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The Insider's Guide to Mexico City

— Museo Tamayo. Courtesy of Museo Tamayo

Ever wish you could text the most stylish people in the world to ask them for their lists of things to do in the places they know best? Here are insider travel tips for those who would never be caught dead in a tourist trap. Bon voyage!


Five in-the-know residents shared their insights and recommendations for making the most of Mexico City: Tamara de Anda, television host of the long-running show Itenerario and culinary guide for Eat Like a Local; Gabriela Cámara, chef and owner of the destination restaurants Contramar, Entremar, Caracol, Itacate, and Castacán; Javier Carral, owner of the impeccably appointed vintage furniture store Trouvé; Zélika García, founder of the contemporary art fair Zona Maco; and Karla Martínez de Salas, head of content for Vogue Mexico and Latin America.


What to Bring

Despite its epic size, Mexico City is a surprisingly walkable place comprised of distinctive neighborhoods — from fascinating Centro Histórico and burgeoning Juárez to hip Roma and charming Condesa. While rideshare apps such as Uber and Didi are efficient and affordable options, heavy traffic in a city this size should be expected. A few things all our local experts consider essential: comfortable walking shoes, light jackets, packable layers, and an extra bag to accommodate treasures you find along the way.

Santos Dolores Square Tote

“The weather may change a lot from morning to midday,” Carral warns. “Bring a raincoat, especially if you’re visiting during the rainy season between May and September.”

Rains Long Jacket

Nodding to both seasonal rain and the city’s expansive food scene, de Anda pares her packing list down to just two things: “an empty stomach and an umbrella.”

Davek Duet Extra-Large Foldable Umbrella

What to Leave Behind

Although it’s a fashionable locale populated by stylish dressers, Mexico City’s walkability inspires practical sartorial choices — especially when it comes to footwear. Uncomfortable shoes could easily turn you into a squeaky wheel while strolling from dinner to cocktails. “Don’t wear high heels,” García asserts.

Salomon XT-6

Tellingly, nearly all our tastemakers suggest leaving your winter clothes and expensive jewelry at home. “You don’t want to attract pick pockets with your Rolex,” Carral reminds.

La Manso Beetle in Pool Ring

A rigorous itinerary is also not required, Cámara says. “It’s best to take it easy while you’re here and to enjoy the different pace of meals, tasting food at markets and strolling around.”

What to Keep in Mind

In addition to rideshare apps, the sprawling subway system, and the bright-red double decker Metrobuses, another popular transportation option is Ecobici — a user-friendly program with stations throughout the city and plans ranging from a single day to the entire year. “The city is becoming more bike-friendly,” Martínez says. “On Sundays, Paseo de la Reforma is only open to bicycles and pedestrians. It’s a good way to discover downtown and some of the more congested areas.”

Lunch in Mexico City can be a long and leisurely affair that often begins around 2 or 3 p.m. “Earlier lunch is only for foreigners, so take that into account if you want a more legit experience,” Cámara says. “Make reservations for any of the better-known, trendy, or formal restaurants. As for eating at street stalls or in markets, make sure there is a line of people. And never drink tap water — Mexico City is too great to waste your days being sick with Montezuma’s revenge.”

Even a basic understanding of common Spanish phrases can go a long way here. “Always greet people and thank them in Spanish if possible,” Cámara continues. “Buenos días, buenas tardes, buenas noches, gracias.” In a pinch, you can always ask Siri for help. “If you don’t speak Spanish, remember that smiling and being polite is a universal language — and that Google Translate is your friend,” de Anda says. “And tip generously as wages are still unfairly low.”


Where to Stay

Mexico City’s hotel options are unsurprisingly vast and diverse — spanning from the castle-like Downtown Mexico in Centro Histórico and architect Ricardo Legorreta’s poppy pink landmark Camino Real in Polanco to the chic Hotel Brick in Roma Norte and the recently opened Soho House in Colonia Juárez.

“Small hotels feel more like home because they’re cozier and more discreet,” Carral says. “I personally like Octavia Casa in Condesa and Casa Pani in Cuauhtémoc. Grupo Hábita has several hotels around the city — including Condesa DF, Hábita Hotel in Polanco, and Círculo Mexicano in Centro Histórico — and they all have very good food as well.”

Small, locally owned properties also appeal to Martínez, who counts Casa Polanco and The Alest Hotel among her favorites, but also recommends the centrally located Four Seasons. “It has a great brunch and feels very regal,” she says.

