Mexico City is one of the best-kept travel secrets out there. Often mispresented as dangerous, the city has emerged – through public initiatives and its ambitious inhabitants – as a vibrant, invigorating city that’s a pleasure to explore. In fact, after recently graduating from the Sorbonne in Paris last spring, I now call Mexico City my full-time home.
With roughly 21 million residents, it’s one of the largest cities in the world, and each of its neighborhoods, or colonias, offers a very different experience.
Historic + Bustling
The Centro Histórico is Mexico City’s original core, built on Aztec ruins dating back to 1325. Walk its cobblestoned streets to admire its mix of colonial and European architecture while being tempted by shops and street vendors. Here, Mexico’s past is celebrated within the prism of the future.
First-time visitors should not miss Palacio de Bellas Artes, a white marble palace with murals by the Mexican greats; Templo Mayor, the remains of the Aztecs’ most important ceremonial center; and Palacio Nacional, a magnificent colonial palace that’s home to the presidential offices and the Federal Treasury, not to mention famous murals by Diego Riviera.
For more specialized museums, check out MUMEDI, dedicated to Mexican design, and Museo Memoria y Tolerancia, which aims to diffuse the importance of tolerance, nonviolence, and human rights through its permanent and temporary exhibitions.
For a great panoramic view of the city, take an elevator 44 floors up to the observation deck of the Torre Latinoamericana, once Latin America’s tallest skyscraper.
Enjoy a long Mexican lunch at Terraza Cha Cha Chá, a fresh, innovative rooftop restaurant with spectacular views of the Revolution monument.Tip: Lunch in Mexico is around 2 or 3 pm, not noon.
End the evening with a glass of wine at Zinco Jazz Club, where a small stage and cozy ambience set the mood for the night. And if you’re not done afterward, have a beer or cocktail at the friendly Downtown, only a five-minute walk away.
Condesa and Roma:
Trendy + Young
Condesa and Roma draw tourists for their international, trendy vibes. These colonias have become the place to be for young Mexicans and expats with a multitude of bars, restaurants, boutiques, and nightlife.
Mexicans love their breakfasts, and Lardo is one of Condesa’s go-to spots for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with an open kitchen and large windows. In the morning, sit at the bar to watch the cooks at work and order a rol de guayaba with your coffee (the chilaquiles verdes are also to die for!).
Condesa and Roma are made for walking. Start in Condesa browsing boutiques along avenidas Michocán, Amsterdam, Tamaulipas, and Vincente Suárez, then head to Parque México and Parque España for a carefree breather. Make your way to the fountain of Cibeles to cross over into Roma for more trendy shops and galleries such as Lulu or Proyectos Monclova that showcase contemporary artists.
Pamper yourself at sister-owned Mint Nails for a more-than-affordable mani/pedi. It’s completely charming, from the service to the attention to detail in its decoration.
For lunch, try the tacos at Orinoco (ask for atercia, three different types of tacos, and an agua de jamaica, or hibiscus water). Ojo de Agua serves delicious salads and sandwiches, such as the kale, goat cheese, and quinoa salad or the mango chutney – chicken sandwich.
Head to the famous El Moro for crunchy, cinnamon churros dipped in chocolate, craved by locals and tourists alike. Choose from two locations in this area: one in Mercado Roma or another alongside Parque México in Condesa.
Hit up Mama Rumba, an always-packed, Cuban-owned salsa bar to watch professionals show off their moves, or to dance yourself. You can even attend one of their dance classes on Thursday nights.
San Ángel and Coyoacán:
Charming + Secluded
In the south of the city, San Ángel and Coyoacán feel like separate pueblitos, or small towns. Both neighborhoods have a magical air to them and are home to old, magnificent houses hidden away behind discrete walls.
Explore San Ángel’s Bazaar Sábado, a Saturday market for decor and gifts such as paper flowers and handmade jewelry.
Reserve in advance for lunch at San Ángel Inn, a former monastery-turned-restaurant that transports you back to colonial times. The margaritas are strong, the food is delicious, and a mariachi trio meanders between dining rooms. Cross the street to walk the footsteps of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in their preserved home-studio: Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo.
Uber over to the neighboring Coyoacán, about three miles away. Like San Ángel, it’s a neighborhood to simply stroll and search for treasures or hang out in the plaza. Order a coffee at the tiny Café Avellaneda, then head toLa Casa Azul, the Frida Kahlo museum and house where she was born and died. Today, the “Blue House” houses a collection of Kahlo’s personal objects and some of her most important works, such as Long Live Life.