When it comes to Mexico City, there’s much more than meets the eye. The former capital of the Aztec empire was last known as Tenochtitlan before the Spanish conquest. It’s currently the largest city in the western hemisphere with around 22 million people, about equal to the entire population of Central America. Mexico City is also one of the wealthiest cities in the world, with an economy about the size of Peru’s. It’s located 7400 feet high in a valley between mountains as high as 17,000 feet, making the weather crisp and mild year-round. There’s an unbelievable amount about this incredible city to unpack and explore, so let’s start with the basics.
The Neighborhoods (aka Colonias)
Mexico City is divided up into 16 delegations; think New York City boroughs but with way more people. These delegations are divided up into a handful of neighborhoods called Colonias, each with a distinct feel. When I drive from one Colonia to another, it’s usually pretty easy to tell where one ends and the next one begins. There are so many Colonias I could talk about but I’ll stick with the ones most commonly frequented by tourists. One of them happens to be my own!
La Roma is filled with endless amounts of cool cafes, restaurants, bars, and gorgeous parks. Equal in beauty and charm to Barcelona, rivaled in coolness only by the hippest corners of Berlin, Roma is currently THE hipster neighborhood in Mexico City. Generally speaking, the further north you go, the nicer (and more expensive) it gets. Roma is also the neighborhood where most of Alfonso Cuarón’s Academy Award-winning film Roma is based and centered around. Check out our youtube video about Roma for more photos of this awesome neighborhood!
The historic city center, Centro, is enormous, and its main plaza Zócalo, is at the center of it all. Formerly the ceremonial center of Tenochtitlan, you can still find temple ruins older than the United States at Zócalo. The city center is where you can see many of the quintessential Mexican historical sites and museums as well as the Palacio Nacional, which features the murals of Diego Rivera. Although this area can be very busy, it’s not quite safe at night, so I don’t recommend staying in the area but instead, traveling here to visit the amazing sights.
Formerly a rural village, Coyoacán or “place of the coyotes” is a quiet residential neighborhood that is also filled with rich art and history. It’s the designated bohemian neighborhood in the city, known for its cobblestone streets and colonial architecture. Coyoacán is perhaps most famously known as the Colonia where Frida Kahlo spent most of her life. Spend an afternoon here eating street churros and taking in the colorful streets.
Mexico City Tourist Attractions
Now that we’ve covered some of the prominent neighborhoods in the city, it’s time to focus on the specific sights. Within the borders of Mexico City, there’s a lot to cover. If you expand your sights to just outside the city, there are dozens of more options to see. Zócalo holds a pretty significant amount of historic sights, but with so many scattered around the city, it’s hard to know where to even begin. Here are a handful of the attractions you can’t miss on your visit to Mexico City!
Castillo de Chapultepec (Chapultepec Park)
This castle on a hill at Chapultepec Park is the only royal castle in the Americas. The top has an awesome view of the city as well as the entire park itself, which is twice the size of Central Park. There’s also a mini-museum inside, with modern history about Mexico City.
Palacio de Bellas Artes (Zócalo)
Mexico City’s Palace of Fine Arts is a marvel, both inside and out. The grand palace is truly more spectacular in person than in photos. There are some beautiful grounds to enjoy on the outside as well as the art museum inside.
El Ángel de la Independencia. (Juárez)
This stunning monument is one of several along Paseo de la Reforma. The column alone is over 100 ft tall, not including the golden angel situated at the top. It’s arguably the most iconic landmark in Mexico City, and one of the most impressive.
Best Museums in Mexico City
Most people aren’t aware that Mexico City has the most museums of any city in the world. With so many options, it’s hard to know where to start when you have a limited amount of time. Some museums, like the Police Museum, are worth skipping but others are absolute essentials. Which ones should you spend your time visiting? Here are our picks for the best museums in Mexico City!
Luis Barragan House
The former home of world-renowned architect Luis Barragan. You have to book a tour in advance but the incredible and unique design is worth seeing, without a doubt.
Avant-garde art museum with modern art installations. This museum is usually more conceptual than traditional so if you’re into modern art, make this stop a priority!
