What to do in Mexico City in one day

The capital city of Mexico is many things at once. In some places it’s filthy, in others sparklingly clean. It can be both beautiful and ugly, relaxed and manic. Yet all of this is testament to one indisputable fact. Mexico City is one of the most vibrant cities anywhere on planet earth. With incredible weather, delicious food, world-class sights and a scintillating nightlife, it’s the perfect place for a day trip. First, you will rest your head at the exceptionally conceived Downtown hotel, before taking in the surrounding area and cultural centre of the nation; the Centro Historico. After a coffee break at the gorgeous Azul Historico Café, you will stop for a while to marvel at the wonders of Mexican culture at the National Anthropology Museum

Then you’ll refuel with delicious food at Mercado Roma before spending your afternoon at the historic Chapultepec Castle. After another coffee break at the youthful Cielito Querido you’ll head to the city’s bohemian south to take in the Frida Kahlo museum and the surrounding neighbourhood of Coyoacán, a stronghold of freethinking in Mexico. Begin your evening at one of the best restaurants in town, sampling Mexico classics at Restaurante Antiguo San Angel Inn. Then head to the Cineteca Nacional to enjoy arthouse films in the lush tropical gardens before taking a cocktail at the exclusive Jules Basement. Finish your Mexico City day trip by dancing the night away at legendary club Mama Rumba, a perfect way to finish off in this sprawling, pulsating capital city

09:00 – Stay at the stunning Downtown Hotel

Grand regal staircases lead to rooms with bare rock walls and a tasteful, stripped back decor that enhances the hotel’s credentials as an enclave of calm. This, coupled with traditional features such as original windows and ceilings, makes for a truly unique stay. The rooms are large and airy, filled with light that comes cascading through enormous windows and onto the scene. A touch of wood, such as on the beds and furniture, keep things chic and homely, making for a perfect balance between style and comfort. If that’s not enough, rooms include luxurious baths that are perfect for a soak after a long, hot day sightseeing in the city

Grand regal staircases lead to rooms with bare rock walls and a tasteful, stripped back decor that enhances the hotel’s credentials as an enclave of calm. This, coupled with traditional features such as original windows and ceilings, makes for a truly unique stay. The rooms are large and airy, filled with light that comes cascading through enormous windows and onto the scene. A touch of wood, such as on the beds and furniture, keep things chic and homely, making for a perfect balance between style and comfort. If that’s not enough, rooms include luxurious baths that are perfect for a soak after a long, hot day sightseeing in the city

Up on the roof, there’s a sprawling terrace complete with bar and swimming pool, with spectacular views across the whole of Mexico City’s Centro Historico. The unique furniture on the terrace is a striking neon yellow colour that continues the hotel’s sun-licked visuals and inspires happiness in guests sipping their cocktails and engaging in conversation. This is a truly unique hotel from Mexican hoteliers Carlos Couturier and Moises Micha. Their vision for a cool but comfortable boutique residence in the heart of the city could not have been better realized  // Downton Hotel – Isabel La Católica 30, Cuauhtémoc, Centro, 06002 Ciudad de México

09:30 – Explore the Centro Historico

The touristic, historic and cultural nerve centre of the entire city, the Centro Historico is a charming if extremely busy part of town that simply can’t be missed. Saunter throughout the quarter during the morning whilst things aren’t quite so busy, taking in the beauty of its cobbled streets and European colonial architecture. This is a world heritage site, with the area built on the ruins of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec empire capital established toppled by the Spanish in 1521

All the attractions here are in walking distance of one another. It’s a good idea to start at the Plaza de la Constitución, also known as El Zócalo, and take things from there. This is one of the largest public squares on earth and on any day of the week you will find it filled with tourists, vendors and pilgrims heading to the magnificent Metropolitan Cathedral, which lies just to the square’s North side. The area’s other big attraction, the National Palace, lies to the East of the square and is an imposing structure that traditionally served as the President of the Republic’s official residence – although no longer

