Mexico City has it all – an absorbing culture, an intriguing history, striking architecture, charm by the taco load and an endless selection of cafes, restaurants and bars to suit any vibe, oh and its uncomprehendingly huge.
You’ll leave with a list longer than when you arrive just because of the sheer amount of places to eat, ruins to discover and neighbourhoods to wander.
This captivating capital city is best explored by individual district. Divide up your days and discover each barrio, enchilada joint or cerveceria at a time.
Everything listed in this post is linked on my Mexico City google maps guide click here to save it and follow along.
1. CENTRO HISTORICO
Known as the beating heart of Mexico City, the Historic Centre, confusingly located in the North East of the city, is a busy tourist hotspot. Stunning cathedrals and world famous buildings reside in this Downtown area of Mexico City. It’s a great neighbourhood to start with as it’s the perfect balance of sight seeing, culture, local food, and good bars. Packed with history lies the Zócalo square which is the largest plaza in Latin America. Adjacent to it lies Aztec ruins which were built upon by the Spaniards who begun to create modern day Mexico City.
The zone is large and spans 9 square kilometres so having a route to meander through the Centro stopping off for coffee, market shopping, rooftop cocktails whilst taking in the sights is ideal.
Farmacia Internacional. An old pharmacy turned hipster breakfast spot. Avocado on toast complimented by any plant based milk coffee you could ever imagine. Whilst this isn’t in the slightest bit Mexican inspired food, it’s a really good breakfast joint and worth a visit.
La Ciudadela is a traditional Mexican market and great for picking up souvenirs. The colourful stalls and vibrancy of the market will make you feel like you’ve absolutely landed in Mexico City. Wander through the labyrinth of stalls picking up trinkets to take home.
If you find yourself with a belly rumble in Centro, Tacos de Canasta “los especiales” is definitely a good place to start. Tacos de Canasta which translates as “basket tacos” are street style tacos and they get their name from the fact they’re cooked at home and carried in a basket to the streets to be sold. The Los Especiales street stall became so popular with lengthly queues for their famous tacos de canasta that they eventually opened up a permanent residency downtown. Despite their success, the price has never increased and you can still expect to pay 5 pesos a taco (roughly 20p). These basket tacos are traditionally pork – chicharron – however you can opt for refried beans or even mashed potato. Guac is free!, ill say that again, GUAC IS FREE (unlike Chipotle). Help yourself from a tub on the countertop and prepare yourself for a local, cheap eat that you won’t regret.
Once satisfied with tacos (i’d suggest 3 would suffice) wander through the streets taking in the beautiful buildings, in particular Palacio de Bellas Artes. The culture and events hub of the city is a breathtaking building and the best view is appreciated from Sears department store from the 8th floor cafe. You can also check out Torre Latinoamerica next door. It’s the highest tower in Latin America, views are spectacular and it’s free to go up.
Also if you’re in this area the metro station entrance next to Bellas Artes is actually a Parisian Metro. A gift from Paris to Mexico and it is identical to Parisian metro entrances.
Head down to the Zócalo Square to appreciate the juxtaposition of grand Spanish architecture next to preserved ancient Aztec ruins. The square has so much history and is also the opening scene of Spectre (for those James Bond fans amongst us).
Grab a cocktail at Downtown rooftop bar. This place is a very cool hostel with a chic rooftop bar. Drinks are good and not absurdly expensive for location and setting. Order the mezcal chilli and rosemary cocktail if you fancy a citrus and ever so slightly savoury Mexican drink.
If you really want to try out something rogue on your first night in Mexico City attend a Lucha Libre wrestling match. Hosted at Arena Mexico in El Centro this is a hilarious spectacle of performance art. It is a complete farce but also a fun evening so grab a beer and for less than £10 you can watch these spandex clad wrestlers compete for glory in this dramatic sporting event. Pre buy your tickets at the venue to avoid the risk of missing out on these frequently sold out events.
2. ROMA / CONDESA
Stylish and eclectic, Roma and Condesa are exactly where you want to plant your roots when you come to Mexico City. Street art spans the walls of the these bohemian neighbourhoods, rooftop bars serve up unique gins and craft beers, and cute coffee shops spilling out onto the street are the perfect spots to shoot the breeze. Following the devastating 1985 earthquake in Mexico City both areas have experienced a rebirth of bars, cafes, galleries and all round gentrification. Refillable, sustainable stores adjacent to second hand book shops and independent designer boutiques line the quiet leafy streets of these boroughs.
The many public park spaces filled with greenery make the area feel open and fresher. The area feels safe. Just wandering around the area it is clear to see why it’s one of Mexico City’s coolest neighbourhoods.
Mercado Roma is home to plenty of food spots here and a hidden rooftop bar feels like a secret garden in the city. Grab your food and head up to the rooftop.
This famous churrería has plenty spots around town. Hot and fresh churros laced in sweet cinnamon sugar make a perfect afternoon sweet treat in the Mexican heat. At the Roma outlet you can order the churros as ice cream sandwiches and don’t forget to order a chocolate dipping sauce to go with.
Gin Gin – amazing g&ts however pricey for CDMX. £10 a cocktail can pay for a whole group meal in some local taquerías. However, this hip spot is worth the visit. Stunning decor and incredible cocktails (all gin based) Order the Gin Mare with lemon oil and rosemary.
Next door is El Faraon taqueria which serves up the ever so popular pastor tacos. These succulently marinated pork tacos was brought to Mexico by Lebanese immigrants many years ago and is prepared the same way shawarma is.
