Every time you’re visiting a place as fascinating and as vast as Mexico City, it’s always a struggle to pull yourself away from its delights. From historical monuments, museum and art galleries to award-winning nightlife, it always feels like Mexico City has it all. Indeed, Mexico City prides itself on being one of the world’s top attractions and leads every list of urban travel destinations.
But as it’s one of the most popular places to visit in the world, it can sometimes feel overwhelming and overcrowded. If you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of Mexico City, fear not – the surrounding areas are very easy to access via transport or car and there’s a whole new world to explore there. From beautiful countryside, to ancient Aztec mysteries, here are the top 15 places great for a day trip outside of Mexico.
Only 50 kilometers north of Mexico City lies Teotihuacán, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and, to our knowledge, the largest ever Pre-Columbian site excavated. Dating from about AD 600, Teothihuacán is right on the edge of the Anáhuac valley, which opens up gorgeous views all around it. There’s an on-site museum, where visitors can enjoy a large-scale model of the site. A popular attraction for adventure-seekers is taking a stroll down the ancient and morbid Street of the Dead. Another chilling sight is the burial chamber, where you can see the skeletons of 18 priests murdered during ritual sacrifice around AD 145. Other popular landmarks include the Citadel, the Moon Pyramid, as well as the Temple of Quetzalcóatl – an enormous pyramid with an impressive 366 stone sculpture.
The enchanting little city of Tepozotlán offers a burst of color and Mexican spirit to all visitors, who are ready to take about half an hour drive away from the city center. Take a walk through the little winding streets and let the gorgeous atmosphere of this tiny city leave you spellbound. It’s often confused with the hippie-influence village of Tepoztlán, Morelos – even so, there’s still a few landmarks to enjoy in Tepozotlán. One of the main ones is the Xalpa Aqueduct, built in the 18th century and it offers a great opportunity for lovely photos and a romantic walk. So, does the picturesque Old Town, where you can also find some fantastic restaurants for a refreshment. Finally, the Jesuit Church is a crowning achievement in Mexican New World Churrigueresque architecture.
If you loved Mexico City’s Templo Mayor then take a drive about 12 kilometers north of the city center to the Tenayuca Aztec pyramid. Built in dedication to the sun cult, the core Tenayuca pyramid measures 31 by 12 meters across and eight meters high, which subsequent casings and recladding of the structure saw it grow to 66 by 62 meters across and 19 meters high – so give or take double its original size. The pyramid dates back to the 13th century. Visitors can enjoy the beautiful Serpent Wall, as well as a morbid vault covered with skulls and skeletons. The pyramid was most likely used for stargazing, as there are posts that might have served that purpose in the pyramid’s walls.
Toluca is the only city nearby Mexico City that could possibly rival the quantity and quality of its museums. An easy 90-minute drive away from the city center, the capital of Estado de México is a fantastic choice with culture connoisseurs, eager to find out more about Mexico’s history and art. The Museo de Bellas Artes has some of the country’s finest works by their most talented painters, so you could easily spend hours just in there. But if you do have the time, make sure to check out the Centro Cultural Mexiquense as well for a unique insight into Mexican culture. A must-see in Toluca are the Cosmovitral Botanical Gardens – a tropical paradise within stained glass windows. Make sure to try some of Toluca’s famous chorizo as well, allegedly the best in the country.
Hungry to discover some more of Mexico’s mysterious histories? Then make sure to put Tollán near the top of your list. Based just to the north of Mexico City, it takes about an hour and 45 minutes to drive there, however the trip is definitely worth it. Tollán used to be the capital of the Toltecs and the remaining artefacts make it one of Mexico’s biggest archaeological treasures. The site was first inhabited in the 7th century and, while building it, the Toltecs adopted a lot of the Mayas’ artistic skills. The city once used to house over 60,000 people. Enjoy a walk around the impressive main square, where you can see the five-story-high stepped pyramid – it was there that the Temple of the Morning Star once stood. Another highlight is the Burnt-Down Palace and the intricate statues known as the Atlantes.
Another one of the larger cities around Mexico City is Cuernavaca, the state capital of Morelos. There’s a very official and royal atmosphere about Cuernavaca, which is depicted in every single one of its winding streets. Beyond the historic colonnades hide high-class restaurants and cafes ready to suit anyone’s taste. The city’s streets burst with color and flowers – it’s no wonder that it’s called “The Land of Eternal Spring”. A highlight is La Casa del Olvido, where Emperor Maximilian resided in 1866, trying to forget the heartbreak from his wife Carlota. Make sure to also check out Las Estacas and, if the time of the year is right, keep an eye out for the colorful Bahidorá Festival. Cuernavaca is about an hour’s drive from Mexico City center.
7. Taxco de Alarcon
Set within a picturesque hilly landscape, Taxco is a very popular tourist destination. It takes a bit longer to take there – about 2 hours 30 minutes’ drive – but on the way, you can enjoy the beautiful rolling hills and gorgeous meadows as the landscape. Taxco itself is famous for its huddled houses, quaint squares and alleyways, as well as many secluded corners. The Santa Prisca Church is by far one of its top landmarks. With its gorgeous 18th century architecture in the Churrigueresque style, Santa Prisca’s entrance is framed by Corinthian columns and a row of impressive sculptures. The interior is just as impressive with its carved, painted, and gilded scenes depicting various religious stories.
