10-100 Free Things to do in Mexico City
Mexico City is currently the 12th most populous city in the world (as of the Demographia World Atlas 2016 stats) with over 20 million inhabitants. Established by the Spanish in the early 1500s, it’s a city offering an astounding variety of art, culture, history, architecture, performances, entertainment options and diverse neighborhoods.
Luckily, it’s also a fairly safe city for visitors to the Centro Historico and other popular areas. Travelers could easily spend one month or more exploring, especially those interested in arts and culture.
Centro Historico has more than 1500 gorgeous & diverse historic buildings listed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The city also has over 100 museums covering everything from art to anthropology and a score of specialized topics.
Whether you count Mexico City’s plethora of amazing free things to do as 10 or 100 depends on how you categorize them. Most of La Ciudad’s museums are either free all the time or on a specific day of the week, so you can easily find 100 free places to visit simply by counting each museum individually.
But there’s much more than just free museums to enjoy in Mexico City!
So in this article I group free museum entries into two categories and then proceed with all the other wonderful and diverse activities available ‘au gratis’ in Mexico’s grand capital city.
Without further ado, here we go:
1. Free Museums
As I mentioned, many of La Ciudad’s museums offer perpetually free entry. These are not just minor museums, but some of the city’s best art and cultural museums. My favorite picks include:
Museo de Arte Popular Mexicano – colorful folk art and handicrafts from all over Mexico
Museo de Culturas del Mundo – features art and culture from several countries around the world
2. Museum free days
On the other hand, most of La Ciudad’s best museums do charge entry fees that range from a paltry 10 ps / 5 cents US on up to 130 ps / $6.50 US. While none of these fess can be considered expensive by US/European standards, if you plan to visit 10, 20 or even 50 museums, costs can quickly add up.
Luckily for budget travelers, almost all of these museums offer free entry on one particular day of the week. Generally that is on Sunday. However, several museums are free on Tuesday or Wednesday instead. So if you’re looking to skip entry fees, check out each museum’s schedule beforehand and plan accordingly.
My strategy was to pay entry fees for various super cheap museums but to visit the more expensive ones on their free day. There’s usually a trade-off though. Popular museums with free days on Sunday are jam-packed with people, including lots of Mexican families towing young children and babies.
So if you prefer peaceful museum visits like I do, it might be worth going on weekdays and paying the entry fee to avoid the noisy, chaotic crowds.
On the other hand, less well-known museums generally won’t be crowded even on Sundays. (Everyone’s too busy visiting the ‘big ones’ nearby.)
My favorite picks for taking advantage of free entry days include:
Museo de Belles Artes – phenomenal murals by Mexico’s most famous artists, plus several rooms of temporary exhibitions
Museo de Arte Modern – art of Mexico’s contemporary artists and sculpture gardens
Museo de R Tamayo – modern art from around the world and Mexico
3. Architectural explorations
As I mentioned, Centro Historico has more than 1500 historic buildings on the UNESCO List. They consist of a huge range of architectural styles developed over six centuries, from the early 1500’s European styles on through to Art Deco of the 1920-30s, 1960s boxy-style designs and contemporary glass/steel skyscrapers.
Just wandering the streets, you can admire the diverse architectural constructions and detailing. But you can also wander inside many of these buildings to take a look around.
Most of them will take you entirely by surprise, maybe even leave you slack-jawed gaping, with their incredibly elaborate interiors – columns, courtyards, architectural detailings, diverse building materials and incredible ceilings.
In addition, most museums are housed in equally gorgeous historic or modern buildings.
A couple amazing buildings I recommend include:
Casino Espanol – on Calle Isabel Catolica
Palacio Correo – the famous national post office building, across from Bellas Artes
Gran Hotel del Ciudad Mexico – Wow, talk about a gorgeous stained-glass ceiling! Located on the southwest corner of the Zocalo.
4. Free city walking tour
Every day at 10 am free city walking tours are offered in both English and Spanish. To join, simply head to the front of the Municipal Cathedral on the Zocalo’s north side. Look for someone holding a bright pink umbrella and a bunch of city maps.
The tour lasts a whopping two hours, strolling around a large chunk of Centro Historico. It’s a friendly, educational tour in which you learn some interesting history about Mexico City, special historic buildings, Mexican customs and other tidbits. Fun tour!
5. Free bicycles
Yes! Much to my amazement and delight, Mexico City provides completely free bikes for visitors to use!
BiciGratis booths are situated at popular neighborhoods around the city. The most central and easy to find is beside the Municipal Cathedral on north side the city’s main plaza – aka Zocalo.
You simply hand over your passport for them to hold until you return the bike. Fill out a simple form and get your photo taken. Then they hand you over a bicycle to use for three hours.
