Insider’s Guide: What to See and Do in Mexico City

Diego Rivera’s mural representing Mexico’s history at the National Palace in Mexico City.
Diego Rivera’s mural representing Mexico’s history at the National Palace in Mexico City.

Mexico City, which welcomes more than 12.5 million visitors a year, is one of the hottest travel destinations for 2016. Recently hailed as the number-one “Place to Go in 2016” by The New York Times, it also placed second in the Mexico & Central & South America category of Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Cities for 2016. Mexico’s capital trailed first-place Cuzco, Peru, by less than two-tenths of a percent — and it narrowly missed cracking the Top 10 Overall.

The reasons for such accolades are many, starting with its more than 150 museums, 100 contemporary local art galleries and 30 distinct architectural and historic sites, as well as a host of trending arts, culture and culinary hotspots. It’s also easily accessible through ample direct flights from the U.S. Relatively short flight from major U.S. gateways (a little more than two hours from Houston, 3.5 hours from Los Angeles and just over five hours from New York), makes Mexico City a viable option for long holiday weekend getaways. The highly favorable exchange rate is also a strong selling point.

Mexico City is large, extending to more than 16 boroughs with more than 300 neighborhoods, making it impossible to see everything in one visit, so, we’ve come up with some high points for your urban-oriented clients, depending on their special interests.

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The Zocalo

A good place to start is the Zocalo, Mexico City’s main plaza in the heart of the historic city center. It is bordered by the Cathedral to the north, the National Palace (where several murals by Diego Rivera reside) to the east, the Federal District buildings to the south and the Old Portal de Mercaderes to the west. Just outside the Zocalo is the Templo Mayor site, an ancient Aztec pyramid site that was discovered just beneath the pavement of the Zocalo. For the best views, visit the Porrua library. There’s a rooftop cafe here that overlooks the site, giving guests a bird’s-eye view of the discovery.

The Soumaya Museum is known for its collection of more than 66,000 pieces of art.
The Soumaya Museum is known for its collection of more than 66,000 pieces of art.

Arts and Culture

Must-sees include the National Museum of Anthropology, which houses Aztec ruins from pre-colonial Mexico City and is a jewel of Mexican architecture by Pedro Ramírez Vázquez, and the Soumaya Museum, another architectural gem known for its collection of more than 66,000 pieces of art, mostly European works from the 15th to the 20th centuries, as well as Mexican art, religious relics and historical documents and coins.

Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera are cultural icons, but you may opt to skip the long lines at Casa Azul and head to the somewhat lesser-known Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo, the couple’s dual home and studio.

Contemporary art abounds in establishments such as Museo Rufino Tamayo in Chapultepec Park, and Museo Jumex, which houses one of the largest private contemporary art collections in Latin America. For fine arts, the imposing, domed Palacio de las Bellas Artes is seven blocks west of the Zocalo and next to the Alameda Central Park. Discerning art aficionados among your clientele may prefer the city’s edgier art galleries, such Kurimanzutto, LABOR and Bikini Wax.

Culinary Adventures

New restaurants such as Havre 77 from Chef Eduardo García of Máximo and the Milan 44 food hall are revitalizing the emerging Juárez neighborhood, while gourmands flock to Condesa for a taste of the latest venture from Nicos’ Chef Gerardo Vazquez Lugo at Fonda Mayora. Pujol, widely regarded as one of the best restaurants in Mexico City, is an intimate affair in the upscale Polanco neighborhood. Diners are treated to an eight-course tasting menu, which changes regularly based on what is in season. It is best to make reservations months in advance as the tiny restaurant fills up quickly.

Mercado San Juan, in the downtown historic center, is a food market that sells everything from fresh fruits and produce to grasshoppers, goats, fish and pork. This is a truly authentic experience. Travelers wind their way through the stalls to see local farmers and fishermen hawking their wares to chefs and locals.

Street food is at the heart of Mexico City’s culinary scene, and top chefs such as Pujol’s Enrique Olvera are known for reinventing traditional street dishes to put on their high-end menus. A tour with Club Tengo Hambre or Eat Mexico to discover some of the city’s best-tasting curbside tacos, tortas and tamales is suggested.

Shopping and Design

Fashion designers have set up shops in the hip Condesa and Roma neighborhoods, where boutiques abound with trendy clothing from Mexican designers such as the internationally celebrated Carla Fernández. Traditional markets bring to life the vibrant colors, rich textiles and classic motifs of Mexican handicrafts.

Bargain hunters can find inexpensive artisanal goods from all over the country at La Ciudadela, El Bazaar Sábado and La Lagunilla. Those with deeper pockets may wish to browse the boutique home decor shops at the upscale Polanco enclave and showrooms such as Studio Roca, Onora Casa and BLEND.

J by José Andrés at W Mexico presents the flavors of Andrés’ native Spain.
J by José Andrés at W Mexico presents the flavors of Andrés’ native Spain.

An Insider’s Guide

W Mexico City, recently transformed through a multimillion-dollar renovation, offers the 2016 “W Insider Guide to Mexico City,” specially curated suggestions as to the best places to eat, drink, play, shop and gather experiences in Mexico City this year. Created by W Mexico City’s Maru Pardo, the W Insider Guide to Mexico City is part of W Hotel’s brand-wide W Insider Program, an exclusive service for hotel guests in which a dedicated, on-property expert curates customized, recommended activities based on their interests and what they want to explore in a given destination.

Maru’s culinary suggestions include having breakfast at Debbie & Peponne; lunch at Amalia Gusto & Grill and dinner at J by José Andrés; the latter is right inside the W. The best street food, according to Maru, is Taquería El Turix, where she recommends ordering the cochinita pibil, a traditional Mexican slow-roasted pork dish.

For shopping, she likes Antara Fashion Hall and Plaza Carso, where her favorite stores include Pantera, a Mexican brand specializing in luxury handbags and leather accessories, and the ultra-trendy Mango. Then there’s Madero Street at Centro, a pedestrian area that has everything from well-known brand stores for clothing and shoes to small flea markets, plus restaurants with beautiful terraces.

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