I usually do these guides split up into categories. Are you looking for food? Ok, here ya go! Are you looking for sights? Ok, I got ’em! But this guide I am going to break out into a day by day guide because Mexico City is VAST and you really have to do it in chunks or rather, by neighborhood, and that’s how we conquered Mexico City over Thanksgiving break.
First things first, I felt insanely safe. That’s the question I get asked the most when I tell people my family and I went to Mexico City for vacation. Yes, we felt safe. We took Ubers everywhere and it was very cheap and every driver was sweet and their cars were clean (cleaner than the ones in Chicago even). Not everyone speaks English, but it’s possible to get by without it, however, my sister speaks fluent Spanish which helps! And I would recommend maybe not staying in the city center, which is what we did, and instead, pick a quieter area like Polanco or Roma. It’s not unsafe or unsavory, but the downtown area isn’t what I imagined and if you want something more quaint then I recommend a smaller neighborhood that you can really sink your teeth into.
Our flight arrived late on a Wednesday night, so we really started our tour of Mexico City on Thursday. I had found a free walking tour, something we always do when we go to a new city, of the neighborhood of Coyoacan but it was only on Thursdays so we decided to start there.
We used the Strawberry Tours of Mexico City for our Coyoacan tour and I can’t say I would recommend it. The tour was pretty disjointed and didn’t always make the most sense. It was obvious our guide had knowledge in a lot of things and then not a ton of knowledge in a lot of other things one of those little knowledge things being about Frieda Kahlo who is from the Coyoacan area. And since the tour was of her neighborhood, I think it would have been nice to learn more about her. In short, I recommend a tour because we did learn a lot about this really artsy, historic neighborhood, but maybe with someone who does know the area and history better would have been ideal. I also HIGHLY recommend this neighborhood to people who are into the ‘gram. It is full of brightly colored homes and walls and my dad and I took many photos.
Speaking of Freida, we didn’t end up getting to go to Freida Kahlo’s house for a tour because we didn’t pre-buy tickets and apparently that was a mistake. We got there right when the house opened and there was a line to get in so it’s really THE thing to see in Mexico City. We didn’t feel like we missed out because we did get to see the outside of it and saw this awesome neighborhood but if you’re a big Freida fan, I would pre-order tickets.
After our tour, we went to lunch nearby at Septimo which is a pizza place in the neighborhood. My sister is a pretty picky eater so we end up eating pizza a lot (not complaining here!) but this place was awesome. We had the Mexican pizza which was a more salsa like type sauce, 2 different kinds of Mexican cheese and a basil-like topping that I can’t remember the name of, but damn was this pizza good. We also had this lovely bottle of Mexican wine that we ended up buying a second bottle to take with us on our next adventure of the day.
There was one thing I knew I desperately wanted to do while we were in Mexico City and that was visit Xochimilco. This area is what is left of a vast water transport system built by the Aztecs and people still have these huge gondola-like (but WAY bigger) boats that locals and tourists alike can take cruises on while mariachi bands float past or food vendors. I had heard from a few friends who are locals that this could be super cheesy, but fun afternoon and since it was Thanksgiving at home we thought what better way to celebrate than an afternoon cruise down a canal? If you want to go, read below for some my tips because this is definitely out of the way and somewhat of a tourist trap so you need to know the ropes if you go.
This really ended up being our favorite day of the trip so I really recommend it! We took an Uber here and actually hit a lot of traffic. Traffic in Mexico City is very common – it’s like being in LA! On our way, our Uber driver started to be flanked by a guy on a moped/motorcycle who kept waving him to follow him. Thankfully my sister spoke Spanish and we realized he was from one of the boat companies trying to get us to use their boat company so we did end up following him to a more local drop off location where we haggled with the boat company. We ended up paying $78 for 2 hours on a private gondola. We had read that you can get them down a lot more, but this also wasn’t busy season and we didn’t have much haggling power at this point since there were only 2 boat companies working that day since there was some music festival going on in town.
We brought our own snacks and wine that we had bought from the restaurant and we drank wine and listened to mariachi and had a grand old time dancing and singing. Some tips:
- Bring your own food. There are lots of food vendors but everything is way overpriced because most families bring literal feasts on these things and the only people who don’t know to pack food are…tourists.
- There are no bathrooms and if you do want to use one on the canal you have to pay so just be aware and have coins if you know you’ll need to go.
- Bring a radio or speakers. I wish I had thought of since we could hear mariachi every once when they sailed by, but most people brought their own speakers on board and we didn’t know to do that so we had radio silence a good amount of the time on our boat.
