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Explore Mexico City with Artisan Luxury Travel

Updated: Jul 11, 2021

Mexico City is having a moment. All of a sudden, it seems, the largest city in the Americas has absolutely captivated international tastemakers, and gallons of ink have been spilled in glossy magazines extolling its historic architecture, booming gastronomy, and cutting-edge cultural scene. The capital is Mexico’s undisputed center of gravity, with the country’s best and brightest being drawn to the sprawling megalopolis like the river to the sea. As a result, Mexico City’s name is now uttered in the same breath along with Paris, London, Tokyo, and New York. This electric energy has been here all along, of course, predating even the arrival of Cortés, so it’s about time Mexico City gets its due.

By and large, people have the wrong idea about Mexico City. To many the name alone summons two words: crime and pollution. No doubt there are areas to be avoided, but the Distrito Federal is packed to the gills with decent people who will usually look out for one another, and for you.

Pollution summons visions of unwalkable, megahighway-filled cities jammed with cars, which this is not. The smog is real: the Aztecs built their city of Tenochtitlan in a high (7,347 feet) valley that often waits days for the air to move. But there are more than 6 million cars in the city, fewer than three for every 10 of 22-million-something inhabitants (reports vary). Truth is, those living in the capital do so more sustainably than most people in the industrialized world, at high—yet comfortable—densities (though not in high-rises), and move mostly on foot and by public transit. (If you are tempted to drive in this Gordian knot of merged villages, well, we would recommend that you do not.)

Most of Mexico City is aligned on two major intersecting thoroughfares: Paseo de la Reforma and Avenida Insurgentes—at 29 km (18 miles), the longest avenue in the city. Administratively, Mexico City is divided into 16 delegaciones (districts) and nearly 2,000 colonias (neighborhoods), many with street names fitting a given theme, such as rivers, philosophers, or revolutionary heroes. The same street can change names as it goes through different colonias. So most street addresses include their colonia (abbreviated as Col.) Unless you're going to a landmark, it's important to tell your taxi driver the name of the colonia and, whenever possible, the cross street.



Bosque de Chapultepec, named for the chapulines (grasshoppers) that populated it long ago, is the city’s largest park, a great green refuge from concrete, traffic, and dust. It’s also home to a castle, a lake, an amusement park, the Mexican president's official residence, and five world-renowned museums.


The Zócalo, its surrounding Centro Histórico (historic center), and Alameda Central were the heart of both the Aztec and Spanish cities. There's a palpable European influence in this area, which is undergoing ongoing refurbishment, leaving the streets cleaner and many buildings, particularly around the Zócalo, more pleasant. Seven hundred years of history lie beneath its jagged thoroughfares. The sidewalks hum with street vendors, hurried office workers, and tourists blinking in wonder. Every block seems energized with perpetual noise and motion. Two major streets, Regina and Francisco I. Madero, are now permanently closed to traffic, and several of the streets near the central plaza are also closed to cars on weekends, so the streets are free for bicyclists and pedestrians.

During the day the downtown area is vibrant with activity. As in any capital, watch out for pickpockets, especially in crowds, and avoid deserted streets at night. Shops open around 10 am on weekends, so go earlier if you prefer to enjoy the area at its quietest. Alameda Park is quieter during the week; on weekends it's jumping with children and their parents.



The facade of this refurbished building from the 1950s has a colonial air, but inside is one of the most contemporary art museums in town. The name says it all: the aim of this museum is truly to be a laboratory, a place where artists let loose and engage in unbridled experimentation, collaboration, and learning. There is a space for contemporary, often experimental art, a display area for video and photographs, and a room where artists whose works are not displayed in other museums and galleries can exhibit. These are not necessarily young artists, but those who have yet to become truly established.


The Cultural Center of Spain is in the heart of the downtown area. It was built in an area that Hernán Cortés himself assigned to his butler, Diego de Soto, though the land changed hands many times and the current building was constructed in the 18th century, well after the years of Cortés. Temporary exhibits housed in the seven exhibition rooms often highlight young artists and showcase current artistic trends. While the exhibitions are worth a look, there are also conferences and workshops held on a nearly daily basis for those who are interested in art and culture. In a fun twist, on many nights you can catch live jazz at the bar, which is favored by local twentysomethings who flock here to listen. Every weekend there are also activities for children. Check out the center's website for listings.


