Mexico City, La Ciudad de Mexico, CDMX, Distrito Federal, DF….there are countless names for this enormous city, aptly so as there are countless neighborhoods each with their own unique personality and charm. One could spend weeks vacationing in this city and still feel that they have not seen everything. With an inner-city population of 9 million inhabitants and a metropolitan population of 21 million people, Mexico City is the second-largest city in the western hemisphere and the largest Spanish speaking city in the world. As with most gargantuan metropolises, Mexico City is culturally diverse and provides a glimpse of many different indigenous and regional cultures from around the republic. Before booking a million different museums, restaurants and other outings for your Mexico City trip, I would recommend simply meandering through the streets to explore the vibrant daily life, delicious Street food, and unique personality of its neighborhoods. Public transportation is abundant and incredibly cheap, and the city is very easy to navigate; the subway costs 5 pesos as do the metrobuses and micro-buses. Plus, with very friendly people and hidden gems around every corner, this is my favorite city to get lost in.
For the most authentic Mexico City experience, it is best to rent an air bnb, and the best neighborhood to stay in due to its proximity to the center of town and other historical or cultural sites, its charming, quirky personality, and its lovely and well preserved early 20th century architecture, is without a doubt La Condesa.
La Condesa is located southeast of the city center. It is bordered to the east by the famous Chapultepec park with such attractions as the Chapultepec Castle and the amazing Anthropology museum and to the south by another iconic neighborhood called La Roma which was recently made famous by the 2018 internationally acclaimed Cuaron film ¨Roma¨. La Condesa is known for its two beautiful parks, Parque Mexico and the smaller Parque España. These two parks have beautiful playgrounds, amphitheaters, and winding walkways that weave through majestically landscaped grounds and enormous 50+-year-old ash and jacaranda trees with their beautiful purple blossoms. Perhaps the most iconic part of these parks is that they are the training grounds for dogs; you will see literally 20 to 30 dogs lining the walkways of the park waiting obediently and ever so adorably for their hourly walk around the park.
Like all neighborhoods in Mexico City and the majority of cities and towns in Mexico, La Condesa has many local markets. These are the best places to stumble upon as they truly show the richness of the culinary culture as well as the warm and friendly, if not a little bit pushy way of social and commercial interaction between locals. There are usually outdoor farmers' markets in the small parks throughout la Condesa and surrounding neighborhoods on Saturdays and Sundays. There are also permanent daily markets that have fresh produce, bulk nuts, seeds, and grains, tortillerías, butchers, snack shops, fresh flowers and houseplants, and eclectic little restaurants and juice bars. My personal favorite permanent market in la Condesa is Mercado Medellin. It is best to get there early as stalls close by around 5.
Coyoacan is by far my favorite neighborhood in Mexico City. Home of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, Coyoacan is known for its artistic flair and a perfect balance of traditional and alternative culture. This is truly the best neighborhood in which to spend a day walking around. The most famous attraction is Frida Kahlo´s home which has been beautifully preserved and turned into a museum. I would recommend reserving tickets online because the line can be up to 3 hours for walk-ins. Around a 5 minute walk from Frida´s house is the main plaza, Jardin Hidalgo, without a doubt the most magical place in Mexico City. There are food and artisan vendors lining the streets, live music, open cafes and my favorite Mexican bakery in all of Mexico, Le Caroz Panaderia. This is the best place to sample the most delicious street food in Mexico so definitely get there on an empty stomach!
The Zocalo is the main plaza in the historical central district, the very heart of Mexico City and a must see. The centro histórico is highly touristed, but well worth seeing and exploring. The Zocalo has amazing displays of indigenous art and is always decked out for Day of the Dead, Christmas, Easter, and of course for Mexican Independence day. If you are a history buff, then you will know that the Zocalo sits atop the ruins of the pre-colonial city center of Tenochtitlan. The ruins have been partially excavated and open to the public. Centro Historico comprises the streets and sites surrounding the Zocalo which includes the museums of Bellas Artes, the National Palace, and the main Cathedral of Mexico City.
For fans of Diego Rivera, you can see his murals in the National Palace (Palacio Nacional), in Bellas Artes, and the Museo Mural Diego Rivera, all located in the Centro Historico. The surrounding streets are also great for exploring as they all seem to have their own particular theme. There is a street lined with old book stores followed by a street full of fancy dress shops, followed by a street dedicated solely to selling bifocals and sunglasses. There is a historic old café called Café Tacuba that is also worth stopping in to see as it has been the meeting place of famous artists, politicians, and musicians since it opened in 1912 and still serves a full traditional Mexican menú, as well as delicious coffee and desserts all, served by waitresses in old fashioned mid-century diner garb.
While a vacation in Mexico City can easily be filled with non-stop museum visits, organized tours and fancy dinner reservations, the best way to visit this city is by wandering its streets. Make sure to leave a day or two on your itinerary to simply walk around this monstrous city´s diverse neighborhoods. Get lost, you will not regret it.
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