When I was planning my trip to Mexico, I decided to do one very stupid thing. And that was to stay in Mexico City for only one day. When I look back, I regret not spending there at least three days. But the damage is done. I still have to say that I enjoyed one day in Mexico City that I had and that even during one day, you can see a lot of things. But all of them are in the historical center where all of the sights are very close to each other so it is much easier to visit it in just one day. So, how much can you do in one day in Mexico City?
One day in Mexico city itinerary
As I said, Mexico City is huge and if you decide to visit it just for one day, you might need to choose a place or exact neighborhood to visit. We choose to spend our day in the historical center that is full of churches, beautiful old buildings from the colonial times. At the same time, you can find here a lot of interesting restaurants and quite a big park for relaxing. I’d recommend to visit this neighborhood if you like history or you are interested in churches.
Palacio de Bellas Artes
Or as you might know it The palace of beautiful arts. This building is filled with beautiful things. You can find here all kinds of very interesting pieces. At the time when we were visiting this place, there was an exhibition about Emiliano Zapata. The museum was very thorough about his life and there were a lot of pictures from his revolutions and articles from the time of his life about what he was doing. It was very interesting to see it. However, this exhibition is there only temporary, so you might see something very different at the time of your visit.
From the permanent exhibitions that we were able to visit, we saw modern art paintings about life in Mexico, revolutions, and all different topics. It was interesting to see how people see modern Mexico and the paintings from this time.
Palacio de Bellas Artes is easy to go through. Unfortunately, I’m not sure if the art that you can see here would be enjoyable for a lot of foreigners. Emiliano Zapata is surely a big Mexican hero and the exhibition is cool but it might be only for people who are interested in Mexican history. The same goes for the collection of modern art.
But all in all, Palacio de Bellas Artes is worthy to visit, mainly for the architecture. This gorgeous palace was build in the early 1920s and the Italian architect is inspired by buildings in Rome. Palacio de Bellas Arts is certainly a pearl of the historical center of Mexico City.
Opening times: 10 am to 17.45
Entry fees: 70 pesos for adults
Plaza de Constitucion
This is the main square in Mexico City and perhaps the most historical square that you can find here. It is also known as Zócalo. Before Spanish came and colonize the country, this used to be the center of the Aztec city where all the ceremonials took place. But as history goes, colonizators often build their churches on the sacred ground of previous civilization so they show domination. And the same goes here. There is a really big and beautiful cathedral but also the national palace or buildings from the federal district.
Metropolitan Cathedral of Mexico city
The full name of this architectural masterpiece is the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven. In short – cathedral. At the place of the cathedral used to be Aztec sacred ground possibly dedicated to the god of the sun. But currently this cathedral works as the main place to worship if you are catholic. The cathedral is very old people started to build it in 1573 and it was first standing in 1656 even though the building continued to 1813. Because the building tool so much time, you can see here all kinds of architecture styles from baroque, to neo-classics, neo-renaissance. The legend says that the conquistador, Hernán Cortéz set the first stone of the cathedral.
Aside from history, from a tourist point of view, it is a really beautiful building and you will need at least half an hour to see all of the insides. Word of advice here – you cannot take pictures inside with flash. You also need to wear clothes that would cover your knees and shoulders.
Opening hours: 8 am to 8 pm every day
Entry fee: Free of charge
The second building that you can visit or at least visit the area is the National Palace. This building is also pretty old and goes back to the first colonization times. Once Spanish conquer the Aztecs, they build their palace on the ruin of Aztec king. This palace used to belong to Hernán Cortéz but later on the Spanish kingdom bought the building from him and kept here their governor of the country at that time. After the revolution in 1821 it was renamed to National Palace and it stands like this till today.
You can visit the National Palace. At least parts of it since it is still working as a place where the president lives. You can see local gardens that are filled with fountains and diverse flora. But there are also outside part of building that kind of work as Diego Riveras museum. This world-known artist has here a lot of his murals and you can see them just here in the national palace. Since it is mostly outside that you can visit, it takes about 45 minutes to see all the places here.
Opening times: 9 am to 5 pm
Entry fees: Free of charge
Church of San Felipe Neri “La Professa”
Currently another catholic church in the historic center of Mexico City. This church – unlike others – doesn’t stand on the Aztec ground. However, it is also historically important. The church was first consecrated at 1602 and it was under Jezuits denomination. It became Roman Catholic in 1855 when the Jesuits were expulsed. This church was also part of a lot of historical events. It played its role in La Professa conspiracy, when in the early 19th century when the conservative movement decided to go against the republican government and rather than that wanted to have one absolute ruler on the throne.
Except for political events, the church was also a big supporter of art. It was Jesuits who decided to decorate the church with various paintings and sculptures. That supported a lot of artists that are now quite known because of the church.
Opening times: 11 am to 6.30 pm
Entry fees: Free of charge
Convent of San Francisco
I know I must be boring with all of these churches but in all honesty – they were everywhere and they were so beautiful. Besides It takes only half an hour to visit one and the atmosphere inside is very unique. This church is a little bit harder to find because it is not so obviously on the street like the other one. It is the last remained part of the monastery of San Francisco. It is also one of the oldest churches that you can see here. At around 1573 people started to build this monastery on ruins of what used to be an Aztec zoo. Perhaps because of that is the church dedicated to San Francisco, the Shepard of animals. This church also carried the funeral of Hernán Cortéz.
Currently this is one of the smallest churches that you can visit in the historical center of Mexico City. But it is nice and it has a very cozy atmosphere. Besides the church history the interesting thing is that there were always sacred buildings here, this church is third of its kind because it keeps being damaged. Even though it is third, it still managed to keep its historic atmosphere.
