If you’re planning a trip to Mexico City with young kids—whether for worldschooling or just some relaxed family travel—you might be wondering what activities would be best for them, especially since most travel guidebooks aren’t written with children in mind. Never fear—our family has tested everything out for you!
With nearly five months of experience living in the DF, we have visited many, many attractions with our four- and one-year-old super active boys, and today, I’m sharing my five favorites (so far—I might have more to add in a few weeks!).
Each of these attractions is engaging for young children, gives kids opportunities to learn and explore on their own, and finally, provides opportunities for kids to move (our boys are NOT for sitting still).
For those reasons, they get our family’s thumbs up! Most of these activities can be done in either a morning or an afternoon, in case you have kids who are still napping, and they’re all very reasonably priced—a number of them are even free.
If you’re worldschooling or visiting Mexico City with young children, these are the five activities that you should definitely include in your itinerary:
1. Castillo de Chapultepec (Chapultepec Castle):
The Castillo de Chapultepec is the only royal castle in the Americas, and even young children can appreciate its impressive architecture, with its gold-trimmed marble staircases, ornate bedrooms, and enormous outdoor patios. Inside the castle, you’ll find displays of the Spanish empire's former riches, exhibits honoring the castle's residents (includes the Emperor Maximilian), and a few rooms dedicated to displaying Revolution-era murals—which I found both fascinating and subversive, given their location. Perhaps the most breathtaking part of the castle, however, is the view that you can get from its balcony, which overlooks Mexico City. If you don’t get a sense of the city’s sprawl while driving through it, you’ll certainly gain an appreciation for its size when you take a look from these balconies. The castle doesn't have a lot of hands-on activities, so don’t plan to spend a ton of time here, but budgeting two hours or so will allow you to get a sense of its history, and restless kids can get their energy out running around the grounds.
Some practical tips for visiting: In order to enter the castle, you must hike up a fairly significant hill, so be prepared. Once you arrive at the castle grounds, strollers aren’t allowed, so if you’re bringing young children, be sure to have a baby carrier with you. Food and drink are also not available (or allowed) within the castle grounds, so supply snacks and water to your kids beforehand. After you visit the castle, make a whole day out of your trip by hanging out in the Bosque de Chapultepec (Mexico City’s equivalent of Central Park). You can buy lunch, ice cream, and souvenirs from any one of the hundreds of vendors who set up in the park, watch families paddle boating on the lake (or rent a boat yourself), and, if you have any stamina left, head to the nearby Zoológico de Chapultepec to enjoy the animals.
2. Zoológico de Chapultepec (Chapultepec Zoo):
The Chapultepec Zoo is one of my favorite places to bring kids in Mexico City, and our family has spent many hours enjoying the animals at this free attraction. Don’t miss the chance to see the giant pandas and the always entertaining monkeys, who have an extensive habitat. The Capuchin monkeys in particular (see above) are the most curious and friendly. It’s also worth paying a little bit extra for entry to the butterfly house, where your children can befriend butterflies of all sizes and colors. Full disclosure: the butterfly house terrified my oldest when he was a toddler, so if you have very young kids, know that they might not appreciate it.
Some practical tips for visiting: At the entrance to the zoo, you will see signs that say “No bags allowed” and direct you to leave your bags at the coat check—don’t bother. This isn’t official policy and it is never enforced, although your bags will be checked by security guards on your way in. If you have toddlers or children who are not great walkers, and you don’t have a stroller with you, I would encourage you to rent one of the push carts available at the front entrance, as the zoo covers a lot of ground. Finally, know that the only food options inside the zoo are overpriced chain restaurants (though still cheap by American standards), so if you’re hungry, pick up something from the vendors outside before you head in. For the adventurous eater, try the “Dorilocos,” which are bags of Doritos doctored up with: pickled pork rinds, slices of jicama, cucumber and carrots, peanuts, gummy bears, lime juice, chamoy sauce, chili powder and hot sauce. I am not joking, these are a real thing.
3. Museo Nacional de Antropología (National Museum of Anthropology):
Children aged 4 and up will be able to appreciate the displays in this fascinating museum of Mexican history. The museum is divided into multiple rooms (really buildings), with each focused on a different region of Mexico and its native cultures—the bottom floors are dedicated to archeology and the top floors to ethnography.
Some practical tips for visiting: If you go with young children, I highly recommend picking no more than two rooms (salas) to focus on per visit—but do make sure that one of them is the room dedicated to the colonial period. Visiting two salas will take you about 2-3 hours, and since there isn’t too much hands-on stuff for kids to do, that’s all that you’ll want to plan on doing. Once you leave, cross the outdoor plaza to the nearby park to watch the “voladores” perform—you and your kids will be stunned by their death-defying ritual. If you didn’t get a chance to go to the zoo earlier, you can easily combine this museum with a zoo trip—they’re right across the street from each other.
4. Papalote Museo del Niño (Papalote Children’s Museum):
The Papalote Museum encourages hands-on exploration for kids of all ages—including toddlers and preschoolers! In its many exhibits, kids can explore the human body, the flora and fauna of Mexico, Mexican cuisine, and more. Older teenagers—known as “cuates,” or buddies—lead kids through the different activities and answer their questions (although in my experience, most speak only Spanish).
Some practical tips for visiting: If you go with young children, try to have an equal adult-to-kid ratio. The museum is big and often quite busy with school groups, and I found it very difficult to keep track of my two boys when I went alone with them. I definitely would have appreciated having my husband along with us! If your kids don’t nap, plan to make this a longer visit—you can grab lunch at the museum’s food court, which is mostly fast food, but does offer sushi and traditional Mexican cuisine as well.
The village of Coyoacán was one of the first populated areas of Mexico City—Hernán Cortés set up his administrative offices there in the 16th centrury—and it has been beautifully preserved over the past few centuries.
Practical tips for visiting: There’s so much to do in Coayocán that it really deserves an entire day dedicated to it. You can start in the morning with a visit to Frida Kahlo’s childhood home, La Casa Azul, where you’ll enjoy exhibitions of her art as well as her personal belongings. From there, you can walk about 25 minutes to the Hacienda de Cortés. Afterwards, be sure to visit the Centro Cultural Elena Garro, which is just across the street, and which is one of the most beautiful bookstores I’ve ever seen in my life. For lunch, you should head towards the Plaza Hidalgo and grab something at one of the dozens of street restaurants that line Calle Cuauhtémoc—I recommend trying the pambazos and tlayudas, in particular. If it’s a weekend, after lunch, the kids can enjoy one of the many clowns that perform in the Plaza Hidalgo (be sure to give the clown's assistant a few pesos, if you enjoy the performance), or they can just run around. You should also tour the Iglesia de San Juan Bautista, on the plaza, which was built in the 16th century and is a beautiful example of baroque architecture. Finally, to end your day on a sweet note, go around the corner for dessert at one of the churrerías on Calle Aguayo (towards Cuauhtémoc). Parents, who will surely be exhausted by now, can grab a delicious and cheap pick-me-up of coffee or espresso at Café el Jarocho, at the corner of Cuauhtémoc and Allende, before heading home.
In the next two weeks, I’ll be checking out a few new attractions with the boys, like the Acuario Inbursa and the Museo Nacional de las Culturas del Mundo, so I’ll be sure to report back on those as well!