I have a thing for big cities; a thing for organised chaos and for places that might seem daunting at first. “Cairo? Loved it! Los Angeles? Much better than San Francisco! Staying in the hipster district of Johannesburg? Hell yeah!!”
No wonder that the huge metropolis of Mexico City and I hit it off! From the moment I surfaced from the metro station onto Zócalo, the city’s main square, I felt “yep, this is going to be my kind of place!”
But the city is big: there’s the historical centre, the skyscrapers, the village neighbourhoods, …
Find out where to stay in Mexico city and discover the places you shouldn’t miss!
Safety in Mexico City
Crime ridden narco-related violence is often synonym with Mexico, so first-time visitors are usually quite wary to venture into the city on their own. I arrived in Mexico City by bus and on the busy motorways around the city, big billboards were advertising that the murder rate was decreasing. Where I come from, that is a strange way of advertising a city… But you know what? I never truly felt unsafe. I was travelling on my own and felt totally comfortable walking around Zócalo in the evening. I am sure that there are areas where you wouldn’t walk about at night (Plaza Garibaldi looked a bit dogdy), but then again, is that really different from any other city? Normal safety precautions like not flaunting jewellery or displaying a big stash of cash are valid everywhere else in the world too.
Where to stay in Mexico City?
1. Centro Histórico
Probably the most photogenic part of CMDX and definitely THE place to visit and stay in for culture buffs and history enthusiasts! It’s the most obvious place to start your explorations. The historical district is built on the ruins of the old Aztec Empire, with the Templo Mayor being the best proof. The temple is situated on the Zócalo, Latin America’s biggest square. Touring over it are the majestic cathedral and the Palacio Nacional. From the Zócalo, the Centro Histórico spreads its wings in all directions, all the way to the Alameda Central. Admire some of the beautiful façades on the pedestrian Avenida Madero or check out the scribes and the church on the peaceful Plaza Santo Domingo. In the evening, venture to Plaza Garibaldi to hear the mariachis sing. Looking for street art and a nice bar vibe? Then Calle Regina is your spot! And if you’re on the lookout for some quality souvenirs, head over to the Mercado La Ciudadela!
Accommodation in this area tends to be very reasonably priced.
2. The green lung of Chapultepec
The pollution in Mexico City is not a myth. If you feel like some respite from the car fumes and the crowds, head over to Bosque de Chapultepec, Mexico’s largest park that covers over 4 sq km. It feels miles away from the hustle and bustle! You might want to avoid Sundays though, that’s when all Mexican families gather to row on the big lake and vendors take over the main paths with food, souvenirs, fake tattoos, … Not a lot of peace and quiet then, but a great atmosphere! On any other day, you can enjoy a picnic on the park’s grounds or walk up to the Castillo. History buffs should not miss the Museo Nacional de Antropología.
If you need your early morning jog or you simply want to stay as close to nature as possible, then this is your area! Be aware that there isn’t much to do in the evening though.
3. My personal favourite: Coyoacán
Ten kilometres south of downtown CMDX, as Mexico City is also called, lies the village-like district of Coyoacán. Narrow streets, cute little plazas and a vibrant atmosphere make this one of the must see areas of the city. On a Sunday, you can see Aztec dancers on the Plaza Hidalgo, while the Parque Allende is taken over by salsa-dancing couples and an open-air arts and crafts market. Coyoacán is also home to Frida Kahlo’s Blue House. Make sure you book tickets in advance if you want to avoid huge queues!
Accommodation ranges from hostels to moderately priced guesthouses.
4. Bohemian Roma and Condesa
Roma and Condesa are often named and visited together, since they are only a few blocks apart. They are considered to be the bohemian and hipster parts of CDMX. There aren’t any big monuments or museums here, instead you’ll find a lot of streetart, especially in Roma, while dog walkers and roller-bladers take over the tree-lined streets of Condesa. The area is really small, just a few blocks, but taking time to linger in one of the many coffee shops or restaurants is what it’s all about here! The best time for a visit is late afternoon when people start taking over the café’s pavements. If you’re looking for nightlife at your doorstep, then these areas are a good base for your stay in Mexico City. You’ll find a few budget hostels here, as well as fancy boutique hotels.
5. The modern skyline
Take the elevator to the top of the Torre Latinoamericana and you’ll get a good idea of the modern sprawling skyline of Mexico City. From the Alameda Central park, home to the beautiful Palacio de Bellas Artes, all the way to the Bosque de Chapultepec, lies the main thoroughfare of Paseo de la Reforma, modelled after the big European boulevards. Wide footpaths make it easy enough to admire some of Mexico’s tallest buildings and ornamented roundabouts. If you can, go on a Sunday when the whole avenue is closed off for vehicles and given over to cyclists, roller-bladers and dog walkers!
The Paseo de la Reforma is home to big hotel chains like Sheraton, Barceló, Hilton or Marriott and the area tends to quieten down after dark. This area is more geared towards business travellers.
Getting around in Mexico City
I walked A LOT in Mexico City, it is pretty straight forward to walk between the Centro Histórico and Alameda Central. From there on, if you feel energetic, you can walk to the Chapultepec area with a detour to Roma and Condesa on the way.
But you don’t need to walk all that distance. I found the metro service the quickest way to get around Mexico City. It has nearly 200 stations on 12 different lines and is very cheap. It comes in very handy if you want to visit Coyoacán or San Angel.
Uber is widely spread too.
It’s safe to say that Mexico City really surprised me! I was expecting a huge, crowded, polluted city, but found it to be very manageable and diverse. There are still a few areas that I would’ve loved to explore like San Angel and Xochimilco, but that’ll have to wait for a next visit.
Next stop: the Mayan ruins of Yucatán!
So tell me, have you been?
Which ones do you consider to be the best neighbourhoods to stay in Mexico City?