This museum with a big gift shop and café features small expositions of contemporary Mexican design. The goals of the museum are to provide a space for design, to assist local designers, and to offer a location in which designers can make money from their craft. The expositions are shown in a back room made of brick, where you can see the old archways from Cortés's patio, which was built, in part, on top of Moctezuma's pyramid.


In Mexico an estanquillo is a small store that sells a wide variety of items. You'll find images of colonial life in New Spain, the Mexican Revolution, political life, and other artifacts that document daily life through history to present times. Photographs of Porfirio Díaz are displayed alongside paintings and small sculptures of the lucha libre wrestlers. Postcards, stamps, and cartoons are also exhibited near lead miniatures that re-create an early-20th-century afternoon in the Santo Domingo plaza. Additionally, this museum houses Carlos Monsiváis's eclectic collection of more than 10,000 unique pieces relating to the history and popular culture of the country, though the whole of his collection cannot all be displayed at once, and is displayed on a rotating basis. One of the best-known journalists and writers in Mexico, Monsiváis, who passed away in 2010, wrote extensively on Mexican history, politics, and popular culture. The museum also has a small reading room and a rooftop café.


Housed in the 16th-century Hospital de San Juan de Dios, this museum exhibits thousands of works collected by Franz Mayer, which he left to the Mexican people. The permanent collection includes 16th- and 17th-century antiques, such as wooden chests inlaid with ivory, tortoiseshell, and ebony; tapestries, paintings, and lacquerware; rococo clocks, glassware, and architectural ornamentation; and an unusually large assortment of Talavera ceramics. The museum also has more than 700 editions of Cervantes's Don Quixote. The old hospital building is faithfully restored, with pieces of the original frescoes peeking through. You can also enjoy a great number of temporary exhibitions, often focused on modern applied arts.


The city museum is on land that was originally owned by Juan Gutiérrez de Altamirano, Cortés's cousin. The original building was destroyed and rebuilt in 1777, and later became home to the Campeche native Joaquín Clausell (1866–1935), who arrived in Mexico City to study law, but never finished his degree because he was expatriated to Europe for his opposition to the government. While in Europe, he learned to paint, and became one of the most important impressionist painters in Mexican history. The museum displays historical objects from Mexico City, including antique maps. Clausell's studio is also open to the public, and its walls are covered with his work.


Strolling around this park is a great way to break up sightseeing in the neighborhood. During the week it's quite lively. You'll be able to find a shaded bench for a few moments of rest before heading off to more museums. There are food vendors throughout the park, selling all kinds of snacks, from ice cream to grilled corn on the cob. The park has been an important center of activity since Aztec times, when the Indians held their tianguis (market) here. In the early days of the viceroyalty the Inquisition burned its victims at the stake here. Later, national leaders, from 18th-century viceroys to Emperor Maximilian and President Porfirio Díaz, envisioned the park as a symbol of civic pride and prosperity. In fact, the park was enjoyed exclusively by the wealthy during this time, and it was only open to the public after independence. Still, Life in Mexico, the quintessential book on the country, describes how women donned their finest jewels to walk around the park even after independence. Over the centuries it has been fitted out with fountains, a Moorish kiosk imported from Paris, and ash, willow, and poplar trees. A white-marble monument, Hemiciclo a Benito Juárez, stands on the Avenida Juárez side of the park.


Mexico City's main post office building, designed by Italian architect Adamo Boari and Mexican engineer Gonzalo Garita, is a fine example of Renaissance Revival architecture. Constructed of cream-color sandstone from Teayo, Puebla, and Carrara, Italy, it epitomizes the grand imitations of European architecture common in Mexico during the Porfiriato—the long dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz (1876–1911). For many, it's one of Mexico's most splendid buildings. Downstairs, the Museo del Palacio Postal shows Mexico's postal history.


