Bellas Artes in Mexico City

A Long Weekend in Mexico City: Four Days with a Local’s Itinerary

Mexico City is the biggest city in North America and one of the largest in the world. It is a cultural hotspot – you can get a taste of everything Mexico has to offer here, literally and figuratively. It is gritty and authentic, unapologetic for its constant cacophony of noises and smells. The vibrance and energy is so apparent with so much of life here spilling out into public spaces. You can easily spend a week here without getting bored but it may be better to just pull the trigger and spend a long weekend in Mexico City rather than keep waiting for that someday that may never come. Flights are easy and pretty cheap to come from the U.S. so with only taking a few vacation days you can get a good taste of Mexico City.

If Mexico City has been on your bucket list but you haven’t made up your itinerary yet, you’re in luck! I wrote this in-depth itinerary for a long weekend in Mexico City just for you. This is written for Friday-Monday but can be adapted for any days of the week you are here. I’ve included all of the classics plus my favorite experiences and places from the three years I’ve been living in Mexico City. So buy those plane tickets and I hope you enjoy your long weekend here!

Day 1 in Mexico City: Friday

Spend the first day of your long weekend in Mexico City walking around downtown – experiencing Mexico’s rich mural movement, seeing the contrast of Spanish architecture next to pre-Hispanic ruins, strolling through urban parks and eating delicious food. A fair warning to you, this is a jam-packed day! If you are someone who likes to move slowly then just pick what looks most interesting to you from this list. But, if you are determined to squeeze as much culture into your long weekend in Mexico City as possible, then wake up early, put on your walking shoes, slap on some sunscreen and start exploring the center.

Zócalo

The downtown area, also known as the Centro Histórico, gathers around Mexico City’s Zócalo, the main square. It is surrounded on all sides by imposing colonial buildings built by the Spanish after the conquest. With the cars circling around and the square filled with people, you can really feel the hustle and bustle of the city wrapped around you here. It’s not unusual to see pre-Hispanic dance groups performing here in colorful costumes or people selling handicrafts on the corners. There’s even an ice skating rink here around Christmas!

Palacio Nacional

One of the buildings lining the Zócalo is the Palacio Nacional, built as a private palace for Hernán Cortés in 1522 and now used as the Executive Branch’s offices. You’ll want to go inside to check out the murals painted there by Diego Rivera representing important moments in Mexican history as well as a variety of indigenous cultures and important Mexican products like cocoa and agave.

Diego Rivera´s mural at Palacio Nacional, Mexico City

Templo Mayor

Leaving this colonial palace, you can walk across the Zócalo, past modern vehicles and other signs of modern times to get to the Templo Mayor, a pre-Hispanic ruin constructed in the 1400s. Before the Spanish conquest, Mexico City was Tenochtitlan, the center of the Aztec empire and the Templo Mayor was the religious center of that city. The Aztecs founded their capital city here while searching through the countryside looking for an eagle with a snake in its beak on a cactus, a prophecy communicated to them by their gods. They found that eagle perched on a cactus in the middle of a great lake so they built Tenochtitlan as a floating city, criss-crossed with canals and covered with chinampas – floating reed islands they constructed to grow food on.

When the Spanish conquered the Aztecs, they drained the lake and took apart buildings like the Templo Mayor to build their own palaces. Standing within the Templo Mayor, you can look out to see all that history surrounding you and feel as if you are straddling three time periods at once – the modern age, the Spanish colonial age and the height of the Aztec empire.

SEP Murals

Next up on the walking tour is the SEP building, or Secretaría de Educación Pública (Secretary of Public Education). This building houses more murals by the famed Diego Rivera as well as David Alfaro Siqueiros, Roberto Montenegro, Federico Canessi and Eric Mosse.

This was actually Rivera’s first large-scale mural and is split between two patios – called the Labor Patio and the Party Patio due to the themes of the murals. The murals show different types of work and celebrations in the different regions of the country as well as honor the heroes of the Mexican Revolution.

Bellas Artes

After leaving the SEP, stroll over to Bellas Artes, the iconic dome-topped cultural center of the City.

