Mexico, Mexico City, North America

The Capital of Mexico – Mexico City

Last Updated on by Bryony Clapperton

Welcome to DF Mexico City, Distrito Federal, Ciudad de Mexico, CDMX.

These are just a few of the local and more common names for the giant metropolis capital of Mexico.

DF Mexico City is by far the biggest city I have ever visited. Ranking as one of the most populated cities in the world it certainly lives up to that.

The capital of Mexico is a huge, sprawling and ever expanding city, despite being situated in a large mountain bowl.

The capital of Mexico

Where is DF Mexico City?

Mexico’s capital city is huge, which is actually a little surprising considering where it is located.

You’ll find the capital of Mexico located inside of a mountain bowl in central Mexico. The state is also called ‘The State of Mexico’.

Neighboring regions include Morelos and Puebla, but there are 32 states in total within Mexico.

During my time travelling in this region I was able to explore the Yucatan and Cancun along with Puebla and Oaxaca.

Mexico City from the sky
Mexico City from the sky

Mexico City’s many names

As I mentioned a little earlier, there are multiple names for the capital of Mexico. Including CDMX or Ciudad de Mexico, which is the official Spanish name for the city.

The city is often also refereed to as DF Mexico City or Distrito Federal. However, in January of 2016, Mexico City ceased to be the Federal District and therefore no longer known as DF.

To this day, locals still use the term Distrito Federal, so don’t be surpised if you hear this for the capital of Mexico.

How big really is Mexico City?

Mexico City is mega. It is the most populous city in North America. With a total population of over 9 million people and growing.

In comparison this is the same as London, just to give you an example of the scale.

The streets of Mexico City
Mexico City

Travel in Mexico City

Once you set off on foot exploring Mexico City the size hits you.

This large city and the sheer volume of people that inhabit the city give it a constant sense of busy. This is pretty much exactly the same as London with the same evident population related pollution.

After setting foot on your first Mexico City subway cart any previous perceptions of crowded and busy you may have once had instantly change.

This giant city consumes you.

Streets of Mexico City

Getting around the capital of Mexico

Getting around Mexico City is something that worries most people. When visiting a city on this scale travel to and from airports, train stations or even in and out the centre can be hard work.

The best way to get around Mexico City is the metro.

The metro

The metro system was something we wanted to tackle, similar in scale to the London Underground, metro travel in Mexico City is what the locals do.

If you are travelling between suburbs and to and from the city centre, you’ll want to pick up a metro map from the airport and plan your route accordingly.

The metro maps can also be downloaded online and are easy to follow. There are separate carts for women, a great thing to remember for solo female travellers.

Upon arrival, we originally booked a cab to take us to our accommodation. This was a bit of a mistake on our part as the city is so huge taxi drivers don’t actually know all to well where they are going.

The metro costs the equivalent of 25 cents (US dollar) for any journey you take. That’s 5 Mexican Pesos for 1 stop or 25 stops.

Buy your tickets at the station and enter through the ticket barriers, you must get your ticket before boarding as you can’t get through the barriers otherwise.

Mexico City subway map

The main tourist areas of Mexico City

The main tourist areas of Mexico City are usually the obvious ones. The Zocalo and centre of the city is the most popular with tourists.

However there are some other areas in the large city you may want to consider checking out;

  • Zocalo and central Mexico City
  • Universidad and the area surrounding the university
  • Polanco the ‘Beverly Hills of Mexico’
  • Roma in the Cuauhtémoc Borough of the city
  • Zona Roas which is home to a lot of hotels, nightlife and shopping
  • Condesa or La Condesa also in the Cuauhtémoc Borough and home to a lot of hotels

Roma and Condesa are often called the Barrios Mágicos of Mexico City, which basically means magical tourist areas of the city.

They have been named this and marketed in this way to attract tourists and most tourists do end up staying in one of these areas.

Where to stay?

Book an airBnB ahead of your arrival but remember the city is huge so plan your route in advance and make sure you have a map.

We stayed in one of the main tourist areas referenced above, these suburbs are a little out the centre. Although, there are backpacker hostels and places to stay close to the Zocalo and historic centre.