Construction on the largest and one of the oldest Latin American cathedrals began in the late 16th century and continued intermittently throughout the next three centuries. The result is a medley of baroque and neoclassical touches. There are five altars and 14 chapels, mostly in the ornate churrigueresque style, named for Spanish architect José Benito Churriguera (died 1725). Like most Mexican churches, the cathedral is all but overwhelmed by innumerable paintings, altarpieces, and statues—in graphic color—of Christ and the saints. Over the centuries, this cathedral began to sink into the spongy subsoil, but a major engineering project to stabilize it was declared successful in 2000. The older-looking church attached to the cathedral is the 18th-century Sagrario chapel. Guided tours of the bell towers (via an attractive, if a little tiring, staircase) are available several times daily for MX$20. Inquire at the main entrance.


The Aztec emperor Cuauhtémoc built a palace here, where heretics were later burned at the stake during the Spanish Inquisition. The plaza was the intellectual hub of the city during the colonial era. Today its most endearing feature is the Portal de los Evangelistas, whose arcades are filled with scribes at old-fashioned typewriters filling in official forms, formatting theses, printing invitations, or composing letters. In the past, people who didn't know how to write came here for a little help. While there are still those, there are also the people who desire to keep traditions alive. At Christmastime especially, people come to have greeting cards personalized—with their greeting on the inside and return address printed on the envelopes.

The 18th-century baroque Santo Domingo church, slightly north of the portal, is all that remains of the first Dominican convent in New Spain. The convent building was demolished in 1861 under the Reform laws that forced clerics to turn over all religious buildings not used for worship to the government.


This 17th-century masterpiece acquired its name, House of Tiles, from its elaborate tile work. The dazzling designs, along with the facade's iron balconies, make it one of the prettiest baroque structures in the country. The interior is also worth seeing for its Moorish patio, monumental staircase, and mural by Orozco. The house, which belonged to the Condes of the Valle de Orizaba, was not originally clad in tile. These were added a few years later, when the house was covered with tiles from the nearby city of Puebla, where the fifth Countess of Orizaba spent much of her time. The building is currently occupied by Sanborns, a chain store and restaurant, and if you have plenty of time (service is slow) this is a good place to stop for a meal—especially breakfast. Many writers and journalists hang out here. There's also a store with a pharmacy, bakery, candy counter, and an ATM.


Coyoacán was founded by Toltecs in the 10th century and later settled by the Aztecs, or Mexica. Bernal Díaz Castillo, a Spanish chronicler, wrote that there were 6,000 houses at the time of the conquest. Cortés set up headquarters in Coyoacán during his siege of Tenochtitlán and kept his famous Indian mistress La Malinche here. At one point he considered making Coyoacán his capital; many of the Spanish buildings left from the two-year period during which Mexico City was built still stand.

Coyoacán has had many illustrious residents from Mexico's rich and intellectual elite, including Miguel de la Madrid, president of Mexico from 1982 to 1988; artists Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, and José Clemente Orozco; Gabriel Figueroa, cinematographer for Luis Buñuel and John Huston; film star Dolores del Río; film director El Indio Fernández; and writers Carlos Monsiváis, Jorge Ibargüengoitia, and Nobel laureate Octavio Paz.

It's also the neighborhood where the exiled Leon Trotsky met his violent death. Coyoacán's streets buzz with activity, and it has a popular food market, the Mercado Xicotencatl. On weekends families flock to its pleasant zócalo, second in importance and popularity only to the Zócalo downtown.

Coyoacán has now both absorbed by the ever-growing capital. But its managed to retain its original tranquillity. You'll want to linger here if you have the free time. The Frida Kahlo and Leon Trotsky museums give intense, intimate looks at the lives of two famous people who were friends and lovers, and who breathed their personalities into the places where they lived. Allow at least an hour at each.

The other museums are much smaller and merit less time. Remember that museums close on Monday. Weekends are liveliest at the Plaza Hidalgo and its neighboring Jardín Centenario (usually referred to as la plaza or el zócalo), where street life explodes into a fiesta with balloons, clowns, cotton candy, live music, and hypnotic dancing to the sound of drums.


Next to Bosque de Chapultepec, two nearby colonias, known as La Condesa and La Roma, are filled with fading 1920s and 1930s architecture, sun-dappled parks, and a wide variety of eateries that cater to the city's young and trendy. The capital's elite were concentrated here at the turn of the 20th century. In the late 1990s a tide of artists, entrepreneurs, and foreigners brought a wave of energy. La Condesa and La Roma are a must-see in spring, when the jacarandas are in bloom.

