The spectacular opening sequence of the Bond film Spectre features a Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City. If that has whet your appetite for adventure, why not follow in Daniel Craig’s footsteps? There’s always something new to see in the Mexican capital. It has the mariarchis, cantinas and Aztec ruins of old Mexico, but with innovations in food and culture coming daily, it can even keep 007 on his toes.
Start in old Mexico
Begin right where James Bond does: the colonial streets of downtown. The immense central square – the Zócalo – and the cathedral paint a picture of a Spanish colony. But beneath there’s something else. In one corner – buried below – lie the Aztec city of Tenochtitlán and their holy site, Templo Mayor. As a sign of victory, the Spanish used Aztec structures as foundations for their own temples. Nowhere else can you see so stunningly the competing heritage of the Mexican people.
The cathedral on the Zócalo
The other must-see is the ancient city Teotihuacán, which long pre-dates the Aztecs. Punctuated by two enormous pyramids, the site is a testament to how cutting edge urban developers were 2,000 years ago. From the heights of the Pyramid of the Sun, it can feel like time travel: tiny figures below could well be the ancient population ambling through the markets. The impressively maintained ruins are a 45-minute bus ride (£4) from Mexico City.
Easy to spot with their pink tarps, tianguis are roaming markets that sell whatever is in season. Vendors will slice off a sample of juicy mangoes, perfect avocados and plenty of hard-to- pronounce fruits. Another section is dedicated to street food: sizzling tacos and gooey quesadillas. Look for tacos with cecina (cured beef).
Tips for street food: choose stalls with hand sanitiser and different people handling food and cash; hot off the grill is safer than raw or sitting food. Find these in the Condesa neighbourhood, Tuesdays on Pachuca street and Fridays on Campeche street.
She’s Mexico’s most recognisable artist – if only for her monobrow – and the Frida Kahlo Museum is curated within the eccentric, tormented painter’s former home in the bohemian Coyoacán area. Her most famous works aren’t on display here, but the intimacy of the place (with amateur sketches and childhood stories) brings you close to the woman who was such a giant of art and culture. Avoid crowded weekends if you can.
Plaza Garibaldi has been a staple for visitors for decades, with personal serenades from full mariachi bands for a fiver. In recent years, the square has been cleaned up by a ban on public drinking, but your beer with lime and salt will be waiting at cantinas lining the square. Cheap eats help you satiate late-night munchies amid the cacophony of trumpets and guitars.
Take a cab there (safest from a taxi stand, best not hailed on the street) and don’t wander off – the plaza is safe but it’s in a seedier part of the city.
Modern Mexico Awaits
For years, Maximo Bistrot Local has been a top spot for excellent seafood and meat at casual street-side tables. Chef Eduardo Garcia’s kitchen is defined by a simple idea: use and highlight traditional, local ingredients. Reserve ahead here.
La Bipolar is a trendy cantina in Coyoacán and became popular thanks to its part-owner, the actor Diego Luna, one of Mexico’s most recognisable faces in Hollywood. Try their curious cocktail, the Martinez, a cucumber- lime drink mixed with mezcal, the smoky cousin of tequila. Pair it with a burrito or live music, playing most nights.
The imposing indoor market Mercado Roma looks a better fit for London’s Shoreditch than Mexico. Detractors criticise its gentrification of the area, while founders call it a hub for the city’s culinary innovation. Either way, just about everything tastes great. The first floor is filled with food stalls: fine chorizo, artisan cheeses and rustic bread. For a quick lunch, Mexican staples – tacos and tortas – are made with a pinch of creativity. On the roof garden, grab a Mexican craft beer. Don’t ask for a Corona!
The ancient city of Teotihuacán
TOCA/Galería stands in stark contrast to the city’s massive fine art museums. It doesn’t hold the giants of Latin America’s art history but may showcase some future greats. The gallery focuses on painters and photographers and is a great stop near the trendy bars and restaurants of the Roma neighbourhood.
On the last Sunday of each month the government closes main avenues to create a 32km loop for cyclists – Ciclotón. Fit for little ones with training wheels and serious spinners, it’s the best way to see the city: a mishmash of European and American; rich and poor; crumbling and skyscraping. Free bike rentals are available on the city’s main avenue Reforma.