Known to locals and jet-setters simply as the D.F. (short for Distrito Federal), Mexico City is an electric destination in the midst of a cultural revival. The nearly 500-year-old capital’s well-deserved reputation on the international arts circuit, along with a new crop of hip restaurants, bars and boutiques, is inspiring locals and luring travellers. From stylish dining and shopping spots, in the Roma and Condesa neighbourhoods, to the bustling, vendor-filled streets and landmark architecture of the Colonia Centro, you’ll find plenty of reasons to visit (and keep coming back).
Celebrate the season
Mexico City is often characterized as colourful. The art, food and brightly painted adobe homes certainly justify the description any time of the year, but visit during the region’s spring months and you’ll also be treated to thousands of blooming jacaranda trees. The bell-shaped blossoms emit an intoxicating scent and blanket the city in shades of violet.
A walk around the D.F. is filled with culinary temptations. Aromas of fresh tacos, huaraches (savoury toppings on a sandal-shaped masa base) and flautas emanate from local stalls and taquerias. Beeline for the vendors selling tortas, hearty Mexican sandwiches stuffed with taco-style ingredients such as vegetables, beans and queso.
Experience modern Mexico
Architecture enthusiasts shouldn’t miss a chance to explore the Modernist gem that is Casa Luis Barragán, the lovingly preserved home where the architect lived. Down a narrow, otherwise unremarkable street in the Tacubaya neighbourhood, this UNESCO World Heritage site boasts clean, austere lines that contrast with bright, cheerful colours. You can even browse the architect’s library for insight into what piqued his curiosity.
Find artistic inspiration
Photography Jdemerzel21 / Thinkstock
What do you make of a city that covers its most important government buildings with the work of one of its most outspoken anti-establishment artists? Take in Diego Rivera’s murals at the National Palace right in the Zócalo – the D.F.’s main square. For another glimpse into the legacy of local art, stroll the residential neighbourhood of Coyoacán until you come upon the cobalt blue home Frida Kahlo once occupied. Aptly named La Casa Azul, it’s now a museum that houses many of the artist’s works.
Rethink Mexican food
Photography Phoebe Theodora and Adam Goldberg
The city’s most innovative restaurants are reinterpreting the country’s cuisine in fresh, contemporary ways. Chefs such as Enrique Olvera of Pujol, named one of the “World’s 50 Best Restaurants” by the Diners Club World’s 50 Best Restaurants Academy, are looking to Mexico’s rich culinary past and indigenous ingredients for inspiration, and creating dishes that are positively avant-garde.
Walk through history
Photography Fuse / Thinkstock
Step into the pre-Hispanic ruins of Templo Mayor, just off the Zócalo. The Aztec temple, built in the 14th century, was once the centre of religious life in Tenochtitlán (modern-day Mexico City) and remains an archaeological site open to visitors in the heart of the modern metropolis. Cultural relics and artefacts are on display at the temple’s onsite museum.
Sip an ancient spirit
Mescal is tequila’s older, smokier cousin. In the last few years, it’s become the tipple of choice for savvy locals, imbibed in dimly lit bars called mescalerias. The bohemian-chic neighbourhood of Condesa has several of these watering holes, including La Clandestina, an unassuming spot with no sign that’s still easy to find thanks to the throngs of people waiting outside. La Botica is regarded as the bar that started the mescal craze. Since opening in 2005, it has sprouted several more locations throughout the city and beyond.