Upscale shopping is available in Polanco, which is fun for strolling and window gazing — but you really didn’t come to Mexico to shop for mass-produced designer goods, did you? No, you want an immersive, local, only-in-Mexico experience. You want a market.
The best of the best (and open virtually every day) is the Mercado de Artesanias La Ciudadela, the sprawling crafts market in the heart of town. The market covers an entire city block, with a single asphalt parking lot in the center; even if you take a taxi or Uber car here, the driver should pull into the lot and let you out near one of the entryways.
From there, dive in. The “Artisan Market” is a rabbit warren, with narrow walkways and tiny passages leading off in all directions. Rather than try to make sense of it, go with the flow and follow your heart.
This is the place to buy all your trinkets and souvenirs — but also the spot where you’re likely to find gorgeous glassware, good jewelry, and one-of-a-kind surprises.
If you do find glasses, plates, or pottery you like, consider buying more than you’ll need. My sister-in-law, who bought a beautiful set of iced tea glasses here in December, hoped to buy more when she returned in August of the following year. Every vendor told us the same sad story: patterns change, and items that once filled the shelves by the hundreds can be rare as hen’s teeth a few months later.
On Saturdays, you will love the energy, people-watching, and shopping at the Bazar el Sabado. Take an Uber Car to this San Angel institution, check out the art outside the main market, and then plunge into the maze of high-end shops. (This is not your average “Chinese trinkets on blanket-covered tables” market!) This is your stop for hand-crafted furniture, high-dollar purses and bags created by local designers, silver jewelry, and one-of-a-kind works of art.
There’s a bustling restaurant in the center of the bazaar, often featuring live music and a buffet. When we were there, every little breeze sent hundreds of white blossoms cascading down from the shade trees onto the diners below:
I’m personally wary of buffet food — especially in countries where food safety training isn’t always as stringent as I’d like it to be. So rather than eat inside the market, save time for lunch at Sak’s, next door, where the live music and delicious sangria pair well with the enchiladas:
There are other weekend markets to explore — though, admittedly, the Bazaar at San Angel will spoil you. In or around Chapultepec Park, a lively local-interest market springs up around weekends and holidays:
The goods here are strictly of the t-shirts and cheap trinkets variety, with a few local treats (churros, bulk candy, fried snacks) thrown in for flavor. But if you’re in the market for unlicensed knitted caps that mimic copyrighted characters, this is the place:
If you’re visiting the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of the Most Blessed Virgin Mary into Heaven, you’re likely to see markets springing up in the shadow of the church, especially around the Christmas season. You’ll see locals enjoying tacos heaped with chicken and cheese as they stroll past blankets laden with inexpensive plastic jewelry and faux handmade goods (actually mass-produced).
Some bargaining is expected, but, if you see something you like, it’s probably better to remember that those pesos mean more to the locals than they do to you. Don’t let a dollar or two difference between their price and yours keep you from appreciating the magic of the moment!