Mexico City is infamously dangerous and although we didn’t experience any crime it’s important to research the neighbourhood you’ll be staying in.  

Artwork outside the Metropolitan Cathedral
Artwork outside the Metropolitan Cathedral

Is Mexico City safe?

I did read somewhere that it often surprises people how safe Mexico City feels on the surface.

Many people often refer to tourism in Mexico City as surprisingly safer than they expected. This may be the case and I know we certainly felt that way a lot of the time but whilst travelling solo or not I reccommend that you always remember where you are.

Although we fortunately didn’t experience anything negative, there’s trouble lurking around every corner in any large city you visit. 

Like anywhere in Latin America it’s worth being cautious especially at night.

We didn’t spend any time outside of our hostel at night due to warnings we had been given. This is because we were staying in a suburb as opposed to a more central location.

On a second visit I would expect myself to be less cautious because I’ve experienced the city before and would be more familiar with my surroundings.

Mexico City park

Things to do in Mexico City

Four days is simply not enough to see what’s on offer in Mexico City, but that’s all we had.

We tried to pack in as much as possible during our time in the city, including the following things to do in Mexico City;

  • Enjoy the busy Zocalo
  • Get lost in historic city centre and see some of the sights
  • Check out the National Palace and the Metropolitan Cathedral
  • Take some photos of the stunning Palacio de Bellas Artes
  • Visit The Angel of Independence memorial
  • Eat, drink and shop in the Zona Rosa area of the city
  • Create a bucket list of must see churches in Mexico City
  • Visit the famed markets of Mexico City – there are loads
  • Eat like a local at a typical taco stand or restaurant
  • Take a day trip to the famed Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan
Palacio de Bellas Artes
Palacio de Bellas Artes

Exploring Mexico City

Mexico City is an odd one in terms of how it feels and what it looks like. There are areas across around the Zocalo which is the Central or main square of the city that are Latin, authentic and colonial.

Mexico City has a large and vast centre and business district. Look for the large towering skyscraper buildings, its worth a walk around this area.

In Mexico City are areas with architecture so European looking that you suddenly feel lost in Italy or Spain.

The photograph of Palacio de Bellas Artes above is a perfect example of this. It’s easy to feel like you’ve left the Latin World.

Mexico City boasts so much architecture and history in one place it’s easy to see how people spend weeks exploring their surroundings.

Mexico City skyscrapers

The Zocalo

The central Zocalo is the perfect metro stop to start your city exploration from. It gets busy but its worth it.

The Zocalo in Mexico City is also often referred to Plaza de la Constitución (Constitution Square).

The Zocalo has always been a famous central zone for Mexicans dating back to pre-Aztec times, shops and restaurants can be found close by along with kiosks to buy snacks and drinks for a long day of exploring.

Budget eats are available all around the city, but naturally authentic Mexican street food is the cheapest option for budget tourism in Mexico.

The Zocalo is home to the National Palace among other landmark buildings along with artwork – the midday heat is hot so I wouldn’t recommend hanging around in the open unshaded areas of the Zocalo for too long without a break.

We spent our time in Mexico City exploring the central city streets and searching for the many famous markets that call Mexico City their home.

Find the San Angel zona, this is where many churches and historical buildings can be found in Mexico City, its more relaxed than the business district and other areas we visited.

Church in Mexico City

Mexico City Markets

If you like getting lost in market exploration then Mexico City is the place for you. Food, cosmetics, electronics, crafts, clothing and more can be found underneath the sprawling market stalls.

Markets are also a great way to get to know the locals.When visiting Mexico City take note of the market days for the many markets available including the gourmet food market which we missed due to bad planning.

Eating

Whilst were on the subject of markets I should probably mention food.

There is so much traditional food to be tried in Mexico City you are genuinely spoiled for choice. Think truly traditional Mexican cuisine, with corn tortillas and salsa verde on almost every table you sit down at.

For the cheapest eats head to the food sections in the markets. Veggie options can be limited but I became addicted to cheese and onion or cheese and mushroom Quesadillas.

