Free Things to Do In Mexico City: Essentials for A First-Time Visitor

Mexico City, one of the largest and most exciting cities in the world offers a never-ending list of activities to every kind of traveler. Fortunately, for first-time visitors to the Mexican capital, there are plenty of free things to do in Mexico City to tick off the must-see essentials.

The buzzing Mexican capital is a place that I think everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime, it has big city energy but also small-town charm in some areas, European-looking neighborhoods, one of the highest concentrations of museums in the world, world-recognized cuisine, a booming craft cocktail scene, the list goes on and on.

While there is enough in this city to spend a lifetime here and not see it all, we have to start somewhere, and luckily, a lot of the essential things to see for a first-time visitor to Mexico City are completely free.

So let’s get your Mexico City trip started.

Free Things to Do In Mexico City: Essentials for A First-Time Visitor

Wander the streets of the Historic Center of Mexico City

The Mexican capital extends far and wide, so the best place to start your adventure is definitely at the heart of it all, the Historic Center of Mexico City.

The Historic Center of Mexico City is a great place to wander around to get a better understanding of the country and its history, in this area of the city you will come across ruins from the Aztec empire as well as the Colonial architecture that came after.

My favorite thing about the Historic Center of Mexico City is that it is as eclectic as the city itself, it has high-end hotels and elegant restaurants, but also lots of street vendors, taco stands, and street performers, the Gothic Metropolitan Cathedral sitting next to the ruins of the Aztec Empire.

Visiting the Historic Center of Mexico City is a non-negotiable if you are looking for the best things to do in Mexico City as a first-time visitor.

Visit the biggest square in Latin America: El Zocalo

While walking through the Historic Center of Mexico City you will inevitably end up at El Zocalo, also known as Plaza de la Constitución, Mexico City’s main square and the biggest one in all of Latin America.

Before the Spanish conquest, this place operated as the main ceremonial site for the Aztecs, nowadays it is used as a cultural and political stage for all kinds of events throughout the year. It is also the main square where the Mexican people gather, whether it is to celebrate or protest something.

Go inside Mexico City’s Metropolitan Cathedral

Right by El Zócalo you will find the imposing Metropolitan Cathedral, the oldest and largest Roman Catholic cathedral in Latin America.

The Cathedral was built on top of an old sacred Aztec area, right next to the Aztec Templo Mayor, to make a point of the Spanish power over the natives and their enforcement of the Catholic religion.

The construction of this imposing building started in 1573 and expanded over 250 years, which is why the architecture is influenced by so many different styles, such as Gothic, Neoclassical, and Baroque, giving the Cathedral a unique look.

Admiring this impressive structure from the outside is a must, and luckily going inside doesn’t cost a thing, making it one of the top free things to do in Mexico City for first-time visitors.

Admire the ruins of an ancient Aztec Temple: Templo Mayor

As mentioned above, right next to the Metropolitan Cathedral you will find the ruins of Templo Mayor, the most important sacred building of the Aztec civilization, and a now protected archaeological site.

Templo Mayor used to consist of two temples, one dedicated to Tlaloc, the god of rain, and one to Huitzilopochtli, the god of war, and it used to stand at 42m tall, but nowadays is all closer to ground level, where you can only see some of the steps and decorations that laid at the feet of the temple.

Admiring the ruins of Templo Mayor is one of the best free things to do in Mexico City, and while there is a paid option where you visit a museum and learn more about the temple, you can get a good view of the ruins from the outside for free.

As mentioned before, the Historic Center of Mexico City is a place of contrasts, and for me, this is one of the loudest ones, being able to see the physical history of the two civilizations that make up the modern identity of this country.

The sacred Aztec temple on one side and the Roman Catholic Cathedral on the other one.

It’s a very loaded sight.

Marvel at Mexico City’s House of Art and Culture: Palacio de Bellas Artes

Also in the beating heart of Mexico City, you will find the beautiful Palacio de Bellas Artes, the Palace of Fine Arts, Mexico’s home for all things art and culture.

The venue hosts all sorts of cultural events from dance to theater to music concerts, as well as art galleries and exhibitions.

While those events have an admission fee, admiring the beautiful structure of Palacio de Bellas Artes from the outside is free and an essential thing to do for first-time visitors to Mexico City.

Visit Mexico City’s iconic statue: Angel de la Independencia

Angel de la Independencia, or Independence Angel, is one of Mexico City’s most iconic monuments, which is why stopping by it is an essential thing to do in Mexico City as a first-time visitor.

It was inaugurated in 1910 to commemorate 100 years since the beginning of the country’s Independence war from Spain. As the name suggests, the main feature of the monument is an angel at the top of a tower that stands 94m tall.

