On more than one occasion when we told friends that we were visiting Mexico City, we were met with responses of confusion, judgement, and trepidation. Isn’t it dangerous? Don’t you need armed guards to escort you? And my personal favorite, (in a dubious and judgmental tone, I should add) Why? While I couldn’t help but be a bit defensive, I can’t say that I was entirely shocked by these reactions. These types of responses were so reminiscent of our trip to Colombia last year, which ended up becoming our favorite country of 2016.
We judge what we don’t know. We buy into stereotypes. We indulge our ignorances. We believe what the media sells us. We are all guilty of it, myself certainly included. While I can understand the apprehension and concern, the negativity and fear often associated with Mexico City is not only unwarranted but almost laughably misinformed. The truth of the matter is Mexico City is ridiculously sexy and sophisticated and we couldn’t have felt safer. The cosmopolitan city boasts world-class museums, an innovative and vibrant art scene, and is home to some of the best restaurants we have ever eaten at. Seriously. In our four trips to Mexico, this is the first time we have ever really experienced the true essence of Mexico and like in true Hill fashion, we have fallen head over heels and are now unequivocally and unapologetically obsessed.
With direct flights of less than four hours from D.C., an insanely good exchange rate, and so much to do, see, and eat, the question isn’t if we’ll return to Mexico City, but when and how soon?
WHAT TO SEE & DO
Mexico City is saturated with greenery–tree-lined avenues, parks, and gardens permeate the lush metropolis. But the real star here is Chapultepec Park, Mexico City’s answer to Central Park. One of the largest urban parks in the world, this serene and verdant oasis is home to countless running and bike paths, botanical gardens, lakes, a castle, an amusement park, and a number of museums, the most prominent being the Museum of Anthropology. A wonderful way to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and a must-visit on any Mexico City itinerary.
National Museum of Anthropology
I am not exaggerating when I say this is one of the best museums that we’ve ever been to. Considered one of the world’s most comprehensive natural history museums, The National Museum of Anthropology contains the world’s largest collection of ancient Mexican art and showcases exhibits about Mexico’s present-day indigenous groups. The design of this world-class museum is stunning; its vast courtyard is surrounded on three sides by display halls filled with meticulously appointed exhibits. We spent a few hours here, although we could have easily spent the entire day.
Things to know: The museum is located at the end of Chapultepec Park; one adult ticket price costs about $3.50 USD; the museum is closed on Mondays.
The remarkable courtyard:
The Aztec Calendar:
Museu de Frida Kahlo (Casa Azul)
Located in the Coyoacan District, Frida Kahlo’s lifelong home-turned-museum has been preserved to look very much the way it did when she lived. The display of her incredible artwork tells the story of her complex and often tumultuous life and her eclectic collection of art is also prominently featured. Art certainly imitates life and the vivid and bold colors of Kahlo’s estate clearly reflect the intriguing and fascinating artist. While the house and gardens are gorgeous, I wouldn’t say it’s worth the typical two-three hour wait in line. Highly recommend purchasing online tickets in advance–avoid the ridiculous queue and just walk right in (and be ready for some not-so-nice looks from the people who are waiting in line!). #itpaystoplaninadvance #sorrynotsorry
Things to know: Open Tuesday-Sunday from 10:00-5:30; our online tickets cost about $11.50 USD per person.
Palacio de Bellas Artes
This renowned and gorgeous building is a Mexico City institution, as it serves as the city’s most distinguished performance hall as well as home to many incredible works of art, including murals painted by the beloved Diego Rivera.
Thing to know: For amazing views and photos of the Palacio de Bellas, head across the street to the eighth floor of the Sears building. There’s a small cafe and terrace where you can set up shop providing you purchase something (we bought a water, much to my environmentally-conscious obsessed chagrin).
Home to the long-time tradition of mariachis clad in fitted silver-studded black jackets and trousers, Plaza Garibaldi is a fun place to enjoy some music while sipping on delicious mezcal and tequila. Is a bit touristy? Yes. Should you go? Absolutely.
Explore Mexico City’s Hottest Neighborhoods
Mexico City is definitely not lacking in the swanky neighborhoods department. It’s worth the time wandering around the hip and fashionable neighborhoods of Condesa, Roma, and Polanco, just to name a few. Each district is distinct in its own right and brimming with upscale eateries, lush greenery, stylish boutiques, and charming colonial architecture.
Venture Out To Teotihuacan
About an hour north of the city encircled by a mountainous valley, lie the incredible pre-Hispanic ruins of Teotihuacan. The UNESCO designated and monumental temples make for a spectacular excursion, particularly the Temple of Quetzalcoatl and Pyramids of the Sun and Moon. Ancient, shrouded in history, and as mysterious as they are majestic, visiting these massive temples was a highlight of our trip. These are some of the last remaining of the world’s temples that you can actually climb and after incessantly indulging in Mexico City’s phenomenal food scene, the 248-step climb up the Temple of the Sun was more than welcomed.
Climbing the Pyramid of the Sun:
On top of the world atop the Pyramid of the Sun:
Climbing the Temple of Quetzalcoatl:
Pyramid of the Moon:
Avenue of the Dead:
Things to know: Teotihuacan’s close proximity to Mexico City makes for the perfect half or full day trip. We had our hotel organize a four-hour morning tour for us with a private driver and guide. Go earlier in the morning for smaller crowds and cooler temperatures.
WHERE TO EAT
My mouth is watering just thinking about Mexico City’s thriving dining scene. Here, you can eat like a total BOSS at ridiculously incredible restaurants for a fraction of what you would spend in the States. Mexico City is home to four of the top 100 restaurants in the world and we gleefully and shamelessly ate at three of them. That’s right. We had ourselves a few days of pure gluttony and we wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.
