I’m not really sure where or when my love affair with Mexico City began (perhaps that fateful viewing of “Amores Perros” back in high school?) Suffice to say, between its amazing food, culture, and urban beauty the CDMX has long been on my list of places to visit. So when I saw a crazy round trip deal for $268 USD, I jumped at the chance to finally have the urban adventure of my dreams in Mexico City.
Before I dive into my day-to-day travel itinerary, a few important things to note when traveling to Mexico City:
Mexico City is a huge international metropolis with a population of 9 million people, so hotels and hostels are easy enough to find. However, I would highly suggest an Airbnb as your money will go further here. For under $100 USD/night, you can stay in a beautiful art deco loft in one of the city’s hippest areas.
This totally depends on what type of traveler you are, but at the bare minimum, I would recommend doing some research about what neighborhood you would like to stay in, as well as a few main activities or sights you are keen to see. Luckily, I had been mentally planning my Mexico trip for ages so I already had a folder full of bookmarked restaurants and landmarks ready to go.
Additionally, if you have your heart set on eating at any renowned dining establishments, I would aim to make your reservations ahead of time. It also helps to familiarize yourself with which areas to avoid and any other current travel advisories/warnings.
Uber is everywhere in the CDMX and extremely inexpensive. We pretty much Ubered the entirety of the trip and it was rare to have a ride above $10 USD. There is also bike and E-scooter shares as well as a clean, highly recommended subway system.
Your high school Spanish classes will serve you well here! Knowing the conversational basics will get you far. So, if possible, try to brush up on your Espanol. As a general rule, people working in hospitality or nicer restaurants will usually speak English, but there’s no guarantee.
My Urban Travel Adventure Diary
Day 1: Coffee in Condesa; Paddling through Chapultepec; Feasting at Fonda Fina
After an early-morning flight, my partner and I arrive exhausted but thrilled to be in Mexico City. After a quick SIM card switch and hefty cash exchange of dollars to pesos we Uber from the airport to our charming Airbnb in Condesa.
As we climb the four flights of winding stairs to our Spanish-style studio apartment, we are rewarded with beautiful views of the bohemian, tree-lined streets below. Condesa is equal parts hipster and European chic and I am already in love.
We quickly drop off our luggage and hightail it downstairs to grab a much-needed latte at the gorgeously cozy Cafe Expresso de Media Noche while discussing our game plan for the day.
First on my list? Bosque de Chapultepec. This famous park is often described as Mexico City’s Central Park when in fact it is two times the size of the NYC landmark! The park is chock-full of beautiful green space, archeological sites, multiple museums, botanical gardens, and even a free zoo.
On the way to the park, we stumble upon an enticing local fruit market and panaderia (bakery) and realize we are both starving. The fresh fruit and baked goods look too good to pass up so we load up on snacks; a vanilla concha bun for me and a mango with chili lime for my partner.
After a leisurely 30-minute walk we arrive at Chapultepec Park. We are immediately impressed by its size and set out in search of the park’s famous castle, often described as a relic of Mexico’s bygone era of aristocracy. Unfortunately, it’s closed for the day by the time we arrive. (Fun fact: the castle was also a major filming location for the popular film “Romeo and Juliet” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes.)
Instead, we decide to go for an impromptu romantic paddleboat ride around the lake and take in the sweeping views of the Casa de Lago cultural center, once the summer home to Mexico’s former President Porfirio Diaz.
Feasting at Fonda Fina
I could easily spend all day exploring the park but we are getting hungry. My hubby Cliff graciously picks up some ice-cold Bohemia beers from a nearby 7-11 to enjoy on our balcony before heading out for drinks and dinner.
Regrettably, the hangry is beginning to set in, so we end up at a rather disappointing touristy bar/restaurant at the plaza in Roma Norte. As we nurse our drinks and debate our dining options, we pivot for the nearby Fonda Fina.