Nowadays El Angel remains a relevant part of modern Mexican culture since it has become a key meeting point for the country to celebrate or mourn national, cultural, political, and sporting events.

Take a breath of fresh air inside Chapultepec Forest

The Chapultepec Forest is the living lungs of the densely populated Mexico City.

It is almost twice as big as the world-famous New York City Central Park, and just like Central Park, it has four lakes, a zoo, and a castle, but Mexico City, once again, shines for its cultural offerings by having eight museums inside the forest premises.

Inside the park, you can rent pedal boats on the lake, take a stroll through the greenery, or visit one of the many museums—if you only have time for one, I would highly recommend visiting Chapultepec Castle.

The museums have an entrance fee, however, strolling through the lush forest is completely free and an essential thing to do in Mexico City for first-time visitors.

Explore the quaint streets of La Roma and La Condesa neighborhoods

La Roma and La Condesa are the two most popular neighborhoods in Mexico City, and for good reason. These neighborhoods contrast the ever-expanding buzzy capital with their quaint tree-lined pedestrian-friendly streets and leisure pace.

These trendy neighborhoods have a relaxed European feel, with their colonial architecture, neighborhood parks with beautiful fountains, and cute cafes and bakeries around every corner.

And while there is plenty to spend your money on in this tranquil side of town, wandering through the quaint streets and enjoying the neighborhood parks with all its city dogs running wild, it’s a completely free thing to do and one that every first time visitor to Mexico City should experience.

If you get hungry while walking through all the picturesque streets of the neighborhood and are looking for where to eat in Roma Norte or Condesa, you will be spoiled for choice as this area is a foodie’s dream.

Visit the quintessential Mexican neighborhood of Coyoacán

Coyoacán is a laid-back artist borough with a quintessential Mexican town feel—the streets are cobblestone, the houses are bright and colorful, and there is a little town square with a chapel next to it.

Besides being full of charm, Coyoacán is also full of history and great cultural and intellectual value due to its proximity to the National University (UNAM), which caused a lot of recognized artists, writers, and intellectuals throughout the years to settle down in this area.

That is why, besides being a lovely area to visit and stroll through, Coyoacán is also home to a variety of museums, one of the most famous ones being Frida Kahlo’s blue home.

While museums might have an entrance fee, exploring this beautiful neighborhood of Mexico City is completely free and a must for first-time visitors.

Enjoy one of the most iconic museums of Mexico City: Museo Soumaya

Mexico City possesses one of the highest concentrations of museums in the world, making it hard to choose which one to stop by first.

Luckily one of the most popular ones is free, the modern-looking Museo Soumaya, making our decision process that much easier.

The curvy and shiny Museo Soumaya is a nonprofit museum that holds a variety of exhibitions, from Mesoamerican prehispanic art, Mexican artists, European painters, and sculptors, such as a variety of beautiful pieces by Rodin.

Without a doubt visiting Museo Soumaya is one of the best free things to do in Mexico City for first-time visitors and one of the top things to do in Polanco.

See the beautiful House of Tiles (Casa de los Azulejos)

While exploring the Historic Center of Mexico City make sure to not miss the beautiful House of Tiles, an 18th-century Baroque palace with distinctive white and blue tiles, that will make you think you made it to Portugal.

Nowadays this gorgeous building houses a popular Mexican restaurant chain, Sanborns, but back in the day it was the private residence of Counts of Valley of Orizaba.

Admire the Tiffany stained-glass ceiling inside the elegant Gran Hotel in the Mexico City Historic Center

This is an easy one to miss since you will not just randomly walk into this stained glass. To visit the iconic Tifanny stained glass you have to go inside the lobby of the Gran Hotel in Mexico City.

As soon as you walk up the stairs to the lobby of this beautiful art-nouveau-style hotel you will be welcomed by this intricate and colorful ceiling with more than twenty thousand colorful glass pieces.

The ceiling was designed and built in France and brought to Mexico in 1906 to decorate the ceiling of what back then used to be the biggest department store in Latin America.

Nowadays the building is home to the elegant Gran Hotel, and while spending a night in this high-end hotel would be worth the splurge, visiting the lobby and admiring the stained glass ceiling and the art-nouveau style of the hotel is a completely free thing to do in Mexico City.

We hope you found this list of the free things to do in Mexico City as a first-time visitor helpful for your upcoming trip.

Mexico City is a place that is easy to come back to over and over, so it’s good to cover the basics on your first trip, so you can then move on to peeling other layers of the buzzing Mexican capital.

Have you been to Mexico City before? Do you think there are any other essentials that we are missing? Let us know.

To help you better plan your upcoming trip to Mexico City make sure to check these out:

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