Where to Start the Day

After a strong cup of coffee from niche chains such as Buna, Chiquitito, or Qūentin Café, locals and tourists in the know fuel up with chilaquiles and other traditional Mexican breakfasts at El Cardenal — a local mainstay with a stately downtown flagship and four other locations around the city.

Eduardo García’s casual concept Lalo! and Elena Reygadas’ wildly popular restaurants Panadería Rosetta and Lardo are also fan favorites known for contemporary takes on Mexican classics. A recent arrival that’s still generating buzz, the Jewish deli Mendl has found a fan in Martínez. “They have a delicious brunch and deli specialities that are hard to find in Mexico,” she says.

When sitting down for breakfast isn’t in the cards, García reminds that “street food is also the best!” Echoing that sentiment, de Anda recommends trying the hyperlocal specialty guajolota. “You can’t miss this traditional chilango breakfast,” she says. “It’s a tamal sandwich made with bolillo bread. You can find it around any subway station early in the morning.”

Where to Eat

“Obviously I love my restaurants,” chef Cámara admits. “But I’m also a massive fan of anything from Grupo Maximus — Máximo Bistrot, Lalo!, Havre 77, Em, Martínez, Ultramarinos, and Makan — as they are great friends and serve fantastic food.

I also adore old-school places such as Casa Merlos and Al Andaluz, as they are delicious classics.” Similarly, Carral acknowledges buzzy foodie destinations — including Cámara’s universally loved Contramar — but also recommends putting old-school cantinas on your list. “If you like dominoes and the cantina vibe, go to Bar el Sella,” he says. “The speciality here is chamorro (ham hock) — order one to share. Montejo is another cantina with great Yucatecan food. … In case you need a 24-hour French restaurant open 365 days a year, go to Au Pied de Cochon.

No visit to Mexico City would be complete without tacos, which run the gamut from the portable street variety García favors to the high-end offerings served at Enrique Olvera’s game-changing restaurant Pujol.

A causal favorite with multiple locations and a cult following to boot, Taquería Orinoco gets Martínez’s seal of approval with its unfussy menu of classics such as tacos al pastor, gringas, norteñas, and piratas. Take a pro-tip from Carral: “If you’re putting salsa on your taco, always taste a tiny bit first.”

Where to Shop

Vibrant markets beckon from all corners of Mexico City. Downtown’s Mercado de Artesanías la Ciudadela is a go-to for textiles, pottery, handicrafts, and souvenirs while nearby Mercado de San Juan is a foodie mecca stocked with basics and rarities alike — including edible bugs and, as Carral notes, “exotic ingredients like crocodile.” The Saturday-only Bazaar Sábado in picturesque San Ángel attracts crowds with its curated melange of contemporary jewelry, art and housewares. And Tianguis de Comonfort in Lagunilla lights up on Sundays with an eclectic assortment of antiques and vintage collectibles. In terms of standalone stores and boutiques, García suggests Bomboti. “It just opened in Polanco with a great selection of Mexican apparel, furniture and housewares,” she says.

Also a Bomboti fan, Martínez recommends Onora for “really great home and fashion pieces that are all made in artisan communities in Mexico.” For a concentrated boutique experience, stroll down the tree-lined streets of Marsella or Havre in Colonia Juárez and browse contemporary Mexican fashions at Carla Fernandez, menswear at Casa Caballería, and thoughtfully selected home goods at Utilitario Mexicano.

Where to Look at Art

“The National Museum of Anthropology is a stunning place to start if you’re visiting Mexico for the first time,” Martínez says. One of many landmarks within in the sprawling Bosque de Chapultepec, the museum is within walking distance from Museo Tamayo and the Museo de Arte Moderno, the later of which holds iconic works by Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco.

A cobalt-blue time capsule in colorful Coyoacán, Museo Frida Kahlo is also considered a must (reservations required). Among Martinez’s favorites, Museo Jumex in Polanco displays Eugenio López Alonso’s contemporary art collection and is conveniently located right next to Museo Soumaya — a gleaming architectural marvel that holds Carlos Slim’s expansive collection of works by Rodin, Dalí, Picasso, and da Vinci, among others.

Naturally, García suggests visiting Mexico City during Zona Maco (taking place this year from February 7-11), which brings together hundreds of galleries from all over the world — including major Mexico City players like Kurimanzutto, MAIA Contemporary, Labor, OMR, and Galería Karen Huber.

