Mexico’s capital city is dripping in history, culture, and street eats.
The food is incredible.
It’s home to beautiful, leafy parks.
It’s got more tree-lined avenues then you’d imagine.
It has perfect weather – ‘year round spring’.
There are tons of great museums.
And, the coffee scene is off the hook.
All said, it’s no surprise this metropolis attracts digital nomads from around the world.
With two weeks in the capital, I left eager to return for more. In only a matter of days, I started to see Mexico City as a place I could live- it’s the kind of place where a short journey just doesn’t suffice. Like any metropol, the city’s layers could easily take a lifetime to fully appreciate.
Mexico City, affectionately known to locals at Ciudad de Mexico (CDMX) has come a long way in recent years.
The city is home to 8.8M people, and located 7,000 feet above sea level. The traffic and altitude are nothing to joke about. We underestimated how long it’d take us to get around, and how hard it would be to get used to the altitude.
If you’re heading to CDMX for holiday, or to suss out whether it could be the kind of place you stay a bit longer, don’t miss these activities- they were our favourite way to get to know the city.
10 Things You Must Do in Mexico City
Soak in the city’s greenery
I was so impressed with how green CDMX was- tree-lined avenues, and loads of parks of all sizes across the city. Don’t miss a stroll through Parque Mexico or Parque España.
Wander the historic areas of Roma Norte and Condesa
With so many shops, cafes and restaurants, these neighbourhoods are among the city’s hippest. Beyond there being plenty to do, both are worth a visit to just wander- the details of the beautiful, traditional homes are incredible to take in
Peruse traditional markets
We popped into a few markets in the city, but La Ciudadela was my favourite. With tons of artisan goods, it’s a great spot for souvenir shopping.
Visit artsy Coyoacan and Museo Frida Kahlo
Coyoacan is the artist neighbourhood, south of downtown that is famous for being the home of Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo.
The blue house Frida Kahlo shared with Diego Rivera is now a museum showcasing her iconic art and style, with some rooms turned into exhibition spaces and others left as they were. We loved her bright studio, and wandering her garden full of cacti.
Admission is a bit steep (for CDMX), so we both used old student IDs for a deep discount. In doing so, we didn’t realize there was a photo pass we needed to take pictures inside the museum, which is why most of my shots from our experience are outdoors. The museum is very strict about no photos in the home, unless you have the pass.
Whether you’re already a Frida fan or not, the museum is a must visit in CDMX- buy your tix online ahead of time- the line is always long otherwise. And, take Uber there- the buses/metro from city centre can take over two hours otherwise.
When you’re done at the museum, head out to explore Coyoacan- it’s got an old Mexican town vibe to it with cobblestone streets, vividly-coloured buildings and traditional markets. This barrio also has some of the best street food in Mexico City and it’s walkable, so easy to explore post-museum going.
Eat your way around the city
The rule of thumb, in Mexico City, is that you can’t go more than 10 paces without stumbling upon a thing to eat.
CDMX gets a bad rep for vegetarian eats- mostly because, it can be hard to find vegetarian street food. But, there are plenty of sidewalk restaurants, and beautiful cafes with absolutely delicious vegetarian eats.
In fact, after two weeks in CDMX, I was raving about it to my vegetarian friends, and already planning my return.
Favourite Breakfast Spots:
- Clara y Ema: Great egg sandos, served up on fluffy brioche rolls
- Blend Station: A fantastic cafe with a great brunch menu
- Lalo!: Hipster brunch, but worth the crowds and inflated price, because the chilaquiles are incredible
- Fonda Margarita: The CDMX version of the Breakfast Club
- Lardo: The lunch menu looked good, but we came specifically for brunch (guava rolls + iced lattes) in a beautiful space
- Panaderia Rosetta: A fantastic bakery with the best guava rolls. Come early, they sell out mid-morning, and don’t miss their classic hot chocolate
- Ojo de Agua: With locations across CDMX, Ojo is great for a fresh juice fix or healthy brunch
Best taco spots:
- Por Siempre Vegana Taqueria: Quite possibly, the best spot for vegetarian tacos in CDMX. Don’t miss trying the El Pastor lookalikes- it’s the flavour of Mexico without the meat. Excellent value too- $1 USD for each taco
- Taco Gus: Revered for its ever-changing array of vegetarian tacos
- La Pitahaya Vegana: Famed for their Instagrammable pink tortillas, the vegetarian tacos are pretty good, too. Especially liked the cauliflower one and tofu scramble one, although the flavours could have been kicked up a notch