No Mexico City day trip is complete without enjoying the sights, sounds and crowds of the city’s most central quarter. The Centro Historico is undoubtedly this, with dozens of notable sites included throughout its charming walkways. The best way to enjoy the area is by foot, and be sure to check out some of the excellent shopping in the area. The main shopping streets of the Centro Historico are organised according to the products they sell. For example, Republica del Salvador Street specialises in the electronics trade whilst Donceles street is a must for any photography enthusiasts. One important tip if you plan to splash some cash here: make sure to haggle! The traders here are not stupid and if you allow them to, they will milk you for every dollar they can  // Centro Histórico – Plaza de la Constitución S/N, Centro, Cuauhtémoc, 06010 Ciudad de México

10:30 – Slow things down at the Azul Historico Café

This place has to be the city’s most romantic café, where you can enjoy a cup of local coffee in the courtyard of a stunning 17th-century building surrounded by lush trees and chattering clientele. It’s a unique environment unlike anywhere else you may have stopped off for a caffeine fix, there’s an upmarket vibe although the atmosphere is also incredibly relaxed. Like any good café, the Azul Historico allows you to take a break from the hectic streets and recharge your batteries

One of the best things you can do here is to grab a coffee and take a seat in the adorable garden area, watching the diverse customers around. Here you can find local businessman, gorgeous young socialites and of course, plenty of tourists. If you’re feeling peckish there’s an excellent menu as well, serving everything from pretty pastries to hefty Mexican favourites such as enchiladas and tacos – although they’re sure to surprise with a gastronomic twist – that’s just how things are done at this wonderfully classy establishment

In addition, there is a range of small shops and boutiques within the complex, selling handicrafts, art and fashion at a premium price, although the artisanal items here are truly worth their hefty tag. A visit to the Azul Historico is one shrouded in history and tradition but that provides a welcome hit of luxury, the staff are superb and their black-tie attire again adds to the opulence of the place. If the garden is a little busy or if you just fancy taking your coffee somewhere else, ask to be guided to the rooftop terrace where you can sip your brew whilst taking in the splendour of the historical district from above. Enjoy some breathtaking views in an environment unmatched for glamour and beauty. Now that really is bliss  //Azul Historico – Isabel La Catolica 30, Col. Centro Histórico, 06002 Ciudad de México

11:00 – Gawp in wonder at the National Museum of Anthropology

For a taste of the real Mexico come to this incredible museum, the country’s most visited and it’s largest, just outside the Centro Historico. It’s easy to forget that this beautiful country has a history stretching backs thousands of years, with much more to its cultural credentials than Aztec pyramids, colonial architecture and the jingle of the Mariachi. Here, you can learn about all of it, with numerous exhibitions educating you on the diverse and incredibly far-reaching history of this incredible Latin American nation

Plan for at least a couple of hours here and even then, some people spend days exploring the endless chambers and exhibitions. Some of the museum’s most popular include the Mayan and Aztec rooms which educate visitors on all aspects of these rich, ancient cultures including their architecture, food, culture and customs and general way of life. Key pieces include the Aztec Calendar stone and a 16th-century Aztec Xochipilli statue. No Mexico City day trip can be complete without a visit to this, the jewel in the crown of the nation’s cultural heritage. Its exhibitions will leave you in awe and like any good museum, they will have you wondering long after you leave

On top of all this, the building of the Anthropology Museum itself is a marvel. Designed in 1964 by Mexican architects Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, Jorge Campuzano, and Rafael Mijares Alcérreca, it is a feat of modern architecture like no other in the country that sits amid stunning, floral gardens and numerous fountains. If you’re bringing a backpack be sure to check it in with security, which is understandably tight here. Also, be prepared to pay a little extra if you want to snap those all important photos for the album  // National Museum of Anthropology –  Avenida Paseo de la Reforma, Chapultepec Polanco, 06002 Ciudad de México

12:30 – Stop for lunch at the bustling hipster paradise that is the Mercado Roma

Old meets new at this iconic city centre market in heart of Mexico City. With a huge range of classic Mexican foods on offer, you’ll be stuck for choice between tacos, burgers, tamales and even fried crickets (!) at this wonderful location. The vibe is incredibly diverse, with moustachioed twenty-somethings sipping artisanal craft beers and munching on local delicacies beside ageing businessmen and wide-eyed tourists. Decor is minimal and blends the old and new Mexico, with traditionally tiled floors contrasting the industrial inspired ceilings of bare brick and steel. Gaping windows light the scene with a soft, natural touch and add to the relaxed ambience

