Named a World Design Capital in 2018, making it the first city in the Americas to receive the title, Mexico City is a destination of contrasts. From its beginnings as the Aztec-founded capital, through the centuries of Spanish rule and influence, and now as one of the most diverse cities in the world, there's thousands of years of history buried in the city, which is now home to more than 20 million people. But there's also some of the most cutting-edge architecture, development, and restoration happening in town, thanks in part to the city's 100+ museums and cultural centers. Only recently has the world come to recognize Mexico as a design powerhouse, as more contemporary designers begin to live, work, and showcase their art internationally.
From the brightly colored huipils, handwoven bags, and other artisan crafts hanging in Mexico City's markets, the sights (and smells) can be a lot to take in for a newcomer. For a massive metropolitan area that plays host to the folk art of Frida Kahlo and the midcentury modern style of Luis Barragán, there's something to be seen in nearly every corner of the city. From hotels to restaurants to shops to museums, scroll on for our top picks.
Where To Sleep:
Located in the trendy Roma Norte colonia (yes, the neighborhood Roma gets its name from), Nima Local House Hotel is close to some of the top restaurants in town, like Contramar and Panadería Rosetta. The neighborhood itself is a design icon, known for its distinct Mexican-French fusion construction — called Porfirian architecture, after the early 20th century dictator who vowed to modernize the country. The hotel doesn't stray from the style either, featuring open-air terraces, art deco details, and a black-and-white-tiled breakfast nook.
On the edge of Parque México sits Casa Decu, a four-story hotel that mixes a millennium of Mexico's style influences with ease by using Spanish tile, deco doors, and modern furnishings. Opened in 2017, the boutique lodging will greet you with a warm welcome, white sheets, and a wide open view of the city from its expansive rooftop garden.
Chaya rests on the top of Barrio Alameda, a recently renovated building from the 1920s. Just blocks from the historic city center's landmarks like the Monumento a la Revolución, the Palacio de Bellas Artes, and Catedral Metropolitana, visitors get thrown into the hustle and bustle of downtown Mexico City right away. From the rooftop hammocks, take in the stark clash between old and new — to one side of the hotel lies the Laboratorio Arte Alameda, formerly a 16th century Spanish convent, and on the other side the Torre Latinoamericana, which pays homage to American-style skyscrapers.
Staying in any of the hotel's eight rooms, each named after states surrounding the Distrito Federal, provides a unique experience — for example, Suite Jalisco prominently features indigenous Huichol art, while Suite Chiapas is filled with furniture restored from the '60s. The hotel itself is actually a Colonial-style mansion built in 1890, but has been converted into what El Patio 77 claims is the first sustainable bed and breakfast in the city.
Where To Eat and Drink:
This place has it all — really. Describing itself as "the convergence point between east and west," Bar Oriente has a cocktail bar, karaoke rooms, and a space for live music all under one roof. The bar's music choices span a range of genres, from techno record label events to perreo nights that will be sure to keep you out until the wee hours of the morning. Follow the bar's neon signage in, and keep looking for it throughout the four floors (perfect for that Insta snap), or stop and grab a sake bomb from the industrial-style bar.
When chefs Rodney Cusic and Mercedes Bernal looked to open a new restaurant, they scoured the city for over a year — eventually settling on a 1950s-style estate in Roma Norte. The looks didn't last long, though, as the pair partnered with architects from Oficina de Práctica Arquitectónica for a total makeover. The restaurant now stands out for its distinctive facade of oval-shaped windows and glass ceilings (Fortune described it as resembling "a sexy zoo enclosure"), along with soaring trees that shield much of the building from street view. If you're looking for a recommendation for what to eat, you'll have to find out for yourself — the menu changes daily based on what's available locally.
If you're looking for something a bit more laid-back, Lardo's the place. This is, in part, thanks to the restaurant's layout — an extensive copper bar runs along the open kitchen, while small tables line the sides of the room. There's also the menu, which is designed to be shared tapas-style along with a short list of mostly Italian wines. Sit at the bar to watch the chefs work their magic by the wood-fired oven, or stop by the side window for a concha and a café.
Breakfast-time is all day long at this recently opened spot in La Roma, whether you're looking for a full American breakfast or some classic Mexican chilaquiles. With cobalt blue surfaces and bubblegum pink walls, the cafe aims for a cozy space that's, at the same time, total eye candy to visitors. The name Motín is a play on words, coming from matín, French for "morning," botín, Spanish for "loot," and finally motín — Spanish for "riot."
Discreetly tucked away above popular lunch joint El Parnita, restaurant-bar Páramo contains two different, yet both intimate, atmospheres — the first floor feels like a house party, with furniture crammed in every corner, while the covered patio overhead heats things up with the bar's house mezcal and homestyle offerings. Don't miss the La Muñeca or Emalaura tacos, or the Chachalaca ceviche.
Where To Shop:
Looking to nab a classic Acapulco chair while in the city but don't know how you'll get it home? Here's the spot. There's also the gallery's own takes on the classics, like the Ganado-print rugs made using Turkish weaving techniques. Meanwhile, check out the gallery's latest exhibition, each of which aims to promote modern Mexican design.
Porfirian construction comes back into play at Roma Quince, a home decor and clothing concept store in a restored mansion. There's enough goodies up for grabs here that you could decorate a whole place with them, and bonus — everything's made by Mexican designers. Post-shopping spree advice: Dip into Carlota & Emilia, a popular brunch spot under the same roof, for a top-notch spot to rest your feet and take in the scenery.
Part art gallery, part workshop, and part store, Rubicó is dedicated to the idea of the "Mexicanada" — objects taken from their original context to be reworked and refashioned into something cooler, better — in a way that only Mexicans could do. This means the traditional calavera gets a pop art makeover, while the Virgin of Guadalupe goes graffiti. If you're coming with kids, set them loose in a workshop to paint their own signature Rubicó skull, or to put a personal touch on whatever they choose to bring in.
What to See:
If you're a fan of the unabashedly unibrowed, disabled, and Communist artist — make this the one place you stop by. In the Coyoacán neighborhood where Frida Kahlo spent much of her life lies La Casa Azul, her former home with the striking blue walls that give the now-museum its name. Admission also gives you access to Diego Rivera's Museo Anahuacalli, a pyramid-like edifice built of volcanic stone which houses an impressive collection of indigenous Mexican art.
This one's for true design lovers only. Reservations must be made in advance, though there's no admission fee. The house-museum, built in 1948, is emblematic of the Mexican architect's contributions to the contemporary design movement. UNESCO thinks it's pretty important too, as it's the only individual property in Latin America to make it onto the World Heritage list.
The museum's exterior will draw you in first, with a stunning shape made of 16,000 metal hexagons curving into the sky. Once you enter, though, you'll have reason to stick around. The museum, built by Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim, houses a remarkable collection. One of the first, and most famous, works displayed is Rodin's The Thinker, while other famed artists inside include Matisse, Monet, and Picasso.