I have family in Mexico City, (aka CDMX, fmka D.F). So, naturally, the first opportunity I got to cross this city off my bucket list, I jumped at the chance. I don’t know why, but I had this idea that the city would be a little like LA and a lot like an old Mana music video from the 90’s. It exceeded all my expectations and left a little hole in my heart that will stay there until I return.
CDMX is a foodie’s paradise! Seriously, some of the best food experiences I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing abroad happened on this trip! I will get into much more on this subject a little later. The museums? They can satisfy any art lover’s critical eye, I will put money on this. And the outdoorsy peeps need not worry either. With plenty of landmarks, parks and local history all secretly jig-sawed right into the heart of the city, it can’t be beat.
The city proper has almost 9 million people and the greater Mexico City area has about 21 MILLION people making it the largest city in the western hemisphere. The crowded nature is palpable. The bustling metroplis, with buses and cars whirring by, buildings stacked against each other like a cans of sardines, and people everywhere make it almost too overwhelming. But, once you are settled in and get your feet on the ground, you will find your self being spun into it’s lovely web, wanting to explore all of what makes this city so great.
The best way to navigate through the city is to break down your trip by neighborhood/region. This will help you plan your days and figure out what to do, where.
Before I break down navigating the city, safety must be addressed. I got asked at least a dozen times if I felt safe and if I was brave enough to visit such a “dangerous city.” I am not claiming that there aren’t dangerous aspects to a city with some history of violence and official government warnings on this issue, but I don’t feel the need to cancel a trip or be too afraid to book for this reason. My personal experience has been that it never made me feel any different then when I was traveling to any other part of the globe or living in any other city.
As whenever traveling to any foreign city, I just made sure to take a few precautionary steps:
do your research before you go - know where the safer parts of the city are and what areas to avoid, especially if you are a woman, traveling alone, don’t speak the language, etc.
never carry an over abundance of cash or wear expensive jewelry (I usually follow this practice whenever I’m travelling to a new city/country)
keep your purse secure and be aware of your surroundings at all times
never approach a car - even if they are asking for directions, help, or a simple question you may know the answer to
If you are unsure of using local transportation make sure you use authorized taxi services or commercially licensed vehicles
otherwise, I recommend rideshare service. If you take an uber or use a trusted driver, always map out the destination on your phone to make sure the driver is heading in the right direction. Uber was my preferred method of transport while in CDMX.
do not walk the streets alone at night unless the area is well lit with plenty of people nearby
Ok! Here we are… I’m breaking down the city by neighborhoods. I felt like, I truly got to know the city using the neighborhoods as my way to navigate what I wanted to do in each one. Using my sister as my handy guide, she knew all the areas so it was easy to decide what to do on what days. I told her what we were interested in and she planned out our itinerary accordingly. It worked really well and I recommend planning your days out by neighborhood as well!
You’ll find that this part of Mexico City is the trendy, artsy part of the city.
Spend the day in Roma wandering Mercado Medallin and eating street tacos al pastor
pop in and out of all the cute boutiques along Colima Street
MUST have lunch at Contramar - get TheFish! It’s famous for a reason
take a bike ride through Parque Mexico
stop for a happy hour counter-service snack - an agua fresca and a spicy taco de bistec at the nostalgia reminiscent Taqueria Orinoco
capture beautiful photographs of all the art deco style buildings and colorful facades that make up this part of the city
have some delicious cocktails and dinner at the super romantic and chic Huset, on Colima in Roma Norte
Centro - bustling, busy and dizzying. You will see amazing buildings, over-crowded intersections, vendors on every corner, tiny buses packed with people, and music echoing the streets from the street peddlers. There are plenty of historical monuments, statues and art exhibits to note and things you must do.
I will admit, Centro can be quite overwhelming and crowded with tourists and people who cater to tourists. It was not my “thing,” however, it is not to be missed for some very important reasons!
GO TO CENTRO FOR:
Palacio Nacional: Diego Rivera’s famous fresco murals, Epopeya del pueblo Mexicano and other art works, gardens, fountains and building structure can be located at Plaza de la Constitucion: Get there early before the line gets too long and make sure you don’t carry any large items. We thought we were late, arriving after 9am but it turns out, they held the doors until 10am. Liquids are prohibited from going inside the building but you can check large bags and bottles. I don’t remember paying to get in but if we did it cost no more than around $7usd. If you don’t speak Spanish, the website is a little difficult to navigate but it has all the current info for hours, special visits such as scholarly visits, etc. Otherwise, sites like Lonely Planet have all the pertinent info you’ll need.