Take a stroll around the market upon arrival to see what whets your appetite the most. There is a plethora of options, from traditional pastries at Empanaderia to modern takes on fresh pasta at Fiamma, you’re sure to find something you like. If that’s not doing it for you what about the whopping sandwiches over at the French Dipped stall? Or the melt-in-your-mouth pork at El Güero Pibil? Like I said, they have everything here. There’s even some great wine options too, with powerful reds and fruity white from Spain, Italy and Chile wrangling for your attention, longing to be matched with your meal

To finish, there are almost as many options for desert. Artisanal chocolates made from Mexican Cacao, classic Macarons in the Parisian style, it’s all up to you and if you can’t decide, just take something from each stall, that’s the beauty of this place. Check their website for events, which they hold a few times a week and can entail anything from cocktail making classes to guided tours of the market. Beware though, they will be held in Spanish, so you might have to brush up if you’ve not practiced your hola and adios in a more than a little while  // Mercado Roma – Calle Querétaro 225, Cuauhtémoc, Roma Nte., 06700 Ciudad de México

14:00 – Step back in time at the Chapultepec Castle

The only royal castle in North America, this hill-top beauty currently serves as the Museum of National History. Whilst this is no doubt an excellent and nourishingly educational attraction, after a morning at the Anthropology museum the best thing to do is to simply come here and admire the views, the beautiful Chapultepec Park and the architecture of the castle itself. If you’re still game for some education then step inside to enjoy the opulent 19th-century abode of Mexico’s Emperor Maximilian, it’s certainly a worthwhile visit. Many of the rooms are unchanged after nearly two-hundred years and their luxury will charm even the most refined of visitors

Outside, the castle takes on a charm of its own amid the lush grounds, perfect to while away some time away from the hustle and bustle of the city. If you don’t feel like another museum then make the trek up the hill to the castle anyway, from there you can admire the stunning architecture of the building yet perhaps more importantly, you can take in the views of the whole of downtown Mexico City

Originally a sacred site for the Aztecs, Chapultepec hill rises to a towering 2,325 metres above sea level. The site has actually held significance for various civilizations for the best part of a millennium. Then in 1775, Viceroy Bernardo de Galvez began to construct his home on the hill to create the sprawling castle that we have today. It is a fine example of late 18-century Spanish architecture and it is a structure unequalled in all of Mexico, perhaps the whole of Latin America. For the romantics, this is the castle that posed as the Capulet Mansion in the popular 1996 adaptation of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, starring Claire Danes and the one and only Leonardo DiCaprio  // Chapultepec Castle – Bosque de Chapultepec I, 11100 Ciudad de México

16:00 – Cool off at the trendy Cielito Querido Café

If you think that Mexico City, with its old-world streets and thriving traditional culture, has been exempt from the global hipster phenomenon, then this is the place that will force you to reconsider that viewpoint. Cielito Querido Café is an ideal spot to unwind on your Mexico City day trip, with ultra-modern surroundings, excellent coffee based beverages and, mercifully, some serious air-conditioning

The product here is said to be some of the very best coffee in all of Mexico. Whilst it’s a chain, the company’s span reaches only as far as the city limits and so coming here means a truly authentic Mexican coffee experience, albeit a very modern one. Choose from a variety of blends from across the world, then choose how you want to drink it, with anything from lattes to flat whites to classic espresso available here. If you’re feeling hungry the pastries are excellent and traditional Mexican in style, try anything with added cinnamon to do things like the locals, they love the stuff! In addition, you can pick up a range of frozen drinks based with either milk, coffee or fruit

Not only are the products great but the decor is too, it’s trendy but not to the point of discomfort, with the huge comfy armchairs making sure that your coffee break is spent with the maximum level of relaxation. Walls are covered in squiggly lined drawings and names of ingredients that give the place a sense of youthful vitality. This is mirrored in the staff too, who are all very knowledgeable about both their products and the city itself. If you’re stuck for anything or just seeking a bit of local advice, they’ll be happy to help and some of these guys speak English too, which is always a plus in a sprawling city such as this  // Cielito Querido Café – Calle Leibnitz 117 Local 4, Miguel Hidalgo, Anzures, Ciudad de México

