Have you ever been to a place that completely blew away your expectations? For me, it was Mexico City. With over 20 million people living in the Greater Mexico City area, I was expecting a loud, crazy, and totally crammed city. What I experienced was very much the opposite. Mexico City may be one of the greenest, calmest major cities I’ve been to, with parks, trees, and beauty hiding around every corner. Although I only had four days of exploring this expansive metropolis, I’ve compiled some of my favorite things to do, found the best place to stay, and have suggestions on how to get around during your visit in this guide to Mexico City. I have a feeling it will blow away your expectations too!
WHAT TO DO:
Eat everything (and I mean everything) you see:
So unless you’ve already been to Mexico or have Mexican heritage, I can basically guarantee that you’ve never had Mexican food like this before. I’m talking eye-rolling-to-the back-of-your-head-good tacos, tortas, quesadillas, sopes, and whatever the heck else I ate.
Street food is always my favorite way to eat, and I can tell you that there is no shortage of street food in Mexico City. You can get tacos as cheap as 30 cents per taco, and they are so darn good you’ll probably end up spending two whole dollars just on tacos in one sitting (trust me, it’s easy to do).
If you get late night cravings, don’t fear; Av. Sonora has got you covered! Basically, everything on this avenue (located in Condesa) is open 24/7 including a place called Tortas al Fuego, who claims to be the inventor of the pastor taco. Tacos al pastor is a must eat when in Mexico, and is made with shawarma spit-grilled meat and a slice of pineapple wrapped in a homemade corn tortilla.
There is also a juice stand just next door that can mix up any type of fresh juice or smoothie your mind can imagine, as well as a tortas stand that makes the most mouth-watering chorizo sandwich you’ve probably ever eaten. This was my first time trying a torta (tortas = Mexican street sandwiches) so by default, it was the best I’ve ever eaten, but I don’t think much can beat it!
Walk the tree-lined streets of Condesa & Roma Norte
If you’re looking for those hipster-chic European vibes, then I think I’ve found the neighborhoods for you. Spend a morning at one of the many Parisian-esque sidewalk cafes found in Condesa and Roma Norte and watch the hip residents walking their dogs or spot various types of artists coasting down the streets. (I saw a million photographers, videographers, musicians, and painters.)
At the center of this area is Parque Mexico which is encircled by Av. Mexico, Avenida Amsterdam, as well as Plaza Popocatepetl where you are sure to find plenty of cafes and edgy shops to peruse. Who knows, maybe you’ll find something that can make you look as cool as the residents of this neighborhood! You’ll also notice a high percentage of VW Bugs and other cool retro cars lining the streets. They probably belong to all of the cool hipsters spotted in this area.
Avenida Amsterdam is also a local favorite for running and exercising and there are even open-air gyms to use for free. The city has also invested in a city bike system called EcoBici, where you can rent a bike from any one of the 444 stations holding over 6,000 bikes. If you return it to another station under 45 minutes – it’s free of charge!
This was the most beautiful area that I visited during my time in the city, as I easily entertained myself for hours just by walking around, but it’s important to note the devastation I witnessed in this area. The September 19th Central Mexico earthquake struck with an estimated magnitude of 7.1. The earthquake killed 370 people, injured over 6,000 and more than 40 buildings collapsed. A large majority of the devastation hit the Condesa area.
I arrived in Mexico city just a few weeks after the disaster, and although the streets were cleared and the buildings were stabilized, you could see so much of the destruction. There was still police and caution tape everywhere. There were also handmade signs posted throughout the neighborhood asking to refrain from taking photos in order to respect the victims of this tragedy. I, of course, did not take any photos to honor this request, but I wanted to note that it was devastating to see, and this was weeks later. I spoke to one resident who said it was like dancing with the earth, which I thought that was a very poetic way to put such a disastrous event.
Fall in love with the city’s street art
If you follow me on Instagram, you know that I love street art, and going to look for it is one of my favorite things to do when in a new city. Similar to street food, there is no shortage of street art in Mexico City either! I seemed to have found the most street art in Centro, but there is plenty to see in Roma Norte and many other parts of the city as well.
