Mexico City Guide
A Complete Guide to Mexico City
Mexico City, aka Ciudad de Mexico aka CDMX, is quickly becoming one of the most popular travel destinations, and with good reason; it’s rich in culture, has a thriving art scene, and is home to some of the most incredible restaurants and cafes.
I recently made the not-so-long journey from New York to Mexico, and it was everything I imagined and more. Being a planner, I like to know anything and everything I can before traveling to an unfamiliar destination (this way I can decide what’s worth my time - ahead of time). So I asked around, did some research (ok, a lot of research), and ended up having a pretty great trip.
Here’s a round up of some of my findings and experiences + some tips for your next trip to Mexico City.
Basics + Good To Know
Mexico City is split up into several neighborhoods called colonias. Think of it like the different areas of New York City - West Village, Upper East side, Nolita etc.
The areas I found myself gravitating toward most were Condesa, Roma, and Polanco.
The best way I can describe Condesa and nearby Roma is as a unique cross between Williamsburg & the West Village; they’re artistic, quaint, and calm.
Polanco is the upscale area, home to some great museums, beautiful residential homes, and local boutique shopping, kind of like the Upper East Side.
Centro, or historic downtown Mexico, is bustling with locals and tourists alike and deeply rooted in history. You’re likely to end up here if you have any interest in viewing the Metropolitan Cathedral.
There’s also Juarez (up and coming), Coyoacán (home to the Frida Kahlo Museum), Del Valle (older neighborhood with upscale shopping centers and churches), Tepito (avoid - can be dangerous), San Angel (charming and colonial) , and a few others.
$1 USD equates to about $20 Mexican Pesos. This means you can do a lot for less - yay.
Standard Tipping rate in Mexico City is 10-15%. Double check to make sure a 10% Service Charge is not already included at restaurants. For luggage services 10-20 pesos per bag is standard.
Book any restaurants, classes, and museums you know you absolutely want to attend as soon as you can!
Save your favorite places to a Google Maps list on your mobile device. This will make for easy real time logistics planning & help to decide which neighborhood to stay in beforehand.
Uber is your best friend. It’s practical and familiar! For a 30 minute journey during peak traffic, I paid around 130 pesos which converts to about 7 USD.
For shorter distances, download the app “Lime” and easily rent electric scooters. There’s a live map for easy locating and you can park them anywhere!
The airport is pretty central, and Uber is accessible from the designated passenger pickup & drop-off locations.
Where To Stay:
Whether you’re looking for something casual, familiar, or more luxe, there’s a hotel for anyone everywhere in Mexico City. I’ve put together a few options worth considering in both the Big Box and Boutique categories:
big box hotels
There’s something to be said for the standardized service & guaranteed comfort of big box hotels. These options can also make more sense economically if you’re looking to redeem credit card reward program points during your travels. With Marriott Hotels recent merge with Starwood Preferred Group, your Marriott/SPG/Amex points can be utilized at even more properties.
Staying at boutique hotels provides a more unique and original lodging experience, and are usually designed with a specific style in mind. For all my design enthusiasts these are some great options:
La Valise: I had the pleasure of staying at this charming hotel during my stay. The real superstar of this hotel is their unique penthouse room that features a bed that rolls out onto the balcony for a night of sleeping under the stars - an experience I’ll never forget. All of the rooms are well designed with unique aspects that utilize the work of local artisans. Breakfast is delivered to your room each morning, and there is no common area as such.
La Condesa DF: another option in the Condesa neighborhood. This hotel offers more than just a few rooms, so availability is more likely than some of the others on this list. It features a gorgeous open air restaurant and great lighting.
Nima Local House: This was my top pick during my initial research, unfortunately it was all booked up for our dates. It’s eclectic, cozy, and home to an incredible collection of plants.
Distrito Capital - With a clean and streamlined design, this hotel is ideal for the minimalist. Located in the Sante Fe district, rooms at this hotel provides next level views of Mexico City Skyscrapers.
Where To Eat:
This is the hardest category for me to write. Mexico’s food scene is WOW. And there’s no shortage of interesting restaurants serving a multitude of classic, fusion, and international cuisines.
Here’s a few cafes good for breakfast, lunch, or a midday snack/coffee. The locations marked with a star [★] are options with a full menu that would lend well to breakfast or lunch.
breakfast / lunch
Lalo - Breakfast cafe in Condesa with traditional Mexican breakfast options & next level pastries ★
Eno Petrarca - Fast Casual Breakfast cafe in Polanco with Mexican & European Options ★
Churreria El Moro - Churreria with various locations around Mexico City.
