On my way to Havana, Cuba, I had an overnight layover in Mexico City. Twelve hours didn’t allow much time to see the city, especially when seven of them were spent sleeping, but I managed to see quite a bit during my brief visit!
If you’re staying for one night in Mexico City and wondering what you should see, read on to check out some of my suggestions. I’ve spent several months living and working in this awesome city, so I can confidently give advice on what’s worth seeing and what you can safely do after dark.
Your exact itinerary will vary depending on how long your layover is, of course. You may be able to check out some of the city’s best bars, the Tequila Museum, and Lucha Libre wrestling in the evening. And if your layover extends into late morning, you might be able to sneak in a visit to the gorgeous Palacio de Bellas Artes or the quirky Frida Kahlo Museum.
This article will cover the logistics of getting from the airport to the heart of the city, offer suggestions for where to stay near the Mexico City airport, and provide ideas for activities in the late evening and early morning.
Arriving at Mexico City International Airport
Mexico City International Airport (aka Aeropuerto Internacional Benito Juárez) is a very large airport that is busy 24 hours a day. When you arrive, you’ll have to go through immigration and customs. At times, it can be a long wait (more than an hour) to get through the line.
Keep this in mind when planning an itinerary for your Mexico City layover – you may spend a lot more time getting through the airport than you think.
The airport has an English site that should answer most of your logistical questions. You can expect airport personnel to speak English, so don’t worry about language barriers.
There are two terminals: Terminal 1, and the smaller Terminal 2, which opened in 2007. Somewhat confusingly, both terminals are used for domestic and international flights, so double check which terminal you’ll be arriving at. There is a tram that connects the two terminals, which are 1.9 miles apart.
Now, the important question: Is there luggage storage in Mexico City Airport? Yes, thankfully there is. If your layover is short, leaving your bags at the airport may be the best course of action so you can explore the city without baggage.
As of this writing, the luggage storage facilities are open 24 hours a day and can be found in Terminal 1 in lounges A and E2, and in Terminal 2 at gates 3 and 4. The Mexico City airport lockers currently cost $150 pesos, or about $7 USD. So drop your bags and go see the city!
While you’re in the airport, you can pick up a cell phone SIM card if needed. (If you’re visiting from the U.S., check the details of your cell plan – most American cell plans now provide coverage in Mexico by default, so you won’t need a new SIM card.)
The airport has plenty of ATMs and currency exchanges as well, in case you’d like to swap your dollars for pesos. However, if you’re only spending one night in Mexico City, you may not even need pesos. The overwhelming majority of businesses accept U.S. credit cards (double check whether your credit cards charge internatioanl fees.)
Lodging: Where to Stay During an Overnight Layover in Mexico City
Let’s start with the obvious options. Mexico City International Airport has several hotels on-site. Terminal 1 has the Courtyard by Marriott, Camino Real, Fiesta Inn, and Hilton, while Terminal 2 has NH.
Here are some our top Mexico City hotel recommendations:
Courtyard by Marriott: The Marriott’s Mexico City airport location is your nicest option if you’re looking for a clean, comfortable place that feels familiar and has the usual amenities. Find this hotel right at Terminal 1.
Hostel Mexico DF Airport: Here’s your best budget option. You can get a bunk in a shared dorm for as little as $18 USD. Private double rooms are also quite affordable. Breakfast is included too!
We Hotel Aeropuerto: Another upscale property, the We Hotel is right across from the airport and even offers a free airport shuttle if you don’t feel like walking. The hotel has a Mexican restaurant and lounge on-site.
Izzzleep Aeropuerto: Sleep right inside the airport in one of those futuristic pod cubicles! This is perfect if you have an overnight layover and want to sneak in a few hours of sleep between your adventures. I haven’t stayed here myself, but it gets great reviews and it’s budget-friendly. There’s a Terminal 1 Izzzleep location and a Terminal 2 Izzzleep location.
If you decide to stay further into town, Airbnb is probably your best bet. You can find affordable private rooms or apartments in various neighborhoods. The best neighborhoods for tourists include Condesa, Roma Norte, Coyoacan, and Polanco.
When I had an overnight layover in Mexico City, I stayed at an Airbnb and simply took Uber to get back and forth from the airport. But if your layover is shorter and you don’t have much time to go into the city at all, you might as well stay at the airport.
Getting to Town
MEX airport is about 7-8 miles from central Mexico City. You can take the subway, which has a line near Terminal 1. Use Google Maps or follow the signs to leave the airport and walk to the subway. The Mexico City subway is generally safe, though pickpockets are a problem. The subway runs from roughly 5 am to midnight (shorter hours on weekends.) One-way fare is only 5 pesos, or about 25 U.S. cents. Super cheap!
However, if you’re just here for an overnight layover in Mexico City, time is at a premium, so I suggest taking a cab. The airport has licensed taxi stations and they are easy to use. Fares are established and paid upfront based on your destination. U.S. credit cards are accepted.
For most visitors to MEX airport, taking a taxi will be the quickest and easiest way to get to the heart of town. Uber is also an option, and is perfectly safe and affordable, though you need to find the pickup location and wait for a ride. Expect the ride from the airport to central Mexico City to take 20-40 minutes, depending on time of day (rush hour traffic is notoriously bad here!)
While I recommend taking a taxi when you’re leaving the airport, I suggest using Uber throughout the rest of Mexico City. Uber is extremely affordable here, and it provides an extra layer of security since it’s an international company that keeps strict records of its drivers.
