Mexico City is huge and impressive, a major art, architecture, and foodie destination. It’s worth a weekend and could fill much more time. The streets aren’t the cleanest, though the air quality wasn’t bad at all (on both of my visits). The altitude (2,240 m) does take its toll. I’ve been twice – January 2005, and most recently in March 2023.

Where To Stay 

Polanco, La Roma, La Condesa are popular neighborhoods to stay in, with pretty streets and many dining options. We liked staying in the historic center for its proximity to sites and dining.

  • **Circulo Mexico (Centro Historico) was quite lovely. It feels hidden, though just behind the cathedral, and has been creatively and elegantly redone – lots of concrete, modern woodwork. On the negative side, the rooms are dark and most face the central courtyard, not outside, and the service is oddly bad (nice people, but how do you manage to get the order wrong three times in a row?).
  • *Courtyard Marriott City Airport Hotel is a tired option at the airport – but if you’re stuck with a long layover it works, a short walk from Terminal 1.

Things To Do [City Center]

  • **Palacio de Bellas Artes. There was a fair amount of commotion in the belles artes on my first visit – we discovered after the fact that it was a funeral for a famous Mexican songwriter. As we ate lunch in the cafe, we were joined at the next table by none other than Gabriel Garcia Marquez! It was pretty exciting. He seemed quite friendly, even agreeing to take photos with several people in the restaurant.
    • The best view of the Bellas Artes is from the top floor of the SEARS department store. There is a coffee shop up there and the view from the terrace is excellent.
  • The **Catedral Metropolitana de la Ciudad de México is extremely impressive in scale – the largest Catholic Church in the Americas. It was built in sections from 1573 to 1813 around the original church that was constructed soon after the Spanish conquest of Tenochtitlan, eventually replacing it entirely. Due to the long time it took to build it, just under 250 years, led to the integration of a number of architectural styles in its design, including the Gothic, Baroque, Churrigueresque, Neoclassical styles, as they came into vogue over the centuries. In short – it’s quite something, worth a visit!
  • Get a drink with an amazing view from the top floor restaurant of the Gran Hotel de la Ciudad de México (above). We haven’t been to the restaurant, but the Tiffany glass ceiling in the lobby is quite lovely and worth a peak. The Hotel itself seemed quite dead, not the best place to stay.
  • The House of Tiles is hard to miss, near the Palacio de Bellas Artes. It’s lovely and spans a city block.
  • **Palacio Nacional is where the famous Diego Rivera murals are, they’re impressive and worth a stop.
  • Teotihuacan is nicely paired with the pyramids in the historical center of Mexico (**Templo Mayor). Contrary to popular belief, the pyramid style structures are not built by the same people – the city versions are copies by people that admired the 1500 year old ruins.
  • The **Templo de San Francisco: a very old church remarkable for the fact that it was obviously sinking – as the entire downtown area of the city is. The church listed about 15 degrees to one side.

Things To Do [Other Parts of the City]

  • ***Chapultepec Castle: This is a museum that the guide books really sell short – I’d put it on my top 10, maybe even top 5, museum list. The view is spectacular, the collection comprehensive and impressive (nothing important, everything interesting), the building itself quite grand. The main collection covers the history of the city from the time of Spanish occupation. There are suits of armor, carriages, religious artifacts, a collection of flags of the various conquistadors, very clear explanations of how Mexican and Spanish traditions were combined (everything from religion to agriculture), jewelry, weapons, etc. It took two hours to go through this section, which led to a dramatic Sisquieros mural and the main body of the castle, which contained recreations of the contents of the rooms the various rulers of the city occupied from the 1860s-1930s. 
  • **Frida Kahlo Museum: excellent; beautifully maintained and packed with Frida’s paintings and personal belongings. A very lovely structure in and of itself. (Make sure you buy tickets ahead of time.)
  • **Leon Trotsky’s House Museum: worthwhile if you’re in the neighborhood already; a bit run down
  • The ***National Museum of Anthropology has a remarkable collection of artifacts, including the famous Aztec calendar (now understood to be something else entirely). I think this is up there with the British Museum. Arguably the most important museum in the Americas. On our 2023 visit, it was packed.

Where To Eat

I won’t try to do justice here – the scene changes fast and you could spend the rest of your life enjoying the restaurants of Mexico City. We’ve eaten at these places – 

  • **Azul Histórico: Beautiful restaurant, tucked inside a building in an open air garden. It’s on the touristy side, but the food is excellent and the space very special. 
  • *La Docena [Roma Norte]: billed as a very cool spot, popular for seafood and drinks. The space is great, beautifully designed. Service was okay (not great), food similar. It wasn’t bad, but I wouldn’t make a point to go back.
  • **Restaurante San Angel Inn, a beautiful monastery converted into an upscale restaurant. I remember it being a nice formal experience with rather dated food.
  • **Villa Rica [Polanco] specialized in seafood. Nice outdoor seating in a pretty neighborhood, tasty.

Day Trips 

The holy city of ***Teotihuacan (‘the place where the gods were created’) is situated some 50 km northeast of Mexico City. Built between the 1st and 7th centuries A.D., it is characterized by the vast size of its monuments – in particular, the Temple of Quetzalcoatl and the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon, laid out on geometric and symbolic principles. As one of the most powerful cultural centers in Mesoamerica, Teotihuacan extended its cultural and artistic influence throughout the region, and even beyond. It’s impressive, and worth a visit.

Very nearby, there’s an impressive cave restaurant, **La Gruta, that makes for a unique experience. I can’t remember the food particularly, but the setting alone is worth a trip.

On our second trip, we did a full day bike tour of the area. While it was 1-2 hours too long for my taste, it was interesting to get a second layer of info, including a trip to nearby caves, a tequila testing, and lunch. I’d recommend sticking with the half-day guided tour. We ate at **Gran Teocalli, a large place with a buffet that was quite decent.

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