Just seeing the building from the outside is impressive but you can also go inside to see even more murals from Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Jorge González Camarena, Rufino Tamayo, Manuel Rodríguez Lozano and Roberto Montenegro. Bellas Artes is where the political message of the muralist movement becomes strikingly clear. The Rivera mural here is similar to the mural he painted at the Rockefeller Center in NYC, which was destroyed for celebrating communism. Orozco’s mural also does not shy away from political commentary either. His shows the perils of technological advancement, social degradation and general anarchy. The museum also contains many exhibitions in addition to the murals if you prefer your art in a frame.

Insider tip: If you want to get the same view of Bellas Artes as this picture, head into the Sears across the street and go up to the eighth floor to the café there. There’s a terrace overlooking Bellas Artes which also serves some pretty authentic Mexican chocolate (to drink). Downside: they give you you your drink in plastic cups even if you’re staying there so bonus points if you have a mug in your purse or backpack.

Alameda Central

Outside of Bellas Artes is Alameda Central, the oldest public park in all of the Americas, filled with trees and park benches to rest your feet after a morning full of walking and sightseeing. There are usually groups of street dancers or parkour enthusiasts practicing here and just plenty of other wonderful people-watching opportunities.

Diego Rivera Mural Museum

If you’re not feeling overwhelmed with murals yet, next to Alameda is the Diego Rivera Mural Museum, a small museum containing one of his more light-hearted murals, Dream of a Sunday afternoon in Alameda Central, depicting the iconic Catrina, Friday Kahlo and Diego himself as a boy among other personalities strolling through the park.

Lunch Downtown

All of that walking and sightseeing has surely worked up an appetite so stop over for lunch at Café Tacuba, Limonsneros or Sofía. One of the highlights of a long weekend in Mexico City is the food and Mexicans tend to have bigger lunches than dinners so eat up! Café Tacuba is a popular restaurant for classic Mexican dishes and is beautifully tiled inside. Classics are classics for a reason but in my opinion the other two options are hipper and more exciting takes on the classic Mexican dishes.

Limosneros

Limosneros is just as beautiful as Tacuba but with a more modern interior and features traditional Mexican and pre-Hispanic food with a contemporary up-scale twist. There are usually insects somewhere on the menu if you want to get a good taste of pre-Hispanic cuisine. Get the salsa de molcajete to start, they bring over a tray of ingredients for you to choose from and will grind it all together at the table for you in a molcajete (a volcanic rock mortar and pestle). 

Sofía

Sofía is the name of your other option for lunch but you will see no sign over the doorway. In fact, it’s very easy to walk right by this place as it has a very narrow entrance and has less than 10 tables inside (look for the Bósforo, a hip mezcal bar next door, if you’re having trouble finding it). The open kitchen is pushed up to one side and you walk right past tortillas being cooked on the comal when entering. It has a menu appropriate for its size (relatively small) but what it lacks in quantity it more than makes up for in quality.

Bosque de Chapultepec

If you still have energy to explore, grab an Uber to Bosque de Chapultepec to hang out in Mexico City’s version of Central Park, complete with lakes, museums and fountains. You’ll probably drive down on Paseo de la Reforma, a main avenue modeled after the Champs-Élysées, but don’t worry, you’re not missing it, you’ll walk back in this direction later but the park closes at 5pm so we’re just leap frogging a bit.

Chapultepec contains a castle, a zoo, the Anthropology Museum (a behemoth which is one of your options for Sunday), a lake complete with paddle boats and many other fun attractions. The Castillo de Chapultepec, a castle constructed for the viceroy and the former presidential residence until 1935 is a good option for today.  The museum inside explains some of the more confusing parts of Mexican history after Mexican independence and there’s also a great view looking over downtown from the gardens. The Museum of Modern Art is also a good spot to pop in as well, there’s a patrimonial collection of Mexico’s greatest artists which is small but comprehensive.