- Los Especiales: Lunch for $1.60 USD? Yes, please! This taco shop used to be a street food stall, but was so popular, they opened a storefront. Incredibly, they’re still selling tacos for the same price. The potato and bean ones were delicious, loaded up with avocado salsa, pickled veg and other salsas. Wash it all down with a Coke, and revel in the local scene. If you come during lunch, it’ll be crowded, but the line is a token system and moves quickly
Even more great eats:
- Churreria El Moro: Fresh churros, plus over eight types of hot chocolate with locations across the city
- Los Loosers: Vegan, Mexican-Japanese fusion eats
- Orale Arepa: Thankfully there are a few vegetarian options on the menu here, because the arepas are insane. Loved the queso and plantain one, so flavourful and filling
- Yug Vegetariano: One of CDMX’s original vegetarian restaurants, in operation since 1963, and popular for good reason
- Vege de Mexico: Tried huitlacoche for the first time here in a quesadilla oozing cheese, while being serenaded by a man strumming the guitar. Actual perfection, and even better since it was only $1.50 for the quesadilla
- Pasteleria Ideal: An old school, historic Mexican bakery with traditional, delicious cookies. You’ll see people carrying their blue and white boxes all around the historic center
- Nomada Heladeria: Great ice cream
- Figcelle: CDMX has it all, even amazing French bakeries
- Two great food halls: Mercado Roma (the guava ginger juice is a must try!) and Mercado de Coyoacan
- Fresh mango with chili salt: You’ll see street vendors selling it all over the city, and it’s a spicy, sweet, salty must eat
Relax with a cup of coffee at any of the city’s cool cafes
I may not speak fluent Spanish, but I do speak coffee.
Fortunately for me, the third wave coffee movement has taken over Mexico City with loads of artisanal cafes.
- Blend Station (Condesa and Roma Norte): Our favourite cafe in CDMX. We loved both locations, but if you’re looking to post up and work, Roma Norte is better- plenty of seats, plugs, good WiFi, and a menu packed with food and drinks. Did I mention everything inch is covered in abstract, pastel design?
- Dosis (Roma): One of the best spots to work in Roma, Dosis has blazing fast Wifi. The mugs are huge, and booths cozy, with faux-fur throws to snuggle up to while you sip. Don’t miss the mochas, they’re amazing
- Memories of a Barista (Roma): Nearby Dosis, Memories is curbside cute. A great stop if you need a break while wandering
- Efimero Cafe (Condesa): With the weather being so great in CDMX, sidewalk cafes are where it’s at. Efimero’s adorable wicker chairs and leafy plant boxes make it a super relaxing place to sit, sip and watch the world go by
- Cafe Negro (Coyoacán): If you’re visiting the Frida Kahlo Museum while in CDMX, which you absolutely should, Cafe Negro is a must. It’s a beautifully designed upmarket cafe with incredible macadamia nut milk mochas
- Cafebreria El Pendulo (Roma and Condesa): With locations across the city, Cafebreria is a real life dream. Bookstore meets cafe? Yes, please!
- Drip (Condesa): Drip is the itty bitty cafe that’s ace for flat whites or drip coffee, if you’ve got time to hang at one of the cafe’s sidewalk seats
- Cucurucho (Polanco): Popular with locals for a reason, the almond milk flat whites are fantastic
- Cardinal Cafe (Roma): Loved the design of this cafe, which opens fully to the sidewalk, ensuring a nice breeze. The design is rustic, world traveler, and the iced lattes are bangin’
- Tierra Garat (locations across the city): We loved Tierra Garat, mostly for its iced coffee drinks- many of which are a spin on Mexico’s infamous hot chocolate and horchata
- Buna (Roma): Lovely for early morning sidewalk side lattes
- Clara y Ema (Condesa): American inspired brekkie sandos? Sign me up. The egg ones are so good, we came twice
- Don Porfiero Cafe (Historic District): The horchata is good, but the view of Palacio de Bellas Artes is the real reason to visit this rooftop cafe on the eighth floor of the Sears building
Spend a day at the Anthropology Museum
If you only have time to see one museum, aside from Frida Kahlo, make it the Anthropology one.
You’d need several days to give it proper justice, it offers such a detailed history of Mexico. We wandered all of it, and picked a few areas to deep dive. We especially loved the outdoor gardens, and ruin replicas.
Centro, as it’s called by locals, is the heart of CDMX. It’s the oldest neighborhood in the city, and was the ancient city of Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec empire before it was razed by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century.
The neighbourhood is loaded with historic buildings and amazing museums. In particular, the Zocalo (main square) is surrounded by the most beautiful colonial buildings.
Off to the side of the Zocalo, the ruins of Tenochtitlan lie beneath Centro Historico and Templo Mayor is the main structure that was unearthed by archaeologists in the 1970s. And, while you’re in the area, don’t miss popping into the Centro Historico church- the details are just exquisite.