17:00 – Channel your inner artist at the home and museum of the great Frida Kahlo

To this day an icon of Mexican culture and international feminism, Frida Kahlo is without doubt, the nation’s most distinguished daughter. Known for her radical lifestyle and stirring self-portraits, she continues to be celebrated as one of the first truly liberated women of 20th century Latin America. Here, at the house in which the artist was born, lived and died, you can take a deeper look at a truly remarkable life. Nicknamed “The Blue House” for its striking cobalt blue exterior, the museum is an immersive experience which seeks to allow visitors to live Frida’s lifestyle and legacy

The Frida Kahlo museum is unique in its blending of the exhibition with the preserved home form of heritage attraction. The house is much as it was left by Kahlo and her artist husband Diego Rivera in the 1950’s, yet among the dining tables and sofas happen to sit some of the most important works of art of the 20th century. Upstairs in Frida’s bedroom, which is unchanged since her living there, visitors can see the artist’s ashes which sit in an urn surrounded by a decorative funeral mask. All of this makes La Casa Azul both a testimony to Mexican traditional art and craft as well as an exhibit on the life of Kahlo and her contemporaries in the intellectual and bohemian circles of Mexico City in the early 20th century

The Blue House is a must for any lovers of art, design and traditional culture. It’s multiple rooms contain artefacts that transport you into the life of one of history’s most celebrated artists, including day to day items such as cooking utensils that Kahlo used frequently. The museum takes into the world of Kahlo, shows us the inspiration and lifestyle behind her iconic work and most of all it serves as a tribute to great woman herself  // Frida Kahlo Museum – Londres 247, Del Carmen, Coyoacán, 04100 Ciudad de México

18:30 – Lose yourself in bohemian Coyoacán

The wider neighbourhood of Coyoacán, where the Frida Kahlo Museum is located, has always been and continues to be Mexico City’s major hub of counterculture and bohemian living. This is where to come if you’re sick of the tourist crowds, it’s an area whose authenticity remains very much intact and its vibrant ambience can be attributed to years of being an arts centre as well as a thriving student population. Explore the quiet streets and squares with their quaint cafés filled with revolutionaries, artists and writers. There are dozens of small churches littered throughout Coyoacán so keep your eyes peeled, there are some exquisite examples among them and if you’ve brought your camera, be sure to snap a few of the most beautiful ones

The two squares, Plaza Hidalgo and Jardín Centenario, are the de-facto centres of the neighbourhood. Very often you will find markets, demonstrations and other events taking place here, take a seat on a bench like the locals and watch it all unfold with an ice cream from one of the vendors plying their trade. If you’re lucky enough to be spending your Mexico City day trip at the weekend, then be sure to check out the square’s excellent markets selling a range of clothing and handicrafts at local prices. You’ll still need to haggle, but bear in mind that the tourist-stuff from the Centro Historico is incomparable to the authentic produce you’ll find here

If you’re still thirsting for some culture then you can always visit the Leon Trotsky Museum (Viena 45, Col. Del Carmen, Coyoacán, 04100, Ciudad de México). This is the site on which the communist revolutionary was executed by Soviet spies four years after he received asylum from the Mexican government in 1936. The house remains intact after over seventy years and you can see how Trotsky lived during his final days. It’s only right that one of the 20th century’s most important revolutionaries made his home here in Coyoacán, Mexico City’s original counterculture hotbed  // CoyoacánViena 45, Col. Del Carmen, Coyoacán, 04100, Ciudad de México

19:30 – Treat your tastebuds at the classy Restaurante Antiguo San Angel Inn

If you ever thought that Mexican food was all taste but no class, then this is the place to come and change your perceptions. The Restaurante Antiguo San Angel Inn is one of the city’s favourite restaurants and it has been for years. The food is classic Mexican with a modern interpretation, although things are by no means molecular gastronomy at this incredibly classy location in the south of the city

