Be ready to hit the ground running; there’s a wealth of things to do during a stay in Mexico City, one of the world’s largest cities, home to some 23 million people. The city is a fascinating mix of modern culture and ancient heritage with world-class museums, a vibrant art scene and exciting restaurants. We traveled to Mexico City, also referred to as the DF (Federal District) or CDMX (Ciudad de Mexico) last year and combined our highlights with a friend’s recent trip. We ate, we saw and we can’t wait to return—put Mexico City to the top of your travel wish list.
Mexico City sits at an elevation of 7300 feet--before your trip get plenty of sleep and stay well hydrated to help you acclimate quicker upon your arrival.
There is no bad time, weather-wise, to visit Mexico City, though September is known as the rainiest month. Temperatures remain fairly stable throughout the year, with averages in the mid-50s to low 70s. Mornings and evenings are cool, so bring a sweater, but days can be quite warm—layering is the way to go.
Taxis from the airport are a reliable and easy way to get to your hotel. Upon entering the International Arrivals area, turn right and you’ll find multiple Taxi Kiosks from which you can purchase a fare for approximately 270 pesos; the Taxi Kiosk will direct you to the area at which to meet your taxi.
Read up on the city’s people and culture before you go with these fiction titles The Death of Artemio Cruz, Like Water for Chocolate, travelogue Down and Delirious in Mexico City or The Interior Circuit: A Mexico City Chronicle.
Rent a bike and join the locals on the Paseo de la Reforma, the city’s main thoroughfare that shuts down to traffic every Sunday morning.
Combine Mexico City with a trip to San Miguel de Allende, a short flight or a three to four hour drive. For what to do in San Miguel see our full itinerary here.
Be Aware: Before we went, everyone asked us if we were nervous, under the impression that Mexico City is dangerous, home to kidnappings and murders. Ignore preconceived perceptions—things have changed since the 90’s--we felt safe everywhere we went. As in any big city, it’s always smart to be alert and aware at all times. Leave expensive watches and jewelry at home and be discreet when using cameras and cell phones out in the streets. Obviously these are challenging political times, and only time will tell if Trump’s inflammatory speeches and plans to build a wall will cause ill will towards Americans. For now, friends just back from Mexico City said everywhere they went people were friendly, warm and welcoming. We can only hope that the special relationship between these two great countries continues.
Stay: If you're set on being in the center of everything--downtown choices include the recently renovated, luxurious Four Seasons or the chic Downtown Hotel, housed in a 17th century mansion that includes artisan shops and an atmospheric restaurant. But, in such a busy, noisy metropolis why not stay in tree lined Polanco, Condessa or Roma Norte, peaceful pockets of quiet within the bigger city. We’re partial to the boutique Los Alcobas, in the upscale and sophisticated Polanco neighborhood; home to designer boutiques and great restaurants. The staff was friendly and attentive and the room was fully equipped with everything we needed. In the heart of Condessa, Mexico City’s equivalent of Greenwich Village or Williamsburg, book a room at artsy, trendy Condessa DF, or for a more unique stay at The Red Tree House, a cross between a B&B and a small hotel. We checked in for one night, participated in the nightly complimentary happy hour, where after a few drinks our group wound up going out to dinner together. What a smart way to bring guests together.
Sight See: There is a lot to see, so don’t expect to cover it all in one visit. You could easily spend a day at the vast and extremely impressive Museo Nacional de Antropologia with its incredible Aztec and Mayan artifacts. The museum borders Chapultepec Park, one of the world’s unrivaled urban parks—a green expanse in the middle of the city with lakes, museums, the National Palace and a zoo. After your visit to the Anthropology museum make your way to Chapultepec Castle at the top of the park for sweeping views of the city.
Historic: Another afternoon, wander around the Centro Historico, the ten-acre center of the city. Here you’ll find the Catedral Metropolitana, the Templo Mayor and the Palacio Nacional, home to Diego Rivera’s famous “Epic of the Mexican People” mural. People watch at the lively Zocalo, one of the largest public squares in the world and the heart of the capital since the time of the Aztecs. Don’t miss a stop at the Palacio de Bellas Artes and San Ildefonso Museum.
