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Blog,  Mexico City,  Travel

Beginner’s Guide to Mexico City

Did you know that Mexico City is the largest Spanish speaking city in the world?

It’s true. With a population of over 22 million, Mexico City dwarfs its European counterparts. It’s also the oldest capital city in the Americas beginning with the Aztec Empire in the 1300s.

Mexico City is one of the easiest international cities to fly to from the United States. Anytime of the year is a great time to visit because the temperature is almost always perfect. At an elevation of 7300 feet, the temperature consistency is usually between 50-75 degrees Fahrenheit even in summer.

For your first time, stay in Mexico City. There are literally hundreds of things to do, see and eat between theme parks, museums, and the different neighborhoods that have retained their character. You will not be able to hit all the highlights on just the first visit. Do a little research on what interest you, find out where they are on a map, and then decide where you want to stay. If you have a week, then venture out to some of the pueblo magicos like Puebla or the Teotihuacan pyramids. but even if you had two full weeks you’ll still miss out on something amazing.

What to See

Definitely visit the historical center and see sites like the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven (In Spanish: Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de la Santísima Virgen María a los cielos)…

Say that 5 times fast!

The Cathedral is the oldest and largest in the Americas. Situated on the north side of the Plaza de la Constitución, it was constructed over a former sacred Aztec site using the stones from the former Aztec structure. Construction started in 1573 and ended in 1813 showcasing Baroque, Neo-Classical and Mexican architecture. The cathedral was built on a dry lake bed, soft clay soil, and an uneven Aztec foundation, and is slowly sinking and shifting into the earth. The foundation was reconstructed in the 1990s to help stabilize it, but there is a distinctive lean on the right side of the building.

There are well over 100 museums to visit, some in large complexes and others in Bohemian homes. Art can be seen everywhere in Mexico City from large murals on modern day buildings to the intricate designs on century old architecture. Walking tours or food tours are a good way to see the sights and learn the history without burying your nose in a book or Google. For authentic souvenirs of ceramics, tiles or leather goods, visit Mercado de Artesanias La Ciudadela. 

Mural of a jaguar and rabbits. The jaguar represents the Mexican government. On eo fthe rabbits is wearing a black armband with teh number 43 representing the disappearance of 43 students kidnapped in 2014
Mural of a jaguar and rabbits. The jaguar represents the Mexican government. On eo fthe rabbits is wearing a black armband with teh number 43 representing the disappearance of 43 students kidnapped in 2014

 

Theme park enthusiasts can experience Six Flags Mexico City and La Feria de Chapultepec. Catch a Broadway show, Cirque performance or a concert at the many classic theaters. Mexico City even has its own Opera House and Folkloric Ballet.

Try to explore one or two neighborhoods. Polanco is known as the ritzy neighborhood with high end shopping and restaurants by famous chefs. It also has many parks where you can watch daily Mexican life.  Condesa has more of a local feel with cozy restaurants and tree lined streets.  Coyoacan still retains its Mexican charm with plazas and narrow streets. Colonia Roma, now divided into Roma Norte and Roma Sur is one of the hipster places to go with cafes, restaurants and galleries.

 

Where to Stay in Mexico City

With hundreds of neighborhoods to explore, it’s tough to pick one or two areas and be “centrally located” to all that Mexico City has to offer. Because safety is usually the first concern for beginners, I recommend staying in one of the neighborhoods near Chapultapec Park such as Polanco, Condesa, Zona Rosa or Colonial Roma. These neighborhoods are quieter residential areas with tons of great restaurants and galleries. Boutique hotels and Airbnb places are everywhere. If you are a points person, major chain hotels can be found in Polanco or along Reforma, the avenue that runs through the heart of the city.

Pug Seal Polanco Boutique Hotel, Mexico City
Pug Seal Polanco Boutique Hotel

If you are there on a Sunday, Reforma is closed to traffic, and walkers, runners, cyclists and even Zumba participants crowd the street. It’s the best workout party I’ve ever seen!

Reforma Avenue on Sunday in Mexico City. Reforma is closed to traffic in the morning for exercise enthusiasts.
Reforma Avenue on Sunday in Mexico City. Reforma is closed to traffic in the morning for exercise enthusiasts.

I would not recommend the staying in the historical center because there is a lot more crime with tourist not being observant of their own misgivings like wallets sticking out of their back pockets. Some areas are pretty, but others are spotty.

The neighborhoods offer more of a look into daily Mexican life. If you get up early and head to one of the many parks, you can watch dogs play off-leash together while their owners enjoy a coffee.

Dogs in Polanco, Mexico City
Dogs in Polanco

 

Where to Eat

This is your first time in Mexico City so eat everything!  We recommend making reservations at one or more of the top restaurants. Tradition meets innovation at #11 Quintonil and #13 Pujol from the 50 Worlds Best Restaurants List, and another five restaurants in Mexico City alone like Biko are on the 50 Best Latin American Restaurants List. Neighborhood restaurants like El Hidalguense are also a good bet, and don’t forget to try some street food which is best at the weekend markets.

Fine Dining on Polanco, Mexico City
Fine Dining on Polanco

What to Eat

Mexico City brings all the regional specialties together in one city. Try different moles like mole negro, mole verde or mole almandrada (made from almonds). Barbacoa Hidalgo style is only made in a few areas in Mexico like at El Hidalguense Restaurante. Tacos taste better in Mexico because of the fresh ingredients an handmade tortillas.

Lunch at El Hidalguense Restaurante. Barbacoa Hidalgo style. Mexico CIty
Lunch at El Hidalguense Restaurante. Barbacoa Hidalgo style.

And don’t miss huaraches by a street vendor. Huaraches are an original creation of Mexico City. A huarache is a masa ball flattened and oblong shaped, topped with almost anything you can imagine, but usually mashed beans, onions, potatoes, meat, different salsas and of course, cheese for the final touch. They can also be filled with cheese or meats. This delicious dish resembles a type of sandal, or “huarache” which is how it got its name.

 

Don’t be surprised if you fall in love with Mexico City. It’s easy to do. You can explore different areas on multiple long weekend trips.  We’ve barely scratched the surface and look forward to discovering more of this great city.

 

 

 

 

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