Mexico City Historic Center & Zocalo: 11 Can’t Miss Things to Do

Dec 7, 2020 | 0 comments

Looking for the best things to do in the Mexico City Historic Center?

You’re in the right place because this article lists all the must sees, must dos and must eat tacos in Mexico City’s Historic Center and the Zocalo — one of 35 UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Mexico.

Though you could realistically spend an entire week exploring what many consider the best area in Mexico City, there are 11 things to do and sights to see highlighted here. Check out the Mexico City map below and use this article as the perfect one day Mexico City itinerary.

Let’s explore the 11 most well-known sites in Mexico’s historic downtown area, so you can cross all of the most popular CDMX attractions off your bucket list.

We’ll start in the Zocalo, the main square of Centro Historico, with three of the most-visited places in all of Mexico City: the Templo Mayor, Catedral Metropolitana and Palacio Nacional. Then, head to several other amazing sights, before finally eating some of the best tacos in Mexico City.

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Mexico City historic center best things to do | Pinterest pin
Mexico City Historic Center & Zocalo

Centro Historico Mexico City Map

Everywhere listed in this blog is pinned here to this map of Mexico City’s Centro Historico/Zocalo neighborhood. From the Templo Mayor Aztec temple, to the most instagrammable sites in Mexico City, like the Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico, to where to find the best tacos in Centro Historico — It’s all right here on this map for you to discover on your Mexico City trip!


11 Best Things to Do in Mexico City, Centro Historico

1. Templo Mayor (Aztec Temple)

Centuries ago, the Templo Mayor (Main Aztec Temple) served as the central location of the entire Aztec empire. After the Spanish conquest, it was buried, and the present-day Zocalo (town square) was built on top. The first efforts to excavate the templo began in the 19th century, and continued through the 1980s.

Today, you can stroll the remnants of the temple and see some of its most historic archeological treasures. During the excavations, more than 7,000 objects and artifacts were recovered; some of which are now displayed in the onsite museum.

💃🏽 Let an archeologist/historian explain it all to you: Book the Walking Tour Through Time in Mexico City, led by a female guide!

  • Templo Mayor Address: Seminario 8, Colonia Centro, CDMX, 06060
  • Templo Mayor Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 9am-5pm
  • Templo Mayor Admission Cost: $80 pesos ($4)

Aztec snake head sculpture at Templo Mayor | Mexico City historic center

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2. Metropolitan Cathedral

From the rocks that were once Aztec temples, the Spanish conquistadors had the giant Catedral Metropolitana de México (Metropolitan Cathedral) constructed. It took an astounding 240 years to build! 

Of all Mexico City’s many churches, this cathedral is the most opulent. It is one of the 10 largest churches in all of the Americas, and also contains the largest pipe organs on the continent.

🇲🇽 Experience all the must-sees in Centro Historico: Book the Explore Mexico City’s Historical Center Highlights Tour now!

  • Metropolitan Cathedral Address: Plaza de la Constitución, Colonia Centro, CDMX, 06000
  • Metropolitan Cathedral Pro Tip: Photos are permitted — as long as you’re respectful and quiet.

Mexico's main Cathedral in the Zocalo | Mexico City historic center

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3. Palacio Nacional & Diego Rivera Murals

The 660-foot-long Palacio Nacional (National Palace) spans one entire side of the Zocalo square. This impressive building houses Mexico’s Federal Treasury and National Archives.

Inside, don’t miss the murals painted on the walls chronicling four phases of Mexican history, from the Aztecs through the Mexican Revolution. These detailed murals were painted by one of the country’s most famous artists, Diego Rivera.

  • Palacio Nacional Address: Plaza de la Constitución, Colonia Centro, CDMX, 06000
  • Palacio Nacional Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 9am-5pm
  • Palacio Nacional Admission Cost: FREE, but you must leave your ID at the entrance with the guards.

