You could say that Mexico City is having a bit of a moment right now, after spending the past five days eating and exploring our way through the city with our kids I understand why. We decided somewhat last minute to book a trip over Christmas, looking for a place none of us had been before that would be warmer than New York. The under four hour direct flight from NYC sealed the deal. The trip surpassed my expectations – it was the perfect place to spend four days (five nights) with our kids who are finally at the age where they actually appreciate the culture, food and adventure a foreign city has to offer. The city itself while gigantic is so accessible, especially for kids. It’s a very walkable city, we found an even better playground in each neighborhood we visited to the delight of our kids. There are countless museums to visit, and restaurants to try (I’ve highlighted some of our favorites below) the hardest part was choosing which ones to see and which ones we had to skip. We also took two day excursions just outside the city to visit the ancient pyramids in Teotihuacan and then to the Frida Kahlo’s Museum and a gondola boat ride at Xochimilco. I used a tour company called Stepping Mexico to help arrange those. I’ve written up some of the highlights from our trip below including some tips and recommendations.
We opted for a an airbnb type apartment through a local company run by a friend of a friend called The Local Way, it felt a little more personal than other home rental services and even came with friendly concierge who I was able to communicate with as I was planning some of the details of our trip. We opted to stay in Polanco which I would compare to the Upper East Side of Manhattan. We found a very nice and spacious 2 bedroom, 2.5 bath apartment in a brand-new apartment complex with a beautiful outdoor pool and great gym for the fraction of the price of some of the nicer hotels in Mexico City. While the neighborhood isn’t as charming as Roma or Condessa (which I would compare to Brooklyn and where we ended up eating most of our meals) it was convenient and attached to a 24/7 grocery store and felt extremely safe. We actually enjoyed coming back to the apartment after a long day of exploring to relax and lounge by the pool.
We arrived on Christmas Eve and unfortunately many of the museums were closed on Christmas Day. We ended up walking through Chapultepec Park, one of the biggest parks in the world and home to ten museums. Our first stop was the National Museum of Anthropology which is on most people’s “do not miss list” but we actually found a little boring. It’s a beautiful museum and I spent most of my time in the garden restaurant after our little one decided to nap in the middle of lunch.
We much preferred the Museo Tamayo, a stunning contemporary art museum also within the park grounds. The kids loved exploring the art in the museum as well as the surrounding sculpture garden. The zoo also looked fun but was closed on Christmas Day. Instead we rented paddle boats with the girls and tooled around the little lake. The Museum Jumex and the Museo Dolores also came highly recommended but we just ran out of time.
Excursions and Tours:
One of the highlights of our trip was waking up at 5am one morning to drive to Teotihuacan and take a hot air balloon ride over the pyramids for sunrise. It was a bucket list experience and totally worth it. We arranged the balloon ride and then a tour of the pyramids through a local tour company called Stepping Mexico. They arranged for a driver and guide to pick us up at our apartment and drive us the 30 minutes to Teotihuacan. We felt completely safe and it was a fraction of the price of other balloon tours we’ve seen in places like Napa and Portugal. My only warning is to dress warm (but in layers), it was quite cold in the morning but warmed up by the pyramids in the afternoon. We had a guide take us to the pyramids after the balloon ride, the guide wasn’t the best but I’m glad we saw them. He left us to hike up the pyramids on our own, which got extremely crowded but the girls felt super proud to be able to say they climbed a pyramid so I’d say it’s worth fighting the crowds.
We also used Stepping Mexico to arrange for a driver and guide to take us to Coyoacan, a quaint village and also home to Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Visiting the Casa Azul where Frida and Diego lived and Frida kept her studio was another highlight. I’d say hiring a guide and driver to take us was worth it for the sheer reason that when we arrived slightly before 10am (when the museum opens) there was already a line around the corner with those who had bought tickets in advance. Our guide was able to get us in right when the doors open so we had a few precious moments to ourselves and a few others before the museum was taken over by crowds. The colors and beauty were astonishing. Outside guides aren’t aloud into the museum but we purchased audio guides that were great.
After the museum we explored the Mercado Coyoacan and got to try delicious tostados and fresh fruit only found in Mexico. After the market we drove about an hour away to visit the Xochimilco Canals and took a Gondola ride. While the kids had fun and the colorful water taxis made for great pictures, I’d say this is one excursion you could skip.
Another adventure we arranged ahead of time were tickets for a Luche Libre (the Mexican wrestling show). We weren’t quite sure what to expect with this one (watching the movie Nacho Libre ahead of time was helpful) but nothing could fully prepare us for what we saw. It was totally entertaining and hilarious. The kids loved it and again it felt like a once in a lifetime kind of experience (one we probably won’t ever do again!)
I would argue it is difficult to find a bad meal meal in Mexico City. That being said I did do a bit of research ahead of time, you need to make reservations well in advance at many of the top restaurants like Pujol. I wasn’t looking for anything too fancy but did want to get a taste of Mexico City’s burgeoning chef scene. We pulled some strings to get a lunch reservation at Contramar, which seems to be on everyone’s “best of” list and it was worth it. They serve lunch only (the big meal in Mexico City) It was one of those meals where you can’t make a bad order, everything was delicious. Be prepared though, word of the restaurant has clearly spread and we were mostly surrounded by tables of other Americans. One of my other favorite meals was at Lardo, it’s technically mediterranean but with Mexican flare. They serve lunch and dinner, we had a dinner reservation and I had to stop myself from ordering everything on the menu. Highlights were all of the salads, bread and pizza! We at at Blanco Colima, an absolutely stunning restaurant in Roma Norte. The food was somewhat disappointing, nothing I felt we couldn’t get in New York but it’s worth visiting the bar for a cocktail, I’d recommend the jalapeño mezcal margarita if you do go. One of our best lunches we ate was at Tu Ceviche, it’s more of a casual spot but I’ve never seen ceviches like the ones served here and I even got the girls to try Chapulines (fried grasshoppers!)
I’ve returned home from Mexico City extremely full but also inspired by the colors, the tastes, the art and the friendly and welcoming nature of all the people we encountered during our travels. I am so grateful that we could give our kids this experience and that they were in turn so open to the adventure! I highly, highly recommend this trip to anyone with (or without kids)!