You know a restaurant is truly remarkable when it manages to exceed your ridiculously high expectations. Currently ranked 20th in the world and more than worthy of its Chef’s Table feature, Pujol is the epitome of restaurant perfection. Enrique Olvera’s masterpiece is credited for putting México City on the world’s culinary map and I think I can speak for all of the world’s citizens (that’s right, every single one of them) that we are eternally gratefully. The cuisine is a sophisticated play on Mexican street food, with ingredients ranging from chicatana flying ants to octopus with habanero ink. The space is absolutely stunning–warm while minimalistic, bringing in its beautiful natural surroundings into its sleek and stylish decor. You would think that being ranked 20th in the world would result in haughtiness and ostentation. That couldn’t be farther from the truth–the vibe is relaxed and the service is extremely friendly. Without question, one of our best dining experiences ever.
Pujol’s infamous and signature Mole Madre. On the night that we dined at Pujol, it had been aged for 1,432 days. That’s nearly FOUR YEARS!
When you make friends with your server and she invites you back into the kitchen! Pure foodie heaven right here (featured: THE famous mole).
Located in the Polanco neighborhood, it’s easy to see why Biko is ranked as the 65th best restaurant in the world. At first glance, the serene and contemporary ambience gives an impression of pretentiousness. So you can imagine our initial horror given the fact that we came directly from our morning tour of the pyramids and I was wearing yoga leggings and flip-flops. That’s right. I WORE DIRTY YOGA CLOTHES TO THE 65TH RANKED RESTAURANT IN THE WORLD. If you know me at all, you can probably imagine how freaking horrified I was…especially because our driver assured us that the restaurant was laid-back and dress was casual. Well it turned out that he was right, and dress ranged from everything from suits to t-shirts to umm, yoga leggings. Crisis averted.
While Biko wasn’t anywhere near as warm and inviting as Pujol, the food was nothing short of divine and the service was flawless.
Quite possibly the best scallops I’ve ever had:
Located in the posh and popular La Condesa district, this hip and cozy bistro is the perfect spot for breakfast. The poached eggs bathed in hoja santa, chilaquiles, and chorizo tomate sandwich (according to T) are all swoon-worthy choices, as are their crisp and oh-so-fresh margaritas. We arrived at the tail-end of breakfast so were able to score a table but if you arrive during prime breakfast time, expect long longs since they don’t take reservations.
Lardo’s bakery is revered by locals and travelers alike:
Located in the El Pedregal neighborhood, this elegant and stunning restaurant is hands-down one of the most beautiful restaurants we’ve ever dined at. The space is a perfect marriage of natural outdoor elements and modern and sleek decor. The open-air setting dripping of an abundance of plants and tranquil sounds of streaming water evokes zen-like calmness throughout the restaurant.
While the space is absolutely gorgeous and the food is very good, we’re not sure it’s quite good enough to deserve its generous, and honestly questionable, ranking of 75th in the world. Don’t get me wrong, I would recommend this restaurant to anyone, foodies and novices alike, but I would caution to temper your expectations of what you might expect from a world-renowned and award-winning restaurant.
WHERE TO STAY
Mexico City is so affordable that you can stay somewhere extravagant for a fraction of what you would spend in most other cities. We chose to stay at the Four Seasons. At $340/night (including all taxes & fees), how could we not? For reference, on average, one night at the Washington, D.C. Four Seasons is around $800/night and the average cost per night in Austin, TX is about $650–both of these costs exclude taxes & fees, by the way. So, yeah, there was no way that we were going to pass up on staying here. Our luxurious stay lived up to the hotel’s impeccable reputation and we couldn’t have been more pleased with our stay.
The Four Seasons is conveniently located near Chapultepec Park and the neighborhoods of Condesa and Polanco. If the Four Seasons is not your jam, great districts to consider include Roma, Condesa, Polanco, and Coyoacán.
Getting Around: Mexico City is a HUGE sprawling city so choose your accommodations location wisely. Measuring a whopping 573 square miles, accept that you won’t get to see everything, especially if you are going for a long weekend like we did. The neighborhoods mentioned above (and many others) are very walkable and safe. We walked, took taxis, and used Uber. The subway system is known to be reliable, safe, and extremely cheap, but we didn’t use it.
When to Go: Mexico City’s temperate climate lends itself to being a year-round destination. We went in mid-November and temperatures hovered in the mid-70s during the day and fell to the low 60s at night.
High Altitude: Mexico City sits at an altitude of over 7,200 feet. We weren’t affected by the high altitude but we did feel it when climbing steps–you can imagine the extra fun that affords when climbing the Temple of the Sun! Like with all high-altitude places, remember to stay hydrated.
Be Adventurous When Eating: Ants and other insects are highly prevalent in Mexican cuisine–in fact some of the best dishes and drinks we tasted featured chicatanas (flying) ants and ant larvae. You read correctly–this non-meat-eating girl ate and drank ants–and loved every last bite and sip.
This incredibly innovative and exotic cocktail gets much of its intense flavor from ants–served at the Four Seasons’ Fifty Mils Cocktail Lounge:
We managed to see a lot of this booming metropolis in a short amount of time but of course because of its sheer size and abundance of places of interest, we missed a lot, too. We can’t wait to return and already have our eyes on other Mexican destinations like Oaxaca, San Miguel de Allende, and Tulum. I hope I have inspired you to visit this vivacious and dynamic city so that you can enjoy all of its stupendous glory, too!