Montezuma and Cortes, Frida and Diego, tacos and tasting menus: there are two sides to every aspect of Mexico City. The most vibrant cultural city south of the USA is the best foodie destination in Latin America and has more than 170 museums. Some still remember the mid-90s reputation though, when crime was high and the smog count was higher. The most recent setback came in the form of an earthquake that rattled the Spanish Colonial capital built on top of drained wetlands.
Like a lucha libre Mexican wrestler who keeps jumping back in the ring, however, the most populated metropolis in North America keeps shaking off its troubles and getting stronger in the process. Now the air and streets are cleaner, crime stats are dramatically lower, and more travelers seeking novelty land here each year. Amidst the clanging skyscraper construction, there’s an electric feeling in the air of a city on the move.
Despite heavy traffic here, you won’t spend much time in transit. That’s because the majority of this city’s attractions are close to the centre. Visit on a Sunday and you can explore some of them on a bicycle or take a traffic-free walk on the closed-off Paseo de la Reforma boulevard.
Morning: 9 a.m. – 12 p.m.
Enjoy a true Mexican breakfast of huevos rancheros or chiliquiles with pastries and hot chocolate at the legendary El Cardenal. The original is located in the historic center at Palma 23, but there are three other outlets also.
Take a taxi or Uber to Chapultapec Park and the impressive National Museum of Anthropology. Extensive exhibits are arranged by time period, from giant Olmec stone heads to Mayan and Aztec artifacts. Spend a couple hours here to do more than scratch the surface.
Walk through the shady park past street vendors to a city street. Hop another ride to the Coyoacán neighborhood for more modern history: the home of Frida Kahlo. Her best works are at the Dolores Olmedo museum on the edge of the city, but here you can see how she lived in “The Blue House.”
Afternoon: 12 p.m. – 5 p.m.
Stroll a few blocks to the Coyoacán center and get a taste of Oaxaca without traveling across the country. Have lunch at Los Danzantes, which has been on the main square for two decades.
It’s a straight shot to the historic centre on the #3 line of the metro, so pay a few pesos and ride with the locals to the huge Zócalo (Constitution Plaza) in front of the main cathedral. Take a tour there to the roof and bell towers, see Diego Rivera’s murals in the Palacio Nacional, or see what’s left of the original Mayildings in the open-air museum.
Recharge your batteries by having a drink with a view at Restaurante Bar Terraza, which overlooks the whole central plaza. It’s on the top floor of the Gran Hotel de la Ciuded de México, which has a restored Art Nouveau lobby from a century ago.
Evening: 5 p.m. – 12 a.m.
Where you go at night will depend on where you’re staying, this is one of best capital city values in the world for hotels. It’s easy to find a good deal where you want to be located.
The best neighbourhoods for dining and drinking are adjacent Condesa and La Roma. The former is a wealthier, more gentrified area that is the most walkable neighborhood in Mexico City. La Roma is grittier but more vibrant, the area of choice for new brewpubs and hot restaurants. Pick up a copy of the book Mexico City Streets: La Roma for reviews of the best spots, but Maximo Bistrot and Cabrera 7 always get high ratings from visitors.
If you want to bar hop in an area not too far removed from where you’re staying, head to Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, or Michoacán streets in Condesa. You can easily find a bar or music club that fits your fancy. Then get an authentic late-night tacos al pastor fix at legendary El Tizoncito. Or for a more sophisticated vibe, head to the Torre Latinoamerica Piso 41 bar at the top of the city’s highest building, between the historic center and Alameda Park.
If you have time before flying out, visit the Museum of Popular Art for whimsical Day of the Dead skeletons, masks, and fantastical alebrije creatures. Also poke your head in the oldest post office in the city on Lazaro Cardenas street, across from the gorgeous Bellas Artes performance hall.
When you arrive at the Mexico City airport, exchange money here to get the best rate (apart from ATMs). Take a reasonable pre-paid taxi priced by zone: just tell the person in the ticket booth where you’re headed and then hand the ticket to a driver. When it’s time to leave, use Uber or a have your hotel call a radio taxi.