Ready and Roam / Mexico City
Best time to GO: November- March. It's warmest in April and May, but the average temp. year-round never dips below 70 degrees F.
The largest Spanish speaking city in the world is chock full of amazing architecture, gastronomy and warmth, but can easily be broken up into manageable exploration in just a few days. It is affordable to fly to Mexico City from "the states," hovering around $300 USD from many US cities. You may want to consider tacking on time, on either side of your trip to visit resorts on the coast. This time I flew on to Huatulco — read the full post here. Densely populated Mexico City is second only to Sao Paulo, Brazil when ranked as the largest city in Latin America. This is important to understand when you look at a map and expect many places to be walk-able, but quickly realize it can take 45 minutes or more to go 9 miles. The metro is pretty efficient when traveling long distances, but avoid rush hour when it gets crowded, hot and slow. The best way to get around CDMX (Ciudad de Mexico) is in an uber. They are extremely clean, always available and ridiculously cheap. Most rides are 1-4$ and the highest fare I paid was $12 to the airport.
RTip: If you are trying to save on airfare and connecting through Mexico City to anywhere on the coast, it’s easiest to arrive and depart from the same terminal. There is a shuttle train between terminals, but it adds a decent walk plus about 30 minutes. Terminal two serves Delta and AeroMexico. Terminal one serves United, American, Volaris (the JetBlue of MX), InterJet (think Frontier) and VivaAerobus (an extreme discounter like Spirit).
Although there were several Mexican and Latin American cities listed among the 50 most violent in the world last year, Mexico City (also known as DF or district federal) was not on the list. Nor was it included in the new state department travel advisory put out in mid January 2018. Additionally, Nationmaster, puts the total crime rate and % of drug use, much higher in the US than in Mexico. For certain there are safe and unsafe areas of Mexico City, but overall if you are aware of your surroundings and stick to the busier streets, even carrying a camera doesn't put you at at higher risk of crime. No list should entirely influence your travel plans, but instead serve as a reminder to travel safe.
The location and design of this small boutique property is unbeatable. The massive doors of the palace complex lead out onto the cobbled streets and pedestrian mall, only steps from the Zocalo (the center of CDMX). Inside, the 2nd floor shops are beautifully curated, the coffee is strong and the focal point restaurant, Azul Histórico is cozy and authentic. The rooftop pool, patio and bar are a spectacular scenic escape. I'd suggest an upgrade to a suite with an exterior balcony so you can people watch from above. The sound proof doors are surprisingly effective, there is a huge bench for laying out all your things and a bathroom the size of an apartment. My only complaint would be that it's a bit poorly lit indoors at night.
If you want to be on the Zocalo, this historic treasure is the best choice. The stained glass ceiling is impressive, and the view from the restaurant is the best you can get. While I will say that the lobby can feel a bit stuffy and dark, over the years they've kept the rooms updated, the service impeccable, and the prices affordable. We've stayed in over 10 different properties around the city and this hotel is consistently considered and referred.
Zocalo Central / website
If the Gran Hotel has an approachable fancifulness to it and The Downtown has a modern historical edge, then the cozy, clean, luxury found at Zocalo Central is really quite unique. Each of the 105 guest rooms has undergone a recent update and returning here at the end of a busy day feels the most like home. The room upgrade to be on the same side as the Zocalo is worth the price, and if you can secure a corner suite, even better. The view (not the food) from the rooftop restaurant rivals that of the Gran Hotel.
As with any major metropolitan city, CDMX can be broken into neighborhoods, 16 to be exact. Most visitors keep to these neighborhoods; the historic El Centro, the low-key Condesa, the foodie favorite Roma district, suburban San Angel, fancy Polanco, and our favorite neighborhood of all the Coyoacán. Each with individual appeal, here is where to start.
Wander the Zocalo and Templo Mayor
All roads lead to the Plaza De Constitucion so you can't miss the center of Mexico city, and according Aztec beliefs the center of the universe. It's quite impressive in it's size and historical significance. If you have kids, Khan Academy provides a great explanation of the area's history. The adjacent Palacio Nacional and the Metropolitan Cathedral are spectacular landmarks, both easily enjoyed without entry. However the Templo Mayor archeological site is best seen from within. For less than $5 you can walk through the layers of ruins and visit the museum. If you don't want a guided tour, you can explore in around the site in about an hour and many of the signs are in English.
RTip: If you have time, adventure further down Av. 5 de Mayo to the Palacio de Bellas Artes and take in even more of Mexico City's grande architecture.
With over 150 museums in Mexico city it's hard to narrow in on those worthy of a visit. The National Museum of Anthropology is the largest and most visited museum in Mexico City and comes highly recommended by locals as well. We visited the (MODO) Museo Del Objecto exclusively for it's gift shop, but they do rotate in a pretty eclectic variety of unique artifacts. On my most recent trip to Mexico City, I decided to focus in on the tragic Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo, her life, her work, and the political and cultural issues of her time. It's important to know that there is a difference between the Museo Frida Kahlo and The Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. The ladder, with it's visually striking exterior is far less interesting and features the works of Diego Rivera permanently. The Frida Kahlo museum is situated inside her childhood home, and the place of her death. It's the perfect glimpse into her life and work, and you can be in and out in under 90 minutes. Buy tickets online and pay up for the audio tour on arrival. Because of Frida Kahlo's affection for Marxist leader Leon Trotsky and his prominence in her story, it's worth venturing a few blocks north to the Museo Casa De Leon Trotsky to learn more about his politics and fascinating life. If you'd prefer you can see this whole area on a bike with Mexico Bike Tours.