Palacio Nacional | Mexico City historic center

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4. Palacio Bellas Artes

If you’ve ever seen an image of Mexico City, there’s a good chance that image was of the beautiful Bellas Artes (Palace of Fine Arts) building. This classical European, golden-domed, structure is a work of art in and of itself. However, don’t pass up the chance to head inside and check out the gorgeous art deco interior.

Take the elevator up the Museo Palacio de Bellas Artes (museum) to see the rotating art exhibits from some of the biggest names in the classical art world. Also inside, don’t miss the murals on the walls, painted by all the noteworthy Mexican greats.

💃🏽 Make sure you see everything in Centro Historico: Book the Main Attractions-Mexico City Center Tour, led by a female guide!

  • Palacio Bellas Artes Address: Avenida Juárez S/N, Colonia Centro, CDMX, 06050
  • Palacio Bellas Artes Hours: Daily, from 10am-7pm; Museum is open Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-6pm
  • Palacio Bellas Artes Admission Cost: FREE to walk inside; Museum entry is $70 pesos ($3.50)

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5. Alameda Central Park

Located just next to Bellas Artes, the well-maintained Parque Alameda Central (Alameda Central Park) has beautiful sculptures and fountains to enjoy.

Don’t miss the impressive Benito Juarez Hemicycle monument, and the authentic Parisian metro sign (one of my favorite and top secret photo spots 🤫) at the Bellas Artes metro station entrance.

With so many things to do and see, Centro Historico can be overwhelming.

The Alameda Central park is the ideal place to eat some tacos and churros, do some people-watching, and in general, just enjoy a break from the hustle and bustle of Centro Historico.

🚴‍♀️ Prefer biking to walking: Book the Cycling Mexico Tour!

  • Parque Alameda Central Address: Avenida Hidalgo S/N, Colonia Centro, CDMX, 06010
  • Parque Alameda Pro Tip: This is a nice place to have a mini picnic on a bench!

park with green space and purple flower trees next to large skyscrapers and buildings | Mexico City historic center

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6. Plaza Garibaldi

This is the place to hear mariachi music when you’re in Mexico City. Plaza Garibaldi is basically an all-day party, with mariachi music as its guest of honor.

Join in on the sporadic, impromptu dance parties, or just enjoy the mariachis as they constantly try to one-up each other in song and musical showmanship.

  • Plaza Garibaldi Address: Incas 06000, Eje Central, Colonia Centro, CDMX, 06000
  • Plaza Garibaldi Pro Tip: If you’re staying at Plaza Garibaldi after the sun goes down, remember to take an Uber home.

Mariachi band playing music | Mexico City historic center


7. Barrio Chino (Chinatown)

Ask yourself this: Are you really in a major city if there isn’t a Chinatown!?

While Mexico City’s Chinatown isn’t huge, it is worth walking through and snapping some photos of the iconic red arch entryway and hanging paper lanterns. Start your journey at the main arch entryway, pinned on the free map of Centro Historico in this blog.

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  • Barrio Chino Address: Calle Artículo 123 and Calle López, Incas 06000, Colonia Centro, CDMX, 06000
  • Barrio Chino Pro Tip: Try to visit before the sun goes down for the best photos.

Colorful paper lanterns and umbrellas in Mexico City's China Town | Mexico City historic center

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8. Torre Latinoamericana

One of the iconic buildings in Mexico City’s skyline! On a clear day, take the elevator to the top of the Torre Latinoamericana (Latin American Tower) for some amazing views. There is a cost of about $125 pesos ($6USD), so you’ll only want to head up to the mirador (viewing platform) on a clear day.

🤑 Pro Tip: The nearby Sears department store building has a cafe inside on the top floor. It’s free to go up if you’re buying something, and from there you’ll get a similar view to one at the Torre Latinoamericana.

