A Quick + Dirty Insider Guide to the Best Neighbourhoods in Mexico City
Mexico City, now known as the Ciudad de México in Spanish, and formerly the distrito federal (or DF, if you will), is enormous. No, really. One week is never enough for visiting Mexico City. A lifetime is barely enough to explore one of the biggest cities in Mexico and in a year, I feel like I’ve only scratched the surface of what this capital has to offer. However, most people don’t have a year, certainly not a lifetime and perhaps not even a week, so you’ve got to crack on and make the most of the time you’ve got by exploring the best neighbourhoods in Mexico City (neighborhoods in Mexico City, for my north of the border, u-phobic friends).
That’s why I’ve compiled this quick and dirty Mexico City travel guide to the most noteworthy neighbourhoods in Mexico City, a.k.a. barrios or colonias, that spread across the 16 delegaciones (boroughs) that make up the Ciudad de México. Each entry features safety information, a brief history of each area and a guide to the ~vibe~ of the place, plus information about the closest metro station.
MEXICO CITY BOROUGHS (DELEGACIONES)
The capital city of Mexico is divided up into 16 different delegaciones, a.k.a. districts of Mexico City, some of which have a lot more to offer the casual tourist than others. Take Cuauhtémoc for example: one of the more central Mexico City districts, it has popular, uber cool neighbourhoods like Roma and Zona Rosa, alongside the underrated Santa María la Ribera and San Rafael, to literally name just a few. In fact, most of the city’s main attractions centre on just five delegations: Cuauhtémoc, Benito Juárez, Miguel Hidalgo and Coyoacán.
Then you’ve got the enormous Milpa Alta delegación way in the south which, honestly, shouldn’t really even be included under the ‘Mexico City’ umbrella, so distinct is it from the rest of the capital. Anyway, here’s a map if you were wondering how these 16 delegations divide up Mexico City.
A QUICK AND DIRTY INSIDER GUIDE TO THE BEST NEIGHBOURHOODS IN MEXICO CITY
CENTRO HISTÓRICO / CIUDAD UNIVERSITARIA / CONDESA / COYOACÁN CENTRO / JUAREZ & ZONA ROSA / NÁPOLES / NARVARTE / POLANCO / ROMA / SAN ÁNGEL / SAN MIGUEL CHAPULTEPEC / SAN RAFAEL / SANTA FE / SANTA MARÍA LA RIBERA / TEPITO / TLALPAN CENTRO / TLATELOLCO / XOCHIMILCO CENTRO
Centro Histórico | Centro Histórico, Cuauhtémoc, Mexico City
History: Once the heart of Mesoamerican hub Tenochtitlán, the historic centre of downtown Mexico City is now a cluster of historic buildings built principally by the Spaniards from the rubble of Aztec temples and pyramids, as well as a shit ton of museums.
Vibe: Historic (duh), busy, the opposite of relaxing.
Top Attraction: It’s all about Bellas Artes and Parque Alameda in my opinion, but you can’t skip the buildings around the zocalo either.
Safety Rating: Safe in the day, but look out for pickpockets. Borderline sketchy at night.
Tourist Rating: Super touristy, but still one of the best neighbourhoods in Mexico City.
Closest Metro Station: As you can imagine, the historic centre is very well connected as far as the Mexico City metro system goes, but the three best placed are Hidalgo (Blue and Olive Lines), Bellas Artes (Blue and Green Lines) and Zócalo (Blue Line).
Related Posts: A Literary Tour of the Historic Centre, Mexico City
Ciudad Universitaria | Ciudad Universitaria, Coyoacán, Mexico City
History: Literally translating to ‘University City’, Coyoacán’s Ciudad Universitaria is the main campus of UNAM, Mexico’s best university, and includes the Olympic Stadium. Developed during the 1950s to bring to coherence to university buildings, it’s also full of museums and libraries and is officially recognised by UNESCO.
Vibe: Full of left-leaning, liberal students and highly artsy. People who think studying humanities is pointless need not apply.
Top Attraction: There are plenty of Mexico City landmarks at CU, mostly art related; the mural decorated Biblioteca Central, MUAC or the Espacio Escúltorico. I saw my favourite ever piece of street art on the UNAM campus, fyi.