Tacos are a favourite and they are everywhere, along with local favoruites such as Huraches.

Veggie options are always limited in Latin America, but they are not hard to find. If you are creative and learn the language you are also more likely to succeed.

 Teotihuacan pyramid of the sun

Day trips to Teotihuacan from Mexico City

As mentioned day trips from Mexico City to Teotihuacan and the Pyramid of the Sun are very popular.

The ruins of Teotihuacan are very famous and much older than other Mayan, Aztec or other ruins in Mexico. Some would say more significant than Chichen Itza.

You can visit the ancient Mesoamerican ruins easily on public transport from Mexico City.

Pyramid of the Sun

Getting to Teotihuacan from Mexico City

You can grab a bus from the North Bus Station in Mexico City. Autobuses del Norte station (North Station) is simple to get to, download a metro map and make your way on the metro.

It is likely your trip will involve a couple of changes depending on your starting point but will really save you on taxi costs.  

The bus from Mexico City to Teotihuacan will take roughly an hour. As with most things in Mexico, it is all dependent on traffic.

The bus will cost around 100 Mexican Pesos which is roughly $5. There is an entrance fee of around 60 Pesos which is around $3 to get onto the site.

Teotihuacan, Mexico

Teotihuacan, Mexico

The ruins at Teotihuacan outside of Mexico City are home to some of the largest pyramid structures outside of Egypt which enables you to understand the sheer scale of this ancient city and civilisation. 

The Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan can really only be described as an ancient masterpiece. Standing in its shadow you can imagine the intimidation the Spanish felt upon its discovery.

Teotihuacan really gave me a profound appreciation for this period in history. You’re essentially standing on and next to some of the oldest structures in  history. 

Pre-Christianity in Mexico, pre-religion  and before most things we understand about modern human civilisations in this part of the world. In my opinion no trip to Mexico City is complete without a visit to this spectacular site. 

Teotihuacan 

Four days in the Capital of Mexico

There is so much to be explored in Mexico City not all of which can be done in 4 days and I’ll definitely be returning for a longer period of time now I’ve had a taste for the markets and cuisine.

A four day trip to Mexico City can only include a few of the cities great must see’s and we were able to tick off the Zocalo, business district, some markets and a trip to Teotihuacan.  

The cathedral in the main Zocalo is an excellent place to start exploring Mexico City as the subway station has a cathedral exit.

Off the main tourist trail you can find bargain eateries with all the tacos and empanadas your body can handle and for minimum pesos why not?

Mexico City truly is bigger than I can describe and a mere four days spent exploring can hardly do a review justice, but with so much to gain from visiting Mexico’s capital city I know I’ll be back soon.

Boots and dirt

4 thoughts on “The Capital of Mexico – Mexico City

  1. I love Mexico City so much, I was there for a couple of months back when I lived in Mexico and reading your post made me remember how much I still miss it.
    You're so right, DF IS safe. My mom thought it was one of the most dangerous cities in the world lol and she's not the only one who thinks so. My boyfriend and I always went for walks at night and nothing ever happened, though at some places it gets very unsafe, but that's mostly not in the touristy zones. You should definitely return. After being there for about half a year, I still haven't seen everything! When you go back (and I really hope you will) you should visit the parks; parque de Chapultepec, parque Mexico (my fav) etc. Also neighourhoods like la Roma and Coyoacan are lovely but you might have been there already.

  2. Amazing! I'm quite envious of you having so much time to explore. I would've loved to have more time in Mexico City but I know I'll return. Thanks for the recommendations I'll make sure I keep them in mind for another visit! I agree, I'd heard a lot of negative opinions about the safety of DF but I really felt like there was little trouble during my stay. Like any city with a large population and tourist presence you can expect petty crime and scams but otherwise it felt safe.

  3. What a great guide. I would love to visit and experience this incredible metropolis. I don't think one can understand how big a big city can be until you actually find yourself there! I would also die for the street food. I had a glimpse of how delicious it can be having tacos from a truck in the Bronx. And yes please, can I have more! Definitely wold love to visit there.

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