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Why travelers are flocking to Mexico City

Sunset view of the Basilica of Guadalupe and the Mexico City skyline. Photo by Martin Molcan/Envato Elements

A tortilla filled with thin, salty beef and french fries drips fiery green salsa over my fingertips. Two teenagers rap over a scratchy boom box soundtrack as men selling kitchen towels walk past and women cluster in groups, pressing tortillas and catching up on the latest news.

Mexico City’s second-largest market, La Merced, barely sleeps and is a microcosm of the city: colorful, chaotic, and delicious. To be sure, the market has a film of city grime, but it’s also home to the storied building blocks of Mexican cuisine, including stacks of tropical fruit, piles of smoked chiles, mountains of cilantro, and endless aisles of pork.

Mexico City is seemingly on the lips of everyone these days. North America’s most populous city is experiencing a well-deserved tourism boom as news spreads of its vanguard art, exquisite museums, and life-altering cuisine. Its reputation as little more than a dirty, dangerous megalopolis is, fortunately, shifting with each new visitor. Whether you are a first-timer or returning for more, consider these tips to make the most of your visit.

Where to go

Mexican flag flying over Zocalo plaza

Mexico City's Zócalo plaza, where you can glimpse Mexico through the ages. Photo by Envato Elements

Start your visit in the historic main plaza, the Zócalo, where you can glimpse Mexico across the centuries. Begin with the Aztecs’ Templo Mayor, then head over to the baroque-heavy Metropolitan Cathedral before taking in Diego Rivera’s History of Mexico murals in the Palacio Nacional

A painting station with a wheelchair set up in front of an easel

Frida Kahlo's Casa Azul. Photo by Alexandra Lande/

To be sure, you should also venture farther afield to see Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul, the Museum of Anthropology, and the Jumex contemporary art museum, but don’t spend all your time in Mexico City studying paintings and archaeological artifacts.

Outside of Soumaya Museum

Soumaya Museum in Mexico City's Plaza Carso. Photo by John Coletti/Getty Images

Take time to stroll down Paseo de la Reforma on a Sunday, when it’s closed to traffic. You’ll join what feels like the entire city enjoying a scenic walk on Mexico’s most famous boulevard.

Roma food vendor

A vendor prepares tacos in Mexico City's Roma neighborhood. Photo by Andrew Reiner

While the neighborhoods of Roma and Condesa delight with outdoor cafés, excellent contemporary art, and the city’s best addresses for everything from traditional Mexican cuisine to Asian fusion, explore some up-and-coming barrios like Narvarte and Del Valle. You’ll get a peek at regular Mexico City life, and you’ll have plenty of chances to practice your Spanish with locals.

Mercado Jamaica

Browsing in Mexico City's Mercado Jamaica. Photo by Linka A. Odom/Getty Images

Markets are the heart of the city. Tours through the Mercado Jamaica (for flowers) and the massive La Merced are amazing, but the relaxed tianguis (open-air markets) that pop up in neighborhoods throughout the week can offer a more intimate experience. At one of these, you can try local barbacoa (slow-cooked meat), sift through vintage clothing, or marvel at the freshness of a hand-pressed tortilla without the crowds. Ask your hotel concierge where and when the tianguis appear in the colonia (neighborhood) where you’re staying.

First-timers should check out Casa Luis Barragán or the Kurimanzutto art gallery, but on your second trip (because you will be back), see some of Barragán’s more out-of-the-way masterpieces, such as the Capuchin Convent Chapel.

Immerse yourself in the work of another iconic architect by visiting Félix Candela’s midcentury-modern-meets-Gothic Iglesia de la Medalla Milagrosa, and for contemporary art and cocktails with a view, trek out to the new Lago/Algo.

You may also like: Mexico’s Riviera Nayarit has the best beach towns you’ve never heard of

Where to eat

Culinary options range from fine dining to tasty street food. While inexpensive compared with New York or Los Angeles, Mexico City has an abundance of restaurants that are worth a splurge. Be sure to set aside some of your budget for a few foodie experiences and explore the city’s street eats on your own or with a guide.

Outside of Rosetta

Mexico City's beloved restaurant Rosetta. Photo by Andrew Reiner

One famed culinary mecca that never disappoints is Rosetta. Chef Elena Reygadas offers a blend of Mexican and Italian cuisine thoughtfully prepared with seasonal and local ingredients. El Cardenal offers some of the city’s best traditional Mexican breakfasts, and its location on the Plaza Tolsá in the Centro Histórico is a great spot to start a day of exploring downtown.

