When you think of a vacation in Mexico you probably think of its beautiful beachfront towns and resorts, the sparkling blue waters and golden sands of Tulum, Cabo San Lucas, Isla Mujeres and countless others. Bustling metropolises probably aren’t the first thing that comes to mind. It is a country tourists typically visit to escape the hustle and bustle of their own lives, rather than seek out somewhere that might mimic it. If you’re currently searching for the next vacation destination to add to your list, though, it’s high time you give Mexico City a chance.
Mexico City, often abbreviated to CDMX, is the oldest city in the Americas, built upon the ruins of the Aztec Empire’s capital Tenochtitlán. The city is steeped in history and has long been a center of anthropological, historical and cultural relevance. Now, this restless megalopolis represents the perfect marriage between old and new, as it has become an epicenter of art, design, architecture, culture and culinary delights. Simply put, Mexico City has something for everyone. Young or old, travelling solo or with the family, whether you’re looking to kick back and unwind or you live for the party, whatever your poison, you can find it in CDMX.
The city is home to world class galleries and museums and is a hub of Latin American art, culture and pre-Hispanic anthropological wonders. It is impossible to visit Mexico City without becoming hypnotized by the riches and the stories of the people that came before us. Explore Aztec ruins in the city center at the Templo Mayor Museum or spend a whole day wandering through the National Museum of Anthropology to view its stunning collection of Mesoamerican artefacts. Afterwards, stroll through the sprawling Bosque de Chapultepec, one of the largest city parks in the Western Hemisphere, and enjoy the fresh air, green spaces and street performers, or head on over to Expendio de Maiz, in the bohemian Roma Norte district, to taste the best pre-Hispanic delicacies the city has to offer. Seriously, this restaurant is not to be missed; it’s a casual dining experience, with communal tables and a non-existent menu. Simply tell your waiter if you have any dietary requirements and how hungry you are and then sit back and enjoy a steady flow of delicious plates exploding with flavors and ingredients like you’ve never experienced before.
Photo of Bosque de Chapultepec by Bohao Zhao under a Creative Commons license.
For art lovers, Mexico City is your oyster. Visit city staples like the Soumaya Museum, a stunning piece of architecture and a treasure trove of works from celebrated Mexican artists and those more internationally renowned. Next door you’ll find Museo Jumex, housing works by Damien Hirst, Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons and Marcel DuChamp, among others. For contemporary art, visit the Museo Tamayo or find the classics at the National Museum of Art, home to the most important collection of Mexican art in the country. Of course, no trip to Mexico’s capital is complete without a visit to The Blue House, otherwise known as the Frida Kahlo Museum, the breathtaking residence in which the treasured artist spent most of her life. For those more into architecture, Mexico City has no shortage of incredible pre-Hispanic, colonial and contemporary buildings worth your attention. Visit the historic Palacio de Bellas Artes, the city’s grandest performance space, the Basílica de Santa Maria de Guadalupe or the Monumento a la Revolución. For something more contemporary, don’t miss the many sites designed by famed Mexican mid-century architect Luis Barragán, including the Casa Luis Barragán, his former residence.
Mexico City is also a serious contender for the world’s greatest food city. I mean, who doesn’t love Mexican food? From street food vendors, to leisurely brunch spots to Michelin starred restaurants, your taste buds will thank you for making the trip. There is no end to the delightful variety of street food available in this city, but make sure to try elotes, a salty corn-on-the-cob snack that’s usually topped with chilli, cheese and mayonnaise. Tacos are a must while you’re in town too and you’ll find them on almost every street, but if you’re looking for something a little more adventurous, check out the taqueria known as Chetito in the Cuauhtemoc district. Wherever you go to enjoy your Mexican fare, make sure to wash it down with a cold glass of horchata, a sweet beverage that somehow tastes just like childhood in a glass, or pulque, a creamy, fermented alcoholic drink, native to central Mexico. For lovers of brunch, seek out restaurants like Lardo, Lalo!, Café Nin or Frëims. For something a little more traditional, visit Café de Tacuba, a century-old institution in the city’s historic Zocalo district, complete with its own mariachi band. If you’re looking for more of a fine dining experience, there is no shortage of options here; try the famous Pujol, Quintonil or Máximo Bistro, to name a few. Then, for after dinner drinks, make your way to speakeasies Xaman or Hanky Panky, or, for somewhere more lively, Cantina Tio Pepe. For mezcal fans, dimly lit Bósforo is an absolute must.
Photo of the Frida Kahlo Museum by Ron Waddington under a Creative Commons license.
If you are travelling on a budget, don’t discount the more high-end dining experiences. They might not be as expensive as you expect. Most travelers are pleasantly surprised at how affordable this city can be. The same goes for transport; most likely, you’ll have no need to navigate the public transport system, and it will be more than affordable to get to everywhere you need to go with Uber, other ride sharing apps, or taxi companies. Don’t forget to look online to find the most reputable ones, though.
Of course, to do everything I’ve mentioned here would just be to scratch the surface. Mexico City is a sprawling metropolis with extraordinary new experiences waiting to be discovered on every corner. Whether you spend your days racing around with a full itinerary, or you simply decide to wander the leafy green streets of Condesa or Roma and watch the world go by, I’m willing to bet that as you come to the end of your first trip in this sensational city, you’ll be busy planning your second.
Bryony Parker is a writer and artist currently living in São Paulo, Brazil and working on her Masters in International Affairs. You can find her at @par666ker on all social media.