Mexico City is like a map of the human brain: a simmering, complex, ever-changing storehouse of history, art, fashion and food. At 574 square miles (New York is only 467) and 20 million people, you could spend weeks just getting acquainted, but with cheaper fares now available, it’s possible to learn this fascinating city in shorter increments.
A good place to start is the Museum of Anthropology, where you’ll get a sense of the country’s ancient culture and mythology. With jetlag working in your favor, head over early to beat the crowds, and then wander among edifices of ancient temples, handmade gold and turquoise jewelry and the original Stone of the Sun, a.k.a. the Aztec Calendar.
After learning what’s come before, it’s time to plunge into modern Mexico. Head to the Zocalo, the bustling plaza in the heart of historic downtown, and stop into the National Palace to see Diego Rivera’s rustic yet bitingly political murals. Spend a quiet moment in the Metropolitan Cathedral before lunch at a rooftop restaurant overlooking the square — and the excavation of an ancient temple found during a dig to lay the electrical system. After a brief siesta, cap off your day with shopping, dinner and nightlife in the hip Condessa and adjoining La Roma neighborhoods.
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Start your day in Coyoacan, a quaint, relaxed neighborhood and home to Casa Azul, where artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera lived from 1929-1954. Their passion is evident in both their lovingly preserved household and their exhibited works.
But let’s get real — you’re there for the food. A few blocks south of Casa Azul is the Mercado de Coyoacan: a massive indoor space where vendors sling some of the freshest (and cheapest) street fare in the city. Service is friendly but dizzyingly brisk — just belly up to a table, be brave and order. Pointing is fine. Don’t miss Tostadas de Coyoacan, where shrimp or fish ceviche is piled atop delicately crisp tortillas.
Continue south to the Plaza del Coyocan to cool your tongue with a paleta (cream- or fruit-based popsicle) or to re-energize with a cappuccino. Just off the plaza is the Mercado Artisinal, where you can shop for local crafts and freshly-blended molé powder (which, unlike the fresh paste, can be smuggled home in your carry-on).
Where to stay
The Sheraton Maria Isabel is an anchor in a sprawling city, located on the Paseo de la Reforma, with views of the gilded Angel of Independence and Chapultepec Park, the largest city park in the Western Hemisphere. Stop in to the 60’s time-capsule Bar Jorango for a shot of tequila with a side of sangrita. Don’t be surprised to suddenly find yourself in a squall of singing mariachis.
Mexican airline Interjet (www.interjet.com) offers affordable flights in modern Airbus A320s that don’t skimp on legroom. Roundtrip flights from New York start at $349.