Safety Rating: Usually busy and safe in the day, but quiet and best avoided at night.
Tourist Rating: International in vibe, principally because of the university’s prestige, but not that touristy.
Closest Metro Station: Copilco and the aptly named Universidad (both on the Olive Line) are probably your best bets.
Condesa | Condesa, Cuauhtémoc, Mexico City
History: Colonia Condesa comprises of three Mexico City barrios: Condesa, Condesa-Hipodrómo and Hipódromo, although they’re more commonly referred to as, simply, Condesa. Officially established in the early 20th century, Condesa is known for Art Deco architecture and for being a hub of wealthy internationals, including Eastern European Jews and Spanish refugees. It was badly damaged in the 1985 earthquake, only grabbing the attention of younger residents in the redevelopment period.
Vibe: A slightly upper-class version of Roma, that errs on swanky rather than hipster, but still remains family-friendly and posh.
Top Attraction: Parque México is one of the city’s most beautiful parks, and the Art Deco buildings are also beautiful. There’s a reason Condesa is one of the top places to visit in Mexico City.
Safety Rating: Reliably safe both day and night and one of the best places to stay in Mexico City, if safety and swankiness is what you need.
Tourist Rating: Full of European and North Americans in Mexico City who want to remain in a bubble of European and North American sensibilities.
Closest Metro Station: Chapultepec (Pink Line) for Condesa, Patriotismo (Brown Line) for Hipoódromo/ Hipódromo Condesa and Chilpancingo (Brown Line) for Hipódromo Condesa.
Related Posts: A Literary Tour of Roma and Condesa, Mexico City
Coyoacán Centro | Coyoacán Centro, Coyoacán, Mexico City
History: Meaning ‘Place of the Coyotes’ in Nahuatl, Coyoacán Centro is the heart of the huge Coyoacán borough and has existed since the times of Lake Texcoco, making it one of the oldest Mexico City destinations. Even so, in layout and design, it’s principally colonial.
Vibe: Family-friendly, artsy, colourful, warm. (Can you tell I like Coyoacán?)
Safety Rating: Safe in the busy centre, both day and night. Pickpocketing is likely the biggest threat, so exercise caution.
Tourist Rating: Did you really visit Mexico City if you didn’t stop by Coyoacán? (No.)
Closest Metro Station: Coyoacán, Viveros and Miguel Ángel de Quevedo (all on the Olive Line) are all close-ish, but there’s still some walking required.
Related Post: One Day in Coyoacán, Mexico City: Art, Activism + the Best Coffee in the Capital (COMING SOON)
Juárez & Zona Rosa | Juárez & Zona Rosa, Benito Juárez, Mexico City
History: Established in the late 19th, early 20th century, Juárez is a hard to pin down zone. Formerly a hideout for the wealthy fleeing the city centre, it morphed into a centre for intellectuals in the 60s, before becoming a financial and business centre, and, in recent years, a gay hotspot.
Vibe: Super gay friendly, vibrant, neither boring nor super cool, reliable. Hailed as the latest up-and-coming area of the capital, but I don’t buy it.
Top Attraction: Paseo de la Reforma and the barrio coreano (Korean Neighbourhood).
Safety Rating: Safe in the day but you should take care at night. Pickpocketing is likely the biggest threat.
Tourist Rating: As a popular gay hub in the heart of the city, you’ll find plenty of tourists roaming the streets.
Closest Metro Station: Sevilla, Insurgentes and Cuauhtémoc (all Pink Line).
Related Post: Mexico City’s Grandest Neighbourhood is Back in Vogue (CC: The Guardian)
Nápoles | Nápoles, Benito Juárez, Mexico City
History: A mid-century development originally conceived as a solution to the rising Mexico City population, Nápoles is a contemporary of the Del Valle neighbourhood and shares many architectural similarities with it, including the so-called Colonial California style.
Vibe: Understated, nothing to write home about but pleasant.
Top Attraction: There aren’t many Mexico City attractions in Nápoles, but music lovers will enjoy the Pepsi Center whereas art fans will probably prefer the David Alfaro Siqueiros decorated edifice, Polyforum Cultural Siqueiros.
Safety Rating: As safe as any middle-class residential/business district in a big city.
