Forget any articles you've read proclaiming Mexico City as being the new Berlin. Chilangos, aka Mexico City natives, will tell you it's not that simple. They'll also immediately rattle off everything that’s wrong with the city: water crisis, crime, corruption, traffic, pollution, and rising rent prices, among other things. But there’s also no denying this place's charm. Mexico City is a rarity in that it manages to be overwhelmingly beautiful and artsy, yet authentic and unpretentious all at once. To enjoy its true benefits, you just need to venture out of the city’s popular-with-tourists neighborhoods of La Condesa, Roma, and Polanco, so that you can experience the real thing.
To help you explore all the city has to offer, we’ve compiled a list of places to see and stay, eat, and drink at.
WHERE TO STAY
Casa Jacinta Guest House: A gem in Coyoacán just blocks from the historic center of the neighborhood. This beautiful hotel won’t feel like a hotel, given that it has only seven rooms. The garden terrace gives the space a quiet, tranquil feel and the tile work in each room makes it feel special.
Airbnb: This is my top choice for lodging in Mexico City. You can find comfortable, cozy, and beautiful lived-in apartments in the best locations for a fraction of the cost of a hotel. Look for spots in Centro Historico, Coyoacán, San Rafael, and Santa María la Ribera for the most authentic experience.
WHERE TO EAT
Taco stands and street vendors: Try all of them. Street food is a huge part of Mexican culture. It’s estimated that more than 75 percent of the population in Mexico City eats on the street at least once a week. That’s because there are endless options with delicious foods, from tortas and tacos to licuados, a blended drink made with fruit and milk, and pan dulce, or sweet bread.
Que Sería De Mí: There is usually a short wait here, but it’s worth it. This casual brunch spot offers up Mexican classics like chilaquiles, as well as pancakes and eggs. It’s intimate and has enough variety to please all your friends.
Mercado Roma: This was described as “fresa,” or for the rich and preppy, by an Uber driver once, but the fact that Mercado Roma offers gourmet foods, from organic produce and artisanal beers to prepared meals, means that it warrants a visit. There are a ton of stands, vendors, and restaurants to choose from.
Maria Ciento38: If you’re in the mood for something not Mexican, Maria Ciento38 is an Italian restaurant set in an adorable courtyard in the heart of Santa Maria la Ribera. Here, you’ll find that the food is delicious, which would explain why they’re often out of certain dishes. Service is rather slow—this is not a place where you’ll get your food quickly—but the taste and ambiance make up for that. There are also good cocktails, lattes, and desserts.
Amatista Tostadas: As the name would imply, the specialty here is tostadas, which are flat, toasted tortillas usually topped with beans, lettuce, tomatoes, and cheese. But there are dozens of kinds of tostadas here with an assortment of different and delicious toppings. For 90 pesos (around $5), you can also get a four-course meal, with a salad, soup, your choice of tostada, and dessert.
WHERE TO DRINK
Maria Condesa Boutique Hotel: Located on the first floor of a small hotel in popular La Condesa, this bar offers tasty cocktails and various options for mezcal. It’s a small space but has comfortable lounge chairs for seating and a few outdoor tables that are prime spots for people watching.
Punto Gozadera: A feminist gathering spot for local artists, women, and the LGBTQ community, this bar and vegetarian restaurant regularly hosts film screenings, workshops, art exhibits, and other events. The activist space feels particularly comfortable, given that it’s a place free of discrimination, misogyny, sexism, and racism.
The Beer Box: A small bar in La Condesa, this place offers dozens of kinds of beer, from the stuff brewed in nearby neighborhoods to classic German brews. It’s usually quiet, the bartenders are friendly, and it’s a great place to spend a few hours when you want to relax.
Pulquería La Hija de Los Apaches: This is as Mexican as you can get in Mexico City, a super-popular place with locals looking for a fun evening. The place is usually packed, but you’re bound to find a table. The specialty drink here is pulque, a traditional alcoholic drink made from the fermented sap of agave plants. Pulque is made “natural,” or in a variety of fruit flavors. Also good to know: They actually do check your ID at the door.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO
Ride a bike: The city has more than 150 kilometers, or 90 miles, of bike lanes, and it’s building more. Its bike share program, Ecobici, makes cycling an easy way to see and get around, and it’s actually often quicker than sitting in traffic. But if the enormity of the city makes biking daunting, try one of the many weekly group rides—Bicitekas hosts one every Wednesday at 9pm—or a guided bike tour.
Museo Frida Kahlo: This small museum is housed in Mexican artist Frida Kahlo’s lifelong home, known as the Blue House. It doesn’t have a large collection of Kahlo’s own artwork but rather offers an intimate look at Kahlo’s life through pieces of her home. Given that Kahlo is one of Mexico’s greatest artists, it is busy every day, year-round, so you’ll want to buy tickets in advance to avoid standing in line. The home-turned-museum is in beautiful Coyoacán, where a busy historic square and market are worth the trip alone. While you’re there, stop by the Museo Casa de León Trotsky.
Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe: Considered one of the most important sites for Mexican Catholics, la Basilica is a national shrine where it is believed that the Virgin Mary appeared to Saint Juan Diego. The site is made up of several buildings, the most important being the Old Basílica, completed in 1709, and the Modern Basílica, built in the 1970s. Since it's built on a hill, it offers one of the best views of Mexico City.
Palacio de Bellas Artes and Centro Historico: Palacio de Bellas Artes is a cultural center in the historic area of Mexico City. It's well-known for its architecture, as well as the murals inside, including those by Rufino Tamayo and Diego Rivera. The place also holds regular exhibitions and events. On the top floor is the Museum of Architecture. Other sites in the historic center include the Zocalo, where a major Aztec temple was recently discovered, Alameda Park, la Catedral Metropolitana de la Ciudad de México, Latin America's oldest and largest cathedral, and a handful of museums.
Bosque de Chapultepec: Despite being busy and congested, Mexico City has no lack of green space. Chapultepec Park is one of the largest city parks in the Western Hemisphere, and its central location offers a respite from the grind of city life. The park is divided into three sections, and inside there’s a zoo, an auditorium for performances, and not-to-be-missed museums, including the Museum of Anthropology and Rufino Tamayo Museum. There’s even a castle-turned-museum inside the park that offers an amazing view.
Kiosco Morisco in Santa María la Ribera: Santa María la Ribera, one of Mexico City’s first planned neighborhood, is now a quiet, traditional working-class neighborhood near Centro Historico. It’s worth the visit alone for the Kiosco Morisco, a Moorish-style kiosk in the neighborhood’s main public square where friends and families go walk, talk, eat a snack, or listen to music. The kiosk has a cool history: It was designed for the 1884 World's Fair by Mexican engineer José Ramón Ibarrola and later brought to Santa María la Ribera. Other neighborhood gems include Biblioteca Vasconcelos, an architecturally-unique public library near Metro Buenavista that’s a great place to pass the time.
Xochimilco: While technically one of Mexico City’s 16 boroughs, Xochimilco feels like its own city (it actually used to be). The district is a popular area for tourism because of its famous trajineras, colorful gondola-like boats, that ride around the canals. On a trajinera ride, you’ll be greeted by other boats selling food and drinks or playing music. There’s also a popular market here.