In addition to Belles Artes (gorgeous view from the eighth floor of the Sears building), and checking out the golden post office.
Sample different flavours of Pulque
Pulque is the stuff of legends. Mexico’s oldest drink is the drink of the gods.
The frothy white beverage predates the arrival of the Spanish by at least 1,500 years, it’s the ancient ancestor of mezcal and tequila. All three drinks come from the same family of plants, but pulque is made by fermenting-as opposed to distilling- the sap of agave.
It’s a must try while in CDMX. Some places like Pulqueria Duelistas offer different flavour variants to make it a bit more palpable.
Head out of the city to San Miguel de Allende
Timeless colonial architecture. Casual afternoon strolls. Endless charming alleys and boutiques. Tiny courtyard cafes, tucked away from the street. A relaxed pace of living, home to artists, expats and visitors from around the world. Temperatures warm enough to be considered perpetual spring. And, a culinary scene with some of the best food in Mexico.
With over 500 years of history, San Miguel de Allende, a small town in the Mexican highlands, packs a punch.
On our trip to San Miguel de Allende (SMDA), we spent the entire day turning down every street we happened across.
It’s the kind of place you don’t need an agenda- every street is picturesque, and has something worth observing.
We visited on a day trip from CDMX, which made for a long journey, but was certainly worth it to visit this gorgeous place of cobbled streets and old-world charm.
You’d be better spending a few days there to really soak in everything SMDA has to offer, but if you’re short on time (as we were), it’s also possible to get a feel for the town in a day.
A few other things to do if you have time, while in CDMX
- Meander Bosque de Chapultepec, a park with an impressive 1,600 acres
- Make a reservation to see Luis Barragan’s Houses: Luis revolutionised modern architecture in the country with his use of bright colors, reminiscent of the traditional architecture of Mexico
- Listen to traditional Mexican music in Plaza Garibaldo (aka Mariachi Square): Mariachi bands gather in the square, and for a fee you can request as many songs as you like. Salón Tenampa is the perfect spot to grab a drink and listen to tunes
- Attend a Lucha Libre match at Arena Mexico to see Mexican wrestling in action
- Take a day trip to visit Teotihuacan Pyramids: The site is massive, it was one of the largest cities in the world during ancient times. Founded in around 100 BC, Teotihuacán is comprised of three main ruins: the Moon Pyramid, Sun Pyramid and Temple of Quetzalcoatl. A sunrise hot air balloon ride over the pyramids was at the top of things I wanted to do in CDMX, but alas, norovirus I picked up in Seattle thwarted those plans
EXTRA MEXICO CITY TRAVEL TIPS
Language: Español. Few people, even at upmarket places, speak fluent, if any, English. If you don’t know any Spanish, communicating will likely be hard at times- come ready with Google Translate downloaded to work offline
Currency: Peso. Always carry Pesos with you, street stalls and small businesses won’t accept card payment, and even some of the upmarket cafes/restaurants have a spend threshold
Where to Stay: We loved the Roma and Condesa neighbourhoods- beautiful architecture, and lots of cafes/shops/restaurants. Would 100% stay in an Airbnb in one of those neighbourhoods vs. the historic downtown. Our Airbnb was a private room with an en-suite and high-speed WiFi (no kitchen) in Roma averaged $22 USD a night
Getting Around: CDMX is huge. We thought we’d take the subway/buses everywhere, but quickly realised they take 3-4x as long as driving, even in the city’s heinous traffic. Uber is the way to go if you’re short on time- generally, rides cost between $2-8 USD, depending how far we were going and time of day. Most of ours were under $5 USD
Airport Transit: We’d planned on taking a local bus, but saw it’d take 1.5 hours vs. 15-20 minutes in an Uber to get to Roma. Both ways were $5-7 USD per ride
Conscious Travel: Avoiding single use plastic in Mexico is easy- take your own refillable bottle, and either refill at water stations, or bring your own water purification method (such as, a LifeStraw)
Solo Female Travel Advice: Mexico City definitely has a ‘dangerous’ reputation in the international press (UK, US), but I never felt uneasy wandering around Condesa or Roma. As with other cities, I’m careful about showing off possessions, always walk with my cross-body bag in front of me, and try to be extra mindful of my surroundings after dark
WiFi/SIM Access: I bought a SIM upon arrival from Telcel in the airport (second level, near international departures) for ease of not having to find a corner store/SIM retailer in the city.
We noted free WiFi zones around the city, but the signal was often unstable. Most upmarket cafes have WiFi, but be prepared to ask for the password in Spanish
Have you ever been to CDMX? What would you advise first time travellers not miss doing?
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