For a history fix, sip a cheap coffee at Café La Habana, where Fidel Castro and Che Guevara planned the Cuban revolution, or grab a drink at La Opera Bar, host to many of Mexico’s most famous faces throughout the ages.


Micheladas are made with beer, tomato juice, lime juice, and assorted spices. Photo by Andrew Reiner

Mi Compa Chava restaurant opened during the pandemic and is now packed with a casual, cool crowd downing wildly flavored micheladas (drinks made with beer, tomato juice, lime juice, and assorted spices) and some of the capital’s spiciest aguachile (the ceviche-like dish made with shrimp). 


Among the many dishes visitors should try: aguachile, the ceviche-like dish made with shrimp. Photo by Andrew Reiner

Much more mellow, Taller Xilotl in Juárez is another seafood lover’s dream, with gourmet tacos that feature fiery chipotle shrimp and smoky marlin encrusted in cheese.

Like other world-class cities, the capital is home to cuisines from across the globe, but always with particular touches to make them truly chilango (Mexico City–style). If you’re looking for something beyond mole and tacos, try Fideo Gordo (Japanese), Makan (Singaporean), or Dooriban (Korean).

Calamari torta cut in half

Calamari tortas (sandwiches) are just one example of the world-class street food found in Mexico City. Photo by Andrew Reiner

Arrange a street-food safari curated by a local guide, or attempt your own trial-and-error tour. Tlacoyos (football-shaped masa patties filled with beans and cheese), tamales, tacos, and tortas: You need to try them all. That’s in addition to fresh-squeezed juices, birria (stewed goat or other meat), corn on the cob, jicama covered in fiery chile powder … the list is almost endless. If you’re going it alone, look for popular stands with lots of turnover.

You may also like: Savor the laid-back life in Mexico’s Riviera Maya

Where to stay

For cool, classy accommodations, stay at the new Andaz Mexico City Condesa. On the border between the Condesa and Roma neighborhoods in an industrial midcentury masterpiece, Andaz has a spa and offers its own specially curated tours. Rates start at about $220.

For a more intimate, boutique experience, try Ignacia Guest House, located on a quiet residential street in Colonia Roma (rates start at about $220). Stanza Hotel (rates start at about $70) has comfortable standard rooms and is well located for exploring Colonia Roma.

Want to splurge? You can’t go wrong with the Four Seasons Mexico City, which is also home to one of the city’s best cocktail bars, Fifty Mils. Rates start at about $645.

Freelance writer Lydia Carey lives in Mexico City and is the author of Mexico City Streets: La Roma, among other guides to the capital.

You may also like: 5 stunning all-inclusive Mexico resorts you’ll want to visit

If you go

For the latest Mexico safety information, visit the U.S. State Department's website or contact your travel advisor. At press time, the U.S. State Department urged travelers to exercise “increased caution” in Mexico City.

Ask your hotel’s concierge about local safety precautions. “We can tell you, ‘Yes, that place is okay, or no, that’s not good,’ ” says Arturo Sanchez, concierge at Andaz Mexico City Condesa. Avoid hailing taxis on the street. Instead, book all ground transportation through your hotel, Sanchez says. And exercise greater caution at night, especially outside tourist zones.

The unlikely pull of pulque

Small cup of pulque

A cup of pulque, the fermented alcoholic drink that's more popular than ever in Mexico. Photo by Andrew Reiner

Its texture has been compared to mucus. The plant it comes from can take years to mature. And the taste? Muy sour, unless it’s cut with fruit juice. So why is pulque suddenly the trendy drink in Mexico? “People appreciate that it’s an artisanal product,” says César Rafael Rodriguez Garcia, owner of Pulques El Guiso bar in Guanajuato.

A fermented alcoholic beverage made from the sap of the maguey plant, pulque has been around for more than 2,000 years. The milky drink takes a few days to ferment and has a shelf life of only about 2 weeks. Its popularity has risen and fallen, but now, Garcia says, “It’s coming back in a big way, with hipsters filling up big pulquerías in the big cities.”

You can find places to try it all over central Mexico, including downstairs from the Museo del Pulque y las Pulquerías in Mexico City, a few blocks from the Palacio de Bellas Artes.

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