Suggestions for After Dark
Ok, so where will you be able to go if you arrive in the evening? Here are a few ideas of tourist-friendly places that are open late. For a longer list of things to do in Mexico City at night, see the relevant section of this massive guide to visiting Mexico City.
Lucha Libre Wrestling
Here’s your #1 option for a fun tourist activity in Mexico City after sundown. Lucha libre is high-flying, acrobatic wrestling in which most of the competitors wear masks. Tickets are dirt cheap, and you can even join a guided tour that will take you right from central part of the city to the arena to see the matches.
Angel de la Independencia
The Angel of Independence is one of Mexico City’s most iconic attractions. At night, it is often lit up with cool lighting that makes for great photographs. If you arrive to the city super late and everything else is closed, you can always visit the Angel!
The Tequila Museum
Mexico is known for tequila and mezcal. Sample both at the Tequila & Mezcal Museum! The museum is open late. You can view exhibits on these spirits, but the best part is going to the roof to sample different varieties of tequila. Definitely take an Uber here, since the surrounding area is a bit sketchy at night.
The famous red Turibus stops at multiple locations around the city, giving tourists a quick and easy way to see several of the sights. Turibus runs a night tour at 7 pm on Friday and Saturdays that will folks on a layover a chance to see some of the sights during the evening.
On that note, let’s talk about some ideas for where you can go in the early am!
Churros at El Moro
El Moro is the place to get churros as late as midnight, depending on the location and the day of the week. They have some of the best churros in the city, and they are especially known for their churro ice cream sandwich. Which is a real thing!
Monumento a la Revolucion and Torre Latinoamerica
Most tourist attractions close by early evening, but a couple stay open later. Monumento a la Revolucion is open until 8 pm on weekdays and 10 pm on weekends. You can ride up to the top for nifty views.
For even better views, try the Mirador (observation deck) at Torre Latinoamerica, which is open until 9 pm on weekdays and 10 pm on weekends. It is one of the tallest buildings in Mexico City, and from its viewpoint, you can see 360 degree views of the whole city.
Once nightfall hits, your options as a tourist are limited. But mezcal bars are a great way to spend one night in Mexico City.
We ended up at La Clandestina, a mezcal bar around the corner from our room that lived up to its good reviews. Yelp is solid in Mexico City, in case you were wondering.
One more destination you might be wondering about: The Zocalo, the famous city square of central Mexico City. Unless there’s a special event going on, the Zocalo isn’t the greatest area to be hanging out in after dark. So I wouldn’t suggest visiting during an overnight layover in Mexico City, unless you stop by early in the morning when daylight returns.
Suggestions for Early Morning
As noted, the Zocalo is not great after sundown, but it’s perfectly fine to visit during daylight. Walk around, visit the churches and restaurants and ruins nearby.
Palacio De Bellas Artes
During my overnight layover in Mexico City, my travel friend insisted we visit the Palacio de Bellas Artes. This palace of fine arts has an impressive exterior. We decided to visit here at 7:30 am, since we wanted to get an early start and maximize our time. Here, we could walk around and see some incredible architecture.
Wandering the nearby streets in this area uncovered some charming alleys with neatly-tiled buildings. This one with the blue-tile pattern is called Casa de Los Azulejos.
Roma Norte and Condesa neighborhoods
I stayed in an AirBnb on the cusp of the Roma Norte and Condesa neighborhoods. These are described as cool, modern areas, and that was certainly the case. I saw plenty of gourmet cupcake and gelato shops in the area. It felt just like a hip part of any U.S. city.
Any good hipster neighborhood has to have some unusual street art.
One shop that caught my attention was a store dedicated entirely to the Beatles! They sold memorabilia, music, and other collectibles.
Soooo much fresh fruit.
Frida Kahlo Museum
Anyone who is familiar with Mexican art knows the name Frida Kahlo. The famous painter (1907-1954) spent most of her life in Mexico City in a house that is now the Frida Kahlo Museum. She grew up here, lived here with her husband Diego Rivera, and died here.
The museum features her work and the work of others. Many of its rooms have been preserved to show how she and her husband lived.
A word to the wise: Get here early if you plan on visiting. The line gets very long very fast. If your layover lasts until mid-day, you can visit the Kahlo Museum when it opens at 9 am and still have time to make it to the airport.
Parque Mexico is one of the biggest green spaces in the city. It has duck ponds, an outdoor exercise gym, a dog park, and a big open plaza where we watched dozens of kids playing soccer.
Nearby was Plaza Popocatepetl, another green space smaller and closer to where I stayed.
You can stroll around both of these parks at any hour. Just exercise normal big-city safety precautions if you decide to go out late at night. Keep an eye on your surroundings.
More Mexico City Photos From Around the City
If your layover extends into the next day, you have some options to explore more daytime attractions. Below, see a random collection of some of the photos I took on my first overnight layover in Mexico City, a very short visit that only lasted 12 hours.
Mexico City was extremely modern. Every park had composting bins, and even Burger King (I always visit foreign fast food joints out of curiosity, don’t judge) had recycling bins. Bike sharing pods were everywhere, and the Mexico City subway is extensive with several different lines across the city.
I wasn’t expecting to see a mural of someone like Mumia Abu-Jamal in Mexico City, but there it was.
I like how the crosswalk dudes wore hats and walked dogs.
This guy played music at an intersection using one of those old-timey carnival instruments, the harmonipan!
Have you ever spent an overnight layover in Mexico City? How did you spend your time?