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.
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 you’ll find some of 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.
When it comes to sightseeing, don’t leave without checking out the hilltop Castle of Chapultepec. This is the only castle in North America which served as a residence for royalty. “It’s a beautiful building and it’s got the best view of the city, because it’s on the top of Cerro del Chapulin, in the middle of a forest,” says Arhe Molina, one of Mexico City’s most popular bloggers. “It’s also home to the Museo Nacional de Historia (National History Museum).”
Best for Ibiza-style chic: Las Alcobas
Stylish hotel with clean lines, a striking wooden spiral staircase and rain showers.
Best for architecture geeks: Camino Real Polanco
You can thank award-winning architect Ricardo Legorreta for this five-star gem. Bold colours and larger-than-life design features lend this place the feel of a Hollywood film set.
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. Sadly, many of the area’s most beautiful French-style mansions have now gone (they fell victim to the 1985 earthquake). Nevertheless, there’s still 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. “Don’t miss La Vitrina in La Juarez,” says Laura Ainscough, director of tour guide company StyleWalk Mexico. “It’s literally a gallery in a shop window. I love the intelligent curation of the artworks, which frequently causes passers-by to stop and look again.”
Best for a dash of minimalism: NH Collection Mexico Reforma
A sleek, modern hotel with lots of white space. Red chairs in some bedrooms – and in the dining room – add a splash of colour. The gym and pool area raise the game.
Best for historic grandeur: Hotel Geneve
A large, century-old, but thoroughly modern, hotel with an understated, elegant feel. The facilities are excellent, including the lovely Salon Jardín, restaurant, gym and spa.
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.
Best for contemporary luxury: Hilton Mexico City Santa Fe
Efficient upmarket hotel with helpful staff and excellent facilities.
Best for shameless swank: The W Mexico City
This boutique hotel has plenty of style, colour and bold patterns and prints. Black and white chequered tiles, show-stopping murals and unique design pieces all feature, making The W stand out from the crowd.
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.”
Best for a super-chic chill-out spot: Condesa DF
A range of beautiful rooms and suites – each with its own character – is backed up by terrace dining (sushi's on the menu) and even a movie room.
Best for converted cool: Hotel La Casona Mexico City
La Casona has an understated, if slightly quirky, European-style elegance. Think polished wooden floors, antique furniture, a pion in its lounge and quite a collection of art.
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, and today it’s regarded as Mexico City’s arts district. The district featured as the backdrop to Alfonso Cuarón's Oscar-winning movie, also called Roma.
The area is divided into two areas: Roma Sur and Roma Norte. The latter is the buzziest half. Roma also lays claim to one of the world's best bars – Licorería Limantour, with its team of award-winning mixologists. Weirdly, one of the most-requested drinks is a margarita inspired by tacos al pastor, a dish derived from the doner kebab. “Roma has an amazing story and fantastic architecture,” says Regina Montes, managing director of the Nima Local House Hotel. “It’s also got the best restaurants and bars. You just want to get lost in its streets – you'll be amazed at what you discover!”
Best for boutique-style luxury: Casa Goliana
Branded as a "luxury B&B", Casa Goliana has well-dressed rooms in an early twentieth-century house. Wooden floors, gorgeous tiling and patterned wallpaper complement the period features.
Best for a home away from home: Nima Local House Hotel
Green-fingered visitors will love this leafy oasis, where plants fill pots and vases, spill over furniture and climb up the walls of the beautifully lit atrium. The chic rooms are exquisitely decorated, with some interesting furnishings and a hint of retro charm.
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