A Guide to Mexico City's Best Neighbourhoods
It’s not all Roma and Condesa
Mexico City is massive and complicated, it’s also easy to make a wrong turn. There is more to it than frenetic Centro, hipster Condesa, polished Polanco, and bohemian Coyoacan, but these hoods are a good place to start.
Soon, you will find that most interest points will be in similar areas, or colonias (hoods). Unless you’re on a specific mission, most museums, galleries, bars and restaurants will be within 10 neighbourhoods in the downtown area, and three or four more in the southern part of town. Worth mentioning are the following: Roma, Condesa, Juárez, Centro, Polanco, San Miguel Chapultepec, Santa María la Ribera, Doctores, Coyoacán, and San Ángel.
DOWNTOWN AREA (ZONA CENTRO)
ROMA NORTE & CONDESA
Chances are, two of the first hoods you may end up in will be Roma Norte and Condesa. These two bustling hoods were originally developed to accommodate some of the wealthiest families of the city. The Revolution brought the incorporation of other groups: revolutionaries, exiled folks from other states, affluent migrant jews, as well as immigrants from Spain, Lebanon, Germany, Austria, Syria, Turkey, and Greece; making it one of the most multicultural neighbourhoods.
A number of factors led to its abandonment in the second half of the 20th century, including rent freeze programs that resulted in poor maintenance of properties and the devastating earthquake of 1986. It was not until the 2000s, when artists, youngsters and migrants from Argentina and Central America settled in these neighbourhoods, that its re-gentrification took off. It was them who opened some of the first galleries, studios, and restaurants that give life to what are now the hottest hoods for young travellers, digital nomads, and winter despisers.
When in Roma Norte, walk down Colima street where you’ll find plenty of cafes, restaurants, shops, and concept stores. Drop into Originario for creative objects and furniture made by Mexican designers, or go to Hi-Bye for fashion-forward ungendered gear. Neighbours love their dogs (and showing them off), just take a stroll around Plaza Rio de Janeiro and watch them play around the David-replica fountain while enjoying an ice cream or a pastry. Cookies at Cardinal are noteworthy, and Rosetta is a local favourite if you’re willing to queue for a lengthy time on weekends, yes, it’s that popular. Make sure you visit some of the galleries in the area. Check out LOOT and OMR for rotating contemporary art exhibitions. Roma Norte is a foodie's paradise; its diversity ranges from family owned to upscale or vegan, with inspiration from different corners of Mexico, as well as Central American, European, and Asian cultures. For a traditional under-hyped Izakaya, try Gin Chan. Find the freshest fruits and vegetables a little further south in Mercado Medellin, which also offers inexpensive three-course set menus. For independent films, Cine Tonalá, has daily shows, a bar, and a restaurant where you can eat. Drink cocktails at Meroma, or indulge your intellectual self with jazz at Casa Franca.
Condesa is known for its beautiful green areas where you’ll find some of the city’s favourite dog friendly parks and plazas. Parque Mexico is the largest one in the neighbourhood, it’s surrounded by cafes, and it has a gated area where people bring their dogs to play. Close by, you can visit Plaza Popocatepetl and its art deco fountain. Once there, have a cocktail at Canopia or some coffee at Maque. Walk down iconic Amsterdam Avenue, a landmark of the neighbourhood because of its oval shape and beautiful leafy path. For one of the most authentic food spots, pick up tacos at Hola El Güero, but get there before noon because they’re breakfast tacos, hence, they finish early. There are loads of cafes to do that remote work you’ve been putting off all week too.
Also forsaken for some decades after the 1986 earthquake, Juarez has seen a shift towards gentrification in recent years. The neighbourhood is divided in two by Avenida Insurgentes. The west side, influenced by nearby corporate offices on Reforma avenue, was once a prestigious district back in the 60s, with upscale shops and restaurants. Today, you’ll find some recently-opened hip cafes, but mostly an interesting mix of Korean-owned businesses, run down souvenir shops, bookstores, sports bars packed with nine-to-fivers, and what is known as Zona Rosa: streets and alleys filled with sex shops, strip clubs, and kitschy queer discos.
For a more relaxing experience, try the East side of Juarez. Some of its beautiful historic casonas, have been turned into chic galleries, speakeasies, restaurants, and cafes. Stroll down Marsella street to find concept stores, local designer stores, and natural wine shops. When there, you may want to do lunch at Masala y Maiz, which blends Mexican, Indian and East African cuisines. Book ahead because it’s in high demand! Find rare vinyls at Yuyu Records, located above the techno club with the same name. For queer underground vibes, try [sic] on Saturday nights.
SANTA MARÍA LA RIBERA
People have been announcing Santa Maria la Ribera as the next “it” neighbourhood for several years now. Even though it’s taking longer than anticipated, and has prompted some resistance from its neighbours, it may be on its way “there”. Since housing and prices in general are more accessible there than other hoods, there is a flourishing art scene with young artists setting up studios in the area. Visit the Arab inspired morisco kiosk at the Alameda, Museo del Chopo for exhibitions and experimental theatre, as well as exploring the many art studios, showrooms, galleries, and cafes.
