The largest city in North America by population and formerly the seat of the Aztec Empire, Mexico City (or D.F., pronounced de-efe) is a beautiful city with a unique history and culture that blends both Spanish and indigenous cultures.
Mexico City is also Jorge’s hometown, so this local guide is collated from Jorge’s friends & family (we can’t take all the credit!), as well as from our own experiences in our past few trips.
Since Mexico City is so big, we've split this post into different neighborhoods. It’s helpful to plan your days around a particular area, especially as traffic can be quite bad during rush hour.
For getting around, we recommend Uber as it is affordable and tends to be safer than other forms of transportation.
Polanco is an affluent neighborhood where you will find a lot of nice shops, European-style cafes and bistros, high-end stores and galleries, and many foreign embassies. Many of these businesses are in remodeled colonial mansions from over a century ago and have a quintessentially Mexican feel. We recommend staying here for first-time visitors as it is close to all the major sights.
Castillo de Chapultepec and Chapultepec Park
The palace of the short-lived Hapsburg king Maximilian sits on top of a hill in Chapultepec Park, an expansive park many times larger than New York's Central Park. The castle is North American's only castle and features beautiful murals and a great view of the city. There's also a lovely landscaped courtyard.
Museo Nacional de Antropología
The city's most famous museum, the anthropology museum, is enormous and full of artifacts from the Aztec empire. The museum has a stunning inner courtyard. Since it would take days to see everything, it's recommended to visit just a few sections to get a feel for all the indigenous sculptures they have. Make sure to check out the Aztec calendar!
They also have special performances right outside of the museum like the Voladores de Papantla.
Museo Rufino Tamayo
This is a small modern museum next to the anthropology museum – it's a great place to grab a quick lunch as well.
To Eat & Shop
Polanco is full of shops, cafes, and markets, and you'll see many locals sitting outside enjoying a long brunch. Mexico City's most well-known fine dining experience is at Pujol (featured in the Netflix show Chef's Table), though many people say that Quintonil, its sister restaurant, is even better. Both offer an upscale take on traditional Mexican cuisine. You could also try Eno, another restaurant by the same chef.
Catamundi is a very nice breakfast place in the area as well.
For non-Mexican fare, we recommend Nonsolo Polanco, an Italian restaurant, or El Japonez, located in an old colonial restaurant and shared with a center for German design, and Nick-san for Japanese.
There is a unique cafe/bookshop called El Pendulo in this neighborhood that is well worth visiting.
Next to Polanco, this is a newly developed area with many high rise offices and shopping areas.
A new museum designed by Fernando Romeo, the son-in-law of Carlos Slim, one-time richest man in the world. The design is a bit contentious to locals and architects alike, but the museum is definitely worth a visit and hosts a wide range of sculptures and antiquities from all over the world.
A smaller museum next to the Soumaya mostly featuring contemporary art.
Condesa & Roma
An area that began a rapid gentrification process about twenty years ago when artists and creatives moved into a run-down central neighborhood in the city. Now home to wealthy artists and international expats, the area is pedestrian-friendly and hosts a wide array of restaurants, shops, and neighborhood parks. Roma, now more well-known because of Alfonso Cuaron's eponymous movie, is what Condesa used to be a few years ago. It is more affordable than Condesa but contains many of the popular shops, cafes, and restaurants.
Ojo de Agua features healthy breakfast food and smoothies. This is on Amsterdam St which used to be a horse racing track – the street forms a loop.
Duo is a great spot for a Mexican breakfast – it is run by Swiss baker and a chef from Oaxaca.
The Centro underwent drastic renovations and improvements under the patronage of billionaire Carlos Slim. The bustling area hosts a variety of museums and historic buildings where the clash of Spanish and indigenous cultures can still be felt. The Centro is also the seat of the Mexican government and the location of the heart of the ancient Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan. Historic Spanish palaces have been remodeled and converted into apartments, shops, restaurants, and hotels.
Zócalo Square | Plaza de la Constitución
The main square of the city center, around which many government buildings are located. The site has been in use since Aztec times – for over seven hundred years, it has been a gathering place for religious and political ceremonies. The square sits next to the Templo Mayor.
Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral
A large cathedral at the edge of the Zocalo, originally built in the ruins of one of the Aztec temples, that has played a significant role in many of Mexico's important historical events.
Museo Templo Mayor
Known to the Aztecs as the center of the universe, (you can really appreciate the history of Mexico City and see the ruins of the ancient Aztec capital and see how the Spanish built their city right over it and using even the same stones)
Palacio de Bellas Artes
Housed in a beautiful historic building, the Palace of Fine Arts is a performing and cultural arts center featuring many of Mexico's finest performances and exhibitions. You can enter to tour the building and any ongoing exhibitions.
Palacio de Correos de México
A beautiful and eclectic post office is located in this area – the post office was built in 1907 and was restored to its original design in the 1990s.
To Eat & Do
Sanborns Casa de los Azulejos is a beautiful old 18th century palace now renovated as a restaurant and department store. Stop by for an affordable Mexican breakfast before exploring the rest of the Centro.
Al-Andalus is a great Lebanese eatery in the area housed in a former colonial mansion.
El Cardenal and Azul Historico both serve classic and upscale Mexican cuisine. Limosneros serves classic Mexican fare in a rustic, elegant setting.
Coyoacan is a quaint, older neighborhood in the south of Mexico City popular amongst defeños (locals from D.F., pronounced de-efe in Spanish) as an escape from the city. Lined with cobblestone streets and old colonial homes, Coyoacan is now popular with tourists for its traditional plazas, markets, and as the home of Frida Kahlo and many other well-known Mexican artists.
Museo Frida Kahlo
Also known as the Blue House – for its bright cobalt blue painted walls – the museum is the former home of Frida Kahlo and where she lived for a number of years with her partner Diego Rivera. Make sure to book ahead as the museum is very popular and there can be long queues for entry. Frida and Diego's studio is also in this area.
Museo Casa de Leon Trotsky
Very close to Museo Frida Kahlo, this is a museum of Trotsky's house in exile in Mexico City. Trotsky came to live to Mexico City in exile (due to the intervention of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera) and was eventually assassinated in this house.
See & Visit
Mercado de Comida Coyoacan is an authentic Mexican market featuring everything from street food to traditional Mexico arts and crafts. You will likely see and taste all kinds of fruits you didn’t even know existed – the merchants will gladly let you try anything.
Vivero Coyoacan is a park and tree nursery in the area popular with locals. It sometimes hosts plant markets and exhibitions as well.
The capital of the Aztec Empire, the ancient ruins of Tenochtitlan should not be missed. Tenochtitlan was the largest city in the Americas prior to Spanish conquest, and one of the largest cities in the world at the time.
There are many buses or tours that can take you to Tenochtitlan (about an hour away from the city) from Condesa or from the center.
Basílica de Guadalupe
The basilica is a massive Catholic church where hundreds of thousands of pilgrims go every year to see the cloak of Our Lady of Guadalupe; the architecture of the basilica is very striking.
The last vestige of the former lake upon which Mexico City was built, Xochimilco is best known for its canals and colorful artificial islands, called chinampas, which were built in the pre-colonial period. Now a World Heritage Site, Xochimilco is very popular with tourists – you can ride one of the whimsical boats and float down the canal for a few hours.
General “street” and cheap food:
El Borrego Viudo, El Fogoncito, and El Farolito are Mexican taco places where you can get the typical Mexican “tacos al pastor”.
For Asian-Mexican fusion: Tori Tori, El Japonez, Mog Mog
Luis Barragan House & Studio is the house of Mexico’s most renowned architect and an early winner of the Pritzer Prize.