  • Torre Latinoamericana Address: Eje Central Lázaro Cárdenas 2, Colonia Centro, CDMX, 06000
  • Torre Latinoamericana Hours: Open daily, 9am-10pm
  • Torre Latinoamericana Admission Cost: $125 pesos ($6)

Torre Latinoamericana skyscraper and buildings | Mexico City historic center

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9. Instagram Worthy Mexico City Sites

Looking for the most instagrammable places in Mexico City? You’re in luck because Centro Historico has many! The entire neighborhood is incredibly beautiful, but below are a few places that make amazing photo backdrops for ig worthy images.

The Gran Hotel Ciudad De Mexico is an art deco lover’s dream. The epic main lobby is something straight out of a classic movie. Don’t miss the vintage cage elevator and curved ceiling with stained glass art. This is truly one of the nicest hotels in Centro Historico Mexico City, and one of the best hotels in Mexico City itself.

🏨 Book your stay at the Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico, one of the best Mexico City Historic Cente hotels.

vintage building with cage elevator and stained glass ceiling | Mexico City historic center
Book your stay at the best hotel in Mexico City, Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico. (Photo: Ben Perek)

The Casa de los Azulejos (House of Tiles) is an 18th-century Baroque palace in Mexico City, which is now a Sanborn’s department store. Head inside to see the beautiful restaurant, or just photograph the blue and white talavera style tiles outside. This is one of the most iconic, photographed, and instagrammable places in Centro Historico!

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Arguably the nicest post office on earth, head to the Palacio de Correos/Correo Mayor (Main Post Office) to snap some pics! Built in 1907, the Art Deco style lobby is completely gold, and makes for an amazing place to take photos. Officially named the Palacio de Correos de México (Postal Palace of Mexico City), it is still in use as a functioning post office to this day.

  • Gran Hotel Ciudad De Mexico Address: 16 de Septiembre 82, Colonia Centro, CDMX, 06000 | Book your stay!
  • Casa de los Azulejos Address: Avenida Francisco I. Madero 4, Colonia Centro, CDMX, 06500
  • Palacio de Correos Address: 16 de Septiembre 82, Colonia Centro, CDMX, 06000


10. Centro Historico Museums

💡 Please note: Most, if not all, Mexico City museums are closed Mondays.

Mexico City has about 150 museums, many located in Centro Historico. Some of the more famous ones include the Museo de Arte Popular (Museum of Popular Art), the Museo Nacional de Artes (National Art Museum) and the Museo Memoria y Tolerancia (Museum of Memory and Tolerance).

Though small in size, the Museo Mural Diego Rivera (Diego Rivera Mural Museum) is a must see for fans of Mexican muralism. Inside, you’ll see Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central (Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central), one of the most iconic murals by Diego Rivera — AKA Frida Kahlo’s husband!

🎨 Discover the lesser-known museums of Mexico City: Book the Explore the City’s Secret Museums Tour, led by a female guide!

Museum of Popular Art

Address: Revillagigedo 11, Colonia Centro, CDMX, 06050

Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-5pm

Admission Cost: $60 pesos ($3USD)

National Art Museum

Address: Calle de Tacuba 8, Colonia Centro, CDMX, 06010

Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-5:30pm

Admission Cost: $70 pesos ($3.50USD)

Museum of Memory and Tolerance

Address: Avenida Juárez 8, Colonia Centro, CDMX, 06010

Hours: Tuesday-Friday, 9am-6pm; Saturday-Sunday, 10am-7pm

Admission Cost: $95 pesos ($5USD)

Diego Rivera Mural Museum

Address: Balderas 202, Colonia Centro, CDMX, 06000

Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 11am-5pm

Admission Cost: $35 pesos ($2USD)

colorful mexican folk art museum | Mexico City historic center
Museo de Arte Popular | Photo by Fabian via Flickr


11. Eat Some Tacos

Hungry yet?! While there’s seemingly no shortage of amazing places to eat and some of the best restaurants in Centro Historico Mexico City. Below are some of this area’s most noteworthy taquerías (taco shops) and places to get dessert afterwards.

