I just got back from a second trip to Mexico City (aka CDMX), and I’m already ready to go back. So many people asked what I did, what I ate, and why it’s awesome, so I wanted to write about this amazing city so everyone visits and enjoys it too. There is so much to do, see, eat! That’s why I keep going back.
ABOUT MEXICO CITY
Mexico City is the capital of Mexico and the most populous city in North America. It has a ton of history and culture to explore and enjoy. And recently the culinary scene and cultural renaissance have been exploding. Reasons why I love Mexico City:
- There is so much to see and do
- The food is great and affordable
- It’s easy to get there (only 3.5 hour flight from SF) and get around
THINGS TO DO AND SEE IN MEXICO CITY
The Zócalo is the ideal spot to begin your sightseeing in Mexico City. Once the main center of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan, the Zócalo is the beating heart of Mexico’s capital. On its east side is the Palacio Nacional (the presidential palace), on the north is the Catedral Metropolitana, and on the south are the city government offices. Jewelry shops and extravagant hotels line the arcade known as the Portal de Mercaderes on the plaza’s west side.
Within a few meters northeast you will discover pre-Hispanic ruins and majestic colonial buildings. In the surrounding streets you will encounter a cross section of Mexico City’s population: business executives, workers, and fashionistas, as well as vendors, and Aztec dancers.
One of my favorite activities is seeing the Ballet Folklorico at the Palacio de Bellas Artes. The Mexican folkloric ballet reflects various regions and folk music genres of the country. I love the energetic dancing, powerful music, and the colorful costumes. And the Palacio de Bellas Artes – where they perform – is gorgeous building worth seeing. It has been the scene of many notable events in music, dance, theatre, opera and literature and has hosted important exhibitions of painting, sculpture and photography.
The Ballet Folklorico performs on Sunday afternoons and nights and Wednesday nights. I recommend sitting on the first level. The first time we were a few rows back and it was more fun to experience that way (vs. in the middle level). You can order tickets on Ticketmaster or go to the box office if you want to save on fees.
Museo De Natural Anthropologico + Chapultepec Park + Castle
The Museo Nacional de Antropología is the largest and most visited museum in Mexico. It is home to many archaeological and anthropological artifacts from Mexico’s heritage. It’s a great place to explore and learn about the country’s history. You could spend the whole day there…so many rooms!
My mom and I spent two hours at the museum which was just the right amount for us. If you’re not a hardcore history junkie, it’s a great place to visit for a couple of hours and then go and enjoy other parts of Chapultepec Park. If you are a history buff, it’s a great place to spend a whole day or split between a couple of visits.
I recommend the Chapultepec Castle which is high up in the park and has amazing views of the city. The site of the hill was a sacred place for Aztecs, and the buildings atop it have served several purposes during its history, including that of Military Academy, Imperial residence, Presidential home, observatory, and presently, the National Museum of History.
The park is also home to the Chapultepec Zoo, Modern Art Museum, Tamayo Museum, an artificial lake with boats for rent, a large amusement park, La Feria de Chapultepec Mágico, Papalote Children’s Museum, Natural History Museum, a few lakeside restaurants, a lot of fountains, public art, and green spaces.
Frida Kahlo La Casa Azul + Coyoacan
The Frida Kahlo house or La Casa Azul is a historic house and art museum dedicated to the life and work of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. The building was Kahlo’s birthplace and is also the home where she grew up, lived with her husband Diego Rivera for a number of years, and eventually would die. The museum contains a collection of artwork by Frida, her husband, other artists as well as photographs, memorabilia, and personal items. It’s extremely well-curated, educational, and worth seeing.
Because it’s an extremely popular attraction and the house is small and can only fit so many people at a time, it’s best to book tickets online. Tickets are available every half hour at specific times so plan accordingly or take your chance with long lines.
After you enjoy the Blue House, walk 8-10 minutes to the Coyoacan neighborhood which is a fun historic center with two adjacent plazas, lots of beautiful old mansions, vendors, and food.
OTHER THINGS TO DO THAT I STILL WANT TO SEE
Teotihuacán, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, was settled as early as 400 B.C. and became the most powerful and influential city in the region by 400 A.D. It’s located ~30 miles outside of CDMX and definitely worth a day trip.
The city contains several large, important structures: The Pyramid of the Moon, the Pyramid of the Sun, the Ciudadela (“Citadel”) and the Temple of Quetzalcoatl (the Feathered Serpent).
I didn’t go on either of my visits (food poisoning and too much walking for Mom), but I have heard amazing things about it and really want to go. Next time I go, I won’t miss it.
I only saw the outside of this museum and just the exterior makes me want to go back. But in addition to the unique and striking architecture of the building, the museum houses 66,000 pieces of art which range from Mesoamerica to the modern day. This includes pieces by Rodin, Dalí, Diego Rivera, and Rufino Tamayo.
MEXICO CITY EATS
The food in Mexico City rivals that of New York City and San Francisco. It is impossible to go hungry when there is food everywhere at any hour. You can enjoy street food and/or multi-course gourmet meals. The food is fresh, inventive, and delicious. And really affordable, especially if you are converting and spending US dollars.
Here are some of the places I would recommend if you do decide to visit Mexico City:
- Maximo Bistro (Roma Norte) – It’s original and the food is unassumingly delicious. They don’t take reservations so plan to go early!
- Lalo! (Roma Norte) Great for breakfast / lunch – same chef as Maximo Bistro
- Contramar (Condesa) – Amazing Seafood. They only serve Lunch – 6 p.m. Make reservations and get the tostadas de atun!
- El Cardenal (four locations in CDMX) – Great for breakfast. It gets super packed. You have to ask for a “concha con nata” and they have some sort of skillets that are finger licking good. There are many locations, would recommend the one downtown as it’s the most traditional one.
- Lardo (Condesa) – great food with fun atmosphere. Good for brunch, lunch, or dinner.
- There are so many places to get and enjoy tacos. A few places to consider – Califa (Condesa), El Turix (Polanco), El Farolito (Condesa), El Tizoncito (Condesa)
- El Moro (several locations but go to the original one in Roma Norte) – Oldest churreria – place to get churros! – and so delicious. They are made fresh and covered in delicious sugar or cinnamon. You can get sauces or hot chocolate for dipping. Or you can also get round churros with ice cream sandwiched in the middle. We didn’t do or. We did and and got all of the above.
These are just a few of my favorites. I have a spreadsheet (um, of course I do) of 50 places to eat – many thanks to my local friends. Let me know if you need more tasty recommendations if you plan to go.
A FEW LAST HELPFUL TIPS
Uber is the way to get around Mexico City. It’s easy and affordable, and you have the convenience of not having to pay and carry more cash. You can take an Uber to and from the airport very easily. Depending on where you are staying in the city and the time of day, an Uber should be less than $10 one way.
When you arrive and make it through immigration / customs, don’t go to the first exchange place you see. If you go a little further, you should get more bang for your buck. If you exchange $100 bills versus smaller bills sometimes you get a better rate. You get the best exchange rate (as long as you don’t have a foreign transaction fee) if you use your credit card, so use your credit card when you can. However many places only take cash so it’s good to have pesos on hand.
I booked Airbnbs both times I went. This gave me and my travel partners (friend and mom) more space, our own beds, and own bathrooms. If you decide to go that route, I would recommend the area called Condesa. It’s safe, centrally located, and good food and parks are nearby. Condesa is also the neighborhood where my local Mexican friends recommended.
Now I want to go back. If you go, please let me know and share your pics and experience so I can live vicariously through you until I go again!