Mexico Magico: Guide to Mexico City

Being that my mom lives in Tennessee and my sister lives in Massachusetts, quality time together is something we cherish, and my mom’s upcoming birthday gave us the perfect excuse to plan a girl’s trip. A time to relax, laugh, drink wine, and catch up with my OG gal pals. A time to pop the bubble of daily routine and get inspired in a new place together. There is a liberating feeling that comes with packing your bags, hopping on a plane, and meeting up in a foreign country. 

Now I’ll be honest, big cities have never really been my thing. I’ll gladly choose the peace and quiet of a secluded beach or a hiking trail through the wilderness over the incessant noise, frantic energy, and chaotic crowds associated with city living. Despite all of this, there are some cities whose allure you simply can’t escape. And, in all of North America, there is perhaps no other city as fascinating and complex as Mexico’s colossal capital.

With nearly 9 million people, Mexico City is an enormous, bustling and chaotic place with so much to offer those who visit. Here you will find incredible museums, beautiful parks, historic churches, and delicious restaurants. There is something for everyone in this incredible city.  Originally founded by the Aztecs, conquered by the Spanish, defended against the Americans, and finally rising to the metropolis we know today, Mexico City, is a vibrant mosaic of culture, arts and history.

Mexico is not the polluted crime hub that many people think. When you’re exploring any city in the world, you need to be vigilant and aware of your surroundings, but we had zero problems while we were in Mexico City. Within a few hours of being there, it was clear the city was full of totally normal people living normal lives. It’s not the scary land of drug dealers you’ll read about online. Duh!

Foodies are making their way to Mexico City to satisfy their taste buds at some of the best restaurants in the world. History buffs can spend weeks exploring hundreds of museums and historic buildings. For those who simply want to relax and enjoy a cappuccino, glass of wine, or perhaps a little tequila in a charming, urban setting, this is the place for you. Its colorful streets carry the rhythm of music and delicious smells of food. You will never see a place more dynamic and colorful than Mexico City! And with the exchange rate working heavily in our favor, which is currently about 18 USD per 1 MXN, it’s easier than ever to book a trip to this magnificent city.

Where to Stay: 

Because the city is so big, deciding where to stay can be an overwhelming decision, and choosing the right area to stay during your visit is important. Mexico City has no shortage of Airbnb’s to accommodate every budget.

The Airbnb we chose for our 4 night stay was located in Hipodromo, a chic area that connects Roma and Condesa. The neighborhood of Condesa once included both Roma and Hipodromo, but they were carved out as separate neighborhoods as the population grew. This area of Mexico City is home to lush tree-lined streets, stunning architecture, world-renowned restaurants, and a youthful vibe.

Hipodromo is saturated with color and framed by two beautiful parks, Parque Mexico and Parque Espana, that are dripping with greenery year round. Known as a haven for dogs and dog lovers alike, Parque Mexico is the perfect place to get your puppy fix if you’re missing your own furbabies back home.

Uber operates all over the city and is a cheap, easy and safe way to get around. No more hailing potentially sketchy cabs again.

 

What to Do:

  • Visit Frida Kahlo’s House – Casa Azul 

Frida Kahlo is one of the biggest names in the history of Mexican Art. She was such a strong woman – constantly in pain but she never let that stop her from accomplishing all that she could. I have admired Frida for as long as I can remember, and having the opportunity to see where she grew up, where she lived, loved, created beautiful art, and ultimately where she died was an experience I will never forget. Located in the Coyoacán district, Casa Azul displays personal objects, photographs, and artwork of both Frida Kahlo and her husband, Diego Rivera. Touring their home is an interesting and worthwhile experience, which offers a deeper understanding of their lives and art. The museum is open from Tuesday to Sunday. Tickets cost $200 pesos for adults, which is approximately $11 U.S. dollars with the current exchange rate. The popularity of Frida has grown a lot in the past few years so expect long lineups to get in. I highly recommend buying your tickets in advance on their website. If you want to take photos inside, you need to pay a few extra pesos with your entry to do so.