Tacos al Pastor: These red-colored, pork meat tacos are Mexico City’s speciality! Though the Arabian-style spit the meat is cooked on came straight from the Middle East, tacos al pastor are quintessentially Mexican. 

Head to Taquería Arandas to eat them street-side and standing up, like the locals do! If you want to leave that level of coordination to the pros, El Huequito is a great sit-down option.

🌮 Looking for a Mexico City Taco Tour? Book the Eat Like A Local By: The Taco Mensch Tour!

Taquería Arandas

Address: Avenida 5 de Mayo 43, Colonia Centro, CDMX, 06000

Hours: Open 24 hours

El Huequito

Address: Calle de Bolívar 58, Colonia Centro, CDMX, 06000

Hours: Saturday-Wednesday, 7am-11pm; Thursday-Friday, 7am-1am

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Tacos Suaderos: Besides tacos al pastor, another one of Mexico City’s specialities is suadero (pronounced swaa-dare-oh) meat tacos. Suadero is essentially a fattier flank steak, and available all over the city. One of the most famous places is Taquería Los Cocuyos.

This no frills taquería (taco shop) is so delicious it garnered the attention of the late Anthony Bourdain, who ate there while filming the Mexico City episode of his No Reservations show. In case you were wondering, Señor Bourdain recommended the suadero too!

Tacos de Canasta: Tacos de Canasta los Especiales is a favorite among Chilangos (Mexico City locals) and visitors alike. Tacos de canasta means “basket tacos,” and like the name implies, they are served from a basket.

This style of taco is actually the original Mexico City’s street food, as vendors use to strap baskets to their bikes and sell their tacos all over town. Though some of the more well known vendors now operate out of brick and mortar shops, like the famous Tacos de Canasta los Especiales, you’ll still see bike vendors from time to time.

Taquería Los Cocuyos

Address: Calle de Bolívar 57, Colonia Centro, CDMX, 06000

Hours: Open 24 hours

Tacos de Canasta los Especiales

Address: Av Francisco I. Madero 71, Colonia Centro, CDMX, 06000

Hours: Monday-Saturday, 9am-10pm; Sunday, 9am-6pm

Fish/Seafood Tacos: Visit one of Mexico City’s most beloved chains, El Pescadito. They serve Sinaloan-style fish and shrimp tacos, authentic to the coastal state of Sinaloa. Something unique (and delicious!) to Sinaloan seafood is their marlín ahumado (smoked marlin fish). You can sample it here at El Pescadito, for a fun twist on seafood tacos.

Churros: Did you save room for dessert? If so, enjoy some churros y chocolate (churros and chocolate sauce) at Churrería El Moro. No room? This chain has locations all over town, so you can grab some another day — but these are known as the best churros in Mexico City!

El Pescadito

Address: Avenida Independencia 57, Colonia Centro, CDMX, 06050

Hours: Monday-Friday, 11am-6pm; Saturday-Sunday, 10am-6pm

Churrería El Moro

Address: Eje Central Lázaro Cárdenas 42, Colonia Centro, CDMX, 06000

Hours: Open daily, 7am-10pm

Best Mexico City Taco Tours

yellow domed church building in Mexico City historic center

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Mexico City Travel FAQs

Is Mexico City safe for travel?

Short answer: Yes!

Longer answer: I have found most of Mexico City to be safe — and I lived there as a solo woman for about a year. For the most part, Mexico City is safe. The one disclaimer I make about safety is that you must make safety your highest priority.

There are some general and Mexico travel safety tips below in the accordion menus that will explain how. If you prefer podcasts, there’s also a Mexico City podcast below, featuring an interview with a female travel blogger about her two trips doing solo female travel in Mexico City.

Should I get travel insurance for Mexico?

Want an added level of security and peace of mind during these strange travel times? Just as you insure your car, home and body, you can also insure your luggage, belongings and health while traveling.

