I tend to get very animated about new discoveries. Like the best chocolate cake (EVER!) from Delirio, a delicatessen in Roma, Mexico City. Bites of this cake, called Tarta Helena, melt in your mouth and linger there. I wanted to find Chef Monica Patiño, give her a high five, and beg for the recipe.

Get an overview of Mexico City from the Latin American Tower (Photograph by darkdanis, Flickr)

Get an overview of Mexico City from the Latin- American Tower (Photograph by darkdanis, Flickr)

That blissful slice alone is worth a return trip to Mexico City, but there are so many other things that will call me back to this place. When arrived in the city, I felt something I hadn’t felt since my first visits to London, Paris, Shanghai: Complete curiosity and invigoration. I couldn’t wait to tell my friends they needed to visit, too.

Even though the national capital is abuzz with bold new ideas and creative energy, a reverence for its 700-year history can be seen in its traditions, architecture, and art. I felt completely safe the entire time I was there — whether riding the clean, easy-to-navigate subway system or gadding about in various colonias, or neighborhoods, around town.

But in a city so large — it’s about the same size as New York City — making decisions about what to prioritize can be overwhelming. That’s why it can be helpful to home in on a few can’t-miss neighborhoods and what you can see and do there.

Here’s my recipe for the perfect long weekend in Mexico City:

Centro Historico

Get a sweeping overview of the city atop the Latin-American Tower. From there, walk down the pedestrian-only Madero street to Zocalo Square, the Metropolitan Cathedral (which was built over the ruins of the first Aztec temple), and Palacio Nacional to see the city’s famed Diego Rivera murals depicting Mexico’s history from 1521 to 1930.

The Louis Comfort Tiffany ceiling in the Gran Hotel's lobby (Photograph by Omar Omar, Flickr)

The Louis Comfort Tiffany ceiling in the Gran Hotel’s lobby (Photograph by Omar Omar, Flickr)

The variety of architectural styles in this area — from admire colonial and neoclassical to Art Deco — is simply stunning. Duck into the stunning turn-of-the-century Main Post Office (or Correo Mayor) to admire the gilded wrought iron and Florentine marble, then head to the Palace of the Fine Arts to see the Mayan masks, making sure to pass through Parque Alameda on your way (it was filled with lavender when I was there).

Before you leave, take time to snap a photo of the breathtaking Tiffany stained-glass ceiling at the Gran Hotel before stopping for a bite to eat at Azul Historico in the courtyard of a 16th-century palace. Try churros and chocolates at mainstay El Moro, and don’t miss Mexico City’s largest bakery, Pasteleria Ideal, and its impressive second-floor array of wedding cakes.

Roma and Condesa

The popular areas of Roma and Condesa will charm you with their delicious restaurants, quiet parks, and tree-lined streets. In the creative hub of Roma, Alvaro Obregon is the main commercial drag, and Calle Colima is a fun stretch filled with stylish shops and art galleries.

Grab lunch at Contra Mar (it’s closed for dinner) if you’re in the mood for fabulous seafood and people-watching. Dinner at Rosetta, which serves up exquisite Italian in a restored mansion, is a must — whether you opt for the garden ambiance downstairs or cozy up to the fireplace upstairs. And the two-story El Romita bar and restaurant with soaring greenhouse windows is perfect for a nightcap.

A sculpture in Parque México, the green center of the Condesa neighborhood (Photograph by Matthew Hutchinson, Flickr)

A sculpture in Parque México, the green center of the Condesa neighborhood (Photograph by Matthew Hutchinson, Flickr)

Condesa gives off an energetic and relaxing vibe at the same time — and is home to some of the most desirable real estate in the city. Parque España is an immaculate green space and the heart of the neighborhood. Right near the park is hip hotel Condesa DF with a lively rooftop terrace and sushi bar, and a sweet in-house dog (a Lab) named Condi.

San Angel and Coyoacan

Mexico City’s old-fashioned neighborhoods, San Angel and Coyoacan will seduce you with their cobblestone streets, old churches, and lively town squares.

Colonial architecture and cobblestone streets in San Angel (Photograph by Pedro Vásquez Colmenares, Flickr)

Colonial architecture and cobblestone streets in San Angel (Photograph by Pedro Vásquez Colmenares, Flickr)

Visit San Angel, where Mexico City’s elite once owned country homes, on a Saturday, when the very popular market brings talented artisans together in one place. If you get hungry here, consider the San Angel Inn for a high-end dining experience in an old, beautiful hacienda.

Coyoacan has a long pre-Spanish Conquest history and evokes a Mexican provincial atmosphere with its colorful buildings. The best spot for a bite is Los Danzantes on the plaza. Coyoacan is also where you’ll find Frida Kahlo’s home, the famous Casa Azul (Blue House).

Polanco

I wrote an entire piece about this neighborhood because it impressed me so much. Check out my tips for this colonia here.

The Perfect Home Base

If you’re looking for comfort and centrality, the Four Seasons Hotel Mexico City comes out on top. All in all, the hotel gives you the feeling of being enveloped in a big bear hug. I spent two nights here, and made ample use of the benches in the hotel’s peaceful courtyard, the overflowing breakfast buffet, and a staff who seemed to know what I needed before I even asked.

Here, guests are global citizens (I heard many languages being spoken in the lobby) enjoying luxuries like a fantastic health club and outdoor pool. Plus, it’s close to the country’s largest urban green space, Chapultepec Park. It is a guaranteed feel-good property that is tough to leave.

Annie Fitzsimmons is on the beat in Mexico. Follow her adventures on the Urban Insider blog, on Twitter @anniefitz, and on Instagram @anniefitzsimmons.

Comments

  1. joe
    January 15, 2:59 am

    Leslie Trew Magraw. Mexico city proper is 22.8 million and Metropolitan area is 24.6 million UN numbers.

  2. Tyler Muse
    October 29, 2013, 2:10 pm

    Interesting note on how language is diverse in Mexico City. In a place sometimes misjudged, it’s a good sign that the city is not only a tourist-friendly destination but also an excellent choice for exchanging with the locals and learning Spanish.

  3. Mitch -
    San Diego
    October 28, 2013, 4:57 pm

    Mexico City awesome, huge, metro, Baile Fokloricomust see and the pyramids are nice also!

  4. Mexico Cooks!
    Mexico City
    October 22, 2013, 4:35 pm

    Nice article with some excellent information–but gosh, Mexico City is a WHOLE lot bigger than New York City. NYC is just a drop in the bucket compared to the Distrito Federal: the population of NYC is a bit less than 9 million, while the population of Mexico City is approximately 22 million!

  5. Victoria Campos
    Mexico
    October 20, 2013, 12:16 pm

    Wonderful article on Mexico City! Thank you!