The food, the art, the history…there is so much you can see and do in Mexico City, it’s hard to know where to start. Our trip in February was such a rich experience of color, culture and taste. We didn’t have a bad day or a bad experience (except for the one time stuck in 5 hours of traffic, but we won’t talk about that). But I was able to narrow it down to six amazing experiences you must have when you visit Mexico City, traveling solo or with a family.
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Eat tacos off the street
Ok, it is a bit cliché to talk about Mexico and tacos. But when you are thinking of tacos, don’t think about those monstrosities that you get at Taco Bell (yes, I like that too occasionally, but you will understand what I mean after eating tacos in Mexico). All around the city you will find street stands selling tacos, usually of different types of meats. Here you will get a fresh small tortilla, usually of flour, some meat, a little bit of cilantro and onion, and some salsa if you are brave and want to add some spice. These tacos are small but filling and powerful. I loved the al pastor, the trippe, and the suadero. My kids were known to down 3 or 4 at a time. Anytime we were hungry, we would just stop at the local street vendor and get a taco. It was the best way to fill our stomach and try different tacos around the city.
Take a “Free” Walking Tour
You know I love a good walking tour to check out a city. I found Estacion Mexico Tours, that do free walking tours around the city. It’s free to get a reservation, and they are usually in Spanish and English. We did the Historic Downtown tour and explored downtown Mexico City. Starting at the Plaza Zocalo, we learned all about the history of Mexico City. You could tell from these amazing tour guides that there was a great deal of pride in their native history, talking proudly of the Aztecs that settled the area. We walked and saw ancient temples, beautiful old cathedrals and churches, a post office that was where the titanic was filmed, and the street of the brides where we saw quincenera dresses that I really wanted to see my daughter in. After the tour, you are encouraged to give a tip to the guides, generally around 10 euros or 200 pesos a person. It was an excellent price for the 3-hour tour and well worth it.
See the famous home of Frida Kahlo
Unless you have been living under a rock you know about Frida Kahlo and her famous art which embodies a feminist movement. Her home was right here in Mexico City in the Coyocan area of the city. After her death, her home was turned into a museum honoring her and her works. When making reservations, you are given an assigned entry time. Once in, you can walk the halls of her home, and see paintings, drawings, and photographs that she took (or photographs of her). Her kitchen, bedroom and painting room are all set up the way she had them. It’s one of those places where you can feel her spirit and understand how she lived and worked. The home has some beautiful gardens inside and you can sit in the gardens and understand the beauty and color around her. The kids learned so much more about her life and loved to be surrounded by her color.
Note: You cannot walk in, you MUST purchase a timed entry ticket online, and they sell out days in advance. Try to purchase them before your trip or you risk missing this amazing place.
Understand the native history of Mexico by visiting some pyramids
Long before the Spanish came to Mexico, even before the Aztec came and settled Mexico City, there were ancient peoples living in this area. Just an hour outside of Mexico City is Teotihuacan, an ancient complex that is so old, archaeologists do not know the name of the people who created it. It was abandoned by the time the Aztecs came to the area. However, this 8 square mile complex has temples to Quetzalcoatl, The Avenue of the Dead, the foundations of housing for the two classes of people, and a giant Sun and Moon temple. For 1,500 pesos ($85 US), we had a guide take us around the complex and show us the temple complex, point out where you could see traces of the original paint, and how you could see remains of an even older buildings under the ones you could see on top. (You can also use Get Your Guide to do a day trip from Mexico City) It truly helped us understand just how old, and deep the ancestry is of the people who live on this land.
Admire the Street Art all Around You
One thing that really struck me was the street art that was all over the city. As you drive around you can see beautiful murals on the highways, featuring history, and typical symbols of the Mexican people. At the end of the Mexican Revolution the government commissioned several public murals projects in the 20s and 30s. The tradition continued today as you drive around the city you will see several public murals with modern themes right alongside the many highways and streets you drive on. But in my opinion the best way to see this is from the Cablebus air tram. Opened in 2021, it was built to help people get to the Cuautepec area of the city. It’s one of the longest air tram systems in the world. But in anticipation of the program, the government commissioned 40 artists to create over 100 murals on the rooftops and walls along the route of the tram. We boarded at the bottom of the line and rode to the top and back. From this air tram, we could see the inspiring art all over the neighborhood making for a colorful and beautiful ride 6-mile ride. There were some inspiring and colorful pieces, and everyone enjoyed seeing the city from a new viewpoint.
Ride down the canals of Xochimilco
Sure, in Venice you can ride down the canals and have a romantic gondola ride. But, in Mexico if you ride down the canals, be prepared to party. The canals of Xochimilco were built in pre-Hispanic times and was used to bring trade into the city center. With the invention of cars, there was less need for canals, but the area reinvented itself. Nowadays you can hire a canal drive to take you up and down the river. Usually, the package includes a wireless speaker and some beers on ice. As you float down the river, vendors float along side selling whatever you need. More beer, snacks, micheladas, elote, shots of mezcal, tacos, more beer, toys, more beer, you get the picture. You can also hire a mariachi band to come on board and sing for you. We did this with our whole family for six hours and it was everyone’s favorite day. It was such a fun party atmosphere and we absolutely enjoyed every second. You can negotiate your own boat on site or use Get Your Guide to schedule a tour ahead of time.
No matter how you choose to spend your time in Mexico City, make sure to take the time to soak in the rich food and culture that you find. Stop at that local street stand. Meander by the murals on the wall. Take public transit to enjoy something different. Get deep into the music in culture either in a museum, a church, or ancient site. These experiences will create core memories that you will take with you anyplace you travel, and you will not be able to help but compare the beauty of Mexico to all you see throughout the world.
* Starred Photos taken by Atma Photography