Explore Mexico City
West of the Alameda and Revolution monument the tenor of the city changes again, particularly along the grand avenue of Reforma, lined by tall buildings, including Mexico’s stock exchange. South of here is the tight knot of streets that make up the Zona Rosa, one of the city’s densest concentrations of hotels, restaurants and shops. The residential districts of Roma and Condesa warrant attention for their numerous small-time art galleries and, particularly in Condesa, the restaurants. The Paseo de la Reforma runs direct to Chapultepec Park, on the north edge of which lies Polanco, home to wealthy socialites and yuppies.
To the south of Reforma lies the Zona Rosa (Metro Insurgentes), a triangular area bordered by Reforma, Avenida Chapultepec and, to the west, Chapultepec Park. You’ll know you’re there as the streets are all named after famous cities. Packed into this tiny area are hundreds of bars, restaurants, hotels and shops, all teeming with a vast number of tourists and a cross-section of Mexico City’s aspiring middle classes. Until the 1980s this was the city’s swankiest commercial neighbourhood, but the classiest shops have moved to Polanco and many of the big international chains have relocated to the out-of-town malls that have sprung up around the Periférico. Though there’s no shortage of good shopping, and the selection of restaurants, cafés, clubs and bars in the Zona Rosa is respectable (see Coyoacán & Zona Rosa, Condesa and Roma), it has lost its exclusive feel. You’re as likely to spend your time here buying cheap knick-knacks at market stalls and watching street entertainers as admiring the remaining fancy store windows. You might visit during the day to eat well, then return at night for the clubs, and may choose to stay here, but you certainly wouldn’t make a special journey for the sights. The zone in general, and particularly the block of Amberes between Estrasburgo and Reforma – has become something of a centre for the city’s gay scene, but otherwise, the only real attraction is the Museo de Cera (Wax Museum; daily 11am–7pm; M$60; Metro Cuauhtémoc), on the fringes of the Zona, at Londres 6. Thoroughly tacky, with a basement chamber of horrors that includes Aztec human sacrifices, it shares its site with the Museo de lo Increíble (same hours and prices; joint ticket for the two museums M$100), a Mexican Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum, which displays such marvels as flea costumes and hair sculpture.
Roma and Condesa
South of the Zona Rosa lie the residential districts of Roma and Condesa, full of quiet leafy streets once you get away from the main avenues that cut through. Both suburbs were developed in the 1930s and 1940s, but as the city expanded they became unfashionable and run-down. That all changed in the 1990s when artists and the bohemian fringe were drawn here by low rents, decent housing and proximity to the centre of the city. Small-time galleries sprang up and the first of the bars and cafés opened. Condesa, in particular, is now one of the best areas for good eating in the city, and definitely the place to come for lounging in pavement cafés or dining in bistro-style restaurants (see Zona Rosa). The greatest concentration is around the junction of Michoacán, Atlixco and Vicente Suárez, but establishments spread out into the surrounding streets, where you’ll often find quiet neighbourhood places with tables spilling out onto the pavement. Sights in the usual sense are virtually nonexistent, but you can pass a few hours just walking the streets keeping an eye out for interesting art galleries, which seem to spring up all the time. A good starting point is Parque México, officially Parque San Martín, a large green space virtually in the heart of Condesa that was set aside when the owners of the horse track sold it to developers back in 1924. The streets around the park, especially Avenida México, are rich in buildings constructed in Mexico’s own distinctive version of Art Deco.
The Metro system gives Condesa a wide berth, with line 1 skirting the north and west while line 9 runs along the south side. Nonetheless, it is easy enough to walk to Condesa south from the Zona Rosa (Metro Insurgentes, Sevilla or Chapultepec); for more direct access to Condesa’s main restaurant district take line 1 to Juanacatlán, and cross the Circuito Interior using the nearby footbridge. This brings you onto Francisco Marquez, which leads to the restaurants – ten minutes’ walk in all.
High-priced high-rise hotels line the northern edge of Chapultepec Park, casting their shadow over the smart suburb of Colonia Polanco. Unless you’ve got brand-name shopping in mind or need to visit one of the district’s embassies, there’s not much reason to come out this way, though it is instructive to stroll along Presidente Masaryk, the main drag, watching the beautiful people drive by in their Porsches and Lexus SUVs on their way to the Fendi or Ferragamo stores. Polanco also has great dining and we’ve recommended a few places, but bad restaurants don’t last long here and you can do just as well strolling along and picking any place you fancy.
The only specific destination is the Sala de Arte Público David Siqueiros, Tres Picos 29 (Tues–Sun 10am–6pm; M$10, free Sun; Metro Polanco), a small but interesting collection of the great muralist’s later work, including sketches he made for the Polyforum murals. They’re all displayed in his former residence and studio, donated (along with everything in it) to the people of Mexico just 25 days before his death in 1973. If it is not already playing, ask to see the hour-long video (in English) on his life and work made just before his death, and watch it surrounded by his murals, which cover just about every piece of wall space.