I’ll be honest, when I first started traveling solo, I wasn’t insured. However, after years of solo traveling, I wised up… Now, I even have a whole page of this website dedicated to travel insurance, because it’s just that important!

If Mexico and Mexico City travel safety are on your mind, get your free quote below now!

10 General travel safety tips
  1. Always listen to your intuition — because your intuition is always right.
  2. If you get a sketchy or uneasy feeling about a person or place, get away from that person or place asap. Don’t worry about making a kind, nice or politically correct exit from a creepy person or bad situation — Just get away fast.
  3. Don’t walk home alone at night.
  4. Don’t keep your phone, keys, wallet, passport, or anything valuable in your back pocket.
  5. Learn some basic Spanish. If you can’t learn it, save this infographic as an image on your phone so you have something to use even if you’re off-WiFi.
  6. Take all of your belongings into the bathroom with you, rather than asking a cafe/bar neighbor to watch your things. This is annoying, for sure, but it works to not get your stuff stolen.
  7. Speaking of bar neighbors… don’t take drinks from strangers and/or leave your drink unattended.
  8. Don’t wear flashy clothes, expensive jewelry, designer sunglasses, etc.
  9. Keep some cash in your pocket so you don’t have to pull your whole wallet out every time you need to pay.
  10. This should be a no brainer since you’re traveling during a pandemic, but get Travel Insurance!
Register for the STEP Program

Make sure you enroll in the free STEP Program before your trip. The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program, or STEP, allows U.S. citizens traveling to Mexico to document your trip with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate.

After you’ve registered, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City can contact you in the event of an emergency, including natural disasters, civil unrest, etc. STEP can also put you in touch with your family and friends back home in the event of an emergency while abroad.

Neighborhoods to avoid in Mexico City

I lived in Mexico City as a solo woman for about a year, and felt quite safe…. though there are neighborhoods you should avoid, like Tepito and Doctores.

Tepito is located in Centro Historico (Downtown), and should simply be avoided.

Doctores is safer than Tepito, but still, does not have a great reputation. It is located just north or Roma Norte, one of the city’s safest and best neighborhoods, and it also happens to be where all the big Lucha Libre (Mexican wrestling) matches take place.

I did go to a Lucha Libre match in Doctores once, and felt safe. However, this might be a good place to consider having a local with you — especially if you aren’t confident in your Spanish.

Don’t know a local and want to experience the famous (& fun!) lucha libre? No worries! Book the Lucha Libre/Street Taco Tour, because Lucha Libre + Street Tacos + Safety = the best of all worlds!

Aztec pyramid and some cacti
The Teotihuacan archeological site is one of the most popular Mexico city day trips, where you’ll see these ancient ruins and pyramids just 90-minutes northeast of the city.

How do I get to Mexico City?

Wondering about airports in Mexico City? You’re in luck because there’s one in the city — the Mexico City International Airport (Code: MEX). This airport is about 30-60 minutes from Centro Historico; depending on the traffic. To get from the airport to your accommodation, the easiest options are taking an Uber, taxi or private transfer.

Airport Transfers in Mexico City

Is there Uber in Mexico City?

Yes, there is Uber in Mexico City!

Mexico City actually has quite a few transportation options — bus, metro, taxi and Uber. Personally, I recommend Uber, and though it does cost more than using public transportation, the price difference is relatively insignificant.

In Mexico, Uber tends to cost about 60% less than in the U.S. Of course, rates will vary, but figure about $3 for a 20 minute ride. While public transportation is less than half of that cost, you will spend three times as long to get around.

Taxis are about the same price as Uber, but you should only take a taxi from the secure, designated taxi stands, and remember you’ll need pesos/cash. Also keep in mind that, in Mexico, you negotiate and agree on the price before getting in the cab.

Do I need a visa to travel to Mexico?

No, you don’t need a visa to travel to Mexico from the U.S. This is another reason why, in general, Mexico is one of the best travel destinations from the U.S.

