Home to more than 25 million people, Mexico City is one of the world's true megacities. First-time visitors cannot fail to be impressed by the city, occupying a shallow mountain bowl at over 2,400m above sea level. Life here is equal parts laid back, edgy and cosmopolitan. The city's sheer size can be overwhelming – so deciding to base yourself can prove crucial. Our guide will help you to decide where to stay in Mexico City.
The Centro Histórico or old town corresponds roughly to the old colonial capital. Centred like all the cities of Spanish America around the main square, the giant Zócalo, which was built on top of the former centre of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlán.
Extraordinary uncovered ruins – chief of which is the Templo Mayor – provide the Zócalo’s most compelling attraction, but there’s also a wealth of great colonial buildings, among them the huge cathedral and the Palacio Nacional with its striking Diego Rivera murals.
Polanco offers the best of both worlds: it’s beautiful and achingly cool but it’s also one of the busiest districts and makes the perfect base for explorations further afield. This is where to stay in Mexico city if you want to find the city’s top restaurants (we recommend El Turix, regarded as one of the city’s best taquerias) and art galleries.
The Galería Lopez Quiroga is excellent, where you’ll find photos, sculptures and paintings by Mexico’s top artists. Polanco is also one of the city’s best shopping areas, albeit for those with cash to splash. Start with a visit to Antara, which has a great selection of designer labels as well as high street stores such as Sephora.
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A once-gritty neighbourhood, Colonia Juarez is hipster heaven, thanks to the growing number of chefs, artists and designers setting up shop here. The result? Some of Mexico City’s best restaurants, bars and boutiques – without the eye-watering price tags you’ll find in upscale neighbourhoods.
Here there is plenty of architectural eye candy. Seek out the wonderfully sleek minimalism of Milán 44 (a market-style grocery store which also offers yoga classes) or the neighbourhood’s historic cantinas, many of which date back to the 1920s. Colonia Juarez is also very accessible, just a few kilometres from the city centre and bordered by three main arteries: Avenida Chapultepec, Insurgentes and Paseo de la Reforma.
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Santa Fe is one of Mexico City’s major business districts. Don’t let that put you off – look behind the (undeniably spectacular) sleek glass skyscrapers and you’ll discover a wealth of hidden gems. You’ll also find a great selection of hotels for all budgets, hence its popularity with tourists, as well as a growing number of wealthy young professionals.
This is precisely why the neighbourhood now has some of the city’s best restaurants, along with a fantastic range of clubs and bars. It’s also got several malls, including Centro Santa Fe (Latin America’s largest, with 500 shops, an ice rink and its own hotel) and the smaller Garden Santa Fe. And amidst the skyscrapers, pockets of greenery are springing up. One example is Parque la Mexicana, with its bike lanes, running tracks and lakes.
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Many of Condesa’s residents fled this historic neighbourhood after the devastating earthquake of 1985. Now they're flocking back, joined by artists and designers and lured by the neighbourhood’s historic elegance and Instagram-able mix of Beaux Arts mansions and Art Deco apartment buildings.
Condesa has a laidback vibe. It’s effortlessly cool, without the pretentiousness of other up-and-coming areas. Although we love its cafés and galleries, we also recommend taking the time to simply wander its tree-lined streets.
You’ll find some of the city’s mezcal bars here, as well as its best cafés, such as Chiquitito’s, a plant-filled coffee shop which sources its beans from a farm in Boca del Monte, Veracruz. “Condesa is my favourite neighbourhood,” says Isabel Duran, PR director at Licoreria Limantour, one of Mexico City’s most popular bars. “The architecture takes you to another era – there are beautiful houses on every corner.”
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Roma borders Condesa and the two neighbourhoods have a shared history. Years ago, they were regarded as Mexico City’s most exclusive neighbourhoods before experiencing a period of decline, only to bounce back with the help of innovative artists and entrepreneurs.
Many of Roma’s original buildings are still standing and its streets are a photographer’s dream, with modernist buildings nudging up alongside Art Deco mansions. You’ll also find plenty of independent galleries and bookstores here. Today it’s regarded as Mexico City’s arts district. Colonia Roma is where to stay in Mexico City to enjoy the city's art scene.
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This list could truly go on. There are countless fantastic things to do in Mexico City. Ready to start planning your trip? Check out the snapshot The Rough Guide to Mexico. If you travel further in Mexico, read more about the best time to go and the best places to visit in Mexico.
If you prefer to plan and book your trip to Mexico without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.
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Header image: Mexico-City, Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in the foreground © Shutterstock
Tamara is a former snowboard instructor who's been a freelance travel writer for 12 years. She loves snowboarding, hiking, mountain biking and scuba diving, and the regions she knows best are Asia, America and Africa. Europe-wise she knows Germany and France very well. In normal times she does two or three trips a month. Follow her on Twitter