RTip: Make a stop at the nearby Laposse Candy for the individually wrapped Mexican hard candies with a soft center or chocolate coating. Favorite flavors include annis, raspberry and leche.
Visit the Palacio Nacional
This working government building houses the federal treasury, national archives and the presidential offices. An hour and a half is plenty of time to appreciate Diego Rivera's panoramic murals depicting Mexican history, the Grand Courtyard and the Spanish colonial architecture. There is very little information online about where to enter the expansive building. The entrance to see the murals is on the left hand side street if you are looking at the main balcony. It is there you'll find a queue and a place to leave bulky items that you are not allowed to carry inside. Be prepared to leave behind your ID on entry.
Head out to the the ancient Teotihuacan city and pyramids
You do not need a group tour to to spend a lovely day in Teotihuacan. This Unesco world heritage site is only 90 minutes outside the Zolcalo. The best way to get to this ancient city is by hired cab or public bus. In this case, an uber is not an option because it would be difficult to secure one on the return. If you want a tour guide there are several licensed professionals near the entrance. For an English tour you should expect to pay around $40, but it's Mexico so everything is negotiable. Leave early so that you can get there before the mass of buses arrive around 9am. Make sure you are wearing comfy shoes and sunscreen. The first thing you should do is climb the 248 steps to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun in the heart of the city, it's the 3rd largest pyramid in the world. In the warmest part of the day, try to get into the tunnels of the pyramid next to the Moons. The best place to eat is inside a cave at La Gruta, where sometimes they showcase regional dance. Lots of junk souvenirs are sold onsite, most of them not at all related to the Teotihuacan culture, so be skeptical.
RTip: The bathroom is located at the entrance and is not well-stocked with toilet paper. I suggest a package of travel Kleenex just in case.
I don't usually recommend tours of any kind, but this this is the type of thing that's best done with a guide. There are a couple great places to start if you are looking for a foodie tour of Mexico city, because yes the food is incredible. We suggest checking out Sabores Mexico or, Style Walk Mexico's San Jan Market Tour
When shopping in the San Angel neighborhood, the best place to start is in area directly surrounding the Plaza Tenanitla, There are a number of notable boutiques including, Sarah Humui Textiles where you can find amazing, handmade decorative housewares, and Dia De Muertos which is set up like a gallery co-op of truly unique and colorful Mexican goods. If you're there on Saturday you can add the Bazar del Sabado (below) to your list.
El Bazaar Sabado / website
Of all the weekend, flea and antiques markets in Mexico City, this is our favorite. We love the juxtaposition of neighborhood boutiques that surround the colorful handicrafts, and the incredible variety of goods for purchase inside this historic 18 century home. You can buy ceramics, jewelry, textiles, paper goods and food. The artisans featured here and on the surrounding streets are worth a visit, even if you only walk away with one treasure. Be sure to keep a look out for our current favorite, Entredos and their gorgeous embroidered bags and jackets.
Rtip: Enjoy some time on the veranda at Saks in San Angel where the food is delicious, and there is a casual elegance to the whole experience. We suggest the mushroom omelette, the Saks salad or any soup that sounds good. Even a glass of wine is worth stopping for.
Colorindio / firstname.lastname@example.org
Also in San Angel, it's worth seeking out Colorindio. These amazing textiles are available online but inventory is limited and it's expensive to ship. If you are visiting Mexico City you can coordinate access to their studio for some personalized shopping. The fabrics are woven laboriously on a back strap or treddle loom by communities of artisans living in the Southern Mexican states of Chiapas and Oaxaca adjacent to Guatamala. The showroom is inside the longtime residence of famed artist and architect Juan O´Gorman, most notably credited with executing the stone mosaic at UNAM library, as well as the over-instagram'ed house and studio of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Try not to swoon, try not to splurge. By email appointment only.
RTip: Save on shipping and bring an extra bag to tote back all the exclusive hand-made pillow cases, blankets and towels you can carry.
Roma Quince / Medellín 67, Roma Nte
Moving on to the Roma Norte neighborhood where there are a number of hidden boutiques that absolutely warrant a visit during your trip. Roma Quince is a wonderful first choice by design. The building houses both a restaurant, Carlota y Emilia and a concept store. Downstairs you can enjoy a full brunch or a glass of wine in the garden, and then head upstairs to browse the multiple Mexican clothing lines and housewares. Our favorites include the t-shirts at Acapella and the laptop cases and blankets at Bindilou Home. Open 8-7 daily, and even later on Friday and Saturday.
