This winter is never-ending! I’m decidedly a city person, but I also don’t want to trudge through more snow in a place like New York or Chicago to get some culture. Oh, and I only have a weekend. Too much to ask?
Not at all. Mexico City is just the place.
Mexico City?! I wasn’t expecting that suggestion. Really?
Really! There are numerous non-stop flights every day from Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver and at just more than five hours flying time (six from Montreal), you won’t lose too much time to travel. When you land, you’ll find a city that offers more museums than Paris, spectacular food at both ends of the budget spectrum, century-spanning architecture, and colourful craft markets and neighbourhoods. And did I mention that daytime temperatures in February average 24 C? Bet you’re wondering why you hadn’t thought of Mexico City, or CDMX as it’s also called, for a weekend getaway until now.
I’ll tell you why. I hear it’s sprawling, with traffic gridlock and an uncountable number of neighbourhoods. That seems logistically impossible to manage, especially if I’m trying to pack everything into a couple of days.
Correct, correct, correct, totally wrong. It’s the most populous metropolitan area in the Western Hemisphere, so I’d be lying if I said Mexico City wasn’t crowded and chaotic. During the busiest times of day, it can take an hour just to drive a few blocks – no exaggeration. It would also take years to do all the attractions here justice. But with some careful planning and a focus on quality over quantity, not only is a weekend here worthwhile, you’ll come home plotting to do it again.
Okay, I’ll bite. How do I make it work?
The first thing you need to do is reconcile yourself to the fact that while this is going to be a great first taste of the city, you’re also going to have to save things for next time. But that said, given the abundance of things to see and do, you’d probably say the same if you had two weeks. Now here’s how to maximize your weekend.
First thing to know: To say that CDMX is a city of neighbourhoods would be an understatement. There are 16 boroughs, each of which is divided into countless more neighbourhoods. The more you’re able to concentrate your itinerary and accommodations into a single area, the less time you’ll lose to traffic jams. How to pick? I’ll do it for you.
Cuauhtemoc is the heart of the city, both in terms of its physical central location and its density of attractions. It includes the Centro Historico, the city’s historical centre dating back to the Aztecs, with icons such as El Zocalo and the magnificent Palacios Postal and de Bellas Artes and boho-hipster neighbourhoods Condesa and its slightly grittier counterpart Roma, where the Oscar-nominated Alfonso Cuaron film is set. Two of the trendiest areas in town right now, they’re block after block of quiet streets lined with leafy trees and houses painted all colours of the rainbow – total Instagram bait – plus cafés, bars, boutiques and galleries.
Although Polanco, in the neighbouring borough of Miguel Hidalgo, is home to many of the city’s nicest hotels, including a JW Marriott and Four Seasons, choosing a base slightly east in Cuauhtemoc puts you a closer walk to those neighbourhoods, while still within close distance to Polanco’s ritzy dining and shopping. You can also walk to Chapultepec Park, one of the oldest and largest city parks in the world. It’s home to the Castillo de Chapultepec, a castle where Mexico’s presidents once resided – now it’s the National History Museum – the Museum of Anthropology, Museum of Modern Art, botanical gardens, a zoo and more.
So, where should I stay?
If you have a taste for luxury, this is the city in which to splurge. Rates for five-star hotel rooms in CDMX average less than a third of New York’s prices and less than half of San Francisco’s, according to Skyscanner.ca. It might seem counterintuitive to spring for upgraded digs when your goal is to spend every possible minute outside exploring, but the perks some luxury properties offer can go a long way toward optimizing your time.
For example, at the St. Regis Mexico City (stregishotelmexicocity.com; from around $460), room rates include butler service, with complimentary unpacking and packing, garment pressing and morning coffee delivery. The elegant rooms and public spaces are a tranquil antidote to the urban chaos, with wraparound floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking busy Paseo de la Reforma and the landmark Diana the Huntress fountain (the hotel’s signature restaurant is named for the Roman goddess). As well, with its Cuauhtemoc location, the St. Regis is an easy walk to most of what you’ll want to see; to inject some civility into a relentless sightseeing schedule, time your afternoon arrival back at the hotel for the daily complimentary Champagne service in the lobby before you refresh and head back out again for the evening.
What else do I need to see?
Slightly further afield in Coyoacan, the Frida Kahlo Museum, in the house the artist shared with artist-husband Diego Rivera, is dedicated to the painter’s life and works (book a reserved time online at boletosfridakahlo.org to bypass lengthy lines; 246 Mexican dollars, or about $17). Nearby, visit Museo Diego Rivera Anahuacalli – although less for Rivera’s massive collection of pre-Hispanic artifacts than for the building itself: Designed in consultation with Frank Lloyd Wright to resemble an ancient temple, both the architecture and ceiling mosaics are simply breathtaking. So, too, is the main campus of the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, a UNESCO World Heritage site that’s a must-visit for the Juan O’Gorman murals representing Mexican history, which wrap around the outer walls. You can pack all three into a (longish) half-day.
What about Teotihuacan, which I’ve heard is a must-see. I’ll have to save that one for a longer visit, right?
Not necessarily. An ancient Mesoamerican city about 50 kilometres from downtown, Teotihuacan and its two main pyramids are magnificent – and totally doable, even with limited time, if you take an early-morning tour. Marriott Moments (moments.marriott.com) offers a private, customizable option from $55 (minimum two guests; you don’t have to be staying at a Marriott property to book), allowing you to head out as early as 7 a.m. to beat traffic and the crowds at the site. The softer morning light is prettiest for photos, too. Skip the workshop visit and liquor tasting at the end – it’s a glorified gift-shop tour – and you’ll be back in time for lunch.
Oh yes. Food. High-end restaurants, street food. I want to eat it all.
A DIY street-food crawl is definitely a must. Sidewalk intersections in Roma – and all over the city – are crowded with rows of food stalls selling tacos, hot, fresh potato chips drizzled with hot sauce, empanadas stuffed with shrimp and avocado – such as the excellent ones at Marisqueria Jireh at Avenida Alvaro Obregon and Insurgentes Sur – and other hearty snacks for a couple of bucks apiece. For some of the city’s buzziest high-end dining – reservations are a must – hit Maximo Bistrot and Sud 777, or join the local office workers who pack into Contramar at lunchtime for fresh tuna tostadas and grilled snapper, split and topped with vivid green parsley sauce on one side, and red chili paste on the other.
The writer was a guest of Marriott International. It did not review or approve this article.