Museo Nacional de Antropoligía
Museo Antropoligía is one of the most popular museums in the city located in Chapultepec park where you can learn about Mexican history and culture. Three visits in, I still have more to see in this enormous and comprehensive history museum.
Mexico City Restaurants + Cafes
Along with much of what makes Mexico City fascinating is the modern side of the culture. Mexico’s gastronomy has always been globally recognized but has only recently been getting the proper attention it deserves. Alongside all the new restaurants, Mexico City’s cafe scene has exploded in recent years, easily competing with European capital cities. Unfortunately, there are too many in the city for me to list. Luckily, some of the best ones are concentrated in my neighborhood. Here are the best spots for food and coffee in the neighborhoods of Roma and Condesa.
Panaderia Rosetta is a popular bakery for some of the best French-style pastries in the city. Their freshly baked bread is to die for, any sandwich you order will have a delicious crunch with each bite. The guava pastry, in particular, is the perfect balance of sweet and flaky. Come early to get a seat!
My favorite cafe in the city, Cicatriz makes some of the best coffee, which means great Carajillos. Their weekend brunch is exceptional and unique but I’ve never had something I didn’t like on their regular weekday menu either. It also turns into a bar at night, with great options for Oaxacan Mezcal. It’s technically located in Cuauhtémoc, just north of Roma.
Blend Station is the quintessential hipster coffee shop with a beautiful interior. Both the coffee and food options are great but we mostly use it as a good place to get work done. They have locations in Condesa and Roma, each with a different vibe. Condesa is usually fuller, sometimes to the point of not having available seating, so if you’re not planning to arrive early, you may want to head to the Roma location, which also happens to be across the street from Rosetta!
Forever Vegano ($-$$)
Cozy vegan restaurant with a big range of menu items. I’ve tried most of the menu and still haven’t found one dish I don’t like. Just looking at these There’s also a store in both locations for tasty vegan goodies you can take home.
Classy Mexican restaurant with an amazing outdoor garden vibe. This is the kind of place where everything on the menu is superb. Amazing cocktails (the Tuxpan will blow you away) and quite a romantic setting, perfect for a date!
Maximo Bistrot ($$$)
Maximo Bistrot is my personal favorite “fine-dining” restaurant, with an amazing menu by one of the most famous chefs in town, Eduardo “Lalo” Garcia (also the owner of Lalo). We’ve tried every non-meat item on the menu, and they’re all perfect. If you’re out for a special occasion, get the sommelier to recommend a bottle of wine to go with your meal. Try to order something from Baja California if you can, those are always my favorites. And save room for dessert!
Best Markets in Mexico City
Mexico is known worldwide for its artesanias, i.e. traditionally made handmade crafts. In Mexico City, there are also enough specialty markets to make your head spin, each full of arts and crafts. Not every market is equal, with some mostly filled with poorly made t-shirts, and others with actual artisanal items. I’ve been to both, and hope to steer you toward the ones worth visiting! Here are some of my favorite markets in the city.
Always open but better on the weekends, Coyoacán Market has a range of items and though not very “artisan”, it’s still fun to explore. Like many Mexican markets, its humble food options are all delicious. Best to go on Sunday.
Artisan market near the city center with many rows of all handcrafted items. Great to find a local craft to bring home and good prices! Half the plates, glasses, jars, etc in our home came from Ciudadela. Open all week!
Probably the biggest produce market in Roma, Mercado Medellin is a great stop, even if you don’t want to buy groceries. I’ve heard many Chilangos say they have some of the best guacamole in the city. If you want a peek into what this market looks like, check out the video we made where we went to the market with $25 to see how much we could buy!
There’s a reason I moved to Mexico City. Actually, as you can see, there are lots of reasons I decided to leave the U.S. and call Mexico home. After a year of living here, I continue to be enamored by everything this city has to offer. When friends come for more than a few days, they often tell me they’re worried there won’t be enough to do. Truth be told, there’s enough to do and see in this city to last a lifetime. I hope you have a fantastic time here and return home enriched and delighted by this beautiful place!
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