Mexico City Travel Guide
The constant traveller: Mexico City
Words— Celia Spenard-Ko
Photography— Celia Spenard-Ko
You are a person who values time. Maybe you don’t have that many vacation weeks in a year, so when you do decide to go somewhere, it has to have it all: a rich culture, amazing food, eclectic markets, museums and galleries that fill you with a childlike wonder, and of course, architecture and interiors to stop you in your tracks. Mexico City is that somewhere, a city that will satisfy most–if not all–your criteria for the ideal destination.
In a ciudad this big, there’s a lot of ground to cover. If you know people who “didn’t have the best time” in CDMX, they must be forgiven, for it is easy, as it is with every new place, to wander astray. But read on, friends and that person won’t be you.
Where to eat
Mexico City is very multicultural, which means exploring the plethora of diverse flavours hailing from other cities, near and far, is as paramount as taking advantage of the local cuisine.
Merkavá is Mexico’s first hummusiya, a joint that is traditionally Israeli in origin and specializing in hummus. The menu, influenced by Jewish, Armenian, Christian and Islamic palates, features an incredible roasted cauliflower, a glazed trout to end all glazed trout, and beautiful shaksuka, among many other delights such as their excellent selection of salatim. The restaurant itself feels like a warm wooden nook resonant with aesthetic textures.
Rosetta, beautiful Rosetta. Set in a Colonia Roma townhouse, this Italian restaurant has the feel of a most elegant time capsule. The food is a seductive union of Italian and Mexican cuisine with pasta that is made fresh in-house and seasonal ingredients that dictate an exciting ever-changing menu.
Now for some serious Mexican eats:
Yuban prides itself in serving contemporary Zapotec-inspired cuisine. The Zapotecs are an indigenous people of Mexico from the state of Oaxaca. The term contemporary is not used lightly here, the dishes are exquisitely plated in an artful manner that will most likely have some reaching for their phones before tucking in to discover a wonderful depth of flavour. And as unusual as this may sound, the virgin cocktails are worth a try, especially the cantaloupe, coconut blend (if it’s still listed).
Churrería El Moro is that spot you’ll want to hit more than once, no matter the length of your stay for two reasons: the first being for the best churros you’ll probably ever have, the second is for their menu of gourmet hot chocolates. Yes! Although we often associate fine chocolate with European countries, Mexico is its birthplace and Mexican chocolate must be experienced. Luckily, CDMX has many, many El Moro locations. After your first time, you’ll be grateful. Do try the churro ice cream sandwiches, the plantain ice cream is a dream.
El Faraón will satisfy even the most acute taco and quesadilla cravings. The quaint patio out back offers a welcome respite from the busy city life as plate after plate make their way to your table. Fresh avocado, fresh limes, an assortment of fresh salsas and chilled Modelos make this culinary experience simplicity at its finest. Bonus points are granted for being open late, perfect for capping off a tequila-fuelled night.
Galleries and museums
The list of museums and galleries to visit here can be exciting or overwhelming, depending on your outlook, but it is definitely worth cramming in as many as possible. There’s a good reason contemporary art and design lovers have put Mexico City at the top of their lists–it is chock-full of gems.
Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo is a gorgeous contemporary art museum located in Chapultepec Park that houses the work of international artists. The beauty of how sunlight fills its many striking halls is a sight to behold in itself.
LABOR supports art projects that are deeply rooted in research. The small gallery is adjacent to a lovely courtyard and admission is free.
Museo Experimental El Eco possesses exceptional indoor and outdoor spaces that often host immersive art installations, the very kind Instagrammers fiend for.
Archivo Diseño y Arquitectura could be considered a priority for anyone with an interest in architecture and design regardless of how deep of an interest that may be. The ARCHIVO(s), an exhibition series that focuses on Mexico’s important modern architectural feats, has featured brilliant projects the likes of the Hotel Camino Real Polanco (also well worth a visit).
Museo Jumex was designed by Sir David Chipperfield, the first of his projects in Latin America, and it is a travertine dream. The surrounding space is as much a delight to navigate as the levels within. Grab a table at the open-air cafe on the ground floor before you leave even if it’s just to enjoy the soft breeze and velvety light.
Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo might be less popular then the Museo Frida Kahlo, but it is for that reason you should aim to check out the former if you’re pressed for time or not a fan of crowds. The set of three buildings seems to be in conversation with one another and to find yourself in the middle is affecting. Rivera’s studio remains preserved and open for visits, Kahlo and the architect O’Gorman’s studios have been converted into exhibition spaces.
Many design devotees will make the pilgrimage to CDMX with the intention of taking in as much of Mexican mid-century architect Luis Barragán’s oeuvre as possible. Though most of his projects in this city are privately owned, it is possible to book visits, however this should be done well in advance as demand is high and spots few in number. The payoff is massive for that extra little legwork, because to be fully immersed in a universe created with this much thought, care and ingenious concepts is a rare opportunity.