Tourist Rating: Mainly Mexican residential.
Closest Metro Station: Insurgentes Sur (Gold Line) is the closest you’re gunna get.
Narvarte | Narvarte, Benito Juárez, Mexico City
History: Narvarte actually combines five neighbourhoods, Poniente, Oriente, Piedad, Vértiz and Atenor Salas, even though that Google Maps link above will only let me grab Narvarte Poniente. It’s well-known for having an international, immigration filled past and the influences of Greek, Lebanese and German settlers are still clear in the neighbourhood today.
Vibe: Old school, vaguely middle-class Mexico City, with authentic international cuisine and a laidback, vintage feel.
Top Attraction: Narvarte is all about the tacos and the Santa Muerte shrine.
Safety Rating: Not the safest, not the most dangerous. Take normal precautions.
Tourist Rating: It barely even registers on most tourists’ radars, and, admittedly, isn’t a major hub of Mexico City tourism.
Closest Metro Station: The Olive Line’s Eugenia, Etiopía and División del Norte all cut cleanly through Narvarte.
Related Post: Being A Local in Narvarte (Not my post, but a great food guide to a neighbourhood that I haven’t got round to writing about yet.)
Polanco | Polanco, Miguel Hidalgo, Mexico City
History: Polanco is also the catch-all term for five separate neighbourhoods, that were principally developed after the 1985 Mexico City earthquake. It’s not hugely historical, and has always been dominated by residential, business and recreational new developments.
Vibe: International, wealthy, posh, snooty. A cultural vacuum, but probably one of the safest places in Mexico City.
Top Attraction: The immigration office. Just kidding. Kind of. This one’s easy – Museo Soumaya (which is technically not in Polanco, but might as well be) and Parque Lincoln. Wanna go shopping in Mexico City? Polanco houses Mexico City’s answer to Rodeo Drive, Avenida Presidente Masaryk, if designer labels are your thang.
Safety Rating: Very safe. And very boring.
Tourist Rating: Less tourists, more immigrants. Still full of ‘non-Mexicans’ for want of a better way of putting it and if you’re wondering where to stay in Mexico City, Polanco isn’t a bad option. I guess.
Closest Metro Station: Polanco (Orange Line). Polanco’s not a colonia that’s super easy to access on public transport in my experience. Probably to keep out all the plebs.
Related Post: Where To Go in Polanco? Parque Lincoln!
History: Roma originally peaked as an out-of-the-city-centre enclave for the swell of wealthy Europeans who flocked into Mexico around the turn of the 20th century, and French-style mansions were all the rage in the area. Deterioration began in the mid-20th century, as people moved to newer areas and the 1985 earthquake had a devastating effect on the area; however, Roma has been rejuvenated in recent years.
Vibe: Hipster Mexico City, fashionable and an epicentre of culinary innovation, but also full of people who maaaybe think they’re better than you (you didn’t hear it from me). Roma continues to be ‘Little Europe’, with some of the best Mexico City nightlife.
Top Attraction: For me, it’s all about the street art in Roma, but the selection of innovative (albeit pricey) bars isn’t half bad and there are tons of art galleries. Roma also has some of the best restaurants in Mexico City.
Safety Rating: Super safe in the day, pretty safe after dark.
Tourist Rating: You’ll never not see an English speaking white person in La Roma. It’s arguably too foreigner friendly, with a ton of Mexico City tourist attractions.
Closest Metro Station: Insurgentes or Cuauhtémoc (both Pink Line) if you want to explore Roma Norte, Centro Médico (Olive and Brown Lines) if you’d prefer to start at Roma Sur.
Related Post: A Literary Tour of Roma and Condesa, Mexico City
San Ángel | San Ángel, Álvaro Obregón, Mexico City
History: Originally a rural village, it developed into a hugely colonial hotspot called San Jacinto Tenanitla and has remained a centre of historic buildings and residential complexes more or less ever since. In fact, it’s UNESCO recognised.
Vibe: The posh man’s Coyoacán, artesanía filled, upscale, Italian-cobbled street Mexico City anomaly.
Top Attraction: The Saturday art and artesanía markets are the big draw and they’re fun to browse, if a touch overpriced at times. Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo has to be up there too.