For the best pastor tacos in Mexico City head to Taqueria Los Pericos. The tiny tacos will set you back 5 pesos each (20p) and are simple, authentic and flavoursome. Tender pork topped with pineapple, coriander and white onion goes very nicely with a beer or two. Just round the corner from here is another truly authentic Mexican meal that shouldn’t go amiss (try a progressive dinner in one evening like we did). El Rey de las Ahogadas serves up arguably the city’s best flautas. Tortillas stuffed with meat or cheese, rolled up like cigars, deep fried and served with a tangy green sauce. Both the restaurants aren’t in any of the four neighbourhoods listed on here, yet they deserve a mention for being delicious and cheap.
Once a quiet village, the quaint cobbled streets and vibrantly painted buildings of Coyoacan now make up one of Mexico City’s 16 boroughs. Most famously known for Museo de Frida Kahlo – her cobalt blue painted home, this place is so much more than Mexico City’s most popular museum. Filled with art, history, weekend flea markets, great restaurants and lively bars. It’s almost feels completely detached from the other neighbourhoods and has it’s on unique vibe.
Coffee – Café Negro. Their coffee is as good as their decor and this place is next level. The homemade macadamia nut milk is creamy and rich and their mochas have a hint of cinnamon.
Dine at Alverre for gooey, cheesy Enchiladas Suisas. These chicken stuffed tortillas are drenched in a zingy green sauce and topped with a criminal amount of melted cheese.
For somewhere with a little more atmosphere head to Cantina La Coyoacana. This authentic Mexican restaurant with a live mariachi band. So order tacos and sip on mezcal whilst listening to the wonderful live music right at your table. The best seats in the house are in the walled courtyard outside. It’s worth the wait for a table.
Coyoacan’s most famous residency is the bright blue Casa on Calle Londres, once home to Frida Kahlo. La Casa Azul gives us access into a small part of Frida’s universe where she experienced love and so much pain and expressed it all through her art.
Many of her original artworks hang on the walls of the home, including her Viva La vida painting of the watermelons which is known to be her last artwork before she died. The title of this painting is a tribute to life. The Blue House is Coyoacan’s most popular tourist attraction and at £10 pp entry it is also the most expensive entrance fee in Mexico City. You can expect to wait around an hour in line if you don’t pre buy tickets, however it is so worth it. The house is perfectly preserved from when Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera resided here.
A short drive form Coyoacan is the Sábado Mercado San Angel. On Saturdays this artisan market is overflowing with creativity and originality from local artists selling their artwork, tequila, clothing, pottery and jewellery.
Definitely worth a visit and not far from Diego Rivera’s house (now museum). Next door is the San Angel Inn, an elegant converted monastery with a stunning courtyard is the perfect place for a special lunch. They serve great margaritas if you are just stopping by for a drink.
4. POLANCO / PARQUE CHAPULTEPEC
The upscale neighbourhood of Polanco is filled with prestigious shopping outlets, luxury beauty salons, elegant restaurants and impressive museums that house artwork from some of the world’s most renowned painters.
In Polanquito grab brunch at Ojo de Agua. The serene gardens surround this health food shop and cafe. A yoga studio is located upstairs and whilst stretching might not be on the cards that day, ordering their zingy and delicious chilaquiles dish with a fresh juice is definitely something you shouldn’t pass by.
Upmarket eateries and bars line the streets of the Polanco neighbourhood. Whilst it wasn’t on our agenda to dine in places like this ENO! Restaurant by chef Enrique Olvera is a popular haunt. His most famous restaurant, Pujol, currently ranks at 13th in the world of best restaurants.
For the best almond milk flat white you’ll have in Mexico City head to Cucurucho Coffee shop. Beans sourced from all over Mexico are roasted in their tiny coffee shop, you can even pick up a bag or two to take home with you.
Wandering through Polanquito will take you out to Parque Chapultepec. Twice the size of New York’s central park and also known as “the lungs of the city”. This huge spans of greenery is impossible to cover, but there are many activities within the park that are worth doing. Hire a pedalo boat and enjoy an afternoon on the lake. At certain times of year an open air cinema is set up, giving you a front row seat to the big screen from the comfort of your own private pedalo boat.
Within the park grounds resides the Castillo de Chapultepec. Dominating the landscape a top of the hill this castle is mesmerising. Plenty of La Revolución history hangs on the walls of the castle and it’s worth a visit for a Mexican education as well as the panoramic views.
The Teotihuacán pyramids are an absolute must visit. 25 miles north of Mexico City these stunning pyramids dominate the vast landscape. An hour out of the city, yet thousands of years back in time tell a prominent story of the people that once lived on these lands. Believed to have been a busy city, all that remains are the two monumental pyramids and ruins from a once thriving town. It is unknown who built them, yet it is believed they were here 1000 years before they were discovered by the Aztecs. The tourist site gets very busy on weekends, so best explored midweek or by sunrise hot air balloon if your budget allows.
Transport and Safety:
Traffic is terrible in the city so once you pick a location to explore, stick with it. We had four days and tackled a neighbourhood a day. Each different from the next and all have their very own special charm and flair.
Mexico City feels safe. Like any large city there will be unsafe neighbourhoods but overall the places we visited were perfectly fine.
Ubers are cheap and the easiest way to book transport especially if the language barrier is a problem. The metro is reliable, however make sure you keep your belongings safe and if travelling in a female group then get in the female only carriages. It costs 5 pesos per journey and you can buy individual tickets at at the station with cash.