Paseo de la Reforma

After visiting the castle, you can stroll back through the park and along Paseo de la Reforma. You’ll pass the tallest buildings in Mexico City and see the statue of Diana the Hunter before stopping at the Ángel de la Independencia, the gold statue that celebrates Mexican independence and serves as the informal symbol of Mexico City.

angel de la independencia

If you’ve stayed with me so far, congratulations! You are serious about your long weekend in Mexico City and you’ve earned a little break. Head back to your CDMX crashpad to rest up a bit but don’t get too comfortable, there’s a whole night to enjoy. I’ve left the final decision up to you for your evening activities depending on your energy level and interests but here are three great options:

Friday Night in Mexico City

Lucha libre

Friday nights are a great time to go to Lucha libre, Mexico’s theatrical wrestling complete with face masks and backflips. There are shows Fridays, Sundays and Tuesdays at the Arena México and tickets vary in price but start off really cheap for seats in the back. They sell you beers two at a time and the show is really very entertaining even if you’re not into wrestling.

Salsa Dancing

If you’re feeling a bit more refined, you could go out dancing at one of the many salsa clubs in the city (Mamá Rumba, Mambocafé or the old classic Salón Los Ángeles – complete with an older crowd). Even if you’re not the best dancer it’s an amazing experience to watch the dancers twirling each other out on the floor and a great way to experience some of the Latin flavor.

Mezcal Cocktails

Or, if you’re beat from the day of sightseeing, you may want to just relax over dinner and drinks at one of the many hip restaurants and cocktail lounges in Roma or Condesa. Right next to each other are two of my favorite places for mezcal cocktails – La Clandestina and La Lavandería. They’re small super hip spots with craft cocktails (Lavandería also has good food).

Another good spot is Casa Franca in Roma Norte. They converted an old house into the bar but kept the original rooms with furnishings to match so you can snuggle up in a velvet armchair in what feels like the coolest living room in Mexico City. They have light food options but if you’re looking for something heartier you can stop at their restaurant Franca downstairs first.

Whichever you choose, try not to stay out toooo late or imbibe too much (tough I know) because another full day of sightseeing is on the docket for tomorrow.    

Long Weekend Day 2: Saturday

The second day of your long weekend in Mexico City will be spent south of the center, in the colonias of Coyoacán, San Ángel and Xochimilco. You’ll stroll beautiful colonial neighborhoods, see more art and escape to nature without leaving the city.

Casa Azúl

Get ready for your day and grab a coffee and a pastry or some fruit from a street vendor before heading to Coyoacán for the iconic Casa Azúl, Frida Kahlo’s former house and museum (don’t worry, there will be brunch later). This is one of the most popular spots for tourists in the whole city so it’s a good idea to get tickets ahead of time for the earliest time slot you can manage (it opens at 10am).

You’ll wander through her house and gardens and learn about Frida’s fascinating life dealing with chronic pain, countless surgeries and an unfaithful husband as well as her creative process. There is also an exhibit of some of her pieces downstairs. Her and Diego’s lives and art are iconic representations of Mexico’s culture and it’s worth a visit to get an insider’s view on how they lived and created the masterpieces they’re known for.

San Ángel

After Casa Azúl, head to San Ángel for the Saturday bazar where you’ll find contemporary Mexican art and handicrafts. You can wander around the interior bazar, see the artists set up on the plazas in front of the bazar or venture into the tented area for handicrafts of every type. There are also many shops lining the plazas here which sell high-quality goods with corresponding price tags.

At some point you’ll want to eat a real breakfast so you can explore the many restaurants and cafés in the area to find something to your liking or head into the bazar to eat in the central plaza. You’ll be serenaded by guitar players if you choose to eat from the buffet in the central plaza or you can order off the menu in a nearby room off of the plaza.

If you’re feeling like you want to splurge on a fancier experience check out Saks or El Carmen Deli, where the prices really aren’t bad for tourists and a waiter will attend your every need.

Breakfast is potentially my favorite meal and Mexican breakfasts are truly amazing. I personally love chilaquiles verdes topped with an over easy egg if you’re having trouble deciding. It’s basically tortilla chips smothered in salsa then topped with onion, cheese and crema. You can get them with salsa verde or roja but the tanginess of the green salsa really balances out all the cream and cheese. And the runny yolk of the egg blends perfectly with the salsa to create a perfect bite. Yum! Also, don’t pass up on the pan dulce that they bring over before your meal, so delicious.

