The smell of fresh chilli and roasting meat; the sound of live music around every corner; and the rich, earthy colours of brightly painted houses – Mexico City is a feast for the senses. Blending old and new in a charming mishmash of Spanish-influenced Colonial architecture and glittering skyscrapers, Mexico's sprawling capital is ringed by mountains and contains dozens of distinct neighbourhoods that offer endless variety. Friendly, welcoming and outgoing, the city's inhabitants know how to enjoy life; there is never a dull moment in this bustling metropolis.
With more than 150 museums, Mexico City rivals New York, Paris and London for spaces dedicated to history and culture, but alongside its ancient artefacts and historic centres, it also boasts trendy contemporary art galleries, exclusive boutiques, high-end restaurants, plentiful parks and public spaces, and a frenetic and varied nightlife scene. A city of contrasts and beguiling colours, it promises to surprise, challenge and bewitch. Here's how to while away 48 hours in the city.
10am: Strolling and street art
To get a feel for Mexico City, begin with a stroll through the historic Colonial neighbourhoods of Roma Norte and La Condesa, home to the city's early-20th-century elite. Beautiful Parisian and Spanish-influenced mansions are painted in rich colours, creating a visual spectacle around every corner.
Full of leafy parks, antique bookstores, artisans' workshops, trendy boutiques, art galleries, and cafes, bars and restaurants, the abutting neighbourhoods offer plenty of distractions. Stop by for a sweet treat at Bendita Paleta y Gelato in La Condesa, where you'll find a variety of flavours including mango and chilli, pistachio and raspberry, and lychee and jamaica – the local name for hibiscus.
These neighbourhoods are also home to some of the city's finest examples of street art, including beautiful murals that celebrate indigenous Mexican culture. Tours by local collective Street Art Chilango are the perfect introduction for aficionados, or simply wander at will with your camera at the ready. For lunch, head to Contramar in Roma Norte for delicately flavoured seafood.
1.30pm: Discover ancient artefacts
In the afternoon, visit Chapultepec, a short Uber ride away from Roma Norte. One of the largest city parks in Latin America, it is home to the fascinating National Museum of Anthropology. Even those who don’t usually make museums a priority will find plenty to marvel at. Its unparalleled collection, housed in 22 galleries, could easily occupy two full days. The museum explores Mexico’s rich history, documenting dozens of pre-Hispanic indigenous cultures, and their religious, social and political traditions.
If time is limited, begin with the must-see Mexica gallery, dedicated to the warlike Aztecs, which contains the famous Sun Stone, as well as hundreds of other spectacular artefacts that detail the Mexican people's fascinating gods, their rituals, culture and society, and the frankly horrifying stone knives used to perform human sacrifices. The Teotihuacan, Oaxaca and Maya galleries are also worth prioritising.
8pm: Eat like a local
For dinner, there's no better food than tacos, and no better place to get them than Orinoco in Roma Norte. Always packed – and open all night – this simple sit-down joint serves a limited but delectable range of tacos, including chicken and beef options in corn or flour tortillas. Don't miss the costras de res, a mouth-watering combination of grilled beef, melted cheese, onion, avocado and fresh herbs, which pairs perfectly with cool yoghurt and spicy green chilli salsa.
10:30am: Delve into the life and art of Frida Kahlo
After a leisurely breakfast – preferably of huevos rancheros – head to the Frida Kahlo Museum in peaceful Coyoacan, a historic village that was not incorporated into the sprawling city until the mid-19th century. Located in the Mexican artist's former home, known as Casa Azul (the Blue House), which she shared with her husband, famous muralist Diego Rivera, the museum is perennially popular. Book your tickets online to skip the queues.
The museum is a treat whether you're familiar with Kahlo's work and tragic life story or not. It contains a selection of her paintings, sculptures and mixed media works, as well as a collection of vernacular Mexican crafts and furnishings, and works by local artists. Relax in the large garden, filled with lush greenery and beautiful stone sculptures, a haven in which Kahlo found peace despite her physical and mental struggles.
12:30pm: Cantinas and tianguis in Coyoacan
For lunch, head a few blocks south to Plaza Jardin Hidalgo, a leafy plaza surrounded by cosy cafes and cantinas. For souvenir shopping, hit one of the local markets. Mexico City is home to more than 1,400 tianguis, or open-air markets, selling everything from food and household items to antiques and artisanal products. The traditional Mercado de Coyoacan and the nearby Mercado de Artesanias are great places to find beautiful embroidered textiles and handmade jewellery.
2:30pm: Historic buildings and unmissable murals
In the afternoon, visit the historic centre of the city. Wander around the Zocalo, the the capital's main square, surrounded by imposing historic buildings, and admire the Catedral Metropolitana de Mexico, which was built between 1573 and 1813, which features a stunning Baroque tabernacle and the gilded Alter of the Kings.
Make sure to stop by two government buildings – entry is free, but identification is needed – to see unforgettable murals by Rivera. Most visitors make their way to the Palacio Nacional to see an enormous work, painted between 1929 and 1935, that depicts the history of Mexico, but don’t miss the nearby Secretaria de Educacion Publica, which features more than 200 murals, many glorifying the Mexican Revolution and critiquing capitalism.
8pm: A culinary and cocktail-led tour of Mexico
For dinner, if your budget allows, treat yourself to a meal at Pujol, one of the city's most exclusive restaurants, serving a Mexican-inspired tasting menu. It was ranked as the best restaurant in North America this year, so reservations are a must.
Finally, head to Licoreria Limantour in Roma Norte. A relaxed but upbeat atmosphere and impeccable service form the perfect backdrop for seasonal, creative drinks with an inspired Mexican twist.