Mexico is easily one of my favorite countries on the planet. With one of the coolest cultures I have ever gotten to experience and some of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, this country deserves to be on everyone’s bucket list. After living there for over a year and visiting all of the most popular places in the country, I’ve gotten a pretty good feel for the best places in Mexico. Here is my list of the 5 best cities to visit in Mexico!
Oaxaca is possibly the least internationally known city on this list, but that doesn’t detract one bit from its glory. Oaxaca is the capital of the state of Oaxaca, which is located in south-central Mexico. Oaxaca is known for its intense colonial charm blended with its very strong indigenous culture that still lives on today.
While many cities have beautiful colonial architecture and many cities have large indigenous populations, no city carries a better blend than Oaxaca.
Oaxaca is known for many things, but there are two that stick out the most to me. Firstly, Oaxaca is one of the best places to celebrate Day of the Dead. This is one of the biggest holidays in Mexico, and joining in the celebrations is one of the coolest cultural experiences that you can have in Mexico. This takes place typically from October 30 to November 2, but dates vary depending on the city or town that you are in.
Secondly, Oaxaca is known for its Mezcal! For anyone who doesn’t know, Mezcal is very similar to Tequila but is distinctly different. It is, in many ways, the cousin of tequila much like Bourbon and Rye whiskeys. Mezcal is becoming very popular on an international level, and Oaxaca is one of the best places in Mexico to try it out.
At a traditional Mezcaleria, they will serve some delicious garnishes alongside your mezcal, including various kinds of salt. Just be prepared, as two of the most popular salts are made of worms and crickets! Oaxaca is filled with endless things to do and cultural activities to explore, putting it on this list of the 5 best cities to visit in Mexico at number 5.
If you want a very metropolitan vibe and aren’t looking for as much authentic Mexican culture, head to Tijuana. Tijuana is located right across the border with California, just 30 minutes south of San Diego. I don’t mean to say that Tijuana lacks Mexican culture, as it definitely does not. It’s just that it isn’t very representative of the rest of Mexico, and it certainly is very different from the other four cities on this list.
While it comes in at fourth on our list of the 5 best cities to visit in Mexico, Tijuana has gained a pretty infamous reputation recently for its crime and gang activity. I’m not going to lie to you; this is true. However, what I will say is that the rumors of violence are extremely overblown.
I wrote about this extensively in my post on the most dangerous places in Mexico, but basically, the violence very rarely affects anyone not involved in criminal activity. Tijuana is often cited as one of the most dangerous cities in the world, but in reality, it felt just as safe as anywhere else we visited in Mexico and equally safe to major cities in the United States.
Tijuana is most famous for a few things. There are several big museums, an incredible restaurant scene, a decent beachfront, and it’s the biggest craft beer city in Mexico by a mile. Not to mention, it is located just an hour or two away from Valle de Guadalupe, which is Mexico’s premier wine country and is absolutely worth a visit for any wine lover.
Many of the wines are truly top-tier on a global level. For people curious about Valle de Guadalupe, be sure to check out my Valle de Guadalupe travel guide! For everyone else that wants more information about Tijuana, be sure to check out my Tijuana travel guide.
When I think of Guadalajara, I think of Mexico’s version of Los Angeles. Now, don’t get me wrong; Guadalajara is very different from Los Angeles. But I think they’re both similar in a lot of ways, too! For starters, they are both the second biggest city in their respective country and are both considered to be cultural capitals.
When people want to visit a big city in the United States, Los Angeles is typically the second place they think of. In Mexico, Guadalajara is the exact same way. Now, why would you want to visit Guadalajara?
There are endless reasons, honestly. We visited Guadalajara towards the end of our time living in Mexico, and it very quickly became one of our favorite cities in the entire country. That’s why it’s ranked as number three on our list of the 5 best cities to visit in Mexico, after all!
The city is sprawling with a population of over five million people in the urban center, which is roughly the same as L.A., and the food scene and cultural significance of the city are incredible. Put it this way; Guadalajara is the home of sombreros, tequila, and mariachi music. I’d call that pretty culturally significant!
On a visit to Guadalajara, there are several things you need to do. I can’t possibly squeeze them all into this post, and I recommend checking out my Guadalajara Travel Guide for more information.
There are three things that I highly recommend doing even if you only have a couple of days visiting. Firstly, visit Mercado San Juan, which is the biggest enclosed market in all of Mexico. Here you can find everything, from food, to technology, to clothes, to counterfeit goods.
Secondly, head south to Lake Chapala, which is the biggest lake in Mexico and one of the biggest in the Americas. The towns along the shore are lovely and walking along the boardwalks is very peaceful and relaxing.
Finally, take a trip out to the town of Tequila, which is the birthplace of the liquor with the same name. Located just about 45 minutes west of Guadalajara, the town of Tequila is truly a constant party and you shouldn’t miss it. If this sounds intriguing, be sure to check out my post on taking a day trip from Guadalajara to Tequila.
2. Mexico City
Any list of the best cities to visit in Mexico has to include Mexico City. This giant bustling metropolis is one of the biggest cities in the Americas and is filled with endless things to do. With over 24 million residents, Mexico City makes New York City seem small. Being the capital of the country and also near the geographic center, Mexico City has linked the Mexican population for centuries.
On any visit to Mexico City, you will never run out of things to do. From exploring the historic center and the zocalo to grabbing a bite to eat in the upscale neighborhoods of Condesa and Roma, to visiting the nearby green spaces and historic sites like the Pyramids at Teotihuacan, you can satisfy any type of tourist desire.
While it’s impossible to see all of Mexico City on any trip, Mexico’s capital is also surrounded by a bunch of incredible other places to see. In fact, one of the best places to go on a day trip from Mexico City is the number one destination on this list of the best cities to visit in Mexico!
If you do have the spare time or the desire to get out of the busy capital for a day to explore another one of Mexico’s incredible places, be sure to check out my post on the five best day trips from Mexico City.
The top city on our list of the 5 best cities to visit in Mexico is Puebla, and it is one that is very near and dear to my heart. It is where I lived for a year and a half while I got my master’s degree! Puebla is one of the most beautiful places in all of Mexico, and I loved every part of the city for the duration of my time there.
From beautiful cobblestone streets and colonial architecture to stunning building colors that are uniquely Mexican, Puebla is an incredible city no matter how you look at it.
As someone who loves to eat, and especially loves Mexican food, Puebla was paradise. The food in Puebla is widely regarded as the best food in all of Mexico, or at least second best. Things like cemitas al pastor make my mouth water all the way from the United States!
If you want more information about Puebla, including the best foods to eat and things to do as well as logistics for planning your trip, be sure to read my Puebla travel guide. It will fill you in on all that you need to know!
Thanks for reading my post on the top 5 best cities to visit in Mexico. Hopefully, you have an incredible time visiting these amazing destinations. If you decide to go, let us know! If you have any questions or thoughts, drop a comment below.