Mexico City See And Do
Between Avenida Hidalgo and Avenida Juárez
This swath of green has been the place to promenade in Mexico City since the 16th century, when it was created. For evidence, check out the Museo Mural Diego Rivera at the eastern end of the Alameda, where you can see a 50-foot-long painting of people strolling through this very park. As is often the case in his large-scale works, Rivera includes a portrait of his wife, artist Frida Kahlo. It might be his frankest depiction of their relationship; the painting shows a maternal Frida holding the hand of a ten-year-old Diego (52-55-5512-0754; open Tues.–Sun. 10–6).
At the time of the Spanish conquest, Coyoacán was where Hernán Cortés set up shop after defeating the Aztecs in 1521. Today, it's a picturesque neighborhood with a much slower pace than the main city to the north. Although the area is worth visiting just for the shops selling nieves—ices in flavors such as chocolate-tuberose-gardenia or jicama-chile—Coyoacán also has a colorful weekend market that spills into the streets surrounding the main square of Plaza Hidalgo. Look for the handmade metal jewelry worn by residents of this bohemian enclave. About two miles west of Coyoacán is another colonial-era community, San Ángél. It's home to the Bazar Sábado, an art show and craft fair held every Saturday in Plaza de San Jacinto.
Corner of Altavista and Rivera
Tel: 52 55 5550 1189
If you're looking for Rivera-bilia, the village of San Ángel is where Diego and Frida maintained his-and-her studios (separate-but-equal seemed to work best for the tempestuous couple) that have since been turned into a museum. None of Kahlo's works are on display here, and just a few of Rivera's are; still, there's plenty of memorabilia, including some of Rivera's collection of pre-Columbian art.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 10 am to 6 pm.
Tel: 52 55 5554 5999
A few blocks from Coyoacán's tree-shaded Plaza Hidalgo is the cobalt-blue house where Frida Kahlo lived and died, set up as if she still lived there. Her wheelchair, used late in her life as she grew more infirm, sits poignantly in one corner. Several of the paintings on display here reveal her painful existence, including one called El Marxismo Dará la Salud (Marxism Will Heal). Painted just before she died in 1954, it shows her casting away her crutches.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 10 am to 5:45 pm.
Calzada Gandhi and Paseo de la Reforma
Tel: 52 55 5553 6386
A must-see collection of artifacts from Mexico's pre-Columbian cultures is housed in this 1964 building. (It was designed by architect Pedro Ramírez Vásquez, whose brilliant designs helped transform the city in the 1960s.) There are more than 20 archaeology and ethnography exhibits, but the star attraction is undoubtedly the Sala Mexica, with its depictions of the Aztecs' bloodthirsty gods, along with their sacrificial altars and vessels for holding human hearts.
Open Tuesdays through Saturdays 9 am to 7 pm.
Bosque de Chapultepec
Tel: 52 55 5061 9228
A hilltop castle that presides over Bosque de Chapultepec (the city's largest park), the Castillo is the former home of Emperor Maximilian, whose fatal flaw was not realizing that his subjects weren't in the mood for monarchy. He was executed by antiroyalists, but rooms belonging to him and his wife, Empress Carlota, have been re-created here. One look at her sumptuous marble bath and you'll know why the people revolted. There are great views of the city from the balconies, but only on days when the skies aren't obscured by smog.
Open Tuesdays through Sundays 9 am to 5 pm.
1 Avenida Juárez
Tel: 52 55 5521 9251
At the eastern end of the Alameda Central is the expansive Palacio de Bellas Artes, a building with a somewhat hodgepodge architectural style. Its construction began in 1904 but had to be stopped in 1910 for the Mexican Revolution; by the time it was finished in 1934, a new Art Deco–style facade had been added to what was essentially an Art Nouveau interior. The main attraction is a copy of the mural that Rivera originally painted for New York City's Rockefeller Center in 1933. A visual ode to communism, it depicts, among other scenes, the figure of Vladimir Lenin gazing down at a May Day parade. Such imagery apparently didn't jibe with Rockefeller's capitalistic sensibilities; his family had the mural destroyed before it was ever shown to the public. Come back in the evening to see a performance of traditional dances by the Ballet Folklórico de México (52-55-5529-9320; www.balletamalia.com).
There's no need to head to the jungle to see the region's archaeological sites; two of the best are just north of the capital. (Buses leave regularly from the Terminal Central del Norte, just north of downtown, 4907 Eje Central Lázaro Cárdenas; 52-55-5133-2444; www.centraldelnorte.com). Teotihuacán, once home to 250,000 people, predates many other Aztec, Toltec, and Maya cities by centuries. Most people huff and puff their way up the massive Pyramid of the Sun, but there's an easier climb (and a far better view) at the slightly smaller Pyramid of the Moon. Make sure to see the wonderfully preserved frescoes in the more recently excavated private homes near the temples. (Ask an attendant to point out a depiction of a dentist working on a patient.) At nearby Tula, a city that rose to power after the fall of Teotihuacán, a platoon of stone soldiers stands guard atop a temple.
There are many walking tours of the Centro Histórico, but none as fascinating as Monica Unikel's Jewish Tours (www.jewishtours.com.mx). Time and time again she takes you through nondescript doorways that lead to surprisingly opulent social halls, crowded apartment blocks, and hidden synagogues. Monica has an ironic sense of humor; she loves to point out, for example, that several Jewish settlements were located on Jesus and Mary Street. Other interesting tours of archaeological sites in and around the city are sponsored by the Mexican government's Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia (www.inah.gob.mx).
16 de Septiembre at 5 de Febrero
The huge town square, the Plaza de la Constitución—also known as the Zócalo—is the center of the city in every respect. It features three not-to-be-missed sights: the remains of the 14th- and 15th-century Templo Mayor, core of the Aztec city Tenochtitlán (though the Aztecs are referred to here by their proper name, the Mexica); the Catedral Metropolitana, built over 300 years in a jumble of architectural styles (it's also listing alarmingly—hence the scaffolding); and the Palacio Nacional, with its Diego Rivera murals.