Long embraced as a travel destination for creatives in the art, food, and design worlds, Mexico's capital city is at once welcoming and overwhelming, fiercely traditional and cosmopolitan.
Long embraced as a travel destination for creatives in the art, food, and design worlds, Mexico's capital city is at once welcoming and overwhelming, fiercely traditional and cosmopolitan. Locals and longtime visitors may chuckle at the idea that Mexico City is "having a moment," but it's undeniable. What makes the city so compelling is its seamless ability to welcome and celebrate cultural opposites. The old and the new, the lowbrow and highbrow, are equally respected and given space here. The locals shape the city's future while staying in touch with its rich past. CDMX is a celebration, and you'd be remiss not to join in.
Palacio de Bellas Artes (Photo Courtesy: Wilfredo Nieves)
Mexico is often depicted as a country beset with crime led by the ongoing drug wars. But contrary to popular belief, the crime rates in CDMX have improved tremendously since the 1990s. Exercising caution in certain pockets of the city is always recommended, but the fear instilled by certain medias and (cough) administrations is mischaracterizing. Beauty is all around as the city continues its efforts to revamp public spaces since the 2017 earthquake.
Dia de Los Muertos celebrations in the CDMX (Photo Courtesy: iStock.com/stockstudioX)
The good news is temperatures are fairly moderate throughout the year — think mid-50s to low 70s. Midday temperatures can escalate but morning and evenings are cool, making a light jacket necessary. The rainy season falls between June and September and when it rains, it rains — having an umbrella handy is not a bad idea. Mexican Independence Day is September 16, followed by Dia de Los Muertos celebrations on the cusp of October and November, so expect major celebrations, including parades, parties, and fireworks in the fall. With spring comes the blooming of jacaranda trees, saturating the city in a plumage of purple flowers.
Mexican peso is the official currency. Being the metropolis that it is, credit cards are widely accepted but smaller establishments like taquerias, mercados, and street food stands may only accept pesos (look for the "cash only" signs). Carrying small denominations is encouraged, as it can be difficult to exchange $500 and $1,000 bills, especially at a small business; carrying a small amount of pesos at any given time is also encouraged.
The term used to describe a Mexico City resident; it refers to something like "belonging to Mexico City." Defeño or DF, for Distrito Federal (the predecessor of "CDMX"), are also used to describe residents of the city. Although not a slur, these terms (like the word gringo) have a mildly negative connotation as it is used by Mexicans outside CDMX to describe city folks as snobbish or arrogant.
Uber is an inexpensive and safe option for getting around CDMX, making exploring in the far-flung edges of the city doable. If you are going to use a taxi vs Uber, seek out a taxi stand (sitio) as these are licensed and safer than the ones you hail off the street. Tourists often steer clear of the Metro system as it can get hot and crowded, but at five pesos (about a quarter) a ride, it's a steal. Bus lines operate on their own lanes amidst the busy traffic and run every few minutes, making it one of the most efficient ways of getting around. If buses and taxis aren't your thing, the major neighborhoods like Centro Histórico, Juárez, and Roma are very pedestrian-friendly.
Second to London, Mexico City has the highest concentration of museums in the world, many of which are free. Whether you're roaming the halls of Frida Kahlo's home, scaling the pyramids at Teotihuacan, or discovering up-and-coming contemporary artists of the region, bringing a pair of comfy walking shoes is an excellent idea.
(Photo Courtesy: iStock.com/g01xm)
There’s no shortage of places to eat here, whether it be in the 40,000 plus restaurants or hundreds of food carts dotting the streets. CDMX is a first-rate food city, with a diverse dining scene, and some of the world's best restaurants. Traveling outside city limits isn't necessary, as CDMX is a hub for a wide range of regional Mexican cuisines. If you’re feeling adventurous, a variety of insects are eaten in Mexico, and are — we promise — delicious. For starters, try chapulines (grasshoppers), escamoles (ant larvae and pupae) or a cocktail rimmed with salt made from maguey worms. Mezcal reigns supreme here, but you knew that already.
A busy street in the Centro Histórico district (Photo Courtesy: iStock.com/atoson)
(Photo Courtesy: iStock.com/ardenstreet)
Named after the Countess of Miravalle, the architecture in this neighborhood is fit for royalty. Tree-lined streets coexist with a parade of styles like Spanish Colonial Revival, Art Deco, Brutalist, Mid-Century Modern, and contemporary buildings. The fashionable area attracts young, posh Chilangos with deep pockets looking to enjoy the finer things in life. Despite its vibrant nightlife scene, Condesa remains a family-friendly, park-filled neighborhood.
Can't miss: Parque Mexico
(Photo Courtesy: iStock.com/benedek)
Known as the Beverly Hills of Mexico City, this neighborhood is more than just its pinkies-up attitude. A high concentration of the city's most sought after restaurants and hotels call Polanco home, but if you can't swing the pesos, taco stands and cafes along the Parque Lincoln are good alternatives. Just don’t forget that with that flash comes some formality: dress codes are enforced, valet parking is practically mandatory, and reservations are often necessary.
Can't miss: Bosque de Chapultepec
(Photo Courtesy: iStock.com/Carl Campbell)
Collectively called Roma, these two neighborhoods are probably best known for the Oscar-winning film of the same name and its hip residents. The area is filled with restored colonial homes and mansions, many of which have been reincarnated as world-renowned restaurants, speakeasies, third-wave coffee shops, art galleries, and boutiques, while a stroll along Alvaro Obregón will satisfy every Art Nouveau and mural craving you may have. Simply said, there are enough bohemian vibes to go around.
(Photo Courtesy: iStock.com/juanmces)
In recent years, the trapezoidal-shaped Juárez has slowly emerged from the shadows of its neighboring Roma to become the center of CDMX's nightlife. The gay-friendly Zona Rosa leads the pack on all things late night, so if you're looking to party, you've come to the right place. If it wasn't enough of a microcosm, a Koreatown within Zona Rosa also means restaurants transforming the culinary landscape of Mexico City.
Can't miss: The Angel of Independence column
(Photo Courtesy: iStock.com/esdelval)
As the name suggests, this historic district is the heart of CDMX and was all Mexico City was made of until the late 1800s before its expansion into surrounding areas. Stroll through the Zócalo where Aztec reenactments or protests are bound to be taking place, or by pop your head into churches and palaces dating back to colonial times. A plethora of the city's most-celebrated art and historical institutions, buildings, and traditions are alive and well here.
(Photo Courtesy: iStock.com/stockcam)
Frida Kahlo, Leon Trotsky and Diego Rivera have left their marks (and their homes) in this historical area whose name means "place of the coyotes" in the Aztec language of Nahuatl. Once the hotbed of debates over communism and democracy, Coyoacán maintains its fierce intellectual independence and progressive zeal today. It's hardly surprising that it attracts so many locals and visitors. Bookstores, quaint coffeeshops, and bustling cantinas offer a reprieve for those less politically inclined.
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The lush green land of Sub Pop, tech giants, Mount Rainier, and the infamous Seattle Freeze. Yes, it rains here.
Where locals cling to coffee cups and navigate the cobblestone streets in flip-flops with socks (yeah, it’s a thing).