By Judy Waytiuk
There are conflicting reports over which is the world’s biggest city, but it could well be Mexico City. This remarkable city offers an overwhelming amount of culture, history, dining, and entertainment to the curious traveller: five Aztec temples, the continent’s largest cathedral, and stunning architecture ranging from Aztec ruins to 19th- and 20th-century design.
The City Centre
The Historic Center is the top tourism draw here. It encompasses the cathedral, the famous Zócalo (town square), with public and government buildings scattered around its edges and museums galore in the immediate area.
The Palacio De Bellas Artes is made of white marble, art deco in design, and still uses a stage curtain made of genuine Tiffany glass for performances by the Ballet Folclórico de México.
Beside the Cathedral, down Seminario Street, the Casa del Marqués del Apartado, built between 1795 and 1805 over an Aztec pyramid, now houses the National Museum of Anthropology and History. The Plaza de Santo Domingo, a smaller plaza than the Zócalo, with the ruins of a Dominican convent and the church of Santo Domingo is also worth a visit.
Mexico Tourist BoardOnce there, the Palacio de la Inquisición, covering the history of medicine in Mexico, is close by, as are the Plaza de la Constitución, Templo Mayor Aztec museum with a major Aztec ruin steps away, mural-decorated Colegio de San Ildefonso, the Church and Former Convent of San Francisco, National Museum of Cultures – the list is almost endless.
Along Calle de Moneda (Money Street), the first University of America, built in 1551, still stands. The National Museum of Culture is located in the old Mint, and the Former Archbishop’s Palace was built in 1530 and has been restored to its original glory.
Head west and there are more museums, celebrating artists: Jose Luis Cuevas, Diego Rivera, Franz Mayer, the Museum of National Art, and even the Museum of Stamps. For the Museum of Frida Kahlo, La Casa Azul or Blue House, you’ll have to journey to the neighbourhood of Coyoacán.
The Zona Rosa (Pink Zone)
For decades the Zona Rosa was considered the best spot to stay, with loads of shopping and dining and its proximity to the museums, plazas, and public buildings of the Historic Center. It’s still a good base for exploration and a charming area to explore, not far from Chapultepec Park and Alameda Park.
Still, there are plenty of monuments, churches, and landmarks to visit here: El Ángel, Fuente de Diana, Iglesia del Santo Niño, Arcos del Acueducto, Glorieta de Insurgentes, Museo de Cera, Iglesia del Sagrado Corazón, University Club, and Monumento a Cuauhtémoc.
In Chapultepec Park, which has been around since the 16th century, attractions include Chapultepec Castle (the view of the city from its terrace is breath-taking), the National Museum of History, Children’s Museum and Boy Heroes Memorial, Modern Art Museum, a zoo and botanical gardens, a fountain designed by world-renowned muralist Diego Rivera, amusement park, Museum of Modern Art, and the National Museum of Anthropology. This is a favourite weekend destination for Mexican families, and tree-lined pathways are also lined with vendors selling everything from snacks to balloons and giant stuffed toys.
Not far from the Zona Rosa, the small neighbourhood of Polanco has taken on the sheen the Pink Zone once possessed. A mix of tourism and residential areas, it boasts plenty of restaurants and a spicy nightlife for those who love to club.
Then there’s Coyoacán. Cobbled streets, plazas, galleries, restaurants and some startlingly-elegant residential mansions grace the shores of Lake Xochimilco. These days, the tourism action focuses around the area’s cafés, bars, bookstores, and museums. Leon Trotsky hung out here, as did Diego Rivera, Frida Kahlo, Celia Nutall and Salvador Novo. Museums like the Anahuacalli and the Museo Nacional De Culturas Populares reflect the active artistic culture that infuses what's now a neighbourhood-cum-suburb of Mexico City itself.
Mexico Tourist BoardBut Coyoacán is also the location for a peculiar little off-the-beaten-track treasure: the open-air punts of the canals off Lake Xochimilco. The boats are called trajineras, and propelled not unlike the gondolas of Venice and they cruise the canals right through local neighbourhoods on two-hour-long sight seeing trips.
These canals are the remnants of the canals and chinampas (floating gardens) of the ancient Aztec city of Tenochtitlánm and the gardens were declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987.
Mexico Tourist BoardArcheology Lessons
• Ancient Teotihuacan is the most popular and the must-see ruin in the city; the Pyramid of the Sun ranks among the world’s largest.
• The Cuicuilco pyramids date back to 1st century AD, and are the remnants of a city that may have housed 20,000 people.
• Underneath Mexico City is the original city of Tenochtitlan, overbuilt by the Spanish in the 1500s and re-discovered in 1790. Templo Mayor near the Zócalo is one visible remnant.
For more information, visit www.visitmexico.com