A colourful city of cosmopolitan colonias where hip-meets-historical
Eccentric, eclectic, and energetic – welcome to Mexico City. Long before the Spanish arrived in 1519, the Aztecs stumbled across a steep mountain valley and made their home on an island paradise. The lagoon-like waters of Lake Texcoco might have been drained over the centuries, washing away the remnants of this Mexican Venice, but urban oases still exist in this mishmash metropolis – if you know where to look. Otherwise, it is simply best to embrace the hustle and bustle, get lost in the vibrant markets, wander down Jacaranda scented streets, and hop from one artisanal mezcal bar to the next.
A short round-up of Mexico City’s must-see sights…
The Blue House: Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul is a firm favourite on the tourist trail for a reason. The colour-popping property still houses many of the painter’s personal possessions and artworks, along with a tranquil garden which is the perfect place to ponder the exhibition – all worth the long queues.
Palacio de Bellas Artes: A cultural icon in its own right, its shimmering orange dome dominates the city skyline, while world-famous murals and a stained-glass curtain by Tiffany & Co draw an artsy crowd through the Italian-designed art nouveau doors.
Parque México: This lovely green space lined with Art Deco buildings can be found in the charming Condesa neighbourhood, and is dotted with sculptural and architectural treats.
Catedral Metropolitana: Monumental, majestic, and made from the stone of a Mesoamerican pyramid, this is the oldest cathedral in all of Latin America.
Luis Barragán House & Studio: Light, texture, and colour collide in the former home and studio of Pritzker-Prize-winning architect Luis Barragán, now a must-see museum for design lovers in the Hidalgo District.
Basílica de Guadalupe: The third most-visited religious site in the world, you might just get a glimpse of the Virgin de Guadalupe (also known as the ‘Queen of Mexico’ and ‘Empress of the Americas’) at this popular place of pilgrimage.
Mercado de la Merced: Eat your way around Mexico City’s largest market, from fresh tacos, just-picked fruit and vegetables, to sense-tingling spices. It’s hard not to get lost in this tangle of traditional stalls, so be sure to bring a bilingual guide along.
Coyoacán: Not a sight as such, but the cobblestone streets, colonial architecture, trendy art galleries, artisan boutiques, and lively plazas of this quirky barrio deserve a place on every Mexico City visitor’s list.
…and a longer look at Mexico City’s lesser-known spots
This kaleidoscopic colonia has been a hit with movie-makers and Instagrammers alike thanks to its colour-clashing façades, photogenic tree-lined streets, and eye-catching street art. But hidden away within this hipster hangout are quaint cafés, quirky bookshops, and under-the-radar galleries just waiting to be discovered. The secret side to Roma reveals itself to those who go without a plan – to really get under the skin of this neighbourhood is all about putting one foot in front of the other.
Jardín del Arte
Make your way to the picturesque Sullivan Park on a Sunday morning and muse over the works of local artists in a relaxed outdoor setting. From large paintings and miniature watercolours, to sculpture and waxwork, there is something here to suit every aesthetic taste. Cool, calm, and connected to its natural surroundings, this creative hotspot is the perfect place for people-watching (when you’re not looking at the art, that is).
Desert of the Lions
Fortunately, the King of the Jungle has never roamed the dense forest of Mexico’s first national park – the occasional prowling puma which startled Spanish settlers gave this remote district its deceptive name. Just an hour’s drive from the city centre, more adventurous travellers will be rewarded with the atmospheric ruins of an abandoned convent wrapped in misty woodland. A chilling yet captivating day trip from the capital.
What – and where – to eat in Mexico City
Freshly brewed coffee and homemade pastries from @ilusionistacafe
While mezcal and tequila might be the first drinks that come to mind, local blend coffee is a Mexican speciality you can’t leave the capital without trying. The best beans are grown in the south, from Oaxaca and Guerrero to coastal Veracruz, and are freshly roasted and brewed to your personal preference in the many independent cafés of Mexico City. Our favourite pit-stops include El Ilusionista Café for its spacious, open interior with street-facing wooden picnic benches, and Café Avellaneda, a cosy coffee shop tucked away in the artists’ neighbourhood of Coyoacán which donates money from every cup sold to a local coffee farm to combat coffee leaf rust.
Step aside Belgium, Mexico is the motherland of chocolate thanks to the ancient Mayans. While there are plenty of places to pick up a sweet treat around the city, the artisanal creations of Que Bo! combine 100% Mexican cacao from Tabasco and Chiapas and come in a variety of unusual flavours.
Dine-and-dunk delights from @churreriaelmoro
Crispy and sugar-dusted on the outside, soft and warm on the inside, there is a lot to love about this deep-fried dough (best dunked in chocolate or some piping hot coffee). Family-run Churrería El Moro have several blue and white eateries serving the best churros in town – the churro ice-cream sandwiches are a must-try.
Fragrant, freshly grounded corn tortillas, bursting with flavoursome fillings from chilli stewed beef to smoky pulled pork, it’s unsurprising that tacos have taken the world by storm. But it’s in the vibrant street-food scene of the Mexican capital that this humble dish still reigns supreme, from the butcher-prepped meat tacos of Meche y Rafael in the bustling Mercado de Medellín, to achiote-marinated meat of El Vilsito, an auto-repair shop by day which transforms into a late night taquería.
Where to stay in Mexico City
Brick Hotel…claw-foot baths and private balconies, a shaded roof terrace cocooned in luscious greenery, and a stylish signature restaurant serving up refreshed Mexican classics – think cactus salad and watermelon tartare. Brick Hotel is a true urban oasis which puts the Roma district on your doorstep.
Hacienda Pena Pobre…a 19th century peach-coloured hacienda just outside the city centre with light and airy suites decorated with original works by Mexican artists. Swap the fast paced metropolis for the nearby Tlalpan Forest National Park, one of the city’s largest green spaces.
Downtown…this historic former palace houses 17 slick suites plus a swanky rooftop pool and bar, lined with citrus yellow loungers – all within just two blocks of Mexico City’s central square, El Zocalo.