Understanding the different delegaciones that make up Mexico City will help you plan a smooth trip. The Mexico City metropolitan area is one of the world's largest and knowing where the popular attractions are is essential to pick a good place to stay. Also, Mexico City has the largest city by population in North America, with an estimated 26 million people living in the metropolitan area. So yeah, it gets crowded.
How Mexico City is Laid Out
Mexico City is divided up into 16 delegaciones (or districts). You can think of these like the boroughs in New York - Queens is different than Brooklyn which is different than Manhattan.
Inside the 16 delegaciones are "colonias" (or neighborhoods). To keep with the NYC comparison… this is like how inside the borough of Manhattan you have neighborhoods like Midtown, the West Village, Lower East Side, or Harlem.
Knowing what colonia you're going to is essential to getting around, almost all locals will know where a given colonia is. But of course things can get confusing because there are some colonias with duplicate or very similar names.
This is where the city began… aka the historic city center. The colonial and European architecture combined with the narrow cobblestone streets distinguish the Centro district from the rest of Mexico City. It has an enormous amount of stores, street vendors, and is usually very crowded. Without a doubt, this area is one of the most popular areas in Mexico City and you definitely will visit it at some point in your trip.
Best Things to See in Centro Mexico City
Plaza de la Constitución
also known as El Zócalo
Plaza de la Constitucion is one of the largest squares in the world. It is surrounded by the Metropolitan Cathedral, the National Palace, as well as a number of other historic buildings. A huge Mexican flag is at the center. At 6 pm each day there is a ceremony while it is lowered and re-raised. Many different events are celebrated here so expect crowds throughout the year.
Palacio de Bellas Artes
also known as the Palace of Fine Arts
Open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00-18:00
The last admission is 30 minutes before closing
It is considered to be one of the best examples of Mexican Art Deco architecture. The interior features include its copper cupolas and a Tiffany stained-glass stage curtain designed by Mexican painter Gerardo Murillo. You can enter the lobby for free. To visit the mezzanine with murals and galleries the cost is M$60. You'll have to pay an additional $M30 for a photography permit. If you visit on Sunday the entire building is free.
The best place to photograph, and take an amazing Instagram picture, of Bellas Artes is from the cafe across the street. Finca Don Porfirio is located on the top floor and you'll have to buy a drink to gain access to the balcony.
The cafe can be a bit tricky to find, so here are full directions: Directly across the street from Palacio de Bellas Artes is an entrance to the Sears building, or what looks like a mall. Walk inside and continue directly to the back wall where you will find an elevator bank. Take the elevator to floor 8 and you’ll find a small cafe in the corner that looks standalone. Once you order a drink you will gain access to the long narrow balcony that overlooks the Palace. The coffee is amazing (and cheap) and the view is definitely worth it.
Gran Hotel Ciudad De Mexico
This beautiful hotel with its glass ceiling may look familiar. It is featured in the James Bond movie Spectre and also in the Disney movie Coco. It may be hard to snap a photo in here with a large camera as the guards told me to put mine away. But camera phones and smaller lens seemed to be fine.
also known as National Palace
Open daily from 9:00-17:00
Tours in English are free; ask for one at the information desk
The palace served as the Palace of the Viceroy of New Spain until the Mexican War of Independence, when it became the executive seat of the President. Now it is no longer his official residence. Construction began in 1693 and the walls inside display impressive murals by Diego Rivera that depict the history of Mexico from the pre-Columbian age to the Mexican Revolution.
also known as Palacio de Correos or Correos Mayor
Tacuba 1 - corner of Eje Central and Tacuba
Open Monday through Friday from 8:00-21:00 Saturday from 8:00-18:00
Entrance is free
One of the most beautiful buildings in the country is a post office and it's free to enter. Definitely, something you should at least peek inside for. The European style building was constructed in 1906 and houses the main post office.
Catedral Metropolitana de México
also known as Metropolitan Cathedral
Open daily from 7:00-19:00
Free to enter
It is the largest cathedral in the American continent. Construction began in 1573 and it took more than 300 years to build. One of the best things to do at the cathedral is take the 40-minute (Spanish language only) tour of the upper levels (cost is M$12). Even if you don't understand much the bird's-eye view of the plaza is worth it.
Open every day from 9am-10pm
Entry is 90 pesos per adult
Located in Centro, the Torre Latinoamerica was once Mexico City’s tallest building. This skyscraper boasts a 360-degree observation deck that offers majestic views of the city and surrounding mountains. Pick a clear day and ride the elevator up to the top. The wristband you receive on entry is good all day. I suggest taking in the views both during the day and at night.
You'll want your camera and some spare pesos when you visit the market! There are so many picture opportunities with the vibrant blankets, hammocks, and embroidered clothing and bags. All made from Mexican artisans.
Plaza de Santo Domingo
The second largest square in Centro Histórico after the Zócalo. It is surrounded by important and impressive buildings such as the Palacio de la Inquisición, Santo Domingo convent and the old Customs House.
Best Restaurants in Centro Mexico City
Azul Historico is located inside the Downtown México hotel. Not only is the food delicious but the spacious courtyard is magical to eat in. The decor changes regularly so you never know what it’s going to look like, but rest assured it will be a beautiful setting for lunch of dinner. Make sure to try the tortilla soup which comes in the most adorable bowl I’ve ever seen!
A colonial town that is now the center for counter-culture, art, students, and intellectuals. Coyoacán is where Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera lived, a few blocks away from Leon Trotsky. Both of their houses are museums now. You'll find a tranquil residential area, filled with parks, squares, and cobblestone streets. It is now a favorite spot for the bohemian or hipsters.