When you arrive in Mexico and go through the Customs and Immigration line, you’ll receive a 180-day (6 month) FMM tourist visa. This is a small piece of paper that you need to hold on to so you can give it back to Immigration at the airport when you leave the country. 

There is no charge for the FMM, but if you lose yours, there is a charge of about $600 pesos ($30USD) to replace it. You’d also need to get to the airport about an extra hour earlier than you’d normally have to in order to do the lost visa paperwork… the bottom line: Don’t lose your FMM!

What’s the best time of year to visit Mexico City?

Weather-wise, Mexico City has what is known as the “eternal spring” climate, meaning it’s never super hot or super cool. The rainy season is from April-September, and it can rain quite a bit.

Mexico City Weather

The prettiest time of year in CDMX is from (about) mid-February to the end of March, when the bright purple jacaranda trees are in bloom! This also coincides with the monarch butterfly migration in the neighboring state of Michoacan, which takes place March-June.

The city hosts the annual Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) parade and festivities during the last week in October. This is one of the most lively, and busy, times in Mexico City.

If you want the city all to yourself, come during Semana Santa (Holy Week) when many Mexicans leave the city and head to the beach. The dates fluctuate, but Semana Santa takes place in late-March to early-April each year.

Do I need to learn Spanish to visit Mexico City?

If you stick to the popular areas and commonly-visited attractions, no, you can get by with just English. For the most part, many Chilangos (Mexico City residents/locals) speak some English.

However, it is good manners to learn at last some basic Spanish when you visit Mexico City. Listen to Episode 13 of the podcast as travel blogger Elizabeth talks about how she learned 8 languages, and gives great tips for how to learn language basics in easy, fun ways.

If learning Spanish isn’t in the cards for you, #NoJudgement! Pin and/or save the infographic above on your phone so you’ll always have the words and phrases you need, even if you’re off-WiFi.

List of useful spanish words and phrases
Mexico City car rentals

If you’re just staying in Mexico City — don’t bother renting a car!

However, if you’re planning to take a Mexico City day trip, or road trip to any of the amazing places outside of CDMX, like Las Grutas de Tolantongo hot springs, then a car rental makes perfect sense.

For a car rental in Mexico City, the airport is the best and most convenient place to rent from. Discover Cars has several Mexico City airport car rental options for you to choose from.

colorful trajineras, gondola-style boats, at Xochimilco.
Taking a boat ride in Xochimilco, located in south Mexico City, is high atop many a Mexico City bucket list.


Final Thoughts: Centro Historico Mexico City

Centro Historico and the Zocalo is one of the Mexico City UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

This once-home to the center of the Aztec Empire, has a recorded history that goes back thousands of years. It is fascinating to explore this part of the city, where old meets new, and there seems to be no end to the amazing things to do in Centro Historico, Mexico City.

RELATED BLOG 🇲🇽 The ULTIMATE 4 Day Mexico City Itinerary for First-Time Travelers

When venturing out of Centro Historico CDMX, you can maximize your time in this massive city by planning the rest of your trip spending about a day in each of the other neighborhoods in Mexico City.

With a population of close to nine million, the Mexico City traffic is infamous. It’s also not something you want to avoid at all costs! If you plan your trip by neighborhood, you minimize the amount of time spent traveling to things, and maximize the amount of time you’re, you know, actually traveling!

As far as which neighborhoods to explore beyond Zocalo and Centro Historico, Roma Norte, Condesa, Polanco, Coyoacan, Xochimilco and Teotihuacan round out the must see Mexico City places.

Did we miss any things to see in Centro Historico Mexico City?

Please join the conversation in the comments down below and share your knowledge!

Enjoy these related Mexico City blogs!

Please join me on my Solo Travel & Mexico Travel adventures

¡Hola Chicas!

I’m Shelley, a former Miami travel magazine editor who ditched the office for the world!

I started this Blog and Podcast to help women like you cross Solo travel and Mexico travel off your bucket list… Read more

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