I know you are here to uncover our list of things to do in Mexico City and let me tell you, I’m so happy to see you around and we are about to give it to you. But before that, let’s kick this off as you do.
A colorful hand-made tote and a tiny doll with two plaits and a statement smile inside the bag. A bottle of mezcal Amores half-emptied already next to another one of mezcal Siete Misterios waiting for its turn. Two shot-sized terracotta glasses, a shiny black fedora, and a handful of recipes I would like to carry out in the kitchen once I manage to find the right ingredients.
All those items gather by my suitcase right now as unpacking should be done when it is time.
The thing is that funny enough and following my essentials-only packing rule, I got off the souvenirs wagon a long time ago. So long that I can’t recall any trip at this point where so many memories succeeded in making it back home with me. And this can only mean one thing. I must be back from a heartwarming place, the one that would make me break that rule of not increasing my luggage’s size with clutter. Let’s just say I am back from Mexico city!
TRAVELING THE WORLD THROUGH THE NEIGHBORHOODS OF MEXICO CITY
Not that I turn down invites every day but there are some so appealing that you don’t even question them twice. And this was quite the case of Zocalo Central Hotel message, where I was welcomed to uncover Mexico City from the comfort that this centrally located property offers to its guests.
And so I crossed the Atlantic for the 10th time in my life to experience Mexico City first hand (my 2nd time in the country as a few years back I got lucky and won a writing contest that took me to Mexico during a couple of weeks), as the program included a vast tour through the main areas of the metropolis and its surroundings.
From the impeccable package of downtown highlights that enclose its core, the Zocalo square’s, to La Roma, Condesa, Santa Fe, Coyoacan and Xochimilco districts, Jamaica, La Viga and Sonora markets, some of the city’s finest museums, archaeological ruins like Tenochtitlan’s Templo Mayor and the monumental Teotihuacan complex as well as a bunch of unrivaled restaurants, taquerias and cantinas carefully hand-picked by the woman behind Sabores de Mexico all across the city, I was able to finally appreciate the big picture Mexico city is.
TACKLING DOWN SAFETY CONCERNS
Do you ever write negative reviews? How do you handle things when they don’t go as they were planned in the first place?
If I said other than this question was asked me thousand times, I’d be lying.
It usually comes a couple of minutes after the person you’re talking to processes what you do. And it is everything but innocent, looking to push your integrity and see what are you made of.
And what about dangerous destinations? The ones being targeted by fear attacks? Where violence is up-to-date? Do you still go there?
The answer is yes, many times I still go to dangerous labeled places and so far I have never experienced any trouble that couldn’t happen anywhere else.
Without going down a road I am not inclined to, as I avoid politics, religion and other controversial topics on this travel site, here’re the safety issues I encountered on my recent Mexico city bound in case of you are thinking of visiting it soon.
Nothing. Rien. Nada. Niente. Nichts!
That said, the heart of Mexico City is fully shielded when the evening comes to detect and stop suspicious people and vehicles on a daily basis. Three different barriers with dozens of armed policemen to each side of every avenue and street overlooking the central plaza take place from the late afternoon to the early morning to prevent anyone who could cause problems or stir entering downtown.
And if you ask me, it might be shocking at first but it seems to work just fine, leaving the city center as a pedestrian area every evening with police presence in every corner. Pretty convenient for frightened tourists that soon realize there’s little to be afraid of in such an environment and forget their worries to just enjoy what the city offers beyond many equipped blue dressed man and women at sunset.
But let’s get back to the topic and without further ado, get this started!
WHAT TO DO, SEE AND EAT IN MEXICO CITY
1. Choose an outstanding location to base your explorations from.
Nothing gets handier than staying at Zocalo Central Hotel and the views over Mexico city’s cathedral and main plaza from its ‘Balcón del Zócalo’ restaurant are unbeatable. Convenient amenities like apples and bottled water to go on every floor and services like its Central Care will make you feel as if you had your own butler for the duration of your stay. A must.
2. Get close and personal with the hip and upscale neighborhood of La Roma.
Close to downtown, it is a good starting point to start uncovering the city’s main hotspots.
Boasting French influences and a pristine art-deco style, La Roma is a vibrant yet friendly and human scale district populated with tasteful street art, multidisciplinary buildings and galleries like Casa Lamm as well as avant-garde restaurants that reinvent Mexican cuisine from its core and humble beginnings as Fonda Fina under the mastery of chef Juan Cabrera.