180degree Shop / website
Another concept store in Roma Norte, 180 degree shop is filled with unique Mexican brands, this shop celebrates the cultural heritage of Mexico, but with so much style. Many of the items for sale they've collaborated to design, make and promote, including some incredible ponchos. Unique and various clothing and accessories fill the cluttered space of this higher price point retailer.
Maka Mexico / website
If your plans keep you in the historic district (around the Zocalo), this is a great spot to check out. I'm sort of a purse vs. shoes kinda gal so these unique "boslas" with embroidery detail, get me really excited. The Peonia bag is gorgeous and respectably priced.
Bazar Talento Mexicano / website
This exhibit space near the Zocalo, is like a co-op for great Mexican finds. They have quite an assortment of body care products, artifacts, jewelry, chocolate, housewares, etc ,and all in one place. Similarly to the curated boutiques on the second floor of the Downtown hotel building, this the perfect spot to seek out a unique and authentic gift.
El Cardenal / website
We visited the location in the San Angel neighborhood, and although the entrance and valet give the impression of an ostentatious restaurant chain, this place is welcoming, the staff is genuine and the food is both affordable and tasty.
RTip: Start here and then spend the day wandering the cobblestone streets, hidden boutiques and Saturday market.
Huset / website
This is my "new favorite" in Coyoacan, and probably all of Mexico city actually. The attentive service was exceptional, the food was totally delicious, and that patio, wow that patio! I wanted to order everything on the menu but settled for the house pizza, the soup and the burrata appetizer. House-made cocktails are great, but the ice box that's built into many of the tables just beckons for a bottle of wine.
Mercado Roma / website
If San Angel is home to our favorite artisan market, then Roma Norte has the food market of our dreams. In fact I even considered featuring it in our Shop section because of all the food related items you can take away with you. Mercado Roma touts a rooftop beer garden, over 60 food vendors, and communal tables in the back to enjoy a bite or just rest your belly. Our friends at Eating The Globe do a great job of walking you through exactly what to eat on your adventure here. I second her recommendation to have lamb shawarma at Arbanus Cocina Arabe
Tostadas Coyoacán / website
If you're big on market and street food, this is the best Mexico city has to offer. Located inside the large public Mercado Coyoacán, the quality of ingredients, authentic recipes and incredible salsas at Tostadas Coyoacán, are worth a special visit. Crispy corn tortillas topped with all kinds of homemade options, we highly recommend Picadillo (minced meat with a touch of poblano pepper and vegetables) and cochinita (pork with adobo like sauce). Oh and fresh mint leaves and lime water. You really can't go wrong.
Café de Tacuba / website
Music and food are so central to the Mexican culture, and this place is the epitome of both. You dine in what feels like a concert hall surrounded by an incredible group of musicians. Waitresses adorned in 1900's hair bows, zip around collectively serving authentic Mexican cuisine to guests, mostly locals, here to celebrate an event or enjoy a weekly meal together. This restaurant is so steeped with history it's like dining in a museum. It was here that I fell in love with Mariachi and Chile Relleno equally. Save room for carrot cake and a Cafe Lechero," hot milk poured over coffee extract, yum!
RTip: Make a reservation and put it on your list every time you are in Mexico City.
Sartoria / website
If you are looking for a critically acclaimed, chef-run restaurant with artful but tasty food, Sartoria is a wonderful choice. The plates are decently portioned, the pasta is handmade and the eatery has an upscale minimalist feel. Located in Colonia Roma, you'll need a reservation for dinner, but that's because it's good, not because it's getting unnecessary press.
RTip: Grab a drink before dinner at nearby Puebla 109
Librería Porrúa / website
Overlooking the Templo Mayor, Palacio Nacional and the Northeast side of the Zocalo, this is a fabulous spot to enjoy a mixed drink and the view. The prices are shockingly affordable for such an amazing location. It's above a bookstore library, and worth waiting for a table outside during sundown.
Centenario 107 / website
Craft beer is all the rage in Mexico City right now and Centenario is a great spot to stop in for a sampling. Located up the stairs just inside the gate, you may expect they aren't open at first, but rest assured they serve breakfast through desert everyday, and beer any time. The staff is both friendly and knowledgeable, speak English and are happy to make recommendations.
La Europea / website
Yes this is a liquor store but if you are interested in buying any Mezcal to enjoy from your hotel balcony, this is the best place to get it. The welcome shot of tequila at The Downtown was so smooth we had to seek it out here and take some home. If you are interested, we recommend, Maestro Dobel.
Cafe Negro / contact
Dare I say this is the best place to grab a cup of black coffee in Mexico City? Certainly it's the best in Coyoacán. Cafe Negro is the perfect spot to start your day before Frida Khalo, and among the best choices presented by Sprudge, a dedicated coffee lovers "go to" resource for this kind of thing. Check them out.
The essentials include a layer that matches everything, a utility tote for shopping, a comfortable pair of shoes and an easy way to discretely carry your passport without having to wear a money belt. Finally, whenever I expect to do a lot of shopping, I always pack this "go to" compact duffel from Columbia that converts into a durable second checked bag.
We'd make sure that part of our stay is always over the weekend. There is a lot of action on Satudays and Sundays across the board in Mexico City.
Click to see everywhere we explored in My Maps