Opening times: 10 am to 6 pm
Entry fees: Free of charge
Diego Rivera Museum
The artist is mostly known for his murals that he painted not only in Mexico but also in San Francisco, Detroit, or New York. he was mainly active between 1922 and 1953. His fourth wife was another famous Mexican artist – Frida Kahlo. His murals were mainly inspired by historical events and revolutions. A lot of his paintings were showing Aztec civilization although he also did his bit about the Russian revolution.
If you decided to stay in the historic center of Mexico City, you cannot miss a museum that is dedicated to his murals. In the museum, you can find some of his pieces but also some other exhibition of modern Mexican art.
Opening times: 10 am to 6 pm
Entry fees: 35 pesos
Located right next to the Palace of beautiful arts, Alameda central is the oldest municipal park. It is a green place in between of forest of the building and it is great to rest here. The park itself has several monuments of historical figures. There are also several fountains and branches to sit everywhere. Sometimes you can meet here street artists practicing dances. The park has also a lot of wildlife, I met here several squirrels. There is also free wifi in case of an emergency and internet withdrawal.
Practical info about one day in Mexico city
Is one day in Mexico City worth it?
It very much is, but if you come here for only one day, it will eventually leave you with a feeling that you should have stayed longer than just one day. Don’t get me wrong, one day in the city is great but you will see only a little of it. I know that I regret not spending here more days. So if you are here only for the layover to someplace in Yucatan or elsewhere, it is worth it. Otherwise thing about staying here longer. Mexicans are saying that if you want to see Mexico City in its full beauty, you will need at least 6 days. I know that I wouldn’t like to stay in such a big city for that long, so I would stretch my trip to 3 days.
When is it a good time to come?
Mexico has two main seasons, dry one and a rainy one. The rain season lasts from May to October. If you come at that time, you should expect that the weather is not going to be that nice. It might be called the rainy season but it might not necessarily rain every single day. But when it does, it is not just a couple of drops. So better come from October to April.
If you are up for a cultural adventure, you come at the beginning of November on the Night of the Dead. Which is the national holiday when people remember and worship loved ones that passed away. You might know it as the holiday when people draw fancy skulls on their faces. During that time it can be even more interesting to visit Mexico City – but then again, thing whether one day is enough because you might easily spend it just on local festivities.
Where to eat?
There are a lot of options and a lot of good restaurants in Mexico City. Since it is an international city, you can find here places with very local cuisine but you can also visit and eat in the local China town.
Santo Domingo restaurant – The biggest restaurant in San Domingo square. They offer dishes from local cuisine, perhaps one of the most delicious ones that I have eaten in Mexico. They have a wide range of meals – you can choose what kind of tortilla you would like to eat – whether chicken or vegetables. All kinds of things. As a bonus, you can sit outside and watch the church and life on the square. Besides that, the restaurant is very affordable and the personnel is nice.
Hong King Restaurant Bar – Located in the heart of Mexico City China town and is probably one of the coziest restaurants here. The restaurant offers traditional Chinese food in really big portions. The food here was delicious even though the price was a little bit higher. In the restaurant, it was possible to go on the second floor and have a meal on the balcony. It is nice in particularly in the evening when the lampions light up once it gets dark.
Where to stay?
Budget option – Amigo suits the hotel has a very decent solution for budget travelers. The offer very spacious and nice rooms with a private bathroom for 25 USD for two people per night. The hotel is located very close to the main square in the historic center. They also have a terrace with a great view of the city.
Midrange – Casa Pepe is in the heart of the historical center of Mexico City. This four-star hotel has its bar and restaurant and for 87 USD you can get a spacious room with its bathroom, double bed, and balcony with city view.
Luxury – City Centro Ciudad de Mexico is focused on luxury and people enjoying their stay. It has very stylish rooms and interior in general. Not only you will get a very cool and pretty room, but you can also use their bathroom on the rooftop of the hotel and spend here a relaxing evening with a view of Mexico City. One night in this hotel costs 112 USD for a couple.
How to get to Mexico City?
Airport – Whether you are coming from the Yucatan peninsula or some other distant region of Mexico, or you are an international traveler, the plane is one of the obvious options. The airport is in the middle of the city so it is easy to get around. If you have your hotel in the historical center, it will take you only 20 minutes to get there by taxi. It is much better to get a taxi from the official stands at the airport. Also much cheaper and safer.
Bus – In case you are coming from some distant places like Grutas Tolantongo, you can easily come by bus. The main bus station has several bus companies coming every day. It is also the place where you can catch but to ADO – one of the most famous bus companies in Mexico. They will get you everywhere.
Taxi – Taxis are great if you want to get around. They are also a relatively cheap way of getting around since public transport can be pretty chaotic. However, it is better to ask your hotel if they can order a taxi. There have been several cases of taxi drivers blackmailing the passenger. So better to ask someone else to order a taxi for you. If you want to get around from a certain street the best option is to order a taxi.
Is Mexico City safe?
Like a lot of places in Central America, it has its flaws. But if you are planning to spend the day just in the historical center, it is a very safe place to be. We walk around even in the night and we felt completely safe, so at least in this part it was completely fine. But here are a couple of tips.
Prepare your self on a lot of beggars. Especially around the churches. But in general, there is a lot of them. And they would come to you even if you are sitting in the restaurant.
It is perhaps not the best idea to come around in flashy clothes or walk around with a phone that would be too easy to reach.
The historic center is very international, so you can find here ATM and even pharmacy in case you wouldn’t feel well.
There is a lot of street food around the corners. I know that they are locals and locals are eating them all the time but I got sick after eating there, so I wouldn’t recommend it.
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