Best Things to See in Coyoacán Mexico City
Plaza Hidalgo and Jardín Centenario
The two main squares of Coyoacán are right next to each other and make up most of the activity in the area. On Saturdays and Sundays, you'll find an open-air market in the squares, with a variety of arts, crafts, and clothes This is a good place to pick up some interesting souvenirs. The square is surrounded by excellent cafes and restaurants and a small 16th-century church. In the cobblestone streets nearby you'll find even more cafes and restaurants, as well as specialty stores selling antiques, clothes, crafts, and more.
Museo Frida Kahlo
Frida Kahlo Museum
Location: Londres 247 (Col. del Carmen)
Closed Mondays. Tuesday 10:00-17:45. Wednesday 11:00-17:45. Thursday through Sunday 10:00-17:45.
Ticket prices vary on each day but are between M$130 - M$150 for adults.
You will have to pay extra for a photo permit. No videotaping is allowed.
Also known as La Casa Azul, for the bright indigo blue painted walls. Frida Kahlo spent the last years of her life here. Admission includes access to the courtyard, a small series of galleries, and a portion of the house which has been preserved from the days when Kahlo was alive. The lines to get in can be ridiculously long - plan accordingly.
Mercado Artesanal Mexicano & Bazar Artesanal Mexicano
The Mercado Artesanal is a two story craft market with vendors selling shoes, artwork, jewelry, and more. Right next door you’ll find the Bazar Artesanal, a smaller market with higher end jewelry.
Best Restaurant in Coyoacán
CorazÓn de Maguey
Right in the heart of Coyoacán is a gorgeous restaurant that has some of the best Mexican food the city has to offer.
Chapultepec - Lomas
Mexico City can sometime feel like a concrete jungle with perpetually clogged highways and endless urban sprawl. That is why a visit to Bosque de Chapultepec should be on every traveler’s list. Not only is it one of the biggest urban parks in the world it was also once used as a refuge for the Aztecs before becoming a summer residence for their nobles.
Today, the park covers more than 4 square km and is divided into three sections. You probably won’t have time for everything so make sure to visit the first section. It’s the oldest (and most visited) containing the main city zoo, a castle (now a museum), lakes, and several museums including the Museum of Anthropology and Museum of Modern Art.
Lomas de Chapultepec is the wealthiest district in the city and is filled with walled off mansions.
Zona Rosa (Reforma district)
Mostly known to tourists as the Reforma district because of the street Paseo de la Reforma Avenue. Inside the district are important businesses and various entertainment. It is widely known to be the gay center of town.
Don’t miss visiting El Moro Churerría in the Roma District. This small chain has a couple of locations in Mexico city and they all make the most delicious churros and churro sandwiches. But, this specific location has the cutest setting with the whitest tiles.
Condesa and Roma
Until recently there wasn't much to talk about in these districts but now both are filled with the city's trendiest restaurants, bistros, clubs, pubs and shops. The newly revitalized - and pricey - neighborhoods of Colonia Condesa and Roma burst with young artists, writers, and hipsters wearing the latest trends.
Condesa is considered clean and modern with a wide variety of beautiful architecture. Designer boutiques are a plenty and you’ll find that the young crowd - with the cash to spend on regular al fresco lattes and weekend nights out at swanky clubs - are everywhere.
Roma, on the other hand, has more of a bohemian hippie vibe compared to the contemporary Condesa. In the Roma district, you’ll find a collection of independent museums and small art galleries. Don’t worry though, there are outdoor cafes and specialty shops here as well.
Trendy and gentrified area. You'll find cobblestone streets, upscale boutiques, and many restaurants. It is a wealthy residential area as well, and known for its arts market.
Plaza San Jacinto
Plaza San Jacinto is the heart of San Ángel and the square has both outstanding beauty and a bloody history. Hangings of Irish deserters who abandoned the American troupes and sided with the Mexicans in the Mexican-American war took place here. Currently, the square is home to the Bazaar Sábado (more on that below), excellent restaurants and many beautiful and historical buildings.
Bazaar del Sábado
You could spend your whole Saturday at El Bazaar del Sábado. This lively market in San Angel has some of the best handicrafts of the highest quality from all over Mexico. You’ll find fine jewelry and textiles as well as woodwork and ceramics. Shopping also comes with a show, live performers often make appearances.
If you have the time be sure to visit the district of Xochimilco. This area is called Mexican Venice for its series of Aztec irrigation canals, and these canals are all that remain of the ancient Xochimilco lake. Because of its historical and cultural significance, Xochimilco was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.
One of the most popular things to do in Xochimilco is take a canal ride on one of the colorful gondola-like boats known as trajineras. These boats can be hired for a leisurely float down the canals with a group of your friends. Along the way, you’ll pass vendors selling food, beer, and other drinks.
Modern redeveloped business district at the cities western tip that consists mainly of high rise buildings, surrounding a large shopping mall.
High class residential, business and shopping area in the south-central city.
Tlalpan and Pedregal
Tlalpan is home of the Ajusco, a volcanic mountain peak and National Park, the highest mountain inside Mexico City proper.
A wealthy residential area in Mission (colonial) style containing expensive designer boutique stores in the city. You'll also find embassies here and upscale restaurants. There are many night clubs and hotels to choose from as well.
Planning a trip to Mexico, and Mexico City in general is overwhelming. Everyone has an opinion on this beautiful location. Rest assured that no matter what you choose to do or where you choose to stay you'll have a beautiful time.
One last thing... even though researching ahead of time is great, I definitely recommend bringing a Mexico travel guide along with you. Here are some books I recommend...
One of the most common questions I get: What is the best camera for travel photography? I personally love my Nikon D5600. I use the kit lens and a Sigma wide-angle lens (for Nikon) which I am genuinely obsessed with.
And of course, if you have any questions DO NOT hesitate to reach out to me via Instagram, Twitter, or just shoot me an email (tessajuliette at gmail dot com).