There is no place in the world quite like Mexico City. The juxtaposition of ancient lore and cultural traditions with sleek, modern architecture and a dynamic art scene creates a whirlwind energy that makes you see life in a new light. You can eat at world-class restaurants and sip cocktails at some of the best bars on Earth, but not before chowing down on $1 street tacos that are literally the best you’ll ever have in your life. The streets are filled with bright murals and the sounds of mariachi bands playing music from corners and balconies and pretty much anywhere else. Mexico City — aka La Ciudad de México, or CDMX for short — boasts more than 150 museums and its massive markets house crafts from some of the best artisans in the world. If this North American metropolis isn’t on your radar, now is the time to get acquainted.
Last month, we were invited to tour Mexico City with Milagro Tequila’s national brand ambassador Jaime Salas. Because Salas lived between San Francisco and Mexico growing up, he knows the city well. During our week in CDMX, we discovered the best places to explore, eat, drink, shop, and sleep. Check out our guide and start planning your trip to this vibrant city.
Things to Do
Located atop a hill in the lush Chapultepec Forest, Chapultepec Castle is the only castle in North America that once housed actual sovereigns. Most recently, it was the residence of Emperor Maximilian I and his wife, Empress Carlota, who lived there from 1864 to 1867 and redesigned it in the neoclassical style, which was en vogue at the time. As you explore both inside and outside the castle’s walls, you can see how rooms were opulently designed and catch a great view of the city on the stunning black and white tiled terrace. Chapultepec Castle is also home to the National Museum of Cultures, so you can view the various collections on display when you visit.
When the Aztecs founded Tenochtitlán — or Mexico City as we know it today — in 1325, they constructed the Templo Mayor and dedicated it to Huitzilopochtli, god of war, and Tlaloc, god of rain and agriculture. When the city was invaded by the Spanish, they destroyed the temple in 1521 to make way for a new cathedral. The site was all but unknown until 1978 when a group of electricians found a stone carving of the Aztec goddess, Coyolxauhqui. They decided to demolish the surrounding colonial buildings so they could excavate the Templo Mayor. Because this sight is thought to be the exact location that Mexico City was first established, this beautiful ruin is a must-see.
We love attending sporting events in foreign countries because seeing the fans get into the game is such a cool way of peeking behind the curtain of a different culture. Just like a baseball game in Japan is a must, catching a Lucha Libre match in Mexico City is one of the coolest things you can do when you visit. We were lucky enough to attend the 85th anniversary of Lucha Libre at Arena México and it was a sight to behold. Before you go inside, snag a colorful mask from one of the many vendors slinging them outside the show. Once seated, vendors will be walking up and down the aisles, taking orders for Micheladas and selling traditional snacks. Make sure you try a bag of chips “dressed.” Choose your favorite kind (we love Doritos) and let the vendor swathe them in a thick, tangy hot sauce. Trust us, it’s life changing.
Museo Nacional de Antropología
Museo Nacional de Antropología is a must-visit, especially if you have a love for anthropology and ancient artifacts. It’s divided into sections based on time period; you can learn about everything from the first settlement of the Americas to Teotihuacan to the Mayas. Inside, you’ll find reproductions of historic structures, artifacts like deities and jewelry, artworks both large and small, and even the tombs of historic leaders that have been laid to rest with their most prized possessions. Give yourself a few hours to explore if you really want to dive deep into the museum’s collections.
Casa Luis Barragán
For fans of modern architecture, the Luis Barragán house is another absolute must. As the only individual property in Latin America to receive the honor of UNESCO World Heritage status, it’s a true sight to see. The residence was the private home to the architect, and it gives the viewer some insight into the solitary personality of the artist. Intimate tours are offered daily by appointment, and you should definitely book in advance online because they sell out quickly. You’ll see how Barragán artfully meshed the indoor space with his massive outdoor garden, how both friends and acquaintances slept when visiting, and how he used color to breathe life into a space that some consider quite cold.
Museo Frida Kahlo
We admit that we didn’t know all that much about Frida Kahlo before touring her home, so it was an incredibly eye-opening experience and intimate look into her world. Dubbed Casa Azul, the Frida Kahlo Museum is housed in her bright blue childhood home, where she later lived with Diego Rivera in CDMX’s Coyoacán neighborhood. You’ll find her works, her paints and other artist materials, and even the urn where her ashes sit inside her old bedroom. The property is bright and vibrant with a beautiful garden where you can sit and reflect after touring the house. We recommend buying tickets online in advance, paying $3 for a photo pass, and renting an audio guide to get the most out of the experience.
