How do I love thee, Mexico City? Let me count the ways!
It’s the 4th largest city in the world with a population of over 21.3 million. It has over 40,000 restaurants, more than 600 hotels, 150 museums, 100 art galleries, and so much more. So, it’s not hard to see why, after visiting Mexico City for the first time, it instantly became one of my favourite cities in the world!
My good friend and travel buddy, Solmaz K of The Curious Creature, and I spent 4 days and 4 nights in Mexico City at the end of November, 2017 in partnership with the Mexico City tourism board (CDMX). You can see our adventures on Instagram by checking out #QuePasaCDMX. Solmaz wrote a great piece on our girls’ getaway and listed her top 11 reasons why Mexico City should be your next travel destination (you can check out her post here). Like Solmaz, I have a gazillion reasons why Mexico City should be on your bucket list, and I’m including some of those below. I figured I’d also show you in this travel guide what we got up to during our stay, including where to stay, eat, drink, and what to do!
A Few Reasons Why Mexico City Should Be On Your Bucket List
1. It’s super affordable and nearby. 5-hr direct flights to MEX from YYZ can be as cheap as $350, and once you’re there, your dollar (errr, peso) goes very far! Ubers are ubiquitous and cost roughly 1/3 of the cost of an Uber in Toronto, as with the cost of food and drink.
2. The weather is great all-year round. Mexico City has one of the mildest climates in Mexico because of its elevation. Average temps vary between 12°C (54°F) and 16°C (61°F), with highs around 30°C (86°F) in the summertime and lows only around 7°C (45°F) in the wintertime. In the winter, you need only wear a sweater or light jacket for the chilly mornings and evenings, but you’d be fine to walk around with bare arms or short sleeves during the day.
3. The food is UH-mazing! Gastronomy is HUGE in Mexico City, and there are a number of award-winning restaurants and chefs (including Pujol, Quintonil, Maximo Bistrot, Contramar) serving a variety of cuisines. And if authentic Mexican cuisine is what you’re after, Mexico City will obviously be your place.
4. There’s lots of art, culture, and history. Frida, Diego, Orozco, oh my! Mexico City is one of the greatest museum cities in the world and is rich in history. Museums and historical sites abound, and some of the most important archeological sites in Mexico can be found within the city (Templo Mayor, Tlatelolco) and a short car ride away (Teotihuacan).
5. It’s beautiful and is a design city. From the traditional, colourful neighbourhood of Coyoacán, to the trendy neighbourhoods of La Condesa and La Roma, to the wealthy neighbourhoods of Polanco and San Angel, there is no shortage of pretty buildings, houses and hotels showcasing some of the best in pre-Hispanic, colonial, art deco, and modern architecture. Mexico City was also named the World Design Capital 2018 by the World Design Organization. Plus, there are trees and green spaces everyyyyywhere!
6. It’s not unsafe. Intentional choice of words there. Mexico City isn’t one of the safest cities in the world, but you can be assured that it isn’t unsafe either. It has come a long way and previous misconceptions about it being a dangerous place should be disregarded! As with any other major city, you have to be careful. Avoid neighbourhoods and areas known to be dangerous, don’t be flashy, and have your wits about you. Solmaz and I never once felt unsafe as 2 female tourists in the city, whether during the day or at night.
7. The people are friendly. Mexicans are known to be friendly and hospitable, and saying a few small words in Spanish will also go a long way. We found the people to be courteous, respectful, helpful, and funny! I did a shoot with a local photographer, Oscar Villanueva (@theozcorp), who asked for nothing in return other than an album from Toronto!
Where to Stay
We chose this funky boutique hotel because of its great location and modern design. The inside opens up into a beautiful and airy courtyard, and it has a rooftop bar that becomes lively at night. Rooms were comfy and this was a great home base for our trip. Not to mention the super cute and Instagrammable ‘toy’ car that is permanently installed outside of the hotel.
Where to Eat & Drink
Whether you want to hit up a taco stand, food market, or eat in some of the world’s finest restaurants, Mexico City has something for everyone. As foodies, eating well was one of our biggest priorities; and although we barely scratched the surface of the gastronomic scene in Mexico City (all the more reason to return!), we did find some of the local gems.
Anthony Bourdain said this was “maybe the best breakfast ever”, and I couldn’t agree more! A local mom and pop shop, Fonda Margarita is basically an institution in Mexico City. It’s communal-style dining with one menu on the wall (in Spanish), where you can see your breakfast being prepared fresh in front of you in large cauldrons and clay pots. The food looks simple, but is some of the tastiest I had in Mexico City! And if you go during peak time, you’ll be serenaded by Mexican folk music while you eat.
