Mexico City is massive. It’s home to over 20-million people and sprawls for miles. It’s also home to some incredible cultural and historically significant sights. As such, there is so much to see and do in Mexico City. You could easily spend a week in the capital and only scratch the surface. That said, what if you only have 24 hours in Mexico City? What can you see, do, and more importantly, eat on a long layover? Is seeing the city even possible on a layover?
With that in mind, here are my thoughts on how to spend 24 hours in Mexico City.
Should I Leave the Airport on a Long Layover in Mexico City?
Despite the city’s size, the Mexico City International Airport is surprisingly accessible and close to downtown. That said, traffic can be a nightmare and can take you minutes or hours to get where you are going depending on the time of day. Still, this shouldn’t deter you if you have a long layover or if you are spending 24 hours in Mexico City.
Not only do I recommend leaving the airport on a long layover in Mexico City, I recommend working in a stopover. AeroMexico and many other major airlines connect in Mexico City for destinations within the country as well as those in Central and South America.
- READ MORE: Is AeroMexico Premium Economy Worth it?
For this 24 hours in Mexico City itinerary, I am treating it as though you have a full day in town. Please adjust to accommodate your layover as you see fit. If you have questions or looking for recommendations, let me know in the comments below!
How to Best Tackle Mexico City in 24 Hours – Take A Tour!
If you only have 24 hours in Mexico City, I highly recommend taking a tour to cover as much ground as possible. Not only will this be an efficient use of your time, but it will also get you the history and stories behind what you are seeing. I recommend Bookmundi for its large collection of tours and tour operators. I booked a half-day tour that got me a guide and transportation for the city’s highlights and can highly recommend!
Visit the Museo Nacional de Antropología
With over 150 museums scattered around town, Mexico City has more museums than New Tork or Paris.
Let that sink in.
That said, if you only have limited time in town, visit the Museo Nacional de Antropología. Although it’s massive (you would walk 5.5 KM if you visited every exhibit!), a guide will help you navigate the many areas and help make Mexico and Central America’s incredible history very digestible.
Make your way to Bosque de Chapultepec, the Central Park of Mexico City, for 0900. The tour starts right when the museum opens, making it the perfect way to start your day. Gather around the incredible El Paraguas (“The Umbrella”) fountain and get a crash course on the Mayan, Toltec, Aztec, and Teotihuacan that roamed Mexico and Central America.
Focus on the Pre-Columbian Exhibits
The tour takes you through the bottom level exhibits dedicated to the pre-Columbian period and the groups that called Mexico home. These exhibits include many mind-blowing artefacts including the Disc of Mictlantecuhtli, the Statue of Chalchiuhtlicue, and the Aztec Sun Stone.
The Aztec Sun Stone was discovered buried under the city centre while repairs were being down to the Cathedral. This lead to a deeper discovery in that the entire Centro area was built on top of an ancient Aztec city called Tenochtitlan. Even more head-scratching is that this city was built on an island, meaning Mexico City was once a lake. There are murals and a model depicting what this city and island once looked like.
Another excellent highlight of the museum is the exhibit dedicated to Teotihuacan, an ancient city on the outskirts on Mexico City. It’s highlighted by two massive pyramids and has historians scratching their heads. No one knows who built Teotihuacan and where they went. It’s believed that the Aztecs discovered the city some 1,000 years after it was abandoned.
If you have more than 24 hours in Mexico City, I highly recommend visiting Teotihuacan and climbing the massive pyramids!
- READ MORE: Visiting Teotihuacan From Mexico City
Although you can easily spend an entire day wandering the Anthropology Museum, it’s time to move on. If you have more than 24 hours in Mexico City, there is a second level dedicated to the post-Columbian period. Also, your ticket allows for same-day re-entry in case you want to circle back before its 7:00 PM closing.
Visit the Historic Centro
Now that you have a better understanding of Mexico’s incredible history, its time to tie it all together with a visit to the downtown core. Not only is starting your day with an education a good way to understand the country, but it’s also a great way to understand Centro.
The massive main square called Zócalo is a great place to start your time discovering Centro. It is the kicking off point on the second half of the Bookmundi day tour I took and very fitting as it is the centre of Centro. In and around the square, you will find historic buildings and points of interest from both the per and post-Colombian times. This includes Templo Mayor, the Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de la Santísima Virgen María a Los Cielos (Catedral Metropolitana is less of a mouthful!), and the Palacio Postal.
As you learned at the Anthropology Museum, Mexico City is literally built on top of an ancient Aztec city and, thanks to some careful excavation, reminisce of Tenochtitlan can be explored. Templo Mayor was the epicentre of Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital that Mexico City was built on. Sadly, the Spanish left little of the ancient city and used stones from the temples to build their own churches and cathedrals. On the positive, there is a walkway through some of the excavated ruins which leads to a great museum. Inside you will see many images on what the island city of Tenochtitlán once looked like.
The imposing Cathedral is the largest of its kind in Latin America. It took over two centuries to complete and is built on top of Templo Mayor. And no, your eyes are not deceiving you, the Cathedral is lopsided. This is thanks to the massive stone pillars and the lakebed foundation they sit on.
Attached to the Cathedral is the Metropolitan Church Mexico City. Both are worth ducking into if only to take in the grandness and opulence. It also provides a nice escape from the crowds in the square.