Bonemarrow panucho, teporocho (a drink with tequila, rum, and beer served in a paper bag covered glass), pork belly sope, requeson peneques, dried noodles with chilaquiles, Mexican style meatballs and Chiapas cheese flan are some of the delicacies you will be able to experience there.
3. Go Instagram-hunt renowned buildings at Condesa.
Annexed to the aforementioned one, some of this district architectural jewels are well worth a picture (if you manage to enter them). Try Basurto building’s staircase or the once Tehuacan building now refurbished as the timeless Hippodrome boutique hotel, in a true Mexican art-deco style.
4. Sooner than later, visit Balcon del Zocalo restaurant.
Because as you do so, you’ll be uncovering one of the best-kept secrets of downtown: its contemporary Mexican cuisine with a view. And while you are at it, try the tuna toast and ensenada taco with a glass of Mexican wine.
Alternatively, ask chef Jose Salinas when you could indulge in a market and cooking workshop to learn how to prepare dishes like shrimp red aguachile, red snapper, or one of his signature desserts with tropical flavors and flowers from searching for the best ingredients in the market to the table.
5. Start digging in Mexico’s recent history.
If you can’t tell the differences among Teotihuacans, Aztecs, Mayans, or other pre-hispanic cultures for that matter, you will particularly enjoy a visit to Templo Mayor and the National Anthropology Museum. One of the most rewarding things to do in Mexico City.
You are welcome.
6. To arrive in Teotihuacan knowing what is there to see.
Teotihuacan complex is the city of the Gods. A massive archaeological site you don’t want to miss when visiting Mexico City.
Barely an hour away from the city center, Teotihuacan has been amusing visitors since it was restored last century.
On top of getting fit as you walk through the Jaguars complex or climb one of the 13th pyramids that guard the Road of the Death, the large Moon pyramid and the gigantic Sun pyramid, you will finally be able to get a clear idea of this civilization that ruled Mexico long before Hernan Cortes arrived.
7. Play tourist at La Gruta restaurant.
Right next to Teotihuacan, there’s one of these restaurants that don’t go unnoticed.
La Gruta, there since 1928 when the grandfather of today’s owner, started serving meals to the pouring visitors, is located inside a wide semi-open cave that was anciently used as a refrigerator for the corn supplies. Nowadays, Carlos Cedillo, its executive chef, will make sure you leave it happy and willing to come back.
Try their Xoconostle margaritas, the homemade mole, chapulines (crickets and grasshoppers), escamoles (ant eggs), white worms, huitlacoche and quelites quesadillas, ram barbecue and elote cake for dessert.
8. Indulge at Mexico City main central landmarks.
Like the Metropolitan Cathedral and its sacristy, the busy Madero street ( there is a Mexican Fashion exhibition with more than 400 pieces totally worth it at Palacio de Iturbide now!), the street markets, the impressive National Museum of art MUNAL, Franz Mayer Museum of Decorative Arts and the neoclassic outdoors yet art-deco indoors Fine Arts Building.
It could take you anything from a few hours to a couple of days depending on how much time you decide to spend at each one of these sights, all a walkable distance from each other.
9. Quench your thirst and calm your hunger joining a Taquerias and Cantinas tour.
Enjoy one of the coolest things to do in Mexico city (tacos top every list of things associated with Mexico) and wander around some of the city’s iconic spots for quick bits and drinks such as:
- Cantina Tio Pepe. Dolores, Centro.
- Taqueria Tacos de Canasta. Dolores, Centro.
- Taqueria Los Cocuyos. 7ᵃ̵ Calle de Bolívar 54-56, Centro.
- Taqueria El Huequito. Bolívar 58, Col. Centro.
- Cantina Gallo de Oro. Calle Venustiano Carranza 35, Delegación Cuauhtémoc, Col. Centro.
- Casa Churra Restaurant. Calle 16 de Septiembre 26, Cuauhtémoc, Centro.
- Cantina Buenos Aires. Motolinia 21, Centro.
10. Enjoy Atalaya’s tasting menu in Santa Fe.
With 10 dishes (spicy tomatoes with mussels, foie gras torchon with popcorn and wild berries, garden tomatoes salad with sherry vinaigrette and fresh garlic, aguachile negro with shrimp and watermelon, scallops with potato foam, ‘al pastor’ pork belly taco, cuttlefish in ‘chilmole’ stuffed with chorizo and black pudding, fish in pipian sauce with tender beans and zucchini, cochinita pibil and deer with ‘mole amarillito’ and banana purée), 2 desserts (nixtamalized papaya with curd cheese ice cream and coco beach, pineapple foam and coconut ice cream with basil flowers) and 6 different drinks to pair it all with, chef Atzín Santos won’t leave you hungry. Or unsatisfied.