Casa Luis Barragán, as the name suggests, was the architect’s home and studio. In 2004, this masterpiece was included in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Site.
Casa Prieto-Lopez (now Casa Pedregal) was built on volcanic rock, some of which was even incorporated in the build of the house. This project is a prime example of a key Barragán principle: that the relationship between architecture and nature should be a harmonious one. The former stables adjacent to the house are now home to Tetetlán, the stunning multifaceted establishment that is at once café, restaurant, yoga studio, artist residency, library, listening library and shop selling goods from local designers and craftsmen. The glass floor that has you suspended over a bed of petrified magma is a small thrill.
Casa Gilardi, Barragán’s final project, was commissioned after the architect’s retirement. He had initially turned it down, but upon visiting the site, experienced a change of heart, remarking a beautiful jacaranda tree, around which he built the house.
Cuadra San Cristobal recently began hosting exhibitions within its bright, colourful walls, despite still serving primarily as stables. The way in which art interacts with an environment as distinct as this one, adds extra depth to an already very sensorial experience. The space alone will send your spirits soaring into compositional bliss.
To qualify the spectrum of cultural activities available as vast would be an understatement. Simply put, this means within the span of a few days, you can go from one end of that spectrum to the other and feel as though you’ve covered a fair amount of ground.
Things to do
Lucha Libre matches at Arena México are held on Tuesdays and Fridays. A luchador is a Mexican wrestler characterized by his vibrant mask and costume. The wrestling is almost more theatre than fight, but the entertainment value is monumental. Not to mention the abundance of fun snack vendors who come right to your seat in seemingly endless waves. Although you may hear StubHub is the way to go for tickets, it’s much cheaper and simpler to just buy them at the ticket office before the match.
Teotihuacán is an ancient Mesoamerican city about an hour’s drive from CDMX. There you’ll find the formidable Pyramids of the Sun and Moon surrounded by breathtaking ruins (high altitude contributing). The sights, paired with local peddlers playing melodies on the flute that carry far on the dusty wind, make for a very vibey scene. Do not let this tempt you into by their shiny black obsidian sculptures–they are made in China. If you want real local obsidian–a glassy volcanic rock native to the region–you can find certified artisans a stone’s throw from the pyramids at Artesanias Premier. If ruin climbing has left you hungry and parched, make a stop at Meztli for some fresh guacamole, sopa de tortilla and quesadillas. Whether you’ve booked a hotel or an Airbnb for your stay, talk to your concierge or host about private drivers or private tours to Teotihuacán. The piece of mind is worth the extra pesos and you’ll learn a lot.
Xochimilco, popular for its system of shallow canals and vivid trajinera boats, has been referred to as the “Mexican Venice”. This is the kind of place that is best when busy, so plan to go on the weekend. Buy some food at the local market and hop on a boat for a floating picnic as you glide by other boats offering you more food, drinks, and even songs.
Where to shop
Make sure you pack light, because you’ll want the extra room for the incredible haul you’re bound to amass.
La Ciudadela Market (Mercado De Artesanías La Ciudadela) may send you reeling at first, but once you get your bearings, you’ll zone in on banger after banger. This is a traditional style market and therefore many vendors are of the handcrafted goods and folk art variety, but there are handcrafted goods and folk art that you may not know you need, but you do. We’re talking huarache sandals, colourful woven straw totes, hand-painted pottery, sugar skulls, puebla dresses, it does not end. Looking for a bootleg Liga MX jersey? They have that too.
Casa Bosques feels like a home, one occupied mainly by books. Here you are free to take a seat among the succulents and leaf through local independent magazines such as Local.mx or international titles the likes of Apartamento and Frame. As if having more architecture, fashion and design titles at your disposal than you could dream up wasn’t enough, they also have their own gourmet chocolates, made in collaboration with master chocolatier Jorge Llanderal. The dark chocolate covered cashews spiced with rosemary are ridiculously good.
VOID is a beautifully curated vintage shop in hip neighbourhood La Condesa, boasting an excellent selection of high-end designer garms, authentic Navajo jewellery, true vintage Mexican pieces such as wool ponchos from the 1970s, and loads more from countless trips abroad.
Taxonomía (Hotel Carlota) isn’t your regular hotel gift shop. From clothing to home wares, everything available here is designed and crafted by local makers, drawing inspiration from both the traditional and the constant innovational spirit of contemporary Mexican design. And while you’re at it, the hotel is worth checking out too.
There are so many more places worthy of mention in Mexico City. A great way to discover them is to ask shop owners or gallery staff where their favourite spots are. Whatever you do decide to do, this is a city with richness in so many areas, diving into as many of them as you can, will ensure you a most valuable time here.