Mexico City is huge, like sprawling-out-with-dozens-of-neighborhoods-and-millions-of-people huge. But it’s not only the size of the city that’s impressive: it’s all the quality restaurants tucked away in old homes, the artisan markets that pop out of jumbled lots and the sheer amount of museums and heritage sites that pepper the area.
There’s an energy here that’s hard to beat, and with so much to do, boredom is not an issue. However, it can be daunting to plan a trip to this Mexican metropolis. To help get you started, here are 10 must-do things for the next time you find yourself here.
Pick a strategically located hotel
When deciding where to stay in Mexico City, location is everything. The Polanco neighborhood is the swanky corner of the city where labels like Hermès, Cartier and Louis Vuitton call home. Forbes Travel Guide Recommended Las Alcobas, A Luxury Collection Hotel, Mexico City, with its sleek, contemporary interiors and high service standards, fits right in on Mexico’s version of Rodeo Drive.
You’ll like Aurora Spa’s obsidian hot stone massage. You’ll crave the international fare prepared with neighborhood flair at Anatol. And if you’d like to do more damage with your credit card, you’ll absolutely love that you can walk to the newly opened, $300 million El Palacio de Hierro shopping palace in mere minutes from Las Alcobas.
Another area worth checking out is Zona Rosa, which is situated near many popular restaurants and nightspots. At the new NH Collection Reforma, not only do you have easy access to all the nearby places, but the sleek, modern design proves inviting and comforting to those who choose to stay in.
The rooms offer plenty of space, many providing great views of the city. Make sure to try the epic breakfast spread; it includes everything from fresh pastries and local fruits to an omelet station and juice bar with sparkling wine.
Have breakfast at Panadería Rosetta
While you might not think French-style pastries go hand in hand with Mexico City, this tiny, bustling bakery serves some of the best around.
Brunch-goers can also get locally themed dishes like the delightful black rice with coconut milk and seasonal fruits; cemita bread with avocado and fresh cheese; a homemade smoked chorizo and arugula sandwich; and ciabatta stuffed with pork confit and guacamole.
The coffee is good, the space is intimate and the pastry counter is entertaining to watch. What else could you need?
Take in the Museo Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo is known for the bold, striking colors and emotional themes in her inventive paintings. Born in 1907, Kahlo suffered from polio and an accident that disabled her further during her early years. That didn’t stop this headstrong woman from going on to paint some of Mexico’s most famous works.
She also married the lauded muralist Diego Rivera, and this museum is located in the bright blue house the couple once shared. See photographs, paintings, drawings, household objects and Kahlo’s easel as you tour the property.
Wander around Chapultepec Castle
In the middle of Chapultepec Park, you will find a gorgeous neoclassical castle just waiting to be explored. Construction on the building began in 1785, but it wasn’t completed until 1863.
At that point, Emperor Maximilian I and his wife, Empress Carlota, occupied the space, and much of the décor and final elements that make the building so spectacular come thanks to them. Wander the halls and learn about Mexico’s revolution, see the rooms the royals dwelled in and get a taste of what the country was like centuries ago.
As a bonus, it’s one of the highest peaks in the city, which means you can also take in the one-of-a-kind views while you’re there.
Try Quintonil’s tasting menu
There’s a reason that hype surrounds chef Jorge Vallejo’s modest eatery in the Polanco district. The fare not only proves delicious, but it also highlights Mexican food heritage while utilizing the amazing ingredients found in the country.
You can order à la carte, but the best way to really sample Vallejo’s mastery is by going for the chef’s seasonal tasting menu, a list of 10 items that change with availability.
Past dishes have included electric cactus ceviche with beetroot and seaweed; salt-cured meats with grasshopper-spiked chimichurri; grilled dry-aged beef with oyster mushrooms; and panna cotta with sweetened corn crumble and mamey sapota-seed ice cream.
Shop at La Ciudadela
One of the most satisfying ways to shop in Mexico City is at one of the many artisan markets, and for more than 50 years, La Ciudadela has proved an excellent option.
With more than100 stalls, you can find Mexican handicrafts, tinwork, traditional dishes and glasses, painted creatures, Day of the Dead decorations, silver jewelry and more.
Spend hours perusing the space, but make sure to bring plenty of pesos — while some do take credit cards, many sellers don’t.
Lunch at La Casa de las Sirenas
It’s not every place that offers a great view of the Catedral Metropolitana while serving a tasty lunch alfresco. Not only that, but this charming restaurant is housed in a 16th-century building that got its name from the original façade that sported the cross of Caravaca.
Luckily, you don’t have to be a priest or noble to enter the premise and dine on delectable chicken mole, fresh guacamole laced with cheese and delicate chicharrones, or traditional flan.
If the weather is nice, make sure you head all the way up to the top-floor terrace to get the best vista.
Bask in creativity at the Museo Arte Moderno
Art is everywhere in Mexico City: street murals, religious icons in the ancient churches and the numerous museums and galleries. One great place to get an overview on some of the country’s top modern artists is the Museo Arte Moderno.
The permanent collection features talent such as Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, José Clemente Orozco, Abraham Ángel, Manuel Rodríguez Lozano and Frida Kahlo.
Depending on what is on display, you could easily tour this institution in roughly two hours, leaving you enough time to wander the sculpture garden and see the vastness of Chapultepec Park afterward.
Sample Italian cuisine with a Mexican twist at Rosetta
Technically, Elena Reygadas’ restaurant specializes in Italian food, but like most eateries in this city, the native flavors and ingredients have a way of coming out.
For Reygadas, the idea is to serve fresh pastas, roasted meats and tantalizing desserts while paying homage to the country she grew up in. This means you might find sorbet flavored with prickly pear, pink mole drizzled over pork or pepitas and chaya mixed into a sauce.
The venue resides in a noble Colonia Roma townhouse, and each room features a unique dining area that gives the space an intimate quality.
Drink at Baltra
Underestimating the bar scene in Mexico City is a big mistake. It’s not all tequila and mezcal drinks. In fact, innovative cocktails can be had throughout the city.
Enter Baltra Bar: a quaint hole-in-the-wall located in the Condesa neighborhood. Here, the flavors are fresh, the liquor is top notch and the bartenders know their craft.
It’s not a bad idea to make a reservation before going, but definitely stop by if the mood strikes you.