Spread across the top two floors of a 17th-century palace, Downtown Mexico is an artful combination of colonial-era architecture and modernist design. Once owned by the powerful Earls of Miravalle, the palace is in the cobbled heart of the Centro Histórico, minutes from landmarks like the Catedral Metropolitana and Palacio des Bellas Artes. Walk through the iron-studded doors, and your first impressions are equally historic: ornate stonework, a wrought-iron staircase and a charming courtyard garden are the first things you’ll see. Reach the rooms, however, and things take a modernist turn, with geometric patterns, minimalist furniture and industrial lighting taking pride of place. Up on the terracotta roof terrace, the sleek concrete pool will delight modern design fiends, but the domes and spires visible across the rooftops ensure you never feel far from Centro’s stately past.
Get this when you book through us:
A bottle of house mezcal and a welcome cocktail each
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Earliest check-in, 3pm.
Double rooms from £95.55 ($125), including tax at 19.5 per cent.
Rates don’t usually include breakfast. The buffet (US$10 a head) includes homemade bread, cured meats, fresh fruit, cereals and juices. On the à la carte menu, you’ll find hot dishes like the chia omelette and sweat treats like churros with Baileys dip.
The hotel is on the top two floors of the palace. The courtyard on the ground floor is given over to restaurant Azul Histórico, a local favourite. The tables are set beneath trees that are wreathed in lights, making it a popular and atmospheric spot for dinners.
At the hotel
Rooftop pool, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: flatscreen TV; minibar; iPod dock; speakers; air-conditioning; organic bath products.
Our favourite rooms
Suites excepted, most rooms don’t have windows, but their vaulted ceilings, minimalist furnishings and clever design touches – such as the lattice-like partitions between bedroom and bathroom – ensure they still feel spacious. If you’re after a city view, lots of legroom and a bath tub, book the 70sq m Revolution Suite.
The concrete infinity pool is on the terracotta roof terrace. Bright yellow sunloungers, parasols and sofas run along one side, add a playful shot of colour. There’s a stylish poolside bar at one end, a palm-ringed hot tub at the other, and a small changing cabin off to the side.
Bring your boldest, brightest swimwear – it’ll create a photo-worthy contrast with the concrete pool.
Apart from the pool, all the common areas are wheelchair accessible. There are no specially adapted rooms, but rooms don’t have any stairs or obstacles to deal with.
Whichever takes your fancy: they’re pretty equal in both restaurants.
There’s no need for formality – the design-led interiors tend to attract guests who dress with an artistic edge.
There are two, both serving modern Mexican cuisine. The first restaurant (often referred to as the Lobby) is under the covered terrace on the first floor, with tables set between the decorative archways. Try the octopus tostados to start, followed by the amaranth and pistachio-crusted bass or the Azteca skirt steak, served with a skewered vegetables, grilled cactus, house-style guacamole, refried beans and molcajete sauce. The hotel’s second eatery is on the roof terrace, overlooking the historic façades and domed roofs of the surrounding buildings. It’s first and foremost a bar, but it also serves an all-day menu of classics like shrimp tacos, quesadillas and sea bass ceviche, which is marinated in green ají sauce, avocado, strawberry ash and tomato drops. If you’ve got room for dessert, don’t miss the guava flan.
The bar shares the same space as the rooftop restaurant, ensuring it gets the best of the sunset. After a long day pounding the streets, hit refresh with a cucumber mezcal, or add a touch of spice with their Red Special, a medley of gin, red berries, spearmint, tonic water and cardamom.
In the Lobby, breakfast is served from 7am to noon; the all-day menu is available from noon to 11pm. The terrace opens at noon and stays open until midnight (the kitchen closes at 11pm, though).
Light bites like sandwiches and tacos can be served in-room.
The hotel is in the Centro Histórico, Mexico City’s heritage-filled heart.
