Mexico City: Day 1 – Walking the Historic Center

While many tourists choose to visit Mexico’s famous beach areas, for various reasons we decided to spend 4 days in Mexico City. With an early afternoon arrival, we made it to our hotel by 2:30pm and had plenty of time to get acquainted with the city! While Mexico City isn’t as easy of a destination as other places we often visit, it is very lively and a big draw to the city is seeing the energy of the locals. Of course, most teenagers probably won’t appreciate this particular feature and would prefer to be on the beach, but Jeremy and I were happy to feel the heartbeat of the city on our first day.

When traveling to a large city, we often choose to stay close to the historic center, and this city was no exception. While our Uber driver was quite frustrated with unexpected road closures and told us that the historic center was a better place to visit than to stay, our conclusion was that we were right where we wanted to be. That said, eventually, we became as frustrated with our driver and when we felt like we were close enough to both deal with our bags and the crowds, we had him let us out and walked a few blocks to our hotel, NH Collection México City Centro Histórico. Much better!


Since our hotel was very close to the Zocalo area, we decided to start there. To our delight, there was an Aztec performance happening in the square! Between the costumes, drums, and ankle rattles, it was quite fun to watch!

Cathedral Metropolitana

First, we entered the Cathedral Metropolitana, which was quite beautiful with a lot of gold.

During this visit, I was quite tired and hungry. Thinking of the even more elaborate gold in Peru, and many of the slightly nicer cathedrals in Europe, I told Jeremy that I didn’t like the cathedral very much. He gave me a strange look and told me that we would come back later in the trip to look at it again. As it turns out, he was right! This cathedral rivals many of the European cathedrals and shouldn’t be missed! Don’t take me anywhere when I have low blood sugar.

At this point, we fully realized that our bodies were completely off after waking up at 2:30am and only eating a granola bar plus one Delta Airlines snack box. We were hoping to find a quick snack with a Mexican flair, but decided we didn’t want to wander aimlessly and instead picked up some McDonald’s McFlurries. Everyone was much happier!

Templo Mayor

Next, we decided to go see the Templo Mayor ruins.

The ruins were mildly interesting, but we enjoyed the museum more. In 1978, ground near the Cathedral Metropolitana was being dug up and they discovered the ruins of an ancient Aztec Temple. Apparently the Spanish decided to destroy the temple, steal the stones, and build a cathedral of their own in the same exact spot! The museum shows the archeological findings and talks about the history.

Upon leaving the museum, the afternoon rain shower started.

If you are traveling during the rainy season, expect most days to have at least a few minutes of rain, if not more. We had some umbrellas in a backpack and when the rain got quite hard, took refuge under a tree. Unfortunately, the tree was infested with spiders and I ended up with a large one on my shirt. Yikes! At least the boys were happy to swat it off of me.

Pedestrian Area of Historic Center

Next up was a walk down Madero Avenue.

There was a nice church that we ducked into. It is always surprising how much craftsmanship went into old Catholic churches.

As I was trying to get a picture of the exterior of the church, we saw a guy selling churros taking his plastic rain shield off of his stash and decided to get some. Given that there was no oil in sight, it was no surprise that they were cold and not super fresh, but we got our first Mexican churro! (Note that we figured out how to get fresh churros on Day 2!)

Our walk continued to the Torre Latinoamericana. We thought about going up to the top, but the line was long and the clouds were still clearing from the rain, so we decided to skip. We also thought about eating dinner at the restaurant on floor 41, but the reviews were quite mixed, so again, decided to skip.

Next door was the Palacio de Bellas Artes, which is a very pretty building that hosts cultural events. We thought about going to a ballet here, but the boys were less than enthusiastic about that plan.

We wandered through a park and made a note of all the street food.

As we headed towards Chinatown, we saw a fun little market. The stuffed blue tortillas caught James’ eye, but he wasn’t hungry enough to get one. We made a note to come back another time.


Chinatown is quite small, but the hanging lanterns are nice. The atmosphere was quite lively.

San Juan Market Fail

From here, we decided to walk towards the San Juan Market, but we arrived after 5pm when it was already shut down. Ooops! The neighborhood didn’t feel like it would be the safest after dark, so we decided to head elsewhere. Make sure to pay attention to your surroundings when visiting Mexico City. Many of the touristy areas are fairly safe, particularly during the daytime, but it is very easy to wander outside the boundaries towards some much less safe areas. Use your common sense and street smarts!

Our Evening

Walking back towards our hotel, we stopped at a restaurant that had a variety of Mexican foods that appeal to Americans. Yum!

Jeremy was pleased with his mole enchiladas, I enjoyed my verde enchiladas, John loved his burrito, but James found his pork tacos to be more fat than meat. When traveling with kids, we encourage the boys to try new things, but if they don’t like it, we don’t make them eat it. There is almost always a 7 Eleven type store, a bakery, an ice cream shop, or something else nearby to pick up something to keep them from getting too hungry before the next meal.

We did some more exploring around the historic center and found a ton more restaurants with really nice looking atmosphere. While we were happy with our meal, the first day of a new city you don’t always make choices that you would make later in the trip.

On our way back to the hotel, we decided to detour around the Cathedral one more time.

Jeremy and I had a fun time, but the boys were a little bored with our first day. James is always quite into the architecture, which the historic center had plenty of, but endless walking isn’t usually a teenager’s first choice. Keep reading to see what we did in latter days to try and keep them more entertained!

Keep reading our travel blog for more adventures in North America!

Here are more posts from this trip to Mexico:

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