This was our favorite place to shop in all of Mexico City. Every stall at La Ciudadela has something beautiful and handcrafted for sale, and the prices are good for the quality of work. We came across stunning tapestries, bright woven baskets, glass swizzle sticks topped with everything imaginable (think watermelons to flamingos to cacti), and copper vases hand painted with colorful birds and flowers. Go here when you have an hour or two to browse and get lost in the vibrant work of Mexican artisans.
We had such fun browsing this men’s, women’s, and home concept store, which is located on an upscale strip of retail and restaurants in the Polcano neighborhood. Ikal offers independent brands from Mexico and around the world, each with a unique story. You’ll find a mix of clothing, shoes, leather goods, jewelry, home decor and fragrance, intimate toys and apparel, and even a shelf with some cool new mezcal brands. The staff is friendly and can help you navigate Ikal’s ever rotating selection.
Mercado de Coyoacán
Located a few blocks from the Museo Frida Kahlo, Mercado de Coyoacán is full of vendors selling crafts, foodstuffs, clothing, and anything else you can imagine. Go early before the crowds descend upon the stalls or stop in for lunch after touring the Casa Azul. With so many winding aisles, it’s easy to get lost in this vast market, so give yourself ample time to explore so you don’t become overwhelmed with the selection.
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We’re head-over-heels for this home goods store, which sells everything from bright tin tumblers to beautiful wool blankets for excellent prices. Handsome desk supplies, enamelware, and even quality chefs knives were some of our favorite in-store finds at Utilitario Mexico, and you’re sure to find something you can’t live without the moment you step inside. Check out their online store to plan your attack before visiting in person.
We stumbled upon this flower and plant store while shopping near Plaza Washington in the lovely Juárez neighborhood and we found quite a few souvenirs to spruce up our happy homes stateside. Aside from a variety of lush plant life, Querencia sells ceramic pots, jewelry, funky patches, and other knick knacks to remind you of your time in Mexico City. Not only are the goods unique, but they are quite affordable too.
Fans of Japanese brands must visit the multi-level Loose Blues in Juárez. Inside you’ll find men’s and women’s clothing, jewelry, leather accessories, and a curated vinyl selection. Wander upstairs to the Japanese cafe for a snack or a drink at the inviting bar. While you’re up there, browse the small room of home goods and debate on whether you should splurge on shipping that vintage typewriter or mid-century side table back home.
You’ll notice Fonart locations sprinkled all over the city — it’s the place to go for quality artisan work from every region in Mexico. The prices are higher than in some of the markets and other local shops, but Fonart guarantees that artists are paid a fair wage for their superior works. As many of the pieces you’ll find in Fonart are large or fragile, we suggest going there early in your trip so you have time to figure out a packing strategy for anything you buy.
Restaurants and Bars
Azul has a few restaurants scattered across the city, but the Historico location is one of the prettiest settings we’ve ever seen. Located in the middle of a small shopping center, tables are scattered among live trees underneath the open sky (with a retractable roof in case of rain). The classic dishes are artfully prepared — soups are served on gorgeous blue platforms, and some are placed inside beautiful, sculptural bowls. Classic black and red Oaxacan moles dress chicken and seafood, and tender pork tacos are topped with a homemade Yucatecan salsa. Save room for one of the Azul Historico’s delectable desserts.
No trip to Mexico City is complete without eating your weight in tacos, but knowing the best places to go is crucial, as the thousands of options can be quite overwhelming. Salas knows how to navigate the street food scene, so he took us on a taco eating tour so we could try the very best CDMX has to offer. First, stop by Taqueria Los Cocuyos and order a suadero (meat cut from between the belly and leg of a cow or pig) taco topped with nothing but white onions. Then, move on to Cantina La No. 7 (Calle Ayuntamiento 21, Centro, 06050 Cuauhtémoc) for the famous rolled tacos. Don’t miss the lazy Susan of salsa atop each table to give your tacos a kick. Finally, save room for our personal favorite El Turix. There, the move is a panucho, which is essentially a tostada that has beans cooked into the center of the dough. Get it topped with homemade cochinita pibil and pickled onions for one of the best meals you’ll ever eat.
