travel guide

Mexico City

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why you should visit Mexico City now


Don’t be intimidated by Mexico City’s size. It’s easy to find a corner of CDMX—formerly known as the Distrito Federal—for you, and one visit is rarely enough. Visitors quickly fall under the city's spell: the music, the people, the street food and murals, and the thrilling juxtaposition of grand European-style boulevards, ultramodern architecture, and ancient Aztec sites. As journalist David Lida asserts: "Mexico City is the capital of the 21st century." Give in to its siren song.

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When to Go to Mexico City

Weather-wise, it's almost always a good time to visit Mexico City. Because of the altitude (7,382 feet), temperatures remain fairly stable throughout the year, averaging in the mid-50s to low 70s. (Bring a light jacket and scarf and you’ll be fine.) But our favorite time to visit is between Christmas and Epiphany (January 6), because while almost everything’s open, the pollution and traffic are mellower because of the business holidays. Another great time to come is in the days around September 6 for the Independence Day festivities.

Getting Around Mexico City

Mexico City's Benito Juárez International Airport (MEX) is the primary point of arrival and departure for international flights. Taxis into the city center are affordable and take only about 20–30 minutes, depending on traffic.

Mexico City is massive, which can be overwhelming even to experienced visitors. AFAR’s partner, Context Travels offers visitors a private, historian- or architect-led introduction to downtown Mexico City from its roots as a center of government and ritual in the Aztec Empire to its commercial and cultural modern present.

Once in town, you can get around easily on the Metro, Metrobus, taxis, Uber, and the city's bike-share program, Ecobici. The Metro and the Metrobus are extensive and very inexpensive. Taxis are a good option, to, but stick to the official pink cabs when hailing from the street. Uber is very affordable in CDMX and the app makes it easy for non-Spanish speakers to get around.

Can't Miss

- Two pilgrimage sites for art- and design-minded tourists—architect Luis Barragán’s House and Studio and Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul—require tickets and often are sold out. Secure your tickets before you leave home.
- Cinco de Mayo is not a big deal in Mexico. If you’re looking for a party, come for Mexican Independence Day (September 16), Day of the Dead (November 1), or the Gay Pride parade in late June instead. (The annual December 12 feast day of the Virgin of Guadalupe is more somber, but still pretty epic in scope.)  
- Try and catch a Luche Libre match at Arena Mexico. You'll get ridiculously fun entertainment, as well as recognize many of the same motifs you've seen in the city's churches and cultural sites—good and evil, vivid primary colors, capes, and masks.

Food and Drink

  • Local lunchtime is around 3 p.m., and dinner after 8. 
  • Tip bartenders and restaurant servers 20% of the bill. You can get away with 15%, but live large and do your part for the economy.
  • Reservations for most of the big-name restaurants are available on apps like OpenTable and Resy. Book ahead and don’t wait until you get to town to get a table.
  • As in seemingly every other modern city, there are craft beer and artisanal cocktail scenes in CDMX. Jardín Chapultepec, a chill beer garden hidden between industrial buildings at the edge of the Condesa neighborhood, offers impressive examples of Mexican craft beers, as well as food stalls and picnic tables. Licorería Limantour, in Roma Norte, is our favorite destination for cocktails. The elegant Art Deco-inspired space is slightly less packed on weeknights so you can give your meticulously crafted drink the attention it demands. 

Culture

There’s no better place to witness Mexico City’s sometimes confusing clash of culture than at the Zócalo. Here, in the main square of the city, you can relish centuries of history, grandiose architecture, and exceptional people-watching. The whole tension of the city's past, present, and future is here, with the cathedral revealing the Catholic and colonial history and the Templo Mayor, right next door, practically throbbing with the violent Aztec past. The square is a swirl of activity with noisy street performers, vendors, local teenagers, and traffic all fighting for your attention.   

What the Locals Know

  • Cantinas will always serve snacks (called botanas) with your drinks.
  • This is not a city where you wear shorts. 
  • Protests happen from time to time and are annoying and occasionally paralyzing (at least when it comes to traffic), but as long as they're peaceful, police are not allowed to intervene.

Guide Editor

Julie Schwietert Collazo has been a bilingual freelance writer, editor, and translator for the past 10 years and loves (almost) every minute of it. The Mexican capital is her former home and the first place she always wants to go when she gets on a plane. Read more at collazoprojects.com.