Safety Rating: Super safe in the centre, but be careful off the main drag.
Tourist Rating: Lots of Germans and a smattering of Americans, in my experience. Mainly just posh Mexicans though, living in the Mexico City suburbs.
Closest Metro Station: Tricky to get to on the metro, I’m going to recommend using the Metrobus instead – get off at La Bombilla.
Related Posts: A Brief Guide to San Ángel, Mexico City (COMING SOON)
San Miguel Chapultepec | San Miguel Chapultepec, Miguel Hidalgo, Mexico City
History: A tiny, underrated barrio close to infinitely more popular Condesa and bordered by the Bosque de Chapultepec, San Miguel Chapultepec
Vibe: Artsy, underrated, tree-lined, quiet and residential.
Top Attraction: Casa Luis Barragán (available to see by appointment only) is just a block beyond the limits of San Miguel Chapultepec and Padella, a restaurant I was invited to eat at, is legit delicious.
Safety Rating: Pretty safe. Exercise normal caution.
Tourist Rating: You won’t see many tourists in San Miguel Chapultepec despite its seemingly prime central location.
Closest Metro Station: Tacubaya (Pink, Orange and Brown Lines), Juanacatlán (Pink Line) and Constituyentes (Orange Line) all leave you right next to this tiny barrio.
San Rafael | San Rafael, Cuauhtémoc, Mexico City
History: A hub for wealthy residents escaping the city centre in the Porfiriato Period, San Rafael remains a centre with much French-influenced architecture, that exist alongside theatres and cinemas that began popping up there in the mid-20th century. More recently, it’s been seen as a cheaper alternative to Roma and Condesa.
Vibe: Overwhelmingly artsy, an in-the-know visitor’s alternative to Roma, leafy and charmingly lacking in architectural coherence.
Top Attraction: Cool architecture, the Art Garden and Mercado Sullivan, the latter of which takes place on the southern border of the colonia.
Safety Rating: Relatively safe. Exercise normal caution levels.
Tourist Rating: Not that many. Most artsy pretenders prefer Roma.
Closest Metro Station: San Cosmé (Blue Line).
History: The officially defined Zona de Santa Fe is actually made up of ten different colonias, which explains why it’s basically considered a city within a city – Santa Fe exists in a bubble. There are poor transport links to the centre of Mexico City and it’s primarily made up of anonymous skyscrapers.
Vibe: Mexico City’s Mordor, but with businessmen instead of Gollum.
Top Attraction: The road leading to Toluca.
Safety Rating: Safe, but massive, so there are likely some crime hotspots too.
Tourist Rating: Even the locals hate going there.
Closest Metro Station: Nope, not gunna happen. You’ll need a bus or an Uber.
Santa María la Ribera | Santa María la Ribera, Cuauhtémoc, Mexico City
History: One of Mexico City’s barrios mágicos, Santa María la Ribera was at its affluent peak between 1900 and 1930, as wealthy residents moved in, but the zone had deteriorated by 1950 and the earthquake took its toll in 1985. Nowadays, it’s a lower-income area with a mixture of abandoned buildings, shops and historic edifices.
Vibe: Off-the-beaten path (even if saying this makes me vom in my mouth a bit), classic Mexico City, (Mexican) family-friendly.
Top Attraction: Kiosco Morisco and the Biblioteca Vasconcelos (technically in neighbouring Buenavista, but literally one block from Santa María la Ribera).
Safety Rating: Marginally sketchy, but fine in the central parts.
Tourist Rating: Still underrated despite having some of the coolest attractions in the city.
Closest Metro Station: Buenavista (Grey/ B Line).
Related Post: One Day in Santa María la Ribera, Mexico City’s Most Underrated Barrio (COMING SOON)
Tepito | Tepito, Morelos, Mexico City
History: A lower-class neighbourhood since pre-Hispanic times (Tepito comes from the Nahuatl for Small Temple), it’s one of the two Mexico City neighbourhoods that now has a large Korean population, and a thriving black market. It’s also a breeding ground of Mexican boxers, muggers and counterfeiters and home to tons of subcultures, and is colloquially known as the Barrio Bravo. The stereotypical cantadito Mexico City accent is at its strongest in Tepito.
