Both gritty and glamorous, Mexico City is a glorious tangle of contradictions, a megalopolis whose star is in the ascendant. Forget the capital city's suffering reputation of the 1980s, when a series of crises (earthquakes, explosions, gang-related violence, and so on) encouraged a lot of bad press; today's CDMX (Ciudad de México, née DF, or Federal District) is a creative boomtown with restaurants, art scene, and fashion players that rival the world’s best. Culture aficionados make pilgrimages to witness both traditional draws—the ancient Aztec ruins of the Great Temple; Diego Rivera's magnificent murals—and a slew of new world-class galleries and museums that have positioned the city as an essential stop on the global art circuit. Gourmands, meanwhile, are flocking here to sample Nuevo Mexicano cooking courtesy of star chefs like Martha Ortiz and Enrique Olvera, dedicated to fusing deeply rooted culinary traditions with cutting-edge new techniques. From the pulque cafes to the riotous markets to the chic speakeasy-style bars, stylish chilangos are discovering a renewed passion for their hometown, which is safer, cleaner, and greener than ever before (for proof, witness the popularity of the bike share program). This is Mexico City's moment, and there's never been a better time to go.
Best Time to Go
The city enjoys a temperate climate year-round. Expect hot, dry conditions April to June and chillier nights from October to January. The week before Easter is the perfect time to go for those that want to experience less traffic and fewer crowds.
Mexico City International Airport (MEX) is less than an hour's drive from the city center, depending on traffic. Arrange for a taxi to your hotel at one of the official stands at the airport.
Uber is your best option. The drivers are extremely reliable and accommodating, but don’t expect all drivers to speak English. There’s also the Downtown Tour with Turibus (approximately $10), which allows travelers to hop-on and off in the city’s top destinations from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Buy your ticket onsite, at your hotel, or online.
Can’t Leave Without
1. Visiting the home of two of the city's greatest creative icons, which has since turned into a glorious institution. Located in the burgeoning Coyoacán district, the Museo Frida Kahlo (Londres 247, 52-55/5554-5999; museofridakahlo.org.mx), known as Casa Azul thanks to its cobalt-blue walls, contains many of the most iconic pieces Kahlo created, and offers a fascinating glimpse into her relationship with Diego Rivera.
2. Sipping mezcal cocktails on the rooftop of Downtown Mexico—a fashionable hotel set on atmospheric Isabel la Católica in a stunning 17th-century mansion. The views over the city are unforgettable. (Isabel La Católica 30; 52-55/5282-2199; downtownmexico.com)
3. Strolling through Chapultepec Park, a massive green space at the heart of the city that always surprises first-time visitors: Not only does it offer a welcome blast of tranquility, but there's also both a castle and world-class museum hidden in the forest.
Deserves the Hype
The Zócalo, Mexico City's main square, is not to be missed. Sure, it's congested, noisy, and a little nuts, but it's also one of the most exhilarating spots in town, ringed with museums, shops, and markets. It's especially magical during the Christmas season.
Local Dish to Try
Tacos al Pastor are made of pork grilled on a revolving spit, pineapple, onions, and cilantro. Try the best of them at Los Panchos (Calle Tolstoi 9; 52-55/5254-5390; lospanchos.mx) or El Huequito (Gante 1; 52-55/5518-3313; elhuequito.com.mx), a hole-in-the-wall near the Alameda Park in downtown.
Local Drink to Sip
Pulque, a centuries-old milky drink made from the fermented sap of the agave plant, is enjoying a revival in the city. Try it at pulquerías around town, from the historic Las Duelistas (Aranda 28; 52-55/1394-0958) to the new, including Pulquería Insurgentes (Av. de los Insurgentes Sur 226; 52-55/5207-0917).
Restaurants start serving lunch around 2:00 p.m.; reservations are a must for dinner; and the weekend fun starts on Thursday—the day most locals like to go out. Nights on the town usually begin with a precopeo (pre-party drink) and last until 2:00 a.m., but don’t be surprised if you’re still dancing at 5:00. Locals love their hangover treatments, and you can find them at almost every restaurant. The general rule of thumb: the spicier, the better. Micheladas (lemon, salsa, salt, soy sauce, beer, with a touch of tomato and clam juice) are a must for the morning after. Or keep it simple with a consomé de pollo (chicken soup).
SPRING: Visit the city's famous traditional markets to browse the cornucopia of fresh produce and goods. Mercado de San Juan (Av. Arcos de Belén; 52-55/4335-8057), located in the downtown historic center, is one of the best in town for food-centric travelers, while the Mercado de Jamaica (Guillermo Prieto 45; 52-55/5741-0002; mercadodejamaica.com) is dedicated to floral blooms of every kind.
SUMMER: Retreat to one of the city's parks for some leafy down time. Apart from Chapultepec Park and the centrally located Alameda, there's Parque Mexico in Condesa (bonus: it doesn't close at 5 p.m. like many of the other parks) and the lesser-visited Tlalpan Forest in the south. This leafy urban park, which is full of great running paths and tracks, has over 600 acres to explore. The destination is also home to a great number of unique flora and fauna. If you're lucky, you might even spot the Sharp-Shinned Hawk.
FALL: Take a walking or cycling tour through the stylish neighborhoods of Condesa, Polanco, and Roma, the epicenters of shopping, gallery-hopping, and dining. If you are lucky enough to be there on the last week of October or the first week of November, make sure to visit the Day of the Dead altars, which are easy to spot around the city. From November 1 – 2, families come together at cemeteries around the city to celebrate the life of those they’ve lost, honoring the departed with music, flowers, and food. The Dolores Cemetery (Av. Constituyentes S/N, Bosque de Chapultepec Parque Nacional; 52-55/6889-6929) is the largest cemetery in the country, and pays tribute to the heroes of the nation at the Rotonda de las Personas Ilustres.
WINTER: Check out the dazzling Christmas lights display in the Zócalo, then go see a production of The Nutcracker at the Auditorio Nacional (Av. Paseo de la Reforma 50; 52-55/9138-1350; auditorio.com.mx), performed every December by the National Dance Company. Stroll through the Christmas Markets in the Alameda Park, which are full of artisanal decorations and folklore.