Housed in a stunning hacienda, the decor of this place just screams with understated luxury, think flowing white curtains offset with opulent red velvet touches. Original wood beamed ceilings and white walls keep things down to earth and remind you instantly that you’re in Mexico, just a more upmarket version of it. If the weather’s good then you can even eat outside in the glorious patio area, complete with tranquil, traditionally adorned fountains and lush gardens filled with exotic birds. Staff is as cordial and polite as you would expect from an establishment such as this, whilst the clientele is a nice mix of middle-class families here to celebrate, wealthy regulars and curious tourists eager to taste the refined side of Mexican cooking

This theme of modernised tradition could not be better continued than in the food at Restaurante Antiguo San Angel Inn. Everything you can find on the street outside is here, including tacos, carnitas and chilaquiles. The difference is that the quality of produce at this place just makes the food sing in your mouth. The meats are spiced to perfection, the tortillas pillowy soft and the guacamole makes everything else you’ve tasted seem like wallpaper paste. It’s that good. Yes, you will pay for the quality, but this is a Mexico City day trip and you want to experience the best that the city has to offer. Undoubtedly, Restaurante Antiguo San Angel Inn can provide you with exactly that  // Restaurante San Ángel Inn, San Ángel Inn, 01060 Ciudad de México

21:00 – Head to the movies at the spectacular Cineteca Nacional

Not only is Mexico’s National Cinema a place to come and see some of the very best arthouse films around, it is also a truly spectacular feat of modern architecture that is unlike any cinema you have ever seen. After its inception in 1974, the centre was heavily refurbished in 2011 to create one of the nation’s most unique and striking buildings. The grid-like structure of this sprawling complex make it look more like a Scandinavian museum than a Latin American film centre, yet such is the nature of one of Mexico City’s outstanding structures

The interiors of the Cineteca Nacional are no less inspiring than its architecture. Featuring various restaurants, cafés and other quality refreshment spots, the Cineteca is more of a meeting point, a zone of inspiration, than simply a cinema. There’s a film-themed bookshop with a truly exceptional collection of photo books, biographies and other literature as well as a stunningly verdant garden. It is here that the Cineteca host outdoor screening events that are a truly perfect way to spend a couple of hours during the summer when the heat begins to fade and the soft evening begins to descend on the city

Don’t expect to see your favourite Hollywood blockbuster here, the offerings are strictly independent. With a film history as rich as any, Mexico takes its cinema very seriously and this highly  original hub is the perfect homage to the nation’s camera culture. You might be able to catch some foreign films here but again, be aware that all subtitles will be in Spanish here. If you check out their listings, you might be able to catch a quality English-language film and then language just won’t be any issue at all. This place, all in all, is an absolute must for creatives, cinema buffs and anybody who appreciates originality and glorious architecture  // Cineteca Nacional – Av. México Coyoacán 389, Benito Juárez, Xoco, 03330 Ciudad de México

22:30 – Wet your whistle at Jules Basement

Unapologetically hip and exclusive to the point of inaccessible, Jules Basement is an ideal place for a few drinks to warm up the grand finalé of your Mexico day trip. It’s a speakeasy, which means that not so many people know about this place and you have to do a bit of work to find it. That said, it’s not the address you’ll struggle with. To enter the bar you must first pass through a restaurant kitchen and only then will you be shown exactly where it is you need to look

This all adds to the fun of the place, and once inside the bar for real you will begin to see why it is hailed as one of the coolest joints in town. Decor is minimal, with lots of monotone and bare steel lending the place something of an industrial-chic vibe. The music changes from night to night, you never know if you’ll get jazz, funk, electro or a mixture thereof. Yet if one thing’s for sure, it’s always quality stuff pumping out of the speakers at Jules Basement

Then there are the drinks. The mixologists here are certainly worthy of that somewhat haughty label, because what they can do with just a little bourbon, mezcal, rum or tequila will leave you thinking of this place for years to come. Sure, you can stick to the classics such as the Old Fashioned or Whisky Sour, but you’re in Mexico City. Try something local from the massive menu and watch as the bar staff mix it all up from scratch. No matter what you choose, it’s sure to be worth every penny of the admittedly pricey $10 tag. Get chatting at the bar with other revellers, they’re sure to be a good source of info as to what’s going on in town as this is watering hole is strictly for the city’s uber trendy set  // Jules Basement – Julio Verne 93, Miguel Hidalgo, Polanco Reforma, 11560 Ciudad de México