The corner of Calle Isabel & Av. Republica del Salvador was the most colorful, and definitely the most concentrated area for street art in the city that I found. Unlike most street art that I’ve seen, all of the artwork was painted onto a wooden board, vs a wall of a building or store. I’m not sure if that means that it’s here only temporary, but I sure hope not – it would be a shame to see all of this beautiful art go!
Just under 10 minutes walking from here, you can get to Calle Regina, another street art hub in Centro Historico. It’s also a fabulous street filled with bars, and bustling with residents walking to and from work. Similar to Condesa, this street, in particular, reminded me of a European alleyway.
As I mentioned, I did come across some cool artwork in Roma Norte as well, but it wasn’t found nearly as frequently as it was in Centro. Some of my favorites were Darth Vader, a piggy pilot, and a motorcyclist (maybe astronaut?).
Shoutout to Northern Lauren for helping me find some of this awesome street art!
Take a day trip to the Pyramids of Teotihuacan
An hour and a half north of Mexico City is Teotihuacan, a pyramid complex dating back to 100 BC. It was once the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas and was home to over 150,000 people. These pyramids are actually of unknown descent, and it was the Aztecs that named it Teotihuacan, meaning “place of the gods.”
The Pyramid of the sun dominates the area, with a base almost as big as the Great Pyramid of Giza. The views from the top were incredible, as were the spiritual feelings. I certainly wasn’t alone, as heaps of people were meditating at the top of the pyramid. One woman was even performing some sort of energy healing on a client! The powerful energy of this place is something that needs to be experienced to believe.
To get here from Mexico City, I took an Uber costing 500 MXP one way ($26 USD) which could be costly when you’re traveling solo, but if you find some other travelers and split it, it makes for a pretty cheap ride ($13 round trip if you get 3 other travelers)! To really save money, you can take a bus from Autobuses del Norte station for about $5 USD roundtrip. I can not speak for this method as I took an Uber, but I recommend reading this post for specific details! Entrance fee to the Pyramids is 70 MXP ($3.65 USD)
Feel the city’s heartbeat in Centro Historico
Like many of the historical centers in Latin American cities, Centro Historico is home to many important historical landmarks dating quite a way back. But there are few that date all the way back to the era of the Aztecs! Right in the middle of the downtown area is Templo Mayor, Aztec ruins that you can walk right on by, free of charge.
It seems that many of the locals pass by with their headphones in, not paying too much attention because they’re used to it, but for visitors, it’s quite the site to see! It reminded me of how Romans pass by thousand-year-old ruins every day without batting an eyelash, meanwhile, I’m giddy like a schoolgirl…
Around the corner is Plaza Seminario, a lively square full of energy which seemed to be a hotspot for both locals and visitors alike. What stood out the most to me were these massive wrought iron sculptures that reminded me of The Terracotta Army sculptures but from the medieval times! I found out later that this was actually Xavier Mascaro’s exhibition, “Guardians” which will be leaving for London soon!
Right nearby is Mexico City’s main square, Zocalo, which is home to the oldest and largest Roman Catholic Cathedral in Latin America. Unfortunately, it was closed for restoration but was still very impressive from the outside. Many visitors stuck their lenses through the gates to try and snap a photo (guilty,) but It’s just not the same without checking out the interior!
Relax the day away at the canals of Xochimilco
On a sunny day during your trip, I suggest heading south to the canals of Xochimilco. Here you can hire a trajinera (basically a Mexican gondola) with a guide that will take you through the dark green water of the canals. Along this peaceful ride, you’ll pass gardens, homes, women hanging their laundry, and kids running around their lawns. It’s quite a calming atmosphere!
Although it’s calm, there’s certainly no need to fear getting bored on this ride, as there will be plenty of opportunities to listen to a Mariachi band or a xylophone musician, and even do a little trinket shopping if you so please. On this two hour ride, you also don’t have to fear to go hungry; you’ll pass multiple food and drink vendors that will be happy to cook you up a boat-made meal (get it, like homemade, but on a boat) or sell you a bucket of bears to enjoy on your ride.
