Fortunately, a 12-hour itinerary for Mexico City can include the short time it takes to get from the airport into the city.
There’s still plenty of time to conquer everything you want to see and do. You’ll get back to the airport with time to spare and nothing but your long flight ahead of you.
For those totally new to Mexico City, the Centro Histórico just makes the most sense, as it’s the very heart of the city. Geographically speaking, you can also cover the lot of it without any transportation at all.
One can easily arrive to the Zócalo from the Airport, by taxi, Metrobus, or by Metro to Metro station “Zócalo.” The Metrobus linea 4 (take the South Route/Ruta Sur) from the airport and get off at the station “Museo de la Ciudad.” You can’t miss the Zócalo. It’s just four blocks north.
From the Zócalo, head for the Palacio Nacional. It makes up the entire east side of the Zócalo and it’s a good way to get your bearings. Inside are the Diego Rivera murals. Entry is free and you’ll need to check your bags.
It seems almost ridiculous to put the cathedral second, as it so dominates the entire Zócalo area. But you can go at your own pace, to one or the other first.
The Metropolitan Cathedral will deeply interest those pursuing colonial and viceregal history, and those with an interest in art and architecture. For the spiritually minded, Catholic or otherwise, it’s the center of Catholic life in Mexico.
The Postal Palace is just one of those spectacular public buildings that never ceases to amaze. It’s still operating, though, for many of us, snail mail is not quite what it used to be. But it’s still a wonderful place to peer into and it doesn’t take all day. In fact, an hour’s visit is quite enough.
Next peer into the second Sanborns in the world…
For lunch, on a weak traveling stomach, Sanborns nearly always has something light and not terribly taxing. This Sanborns just happens to provide even that much more of a feast for the eyes. You can read more about it here. With lunch a visit should take about 90 minutes.
You almost can’t visit Mexico City without taking in at least a little bit of the Alameda. It’s most charming, entirely geometrically in the style of a formal garden, and it’s the first real city park in the Americas. Here’s a bit more about it (plus some photos).
Bellas Artes is the big wedding cake palace that you’ll encounter if you’re crossing the street from Azulejos (above). It’s home to the architecture museum, and a few other galleries, as well as to the theater productions that
As it houses but one painting, the Diego Rivera Mural Museum is frequently overlooked in Mexico City’s enormous quantity of world-class museums. This one houses the mural Sueño de una tarde dominical en la Alameda Central. Rivera painted it for the Hotel del Prado Misión in 1947. In the painting many of the most important figures from the history of Mexico share a space that compresses 400 years into but a moment.
The museum does display a few other works, usually from the 20th century and has exhibited photography, painting, graphics and sculpture. The museum also participates in research, development of exhibitions, and offers guided tours, lectures, workshops and recreational spaces.
LA CIUDADELA ARTISAN MARKET
Souvenir heaven! The Ciudadela Market was full of colorful temptations, but I was on a mission and that mission was huaraches. Mission accomplished. You can and should also buy beautiful blown glassware, embroidered blouses, and dresses, woven tapestries, and on it goes. I bought quite a bit but held myself back due purely to empty space limits in my carry-on. Of all the things to do in Mexico City, this was my absolute favorite.
MERCADO SAN JUAN (NUMBER 1)
There are two San Juan Markets in the center. The one I was most excited to see was on the corner of Arcos de Belen and Lazaro Cardenas. It seemed more of an everyday market, a good spot for a quick, affordable meal and to do some shopping. I picked up some chile powder to take home: chile de arbol.
This is the San Juan Market that will show up in your Google results, the gourmet market. You can try some exotic things in this market from kangaroo or lion meat to insects. We tried the latter, buying a 50-gram bag of crickets. My friend was more daring and ate a scorpion bathed in mezcal.
CHURRERÍA EL MORO
This is where I made my gravest mistake of the day. I was already pretty full and I wasted what little stomach real estate I had left on sweets. Don’t get me wrong, they were delicious, you should go and try them. But my time was running out and after these churros, I was too full to eat more tacos. Champagne problems. If I could go back would I instead choose tacos al pastor? Obviously. But did I also really enjoy these churros and hot chocolate? Also obviously.