Mexico City, Mexico's capital and one of the world's biggest cities, is a sensory kaleidoscope. Colors compete with crowds, the crush of traffic and city smells; gleaming modern office buildings stand in stark contrast to the sprawling slums of poor neighborhoods, offset in turn by the quiet, well-mannered estates of Mexico City's affluent. Colonial architecture and extensive cultural attractions flush the picture of this very big metropolis. Like other cities of such size, Mexico City—DF or Mexico to locals—is multi-faceted, and to get a glimpse of the diamond amongst the rough of bustling urban life requires more than a quick afternoon visit.
Break your tour up based on city sections to make the best of Mexico City manageable.
The historic center, or Centro Historico, is criss-crossed by Metro lines for easy access. Start with the main plaza, Zocalo, and pause for architecture and quiet at the Metropolitan Cathedral or Aztec archeology at the Templo Mayor before launching a full-scale educational assault on area museums. Find Mexican art exhibits at the Museo de la Secratri de Hacienda y Credito Publico, world art and artifacts at the Museo Nacional de Las Culturas. Don't miss famous Mexican murals like those on the Secretaria de Educacion Publica and more Mexican art at the Museo Nacional de Arte. Spurred on by the scent of street vendor's specialties, get to the Museo de Charreria for Mexican cowboy related exhibits before dinner.
If crowds and cement walls call for an afternoon retreat, lounge around and people-watch in the city's main park, Almeda Central. Even if you don't have time to catch a concert at the Palace of Fine Arts—Palacio de Bellas Artes—stop in to see the murals designed by some of Mexico's finest artists like Diego Rivera gracing this building's walls. Find more of his work at the Diego Rivera Museum. Shored up by lunch, peruse the Museco Nacional de San Carlos for European art or the Franz Mayer Museum for historic furniture, fabrics and other artifacts.
Continue your city rounds after a lazy coffee break at a sidewalk caf‚ in Zona Rosa. If people-watching here seems too slow, do some celebrity sighting at the wax museum, Museo de Cera de la Ciudad de Mexico. If you don't find these representations of famous faces believable, stretch credulity further with a visit to Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum.
Get a glimpse of Mexico City's gentile side on a side trip to Condesa and Roma where art galleries and high-end homes compliment pleasant parks. Get your antiques here before heading on to the Bosque de Chapultepec, the city's biggest park. Stroll the zoo, skip stones on the lakes and get some history at the Museo Nacional de Historia or the Museo del Caracol. For anyone planning to spend time exploring Mexico's varied archaeological sites, a stop at the National Museum de Antropologia—National Museum of Anthropology—is a must. Get more modern Mexican art at the Museo de Arte Moderno and find important European works from the 20th century and the Museo Rufino Tamayo.
Mexico City was founded long ago on a lake. While it can be hard to imagine modern Mexico as a floating city, a ride through the canals in Xochimilco on a gondola—a trajinera—might help you make the mental leap. Stretch your legs with a walk through the Parque Ecologico de Xochimilco, a small park, or bargain for souvenirs in local markets before spending an hour or two wandering the suburb of San Angel. Get your daily dose of educational culture at the Diego Rivera and Frieda Kahlo Studio Museum.
Those who find history a little dry can explore the campus of Ciudad Universitaria and stop in for science at the Museo Universitario de Ciencias.
The homes of Frida Kahlo and Leon Trotsky, now museums, are in Coyoacan, south of downtown Mexico City. Stop for pre-Hispanic art at Anahuacalli, a museum designed by Diego Rivera before heading out to Parque Nacional Desierto de los Leones for fresh air. This national park is high enough to escape some of the smog and a good place to put all this history and culture in perspective.
No visit to the region would be complete without a tour of Aztec-era architecture at the Plaza de las Tres Cultures in Tlatelolco and Guadalupe.
Mexico City is about 375 miles southeast of Guadalajara.