Although tourists love this afternoon activity, it’s more likely that you’ll see Mexican families celebrating birthdays, or teenagers looking to party with their friends for a few hours without their parents around (did I look that young when I was 18?!)
So sit back, enjoy your lunch spread, throw back a few Coronas, and let the traditional sounds of Mexico put you at peace for the afternoon.
One thing to keep in mind is that this is not the best solo activity. When traveling solo, it would be wise to befriend some other travelers and go in a group if you want to save some money. An Uber to get there will cost you 300 MXP ($16 USD) and the 2 hour round trip boat ride with a guide cost our group 1,200 MXP ($63 USD). Then, of course, there’s food, drinks, and tipping the musicians (if you ask for music) and the guide. For the experience, I think it’s totally worth it, but can be pricey if you decide to do it alone!
Channel your inner bohemian in Coyoacan
Coyoacan is a borough of Mexico City that is known as the bohemian/intellectual epicenter of the city. This is the neighborhood where Frida Kahlo and Diego Riviera once lived. Their home has since been turned into a museum known as La Casa Azul where you can view many of their famous works.
Coyoacan is a neighborhood made of narrow cobblestone streets, small plazas, and baroque style churches that give this area a very Euro-Latin feel. Get lost in the tree-lined streets while you admire the beautiful (and very colorful) homes of this area.
Make sure to also treat yourself to a coffee and a tasty treat at Cafe Negro, a cafe just outside of Parque Centenario. Cafe Negro makes a mean iced coconut milk latte and serves up some deliciously healthy salads. I always try to fit in greens whenever I can, especially when I’m spending most of my time stuffing my face with authentic street food!
I also enjoyed walking down some of the main avenues which were strewn with vendors making homemade tortillas as well as others selling vintage goods, flowers, and just about anything you can imagine with Frida’s face on it.
Looking back, I regret not buying the face shaped Frida coin purse. Next time.
Experience Mexican-style fine dining at Pujol
I know that I already talked about food, but I decided to put Pujol as a separate thing to do, as it’s a dining experience on a whole different level. For all you Chef’s Table lovers, make sure to book your spot at Pujol, the world’s 20th best restaurant, way in advance. As a massive fan of Chef’s table myself, I was basically giddy as I walked into this modern-chic establishment, and just about lost it when our server arrived at our table with the baby corn resting in ant sauce. (Jump on Netflix and watch this episode ASAP if you haven’t already!)
The dynamic six-course experience features items like Rice Geoduck Clam & Scallop Mulato, Octopus Habanero Ink Ayocote Veracruzana Sauce, Wild Herb Open-Papadzul Quail Egg Chiltomate, and a 1400 Day-Old Mole, to name a few. You’ve got to be really confident to serve a plate with nothing else on it but mole. Their confidence is warranted; it was seriously that good.
Although I’m not one to indulge in fine dining often, it’s rare to hear of a Mexican fine dining restaurant, so when we were able to sneak in a reservation, it just had to be done. The six-course tasting menu will set you back about $103 per person (not including beverages), but to me, it was well worth it and a dining experience I will never ever forget!
WHERE TO STAY:
The Red Tree House
It’s no wonder this place keeps getting the #1 spot for B&Bs in Mexico City. Their website claims it’s like staying with friends, and it most certainly rang true with my experience. From the moment I stepped into the house, I felt the warm and friendly energy wash over me. There are so many amazing things to say about this place that I’m going to break it down by section for you!
I arrived at The Red Tree House around 8 pm after a 14 hour day of travel and was exhausted. I was greeted by Victor, one of the amazing staff members who took my bags and suggested I relax in the living room with the other guests over a glass of wine. Before I knew it, I was sipping a glass of red wine by the fire, getting to know staff members and other guests from all over the world. I learned that happy hour was a nightly ritual at The Red Tree House from 6-8pm (which often turned into 9 pm!) where guests can get to know one another and unwind after a fun day of exploring. Since I am the type of person that likes to explore all day and keep it quiet at night, this was a perfect nightly activity upon arriving “home” each evening.