  • Relax in Parque Mexico or Parque Espana

When the hustle and bustle of the city becomes too much too handle, the lush gardens of Parque Espana and Parque Mexico are the perfect retreat. The landscapes are meticulously maintained and filled with native trees and blooming perennials. Large groups of dogs of all shapes and sizes can be spotted strolling down the promenades or romping around the dog park in Parque Mexico. My sister and I were missing our dogs dearly, so we grew to love walking past the dog park to see who was in attendance. Both parks are always a hive of activity where you can sit down for awhile and people watch, catch live music, street performers, and children playing soccer. Parque Espana is smaller than Parque Mexico, but it’s equipped with playgrounds, walking paths, and cool statues.

 

  • Visit Castillo de Chapultepec

In the vastness of Mexico City, with its congested roads and endless urban landscape, Chapultepec Park provides a peaceful refuge where people can connect with nature. The park covers more than 1 square mile and is divided into 3 sections complete with walking pathways, lakes and food vendors. Chapultepec is also home to several museums, including Castillo de Chapultepec. This Spanish-style castle has served several purposes since it’s completion in 1863, including the Imperial residence,  a gunpowder warehouse for the Military Academy, Presidential home, and presently, the National Museum of History.  The castle offers a stunning view of the city. The contrast of being in the center of a busy, urban capital while surrounded by historic architecture and nature is captivating and unexpected. Tickets to visit Castillo de Chapultepec cost $65 pesos and visitors are welcome from 9am to 5pm Tuesday to Sunday. 

  • Visit the Museo Nacional de Antropología

Also located within Chapultepec Park is the word-class National Museum of Anthropology. 12 of the 23 exhibition rooms are dedicated to the native history of Mexico prior to the Spanish conquest. The Aztecs, Mayas, Teotihuacanos, Oaxaca – they’re all here. The museum houses incredible collections of sculptures, jewels, pottery and other artifacts from these ancient civilizations.  The remaining 11 rooms offer a complete picture of the cultural influences that make up modern day Mexico. I recommend dedicating at least a half day to exploring this incredible place. While each exhibition is worth seeing, the Aztec and Mayan displays are particularly fascinating. Entry to the museum costs $70 pesos.

  • Visit Palacio de Bellas Artes

With its unique domed top and stunning murals, the Palacio de Bellas Artes, is perhaps the most beautiful building in Mexico City. The marble walls and floors exemplify the art deco style. Bellas Artes contains several exhibits that change every few months. Powerful murals by world-fasmous Mexican artists, including Diego Rivera, grace the top floors of this spectacular building. as well as , as well as some temproary, art exhibits, including murals of the famous Diego Rivera. In addition to being am museum, Palacio de Bellas Artes is also used as a concert hall featuring opera, symphony and ballet performances. stunning building is used as a concert hall featuring opera, symphony, and ballet performances. It also contains permanent, as well as some temporary, art exhibits which include famous murals painted by Diego Rivera. It costs $70 pesos to enter the museum.

 

  • Visit Teotihuacan

Teotihuacan is an ancient city located about an hour outside of Mexico City. Construction began more than 2,000 years ago, but no one actually knows who built this city. The name “Teotihuacan” was given by the Aztecs, and means ‘the place where gods were created.’ The city’s main street is called the Avenue of the Dead, a name also given by the Aztecs. Teotihuacan was home to around 100,000 people, making it the largest civilization in the world at the time of its existence. The avenue stretches more than 2 miles, connecting two massive pyramids, the Pyramid of the Moon and Pyramid of the Sun. You can climb to the top of both pyramids. The stairs are steep and narrow, but the views from the top are worth the workout. So much mystery surrounds the ruins of this ancient city.

There are three must-see sights when visiting Teotihuacan: the Palace of Quetzlpapalotl, the Pyramid of the Moon, and the Pyramid of the Sun. The Pyramid of the Moon was my favorite part of the trip. It’s a shorter climb than the Pyramid of the Sun, but the views from the top are incredible. The positioning of this pyramid gives you a view all the way down the Avenue of the Dead. The Pyramid of the Sun has 248 steps to the top, making it the 3rd largest pyramid in the world. The steps seemed steeper (or maybe I was just more tired), but the tiring climb is rewarded with far and wide views of Teotihuacan and the surrounding area. Arrive early to avoid the crowds. Sundays are extra busy, because admission is free for residents of Mexico. Also, the sun is deadly, so bring water. The entrance fee is $70 pesos per person.