Simple, convenient and totally free! Yippie!
Mexico City might not seem like the most likely city to ride a bike around, but I found it super easy and fun. The topography is entirely flat. Many streets have dedicated bike lanes. Vehicles are accustomed to looking out for cyclists. And you can also cycle on wide sidewalks and through many of the parks.
For anyone experienced cycling in cities, Mexico City is an easy delight. As long as you’re comfortable with traffic and city roads, you’ll be fine.
But if you’re a novice city cyclist and/or get nervous around cars, buses and trucks, well…. maybe not.
6. Parks and plazas
La Ciudad has at least a dozen lovely, leafy parks and shady plazas scattered about the Centro Historico and nearby neighborhoods. They range from tiny one-block affairs to Latin America’s largest park – Bosque Chapultepec.
La Alameda Park is the most central and one of the most popular. It’s a leafy, shady, medium sized park beside Bellas Artes.
Parque Mexico is a larger, more beautifully landscaped, shady park located in Condesa, a bit southwest of Centro Historico. In my opinion, this is the city’s most beautiful park.
Bosque Chapultepec is situated at the end of La Ciudad’s most grand boulevard, Paseo de la Reforma. It’s southwest of Centro Historico.
The incredibly vast park contains gardens, lakes, walking and cycling paths, several of Mexico’s most glorious museums and even a castle on a hilltop, which previously served as home to a long series of Mexican presidents.
If you want to visit all the museums & castle and stroll around the park, it could literally take you an entire week! I kid you not.
Mexico’s massive Anthropology Museum is one of the most acclaimed in the world. That museum alone takes most people at least two days to explore in entirety.
7. Views of the city from Tower Latin America
This tower, built in 1956, was the highest in all of Latin America when it was constructed. It’s also located just across the street from Bellas Artes and Alameda Park.
The observation deck on the top floor is a huge tourist attraction. Tickets currently cost 100 ps / $5 US. That’s not a bad price for stunning views over the city.
However, another traveler scooped me on a free way to get nearly the same views. They also stumbled upon this secret purely by chance.
Just three floors below the observation deck is a bar. My travel pals went up for drinks one evening. But the service was so poor that they just hung around enjoying the views, with nobody attempting to serve them, before heading back down the elevators.
Obviously everyone might not be as lucky as my pals were, but if worse comes to worse, you will at least get a quick glimpse of the city before you’re asked to order . Then you can choose to stay for a drink or depart.
8. Free tour of Palacio Bellas Artes Theater
Palacio Bellas Artes is one of Mexico’s most stunning and iconic buildings. It’s situated on the east end of Alameda Park, La Ciudad’s most centrally located park.
Bellas Artes has a very interesting history, including some very famous paintings and building features, particularly its interior and main theater.
You can enjoy the main theater two ways – by attending a paid performance or by joining the free historic tour.
The tours are offered on Tuesday to Friday afternoons, commencing either at 12:30 or 1:00 pm. Check their schedule to be sure. Don’t be surprised to find 100 or more people waiting in line for the tour to begin! But never mind, everyone can be accommodated.
The tour is in Spanish only. If your Spanish is rusty or non-existent, at least you can admire the interior of the theater and its famous glass ‘curtain’.
9. Great views of Bellas Artes exterior
I discovered this insider’s secret purely by coincidence. I needed to pee.
Since there aren’t any public toilets available at Bellas Artes or Alameda Park (how is that possible?!) I was searching around frantically to find a place.
Much to my amazement, I saw a huge multi-story Sears in a historic building directly in front of Bellas Artes. So I marched right across the street, entered Sears and used their bathroom, which happen to be up on the 5th floor.
On my way back down their series of escalators, I caught a glimpse of Bellas Artes outside the window. I just had to stop to take a photo. Wow, what a view!
I later learned (via a friend of a friend) that Sears has a cafe on the 7th floor where you can go grab a coffee or meal then admire Bellas Artes from an even higher vantage point, for as long as you’d like. Sawweeet!
10. Historic buildings with famous murals
Several huge buildings in Centro Historico, including some of the country’s most important government buildings, have hallways and entryways adorned by massive murals by Mexico’s most famous artists.
To their great credit, the Mexican government allows visitors to enter their building interiors, au gratis, to view these important and stunning murals. The most famous and impressive include:
Palacio National – Diego Rivera’s most famous murals
Supreme Court Building – murals by Jose Orozco and Rafael Cauduro
As you can see, Mexico City offers an unending array of wonderful things to see and do. And there’s more than what I’ve detailed here – much more. Come visit for yourself, choose your favorite venues and then discover other fun and educational things to do in Mexico’s vast capital city. Highly recommended!
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