I grew up in Mexico City and think tourists often overlook these 11 things to do, from a wrestling show to floating gardens
I'm a travel writer from Mexico City who loves recommending local to-dos to friends and tourists.
Besides the popular landmarks, there are also lesser-known sites that I think are just as exciting.
Here are 11 things I think tourists should do in CDMX, from street food tours to lucha libre shows.
My hometown of Mexico City has tons to do for visitors, from food tours to historic sightseeing.
Typically, repeat visitors I meet in Mexico City (CDMX) have already been to the most famous sites, such as the Anthropology Museum, the Zocalo, the Templo Mayor ruins, and the Diego Rivera murals.
As a local, I think these landmarks, and others like Frida Kahlo's Casa Azul and the Palacio de Bellas Artes, are interesting to see, especially for first-time visitors. But I also love recommending the city's attractions and activities that are lesser known to tourists that locals enjoy.
These 11 things to do and places to see are among my top picks for visitors in CDMX, from exploring the Xochimilco canals to getting a bird's eye view of the Teotihuacán pyramids.
Sign up for an authentic street food tour with a women-run tour company.
I love getting to know new places through food, so I think a great way to explore Mexico City is by signing up for a street food tour.
There are many you can do, but to go a bit more off the beaten path, I recommend Eat Like a Local, a woman-owned tour company with all-women guides. They combine expeditions like food safaris and mezcal tastings with teaching visitors about the city and connecting with locals.
I went on the 4.5-hour street food tour with this company that included two markets and stops at numerous food stalls. It was fun to eat nonstop for hours. Some of the best bites I tried on the tour were mixiote tacos, made from marinated meat steamed in a pit, and green-chorizo tacos, made with a Mexican-style pesto.
I also loved having the chance to meet girls whose families work at the market, as several of them came to say hello. My tour guide explained that some often join the tour to practice their English with the tourists.
I also admired the relationship I saw between the tour guides and the market community — they personally knew the vendors and employees everywhere we went.
Hunt for clothes, jewelry, and homewares at pop-up markets around town.
There are many places to shop in Mexico City but I recommend the pop-up markets with rotating locations throughout CDMX instead of larger stores or chains. I think these markets are a better way to support the local community, and they're also fun to browse for artisanal wares and handmade items.
At Tráfico Bazar, I've seen jewelry, homewares, fashion, and toiletries from up-and-coming designers and local business owners. There are also food options and, in my experience, usually live musicians during the Christmas season.
For unique clothing, I head to Bazar Resiliente. I've bought some great denim jackets there with funky touches like sequins, fringes, and studs.
Bazar del Sábado, located in the San Ángel area and open only on Saturdays, is more upscale, in my opinion, and I like to bring out-of-town friends here to enjoy the neighborhood's historic architecture.
Bazar del Sábado is in a fixed location, but the others are not, so I recommend checking social media to confirm locations and dates. In my experience, they're usually held in central neighborhoods like Roma, Juárez, or Polanco.
Cheer on masked luchadores at a Lucha Libre wrestling show.
Lucha Libre is a boisterous match of freestyle wrestling between brightly-masked luchadores — people who compete in Lucha Libre wrestling — with an audience in the bleachers of Arena México cheering them on.
I didn't think I'd like Mexican wrestling because it always seemed a bit kitsch to me, but I've been a few times with friends and think it's a unique, authentic night out that's a lot of fun.
As an attendee, I've seen the audience is made mostly of locals, and everyone gets excited during the match, especially the kids.
Fast food items are for sale like hot dogs and popcorn; I like buying a michelada with chamoy, which is big enough to last me throughout the show.
Matches are held only on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays throughout the year, and I recommend buying tickets in advance.
Taste one of Mexico's most popular liquors at a local mezcalería.
Mezcal is my alcoholic beverage of choice, and I love introducing friends to the Mexican liquor that, in my opinion, tastes like tequila's smokier cousin.
There are so many varieties of mezcal that I think it's worth going to a mezcalería to try a few. Some are earthier, others more herbal, and a mezcal tasting is a great way to sample the differences.
One of my preferred spots is La Clandestina, a mezcalería in the Condesa neighborhood that serves some 25 varieties of artisanal mezcal. I recommend ordering a few of the smallest servings to try multiple, and remembering to eat the orange slices sprinkled with chili powder to cleanse your palate.
I've found the staff is very knowledgeable, so I always go with a few of their suggestions and I've never been disappointed.
Wander the colorful squares and streets of the Coyoacán neighborhood.
Most tourists go to the southern part of Mexico City to visit Frida Kahlo's Casa Azul, but I think the area of Coyoacán has much more to see. I think it feels like a small town instead of a big-city neighborhood, and I can easily spend a whole day here exploring the squares and markets.
I like wandering through the food section at the Coyoacán Market before heading to the town square, which is made up of two adjacent plazas. I think it has an old-timey vibe with a kiosk, organ grinders, balloon vendors, and occassional outdoor dance performances.
When I visit, I always end the day with a churro filled with cajeta, which is similar to dulce de leche. They can be found everywhere in the area, but my favorite is Churreria General de la Republica.
Catch a comedy show at Cine Tonalá and an indie film at Cineteca Nacional.