Zocalo Square - this is the city main square. It is very busy and most of the time, there are demonstrations of pre-Hispanic native cultures, artisans selling crafts, and local trinket sellers lining the streets. Pass through on your way to Palacio Nacional if anything, but to take in the sights.
Secretariat Building - this building has more Diego Rivera that feature themes around education, politics, and science among many other themes. This building is smaller and is also free to enter! Make sure you have a government issued ID and you are good to go. The beauty of this is that most people don’t even know what is hidden inside so you will not be tortured with long lines and crowds.
Trotsky House - aka Casa Rojo: This is a must-see when in the city center. I will not go into detail on the history of Leon Trotsky and his wife as it is fun to read about and explore. I would urge you to do some history brush up before you go and perhaps read a little blurb here.
Grab a coffee made from Café Villarias coffee beans - this shop is a roasting company but you can grab a coffee drink made with their delicious beans just a few doors down at an espresso bar near the middle of the plaza.
Bellas Artes - museum If you haven’t got your fill of museum art, I recommend visiting but if the above mentioned is enough, it’s nice enough to skip entering and just admire the beauty from the outside and walk along the the sidwalks towards La Reforma
If you do ONE thing sporty/adventurous make sure to walk, run, bike, or scooter down La Reforma on Sunday morning! The entire main street shuts down to cars making it one giant trail for people to freely enjoy safely. We rented scooters and buzzed our way through the street stopping to visit the Angel of Independence fountain and statue, shop local street vendors, grab a taco and take in all the marvelous, modern architecture.
We rented Lime Scooters and it was super convenient. We ended up using them a few times during the trip. You can find them parked all over the city and a handy app makes them easy to locate or to drop off.
Although the Angel of Independence is quite popular, my favorite statue, which is also a little bit further down Reforma into the Roma Norte area is known as The Huntress Diana. This statue is powerful and striking piece that depicts the Roman Goddess of the hunt, Diana. It is said to represent the strength and beauty of womankind. How awesome, right?
While on La Reforma, make sure to stop here for these unforgettable taco hot spots!
Taqueria El Califa - Easily one of the best taquerias in Mexico City, make sure this is one of your stops on your Foodie Bucket List!
El Caminero - Also another “not to miss” taco spot serving up all the delicious tacos you can dream up
Okay, next stop AND one of my personal favorite neighborhoods…
Although not as “charming” and “quaint” as all of the previous neighborhoods mentioned, Polanco is swanky, chic and just overflowing with some of the best restaurants in the world! (literally)
Most of the list in this neighborhood is compromised of gastro-adventure. (I may have just made that term up myself)
First stop the morning of your adventure in Polanco should be for coffee at Tierra Garat, Ave Presidente Masaryk 86. The coffee here is amazing and I recommend taking a pound or two home with you; They double as great take home gifts!
Head next door to have breakfast at Ojo de Agua in Polanco - there are a few of these restaurants sprinkled through the city but this one is a great starting point before you head out for the day. The cold pressed juices are EXCEPTIONAL, food is very high quality and all the ingredients are clean, healthy and absolutely delicious. If the weather is nice, eat on the garden patio and enjoy watching locals pass by.
Chapultepec Park and Bosque de Chapultepec - After breakfast, head south on foot to Chapultapec Park. This park is incredibly large and mesmerizing. It is bigger than Central Park in NYC and carries a very rich and cultured history. Head to the top of the hill to the Castle and pay the entrance fee into the museum, it’ll be worth it. Make sure to stop and admire El Sargento - a Cyprus tree trunk, on your way up the hill, you can’t miss it. The trunk lived to be over 500 years old!
Shopping - If you MUST do some high end retail therapy, do it on Avenida Presidente Masaryk Here you will find store after store of fancy boutiques, jewelry stores and cafes. You’ll find locals walking their dogs, designer cars and multiple bars and restaurants that open their doors to people looking to clink their glasses in style.