International flights land at Aeropuerto Internacional Benito Juárez, which can be reached directly from London and most European hubs. It’s a 30-minute drive from the airport to the hotel, but traffic can add another 30 minutes in some cases. The hotel can arrange transfers for up to four people for US$50 each way. They only have one car of their own, so if it’s unavailable, they’ll arrange a taxi with a reputable firm instead.
Unless you’ve packed light, we’d probably give the Metro a miss on your way to the hotel. You’ll likely have a hard time getting on with a suitcase.
You won’t need a car if you’re staying in the city: taxis are relatively inexpensive and the fast, wallet-friendly Metro system has you covered elsewhere. Prospective drivers should be aware that the roads can be congested and chaotic at times. If you do want to hire, the Smith24 team can arrange it. Valet parking is US$15 a night.
Worth getting out of bed for
Tired of sightseeing for the day? The hotel’s sun-trapping roof terrace is the place to escape the frenetic energy of the streets – and the pool bar makes it easy to keep those cooling cocktails coming. Down on the ground floor, you’ll find a host of independent businesses including cafés, bakeries, jewellery boutiques and a restaurant. Most of the Centro Histórico’s sights are within walking distance, not least the Zócalo, Mexico City’s principal square, home to Alameda park, the Catedral Metropolitana and Palacio des Bellas Artes. If that isn’t enough space for your liking, decamp to the sprawling Bosque de Chapultepec, one of the largest urban parks in the world. Crowned by colonial-era Chapultepec castle, this 1,695-acre space is crossed by trails, carpeted with trees and studded with museums – nine, to be exact. If you’re looking to get out of the city altogether, have the hotel book you a car to Xochimilco, the Unesco-protected remnants of what was once a key Aztec waterway. Today, colourful gondolas ply the tree-lined canals, which they share with floating food vendors and mariachi bands. If you’ve got time to kill, don’t pass up a trip to the Unesco-protected city of Teotihuacán, standing since around 100 BC. It’s about an hour’s drive but well worth the effort – the immense Pyramids of the Sun and Moon are a sight to behold.
Housed in a beautiful French-style mansion with stained-glass windows and ornate stonework, El Cardenal is the place for a really traditional Mexican meal. Its breakfasts are legendary among locals, so it’s worth booking ahead. For lunch, try Jacinta, where chef Edgar Nuñez revisits the cuisine from his childhood, bringing several generations of family-style cooking to the table. The decor matches his back-to-basics approach, celebrating traditional, earthy materials with terracotta tiles, a wood-beam ceiling and hand-woven chairs. In the nearby Roma district, bistro Máximo has the dishes and fashionable clientele of a high-end Parisian restaurant, but the atmosphere is as unpretentious as a family-run taqueria, making this one a firm favourite with in-the-know locals. Housed in the shell of a 1950s bungalow in upmarket Polanca, chef Enrique Olvera’s Pujol is regularly voted Mexico City’s best restaurant, if not one of the best in the world. Recalling an era of visionary design, the mid-century interiors are the perfect pairing for his culinary creations, which celebrate all things Mexican in ways you’d never expect – think edible ants and a ‘living’ mole that’s been aging for more than 1,000 days. It’s not cheap, but Mexican dining doesn’t really get any better than this.
The hip districts of Roma and Condesa are where you’ll find many of the best cocktail bars – Licorería Limantour, Baltra and Xaman are some of the standout offerings – but no trip to the city is complete without a visit to a proper mezcal bar. Busy, noisy and just as popular with locals as it is with tourists, Centro dive bar Bósforo Mezcalería makes an excellent introduction to the scene. There are over 45 different varieties of the agave-based tipple on offer, including many sourced directly from suppliers in oft-overlooked regions.
I’ve found the cure for beastly jet lag: a blisteringly hot bath. After an 11-hour overnight flight there is no better tonic than sinking into an enormous tub, and I have Downtown Mexico to thank for this discovery.
