Mexico City's best neighborhoods to explore

Paddle boats in front of blooming Jacaranda Trees in Chapultepec Park © Paul Franklin / Getty Images
Chapultepec Park, running between Polanco and Condesa neighborhoods is one of the many places to explore in Mexico City © Paul Franklin / Getty Images

Location definitely matters in Mexico's colossal capital and with that in mind we've put together this list of easily walkable neighborhoods that ooze character. It simply comes down to which pocket of Mexico City suits your fancy.

In the trendy Roma and Condesa hoods, the fiestas just keep coming as you tap into the spirited nightlife and culinary scene, while across town in the electric Centro Histórico, it's all about soaking up the myriad cultural offerings and old-world flavor. Or take it down a notch and embrace the low-key bohemian lifestyle of Coyoacán, just like Frida and Diego did back in the day.

Walking towards the Zócalo and the Metropolitan Cathedral in Mexico City
The Centro Histórico is the busy heart of the capital city © Amith Nag Phototgraphy / Getty Images

Centro Histórico

Best neighborhood for culture and architecture

Mexico's heart beats in the Centro. With more than 1,500 historic buildings, ancient Aztec ruins, vibrant art and some of the nation's most absorbing museums, the Centro Histórico is the place to channel your inner culture vulture.

A stroll through the Zócalo, Latin America's largest main square, takes you to dramatic Diego Rivera murals housed in Palacio Nacional, while just a stone's throw away you have Templo Mayor, a sacred Aztec temple with a world-class onsite museum.

In addition to its vast and varied cultural offerings, the Centro provides a wondrous backdrop of striking colonial buildings, some of which have been lovingly converted into hostels and boutique hotels. Granted, organized chaos is king in the hectic Centro but if you like an area with plenty of moving parts the historic center is chock-full of rewards.

Roma neighborhood is hip and trendy with all kinds of restaurants and bars
Roma has all kinds of new restaurants and bars opening all the time © Bloomberg / Getty Images

Roma

Best neighborhood for eating and drinking

Just when it looked like this colonia (neighborhood) had reached the height of cool, along came Alfonso Cuarón's recent Oscar-winning memoir film Roma to pique visitors' interest even more. Now it seems like every other week the rapidly gentrifying Roma sees a hot new cocktail bar or stylish fusion restaurant popping up in its splendid French-style mansions.

When in Roma, don't miss out on the delectable barbacoa tacos at El Hidalguense, where lamb is slow-cooked over aged oak wood and the pulque (a fermented alcoholic agave drink) flows like water. Or book a table at the perennially packed Contramar, a trendsetting seafood restaurant famous for its tuna tostadas and zesty, grilled whole fish.

After the meal, grab a mezcal or cup o' joe on Álvaro Obregón, Roma's main strip, or saunter along Calle Colima, a buzzy street dotted with community art galleries, small museums and the popular Rosetta bakery.

Mexico City
With gorgeous parks and coffee shops, Condesa is the best neighborhood to find a B&B © Linka A Odom / Getty Images

Condesa

Best neighborhood to hang your hat

One can make the argument that the trendy Condesa hood has taken a back seat to ultra-hip Roma, however, it's still one of the city's most appealing places to stay for its welcoming B&Bs, convivial bars and highly diverse culinary offerings.

At times it's hard to know where Condesa ends and the neighboring Roma begins as both boho-chic enclaves exude a similar laid-back vibe in their verdant parks, sidewalk cafes and hopping late-night taco joints.

Many neighborhood hotspots are clustered around Parque España and Parque México, the latter a former horseracing track that was transformed into an iconic oval park in the 1920s. Nearby, well-managed bed and breakfasts such as Red Tree House and Hotel Villa Condesa provide the perfect base to explore Condesa and beyond.

Coronavirus Emergency In Mexico City
For a local experience check out Alameda Central © NurPhoto / Getty Images

Alameda Central

Best neighborhood for local flavor

For better or worse, downtown has undergone an ambitious makeover over the past decade with most of the sprucing-up focused on the Centro Histórico, but you can still experience the city center of old along the busy streets south of Alameda Central. Start with tequila in the atmospheric Tío Pepe, the oldest bar in town that was described by beat writer William Burroughs as a “cheap cantina” in his 1953 novel Junkie.

Next, mosey on over to the original location of El Huequito, a hole-in-the-wall taco joint that has been slicing some of the city's tastiest tacos al pastor (spit-cooked pork) for more than six decades.

Of course, a visit to this neighborhood wouldn't be complete without spending time in Alameda Central itself, the oldest urban park in the Americas and home to Palacio de Bellas Artes, which houses masterful works of art by Mexico's big three muralists: Rivera, Siqueiros and Orozco.

Trajinera or punt on the canals and floating gardens of Xochimilco Mexico City
Take a ride on a trajinera and explore a different side of Mexico City © Getty Images

Xochimilco & Cumbres del Ajusco

Best areas for outdoor activities

For a real Mexico City treat take a gondola ride along the ancient canals of Xochimilco, the last vestiges of a once vast network of waterways dating back to Aztec times.

Here you can also cruise out to the creepy Isla de las Muñecas (Island of the Dolls), where hundreds of decomposed dolls hang from the clotheslines and trees to ward off the spirit of a drowned girl. Depart from the Cuemanco dock, where you can purchase cervezas and tacos before boarding the boat.

About 15.5 miles (25 km) west of Cuemanco lies Cumbres del Ajusco, a national park with a hiking trail that ascends to Mexico City's highest peak. If you like the quiet of Ajusco's fragrant pine forest, consider an overnight stay in a log cabin at the family-friendly Parque Ejidal San Nicolás Totolapan.

For rock climbing and more nature exploring, visit the third and fourth sections of nearby Los Dinamos, a protected canyon area that's home to Mexico City's last free-flowing river.

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Quiet and lovely Coyoacan is home to Frida Khalo's home, but also amazing markets ©Anton_Ivanov/Shutterstock

Coyoacán

Best neighborhood for quiet

It's easy to understand why Mexican artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera chose to call Coyoacán home for so many years. Even after decades of being swallowed by Mexico City's urban sprawl, Coyoacán has managed to retain a certain degree of village charm on its cobbled streets and colorful plazas, not to mention it can be surprisingly quiet.

Almost every visitor to Mexico City makes a pilgrimage to Casa Azul, Kahlo's former home and studio, to gain a deeper understanding of the painter. In fact, it has become such a tourist hotspot that visits must now be booked in advance online. Just around the corner, the Museo Casa de León Trotsky sees far fewer visitors and yet it offers a downright fascinating look at a house where Leon Trotsky, an exiled Marxist revolutionary from Ukraine, lived in exile before he was assassinated with an ice axe.

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