I visited Mexico City from the US over the Christmas season. I was there by myself Dec 24th through the 29th. It was my first trip to Mexico, and I didn't speak Spanish (I had one of those Lonely Planet "Spanish to English" pocket guide phrase book and dictionary). However, I did a lot of reading up before going there, as well as browsed the very useful advice posted in this forum, so I had a pretty good sense of what I wanted to do during that time.
Here's kind of a summary of my experience there, so that it might help others who are considering visiting. I absolutley loved the place, and wish I knew Spnish. I had a bit of difficulty finding the exit to groudn transportation after getting my luggage, but finally managed to find it, where I took on eof the authorized taxis to my hotel. I will definitely visit the city again in the near future. It's a large and beautiful metropolis, with lots of crowded streets, friendly hawkers and street vendors, and amazing art, architecture, and food. I guess since I'm orginally from Bombay (Mumbai), India, I'm kinda used to crowds.
I stayed at the Catedral Hotel, which was close to the Zocalo. I got a room on the 6th floor with a balcony facing the street. You could hear the noise from the street during the day, but it wasn't too bad, and I was hardly in my hotel room. Once I got familiar with the layout in a couple of days, I felt this hotel was very centrally located to do many different things. The hotel's a decent one, and I ended up paying about $10 pesos a night, less a 10% discount for paying in cash. I only ate once at the hotel for breakfast, and thought the tamales were ok. Overall, most of the front desk were very friendly and helpful. I did not use the hotel for any sightseeing tours, but went around the block to the Catedral Hostel and took a tour to the Pyramids and the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadelupe for 260 pesos + entry fee to the pyramids (38 pesos).
I stayed out at the Zocalo till around 11.00 p.m. at night and never had a problem walking back by myself(P.S. I'm not a big person). I also took the subway/metro pretty frequently to get around the city and absolutely loved it. It was quick, easy, and very cheap (2 pesos), and I felt very safe, even when I returned one night around 10.30 p.m.. It was also not as crowded as I was led to believe, even when I travelled at peak hours.
I visited the following attractions:
1. The Chapultepec Castle (38 pesos entry), which easily can take 3 hours wandering around the castle. They don;t allow you to take flash photos, although they allow to videotape with prior permission (and 30 pesos). This was a great place to visit if you like history, and you can unwind at the Chapultepec Park after that. I took the metro to get here.
2. The National Palace, which borders the Zocalo and was wlaking distance from my hotel. It's free, but you need an ID to enter. The murals on the walls painted by Diego Rivera were very artistic, but you can't go to other portions of the Palace since it is the working seat of Govt.
3. The Templa Mayor, which are the archealogical ruins also within walking distance from teh Zocalo. It is closed on Sun/Mon, and costs 38 pesos to visit. Besides walking along portions of the ruins, you can also see the museum. I really liked it, and was glad the explanatory information within the ruins was also in English.
4. The Metropolitan Cathedral, which is at the head of the Zocalo. There's lot sof renovation happening here, but it's definitely worth a visit inside. It's got gorgeous baroque style architecture. I planned to go for midnight Christmas mass here, and walked at mid-night on the 24th Dec to the church because my receptionist at the hotel said there'd be mass, but I couldn't find anything happening. Also there are seveal entrances, many of which have construction around them, so I might have missed the portion of the catedral where the service was being held. I managed to catch mass the next morning on Christmas Day, but here too, because of my lack of spanish, I wasn't sure what time the services were, and the receptionists at the hotel didn't give me the right information.
5. The National Museum of Anthropology. You can spend an entire day here, but because I wanted to combine this with my visit to the Templa Mayor, I spent about 4 hours seeing it. I reached there quite early, about 9.30 a.m., and wanted to take the self-guided English headset to help me get around the museum. Unfortunately, the headsets at the entrance to the museum were still being charged and I didn;t get to use it. The entrance fee to the museum is 38 peso, and headsets cost 60 pesos. You can also get an English speaking guide, but since I was alone I decided to go around myself. 95% of the explanatory text for each artifact was in Spanish, so I wasn't sure what the history behind it was, but I enjoyed the visual aspect of teh artifacts, expecially the skeletal remains of the Maya ruler Pacal, and the other pre-Hispanic arhitecture and carvings. Here again I took the subway and walked from the station (10-15 mins) to the museum.
6. I took a tour with the Catedral Hostel to the Pyramids at Teotichuan and the Shrine. There were 6 other people and we went with an English speaking guide, and a driver, in a van. They also stopped at the archeaological site of the Three Cultures. I really enjoyed the pyramids and climbed both the Sum and Moon Pyramids, as well as the steps to the Temple. I'm not in shape, and the climb was tiring, and my thighs ached teh next day. But I wouldn't have missed it for the world. The tour started around 9.00 and we got back around 5.30 p.m.
7. I visited the Palace of Fine Arts (walked there from my hotel), where the Ballet de Folklorico is supposed to be held. But for that particular week, the Ballet was held at the Hidalgo Theater just around the corner from the Palace of Fine Arts. I missed the one show on Christmas day in the eveing (generally they have two shows on Sunday, 9.30 a.m. and 8.30 p.m., and at 8.30 p.m. on Wed.), but bought a ticket on Monday to see the Wed show. This was my last night and it was like a grand finale to my trip. All the tickets to teh Hidalgo Theater cost 300 pesos, and I got a seat just a few rows from the stage. I don't know how large the inside of the Palace of Fine Artts is, but the Hidalgo Theater was smaller, and so the performance was a little more intimate. It's a must-see show.
8. I also managed to visit Plaza Garibaldi in teh evning (around 7.30 p.m.), which is a place where many of the Mariachi bands play. It's a nice place, although a little seedy in appearance, especially the streets around it. I took the subway to the Plaza Garibaldi stop and walked from the station to the Plaza (although I had no problems, it didn't feel like a safe street).
I also wandered the streets quite a bit around the Zocalo area, and didn;t get a chance to go to the Zona Rosa portion of town. I did eat breakfast on Christmas Day at the Hotel Majestic rooftop, and had a great view of the Zocalo, the Cathedral and surrounding areas.
In terms of food and drink, I made the mistake of drining some coffee from a street vendor on the Zocalo, and my stomach felt a bit queasy. However, I did try the Tacos Al Pastor (beef tacos with pineapple and other tasty stuff) from one of the small eateries, and my stomach was fine. They were really delicious. So I'd recommend buying bottled water, and not drinking liquid stuff off the street. I had a wonderful meal at the Los Girasoles restairant (on Tacuba St), which serves "innovative new mexican cuisine". It was pricey, about $45 with drinks for one person, but it was my last night and I decided to splurge. I had this great Jamican Flowers and tortillas appetizer, another appetizer of mini-grasshoppers, and I had a main entree of local fish. I also ordered Mezcal, and they brought out three drinks, a half cucumber that was hollowed out and filled with Tequila, a shot glass of Mezcal, and another shotglass of Sangria. All of them went very well with my meal.
I did a lot of souvinir shopping from the street vendors, although I bought a few things from a local handicrafts market.
My hotel didn't offer a very good Exchnage rate on the dollar, and I waked down the street to HSBC bank, and they had a really good rate (and they took both traveller checks and cash).
I loved just walking around and people-watching, especially the locals. I took about 425 pictures/clips with my digital camera, many of them were of artifacts at the museums. I'm not sure how to post pictures to the this forum, otherwise I'd have done that.
All in all, I came back with great memories, and a determination to learn some basic conversational Spanish before making another trip back in the near future.