Trip Tips: Mexico City for the hipster and history buff

MEXICO CITY Thu Jul 10, 2014 9:07pm EDT

Hot air balloons float above the Pyramid of the Sun during the international hot air balloon festival in the pre-hispanic city of Teotihuacan, on the outskirts of Mexico City in this March 17, 2012 file photo. REUTERS/Henry Romero/Files

Hot air balloons float above the Pyramid of the Sun during the international hot air balloon festival in the pre-hispanic city of Teotihuacan, on the outskirts of Mexico City in this March 17, 2012 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Henry Romero/Files

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MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - An ancient megalopolis built in a drained lake rimmed by mountains, Mexico City consistently flies under the radar. Lacking the samba-steeped allure of Rio de Janeiro or the chic intellectualism of Buenos Aires, Latin America's biggest city has failed to shed an unfair reputation for crime and pollution.

But Mexico City also feels like a city on the up, benefiting from more than a decade of progressive municipal administrations that cleaned up the atmosphere, legalized gay marriage, introduced a bike-sharing scheme and spruced up the austere historic center.

With excellent weather, vibrant history and one of the best dining scenes in the Americas, Mexico City is finally getting the attention it deserves.

Here are tips for getting the most out of a trip to Mexico City from Reuters, whose 2,600 journalists in all parts of the world offer visitors the best local insights.

    

PAST MEETS FUTURE

Modern day Mexico City sits on what was Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec kingdom and one of the largest pre-Columbian cities in the Americas.

Many of the treasures from that era were destroyed by 16th century Spanish invaders. What remains has been consumed by the city and become part of the fabric of life.

Surrounded by brutalist housing projects, Aztec ruins and a centuries-old church, the Plaza de Las Tres Culturas, where dozens of students were slain in 1968, perfectly encapsulates the complex mesh of influences, many of them violent, that nourish the city.

If visiting on a Sunday, a short stroll takes you to La Lagunilla antiques market, which abuts the "barrio bravo" of Tepito, one of the city's oldest commercial hubs and a place that revels in its den-of-thieves reputation.

Just behind the ever-bustling Zocalo is the Antiguo Colegio San Ildefonoso, a former Jesuit boarding school considered the birthplace of Mexican muralism. (www.sanildefonso.org.mx/)

   

FOOD FRENZY

From high-end molecular gastronomy to infinite street stalls selling insect-stuffed quesadillas, you're never likely to eat badly or go hungry in Mexico City.

Pujol, one of The World's 50 Best Restaurants, is an established pillar of avant-garde Mexican cuisine, but a slew of cheaper yet no less ambitious eateries seem to crop up daily. (www.pujol.com.mx/)

Maximo Bistrot, in the hip Roma neighborhood, is the pick of the bunch. It got an unexpected flurry of publicity after a top official's daughter was refused a table and caused a scene. Later that day, agents from her father's consumer agency shut the place down before a social media storm had him fired.(maximobistrot.com.mx/maximo/)

The Mercado San Juan, a treasure trove of a market, is a site of pilgrimage for the city's chefs. Be sure to try the freshly sliced sashimi, mopped in lime juice and soy sauce, which blood-spattered fishmongers carve out of a giant tuna - as delicious a sales pitch as you could wish for.

   

EXERCISE AND MESCAL

Every Sunday morning, main boulevard Paseo de Reforma is shut down to cars and taken over by cyclists, joggers and rollerbladers. Visitors can rent bikes, or buy a short-term membership to Ecobici, the city's popular bike sharing scheme which offers a great way to get around the city.

The southern neighborhood of Coyoacan is the intellectual heartland of the city. The house of Frida Kahlo, now a museum housing works by the famous painter and longtime wife of Diego Rivera, is a must, but also provides a great launching pad for exploring the shady squares and colonial roads of Coyoacan.

Arrive at the shimmering blue building at the wrong time and you can expect a long wait to get in. But make sure you do. It's almost impossible not to be captivated by the collection and Kahlo and Rivera's impeccable curatorial taste and sense of design, which celebrates all facets of Mexican indigenous art. (www.museofridakahlo.org.mx/)

There is no better way to end the day (or begin the night) than a couple of margaritas at the nearby San Angel Inn, a handsome restaurant where the food is secondary. The same cannot be said of the margaritas, which pack quite the punch, and are served in tasteful silver mugs cradled in a bowl of crushed ice. (www.sanangelinn.com/)

La Clandestina is one of the city's best mezcalerias. Serving little more than one brand of beer and a seemingly endless selection of mezcals, tequila's hip cousin, the tiny La Clandestina is a great place to engage in surreal late-night conversations.

For those intent on making it into the very early hours, M.N. Roy, the city's most exclusive nightclub, will tick all the boxes: interesting design, punchy sound system and top class DJs. Good luck getting in, though.

(Editing by Mary Milliken and Eric Walsh)

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