La Condesa is the more outwardly charming of the two, with a lively nightlife scene catering to the younger set. Grittier La Roma is hip, home to some important art galleries, cafés, mezcalerías, markets, and more.

Although it's possible to walk to Colonia Condesa from the Bosque de Chapultepec, you'd have to trek along busy, heavily trafficked roads; it's best to take a sitio taxi to the circular Avenida Amsterdam. Loop around Amsterdam until you reach Avenida Michoacán, where you can check out the boutiques and peek down the side streets. On Avenida Michoacán you'll find a sitio taxi stand—hop in for another short cab ride, this time to Colonia Roma's Plaza Río de Janeiro and more atmospheric strolling. The Condesa's nucleus is the restaurant zone (ask your taxi driver to take you to the neighborhood's zona de restaurantes).


Adventurous private art galleries, independent artist-run spaces, and a rough-around-the-edges personality are the hallmarks of La Roma. Like its western neighbor La Condesa, La Roma was once an aristocratic enclave with stately homes, but over time it became better known for its cantinas, pool halls, dance clubs, and nightspots of questionable repute. These days, bookstores and cafés have helped transform this old neighborhood into the capital's full-blown arts district. Gentrification creeps slowly but steadily onward, though, so enjoy this up-and-comer before it becomes too respectable. La Roma is divided into Roma Sur (south) and Roma Norte (north). Most of the action takes place in Roma Norte.

La Roma borders La Condesa along Avenida Insurgentes Sur, so once you're in one, the other's relatively close on foot. What could be more perfect than a morning visit to a museum or two in Bosque de Chapultepec, a late-afternoon stroll in La Roma, and dinner in La Condesa? Keep in mind that art galleries tend to close on Sunday.


A neighborhood known primarily for its modern, high-rise business hotels, Polanco has a central location in the city as well as the stupendous main branch of the Museo Soumaya.



Mexico City is one sprawling metropolis; it's packed to the gills with both buildings and people (over 22 million inhabitants). It occupies a high (7,347 feet) dry lakebed in the center of the country—its location and size make it the main hub for bus and air travel. Though the city has more neighborhoods than most cities have streets, the main tourist areas, including the core historic center, are fairly contained and close to one another.


You could spend weeks in Mexico City—there are enough museums, restaurants, and side trips to keep even the most jaded globe-trotter occupied for a long time—but how much time you spend in the capital really depends on your expectations and your tolerance for fast-paced urban living. If you're short on time and anxious to move on to friendlier (or more scenic) climes, you can see a lot in two days, though three would be ideal.

With three days you'll have enough time to tour the historic sights, do a little museum-hopping, have more than a few fabulous meals, and spend at least part of one day on a side trip to nearby ruins. Hard-core city travelers will want to spend a week here to feel like they've really covered enough ground.


For short trips around central neighborhoods, the EcoBici bike share system is now available to tourists, though, inconveniently, it requires an in-person sign-up. With a passport and credit card, visitors can buy one-, three- or seven-day memberships that allow access to public bikes for unlimited 45-minute trips. Memberships cost MX$90, MX$180, and MX$300, respectively, plus a hefty refundable deposit of MX$5,000. Bike lanes are scarce and Mexico City drivers are notoriously inconsiderate, but EcoBici is a welcome option for visitors comfortable with urban cycling.


EcoBici. The capital's public bike-share system features 275 stations distributed throughout the city's central neighborhoods, with more on the way. Unlimited trips of up to 45 minutes are free with a membership, which can be purchased in one-day (MX$90), three-day (MX$180) or seven-day increments (MX$300) with a passport and valid credit card. You will also be charged a temporary deposit of MX$5,000, which will be refunded five days after your membership expires. Sign up at one of two EcoBici offices, or register online, though you'll still have to pick up your card in person. A second office is at Nuevo León 78 in Colonia Condesa. Nuevo León 78, Col. Condesa, Mexico City, Quintana Roo, 06100. 55/5005–2424. Weekdays 9–6, Sat. 10–2.


It's usually impractical to rent a car for travel within Mexico City, though it may be a good option for trips outside the city. You'll find it easier to pick up a rental car at the airport so you can head straight out of town, avoiding some of the traffic.