 

  • Take a walk through the Zócalo

Mexico City’s Zócalo, the largest square in Latin America, is truly the heart of the city and often the site for cultural events and celebrations. Some of the city’s most important historical and architectural sites are located here, including the Palacio Nacional, the Catedral Metropolitana, and the Templo Mayor. Colorful displays adorn the square during Dia de los Muertos celebrations. An ice skating rink and elaborate decorations are installed in December and still remained during our visit in January. One could easily spend a day exploring the Zócalo: people watching in the square, admiring the surrounding architecture, experiencing the ornate design of the Catedral Metropolitana, viewing the powerful murals of Diego Rivera in the Palacio Nacional, watching the flag flutter in the wind and children flying kites. It is the heartbeat of Mexico City.

 

Where to Eat:

Mexico City is delicious. From street food, to markets, to chic, hip restaurants and bars, food is everywhere you turn.

  • Rosetta: 

We had our introduction to Mexico City’s incredible food scene at Rosetta. Delicious food, excellent ambiance, and fabulous service – this place has it all. Located in a Beaux Arts mansion in the Roma neighborhood, the restaurant’s interior transports each guest to a secret garden. Delicate pastel frescoes of flowers and birds wind through the restaurant’s many rooms. Tendrils of ivy dangle from the ceiling. The food is a perfect balance between traditional Mexican recipes and modern techniques. The menu changes daily to combine the best local flavors with their Mexican-Italian fusion of flavors. I began my meal with the best tamale I’ve ever eaten, and ended it with a scoop of homemade rosemary ice cream on a bed of herbs sprinkled with olive oil. It was love at first bite. I’ve never tasted anything quite as heavenly as that ice cream.

  • Cafe de Tacuba:

This is one of the oldest family-style restaurants in the city. Colorful paintings and carved wood trim frame arched doorways. Mexican tiles in shades of blue and yellow line the walls. A talented mariachi bands fills the room with singing and guitar playing. The menu offers a variety of traditional Mexican dishes. Located near the Palacio de Bellas Artes and the Zocalo, this is a perfect place to have lunch while exploring the city’s center.

  • Contramar: 

The airy dining room of Contramar is always packed and buzzing with hungry foodies. This restaurant features a fantastic variety of excellent coastal cuisine. The majority of the portions are small, so it’s fun to order several dishes and share together. Once you’re seating, the table is supplied with fresh salsa verde as well as spicy pickled vegetables, limes, chips and bread. Try the tostadas de atún while you’re there. The marinated tuna loin with crispy leeks and a spiced mayo will melt in your mouth and have you longing for more. Yes, they’re that good. We also tried the ceviche and tuna sashimi. Each dish was more beautiful than the last and the flavors were so fresh and tasty. Our last savory dish was the Pescado a la talla, a whole grilled fish seasoned with their signature adobo rub. The fish was incredibly succulent and there was plenty to share. Warm tortillas and creamy black beans dusted with cotija cheese were served on the side. Are you drooling yet? For dessert, we had their famous fig tart. Sweet, tender figs topped a cheesecake filling and delicious cookie crust – the perfect balance of sweetness. We also had the lemon tart,  which was lemony, creamy and yummy, but the fig tart stole the show and my heart.

  • Casa Virginia: 

When the owners were looking for a space to open this wonderful restaurant, they came across a 1920’s french-style home. After convincing the building’s owner, an elderly woman named Virginia, to rent them the space, Casa Virginia came to fruition in this one-of-a-kind space. It has soaring ceilings and elegant windows open up to the bustling street below. The rooftop is home to a small but fully-functioning garden where many of the kitchen’s ingredients are sourced. Their menu changes often to ensure that seasonal produce is always being represented. Their main entree dishes are meant to be shared, so keep that in mind when ordering. It wasn’t a cheap meal, but every single dish we tried was exceptional and totally worth the splurge. A perfect choice for our last night in Mexico City.

Looking back, Mexico City was one my favorite destinations to date. Perhaps because I didn’t have any expectations or preconceptions, just what was in front of me. There is so much energy and passion for life that I find inspiring and beautiful, not to mention the city’s vibrant culture, food, museums, history, art and architecture. If you’re on a mission to discover the Mexico that doesn’t involve beach side resorts with countless tourists, consider visiting this achingly beautiful and sophisticated city. There was still so much we didn’t get to explore and I can’t wait to go back and check out even more of what the city has to offer.Traveling has a magical way of teaching us about the places we visit, the place we came from, and ourselves.

 

 

 

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