With no reservation, we were lucky enough to snag a table outside at Contramar for lunch. It’s another one of the best restaurants in Mexico City and is well-known for its fresh seafood. We had their tuna tostadas and I am still dreaming about them to this day!
Found inside the Downtown Mexico hotel next to Azul Historico, Puntarena has a beautiful living wall that stretches up to the hotel’s rooftop and one of the best ceviches I had in Mexico! Go here for fresh seafood and a great atmosphere with open-air dining.
Each dish that we had at Dulce Patria at Las Alcobas was like art on a plate! The dishes and drinks had playful names and elements of molecular gastronomy, like the “vampire” ceviche, and “lady in black” cocktail made with tequila, vermouth and activated charcoal. The Executive Chef is also a woman (Martha Ortiz) and assists Mexican women living in poverty by purchasing their hand made toys to use in garnishing her dishes.
It’s worth spending some time at the Four Seasons Mexico City. Not only is the courtyard (where this cute neon sign can be found) gorgeous, but the food is good too! We had lobster eggs bennys at Zanaya on our last morning, which was a great meal to send us off. Fifty Mils is called one of the best bars in Mexico City. But sadly, other than to grab a couple quick pics of the interior, we didn’t have time for it this time around.
San Angel Inn
Former monastery turned hacienda, turned restaurant, the large courtyard in the middle of San Angel Inn is the perfect backdrop for an afternoon cocktail (or two!). Within a stone’s throw of the Museo Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo, make sure to leave enough time after visiting the museum to make a stop here.
Named one of The World’s 50 Best Bars, hipsterrific Limantour has a super cool, laidback vibe and some of the most innovative cocktails around.
What to do
Explore the neighbourhoods (there are so many!)
My number one recommendation on what to do in Mexico City is to get out and explore the different neighbourhoods (my favourites were La Condesa, La Roma, and Polanco). Navigate between the neighbourhoods using Uber or public transport, and once you’re there, wander around the pedestrian-friendly streets and take in all of the beautiful architecture.
Start with Centro Histórico, where you’ll find the Zócalo (now main square in the historical centre of Mexico City), Templo Mayor (thought by the Aztecs to be the centre of the universe), Palacio de Bellas Artes, Palacio Postal (national post office which is more like a palace), Calle Madero (main artery in Centro Histórico), and Palacio Nacional. You’ll also want to spend time exploring both the outside and inside of Casa de los Azulejos (the blue-tiled house), an 18th-century palace known for its beautiful blue tiles on the outside.
Head to Coyoacán and get lost in the colourful streets before heading to Casa Azul (Frida Kahlo Museum). The Mercado de Coyoacán is also worth checking out while here, since it has one of the original tostada stands in Mexico City!
Give yourself lots of time to roam around Bosque de Chapultepec (Chapultepec Park), which is one of the largest city parks in the Western Hemisphere, measuring over 686 hectares (that’s roughly double the size of Central Park in NYC, for scale). You can find museums at Chapultepec, like the Modern Art Museum, Tamayo Museum and the world-renowned National Museum of Anthropology. But my favourite part was the immactulate Castillo de Chapultepec (Chapultepec Castle) located at the top. If only I could move in!
Go Museum Hopping
You could spend a lifetime visiting the museums in Mexico City (there are over 150, as mentioned). I’m more of an architecture kind of gal, but I did really enjoy our time at Casa Azul, Museo Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo, and Museo Casa de León Trotsky. Museo Soumaya is also an architectural marvel and houses over 66,000 works from the likes of Rodin to Salvador Dali (plus it’s free!).
Another big thing in Mexico City is concept stores, which have carefully curated selections of goods and merchandise and double or triple as retail stores, restaurants, and cafes. They’re so interesting to walk around in because you never know what you’ll find! We stumbled upon Budapest Café Cukrászda inside of Common People, and on our first night, we had dinner at Roma Quince, a concept store inside a restored mansion in La Roma.
Street Food Tour
Last, but certainly not least, take a Mexican street food tour with a knowledgeable local, like The Curious Mexican. Anais showed us what it’s like to eat like a “chilanga” (a Mexico City local), from tostadas to tlacoyos, grilled seasonal corn to tacos al pastor. We also got a lesson about the true way to drink and even smell mezcal – complete with chapulines (grasshoppers) as a snack on the side.
So, the next time you’re wanderlusting, make Mexico City a part of your travel plans! I definitely can’t wait to return and explore even more of this fabulous city!
Photography by: Yours Truly (unless otherwise noted)