23:59 – Lose your inhibitions at the red-hot and dazzling Mama Rumba

This iconic nightclub has a pan-Latin vibe that will leave you dancing the night away without a care in the world. Such is the infectiousness of the salsa and reguetón played here, such is the quality of their Mojitos and tequilas. Head here any night of the week for a wild time, but Wednesdays and Saturdays are said to be particularly atmospheric, with live bands complementing the DJ sets that spin here nightly. When the bands are playing, the dancing here can be quite intimidating due to its highly technical nature. Not well versed in the ways of Salsa? No worry, just head upstairs for an altogether more relaxed experience where party-goers can truly let themselves go

Mama Rumba provides an authentic Latin experience without the tourist crowds of elsewhere. The clientele will be mixed, from seasoned Salsa enthusiasts right through the beautiful young things simply looking for a release. Whilst the music is booming and the drinks excellent, it’s slightly more pricey than other clubs in the area but by no means expensive. If you plan to stay for the long haul, you might be better off buying a full bottle of liquor or a case of beers (they do that here) rather than paying individually for each drink 

The decor here is simple yet clean and modern, it’s really not of the utmost importance as this place is really all about the music, the people and having an amazing time. The doors are open until way after 3am and anybody leaving late should definitely take a cab back to the hotel. On Thursday evenings they hold free Salsa classes for anybody looking to brush up before a night on the tiles. They have a large following who will be happy to help out as you find your feet. Mama Rumba is a refreshing, unique night out that will not be forgotten in a hurry  // Mama Rumba – Calle Querétaro 230, Delegación Cuauhtémoc, Col. Roma Norte, 06700 Ciudad de México

We mapped out your day trip in Mexico City

Each highlight of your day trip is numbered, simply follow the guide

What you should absolutely know about Mexico City

City highlights, food & drinks, expressions, weather, how to get there and how to get around

Mexico City is a city revived: public spaces are expanding, new restaurants are opening, and the city is full of cultural and artistic reawakening. During your Mexico City day trips, spend your days reliving history as you stroll down the happening downtown area. Cool off in an old-school style cantina or visit one of the city’s museums. Get swept up in the dazzling expressions of art and murals that line the streets or lose yourself on a boat excursion along the canals of the ancient city. Learn to salsa and dance the night away at Antillano or another popular nightclub

Tour the Chapultepec Castle, which also houses the National History Museum, and be rewarded with spectacular panoramic views of Mexico City. Visit the Museo Frida Kahlo to gain an appreciation for the renowned Mexican painter

While wandering through a street fair, pick up a few freshly made tostadas, tacos, or carnitas. Get your fill of Pozole, a hearty soup, to reenergize you for the night ahead. Indulge in flauntas and sip on a refreshing Aguas Frescas

To ask someone “What’s up?” say “¡Qué onda!” “Buenos dias“(pronounced BWEH-nohs DEE-ahs) means “Good morning”. A little politeness can go a long way. “Please” in Spanish is “Por favor” (pronounced pohr fah-BOHR) and “Thank you” is “Gracias” (pronounced GRAH-see-as)

Summer brings rain and lots of humidity, so get ready. Fall is usually cooler and quite a bit rainier, with temperatures in the 80s. Winters are usually mild, with temperatures ranging from the upper 60s to the 70s. Generally, spring warms slightly, with temperatures in the upper 70s to 80s

Taxis are everywhere in Mexico City and to take one into the heart of the city costs around 200-250 pesos. A cheaper option is the subway, which costs about 5 pesos and the metrobus is bit more pricey at 30 pesos

There are many subway lines and buses that take you to explore Mexico City during your day trips. Hop on a tourist bus to hit the city’s highlights on your way into the heart of the city or rent a car to sightsee on your own

Feeling adventurous? Have a look at these city guides