So do not skip this restaurant, one of the best things to do in Santa Fe Mexico City. You have been warned.
Once you are done, have a look at the neighboring skyscrapers that populate Santa Fe. Yet another Instagram worth spot in Mexico city!
11. Ride a boat through Xochimilco canals.
As magical as it gets, this borough at the South of Mexico City offers one of the most sought for experiences in the city.
The brightly painted trajineras take the visitors from Xochimilco’s pier around the channels as musicians, vendors and people from all walks of life rhythmic float in what is a quiet stroll by the river.
You can bring your own food and drinks but given the friendly prices, it is highly recommended to support the local economy and buy them as you go.
12. Listen to a mariachis band in the same district.
At Chantico, a restaurant not far from the canals and as you taste salsas, quesadillas, sopecitos, salad, habas, pata toasts, huahzontles, tlapique and nieve de Pepino (cucumber ice-cream).
13. Get lost at Casa Azul, Frida Kahlo Museum.
Because you have already seen her paintings before, but there is a lot more to learn about the artist.
And her Coyoacan home is the perfect place to do so. As you wander through the different rooms and gardens, mind the little details.
- The sentences that populate the patio.
- The documentary ‘Between Pain and Pleasure’ that is being projected in a loop in one of the adjoining rooms.
- A copy of her personal diary at the gift shop
- And one of the greatest recent additions to the museum: her wardrobe treasuries. These go from signature dresses to her corsets and orthopedic prostheses!
14. Savor mezcal.
Learning why it is something different and usually artisanal as opposed to mass-production tequila, although both of these spirits come from the agave.
Go on a ‘Siete misterios’ mezcal tasting and enjoy some of the most widespread varieties like Doba-Yej, Espadin, Mexicano or the unique Pechuga that becomes a celebration drink as its triple distillation involving a turkey breast and fruits makes it a mezcal reserved for special occasions only.
15. Explore a few markets of Mexico City.
Looking for fun things to do in Mexico City?
Start visiting Jamaica market, a colorful and scented groceries and flowers traditional market where locals start planning their meals and Mexican delicacies are found.
Continue to La Viga market if you aren’t afraid of a bit of fish and sea food from all over the country. Fall in love with the lively workers and good vibes as you walk and talk with the vendors of this one.
And for something slightly different, don’t forget to dive in Sonora market, the epicenter of everything goes in Mexico city. From all kinds of herbs, food and costumes to alive animals for shaman rituals, everything and anything can be found in this mega market.
16. And dine at Independencia market.
Recently opened, this refurbished market has already become a sort of hipster and gourmet headquarters in Mexico City. Try the following:
- Del Cardumen restaurant (ask for fresh tuna toast, shrimp taco, tortillas and flautas).
- Antoje Ria (where you can taste frijol and noodle soups. Also, veggie burger with quinoa and kale and beef burger with cured ham and white truffle sauce).
- La Flauteria (order a condensed milk carlota).
17. Attend a history class at the National Palace.
Not only this building displays a few of the most beautiful courtyards and gardens in Mexico City. There you can find some famous Diego Rivera murals that explain Mexico’s recent history.
Skipping it would be sad.
18. Rub shoulders with some of the people defining today’s Mexico city’s food scene at Nicos.
In Azcapotzalco, this family-owned restaurant has been serving traditional food for almost 60 years. Chef Gerardo Vazquez Lugo, reproduces the award-winning recipes of his mother Elena. She opened Nicos as a place to sell sweets. But soon after that started offering salt dishes as customers wouldn’t stop asking her to do so.
Ask for quelites and nopales soup, duck salmagundi toast, smoked marlin carpaccio, dry soup, and cajeta cheese flan.
19. Throw a proper farewell party to Mexico City from its iconic Torre Latinoamericana
No list of things to do in Mexico city should end without witnessing the city from above. And, if you ask me, there’re few places as cool as Torre Latino to do so.
Let images speak for themselves:
Is Mexico City on your list? Have you experienced any attractions in Mexico City? Let’s keep this list of the coolest things to do in Mexico City udated. Drop a comment below and let us know what we are missing!
Great pics! Thanks for the ideas as we plan on taking the kids here soon. We live in Michoacan, Mexico.