Polanco is one of the most affluent neighbourhoods in the city, portraying the class and race disparities of Mexican culture. But unlike some of its suburban-designed counterparts like Lomas de Chapultepec (in the west), or Pedregal (south), Polanco is still a neighbourhood you can walk, or at least bike around. There is more to it than malls, designer shops, Pujol and Quintonil. Contemporary art museums Tamayo and Jumex Museums, located on opposite ends of the hood, are both worth a visit. You can also find lots of jewish-owned businesses, as (wealthy) jewish communities settled in this area. Try Wendy’s Kosher Bakery, for example, if in pursuit of Middle Eastern goods for a dinner party, or Merkavá restaurant for lunch. For hip cocktails and dinner, you can try Malix (reserve!). Unless you’re interested in a parade of designer purses, baby strolls, and luxury cars honking at each other while jammed in unnecessary traffic, stay away from the neighborhood's heart, Polanquito. Food options are vast, but half of them are chains that you can find in other neighbourhoods as well. Next to it, is Parque Lincoln, or Lincoln Park (yes, you read correctly), where socialite families gather after lunch at a restaurant, or a religious service. Go and shake things up a bit.
SAN MIGUEL CHAPULTEPEC
Another notable mention in the downtown area is San Miguel Chapultepec. Located alongside Chapultepec Park, San Miguel is known for its architectural gems and relaxed way of living. The neighbourhood compensates for its lack of restaurants and bars with galleries, Kurimanzuto being one of the most remarkable ones. Have some pizza at Cancino Chapultepec, or wander into Govindas Comedor at the Hare Krishna Temple for vegetarian options. If you’re exhausted from the chaos, take a bike ride or a walk around Chapultepec Park, it’s the largest park in the American continent with museums, a zoo, and some lakes you can pedal boat in. A little further north (car ride may be advisable), and you’ll find Lago Algo Project, a project that includes a gallery, and a restaurant overlooking an artificial lake.
CENTRO, DOCTORES AND TEPITO
You could say these three neighbourhoods are a little rough around the edges. Their cultural importance makes them worth visiting, but you should take some precautions. Centro has plazas like Zocalo and Alameda, and multiple museums like Bellas Artes (Fine Arts Palace) and Munal, as well as underground ruins and a cathedral. But even if during daytime, the area is vibrant and thronging (watch out for pick-pocketers though), night brings a different panorama of desolated streets. You are better-off ordering an Uber than walking them on your own. Doctores, known for mafia-run (stolen) auto parts shops, is home of warehouse parties, recently-opened galleries and start-up studios. Tepito is known for its lawlessness, drug mafias, high crime rates, and their devotion to Santa Muerte (The Holy Death), which is a skeletal deity from neopaganism associated with healing, protection, and oftentimes linked with narco culture and the criminal underworld. It is one neighbourhood you should not explore unless you know someone from there. However, at its outskirts you can find popular –and now touristy – Sunday market Lagunilla, a busy street packed with antiques, vintage clothes, and design furniture at semi-reasonable prices. Eat at a tapas or tortas stand, watch people getting haircuts in front of swarming pedestrians holding micheladas (beer with lime juice and spicy sauce), while reggaeton and psy-trance blasts your eardrums. It’s always a fun activity for Sundays, just don’t forget cash and sun block!
“EL SUR” (“THE SOUTH”)
Remember residential Coyoacan was an independent city, so it feels like a town of its own. There is more to it than its tourist magnet Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul. Consider visiting the centre of Coyoacan during a weekday, as the area is packed with traffic, crowds and tourists during the weekends. Walk down its historic cobblestone streets lined with colourful houses, starting on Francisco Sosa. Throughout the years, Coyoacan has been home to artists, aristocrats, bohemians, communists, Lebanese families, and filmmakers. Viveros de Coyoacan is one of the largest parks in the area, where you’ll find people doing their morning jog, and lovers laying on the grass displaying affection. Try a traditional churro or explore the local market for “exotic” foods. Outside the centre of Coyoacan, you can plan a visit to Cineteca (National Film Theater), with stunning architecture showing international films. Have some tapas for lunch, and bring a glass of wine inside the theatre. For books, try Fondo de Cultura Economica, and for contemporary art exhibitions stop by MUAC further south. MUAC is located inside the campus of UNAM, the largest public university of the country, with walls displaying murals by the artist Alfaro Siqueiros.
It’s worth doing a half day trip to this neighbourhood to see the beautiful colonial residences and hot pink bougainvillaea trees. Start at Plaza San Jacinto and drop into the traditional San Angel Inn restaurant before visiting the popular Diego Rivera House Museum (book a ticket), or take a romantic stroll down the deserted cobblestone streets. For some peace, head to Plaza de los Arcángeles, a small oasis where lovers would profess their love to one another some centuries ago.