Wednesday, October 25, 2017

3 Days in Mexico City: What to Do, See, and Eat

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Mexico City is definitely a city that surprised me. If I were to be completely honest, I hadn't even considered going to Mexico City until recently - my perception of the city, like many others, was that it was dirty, crowded, and dangerous. But when I kept hearing that it was the new "hip" place to go, I was intrigued - and when I came across a cheap flight, I pulled the trigger.

When I got there, I was smitten. Sure it is crowded and busy (it is a HUGE city with over 20 million people calling it home), but it is beautiful, with its colonial architecture and abundance of green spaces throughout the city. Add to that a bustling culinary scene, and its focus on arts and culture (Mexico City has the most museums in the world, with over 150), and I fell in love.

Mexico City is giant and there is so much to do that it can be hard to narrow down what spots to hit up. But I've done all the work for you - here are my top picks for what to do, see, and eat in this amazing city.

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When to go: Mexico City is generally mild year-round, with temperatures rarely falling above 80 degrees or below 55 degrees. Keep in mind that June through September is the rainy season, and you should expect some rainfall at least once a day, although this usually only lasts an hour or two.

Getting there: Mexico City is served by Benito Juarez International Airport, which sits on the eastern part of the city. It is served by many international airlines with flights to and from most major cities. You can take the metro or an authorized taxi into city center, but I found that Uber is an easy and fairly inexpensive way to get into the city.

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Currency: Mexico City uses the Mexican Peso. I suggest keeping some cash on hand for smaller purchases (i.e. street vendors). However, many restaurants and shops also take credit cards. Get some cash at a bank ATM for the most favorable rates - I did before leaving the airport.

Safety: Mexico City is often misperceived as a dangerous city, however, many people are surprised at how safe it is in reality. This is not to say that you shouldn't take precautions and always be aware of your surroundings. Pickpocketing is a concern here, so take caution with your belongings. As with any major city, there are also definitely areas (i.e. Tepito and La Laguanilla) that you should not venture into - be sure you don't accidentally wander into these neighborhoods.

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Language: English is not as commonly spoken here as in other parts of Mexico (like Cancun or Cabo), so it is useful to learn a few basic Spanish phrases to get around. However, most hotels, attractions, and restaurants that are frequented by tourists are staffed with people who speak some English.

Getting Around: Mexico City has a fairly extensive (and cheap) Metro system that can get you around to almost everywhere you need to go. Uber is also a convenient and relatively inexpensive way to get around - most rides cost me under $5 USD, even if I was getting from one end of the city to the other in heavy traffic.

Mexico City has an abundance of accommodation options to suit your preferences and budget, from boutique hotels, to Airbnbs, to trendy hostels. I've stayed at these boutique  hotels and highly recommend them:

best things to do in mexico city boutique hotel
Chaya B&B Boutique
This centrally-located boutique hotel with a B&B concept was created with the ideal travelerexperience in mind. The beautifully decorated property is like an oasis in the middle of a busy, bustling city, with greenery and succulent details everywhere. Included in the room rate is a delicious breakfast with both a continental and a hot, traditional Mexican dish every morning. The rooms are not fancy, but are stylishly decorated and comfortable.

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Hotel Carlota
This stylish boutique hotel is located in the trendy Colonia Juarez neighborhood. The hip, design-centric property also features a beautiful courtyard and pool area, along with a bar and restaurant, which is known to be delicious (I did not personally have time to eat there, though).

best things to do in mexico city zocalo
Always bustling with energy, Zocalo is the common name for the central square and the heart of Mexico City. It has been a central gathering place since Aztec times, and is located one block away from the site of the Templo Mayor, which was considered to be the center of the universe. Today, giant and iconic Mexican flag flies over it, and it is the home to numerous historical and government buildings, such as the National Palace and National Cathedral. It is also home to many events throughout the year, including concerts, festivals, and political demonstrations.

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Chapultepec Park + Castle
Chapultepec Park is one of the largest urban city parks in the Western Hemisphere, and serves as a main ecological space in the city. It is also home to several popular museums, including the National Anthropology Museum (widely regarded as one of the best museums in the city) and Museum of Modern Art. One of the most visited attractions here is the Chapultepec Castle, which is the only castle in North America to have housed sovereigns. Today, it also serves as the National History Museum, and also offers a spectacular view of the city below.

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Casa Azul/Museo Frida Kahlo
Arguably the most popular museum in Mexico City, the Museo Frida Kahlo is dedicated to the life and works of the iconic Mexican artist. What stood out to me the most was learning more about her inspiring life story and how she lived through the hardships thrown her way, while creating amazing art along the way. Definitely a must-see!

best things to do in mexico city teotihuacan pyramids
Located just an hour outside the city, Teotihuacan, which was the largest pre-Aztec civilization in its time, makes a perfect day trip. The Piramide de la Luna and the Piramide del Sol (which is one of the tallest pyramids in the world) are the highlights here. You can take an organized tour here, but it is also easy (and cheap) to hop on a bus and do a self-guided tour.

