Things to Do in Central Mexico
Known as the City of the Gods, Teotihuacán was the metropolis of a mysterious Mesoamerican civilization that reached its zenith around AD 100. Once the largest city in the region but abandoned centuries before the arrival of the Aztecs, Teotihuacán boasts towering pyramids and stone temples with detailed statues and intricate murals.
With its brightly paintedtrajineras (flat-bottomed boats), traditionalchinampas (floating gardens), and network of flower-perfumed canals, Xochimilco—the “Flower Garden”—is the kind of place that will have you reaching for your camera at every turn.
Known as the Blue House (La Casa Azul) for its bold blue façade, the Frida Kahlo Museum (Museo Frida Kahlo) was the birthplace and childhood home of the well-known Mexican artist. Inside, the fascinating collection of personal items, furnishings, sketches, and paintings offer insight into both the life and art of Frida Kahlo.
Created by a volcanic eruption millennia ago, Lake Catemaco (Laguna Catemaco) is best known for its non-native population of Stumptail Macaque monkeys. Take a boat to Monkey Island or get spiritual during the annual Witchcraft Festival, before using the lake as a jumping-off point for exploration of the Los Tuxtlas Biosphere Reserve.
It’s easy to see why Xalapa, the capital city of the state of Veracruz, is fondly referred to as the San Francisco of Mexico. This colorful urban center has the same laid back charm and electric night life, with an equally youthful vibe. College students buzz through Xalapa’s hilly city streets aboard quick moving scooters, while well-heeled business men and women make their way to work through the bustling business district.
Dozens of popular cafes that line the streets of Xalapa, where, students, travelers and the city’s cultural elite brush elbows over steaming cups of strong brew. The country’s second-largest archaeological collection is housed in the city’s Museo de Antropologia and travelers say the grounds of this unique landmark are worth a visit. The collection of exhibits, which outlines the traditions and artwork of the Totonac and Huastec people, provide a comprehensive history for first-time visitors. Nearby Parque Ecologico Macuiltepetl, a tranquil 40-hectare park, is home to plenty of running trials and offers impressive views of the Xalapa skyline from atop an extinct volcano.
The so-called "Coffee Capital of Mexico," Coatepec is one of Veracruz’s most alluring pueblos mágicos (magic towns) where coffee, culture, and cloud forests combine. Situated at the foothills of the Cofre de Perote, Coatepec—once a sacred Aztec site now strewn with cafés and an impressive orchid garden—offers a quieter alternative to nearby Xalapa.
Coyoacán, one of Mexico City’s oldest districts, is alive with color and culture. Centered around twin plazas perfect for people watching—Plaza Hidalgo and Jardín Centenario—Coyoacán is characterized by museums, quaint cobblestone streets, and roadside churro vendors.
With fewer visitors than other butterfly reserves and handy proximity to Mexico City, the Piedra Herrada Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary is one of the best spots to admire the orange-and-black creatures. Hike or ride a horse through the forest to reach the butterflies, which coat the fir trees before bursting into flight and fluttering among the treetops.
Among the most visited Catholic pilgrimage sites in the world, the Shrine of Guadalupe atop Tepeyac Hill in Mexico City honors the legendary 16th-century appearance of the Virgin Mary to Juan Diego, a local peasant. The shrine, also known as the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe (Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe), is devoted to the patron saint of Mexico.
One of the most enigmatic yet well-preserved archaeological ruins in the state of Veracruz, the UNESCO-recognized El Tajín is characterized by relief carvings, dozens of ball courts, and unique architectural features not found at other Mesoamerican sites. Highlights of this expansive complex include the 6-story Pyramid of the Niches, the Southern Ball Court, and the regular "Danza de los Voladores" performances.
More Things to Do in Central Mexico
Mexico City’s Plaza de la Constitución, better known as the Zocalo, is the cultural and historic heart of the city. This large open-air square in the Centro Historico is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to the city's top attractions, including Metropolitan Cathedral, National Palace, and Great Temple archaeological site and museum.
Considered one of the world’s most comprehensive natural history museums, the National Museum of Anthropology (Museo Nacional de Antropología) is Mexico City’s most visited museum. Its collection includes notable historical items such as the Aztec Stone of the Sun, the giant carved heads of the Olmec people, and the Aztec Xochipilli statue.
