Mexico City is gaining in popularity as a travel destination. And with its fascinating history and stunning architecture, it’s easy to see why. This guide explains how to spend 5 days in Mexico City, hitting all the key sights and attractions.
If you have the vacation time, consider combing this with our 5 Days in the Yucatán itinerary, based out of Mérida.
Day 1 – Zócalo, Cathedral, Calle Madero and Palacio de Bellas Artes
Start your visit to Mexico City at the Zócalo, the main square in the Historic Centre (Cento Historico). Measuring 240 m x 240 m, it’s one of the largest and most impressive city squares in the world. The huge Cathedral and imposing government buildings that surround it are equally impressive. During the winter, the square fills with snowy delights. There’s a giant Christmas tree, a toboggan run and a skating rink (with massive cooling machines, since it rarely goes below freezing).
The Metropolitan Cathedral of Mexico City frames one side of the square. Built by the Spanish between 1572 and 1813, it assured their dominance after the conquest of the Aztec Empire. It occupies the previous site of the Templo Mayor, which was the main temple of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan (now Mexico City). Currently, the cathedral is sinking because of dropping water tables. Some parts are now below the level of the surrounding streets! (Work has been done to stabilize it.)
Strolling the street
Next, take a stroll down the pedestrian street, Calle Madero. It’s quiet in the morning, but gets packed in the evening. You’ll pass by stunning churches, mansions and historic buildings. It runs from the Zócalo to the Palacio de Bellas Artes and the Alameda Central park.
The Palacio de Bellas Artes is a theatre and cultural centre. It’s absolutely stunning, with a Neoclassical and Art Nouveau exterior, and an Art Deco interior (worth a step inside to see).
Photography tip: The Sears directly across the street from the Palacio de Bellas Artes has a rooftop café, the Café de la Gran Cuidad. The view is absolutely spectacular. Enter the main Sears entrance and take the escalators almost to the top (the cafe is located one floor below the top floor). Order a drink, enjoy the view, and take a few unobstructed photos of Bellas Artes!
The Alameda Central park, created in 1592, holds the record as the oldest public park in the Americas. It’s a great place to escape from the hustle and bustle of Mexico City.
Day 2 – National Anthropology Museum
No trip to Mexico City is complete without a visit to the National Anthropology Museum (Museo Nacional de Antropología). Considered one of the greatest museums on the planet, the massive structure houses an extensive collection of pre-Columbian Aztec and Mayan artefacts.
We recommend visiting the Anthropology Museum prior to the archeological sites of Days 3 and 4 in order to learn about the pre-Columbian history of Mexico. In doing so, you’ll better understand and appreciate those sites.
The museum is extensive, and will take the better part of the day to explore.
Day 3 – Teotihuacan Pyramids
The ruins at Teotihuacan are possibly the most spectacular in Mexico. They can’t be missed if you are visiting Mexico City. The massive ancient city is thought to have been established around 100 BCE, and little is known about its origins and founders. It was already in ruins by the time the Aztecs discovered it.
It’s best to get there early to avoid the crowds and the blazing mid-day sun.
The Teotihuacan archeological site is easily accessed by bus.
Day 4 – Tenochtitlan, Templo Major and La Merced Market
Tenochtitlan was an ancient city in the area that is now the historic centre of Mexico City. The capital of the Aztec Empire, it was entirely surrounded by a lake until it was drained by the Spanish. At the heart of Tenochtitlan was the main temple, the Templo Mayor.
As mentioned earlier, the Spanish destroyed the Templo Mayor shortly after the conquest, and they built the new Cathedral overtop it. It was only rediscovered during excavations in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Today, visitors to the Templo Mayor Museum can explore excavated areas of the Templo Mayor ruins, and view an amazing collection of artefacts. The objects associated with the Aztec human sacrifices are particularly fascinating.
Afterwards, fast-forward back into modern Mexico with a visit to the main market of the city. The La Merced market in Mexico City is located a few blocks east of the Zócalo. While commercial activity has existed in the market area since colonial times, it has been in decline for the last 40 years. (In 1980 the wholesale market portion moved to a new location on the outskirts of the city.) Regardless, La Merced remains the busiest retail market in Mexico City. Learn more about exploring La Merced.
Day 5 – La Ciudadela Market, Pulque and the Torre Latinoamericana
Start this day at La Ciudadela market. It’s a traditional Mexican market specializing in crafts and art in the historic centre of Mexico City. With over 350 vendors, it’s the perfect place to find a souvenir to take home.
For lunch, find a pulquería or a more modern bar that serves pulque and partake of this ancient Aztec alcoholic beverage. Plain pulque (pulque blanco) is white, slightly viscous and effervescent. It has a pleasant sour taste. If you like beer, you’ll likely enjoy pulque. Many bars also offer it sweetened with fruit purées if that’s more up your alley.
Conclude your visit of Mexico City with a panoramic bird’s eye view of the city from the observation deck (Mirador) of the Torre Latinoamericana. Its an important architectural achievement, as the world’s first major skyscraper in a seismically active area. (It survived an 8.1 magnitude earthquake in 1985). When completed in 1956, it was Mexico City’s tallest building until 1984.
Have you visited these attractions or tried this itinerary for your 5 days in Mexico City? Let us know what you thought in the comments!