You will need stamina and perseverance to conquer Mexico City. The best place to start is the Centro Histórico, the city's historic downtown area, easily explored on foot and home to the city's most sumptuous architecture. The Zócalo, or Plaza de la Constitución, lies at its heart, surrounded by important colonial buildings like the Palacio Nacional and Cathedral, as well as the excavated remains of the Aztec Templo Mayor. The surrounding streets conceal fascinating plazas and museums and superb public buildings, like the Antiguo Secretaria de Educación, adorned with scintillating post-revolutionary murals that should not be missed.

A short walk southeast of the Zócalo lies La Merced, home to the largest market in the Americas, whilst west of the Zócalo is the shaded Alameda park and the Palacio de Bellas Artes, a must-see art deco wonder. Yet more great buildings and museums lie in the vicinity, including the national art gallery, the post office, and the Torre Latinoamericana, with its unsurpassed views of the sprawl. The irresistible Plaza Garibaldi, populated by crooning Mariachis, is a short walk away too.

The areas immediately west of the Centro Histórico, including the streets around the Plaza de la República, are less rich in attractions. Come here to find cheap lodgings or experience the working heart of the city. Nearby, the Parisian-style Paseo de la Reforma runs southwest into the once great entertainment district of the Zona Rosa. Today, better entertainment lies south, in the districts of Roma and Condesa, hotbeds of bohemian creativity and culinary talent. A visit to Bosque de Chapultepec, or Chapultepec park, west of the Zona Rosa, is obligatory. It's home to some good museums, including the fantastic Museo de Antropología, and makes a refreshing break from the madness of downtown.

If you have any energy left, there are some notable suburbs that make a good half- or full-day excursion. San Angel and Coyoacán are both pockets of handsome colonial splendour, a world away from modern Mexico City, and also home to diverting museums that honour national icons Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. The Ciudad Universitaria, or University City, has intriguing murals, whilst the Aztec settlement of Xochimilco, with its peaceful canals, is definitely worth exploring, preferably on a colourful punted boat. Finally, if you can make a pilgrimage to the shrine of the city's patron saint at Guadalupe.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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