Xochimilco trajineras

Finish up your shopping after brunch and get ready to explore the only remaining parts of the lake the city was built on. The canals of Xochimilco are explored on trajineras, a long mostly flat boat with someone pushing you through the shallow water in the same style as the Venician gondoliers. The trajineras are a weekend favorite for tourists and locals alike so it’s a must for your long weekend in Mexico City. The best bet to get to Xochimilco from San Ángel is an Uber or Cabify, it’s more complicated to get there on public transportation.

There are many embarcaderos but the two main ones are Embarcadero Nuevo Nativitas or Embarcadero Cuemanco. If you love crowds and feel like a party, head to Nativitas but if you want to connect with the more natural experience head to Cuemanco. Once you get there, stock up on beer and snacks from the shops or stands and rent your trajinera. You’ll pay around 500 pesos per boat per hour, no matter the number of people. So get a group together and bring some music and speakers! If you didn’t happen to bring any speakers on your trip you can always rent one on the boat launch or hire one of the mariachi boats to sing for you.

Enjoy the next few hours floating around on the canals and drinking beer or micheladas, snacking on cacahuetes japoneses or some elote or quesadillas from a floating food vendor. Imagine what it would have been like if the Spanish hadn’t drained the city after the conquest and the whole city was like this. Make sure your trash doesn’t blow into the canal, Xochimilco is a protected natural area and a delicate ecosystem which is trying to fight back from water pollution.

Saturday Evening in Mexico City

After the trajineras, you’ll probably want to grab dinner near where you’re staying and rehydrate a bit to prepare for the night. Once again for tonight, you’ve got options, but, no matter what you do, do not miss out on the late-night tacos. You are in Mexico City after all.

Party at an Antro

If you’re wanting to keep the party going into the wee hours, check out Mexico City nightlife in Condesa or the other downtown neighborhoods. The clubs here are called antros and may or may not have signs advertising their existence. If not, listen for the pulsing music spilling out onto the street along with crowds of hipsters smoking cigarettes. The party here will easily go until 5 or 6am so be prepared for a wild night of dancing.

Plaza Garibaldi

If you’re looking for a more traditional experience to round out your evening, head to Plaza Garibaldi to drink mezcal and tequila and listen to the mariachis. Mariachi bands gather here to display their skills and get hired for events. Note: the neighborhood around Plaza Garibaldi is not the safest neighborhood so take a taxi here. Be sure you get dropped off right in the plaza and don’t stray out from it on your way home. There are cantinas all along the plaza and the Tequila and Mezcal Museum there is actually open pretty late (11:30pm on weekends) if you want to learn more about the beverage you’re sipping on.

Mexican Craft Brews

If beer is more your jam, you can immerse yourself in Mexico’s up and coming craft beer scene. My #1 place for delicious craft beer is La Perdida in Navarte. It’s a super cozy spot with a good selection on tap and even more in bottles. The owner is super knowledgable and will gladly chat with you about all your options until you’ve decided. Tell her Jaime sent you if you go!

Not too far away is a larger place that rounds up a good variety of Mexican craft beer called Hop the Beer Experience 2. There are 4 of these throughout the city so it’s definitely more of a chain experience but you’ll be hard pressed to find more beers on tap elsewhere (restaurants and bars here don’t usually have beers on tap or if they do it’s just clara or oscura – light or dark).

They also have bar food but I would recommend not ordering too much because next up is….

Tacos!!!!

The trompo at Tacos el Vilsito for tacos al pastor, Mexico City

An absolute essential experience for your long weekend in Mexico City is to finish off one of your nights with tacos. You can find a restaurant to sit down inside or go to one of the many taco joints that set up bar-height tables on the sidewalk that customers huddle around to add salsa or squeeze lime onto their tacos. My personal favorite sidewalk taco joint is called Tacos El Vilsito, known to locals as Transformer Tacos because it’s a mechanic shop by day and a taco joint by night. Definitely try their al pastor, it’s delicious here.