Use sitio (stationed) taxis at stands or call for one. Simply do not hail taxis on the street under any circumstances. Two reliable radio taxi companies are Servitaxi and Taximex, which accepts credit cards. If you need a cab but don't speak the Spanish necessary to call one yourself, have a hotel concierge or waiter call you a sitio taxi.


Servitaxis (55/5516–6020 or 55/3626–9800.

Taximex (55/9171–8888 or 55/5634–9912.


Though the country as a whole has been rocked by narco violence, Mexico City has long been considered among the safest parts of Mexico. The U.S. State Department currently has no travel advisory in effect for Mexico City, though it cautions against traveling to the metropolitan area’s eastern fringe; check for updated information.

Mexico City’s well-publicized kidnappings have generally targeted the Mexican power elite; the average tourist isn’t likely to be a victim of this type of crime. Authorities have been cracking down on taxi robberies, but policing an estimated 100,000 cabs is no easy feat. The first rule of Mexico City is never hail a taxi on the street, from a tourist attraction, or with your debit card in your pocket. Choose the sitio (stationed) cabs that operate out of stands or cabs called for by hotel or restaurant staff, or use apps such as Yaxi and Uber. The government has phased out the city’s once-iconic VW Beetle taxis since four-door vehicles are seen as a safer option (the driver cannot access backseat passengers as easily). Avoid any two-door taxis still in service.

It’s a good idea to avoid public transportation late at night. When taking the metro, note that the forward-most subway car is typically reserved for women and children only (though this rule is not always enforced or observed).

The Zócalo has undergone major changes, including rigorous trash pickup, a ban (sadly) on vendors and street food in the core, lots of guards, and in some places, security cameras. Major tourist areas are generally safe, but petty theft is pervasive. Pickpockets are brazen and unbelievably skilled. Recognize that Mexico City is formal, so things like big cameras, backpacks, shorts, and sandals will make you stand out.



Mexico City Tourist Office (Nuevo León 56, at Laredo, Col. Condesa, Mexico City, Quintana Roo, 06100. 55/5212–0261.

Mexico City Tourist Office (Terminal de Autobuses del Oriente, TAPO, Calzada Ignacio Zaragoza 200, Col. 10 de Mayo, Mexico City, Quintana Roo, 15290.

Mexico City Tourist Office (Plaza Hidalgo 1, ground fl., Col. Coyoacán, Mexico City, Quintana Roo, 04000. 55/5658–0221.

Mexico City Tourist Office (Pino 36, Xochimilco, Mexico City, Quintana Roo, 16070. 55/5676–0810 or 55/5676–8879.

Tourism Ministry (DF) (Av. Nuevo León 56, at Laredo, Col. Condesa, Mexico City, Quintana Roo, 06100. 55/5212–0260.

Tourism Ministry (Federal) (Av. Presidente Masaryk (aka Masarik) 172, Col. Polanco, Mexico City, Quintana Roo, 11587. 55/3002–6300 or 800/446–3942.


Mexico City has a fairly mild climate all year round. The coldest and, consequently, most smog-infested months are December and January. Although it stays warm during the day, the temperature dips considerably at night during these months, so you'll need to bring a jacket.

The warmest months of the year are April and May, although it never gets too hot, thanks to the capital's high altitude.

The rainy season, which brings strong downpours and causes occasional flooding, is from May to October, though you'll often have hours—and sometimes whole days—of sunshine.


Mexico City's airport, Aeropuerto Internacional de la Ciudad de México, or Aeropuerto Internacional Benito Juárez (MEX), is the country’s main gateway. Many airlines fly nonstop between major U.S. cities and Mexico City.

Reaching the city center from the airport takes 20 minutes to an hour depending on traffic. If you're taking a taxi, purchase your ticket at an official airport taxi counter marked "transportación terrestre" (ground transportation) or "taxi autorizado" (authorized taxi); never take a pirata taxi (unofficial drivers hawking their services).

The capital is also served by the Adolfo López Mateos International Airport in the nearby city of Toluca, about an hour’s drive away (though that estimate can vary wildly depending on traffic). Budget travelers might find the extra travel time worthwhile, as some airlines offer cheaper fares to Toluca.


Mexico City's airport, Aeropuerto Internacional de la Ciudad de México, or Aeropuerto Internacional Benito Juárez (MEX), is the country’s main gateway. Many airlines fly nonstop between major U.S. cities and Mexico City.

