since it is the national parliament building, but only one person in the party should have to hand it over. You’ll get it back when you leave, don’t worry!
Inside the National Palace are the famous murals painted by Diego Rivera. Follow the crowds and head up the stairs to see these incredibly detailed paintings up close.
Ok – time for lunch. I highly recommend walking about 8 minutes to get to Cafe de Tacuba. Depending on what time you head there (lunch time in Mexico is actually around 2 or 3), there may be a line outside, but you won’t wait for long. It’s one of the oldest family-style restaurants in the city and their food is pretty awesome.
After lunch, take a walk towards Alameda Central – a nice park near the Zocalo. Here you’ll find my absolute favorite building in the city – the Palacio de Bellas Artes or the Palace of Fine Arts. It has a pretty grand exterior and a very art deco interior.
If you enjoy cultural dances, I highly recommend going inside and seeing if the Folkloric Ballet is on that evening. If it is, book yourself some tickets. You can get cheap seats for about 300 pesos per person.
You can also go inside the fine arts museum which is in the same building. It costs 70 pesos and there are different exhibits every few months.
For a great view around sunset, head up to the top of the Latino Americana Building. It’s horrifically ugly on the outside but offers the best view of the Valley of Mexico (where Mexico City is located). It costs 100 pesos to get to the top and you can go alllll the way up to the communications tower. There’s also a bar up there if you’d rather soak in the views with a beer in hand.
There are plenty of nice places to go for drinks around the Centro Historico. If you’re staying at Chaya B&B (even if you’re not this is a nice spot), head to the rooftop of the same building and enjoy craft beers or delicious cocktails with a view. Other nice rooftop bars in the neighborhood in include La Casa de Las Sirenas and Terraza Catedral. La Opera is also a nice one to check out.
For dinner, consider having a plate full of pastor tacos at El Huequito. It’s open until 10 p.m. and they have a really nice selection of different Mexican taco dishes. It’s also incredibly cheap. If you’re looking for somewhere more upscale, try Azul Historico or Limosneros.
Day 2 – Museums and Parks
If one of the reasons you want to come to Mexico City is to check out the history and museums, this is the Day 2 options for you. There’s a little cafe near the Palace of Fine Arts called Cafe de la Gran Ciudad that serves nice coffee and a few light baked goods that also offers a fantastic view to wake up to. If you need a bigger breakfast, head to Chiquitito Café, it’s near your first stop of the day.
The Museum of Anthropology is enormous. The first time I visited the museum, I spent four hours there. When I went back a second time with my parents we skipped around a little bit and still spent about two and a half hours wandering around all of the halls. Give yourself plenty of time to explore.
You’ll no doubt be starving when you leave, no matter how long you’ve been inside. I recommend heading into the main part of Chapultepec which is on Paseo de la Reforma near the huge BBVA building (look for the colorful staircases that you can see near the top of the building).
Here you’ll find tons of street stalls selling popcorn, cups of fruit (if you don’t specify, they will pour hot sauce on top), ice cream, and other little snacks. Have a nice snack that will see you through the next stop.
The Museum of History is inside Chapultepec Castle. It’s a little bit of a walk up the hill to get to the top, but it’s one of my favorite views in the entire city. The gardens around the castle are worth the trip alone, but the museum itself is pretty fascinating, too. Last I checked (February 2018), it cost 70 pesos to enter the museum and gardens. You could easily spend at least an hour here.
For lunch, you have a few options. If you want to stay in the park, I recommend walking to the sort of food court area in the park which is next to the lake. You’ll see tons of people with menus trying to entice you into their restaurant. Most places do the same stuff – soups, tacos, flautas, quesadillas, and soft drinks. This is a super cheap option.
If you’d rather go somewhere slightly healthier, I recommend either walking (about 15-20 minutes) or hopping in an Uber to El Pescadito in Condesa. It should only cost about 35 pesos to get an Uber there. El Pescadito is a fish taco restaurant.
The tacos are pretty big compared to the ones you get on the street. I usually eat two and am totally stuffed after. If you’re looking for recommendations, I suggest one marlin taco and one fish taco (or swap the fish taco for a camaron, or shrimp taco). Make sure to take advantage of the salad bar where you can pile your plate high with taco toppings. The beer is ice cold here, too.
Since you’re in Condesa now, I recommend taking a stroll around this gorgeous neighborhood. It’s one of the more upscale places and is popular among expats and locals. Head to Parque España to see the strange dog walkers who line up all of the dogs and teach them how to just chill. Parque Mexico is a nice place to sit down for a while and people watch.
If you’re still in Chapultepec, you can follow all of the different paths around the park to find little hidden gems like the peaceful Auditorio, where you can sit on one of the benches surrounded by bamboo and listen to the classical music playing over the small speakers. There’s a zoo inside the park which is totally free and even has pandas!
If you are staying for more than two days or you’re more interested in seeing other parts of the city, check out my other itineraries.
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