The ultimate long weekend in Mexico City: 3 day itinerary
Mexico City has been on the top of my ‘must see’ list ever since watching the opening scene of the movie Spectre, showing James Bond chasing a villain in the ‘Zocola’ (City Center) during a colorful Day of the Dead festival. I absolutely loved Mexico City! It is the perfect long weekend trip because you can see diverse cultural attractions ranging from Mayan Ruins, Colonial-era Spanish Cathedrals, and Diego Rivera murals all within a few blocks of each other (and all free). The city has a vibrant food scene ranging from street food to upscale dining, with everything in between. With the favorable peso to dollar conversion rate, a long weekend away will not break the bank. Obviously, in a major metropolitan city there is always more to see, but in a long weekend you can check off a lot of major sites while having a good time.
This often overlooked cosmopolitan city dates back to 1325 when it was known as “Tenochititlan,” the cultural and political capital of the Aztec empire. Later conquered by the Spaniards in the 1500’s, the layers of historical and cultural influence are interspersed into the now modern city. Mexico City or locally known “DF” and “CDMX” (short for the Spanish Districto Federal and Ciudad de Mexico, respectively) has the second largest number of museums outside of Paris and a majority are free.The city is known for murals from Diego Rivera to a large street-art scene and a lively nightlife for any type of traveller. Although public transportation is an option, Uber is abundant and none of my rides cost more than $4.50 (roughly around 88 pesos).
Hotels and flights: I would recommend staying in either Condesa, Roma Norte, or Polanco. All have great food and exciting nightlife. We opted for an airbnb in Condesa. You can research accommodations through various sites such as hotels.com, bookings.com, and airbnb. I checked flights for Mexico City for a while and was able to get an Aeromexico flight for $260 round trip from NYC over a long weekend. I arrived on Thursday night after work, so I got the full day of Friday to explore. Before going I watched the movie, Frida, a biography of the artist, Frida Kahlo, starring Salma Hayek which gave an interesting perspective on her life (1907-1954) and the central role she and Diego Rivera played in the the Mexican artistic and political scene.
Take the morning and early afternoon to walk around the the center. Make sure that you see the major sites in the Plaza de la Constitución, colloquially known as the “Zócalo.” The massive square hosts Templo Mayor, a 13th century Aztec temple and both the Spanish Cathedral and Basilica. Construction on the Cathedral commenced in the 1500’s and wasn’t completed until the 19th century. The Templo Mayor was destroyed and buried, but centuries later the buried remains of the Temple were discovered by electrical workers and, over time, excavated and restored.
Make sure to make it to the Palacio Nacional, which showcases murals by Diego Rivera. The entrance is on Calle Moneda and if you continue walking away from the Zócalo for a few blocks you will be bombarded with numerous vendors with low cost trinkettes, street carts with food and street artwork.
Make your way back to Avenida Hidalgo to Cafe de Tacuba, where you can enjoy a leisurely lunch. It has beautiful tile-work and is the location of one of Diego Rivera’s weddings. After lunch walk the last few blocks to Palacio de Bellas Artes to purchase tickets for Sunday. Don’t miss the Diego Rivera murals called “Man Controller of the Universe” and “Carnaval de la Vida Mexicana.” If you’re up for it, you can elect to the go to the top of Torre Latinoamericana for views of the cityscape.
In addition to Cafe Tacuba, there are a few different places in the city center that I would recommend, all within a few blocks of each other: Azul Historico (probably the most fancy of the recommendations), Hosteria Santo Domingo, and limosneros, which is located in a converted convent.
After lunch, that an Uber to the Chapultepec park which has both the Chapultepec Castle and the National Museum of Anthropology. I would recommend double checking the open hours for the museum, because we arrived at 5 thinking it closed at 7pm (listed on Google) and they were closing. The museum will give you better context to the day trip to Teotihuacan on Day 2.
End the night with an amazing meal at Contramar in Condesa.
Take a half-day trip to the ruins of Teotihuacan, an hour outside of Mexico City. (Try to say that name ten times fast). Our tour guide, Tomas Alberto Ortega Corona (Teotihuacan al extremo), is actually an archaeologist who grew up in the town of Teotihuacan. He gave an extensive history of the site (which I knew nothing about) and even provided home videos of excavations he had been on. Bruin on a Budget tip: Take an Uber to the bus station and then take the public bus to the site, instead of hiring an all inclusive bus trip. Our tour was 120 pesos total (which is roughly 6 dollars.)
When we got back to the city, we rested and then spent the rest of the day and into the evening window shopping, dining and mezcal-tasting around Roma Norte.
On Sunday we elected to go to the 9:30 AM Ballet Folklorica in the beautiful Palacio de Artes. It was a great start to the day; the traditional costumes and dances provide a history of the culture of Mexico. The music and dancing is contagious. Don’t forget to take note of the Tiffany curtains and the Diego Rivera murals.
In the morning enjoy a tour of Xochimilco. At one point in time this was a unique city outside of CDMX, and it still has a suburban feel. During the Pre-Hispanic period, this was the location of Lake Xochimilco. What remains is a canal system and man-made island farms called “chinampas” or floating gardens. Visitors in colorful boats called “trajineras” while a mariachi band serenades you and lunch is served. These boats can fit up to 20 people and often carry groups celebrating a birthday, anniversary, or some other festive gathering.
We then took a car to Frida Kahlo’s Museum or “Casa Azul” in the southern neighborhood of Coyoacán. I would recommend reserving timed tickets from boletosfridakahlo, because there is always a long line. Coyoacán has an identity of its own and I would recommend shopping at the Mercado de Coyoacán, a classic public market; grabbing a coffee from Cafe el Jarocho, and enjoying a mariachi band over an dinner at the lively and unpretentious Cantina La Guadalupana.
Fly home either Sunday evening or Monday morning