24 Hours in Mexico City

 

Though some may suggest otherwise, Mexico City is a vibrant, enchanting city that spoils travelers with endless food, culture, dance, epic history, architecture and more. This megacity is a stretch to cover in a week, but the capital does provide some sites it’d be a sin to miss on a stop-through. Get ready to pull an all-nighter, because 24 hours covers barely a sliver of what the city has to offer.

Ease into the day at a cafebrería

El Péndulo is a self-described cafebrería, or café-bookstore. There are several branches around town, and each location features warm lighting, eclectic decorations and an open floor plan. Let your senses come alive to the scent of new books mingling with a plate of chilaquiles and a glass of guanábana juice. Dine at the Polanco branch, which British newspaper The Guardian declared one of the most beautiful bookstores in the world.

Inside the El Péndulo bookstore. Photo by Quinn Comendant via Flickr.

Inside the El Péndulo bookstore. Photo by Quinn Comendant via Flickr.

Tour Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul

Located in Coyoacán, one of the oldest neighborhoods in the city, Frida Kahlo’s house was turned into a museum four years after her death. Museo Frida Kahlo is soaked in saturated colors, heightening the intense vibe. Guided tours show off Kahlo’s early as well as most famous works, the workspace she and Diego Rivera shared and more. Afterwards, enjoy a drink on the patio and pick up some books or prints from the gift shop.

Frida Kahlo is one of Mexico's most celebrated artists. Photo by Borya via Flickr.

Frida Kahlo is one of Mexico’s most celebrated artists. Photo by Borya via Flickr.

Have a historic Lunch

In Coyoacán, Kahlo, Rivera and Leon Trotsky frequented La Guadalupana, which maintains its working-class roots and bullfighting décor. Another option is the basic El Venadito, which is considered to have the best carnitas (pulled pork tacos) in town. Hostería de Santo Domingo is near Zócalo, the next destination, and sees its fair share of tourists, but it’s the oldest restaurant in the city and the papel picado and historical decorations give the place a festive feel. Order the house specialty of chiles en nogada, stuffed chili peppers in walnut sauce and pomegranate seeds.

The simple but sweet La Guadalupana was the hangout of some of the city's famous denizens. Photo by Krista via Flickr.

The simple but sweet La Guadalupana was the hangout of some of the city’s famous denizens. Photo by Krista via Flickr.

After lunch, grab a taxi and head to El Moro Churrería to finish off with some freshly made churros dipped into a cup of thick Español-style hot chocolate.

Churros con chocolate is a seriously delicious sweet treat. Photo by Tim Lucas via Flickr.

Churros con chocolate is a seriously delicious sweet treat. Photo by Tim Lucas via Flickr.

Layered History at Zócalo

Zócalo is Mexico City’s main square and was also used as the religious center for the Aztecs. Hernán Cortés had the Aztecs’ Templo Mayor dismantled to pave the adjacent square, which is now ringed by city government buildings, the Palacio Nacional and the Catedral Metropolitana. The ongoing excavation of the Templo Mayor and the next-door museum are an intimate display of the city’s layered history.

The cavernous cathedral preserves the various architectural styles of the nearly three centuries it took to build it, and the murals depicting the history of Mexico in the National Palace are painted by Diego Rivera. The Museo de Bellas Artes, Alameda Central Park, Palacio Postal, Casa de los Azulejos and several markets are within walking distance of Zócalo.

The Metropolitan Cathedral on the Zócalo square in Mexico City. Photo by Adrian Sampson via Flickr.

The Metropolitan Cathedral on the Zócalo square in Mexico City. Photo by Adrian Sampson via Flickr.

Deep breaths in Chapultepec Park

Make a mini-escape to 1,600-acre Chapultepec Park. It’s divided into three sections, but stick to the first section off Paseo de la Reforma, the city’s main drag. Forests, lakes, botanical gardens, a zoo and several museums comprise the first section. The Museo Nacional de Historía is housed in a former imperial palace that offers panoramic views of the city, but it’s the world-class Museo Nacional de Antropología that really stuns. The vast amount of exhibitions and collections would be a chore to cover over a few days, so plan accordingly.

A small lake in Chapultepec Park. Photo by Matthew Rutledge via Flickr.

A small lake in Chapultepec Park. Photo by Matthew Rutledge via Flickr.

Dinner in fashionable La Condesa

La Condesa is the district to see and be seen. This happening neighborhood is heaven for foodies, and streets named after famous writers give the whole deal an artistic flourish. Head over to Azul and soak in the busy atmosphere on the balcony while perusing the menu that changes with each guest chef.

The fun is only just beginning when the sun sets on Mexico City.

The fun is only just beginning when the sun sets on Mexico City.

Become an expert on mezcal

Start with a few drinks on Condesa df’s rooftop bar to check out the beautiful people, then head to Mama Rumba to shake it out to the live Cuban music.

For those with excess energy, it’s time for mezcal, tequila’s smokier cousin that’s meant to be sipped, not shot. Several bars offer a wide variety of mescal flavors, including La Botica, which is designed to look like a pharmacy, and La Clandestina, which offers more than 40 kinds of mezcal and helpful waiters to demystify the daunting, detailed menu. And yes, of course there’s a museum dedicated to the drink – Museo del Tequila y el Mescal is open until midnight and features drinks with admission, a store and a restaurant.

It seems a little strange, but those worms give the mezcal an extra dash of flavor. Photo by Graeme Churchard via Flickr.

It seems a little strange, but those worms give the mezcal an extra dash of flavor. Photo by Graeme Churchard via Flickr.

Beyond Mexico City

There are several feasible day trips from Mexico City, and further perks arise if you time your visit right. Paseo de la Reforma is closed on Sundays till mid-afternoon so rent a bike and enjoy the car-free road. Bazar del Sábado is a Saturday-only flea market where shoppers can find and bargain for just about anything. The pyramids of Teotihuacán, colonial Tlaxcala and its famous Mexican Home Cooking School and Pachuca, which lies in Mexico’s silver belt, are easy day trips from the city.

See all the articles, top ten lists and guides in our Mexico travel section.

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Maureen is a Hong Kong-based writer and editor who spent several years teaching EFL and traveling around the world. Getting lost while traveling is her main hobby. Find her on Google+.

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