I’d wanted to visit Mexico City for years. As a Spanish major, I listened to my college professors wax poetic about Mexico City’s incredible history, museums and sites for my entire college career.
However, when I told my friends I had booked a ticket, their general reaction was, “WHY would you want to go to Mexico City? You’re going to get kidnapped.”
Most Americans think of Mexico City as a huge, polluted sprawl. Okay yes, it is huge and polluted. But it also has world-class museums, quaint, leafy neighborhoods and unbelievably good food.
Mexico City was once the capital of New Spain – how could it not be dripping in history and culture?
I spent two and a half days in Mexico City and somehow it felt like a week. I took a hot air balloon over ancient ruins, ate many indulgent meals, attended a fancy art party and danced until dawn.
Which is why I wanted to put together a list of reasons to love Mexico City. Because even in the short time I spent there, I found so many things to love about it.
Fancy, Historic Hotels for a Bargain
In Mexico City, you can stay at beautiful hotels for a fraction of what they’d cost in the US.
My dad and I stayed at the Gran Hotel Ciudad de México, a historic hotel built in 1899. It reminded me of Titanic; I loved its caged elevators, grand stairway and spacious rooms. But my favorite feature was its insanely intricate Art Deco stained glass ceiling. Isn’t she a beaut?
Hot Air Ballooning over Teotihuacán at Sunrise
Teotihuacán is the most visited archeological site in Mexico, and for good reason – it’s incredible.
Founded in around 100 BC, Teotihuacán was one of the largest cities of the ancient world. It’s comprised of three main ruins: the Moon Pyramid, Sun Pyramid and Temple of Quetzalcoatl.
Hot air ballooning over it at sunrise was one for the books. We soared over the pyramids, able to see the layout the Teotihuacanos envisioned two thousand years ago. I was particularly amazed by the sheer size of the Sun Temple, the third largest pyramid in the world.
And if you don’t have a few hundred dollars to spend on hot air ballooning, Teotihuacán is more than worth a visit anyway – you can even climb to the summit of the Sun Temple.
The only museum I had time to visit was the National Museum of Anthropology – thankfully, it was amazing. The museum contains an extraordinary collection of artifacts from all of Mexico’s pre-Colombian civilizations. There’s a ton to see, so I’d allow at least 4-5 hours for a visit.
Mexico City has a bevy of other amazing museums to choose from as well: the Museo del Templo Mayor, Frida Kahlo Museum, the Diego Rivera Mural Museum and Palacio de Bellas Artes. Mexico City even has a Caricature Museum and Graphic Art Museum, so there’s bound to be something to strike your fancy.
Roma, Mexico City’s Bohemian Neighborhood
Out of everywhere I visited in Mexico City, Roma is the place where I would most like to live.
Once the residence of Jewish immigrants and the European elite, Roma is a leafy neighborhood with wide boulevards, fountains and beautiful plazas. It’s the kind of neighborhood that’s perfect for strolling. I especially loved its architecture, which ranged from neo-classical to art nouveau.
I took a food tour there with Sabores México (post soon!), and we visited two craft breweries, an artisanal coffee shop, a Oaxcan restaurant and a mezcal distillery. My kind of neighborhood.
Fine Dining for (Relatively) Cheap
In Mexico City, you can dine at some of the best restaurants in the world for relatively cheap.
My favorite restaurant of the trip was Azul Histórico. Azul Histórico specializes in traditional Mexican food, and is located in the courtyard of a beautiful, historic home. It’s definitely touristy, but food was excellent. The chilaquiles in particular were life-changingly good.
Amazing Street Food
But, you of course don’t have to pay big money to eat well in Mexico City. You can find authentic street food from all over Mexico – everything from Oaxacan tlayudas and Veracruz-style tamales.
The biggest complaint I have about Mexico City is that the downtown smelled strongly of pee. And I mean, STRONGLY. But that may be because the pope was in town during my visit so the downtown was very crowded.
But is Mexico City dangerous?
Okay, it’s not Toronto, but if you exercise the same precautions you would in any city you should be fine.
As in most of Latin America, petty theft is relatively common. Case in point – my dad was almost pickpocketed while we were riding the subway. A group of around five men and women started shoving us into the train when the doors opened. I started yelling at them, while one guy tried to grab my dad’s wallet. As the doors were closing, all five of them jumped off the train back to the platform. Frankly I wouldn’t recommend take the subway anyway if you’re only in Mexico City a short time – it wasn’t a pleasant experience beyond the near pickpocketing.
Taxis can also be sketchy, and it’s better to take ubers than taxis – they’re generally both cheaper and safer.
Have you ever visited Mexico City? Would you want to?