Day 3 in Mexico City: Sunday

You’ve got a couple options for today but get ready because either way you’ll be traveling back to pre-Hispanic times when the Triple Alliance had a powerful hold on the Valley of Mexico. Eat a good breakfast because you’ll be out and about all morning and afternoon on the third day of your long weekend in Mexico City.

Teotihuacán

One option is to go straight to the source – the Teotihuacán archeological site on the outside of the city. Teotihuacán was the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas and the pyramids here are arguably the most impressive you’ll find in Mexico and amongst the best in the world. The two main ones are the Pyramid of the Sun (the third largest in the world) and the Pyramid of the Moon, both of which you can climb up. There are many many steps and you’re at altitude here so take your time on the ascent and bring water. There are also many temples and even residences on the site so exploring the whole area will take hours.

To get there, you can get a Turibus which will take you straight there and includes a guide, lunch and visit to a workshop as well as a stop at the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. If you’re wanting a cheaper, more independent option, you can take the yellow line on the metro all the way to the North Bus Station (Autobuses del Norte) and then get a bus (they leave about every 15 minutes and take an hour to get there, costing about 100 pesos).

Museo Nacional de Antropología

The other option for the day is to skip the architecture and see all the relics that were taken from Teotihuacan and other sites at the Museo Nacional de Antropología (the National Anthropology Museum). It is potentially the most impressive museum I’ve been to and is enormous. Spending two hours here is a bare minimum that will let you get a taste of what it has but you can easily spend the entire day here if you’re a museum or anthropology lover. It’s within the Bosque de Chapultepec so if you didn’t get enough time there on Friday you can stroll around some more along with the many families that head there for their Sunday outing.    

Parque España and México

After a day spent imagining the lives of the ancient Mexicans, you can finish off your afternoon people-watching contemporary Mexicans at Parque España and Parque México. There will be lots of dogs, people rollerblading or kicking around a soccer ball and probably even excessive amounts of PDA being displayed on park benches. This area of the city is also lovely to walk around so keep strolling after the park through Condesa and Roma to look for a place to get…

Dinner

Sunday evenings are relatively mellow in Mexico City and many places close earlier than usual so you may just want to stroll around and see what calls to you that’s still open.

Mercado Roma

If you’re looking for options for dinner or drinks, walk over to Mercado Roma where everyone can browse the food stands to find what they would like and meet in the central tables to eat together. Or you can head up to the top level to enjoy a beer in the Biergarten.

Torre Latinoamericana

You could follow up dinner with a trip to the Torre Latinoamericana to look over the city lit up at night. It closes at 10 every night so make sure you wrap up dinner before then to get here on time. It’s really impressive to see the lights spread out as far as you can see, broken up only by the hills to the south. This is when it really hits you that almost 23 million people live in the Metropolitan area of Mexico City – the lights just go on forever.

Long Weekend Day 4: Monday

It’s your fourth and final day of your long weekend in Mexico City! Try not to get sad and stay in the moment because there’s still a lot to see and do. Most Mexico City museums are closed on Mondays so it’s a perfect day to go shopping for all the artesanía you’ve been eyeing over the long weekend and wander through markets and cute neighborhoods.

Mercado Jamaica

Mexico City has a plethora of markets but a particularly beautiful one is the Mercado Jamaica which sells the typical fruits, veggies and home goods but is also the city’s flower market. It’s also not as big or overwhelming as some of the other markets where you practically need a guide to find your way.

You can check out the aisles and aisles of flowers and stop over into the food section to try some mole paste or powder to take home. This is also a marvelous place to get bulk nuts (so fresh and delicious!) so if you want to make your own trail mix for your flight home this is a great place. Or, if you’re feeling worn out from too many nights out, you can buy a coconut to sip on as you stroll.

La Ciudadela

Next up, artesanía! There are many places to buy handicrafts in the city but La Ciudadela is a one-stop-shop for anything you’ve had your eye on. The whole place is bursting with colorful pottery, glassware, clothing, blankets and almost everything else you could think of. If you’re here with a group of people, be careful. It’s very easy to get separated in the almost endless rows of stands as someone stops to check something out and someone else gets excited by something ahead.