Luckily for us, we chose wisely! Fonda Fina impresses with their re-imagined Mexican fare and amazing service. Our waiter graciously explains the menu, doles out excellent recommendations, and even gives me a free of glass wine. Notable meal standouts include an arugula salad with toasted sesame and peanut sauce that I still can’t stop thinking about, the tuna tostadas, and the homemade salsas and chile sauce. (Side note: we later discover the executive chef was once the chef at Pujol, a super famous Mexican restaurant and runner up on Top Chef Mexico.)
Day 2: Art Deco Decadence and Diego; Tacos, Mercados, and Scorpions (OH MY); Getting Serious about Seafood
Though I hate to admit it, my partner and I are full-fledged coffee snobs, so after a quick Google search of the best coffee shops in the area we head to Enhorabuena Cafe. This spacious and light-filled cafe had great vegan/vegetarian options and probably the best americanos of our whole trip. We devour an order of their delicious avocado toast with beetroot hummus and a slice of panqueques, or banana bread.
Full of caffeine and ready to see more of the historic downtown, we make our way to the Palacio de Bellas Artes, but not before stumbling upon CDMX’s very own version of Chinatown.
The Palacio is a not only a masterpiece of white marble art deco decadence, but also one of Mexico’s greatest cultural icons featuring seminal works by Diego Rivera and Rufino Tamayo. We opt to just buy our museum tickets on the day, but you can buy ahead of time and/or inquire about guided tours.
I spend a few hours pouring over Diego’s murals, including his most famous “El hombre en el cruce de caminos” or “Man at the Cross Roads” — originally commissioned for New York’s Rockefeller Center as well as a special Francisco Ixtapa exhibit.
Saturated with art, we follow the crowds to the enormous Plaza de la Constitución aka Zocalo which was once an Aztec ceremonial center
Tacos, Mercados, and Scorpions (OH MY)
Flanked by ornate cathedrals which rival those across Europe, Zocalo is filled with music, street vendors and indigenous priests offering up their blessings. Curious, we poke our heads in the opulent Iglesia del Convento de San Francisco and the Catedral Metropolitana de la Ascuncion de la Santisma Virgen Maria a los Cielos. Both churches are stunning and I can’t help but be impressed by their baroque style and architecture.
In need of an afternoon sweet treat after all that walking, I purchase some tasty marzipan-like confections at Ducleria de Celaya — the oldest candy shop in Mexico established in1874.
By 2 p.m., we are more than ready to devour our very first tacos of the trip! A trusted friend has recommended we check out Taqueria Tlaquepaque. We grab a table, and per the locals’ suggestion order a platter of tacos al pastor. We wash down all of the mouth-watering pork with a refreshing agua refresco de sandia (watermelon), a popular fresh fruit drink.
Full of taco-y goodness I decide we should walk the 30 or so minutes to the Mercado San Juan (one of CDMX’s more famous local markets) rather than hail a car.
Upon arriving at the market, we are accosted by the friendliest fruit vendors ever. They let us sample ALL the tropical fruits including mamey, a fruit unique to Mexico that tastes like a pumpkin, sweet potato, and cherry had a baby. I load up on bananas, fresh figs, and mangoes for tomorrow’s breakfast. Many vendors are closing up shop at this point, but we still manage to make our rounds and snag a look at some of the more bizarre edibles for sale. Scorpions and crickets, anyone?
Getting Serious about Seafood
Exhausted and ready for a siesta, we power through, excited for our first dinner reservation of the trip at Campobaja. Our reservation is for 8 p.m., so when we arrive I’m surprised to enter a nearly empty restaurant (turns out Mexican’s tend to dine quite late).
The restaurant is warm and inviting despite the lack of crowds. I’m definitely getting #datenightvibes. Campobaja is known for its inventive and super-fresh seafood and with our waitress’ help we order gorditas de calamari, concha ceviche, and galician style octopus. She recommends a mezcal to try, which is served traditional style with orange slices and worm salt!
Day 3: Urban Walks in the Hipodromo; Paletas, Pibil, and more in Mercado Roma; Wining and Dining at Contramar
Eager to get up and begin our day we have quick patio brekkie of leftover fresh market fruit (still dreaming about those figs) with some coconut digestive biscuits and takeaway coffee thanks to Expresso de Medio Noche downstairs.