With its gorgeous stacked houses and cultural hotspots, Pachuca is a must-visit. About an hours’ drive away, or a two-hour bus ride, the state capital of Hidalgo was once a bustling mining community. Locals call Pachuca la bella airosa due to its windy climate. There are many of the mining facilities still standing today and, due to its history, Pachuca has very strong ties to the United Kingdom. Its emblematic Reloj Monumental was built by the same company that gave London its Big Ben. Also, inspired by Pachuca’s relationship with Cornwall, the state capital of Hidalgo is the birthplace of the Mexican paste (pasty), highly influenced by the Cornish pasty. So, if you’re there, make sure to try it with your favorite filling, you won’t regret it!
9. Grutas de Cacahuamilpa National Park
About 160 kilometers from Mexico City lies the Grutas de Cacahuamilpa National Park, a must-see for all nature loves. If you’re planning to go to Cuernavaca, it’s a good idea to combine both for a trip – as the park is only 70 km away from Cuernavaca. The highlights of the park are, hands-down, the Grutas de Cacahuamilpa Caverns. Known as one of the biggest cave systems in the world, the caverns are a must see for any aspiring explorer. You’ll witness breathtaking subterranean landscapes as well as various dripstone formations, stone chambers and tunnels. Guided tours are available through the caverns and, for the more adventurous, there are also opportunities for rock climbing and rappelling.
As the state capital of the smallest state in Mexico, Tlaxcala is often an overlooked day trip option by most travelers. However, that might come as good news for you if you need a break from the crowds of tourists and you can explore all the beauty Tlaxcala has to offer on its own. It’s also the smallest state capital in the country, but there’s still plenty of opportunity for some great activities. The easiest way to get to Tlaxcala – as with most of Mexico – is by car, however you can also take a bus if you want. The majority of Tlaxcala’s landmarks are all pre-Hispanic in nature, so if you’re a wannabe historian or archaeologist you’ll have a lovely time. Xochitécatl and Cacaxtla are two sets of ruins very close to Tlaxcala if you want to venture further out as well.
11. Popocatépetl and the Mexican Highlands
Within a very easy and pleasant ride of Mexico City, you’ll find yourself in the gorgeous Mexican Highlands, a famous site of volcanic activity. As a result of enormous lava flows over two different periods, the two highest peaks in the area were formed – Popocatépetl (5,452 meters) and Iztaccíhuatl (5,286 meters). Looking at them you can immediately see how imposing they are with their snow-covered peaks. Popocatépetl is still an active volcano and has been spewing fragments of rock, ash and smoke. Furthermore, there’s a fantastic range of 16th century monasteries along the mountains, most of them are UNESCO World Heritage Sites as well. Nearby you can also find the Popocatépetl-Iztaccíhuatl National Park, home to the Paso de Cortés (Cortés Pass), where famous conquistador Hernán Cortés marched in the 16th century.
Cholula is located about an hour and a half away from Mexico City and is in the famous state of Puebla. If you’re planning on going there, perhaps combine it with your trip to Popocatépetl, as the city is famous for its gorgeous views towards the volcano. Cholula has always been one of Mexico’s most important colonial towns and its heritage is still visible today. It boasts gorgeous colorful architecture and over 40 churches, all excellent examples of fine architecture. If you’re in Cholula, definitely make time for the Pyramid Tepanapa, one of the largest (by volume) pyramids in the world.
Perched on top of the Cerro de los Idolos (the Hill of Idols) lies the historical site of Malinalco, about 90 kilometers southwest of Mexico City. The site’s main feature is that it boasts one of the very few Pre-Columbian structures in Mesoamerica. Towering over the village of the same name, Mallinalco is also home of the Templo Principal, also called the House of the Eagle. It was used for initiation of members of religious military orders, including the Eagle Knights and the Jaguar Knights. Memorabilia of these ceremonies lie in the carvings of jaguars on the staircase. Building IV is another one of the site’s highlights, with its gorgeously carved figures and glyphs.
14. Santiago de Querétaro
The state capital of Querétaro, Santiago de Querétaro, is a very easy drive from Mexico City and is a great way to spend a day in a historic old town without worrying too much about crowds. The town center is recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, so it’s definitely worth a look. It’s worth noting that Santiago de Querétaro is known as one of the safest cities in Mexico. It boasts gorgeous architecture from the country’s colonial past, as well as colorful, vibrant buildings, full of life. Querétaro’s wine culture is world famous and, if you have a taste for the finer things in life, make sure to check out the nearby vineyards – after, of course, you’ve soaked in all the culture from the numerous art galleries and museums.
The capital state of Michoacán lies about 290 kilometers west of Mexico City. Morelia is definitely one of the longer road trips you can take but it’s worth it for the sights and gorgeous examples of very early Spanish colonial architecture. The Main Square is gorgeously framed by three beautiful arcades and also features a magnificent 17th century Baroque-style cathedral on one end. It’s perfect for romantic walks on sundown. The interior of the cathedral also isn’t one to miss, especially its imposing organ that was imported from Germany in the early 1900s. Clavijero Palace is also a notable feature of Morelia, as well as one of the country’s last surviving aqueducts nearby.