Where to Unwind

Some of Mexico City’s best-known spas are inside high-end hotels — the Four Seasons, Hotel Brick, the St. Regis, Hábita Hotel, and Live Aqua Urban Resort among them. “Hela Spa at the Hotel Presidente Intercontinental is great,” Martínez says. “I personally love Biologique Recherche and they work exclusively with the luxury skincare brand.” García’s a big fan of the wellness facilities at the boutique hotel Ryo Kan. “It has a great spa with facials and massages,” she says. “And I never miss a pilates class at The Good Studio in Condesa.” And de Anda doesn’t mind getting off the beaten path for some old-school relaxation in the thermal baths of Los Baños del Peñon. “They might look a bit run-down — and even haunted — but you won’t find a place with more history, personality, and charm,” she says.

Where to Get Some Fresh Air

“Our equivalent to Central Park is Bosque de Chapultepec — a 1,600-acre park with lakes and museums,” Carral explains. “It’s a good place to explore on a mountain bike.” For unmatched views of the city, take the park’s winding trail up to Castillo de Chapultepec — a neoclassical castle that now houses the Museo Nacional de Historia.

In Condesa, the nearby pair of Parque México and Parque España offer urban respite with abundant trees, shady paths, and benches — not to mention designer dogs aplenty.

For a double dose of culture and green space, de Anda heads to Ciudad Universitaria, the main campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM). “You’ll find a good mix of nature and breathtaking architecture,” she says of the campus, — which is home to the Museo Universitario Arte Contemporáneo (MUAC) and elaborate murals by Mexican icons David Alfaro Siqueiros and Juan O’Gorman.

Where to Have a Cocktail

Often credited with reigniting Mexico City’s mixology scene, the award-winning cocktail bar Licorería Limantour — which has cozy, stylish outposts in Roma and Polanco — got nods from both García and Carral.

For classic cocktails in a vintage-inspired setting, de Anda heads to the jazz club Parker & Lenox for an expertly prepared gin and tonic. Nearby in Colonia Juárez, the speakeasies Handshake and Hanky Panky are secretive, dimly lit spaces that require advance reservations.

Located in a former 17th-century monastery in the cobblestoned neighborhood of San Ángel, the hacienda-like San Ángel Inn is a go-to for Cámara. “I love to have a margarita or a martini on the patio. It’s so beautiful and peaceful there — a true oasis amid the city’s chaos.”

Where to Stay Up Late

There’s celebratory energy in Mexico City that just won’t quit — and it often leads to friends old and new drinking and dancing into the wee hours. For live salsa, de Anda favors Barba Azul in Colonia Obrera. “It has the most amazing decor and it’s one of the only remaining mid-century cabarets in the city,” she says. An old-school cabaret of a different ilk, La Perla has been in operation since 1946 and still draws a wildly mixed crowd for drag shows in Centro Histórico on Friday and Saturday nights (plan to arrive before 10 p.m. to score a table).

García recommends El Zinco for authentic jazz, El Tenampa for classic mariachi music, and the guilty pleasure Patrick Miller for DJs spinning Italo disco and ’80s party jams for enthusiastic crowds.

High on Cámara’s list, Salón Palomilla is an intimate cocktail bar hidden behind the kitchen of Páramo — an airy Roma hangout that serves gourmet tacos and ceviche well past midnight.


Mexico City’s moderate climate makes it a year-round respite from both scorching summers and icy winters in other parts of the world.

“The winter is great as it’s nice weather,” Cámara offers. “In early February we have Mexico City Art Week,” which extends beyond Zona Maco to include younger, independent fairs such as Feria Material and Salón Acme.

“The weather is never extreme,” Carral assures. “Save for a few thunderstorms in summer, it’s amicable almost all year. Early March is a nice time to visit because the city goes purple with the flowers of Jacaranda trees.”


Not unlike the notorious grips of New York City, Mexico City has a knack for turning visitors into fanatics — and even full-time residents. “Mexico City is super special, as you can pretty much find anything and everything here,” Cámara points out. “You can always find high and low, saturation of colors and smells, architecture, fashion, restaurants of all types, museums, concerts, markets, art, crafts — you name it.”

Thanks to its unfathomable size, diverse population and robust creative class, the sense of discovery here is endless — even for a seasoned content creator like de Anda. “I’ve been writing about things to do in Mexico City for many years,” she says. “Not only have I never run out of topics, I get enormous doses of dopamine whenever I’m out exploring. It’s a city that never ceases to impress and surprise you.”

Echoing those sentiments, Martínez adds, “Mexicans are very warm and welcoming, and there is truly a spirit of joie de vivre in the city. A long lunch always leads you to make new friends and have new experiences. You can experience a few seasons in a day — you might even see a snow-capped volcano on a warm day. There is always an element of surprise and you always leave wanting to come back and see more.”

Source: W Magazine

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