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The Ultimate Guide to Mexico City

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In the age of the megalopolis, Mexico City is dominating. Also called Distrito Federal, it’s home to 21.2 million people within 573 square miles. There’s enough local markets, street tacos, design museums and Art Deco charm to inspire lifelong locals to perpetually keep exploring. For tourists, it’s a choose your own adventure, from Polanco cocktail bars to Roma gallery hopping to La Condesa boutiques and a wall painted every imaginable Instagrammable color in between (think Yves Klein blue, cotton candy pink and turquoise). The capital is a city of neighborhoods.

Palm-lined boulevards host the fiercest traffic jams I’ve ever seen. But the metro is cheap and clean, and a progressive municipal government has repaved and pedestrianized several neighborhoods, starting with the Centro Histórico, so biking is more popular than ever.

RELATED: Culture, Fashion, Food, and Adventure: The Ultimate Guide to Cairo, Egypt

Here are some fabulous places to stay, eat, drink and shop, and some exciting things to do, not to mention a few places to score the perfect Snap or story.

WHERE TO STAY 

  • Undine Pröhl

    Hotel Downtown

    Hotel: From $250/night

    Isabel la Católica #30, 5130 6830, downtownmexico.com

    Hostel: From $10/night

    5130 6855, downtownbeds.com

    Housed in the converted 17th-century Palacio de los Condes de Miravalle, Hotel Downtown boasts 17 rooms with Boveda brick ceilings, as well as a separate youth hostel with dorms and private rooms. Managed by Grupo Habita, a Mexico City-based hotel and restaurant developer, the property also includes a rooftop bar and separate swimming pool terrace, as well as a mezzanine curated with chocolate, mezcal, and clothing boutiques.

WHERE TO EAT AND DRINK 

  • courtesy Contramar

    Contramar

    Durango 200, 5514 9217, contramar.com.mx

    Comida isn’t exactly lunch, but instead a languid afternoon spent chatting, drinking and eating amongst friends. Contramar is the spot to do just that, with a mixture of businessmen sharing tuna, octopus or shrimp tostadas, local artists and musicians delving into fresh made seafood ceviches and tourists like me sipping rosé and enjoying sopes de pescado adobado, or corn masa cakes topped with adobo-rubbed kingfish. There’s a gentle fervor in the air, perhaps it’s the combination of the Mediterranean blue walls of the high-ceiling dining room, the soft sunlight peeking through the trees on the street tables and the smell of house made tortillas.

  • Karla Díaz Cano y Chiquitito Café

    Chiquitito Café

    Alfonso Reyes 232E, 5211 6123, chiquititocafe.com

    Río Lerma 179, 5207 0427

    On my second morning, I already felt like a local at Chiquitito. My barista greeted me warmly and whipped up a café con leche and his Mexican take on avocado toast, which included feta cheese, dried chilies, and olive oil. The place is tiny, as its name—which translates to “little one”—implies.

  • Alipús Condesa

    Alipús Endémico 

    Alfonso Reyes 224, 5554 7555, alipus.com/alipuscondesa/

    Although mezcalerías are popping up all over Mexico City, Alipús Endémico separates itself from the pack by stocking wine, beer and other spirits made throughout Mexico—and the staff encourage tasting. Its housemade mezcal uses agave distillates from Guerrero, Michoacán, Jalisco, Durango and Sonora, different states throughout the country. To accompany the drinks, every Friday the bar hosts a mezcal-inspired menu. Its chapulínes (grasshoppers) with guacamole are not to be missed.

WHERE TO SHOP

  • courtesy Fábrica Social

    Fábrica Social

    Córdoba 67 interior 7, 5535 3431, fabricasocial.org

    Isabel La Católica 30, 5512 0730

    Created to promote the handicraft work and traditional knowledge of indigenous women artisans throughout Mexico, Fábrica Social sells hand-embroidered blouses, bags, pillows, and blankets. Each price tag names the artisan involved (there are more than 120) as well as the number of hours it took to construct the garment.

  • courtesy 180 Shop

    180°

    Colima 180, 5525 5626, 180grados.mx

    Just down the road is 180°, a street style hub for Mexican designers like Pays, Té de Hoja and Casa Bosques, a bookstore/chocolatier that has its own outpost in the capital city. In addition to clothing, bicycles and shoes, the store also carries its own contemporary streetwear line of dresses and pants, designed and sewn in its upstairs workshop.

  • courtesy El Bazaar Sabado

    El Bazaar Sábado

    San Jacinto 11, 5616 0082, elbazaarsabado.com

    In case you haven’t noticed, different days of the week present alternative offerings in the capital city. Saturdays in San Angel is the grand bazaar—an amalgamation of artisans, textile artists, jewelry designers, embroiderers, paper flower makers, Pepita glassblowers, ceramicists, and more. Although many merchants return week after week, the selection is always different as many pieces are one-of-a-kind or handmade.

  • Fernanda Luque

    Goodbye Folk

    Colima 198A, 5525 4109, goodbyefolk.com

    The folks here can create any shoe, customizing heel height and color, even a bespoke last. Brogues, booties, oxfords, they’ve got them all. Can’t make it to the shop? Goodbye Folk has an extensive online tutorial for how to measure your foot but its collection of leather jackets and handbags, and its on-hand barbers are the cherry on top of a store visit.

WHAT TO DO

  • Getty

    Palacio Nacional

    Plaza de la Constitución, 3688 1255, palacionacionaldemexico.mx

    The sheer amount of history both inside and out of the Palacio Nacional makes it near impossible to navigate solo. Save yourself some frustration and hire Jimena Ysita. Her company, Disfratando Mexico, offers private after-hours night tours. Considering the site dates back to the Aztecs, holds several massive Diego Rivera murals and was once the home of Hernan Cortes, the Spanish conquistador, it’s worth it to hear some history from a professional. Not to mention you’ll have a two-story, three-walled Rivera mural all to yourself.

  • Getty

    Bosque de Chapultepec

    Bosque de Chapultepec Secc, 11100, 5271 1939, chapultepec.org.mx

    Grab a bike and pedal through Mexico City’s most expansive park. There’s a zoo, lake with pedal boats, street performers and a castle hidden within, but skip the cotton candy and opt to free your mind of the cars, pollution, buildings and people and just go for a ride. Parts of the park are surprisingly flat, lending to easy afternoon cruising.

  • Clive Mason/Getty

    Lucha Libre

    Arena México, 189 Dr. Lavista, 5588 0266, cmll.com

    Just go. Everyone—from men in power suits to babies—will be in the stands, popcorn, peanuts, and giant red plastic cups of beer in hand. Busty women in bikinis announce every round while wrestlers, each with personalities to match their neon, often times sparkly masks, enter the ring. There will be dramatized stories and arguments, cheering, booing, and outright laughing. The closer to the ring the better, and make sure to take a look at the masks for sale outside of the arena.

  • Getty

    Museo Frida Kahlo

    Londres 247, 5554 5999, museofridakahlo.org.mx

    La Casa Azul is the house that Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera inhabited for nearly three decades throughout their tumultuous relationship. It is the place where Kahlo was born and eventually passed away. After her death, Rivera donated it to the government. The yellow and blue mosaic kitchen, complete with a wood fired oven, as well as Kahlo’s studio have been preserved with immense precision. As has her day bed, where she eventually took residence full-time after falling seriously ill. The guided tour occasionally detracts from the full experience, so don’t get lost in the device. The patio and gardens are a pleasant respite from the house, and the deeply bright blue of the exterior calms the senses.

 
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