Balcón del Zócalo
We were lucky to dine at Balcón del Zócalo on the night of Mexican Independence Day because the restaurant overlooks the city square. But even if you’re not celebrating a national holiday, this restaurant is worth a visit. It offers two tasting menus with modern takes on traditional Mexican cuisine, one with nine courses and the other with five. If you’d rather order a la carte, some of our favorite dishes include the fava bean tostada with buttered escamoles (ant eggs); prime rib eye with corn esquites, chipotle mayonnaise, and habanero sauce; and the cheese flan with caramel amaretto and candied almonds.
Even if you’re not staying at the Four Seasons (more on that later), you have to stop by Zanaya for brunch. Situated on a stunning tiled terrace in the hotel’s courtyard, stepping into the restaurant is like walking into a secret garden that’s filled with the sounds of live mariachi and succulent smells wafting from the many food stations set up around the space. You can choose your own adventure and spring for traditional Mexican fare like pozole, tacos, and carnitas that are sliced from the spit to your plate. The grill station has perfectly charred octopus, shrimp, steak, and veggies with a variety of homemade salsas to try. There’s made-to-order pasta, sushi, and a raw bar stocked with crudo and ceviches. Charcuterie, cheese, and a dessert section with a crepe station round out the experience. Order the bottomless mimosas to ensure your glass is never empty.
If you need a little break from all the meaty goodness Mexico City has to offer, pop into Forever Vegano for dishes like homemade hummus, baja cauliflower tacos, veggie-topped peanut noodles, and warming soups. They have two cool locations in Roma and Polcano, and both offer English menus if you’re in the mood for some familiar reading. Don’t leave without downing one of their homemade ginger and lemon shots for good measure.
Rosetta might be the most beautiful restaurant in all of Mexico City. Chef Elena Reygadas is a master baker, which is quite obvious the moment you’re welcomed with perfectly thin, crunchy breadsticks and pillowy focaccia. The menu at Rosetta leans Italian and many of the small plates are focused on seasonal vegetables with simple but flavorful preparations. The homemade pasta is not to be missed, and meaty main dishes like veal sweetbreads and suckling pig are given the local treatment with traditional Mexican ingredients and preparations. The service is proper without being stuffy, which makes Rosetta a very special place to dine out in CDMX.
While Lardo is the more casual restaurant from chef Reygadas, the dishes are just as thoughtful and delicious as they are at Rosetta. The restaurant is situated on a busy corner in Condesa and filled with stylish locals having a leisurely lunch or wine-filled dinner. We sat at the bar so we could watch the open kitchen in action, which includes a wood-fired pizza oven with a spinning turntable to evenly char the restaurant’s perfect pies. We started with lardo and caper toast, which is another example of Reygadas’ perfect bread. The ham croquettes are a must-order, and you should definitely try a couple of pizzas. Our favorite was topped with huitlacoche and stracciatella, which gave it a creamy, funky flavor under the snap of fresh greens. Don’t leave without ordering a few pastries from the takeout counter — the guava, dulce de leche, and lemon varieties are not to be missed.
This lively oyster bar and restaurant features a big dining room, friendly staff, and bustling dinner scene that will get you good and ready for a night on the town. Fresh seafood is presented on ice, and La Docena serves it every which way from sashimi to sardine toast to grilled oysters (try them with butter and herbs). The restaurant boasts a lot of Spanish tapas-style dishes like a big plate of succulent jamón Ibérico de Bellota and a round of gooey cheese that’s been grilled and dressed in oil, herbs, and spices to spread on pan con tomate. La Docena is known for their po boys, so definitely try one of the seafood-filled sandwiches if you came with a big appetite.
La Casa de Toño
We wandered into this local chain after a night out to soak up some of the mezcal we sampled, and the fun, diner-like setting was a perfect way to cap off the evening. La Casa de Toño, some of which are open 24 hours, is a local chain that’s known for its soul-warming pozole, a hominy-based stew piled high with the fixins’ of your choice. But we came for the quecas, or deep fried quesadillas filled with meat, veggies, or just served plain. We tried one with cheese and another that was stuffed with perfectly greasy chicharrones, accompanied by tall bottles of ice-cold sparkling water. The food is cheap and delicious and makes for a perfect late night snack.