I gear up for some serious walking as we set out to explore the area known as Colonia Hipodromo. This region is known for its Art Deco architecture and decor as well as being one of the larger green areas in the city. My love affair with this neighborhood continues and I have to stop myself from squealing “it’s so cute” at every corner (much to my boyfriend’s dismay).
One of the best parts of Hipodromo is the luscious amount of greenery that runs through it. Complete with sparkling fountains and unique installations, it’s basically an Instagrammer’s dream. I can’t help but stop to admire and snap some pics of the stunning street art.
Paletas, Pibil, and more in Mercado Roma
As content as I am to wander the streets of Roma Norte for hours, it’s almost lunchtime and we have a destination in mind. We venture to Mercado Roma, or as we were told, ‘the Chelsea Market’ of Mexico City.
My first impression: this is definitely not your grandma’s market! Far from a local mercado, Roma features upscale vendors selling an array of food, mezcal, and artisanal goods. I do notice the prices tend to be higher here than a more traditional market, but they have a crazy variety of stands selling everything from poke bowls to artisanal paletas. Churreria El Moro, the famous 24-hour Churro place, even has a stand here.
We take a few laps of the market and are literally offered samples of everything from candy and paletas to shots of mezcal. The mezcal hits our empty stomachs hard and we decide to soak up the alcohol with some tasty tortas de cochinita pibil.
Wining and Dining at Contramar
Luckily our lunch was on the lighter side as we were saving room for one of our most hyped dinners of our trip. Contramar is one of Mexico City’s most-lauded restaurants and I had made the reservation two weeks prior to guarantee our spot. My partner and I opt to sit outside and people watch while deciding what to order for our seafood feast.
The vibe here is distinctly European, complete with white table cloths and impeccable service. I knew I couldn’t leave without ordering the restaurant’s specialty, a red snapper covered in a half red half green marinade. Our waiter actually brings out the whole fish to show us the size. Upon determining it was WAY too much food for the two of us, he has the kitchen make us a smaller fillet in the same style. We also order a tuna sashimi appetizer, octopus tacos and plenty of white wine.
Day 4: Exploring the Inner Lives of Diego & Frida; Feeling Fancy in Polanco; Mezcal Education and Lucha Libre Revelations
Sadly, today is our last full day in the CDMX so we embrace our early start and grab lattes and croissants at Chiquitito Cafe in Condesa. The coffee and atmosphere are on point, but this location is tiny so getting a table proves difficult.
One quick car ride later we arrive at Diego and Frida’s studio Museum. I was hoping to do a guided tour but it turns out they are only in Spanish. However, the architecture is stunning and the museum offers a curated selection of artifacts from both artists’ lives, including Diego’s typewriter and Frida’s bathtub. We are particularly captivated by the macabre beauty of Diego’s puppet-like paper mache sculptures called “cartonerías.”
We stretch our legs and take a leisurely stroll of the surrounding upscale neighborhood of Colonia San Angel. We debate who lives in these heavily guarded modern mansions. Drug Lords? Celebrities? We may never know!
Feeling Fancy in Polanco
My partner is hankering for his next taco fix so we head to the fancy Polanco neighborhood for lunch at the celebrated dive El Turix, which serves cochinita pibil and not much else. Cochinita Pibil is actually a specialty of the Yucatan, but the pork pibil served here is unparalleled in its achiote and sour orange flavor.
Polanco is the Beverly Hills of Mexico City. We have fun walking by all the upscale flagship stores as well as the Instagram installations (seriously this city is #aestheticgoals) as we make our way back to my favorite place: Chapultepec Park.
I am a sucker for anything with animals so we decide to enjoy the *free* zoo within the park and lose track of time while gazing at frolicking baby wolf pups.
Cliff realizes we are going to be late for our evening Urban Adventure so we sprint out of the park and call an Uber. As our friendly driver reminds us, CDMX rush-hour traffic is no joke. In the summer, it’s not uncommon for people to leave work at 3 p.m. on Fridays to avoid it.