Alma Negra - coffee shop with minimal interiors and a noteworthy cold-brew
Cafe Niddo - my biggest regret leaving Mexico City was missing out on this spot. It’s a beautiful brunch cafe with retro interiors and a classic menu ★
Cafe Milou - of all the places we ate in Mexico City, this had to be one of the best. Situated on a quaint cobblestone street, Cafe Milou leaves little to be desired with their mediterranian menu and friendly staff ★
Rosetta Bakery - serving up some next level croissants & pastries. Perfect for a morning on the go or an afternoon pick me up
Chiquito Cafe - the perfect afternoon coffee spot with delectable baked goods & 3 locations across CDMX
Delirio - casual spot in Roma Norte open late (works for dessert too!)l ★
Cafe Nin - rustic interiors and perfect pastries make this the ideal place for a light breakfast in Juarez
If you’re looking for something a bit heavier, these options work better for lunch and dinner.
lunch + dinner
Rosetta- For when you get sick of tacos (not likely.. but still). Rosetta’s Italian menu is small but mighty, featuring a risotto with squash blossoms i’ll never forget
Contramar - Probably Mexico City’s most famous restaurant and it’s not for nothing. Most popularly known for their fresh seafood; try the Contramar fish & the shrimp ceviche.
Pujol - Enrique Olvera, featured on Netflix’s Chef’s Table, is the chef and owner of Cosme of New York City and this restaurant ranked #13 on the World's Best Restaurants list. Let’s just say, getting a reservation here is not easy.
Rosa Negra - Polanco’s dependably delicious restaurant featuring dishes from all over Latin America in a large open setting
Mercado Roma - the Chelsea Market of Mexico City
Lardo - mediterranian restaurant located in Condesa by same owners as Rosetta
Sartoria - a newly opened Itallian restaurant with modern interiors and freshly made pasta. Name a better duo. I’ll wait..
Quintonil - #22 on the World’s Best Restaurants list, serving Contemporary Mexican Fare by Jorge Vallejo (protegee of Enirque Olvera).
What To Do:
What not to do would probably be a better question. There’s just SO much. From Museums to Markets, Mexico City has something for everyone.
With all the incredible culture and history, sightseeing & museum visits are the most obvious use of time.
noteworthy Museums, Galleries, + Architecture:
Frieda Khalo Musuem - dedicated to the life and work of Frida Kahlo. When I said book your museums early, I'm particularly referring to this one. The line can get pretty long so you’ll want to get there early
Museo Soumaya - a stunning structure filled with Central American & European Art
Galleria OMR - showcasing contemporary art in Mexico City’s Roma Norte
Palacio de Bellas Artes - iconic art deco architecture, exhibiting the work of famous Mexican artists and more
Museo Jumex - privately owned museum featuring modern & contemporary artists like Andy Warhol & Bruce Nauman
Museo de Arte Popular - dedicated to the preservation and display of Mexican handcrafts & folk art.
Diego Rivera & Frida Kahlo Studio - a staggering structure in Mexico City built by Mexican-Irish Architect Jaun O’Gorman as a home and studio for Diego & Frida.
Metropolitan Cathedral - arguably the most recognizable building in Mexico City and one of Latin America’s largest churches. It’s sheer size makes it worth a visit.
Another great use of time is a stroll through the park. The weather in Mexico City is perfect for a walk pretty much anytime of year. There’s tons of parks & gardens throughout the city. The Bosque de Chapultepec is the largest in Mexico City, and houses the Chapultepec Castle, a zoo, botanical gardens, and the Natural History Museum
Entertainment wise consider watching Lucha Libre, a live wrestling match. Arena Mexico hosts luchas regularly and is a great option for something a bit more lively. Speaking of lively, Mexico City’s live music scene is impossible to ignore and is more than just mariachi (but if you’re looking for that, check out Plaza Garibaldi in the late afternoon - evening). Jules Basement has live jazz night every Tuesday night and Mama Rumba offers salsa classes every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday for 100 pesos.
As far as shopping goes, you’ll be able to find all the typical high street stores pretty easily. But if you’re looking for something a bit more unique and exciting consider boutique options. Mexico city is home to some exceptional artisans, making these really worth the visit.
XINU Perfumes is a unique boutique perfumery that utilizes Central American botanicals as the main scent profiles. A visit to their showroom will prove to be a sensory experience like nothing else, and the chances of leaving without a new fragrance are slim to none. I picked up the scent Copala, a spicy scent with a sweet vanilla note.
Lago DF is a great option if you’re looking to pick up some unique clothing from local designers
Featuring handmade textiles and objects, Onora Casa is the perfect place to grab a souvenir for your home
There’s also tons of markets dispersed throughout the city; the ideal place to secure something truly unique. Try La Lagunilla, an open air market open Sundays from 9am, to find art deco vintage pieces and random antiques.
You can’t leave mexico city without taking a cooking class. Casa Jacaranda and Sobremesa Cooking School are two studios that offer an intimate and professional setting with great instruction. They include a trip to a local food market before your class that serves as a total immersion into the culinary scene in Mexico City.