This classic shop has been serving its homemade ices and ice cream since 1946, and though Nevería Roxy expanded, you can still visit the original location in Condesa. They make a flavor for everyone, from nutty varieties like pistachio and macadamia (a must try) to familiar preparations like vanilla and dark chocolate to some local favorites like plátano and coconut. The eatery also serves malt milkshakes, banana splits, and other delicious treats.
Fifty Mils is our favorite place to drink in Mexico City. Located next to the idyllic courtyard of the Four Seasons Hotel, it has everything we look for in a great bar. The service is impeccable, the setting is plush and beautiful, and the atmosphere is welcoming and relaxed. The cocktails here are incredible, and there’s something for every palate. Take the Billy the Kid, a showstopper that’s made with bourbon, vodka, caramel tea, cinnamon syrup, lemon, and Angostura bitters and served on a smoking wooden platter. The refreshing MA 75 is a bubbly mix of gin, white port, cantaloupe seed syrup, lemon, champagne, and peach bitters. But you can have the bartender make you something off menu too. One of our favorites was a flute full of Milagro Añejo Tequila, lime, pomegranate, and Champagne.
Don’t even bother showing up at the Hanky Panky location you might retrieve on Google Maps. This true speakeasy — which is tucked in the back of a nondescript taco shop — keeps its real location carefully guarded, and only those who email the bar and snag a reservation are invited inside. Jumping through the hoops, however, is totally worth it, as Hanky Panky serves some of the best cocktails in Mexico City. Bartender’s choice is the move here, so simply talk to the knowledgeable staff and let them know the spirit and flavor profile you prefer. One of our favorite drinks was a sweet-tart sour, made with Milagro Tequila and garnished with a crinkle cut orange peel attached to the glass with a tiny clothespin. If you’re feeling peckish after a couple of hours, order some tacos from the front shop, which are incredibly delicious.
Walk up the stairs to the left of Loup Bar, and you’ll find yourself in Maison Artemisia, a speakeasy-type cocktail bar with a lively, international crowd. The focus here is absinthe, which you can’t miss because of the fountains and other green fairy paraphernalia perched on the back bar. A DJ is often spinning some sexy dancing tunes, and the two-story, old house setting is filled with plush vintage furniture and old photographs that give it a relaxing, lived-in feel.
Xaman might be the coolest bar in Mexico City. It’s inspired by pre-Hispanic culture, the aesthetics of shamanism, and the power of plants to create a setting that is modern, mystical, and just downright awesome. The space is dedicated to smoke, and you’ll often smell the burning of herbs and other botanicals wafting through the air. A DJ is spinning lo-fi house tunes on most nights, which gives the room an energetic but relaxed feel. All of the cocktails here are dangerously good, and the preparations are just as beautiful as the liquid inside the glass. Our favorite is cocktail 12, which is served in a small pot topped with a beaded Huichol jaguar head. It’s mixed with reposado tequila, chicha morada (purple corn milk), cactus fruit shrub, mezcal, damiana guaycura (a Mexican herbal liqueur), and guaje bitters.
Licorería Limantour has been making the list of The World’s 50 Best Bars for years, and 2018 was no different. We love it because the setting is laidback and friendly, but the drinks are thoughtful and delicious. Both their classic cocktails and signature creations are worth sampling, and bartender’s choice is always an option if you’re craving something extra specific. After a drink or two, order the bar’s delicious appetizer platter, which comes piled high with things like brie lollipops, ceviche tostadas, patatas bravas, and meaty rolled tacos.
Cantina Cruise with Bondabu
Mexico City is full of incredible cocktail bars, but it’s also rife with traditional cantinas where you’ll find the locals sipping away. Because it can be difficult to find the best ones on your own, we decided to embark on a Cantina Cruise with Bondabu. Bondabu is a company that wants CDMX visitors to explore the city off the beaten path. The team of bilingual guides has created a number of experiences — from hidden neighborhood walks to a taco tour — to help you see the city from a local perspective. Our Cantina Cruise took us to four local watering holes; we enjoyed a drink at each spot, along with some delicious snacks at the last destination. We checked out one of the oldest pulquerias in the city, sipped tequila at a historic bullfighter bar, and were serenaded by multiple musicians along the way. We had an incredible time with our guide, Ernesto, but have faith that you’d be in good hands with any of the Bondabu gurus.