A note here about bartering: it is common to barter at these stands but not quite as intensely as some other countries (like in Asia). If they are firm on their price it’s because it’s worth that much. Pretty much everything you’ll find here is made by hand, maybe even by the family of the shop owner. You’ll have more luck bartering if you buy multiple pieces but there’s no need to feel like you got ripped off if they don’t go down in price, do the conversion – you’re still getting a great deal.

Coyoacán

If all this shopping has built up an appetite, head down to Coyoacán to grab lunch and spend the afternoon wandering around this colonial neighborhood. Head to one of the main plazas in Coyoacán – Jardín Centenario which contains the Fuente de los Coyotes (Coyoacán means the place of the coyotes). There are restaurants all along this plaza but my personal favorite is Corazón de Maguey, a Oaxacan restaurant with a cool vibe and interesting and delicious food (if you haven’t tried chapulines [crickets] yet, this might be your chance!).

After lunch you can explore the shops all around the square or pop into one of the many cafés nearby if you’re feeling an after-lunch slump. The houses in this area of the city are old and beautiful, even if all you can see is the gate. I always love walking around and wishing I could live in one of these colorful colonial masterpieces.

If you’ve suddenly remembered that you need to get something for your pet-sitter, or just want to grab another something for you, there is another craft market in Coyoacán, the Mercado Artesanal Mexicano. There’s another more hipster artesanía market down the street next to the Wingstop. Or, if you’re kicking yourself for not buying any coffee, Café Avellaneda sells bags of their gourmet Mexican coffee that will match perfectly with your tastes and brewing style.

If you still haven’t tried street food during your long weekend in Mexico City, Coyoacán is a great place to find elote/esquites and churros. Wondering what the difference is between elote and esquites? Basically elote is corn on the cob and esquites are cut off and served in a cup but they’re both served with mayo, cheese, lime juice and chili. You can get either one boiled soft or cooked on a comal, or grill. If you’re afraid of getting chili in Mexico just ask for the chili que no pica (the chili that’s not spicy). There will be stands all over selling elote, just look to see which one seems popular with the locals and go for that.

For churros, head to the corner of Cuauhtémoc and Aguayo and go for whoever is yelling at you the loudest. You can get them filled with cajeta, chocolate, nutella or practically anything else you could possibly think of.

To finish off your weekend with one last mezcal, head to La Botica. They have delicious mezcal cocktails and a variety of mezcals if you feel like drinking it straight. If you haven’t caught on yet, mezcal is served here with oranges and sal de gusano. But don’t let anyone see you licking your thumb here, just dip the orange in the chili salt and bit on it after your sip.

As the sun starts to set, your long weekend in Mexico City is coming to a close. Head back to your hotel/AirBnB/hostel and get to work fitting all the goodies and artesanía into your suitcase. If you’ve got extra pesos don’t worry, you can change them at the airport, just go to arrivals to get a better rate.


I hope you’ve enjoyed your long weekend in Mexico City jam-packed with all the highlights. Hopefully this trip has made you realize how much you need to come back with more time to explore the city and the surrounding area. We’ll be waiting here for you!

Tell me, what was your favorite experience on this trip? Or, if you’re just reading this while dreaming of your own long weekend in Mexico City, don’t forget to pin this page to come back to later. Enjoy your travels!!

5 thoughts on “A Long Weekend in Mexico City: Four Days with a Local’s Itinerary”

  1. I only spent a long layover (12 hours) in Mexico City and this post is making me realoze HOW MUCH I MISSED!! I wish i would have done more research, tho i did get to visit Frida’s museum/house so that was cool! I just gotta go back i guess!

  2. This looks like a great guide! I’ve never been to Mexico City before, but it looks like there’s a lot to do. I’m really interested in history, so Teotihuacán looks like a really cool spot to visit!

  3. I can’t love this enough. I really want to see the SEP murals! It’s been hard to find something on just Mexico City. You really covered everything. I made sure to Pin for future reference

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