Built on the site of the ancient Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán, the Centro Histórico is both the historical heart and the modern epicenter of Mexico City. Centered on the grand Zócalo—Plaza de la Constitución—the sprawling district is preserved as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is full of historic monuments, museums, parks, and hotels.
As Mexico City’s major cultural center, the Palace of Fine Arts hosts art exhibitions and a range of live events, including music, dance, theater, and opera. The building is a mix of art nouveau, art deco, and baroque architectural styles referred to as Porfiriano, after Mexican President Porfirio Diaz who commissioned the project.
The National Palace (Palacio Nacional) has served as the seat of the Mexican federal government since the age of the Aztecs. Although it’s a working building with many offices that are off limits to visitors, there’s still plenty to explore and admire, including Diego Rivera’s famous panoramic mural, The History of Mexico.
The only palace on the continent, Chapultepec Castle sits more than 7,000 feet (2,133 meters) above sea level in Mexico City’s Chapultepec Park. It has housed royalty, served as a military academy, and was even an observatory. In 1996, the castle was transformed into Capulet Mansion for the movieWilliam Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
San Juan de Ulua is a maze of historic fortresses and prison cells on a shadowy island overlooking the once-busy port of Veracruz. Constructed in 1956, the fort is home to a dark history that includes captured naval fleets, African slave trade and international treasure.
During the nineteenth century the imposing stone walls and deep dungeons of San Juan de Ulua served as a prison for Mexican political activists. The views from the old lookout tower make it a popular attraction, but a hidden chapel on the southwest side of the structure, massive treasure storage rooms and the dungeon of San Juan de Ulua, which housed the legendary bandit Chucho el Roto, are also worth a look.
Soccer—orfútbol as it’s called in Spanish—is an integral part of Mexican culture. For the country’s people, Azteca Stadium (Estadio Azteca), which is the largest stadium in Mexico, is the heart of the sport. Home to the professional soccer team Club América and the Mexican national team, the 84,000-seat stadium is the first venue to host two FIFA World Cup finals, and it will welcome a third in 2026.
During early morning hours the Malecon stretching between Veracruz and Boca del Rio fills with local runners jogging along the scenic path that wraps around the ocean’s edge. But by mid-afternoon, it’s travelers that flood the area known for its pre-colonial architecture and fine views of imposing naval ships. Stalls selling handmade crafts and traditional food line the area, and happy couples stroll the promenade eating ice cream cones on hot summer days while listening to musicians perform mariachi music in the streets.
The Malecon’s relaxing daytime vibe comes alive at night, when cool breezes bring locals back outdoors to enjoy refreshing drinks at the crowded tables of nearby cafes as traditional folk dancers and live musicians stage acts in the open air.
Wonder at the more than 250 native and international species, spread across 10 exhibitions and ranging from ethereal jellyfish to salt-water sharks and even penguins, at the Veracruz Aquarium (Acuario de Veracruz). Considered one of the largest aquariums in Latin America, it's focused on marine conservation and education.
What remains of the Aztecs’ Great Temple (Templo Mayor) sits right in the middle of Mexico City, but many tourists miss it. In 1978, a massive, 8-ton (7,000-kilogram) stone depicting Coyolxauhqui (the Aztec goddess of the moon) was unearthed, marking the location of the temple, a gathering place sacred for the Aztecs during the 1300s and 1400s.
Built on Aztec temple ruins, no building better exemplifies the history of Mexico City than the Metropolitan Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana). The vast stone edifice blends architectural styles and building innovations across four centuries. Highlights include the gilded Altar of Forgiveness and the painted canvases lining the sacristy.
Leafy pedestrian walkways, historical monuments, and numerous open-air art and photography exhibitions characterize Paseo de la Reforma, one of Mexico City’s busiest thoroughfares which splices Chapultepec Park and connects it with the historic center. Lined by towering skyscrapers and luxury hotels, Paseo de la Reforma is also home to Mexico City landmarks like the Ángel de la Independencia.
Chapultepec Park, named for the Aztec word chapoltepec (at the grasshopper’s hill), is one of the world's largest city parks. The green space spans 1,695 acres (686 hectares) and is dissected by walking paths connecting quiet ponds, monumental buildings, and museums, including the Museum of Anthropology and the Rufino Tamayo Museum.
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