- Getting an uber back into the city center was somewhat of a chore, again because of that festival, so we walked about 15 min back to the main square and got an Uber there. This might not apply if it’s less busy when you go, but beware you might need to walk a good while to get back to an Uber friendly spot.
That evening we went to a restaurant close to our hotel for dinner and it wasn’t anything to write home about so not worth mentioning here, but we did have bed wine so don’t worry guys – all is well!
We had actually signed up for another free walking tour with Strawberry Tours, but when we arrived at the meeting point we realized it was the same damn guide from the day before so we decided to ditch the tour and do our own self-guided walking tour that my sister found online.
I loved doing the tour ourselves so that we could go at a slower pace and explore what we wanted to explore and it took us to a lot of things we felt would have been skipped if we had done a tour with a guide so highly recommend this self-guided walking tour we used. Also, we didn’t get to go here for breakfast because I didn’t realize we would need reservations, but El Cardenal is supposed to be superb. It’s in the Hilton across Alameda Central park that is on the guided tour so we actually did the tour backward and it was perfect. We got to see things like Zocalo, Madero Avenue, and Templo Mayor.
Jim and I love architecture so going to see one of Luis Barragan’s houses was a must for us when we went to Mexico City. I had also maybe heard it was very colorful and that sounded like a gram moment to me 🙂 We chose Casa Gilardi to go to, but we found out later that there are a bunch of other houses and even a church nearby that you can also explore if you have the time. You have to make a tour appointment online via email. I made my sister do it since everything on the website/Facebook page was in Spanish but both the brothers who did the tour spoke English so it didn’t make a difference. It’s not a guided tour in any sense of the word, you basically just show up and walk through the house and they tell you how their family came to own it and that’s about it. It took us maybe 20 minutes to see the whole house, take pictures (which costs extra), and talk to the brothers for a little bit.
Afterward, we walked to the neighborhood of Roma to have lunch at Lardo. This was the least Mexican meal of all since it was Mediterranean but the food was spectacular and the ambiance was even more perfect – it felt like you were in a high-end secret garden. After lunch, we walked around the Roma neighborhood which is very hip and had lots of stores and cute coffee and pastry shops, cocktail bars and other restaurants. We didn’t have a ton of time to explore, but we did head to Condesa DF, which is a hotel, for rooftop cocktails before going back to the hotel to get ready for dinner.
Like I mentioned above, my sister is not a foodie like my father and I so she stayed home and we went to the highlight of my trip: Pujol. If you’ve watched Chef’s Table on Netflix then you might have seen the episode about this restaurant – one of the best in the world – and their mole madre. It was an insanely fabulous meal and the service was just top notch and when I asked for them to sign my menu they invited us back into the kitchen. One of the best meals of my life!
We woke up early to go to Teotihuacan which is a vast archaeological complex outside the city. It takes about 30 minutes to get there without traffic and we knew wanted to be one of the first people there and also before it got too hot. It was November when we went, but it was REALLY hot there and you can get burnt all year round. We all got color despite wearing 30 SPF so beware.
This site was once a flourishing pre-Columbian city and you can climb up to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun to get a view of the whole thing. The steps are very, very steep and I got up about 200 of them before my dad decided maybe I should sit the steepest part out. I’m not lying when I say I am the clumsiest human alive and most people were going down these steps on their butt so I missed maybe the last 30 steps of the site but it was awesome when you’re up there. You can also walk around the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, see the Pyramid of the Moon and other artifacts from the Teotihuacan culture on site.
After walking around for maybe 2 hours, we headed to lunch at the nearby grotto restaurant called La Gruta. The restaurant is legit in the middle of a grotto carved out of a cave. It’s very cool and the food was surprisingly amazing. We even got to try fried crickets which were really tasty.
We got an Uber back to the city which took over an hour this time because of traffic and we all took showers and then went out to explore the neighborhood of Polanco for our last night n Mexico City.
Polanco is a very wealthy neighborhood with lots of cool restaurants, stores, and shops as well as a lot of chain restaurants so you have to do a bit of searching for things that are unique. Our dinner wasn’t that notable but we did get ice cream at Ice Cream Nation which makes ice cream with liquid nitrogen. Fun to watch and fun to eat! We even stumbled across a Christmas concert in the main square. We really loved Polanco and wished we had more time to explore but we were leaving early the next day so we left after dinner and headed home.
Mexico City was everything we wanted it to be and more! I highly recommend checking out this great city that has so much to offer.