Mexico City – Tips for first-time visitors

Mon, 09/07/2018 - 2:48pm
Read Time: 3.6 mins

Easily reached by connecting flights from Los Angeles, the capital city of Mexico is an exciting and enthralling destination. Want to know what to see, how to get around, where to eat and drink and where to stay in Mexico City? To make the most of your visit, follow these tips...

Getting your bearings

Mexico City's historical centre is the Zocalo, a sprawling public space second only in size to Beijing's Tiananmen Square and Red Square in Moscow. The square is anchored by the Catedral Metropolitana, the largest church in Latin America, and nearby are the archeological remains of the Templo Mayor, part of the ancient capital of the Aztecs. Free walking tours of the Zocalo leave from outside the cathedral.

Traditional trajineras boats, Xochimilco Gardens, Mexico City. Photo: Getty Images

The best area to stay

With tree-lined avenues and a European ambience channelling Paris or Barcelona, Roma Norte is packed with good restaurants and it's also known for being one of the safest areas to stay in. Live like a local and enjoy coffee with your neighbours and their friendly dogs in cafes like Panaderia Rosetta and don't be surprised if wandering folk musicians occasionally wander by for impromptu concerts.

Uber is your amigo

With a population exceeding 20 million, greater Mexico City is a true global megalopolis, but getting around the central neighbourhoods of main interest to travellers is easily and safely achieved via Uber. Purchase a local SIM card from Telcel when you arrive, and you'll be set. The city's metro system is affordable and wide-reaching, but can be uncomfortably crowded.

A Day of the Dead altar at the Basilica of the Virgin Guadalupe, Mexico City. Photo: Getty Images

The best of Mexican art and archaeology

Visiting the ancient pre-Colombian ruins of Teotihuacán takes a full day, but Mexico City's excellent National Museum of Anthropology also provides a brilliant overview of the many cultures and civilisations that have washed across Central America. For more contemporary art, journey to Museo Frida Kahlo, around $10 by Uber south of the centre. Dubbed the 'Blue House', Frida's childhood home and where she spent most of her life, is now a gallery dedicated to her work.

Mangoes for sale, Mexico City. Photo: Carol Atkinson

There's more to Mexico than tequila and Corona beer

Craft beer is available at restaurants and bars across the city – look out for brews from Tijuana-based Los Insurgentes – and tequila's more refined cousin, mezcal, is incorporated into tasty cocktails. For a truly local experience, complete with showbands dressed in powder blue suits, drink pulque at Pulquería La Hija de Los Apaches. Made from the fermented sap of agave plants, the mildly alcoholic drink – around 3% - dates back 2000 years to the Aztecs.

A dish at Pujol, Mexico City. Photo: City Foodsters/CC_BY_2.0

Treat yourself at the one of the world's finest restaurants

Featured on the Netflix series, Chef’s Table, Pujol is regarded as one of the planet's best eateries. Book ahead for the nine-course tasting menu – around NZ$150 – and over a leisurely period of three hours be continually surprised by the modern Mexican dishes. Many of the flavours are inspired by the cuisine of Oaxaca in Mexico's south; the country's heartland of traditional food.

A taco vendor, Mexico City. Photo: Carol Atkinson

Sample some of the world's best street food

In a city packed with great street food ranging from delicious torta sandwiches to fresh mangoes, Mexico City locals love to eat on the run, and the humble taco is often the star. The aroma of grilled meat usually kicks off around lunchtime and runs late into the evening. A variation to look for is tacos al Pastor, spit-roasted pork introduced by Lebanese immigrants to Mexico in the early 20th century.

Brett Atkinson

Brett Atkinson is a full-time travel and food writer who specialises in adventure travel, unusual destinations, and surprising angles on more well-known destinations. He's based in Auckland but frequently on the road for Lonely Planet and other publishers in New Zealand and abroad. @travelwriterNZ