Not only do the owners of this bar have their own mezcal (Mezcales Milagrito, which is a must-try), but they also have four unique places in CDMX where you can taste some of the best expressions of the spirit found during their travels around Mexico. Our favorite is El Palenquito, a dim, rustic bar in Roma Norte. The ever-changing list of mezcals features liquids made from different agave varieties — plus some interesting blends — that are sourced from Oaxaca, along with traditional snacks from the region. We tried about 15 mezcals during our visit, all of which are poured out of giant glass jugs that are perched on the back bar. We snacked on fried crickets, which look scary but are absolutely delicious when seasoned with salt, spices, and citrus. We sat at the bar and Brian guided us through the list and let us taste some of El Palenquito’s signature cocktails along the way. If you’re looking for a place to experience the true nuances of great mezcal, pay this bar a visit.
Four Seasons Hotel Mexico City
If we could move into a hotel, the Four Seasons Mexico City would be the one. The property is elegant without being stuffy, and the staff makes you feel welcome from the moment you step through the doors. Each room is plush and comfy, so it’s the perfect place to retreat after a day exploring the ever-energetic CDMX. Thick terry bathrobes and slippers provide comfort as you take in the gorgeous courtyard view outside your window. Marble bathrooms feature luxury bath products and a deep soaking tub, while the mini bar and in-room Nespresso maker provide your fix without stepping into the hall. We started each morning with a trip to the lobby’s Pan Dulce, a bakery serving Mexican and French pastries, sandwiches, and strong coffee. We suggest taking your breakfast into the lush courtyard where you’ll find tropical birds, a massive fountain (that spouts fire at night), and a network of tiny alcoves where you can dream away the day. The other dining options are fantastic. Pop into Il Becco for an Italian feast, spring for an elaborate brunch at Zanaya, or check out the aforementioned Fifty Mils. Pamper yourself at the spa with one of the Four Season’s indulgent treatments or take a dip in the rooftop pool on warm days. The concierge and friendly staff are always on call to help you with every need—they’ll make you feel like a king, if only for a few days.
La Palomilla Bed & Breakfast
La Palomilla Bed & Breakfast is situated in the La Roma Norte/Condesa neighborhood, which is one of the prettiest, safest, and coolest areas of Mexico City. Tucked into a quiet side street, the seven-bedroom property offers modern accommodations with a local feel, perfect if you’re looking for both comfort and indie style during your stay. Upon arrival, a custom luggage dumbwaiter will transport your belongings to your room. Each is colorfully decorated with local art and traditional Mexican textiles and includes a spacious ensuite bathroom with a rainfall showerhead and Loredana organic bath products. The property is designed with a beautiful sun terrace where you can take your coffee on sunny mornings, and the main common area is designed with an open-air tiled patio that sweeps fresh air into the space. The breakfast at La Palomilla is a true treat. The menu changes daily and starts with fresh fruit and toast, followed by rotating dishes like spicy scrambled eggs with manchego, black beans, and avocado. We loved everything about this delightful property, especially the staff. They are friendly and full of great recommendations, from museums to local restaurants. They’ll even help you set up cool experiences like a local cantina tour (see above). One day we were feeling under the weather and we came back to find Alka-Seltzer and a handmade worry doll perched on our pillow with a note wishing us to feel better. La Palomilla offers a truly memorable CDMX experience.
Le Méridien Mexico City
If you prefer sleeping in a suite when you travel, then Le Méridien is the perfect place for your Mexico City stay. Every room in this all-suite hotel is designed with a bedroom, living area, kitchenette with a mini fridge and microwave, and a spacious bathroom. Plush bathrobes and fuzzy slippers will make you feel at home, and business travelers can rest easy knowing there is a well-appointed workspace in each room. Room service is available 24 hours, and on-premise French restaurant C’est la Vie offers a breakfast buffet along with a la carte dining for all three meals. Stop by Latitude Bar, which overlooks the lobby, for a pre-dinner cocktail or nightcap before retreating to your room. The property features a gym and a beautiful heated indoor pool, so you can stay fit on the go. We were most impressed with the concierge, who helped us procure tape and scissors for packing purposes and accepted an important delivery (aka mezcal) when we were out and about one evening. Le Méridien’s central location and comfortable accommodations make it a perfect and familiar place to stay during your adventures in CDMX. If you’re looking for above and beyond service and stunning surroundings, along with a world-class spa, check out the sister Marriott property, The St. Regis, for a truly memorable hotel stay.