With time difference on our side, a miraculously on-schedule flight and a clear run through the empty streets of Mexico City, we arrived at our destination at 6am. There is something rather romantic about reaching a new place in the dark, and this was intensified when the cab dropped us off outside the grand, iron-studded doors. We were almost speechless climbing out the car (almost being the operative word – we could barely contain our giddy excitement). Hardly surprising considering we were staying in a former palace.
The smiley concierge was ready to greet us and we were whisked upstairs through the dimly lit courtyard to our room. After gawping at its size (we were in the Independence Suite), I was straight in the bath. I like to think I’m somewhat of a bath connoisseur, and I was certainly impressed. As I stared up at the double height ceilings and twinkling tea lights I had lit, I couldn’t quite believe I had been at my desk in London the afternoon before.
It wasn’t until the sun rose and we swung open the double doors to the Juliet balcony that we realised exactly where we were. The hotel is situated on Isabel la Catolica, bang in the middle of Mexico City’s historical centre, and from the balcony you can admire the cobbled street below, the array of photogenic colonial buildings and, on a clear day, the mountain range that hugs the city’s outer edge.
Following a speedy power nap, we were ready for coffee and an explore of our new surroundings. Breakfast had just been served and, after spotting the towers of pastries, plates of cheese, and abundance of juicy fruit, we couldn’t resist. Served in the hotel’s courtyard on level one (the same floor as our room), the patio area blends old and new beautifully, capitalising on the stunning 17th-century colonial architecture. There’s impressive stonework and an iron staircase as well as a large-scale fresco from modern Mexican muralist Manuel Rodriguez Lozano. All the aesthetic details have been thought of right down to crockery and we immediately regretted not enquiring about where we could buy the heavy stone breakfast bowls (they were extremely satisfying to eat out of).
Breakfast became a real highlight and a three-course event each morning. We piled our plates high from the buffet (shout out to the best pain au chocolat I’ve ever tasted), as well as sampling traditional hot Mexican dishes that were made to order and brought to our table by the charming staff. We couldn’t agree on whether the Mexican eggs (scrambled with tomato and red pepper) or the chilaquiles (tortilla chips baked in salsa and cheese) took the top prize as our favourite.
Our three-day layover in Mexico City was a chance to cram in the culture (and some cocktails) before we spent a week horizontal on the beaches of Tulum and Holbox. While we quickly realised three days only really allowed time to scratch the surface of this sprawling city (the sixth biggest in the world), being based in the heart of the action certainly made our first-time visit that much smoother.
Downtown Mexico is just a short stroll from Zocalo, the capital’s biggest and most famous square, and the location of a number of key sightseeing spots including the Metropolitan Cathedral, Museo De Templo Mayor and the Palacio Nacional. In fact, the whole area is a Unesco World Heritage Site and just by walking the streets around the hotel you inevitably stumble across history at every turn, from ancient ruins to colonial grandeur. We also took trips further afield to the south of the city to visit the famed Frida Kahlo museum, wander the streets of suburban Coyoacán and further still to the canals of Xochimilco, as well as east to the Chapultepec park for the famed Anthropology Museum and the panoramic views from the castle.
Our sightseeing days were bookmarked by time spent relaxing at the hotel. Starting with the aforementioned breakfast and finishing with pre dinner drinks on the roof. A world away from the hustle and bustle of downstairs, the industrial style rooftop with pool, Jacuzzi, and views of the city, is a real talking point. A mix of concrete, terracotta tiles, and bright yellow sun loungers, it has an LA feel. Miss the margaritas and shrimp tacos at your peril.
With our body clocks not quite yet adjusted, nights for us ended early as we quickly fell into an OAP-approved regime. This suited us down to the ground, and we were keen not to miss valuable snoozing time in the plush king-sized bed (if I could have snuck it in my luggage, I would have – along with the exposed brick walls, snazzy floor lamps, my much-loved bath…)
Mexico City we’ll be back. And with that, Downtown Mexico too. It may have taken us three days to figure out how to turn all the lights off, but we’ll forgive you.