Speaking of opulence, there are not many post offices around the globe that I would suggest visiting, especially if you are short on time. The Palacio Postal is an exception. This building is huge and features a mix of architectural styles including Gothic Revival, Baroque, and Art Deco. Built-in 1907, today it is still a functioning post office and is very much worth a peek inside.
Palacio de Bellas Artes
Make your way west from Zócalo down the Av. Francisco I. Madero for some chaos and shopping. Here you will find many brand name stores and restaurants. If you are hungry, I don’t suggest eating along this street. Instead, head a block north to Av. 5 de Mayo. There you will find a couple of classic Mexican dinners serving up hearty dishes the same way they have been for decades. Café La Blanca and Café El Popular are both good options and are unlike anything else you will find in the city. They are also incredibly cheap, especially given the portion sizes.
Continuing on, you will quickly end up at the Alameda Central and the Palacio de Bellas Artes. The massive Palace of Fine Arts is unique thanks to its hombre dome roof architectural styles. On the outside, you will find elements of Art Nouveau and Neoclassical features. Inside, it is very much Art Deco.
Over the years, the Palace of Fine Arts has hosted everything from ballet and opera to art exhibits. Along with its beautiful Art Deco interior, you will find several massive murals worth checking out.
With the afternoon sun starting to set, head across the street to the Torre Latinoamericana. Once the tallest tower in Latin America, today the Torre Latinoamericana is best known for its engineering as it has withstood two major earthquakes.
Inside you find an observation deck that offers amazing views of the city and the ombre roof of the neighbouring Palace of Fine Arts. There is also a great little museum on the history of the tower including pictures of the destruction it withstood.
Mexico City Night Life
Although 24 hours in Mexico City may not be enough time to sleep off a hangover, it is plenty of time to indulge in some of the unique nightlife.
Museo del Tequila and Mezcal
Post Centro tour, make your way to the nearby Museo del Tequila and Mezcal. This small museum is dedicated to the history and brewing process of Mexico’s favourite distilled alcoholic drinks, tequila and mescal.
There are plenty of great interactive displays and placards that walk you through both the history and brewing process. You will also discover the difference between tequila and mescal. In case you want to skip this and make your way to the bar for your free samples, the main difference is tequila is only made from Blue Agave, whereas mescal is made from different types of Agave. Although it may all taste like fire to some, this accounts for mescals complex flavours and finishes.
If the two samples included with your admission to the Museo del Tequila and Mezcal only partially wet your whistle, don’t order another round. Instead, make your way past the throngs of mariachi bands playing outside the museum and head over to the nearby Salón Tenampa. This historic bar has been serving guests since 1925 and is famous for its mariachi bands. Saddle up in a both and enjoy some insanely good serenading!
If your 24 hours in Mexico City happens to land on a Tuesday or Saturday, make your way to Arena Mexico for the high-flying and colourful entertainment that is Lucha Libre. Mexican wrestling is famous the world-over for its masked wrestlers and soap-like storylines. Seeing a match in Mexico City is a must.
Although you can roll up to the ticket booth on most nights and get tickets, the best way to see a Lucha Libre match is with a group of friends. Bookmundi offers a great tour that combines a night out watching Lucha Libre and bar hopping. This is a great way to go and takes the hassle out of navigating on your own. Plus, you will make some great friends along the way and experience the extremely popular sport through a locals eyes.
Tacos and Tequila!
If you are looking to cap off your 24 hours in Mexico City right, do it with tacos and mescal. The hip neighbourhood of La Condesa is credited with bringing mescal back from the dead and, as such, is home to several great bars and mezcalerias.
Also, by now you have undoubtedly noticed the shwarma like stands seemingly on every corner. If you did not take in the Lucha Libre and bar crawl tour, let me fill you in. Al Pastor is Mexico City’s taco of choice, and they are amazing! Marinated pork roasted on a vertical spit and topped with a wedge of pineapple. ?
From your mescal crawl in La Condesa, make your way to El Tizoncito, the alleged inventor of the Al Pastor. Although its true origins date back to Lebanese immigrants sharing their cooking methods, there is no arguing the amazing taste at El Tizoncito.
Is 24-Hours in Mexico City Enough Time?
There you have it. My take on what to cover on a long layover in Mexico City. As you can see, within a day you can cover some incredible history and sample the city’s best food and drink. That said, is 24 hours in Mexico City enough?
NO! I spent a week in the city and still have so much to cover. I have a three day in Mexico City post coming up however, with the convenient location of the airport it got me thinking, what would I do if I only had 24 hours in Mexico City? This is by no means recommend unless you have the option to add a long stopover. Then absolutely spend 24 hours in Mexico City! Anytime I fly south going forward, I will be considering this. Even if it gets me a couple of Al Pastor tacos it will be well worth it!
What if I Have More Than 24 Hours in Mexico City?
Lucky you! There is so much more to see and do including touring the taquerias of La Condesa and getting your mind blown by 2,000-year-old pyramids at Teotihuacan. For all my favourite things to see, do, and eat, stay tuned! I have an expanded itinerary post coming up!
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I took a complimentary day tour with Bookmundi to best over how to spend 24 hours in Mexico City.
The opinions, experience, and taco crushing are my own.