Vibe: Dodgy af, busy, underground, local.
Top Attraction: Santa Muerte altar or the infamous tianguis. Apparently the street food is good too.
Safety Rating: Sketchy, at all hours of the day. Tepito is the capital’s biggest black market and definitely one of the places to avoid in Mexico City.
Tourist Rating: There aren’t any, except idiots lulled in by media idealisations of an actually quite dangerous place. Go there if you want to get mugged, stared at or both.
Closest Metro Station: Tepito (Grey/ B Line).
Related Post: Mexico City Travel Tips from a Local
Tlalpan Centro | Tlalpan Centro, Tlalpan, Mexico City
History: The centre of Tlalpan used to be a pre-Hispanic village that gradually became a type pf holiday home destination for wealthy Mexico City-ites, due to the natural surroundings. It’s basically remained quiet and residential to this day.
Vibe: According to my friend, it’s the humble man’s Coyoacán, pueblo-esque, calm, quiet and provincial.
Top Attraction: In the centre, it’s just quiet streets with colonial mansions, cafes and squares that get busy on a weekend. The neighbouring Cuicuilco Archaeological site is also pleasant and uncrowded.
Safety Rating: Reasonably safe in the day, probably best avoided at night.
Tourist Rating: You’re unlikely to see any.
Closest Metro Station: Nope, it’s super far south. You’ll need to take a taxi or other forms of public transport. The closest you’ll get is the above ground train’s Xomali stop.
Related Posts: A Guide to Public Transport in Mexico City (COMING SOON) | The Best Archaeological Ruins in Mexico: The Mayans to the Aztecs and Everything in Between! (COMING SOON)
Tlatelolco | Tlatelolco, Cuauhtémoc, Mexico City
History: Most associated in the public consciousness with the Tlatelolco Student Massacre of ’68, Tlatelolco is an architecturally and archaeologically interesting part of Mexico City that was badly damaged in the 1985 earthquake.
Vibe: Quiet, calm.
Top Attraction: The Plaza de las Tres Culturas, which combines architecture from Mexico’s three periods, the pre-Hispanic, the Colonial and the Present Day. AND THE BEST ELOTES IN THE CITY. Bold claim, I know, but no elote has ever lived up to the one I had in Tlatelolco.
Safety Rating: Fine during the day in the ‘attraction’ areas, not so great at night.
Tourist Rating: It’s fairly underrated, but you might see a sandal-clad couple or two checking out the Plaza de las Tres Culturas.
Closest Metro Station: Tlatelolco (Olive Line).
Related Post: Eating Mexico: A Snack Loving Local’s Guide to Food in Mexico City (COMING SOON)
Xochimilco Centro | Xochimilco Centro, Xochimilco, Mexico City
History: The lakiest remaining part of the city which was once all lake (seriously, who thought it was a good idea to construct a capital city atop a shifting foundation of former lake?!), Xochimilco is known for one thing – the canals. However, historically it was an independent entity, which explains why it’s so vast and actually made up of 18 individual barrios. It’s known for being home to the cute/ creepy native Mexican axolotls.
Vibe: Colourful, party-like atmosphere in and around the canal boats.
Top Attraction: The historic centre. Just kidding (although it is pretty nice). The trajineras, of course – Xochimilco is Mexico City’s answer to Venice and is being just as destroyed by tourism.
Safety Rating: Pretty safe around the trajineras, a bit dodgy elsewhere, despite being one of the safer delegaciones in the capital. The most danger you’ll face in Xochimilco comes from the elevated tourist prices of the canal boats.
Tourist Rating: Touristy around the trajineras, pretty much abandoned by tourism everywhere else.
Closest Metro Station: Too far south. You need to take the above ground train from the Tasqueña (Blue Line) metro station, all the way down to Xochimilco if you’re looking for the iconic trajineras. Which everyone is.
So, that’s it. My quick and dirty guide to neighbourhoods in Mexico City. Is there a super cool Mexico City neighbourhood I missed off? Do you have anything to add to my entries? Let me know in the comments! For now, I’ll leave you with this link to some printable Mexico City maps, a Mexico City metro map and a map of Mexico City (and its neighbourhoods) you can save direct to your phone.
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