Reaching the city center from the airport takes 20 minutes to an hour depending on traffic. If you're taking a taxi, purchase your ticket at an official airport taxi counter marked "transportación terrestre" (ground transportation) or "taxi autorizado" (authorized taxi); never take a pirata taxi (unofficial drivers hawking their services).

The capital is also served by the Adolfo López Mateos International Airport in the nearby city of Toluca, about an hour’s drive away (though that estimate can vary wildly depending on traffic). Budget travelers might find the extra travel time worthwhile, as some airlines offer cheaper fares to Toluca.


Mexico City's subway system is a wonder to behold. Its 12 color-coded lines ferry millions of visitors and commuters to most parts of the city quickly and efficiently, often much faster than traveling overland in the city's notorious traffic; rides cost MX$5. You can buy single-ride passes and transport cards at ticket windows at each station, but lines can be long. A better bet is to load up your card with credit at automated machines located at Metrobus stations. Metro stations are marked with graphical icons—a grasshopper, a fountain—as well as written names, in response to the city's relatively high illiteracy rate at the time of the system's construction. The metro has a reputation for being uncomfortably hot and sardine-packed during rush hour; women traveling solo may want to take advantage of the women-and-children-only cars, located at the front of each train. A recent government crackdown has reduced the number of mobile vendors that roam the cars hawking anything from socks and cigarette lighters to pirated CDs for MX$10, though you'll probably encounter a few. Keep a close eye on your belongings at all times while entering, exiting, and riding the metro, and avoid using it late at night.


To help people feel more comfortableabout traveling to Mexico, in July 2009 tourism officials implemented a plan whereby visitors to the capital receive medical aid and assistance in case of an emergency.

The city’s elevation and air quality should be of concern to you if you have any allergy or asthma issues, though various environmental initiatives have improved air quality to the degree that you’re unlikely to notice it. Initially the change in elevation may affect your breathing, sleep patterns, digestion, and alcohol tolerance. Take it easy, drink lots of water, and lay off the cocktails.


Red double-decker, open-top buses operated by Turibus run 9–9 daily. The daily pass (purchased on board) lets you get on and off as many times as desired and costs MX$140 on weekdays, MX$165 on weekends and holidays. Two-day passes cost MX$210 weekdays, MX$245 on weekends. The bus travels up and down Reforma, passes through the Centro, Plaza Río de Janeiro in Colonia Roma, Michoacán in Colonia Condesa (a great place to stop and eat), and the National Museum of Anthropology. A second circuit covers the Polanco area, with stops at the Antara shopping center, Museo Soumaya, and Feria de Chapultepec theme park. Most passengers for these two routes board at the staircase of the Auditorio Nacional, just outside the Auditorio metro stop. A third route travels from Colonia Roma to the south of the city, including Coyoacán’s Museo de Frida Kahlo, the bullfighting ring, and the World Trade Center; and a fourth ferries visitors from the Zócalo to the Basílica de Guadalupe and Plaza Garibaldi. Buses run every day of the year, with departures every 20–30 minutes or so.

Themed outings include a Friday-night lucha libre (Mexican wrestling) tour, a four-hour cantina tour on Wednesday and Thursday evenings at 8, and a night tour that runs Friday and Saturday from 9 pm to 1 am.

The Paseo por Coyoacán tourist trolleybus goes around the Coyoacán neighborhood, with a guide telling the history of the area in Spanish. It leaves from a stop opposite the Museo Nacional de Culturas Populares whenever there are enough people, so departures are irregular. It costs MX$50 and runs daily. Guided tours in English are available only for large groups; reservations are a must.


Association of Tour Guides Adolfo López Mateos (Navarra 62, Col. Alamos, Mexico City, Quintana Roo, 03400. 55/5530–4715 or 55/5440–5173.

National Syndicate of Guides and Tourism Employees (Ezequiel Montes 79, Col. Tabacalera, Mexico City, Quintana Roo, 06000. 55/5535–5247.)

Paseo por Coyoacán (Aguayo 3D1, Col. Coyoacán, Mexico City, Quintana Roo, 04100. 55/5484–4500.

Turibus (55/5141–1360.


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