Eating in Polanco - THIS is where food enthusiasts come to Mecca. Polanco is home to, not one, but TWO of the World’s 50 Best restaurants; Quintonil coming in at number 11 and Pujol, coming in at number 13. Taquerias that rival any of the best can also be found in Polanco, and plenty of other restaurants and pastry shops that are highly rated and recommended.
I have compiled a list of my favorites:
Pujol - I had the sheer fortune of managing to get reservations at Pujol months before my trip. (I highly recommend, at either Quintonil or Pujol, you start searching for reservations and book them as soon as you have your dates booked). I can’t even begin to describe the epic food journey we had at Pujol, but I will say, it was worth every penny. When factoring in USD for MXN currency, the price factor was pretty descent considering we would have paid double or triple anywhere else on a list of Michelin Starred or similarly rated restaurans. We had a seven course tasting menu, including their infamous ‘Mole Madre.’ After dinner, they welcome you to enjoy dessert out on their dining patio with whomever is seated in your area, encouraging you to engage with other diners - Mexican hospitality embodied in a single gesture. While you wait, the waitstaff bring out a warm basket of freshly fried churro just for your party and you take in the smells of the herb garden, the sounds of the birds chirping and humming diners buzzing about. While we waited for our Churros, we met a great couple, chatted and shared a bottle of sparkling wine together. The entire evening was totally magical… I felt like I was in my own little private unicorn world. I could go on and on about Pujol but I’d rather you experience it for yourself. If you are going to splurge, this is where to do it!
Other VERY notable Polanco Food Stops:
Orale Arepa - Venezuelan Arepa joint serving fresh arepas and some of the best breakfast you’ll ever eat!
El Rey de Suadero - I could NOT eat enough of these tacos. I am not a lamb eating kinda gal, but lemme tell you, these tacos will change your life! All the tacos are prepared fresh daily and there is a line that forms at the outside window all day, every day!
French style pastry shops - stop at any you see and order whatever looks the most amazing. It will be and these pastry shops rival any average shop in Paris.
Santa Clara Ice Cream on Masaryk - call me old fashioned but this non-trendy, typical chain ice cream shop was just the thing to hit the spot after a long day of walking and sigh-seeing. The tart strawberry cream was dreamy.
Other Notable spots and foodie things to try in CDMX
Museo Frida Kahlo - Coyoacan, Mexico - I COULD NEVER go to Mexico City without stopping here. Frida is a hero and a treasure. Get there early, make reservations and buy our tickets online. If you are late, you have to wait for the next tour or possibly be denied entry. While here, try and make an appointment with Paskwarho to view and shop some absolutely beautiful Mexican pottery… they make great gifts and keepsakes and are beautifully crafted by local families from Oaxaca, Mexico. Paskwarho House is walking distance from the Frida Museum.
Pyramids at Teotihuacan - if you have time, make a trip to see the pyramids and explore the ancient ruins. Get there early to avoid crowds and avoid eating there. Pack snacks and plenty of water, and wear layers as it is really chilly in the morning but gets really hot midday.
Museo Nacional de Antropologia - I WISH I had more time to explore this amazing museum filled to the brim with really beautiful modern art, installations and abstract paintings. I stopped in for a bathroom break while walking through Chapultepec. If you are in Polanco, do not miss this. I believe it’s free to enter.
Enjoy Micheladas wherever you can - I got addicted to these citrusy, sour and salty beers wherever I went! They are served much more simply than I’m used to here, in Phoenix. Just some salt, lime juice and ice cold beer and voila.
Street Art - Mexican Graffiti Art is everywhere and if you appreciate it as much as I do, stop and take a look whenever you find yourself near a really beautiful piece.
Pantastica - delicioso y rico. (Near La Reforma) These croissants, Mexican sweet breads, aka ‘Pan Dulce’ and other decadent treats are worth the stop in this tiny little bakery. They make fresh breads and pastries daily
There is SO MUCH to do and see and eat in Mexico City… As I sat here and wrote out this guide, there were still a ton of things I left off and a lot of things I did not get to see and do. I was there a week and it still felt like I could’ve spent a few more days checking things off of my list. I had a wonderful experience and I hope, if you are planning your trip, my tid bits and info will be useful to you.
If you have already been to CDMX and you have some spots and secrets to share please feel free to leave your recommendations for me in the comments!
I hope you enjoyed this city guide!