At Leisure in Mexico City

A one-day itinerary for those with a free day in the capital By: Mark Rogers
A canal ride through the floating gardens of Xochimilco. // (c) Mexico Tourism Board
A canal ride through the floating gardens of Xochimilco. // (c) Mexico Tourism Board

While some people choose Mexico City as a leisure destination, for most travelers, the capital is a business destination or a hub to catch a connecting flight to their coastal resort. Sometimes, however, those business appointments are canceled or flight connections fall through, and travelers suddenly have more time on their hands than they originally bargained for. This one-day itinerary is for those who want to make the best of the situation and dive into one of the most exciting cities in the world.

A couple of tips from the start: Be careful about hailing taxis (only hire an authorized sitio taxi) and pack a few aspirin in your pocket because Mexico’s City’s high altitude packs the kick of a burro, and you’ll most likely feel the effects by late afternoon.

Breakfast at Sanborns
Hit the streets early and watch the city’s morning rush hour from one of the ubiquitous Sanborns restaurants (there are about 70 Sanborns in Mexico City). Sip a cup of coffee and revel in the fact you don’t have to rush anywhere — instead, you can explore the city at your own ambling pace.

Browse the Murals of the National Palace
Hail a taxi and head out to the Zocalo — Mexico city’s main square and the site of the National Place (Avenida Pino Suarez, Corregidora Esquina Guatemala Zocalo). Ascend the central staircase of the palace to the mezzanine to view Diego Rivera’s famous murals depicting the history of Mexico. Rivera labored more than 25 years to complete the series of huge paintings, which have such titles as “The Legend of Quetzalcoatl” and the “The Great City of Tenochtitlan.” This is one of those times when the services of a guide can elevate the experience, since the paintings are rich in iconography and symbolism. Don’t worry about finding a guide — they will find you; and don’t be shy about bargaining over the rate.

Visit Museo de Frida Kahlo
Hail a cab and head toward the Mueso de Frida Kahlo (9 Londres 247, on the corner of Allende in Coyoacan). Frida Kahlo and Diego Riviera are the artistic heartbeat of Mexico City, and their tumultuous love story is world famous. As big and sweeping and public as Diego’s artistic vision was, Kahlo’s was just as vast, but more inward in scope. The museum is also known as the Casa Azul, or Blue House, a name that will make perfect sense once you reach your destination. Kahlo was born in Casa Azul and lived at least part of the time with Diego there, until her death in 1954. Kahlo’s penetrating self portraits and nightmarish visions were inspired by a lifetime of pain from a teenage traffic accident. Fans of Kahlo’s artwork will love seeing the everyday items that surrounded the artist, from family keepsakes to papier mache skeletons.

Lunch at Hosteria Santo Domingo
Head downtown to the historic district for lunch at Mexico’s oldest restaurant, Hosteria Santo Domingo (72 Belisario Dominguez, Col. Centro). The restaurant has been specializing in traditional Mexican dishes since 1860. Take the time to relax — this is not going to be a quick bite. Enjoy the period atmosphere, archival photos, antiques and oil paintings. Your meal will be served on Pueblan talavera (ceramics), and your drinks will arrive in blown-glass from Guadalajara. House specialties are chiles en nogada, a dish made of stuffed poblano peppers in walnut sauce, and quesadillas con flor de calabaza, which are quesadillas filled with squash blossoms. If you have room for dessert, try the flan or rice pudding.

Touring the Xochimilco Floating Gardens
Now would be an ideal time to slow down the pace with a visit to the borough of Xochimilco — Mexico City’s Floating Gardens, a network of approximately 50 miles of canals in the southern part of the city. There are a couple of options here: If you want a touristic experience, head toward the canals in the historic center of Xochimilco, where you can board one of the festive-looking boats called trajineras. The canal ride will take you past notable buildings while plenty of boat vendors ply their wares as you are serenaded by mariachi musicians onboard. If you are looking for a more serene experience, head north of the center of Xochimilco to Parque Natural Xochimilco. As soon as you enter, you will see places to board the boats. This is a more green and quiet trip on the canals although, on Sundays, the boats are packed with locals.

A Stroll Through the Fashionable Condesa Neighborhood
After a day of history and heritage, it’s time to for something cool and contemporary. Make tracks for the tree-lined Condesa neighborhood, located in the central part of the city, where you will find one fashionable boutique and cafe after another. Browse the shops, have a bite to eat and soak up the atmosphere.

Listening to Garibaldi Square’s Mariachi Bands
Make a return trip to the historic center of the city to Garibaldi Square (Eje Central, between Calle Republica de Honduras and Calle Republica de Peru). You are now in mariachi central, where bands of musicians roam the crowds looking for paying customers. It’s a colorful scene and, for a few bucks, you can hear your Mexican standard of choice. While security has improved in Garibaldi Square, you should still be aware of potential pickpockets.

Tequilla at Bar La Opera
Stop for a nightcap at Bar La Opera. Lean back along the long, polished bar, study the baroque ceiling and order a shot of their best tequila. Then, ask them to point out the bullet hole in the ceiling, drilled by the Mexican hero himslef, Pancho Villa.

Kick Back at the Hotel
After a full day, ask the concierge at your hotel to send up a DVD of the film “Frida,” starring Salma Hayek. It will be the perfect way to end a day exploring Mexico City.

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