Craig, one of the owners, is a lighting designer and all-around creative, and his impeccable taste was consistent throughout the house. Think beautiful, bold, creative local artwork, warm lighting, comfy furniture, and a fireplace in each of the living rooms which created the coziest atmosphere to relax in. The B&B also boasts a private courtyard that is home to an abundance of fruit trees, greenery, fairy lights, and fountains. It’s the perfect place to enjoy a glass of wine on a clear night or a homemade breakfast on a sunny morning.
Speaking of the breakfast…I heard that they served a nice breakfast, but was not prepared for how delicious it was going to be! Not only did they offer coffee, tea, fresh squeezed orange juice, local pastries & bread, cereal, yogurt and fresh fruit, they also provided a main dish on top of that. The main entree was a traditional Mexican dish that was different each morning. This nor the happy hour is an extra charge – it’s all part of the Red Tree House experience!
I stayed in the Lafayette Suite and was seriously blown away. The room was on the third floor with a private entrance, kitchen (with mini fridge, small stove top, glassware, etc), dining area, and living room, with the bedroom, small terrace, and bathroom on the other side.
The terrace had a view of the courtyard and was surrounded by trees & greenery. I kept the shades open so I could be woken up by the natural sunlight coming through the balcony windows and it was a beautiful way to wake up each morning!
The room was super spacious and there was even filtered water stocked in the room each and every day of my stay. They even offer a penthouse called The Treehouse for solo travelers – my dream.
The Red Tree House is located in Condesa, a super safe and welcoming neighborhood of Mexico City (which I talked plenty about already). I walked around by myself after dark multiple times and never felt unsafe in any capacity. Although this neighborhood suffered a lot of damage from the recent devastating earthquake, it remains a beautiful place with friendly residents that is the still the perfect place to stay while visiting this city.
Craig, Alejandro, Pepe, Victor (just to name a few) were simply excellent hosts and provided incredible service and hospitality throughout my visit. I simply couldn’t have felt more welcome or at home. They are such generous people and are always going above and beyond to create the best experience possible for their guests.
All I can say is 3 nights was simply not enough time. I really can’t imagine a better stay and for that reason, I will return to this B&B over and over again. If you’re looking for a warm & relaxing place to call home for a few days (hopefully longer!) with an ace staff, located in a beautiful and safe neighborhood of Mexico City, this is your place.
HOW TO GET AROUND:
Uber, Taxi, & Metro
Because I had such limited time in Mexico City, I took Ubers just about everywhere. Within the city, rides ranged from $2-$8 dollars. I took an Uber to and from the airport to/from the Condesa area which cost about 140 MXP ($7.50 USD). From Condesa to Centro Historico, it cost 104 MXP ($5.20) because there was a lot of traffic, but I assume that price would go down substantially if you hit a low traffic point (not sure if that exists in Mexico City though…) This, of course, could be a little difficult if you don’t have any data on your phone, but I managed by using free wifi that is offered at just about any cafe and in many of the city parks!
Taxis are more expensive than Ubers, but are super convenient and are readily available at all times. All of the CDMX taxis are painted pink and are clearly marked as official taxis, so you really can’t miss them. Mexico City seems to have a pink theme going, and I happen to love it!
I am very sorry to admit that I didn’t take the metro one time during my visit! I’m usually such a proponent of trying public transportation in any new places that I visit, but I opted quicker and easier way in order to use my time as wisely as possible. I can tell you that it is extremely cost-effective to take the metro, costing only 5 MXP (25 US cents) per ride, so when I come back to Mexico City, I 100% plan on taking advantage of it!
Have you been to Mexico City? What was your favorite part of your visit?
I received a complimentary stay at The Red Tree House in exchange for my opinions, but all opinions are my own. I would never recommend somewhere I wouldn’t stay myself!