Mezcal Education and Lucha Libre Revelations
After a fast Airbnb change and another ride downtown, we are only 15 minutes late to meet our group in Plaza Garibaldi. This famous square is actually named after Giuseppe Garibaldi II, an Italian-Australian who fought alongside the Mexicans during the revolution.
Our tour guide is very sweet and thankfully bilingual. They educate us on the history of the square and mariachi. Thankfully, I am a big “Coco” movie fan and am #hereforit.
The group heads to the Museo del Tequila and Mezcal and we proceed to get schooled in the process of making Mexico’s most famous beverages. With our guide’s help and a few rounds of samples, I can now confidently tell you the difference between tequila and mezcal! The museum also has an extensive gift shop and is an ideal place to pick up any Mezcal-related souvenirs you might seek.
Before it’s time to head out, the group chows down at the authentic Mexican cantina Salon Tenampa. Since the theme of this trip seems to be tacos, I order a taco sampler platter to share with my boo as well as a round of mezcal and passionfruit cocktails.
Post dinner in a taco-induced food coma, we load into the group van and venture to the night’s main attraction: Lucha Libre! I don’t know if it’s due to the fact that all I know about Lucha Libre is based on a Jack Black movie but I am in for a shock when we pull up to a huge stadium.
All around us is the roar of thousands of excited fans, flashing lights and street vendors selling garish wrestling masks. I make my way to our floor seats and take in the epicness that is Lucha Libre. For the next two hours, I am completely taken by the spectacle of the matches. I scream Mexican curses (as our local guide encourages), drink beers the size of my head, and watch little people being used as weapons in the ring!
Day 5: Jenny’s Famous Quesadillas, Spicy Street Candy, Chiles, and Our Farewell
It’s our final day in Mexico City and I can’t help but feel a little sad in my last few precious hours. I pull myself out of my melancholy funk, determined to squeeze in as much eating and sightseeing as I can before our flight home.
My hubby and I continue our love affair with Mexican street food by seeking out some highly reviewed quesadillas on Colima and Merida. On this unassuming street corner in Roma Norte we encounter the famous Jenni, slinging blue tortillas and frying up squash blossoms like a boss. My partner orders Jenny’s famous flor de calabaza quesadilla (squash blossom) which you can get with or without Oaxacan cheese. One bite in, his eyes roll back into his head in ecstasy. In a matter of seconds he’s ordering another — this time a meat-filled treat with chicharron.
Spicy Street Candy, Chiles, and Farewell
I am desperately craving some veggies after our week-long taco fest so I seek out a slightly more healthy lunch at La Buena Tierra in Condesa. This beautiful outdoor cafe offers a variety of healthy options including a tasty chickpea and mixed vegetable nourish bowl, which, while a bit pricier than street food, hits the spot. Be forewarned, sitting outside makes for amazing people watching but you will be hit up for ‘donations’ by a variety of vendors.
The predicted rain has yet to fall, so we make our way to Parque Mexico enjoying the sun, fountains, palm trees, and Lebanese cypresses. The beauty of Mexico City’s urban gardens is that they are so lush and elegantly landscaped that you truly forget you are in a city. My favorite part of the park? Petting all the dogs, of course.
It’s getting late and we still don’t have sufficient plane snacks and/or gifts for our friends. Cliff, being a die-hard candy fiend suggests we hit up a street vendor selling dulces (sweets). We load up on Tajin and chili-spiced dried mango and gummies.
To recreate some of the amazing salsas and hot sauces we sampled on our trip, we make one last stop to our favorite organic bulk store in Condesa, Botánica Granel. I buy a bunch of specialty dried peppers native to Mexico (Chili guajillo and Chile de árbol) that will surely spice up our home cooking after freaking out the TSA agents.
I make one last plea to my boo to rip up our passports and just stay in Mexico, but sadly, he chooses not to humor me. Outside our charming Condesa flat, we wave goodbye to the city that stole our hearts, already planning our next trip back to CDMX.