I used to live up the road from Cine Tonalá, and went often to the cinema's on-site restaurant for food and mezcal cocktails. I also attended a few stand-up comedy shows there, which I highly recommend. It helps to speak Spanish to enjoy the show and understand the jokes, but non-Spanish speakers can also catch an indie film, as some are shown in the original language with Spanish subtitles.
Another place to watch indie films is Cineteca Nacional, which I think is worth exploring for a casual but intellectually stimulating afternoon. It's a massive cinema complex with impressive architecture, and called La Cineteca by Chilangos like me, which is a pet name for those of us from Mexico City.
La Cineteca has 10 showing rooms and plans to open 12 more in 2023. It also plays movies on outdoor projectors, and has a video library that lends films. When I go, I like having a Páramo beer or a bloody mezcal at La Chicha, a lively Mexican restaurant on the premises, after the film.
Forage for food to be used as part of an immersive dining experience in the Jilotzingo forest.
For nature fans and foodies, there's a unique fine-dining experience I recommend called Cubo, which takes place in a forest on the outskirts of Mexico City.
I drove for about 50 minutes from the city towards the Jilotzingo forest to find the restaurant, which was a cube-shaped building surrounded by trees. The other guests and I had breakfast, and then were led to foraging for wild mushrooms in the forest. I was told that the experience is offered seasonally and depending on the time of year, sometimes participants forage for berries instead of mushrooms.
After collecting the mushrooms, we headed back to Cubo to enjoy a multi-course meal prepared by a chef over a wood fire, made with the mushrooms we gathered and a variety of locally-sourced ingredients.
When I was there, we had a lamb barbacoa tamale in broth, which I learned was a specialty of chef Carlos Galán of restaurant Guzina Oaxaca in the city, and delicious cocktails. Spots can be booked through Cubo's social media.
Plan a visit to Chapultepec Castle, a hilltop castle with a history museum and gardens.
Chapultepec Castle is my favorite place to go for scenic views of the city. While it is a popular spot for tourists wanting to visit the Museo Nacional de Historia, which is located inside the castle, I like to go for the outdoor spaces and gardens.
The castle is on a hilltop in Bosque de Chapultepec, a sprawling park that's also home to a zoo and other museums. It has 18th-century architecture, stained glass windows, and beautifully-manicured gardens with a great view.
There are two outdoor areas, one above the other, but the top garden section is my favorite because I've usually found it to be less crowded than the terrace below.
While it's somewhat of a walk through the park and then up a hill to reach the castle, I think it's a great way to get my steps in, and I love soaking up the park's colorful atmosphere of local vendors and wandering tourists.
Get a bird's eye view of the Teotihuacán pyramids in a hot air balloon ride.
While the Teotihuacán pyramids can be a busy tourist destination, I think they're worth dealing with crowds to visit. The pyramids are massive and breathtaking, and it feels magical to me to stand in front of structures that were built some 2,000 years ago.
As a local, I advise experiencing the pyramids with a tour guide bus like Azteca Travel Tours. I think it's a good way to learn more about the pyramids' history, and it's also convenient as the site is about an hour north of Mexico City and difficult to reach by public transport.
However for a more out-of-the-box tour, Azteca Travel also hosts hot air balloon rides to see the pyramids from above. I haven't done the balloon ride yet, but it's on my list because the photos I've seen make it seem like the adventure of a lifetime — and a good way to get away from all the crowds.
Visit Mixquic cemetery for Day of the Dead.
Día de Muertos is when families celebrate reuniting with deceased loved ones, and it's one of my favorite times to be in Mexico because I get to experience local traditions and folklore. From Mexico City, I think going to the San Andrés Mixquic community is a good option for the early November celebration.
In Mixquic, I love to see the altars, which are centerpieces decorated with flowers, food, and photographs of deceased loved ones, that locals built for their families. There are murals and sculptures of Catrina skulls decorating the town, and visitors can also walk through the cemetery where tombs are covered with orange flowers and candles.
The town is about an hour and 15 minutes south of CDMX, but visiting is a full-day experience, in my opinion, as it's worth exploring the town during the day and sticking around to see the cemetery light up at night.
Azteca Travel Tours has guided group tours with roundtrip transportation from CDMX. I'd also pack lunch if it's not included in the tour, as food options in Mixquic are minimal and not the best, in my experience.
Take a boat tour of the Xochimilco canals.
I like to tell visiting friends about Mexico City's history before the Spaniards arrived, and how it was built on a tiny island surrounded by a lake.
I find it fascinating that the only remnants of that period are the Xochimilco canals, where visitors can sail aboard a colorful, flat-bottomed boat, called a trajinera, among a maze of floating gardens. I've done this countless times since childhood and it's most fun with friends, as the boat rides often turn into a massive party.
The best dock, or embarcadero, to take a boat from is Nuevo Nativitas, as I've found it's the busiest with locals so it's less expensive than the smaller docks. Visitors can bring snacks with them onboard, or buy food and drinks from vendors around the docks.
For those visiting Xochimilco in the fall, I also recommend catching an on-site performance of La Llorona, a show about the Mexican mythical story of a woman who mourns her dead children. To do this, head to embarcadero Cuemanco and purchase the tickets there.
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