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Casa Luis Barragan
Luis Barragan is a contemporary architectural legend, known for his geometric and colorful style. His buildings are deceptively simple, but he is renowned for his dramatic use of light and reflection to manipulate a space and give it a subtle and lyrical appearance. You can find his work scattered all over the city, but the only way to see his house (his main creation) is to book a tour through his foundation. The tour is informative and gives you an interesting insight into his life and his ideas - highly recommended.

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Palacio de Bellas Artes
The Palacio de Bellas Artes (the Fine Arts Palace) is one of the most iconic buildings in Mexico City. It is a cultural center that houses a theater, concert hall, and museum, along with a number of murals by prominent Mexican artists. That domed roof is stunning (pssst...the best view of it is from the cafe on top of Sears across the street. Or, if it's closed, from the cafe on the 9th floor of the Torre Latinoamerica). I haven't had a chance to see a performance here yet, but I would love to see the Ballet Folkorico here someday.

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Palacio Postal
Palacio Postal is the main post office in Mexico City, and located near Zocalo, and just around the corner from the Palacio de Bellas Artes. It was designed by Italian architect Adamo Boari, who also designed the Palacio Bellas Artes. It was built in the early 20th century, and blends several different architectural styles. Did you know that the bronze railings on these staircase were cast in Florence? Insane. There is also a small postal museum where you can see the first stamp ever issued in Mexico.

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Casa de los Azulejos
The Casa de los Azulejos (or "house of tiles") was an 18th century palace built by the Count del Valle de Orizaba family, but today is the flagship location of the restaurant chain Sanborns. It is one of the most photographed buildings in Mexico City, and distinguished by the iconic blue tiled facade - such a gorgeous exterior!

One of the things that initially drew me to Mexico City was because I kept hearing that it had a booming culinary scene. Mexico City is home to anything from world-class fine dining establishments, to amazing street tacos, and anything and everything else in between. Be prepared to eat - a lot!

One thing to note: Lunch is the main meal of the day here, and it is eaten later in the day, around 2pm. May restaurants open for lunch, but not dinner, so be sure to check opening times!

best things to do in mexico city pujol
Hands-down one of the best meals I've ever had in my life. It is a splurge, but a steal compared to restaurants of similar caliber elsewhere in the world. Chef Enrique Olvera is renowned for putting his own unique, sophisticated twist on traditional Mexican cuisine, which was highlighted in an episode of the Netflix series "Chef's Table." My favorite course here was the mole - it was absolutely mind-blowing!

best things to do in mexico city eno chilaquiles
Eno is Olvera's casual outpost, serving up classic breakfast and lunch fare. The chilaquiles here are probably the best I've had, EVER. There is a location right next to Pujol, but there are a few others around the city.

best things to do in mexico city contramar tuna tostadas
This is a popular spot for lunch (or an early dinner), and is famous for its tuna tostadas, which I still have dreams about. The menu is full of delicious seafood specialties, and the grilled fish (served with a chili sauce and a chimichurri sauce) is also a must-have.

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Frequently hailed as one of the best restaurants in Mexico City by both visitors and locals, Nicos sits a bit outside of City Center, but it is a must. Nicos specializes in traditional Mexican cuisine, in a classy but unpretentious environment. The guacamole, which is prepared table-side, is to die for.

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Churreria el Moro
Confession: I totally went to El Moro 5 times in 2 days. Yes, it's THAT good (and I'm also a sucker of their cute branding). El Moro has been around since 1935, and is still super popular today. I couldn't get enough of the consuelos (ice cream sandwiches) - I had one every day.

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Fonda Fina
Located in the hip Roma district, Fonda Fina comes from the chef of the acclaimed Quintonil, and serves up fine yet casual Mexican cuisine with a focus on fresh ingredients and seasonality. This place has a hip but rustic vibe, and the dishes are creative without being pretentious. The Mezcal cocktails are super tasty as well.

One of the most popular restaurants in the city, Azul serves solidly good classic Mexican fare in a kinda romantic atmosphere. There are two locations: one in the upscale Condesa district, and another one in Centro Historico, just next to the Zocalo. Both are super busy (for good reason!), so be prepared to wait or make a reservation.

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La Gruta
While technically not in Mexico City, La Gruta is definitely worth a stop if you trek out to Teotihuacan (and as I said above you SHOULD go to Teotihuacan). Set inside a volcanic cave and decorated with twinkling string lights and colorful chairs, La Gruta serves traditional Mexican cuisine in a magical setting. The food is solid and the experience is unique.

Cafe Nin (Panaderia Rosetta)
Located in the hip Roma neighborhood, Cafe Nin dishes out excellent coffee and European-style pastries, as well as sandwiches and light bites. This is the perfect spot for a quick breakfast. I was in love with the Berlinettas, which are like cream-filled donuts.

Street Vendors
Mexico City is famous for its street food, and there are stands on seemingly every corner serving up everything from tacos, tamales, fresh fruit, and more. The Al Pastor tacos are super cheap (35 US cents a piece) and DELICIOUS. Afraid of food poisoning? Pick out the stands that have a crowd of people, who all look like professionals - these folks don't have time to be sick, so it is a good bet that they are eating at a legit spot.

Have you been to Mexico City? What are some of your favorite spots?
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