The whole time I was planning my trip to Mexico City, my dad kept referring to it as “Old Mexico.” Is that more of a 60s/70s era thing to say? In any case, Mexico City, the sprawling second-largest city in the Western Hemisphere (8.8 mil residents), is really heating up as a vacation destination. It was a lovely place to visit last December and I would return in an instant.
For starters, my friends and I saved money by flying out of Tijuana, something I’d recommend to Southern Californians. Flying on AeroMexico was great; our seats had touch screens with a pretty good movie selection. We got snacks but not a meal (the flight was about 5 hours). Coming home we flew VivaAerobus and I wouldn’t use them again unless the flight was significantly less than other carriers. Significantly. I ought to review them in a separate post, though. If you don’t live near the border, there are regular direct flights out of LAX, DFW, etc.
Mexico City is a city made of neighborhoods not unlike my home of San Diego. We stayed in Cuauhtémoc, extremely close to the famous Ángel de la Independencia and shared a street with foreign embassies. I highly recommend this calm, upscale, central neighborhood for someone uneasy about visiting Mexico (although you don’t really have a reason to be nervous). Other popular neighborhoods for young people are La Condesa and Roma Norte. Put those keywords into airbnb* and you should be able to find something nice.
Things to do:
Chapultepec park is like Mexico City’s version of Central Park. There is so much open space with different kinds of trees and vegetation, it is nice (and free) to walk around and take it all in. There are lots of toy vendors and street food vendors. You could easily spend half a day to a whole day here, and spend very little. Make sure to visit the very nice museums of anthropology (pictured above, 70 pesos) and modern art (60 pesos).
The Zocalo is the main part of the city where you’ll find lots of businesses, the famous large cathedral, city square, and museums. Two main things to see in the Zocalo:
- You can buy a ticket to explore the ancient Aztec/Pre-Aztec sites of Templo Mayor and Templo de Tláloc, or you can do what we did and go up to the cafe atop Librería Porrúa and eat lunch in the sun overlooking the ruins.
- Catedral Metropolitana – this is the largest cathedral in North America, and is stunning. We were there in December and loved the poinsettias.
- Palacio des Bellas Artes is walking distance from the Zocalo, and is the beautiful building in the photo at the top of the post. Inside the museum (60 pesos) you can see large murals by some of Mexico’s most famous painters, Diego Rivera, Siqueiros and Tamayo, in addition to walking through more traditional museum exhibits like sculptures, paintings and artifacts. You can also attend an opera or ballet inside the Palacio, but that requires a separate ticket.
If you’ve traveled all the way down to Mexico City, you must make it a priority to take a half-day and tour the ancient pyramids at Teotihuacan (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). I even wrote a whole post to help you manage it cheaply.
Visiting Xochimilco (southeast of Mexico city center) and Coyoacán (between Xochimilco and CDMX city center) is a great two-part day trip.
Coyoacán is a smaller community famous for its markets and Frida Kahlo’s casa azul (the Frida Kahlo Museum) as well as the Leon Trotsky Museum. Frida lived here for much of her life. It’s much quieter than bustling Centro or Zocalo. They are famous for wonderful sweets.
Down in Xochimilco (another UNESCO World Heritage Site), you can take a one or two hour gondola ride and listen to mariachi bands out on the water. If you travel this far south, don’t head north without touring the Museo Dolores Olmedo (75 pesos; near the hwy sign 113 on the map shown here). Dolores Olmedo was a close friend of Frida and Diego. You will see lots of wonderful art, rotating exhibits, and beautiful grounds populated by a family of xoloitzcuintli (Mexican hairless) dogs and peacocks roaming free. This museum was one of the highlights of my trip.
The city has so much amazing food and drink to offer. I’m talking tacos for dayssss. If you get sick of tacos, there are lots of other options, like a torta, which is a sandwich with a fluffy white bun. Just in case you’re vegetarian, don’t worry–I found that rajas, which are roasted peppers with cream, with refried beans, sometimes corn, and cheese, could be requested on tacos, tortas, etc. A couple other delicious central and southern Mexican specialties easily found in Mexico City are tlayudas and tlacoyos. I can’t really find these in Tijuana, so I gotta head back south to get some more!
Thanks to Instagram, I had the most picturesque churro place on my radar even before I booked my plane tickets. You must visit one of the Churrería El Moro locations. I also was happy to see that craft coffee culture is worldwide; I had great pour over coffee at Drip Specialty and espresso at Loncheria Bravo.
View more in my “First Time Visiting” series: Guanajuato, London, Paris, San Diego
Final Mexico City Notes:
Definitely, definitely take the metro. Don’t be intimidated by the crowds, it is fast, reliable, and really cheap. Like in all major world cities, watch out for pickpockets and keep your hand on your purse/bag while in crowded areas.
Anything I missed? I just know there are other must-visit museums and attractions. Leave a note in the comments for others planning upcoming trips!
All Photos by Staci and Doug Jackson for The Voyageer.
*Traveling with airbnb with my link (new sign ups only) will result in a discount for you and a credit for me. High five!