Frida Fans: Before your trip, microwave some popcorn and watch Frida, the Hollywood drama that brings to the screen the life of renowned Mexican artist Frida Kahlo, starring Salma Hayek. A short uber ride from downtown will bring you to the neighborhood of Coyoacan and Casa Azul, the house where Frida Kahlo lived her entire life-- from childhood and throughout her stormy marriage to fellow artist Diego Rivera. Upon her death, Rivera turned it into a museum honoring her life and work.
Discover: Visit the home and former studio of Mexico’s modernist architect Luis Barragan, often compared to Frank Lolyd Wright. Known for his emphasis on minimal form and texture, and the play between color, light, and shadow. Barragan often referred to himself as a landscape architect, evident in his attention to the exterior and surroundings of a building as well as in the interior.
Excursion: Hire one of the colorful boats called trajineras and cruise down the canals at Xochimilco serenaded by mariachi bands. Wander the narrow aisles of the Mercado Xochimilco, the bustling, sprawling market that lines the city’s canals. Also in Xochimilco, the world’s largest and most significant collection of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera works are at the Dolores Olmedo Museum. Allow time to explore the beautiful grounds and gardens, abundant with peacocks and hairless Xoloiztcuintle dogs.
Explore: Interested in archaeology and indigenous history, visit the Pyramids at Teotihuacan, approximately 30 some miles northeast of Mexico City. Two of the site's premier structures, the Temple of Quetzalcoatl and the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon, have been designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Climb the nearly 250 steps of the Pyramid of the Sun for a full appreciation of these ancient structures and the civilization that built them.
Art Stop: Billionaire, Carlos Slim built the aluminum-tiled, shimmering Soumaya Museum in memory of his wife, Helú-- a modern day Taj Mahal. Though the architect is striking at Soumaya, the contemporary art collection is far more interesting at the Jumex Museum across the street.
Foodies: Book a street food tour with Eat Mexico, and sample some of Mexico’s best bites the way the locals do it, grazing at family stands in the Cuauhtémoc and Zona Rosa downtown business district. Our group soon bonded over fresh tamales, squash blossoms burritos and tacos with carnitas. Add on a stop at the San Juan Market, where if you’re brave you can sample ants, crickets and grasshoppers. Market lovers can’t miss La Merced, Mexico’s largest retail market, a massive labyrinthine of smells, aromas and scents and of course delicious food—one of the world’s great food markets. Eat Mexico will steer you to all the best vendors. Take a cooking class with Graciela Montaño so you can recreate some of your favorite dishes once your back at home.
Lunch Time: For Mexico City’s freshest fish and seafood, a meal at Contramar is a must. Dine in the beautiful courtyard at Azul Historico oozing atmosphere, and leave some time to browse the upstairs shops after lunch, part of the Downtown Mexico complex mentioned above. You must have a margarita, some say the city’s best, in the lovely garden of the San Angel Inn. Looking for a traditional Mexican meal head to La Hacienda de Los Morales in Polanco.
Dinner: Considered one of the best restaurants in the world, book well in advance to dine at Pujol from chef Enrique Olvera, Mexico’s most famous and acclaimed chef. Representing Mexico City's bold new culinary scene, head to casual Maximo Bistrot from owner/chef Eduardo García. Garcia spent years at Pujol, but his fascinating story began decades early as a childhood migrant worker in the U.S. and eventual deportee. Read his story, ever so timely now, in this recent NY Times article. Other top picks include: Biko, Quintonil and Rosetta or its more casual sibling Lardo.
Friday Night Lights: There’s nothing quite like a Friday night at the Arena México and the spectacle of Lucha Libre, Mexico’s version of professional wrestling. Masked wrestlers entertain the crowd with their dramatic personas and acrobatic moves in the ring. Purchase a mask from one of the vendors outside so you can join in the fun and root for your “new” favorite fighter.