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The Plaza de la Constitución is one of the world's largest city squares and is the main plaza of Mexico's Federal District. Paved by Cortés is the 1520s, the expansive plaza lies at the site of the ceremonial center of the Aztec Tenochtitlán. For a time, the plaza was taken over by a labyrinth of stalls, until General Santa Anna cleared the square and laid the foundations of a monument to independence at its core. His plans were never realized, however, and the base of the proposed monument was eventually buried. What remains, is the name Zócalo, meaning "plinth," a moniker popularly used to refer to the Plaza de la Constitución as well as the main squares of several other Mexican cities. Here, Aztec dancers perform daily to the beat of drums, beneath the massive Mexican flag fluttering in the breeze, hoisted each morning by soldiers at 8a and lowered again at 6p. The grand historic facades of the Palacio Nacional and Catedral Metropolitana fringe the square; a place where the pulse of the city beats the strongest. The Plaza de la Constitución also hosts concerts, festivals and protests amid its sprawling embrace.
Centro Histórico is a heritage quarter in Mexico City and home to some of its finest architecture. This UNESCO World Heritage Site was once the power center of both the Aztec Empire and New Spain and preserves their unique architectural legacies. 1550 structures in this neighborhood have historical value and exhibit architectural styles such as Art Deco, Beaux-Arts, Italiante and Baroque. A walk through the streets reveals diverse buildings dating from the 16th to 20th Centuries and a plethora of museums. Famous structures here include the Palacio Nacional and the Catedral Metropolitana. This locality also encompasses the Zócalo or the Plaza de la Constitución, Latin America's largest city square. It is the perfect place for those looking to soak in old-world Mexican culture. The best time to visit the Centro Histórico is during the Festival del Centro Histórico, a celebration of culture.
Known for being home to various film stars in the Golden Age of cinema in the 1940s, this charming neighborhood features art deco and modern architecture, lush parks and hip cafes, restaurants and boutiques. This urbanized and trendy area of the city is popular amongst musicians, young professionals and families. A weekend must visit.
Castillo de Chapultepec was built between 1780 and 1790, constructed on top of an Aztec fortress with panoramic views of the city. The gardens surrounding the palace were designed by Empress Carlota during the French occupation and offer a beautiful stroll. It once served as the Colegio Militar (Military Academy) and was also the official presidential residence until 1939, when President Cárdenas converted the palace into the Museo Nacional de Historia. Restoration efforts have significantly enhanced the construction as well as the design of the interiors.
The pre-Hispanic origins of this zoo date back to when the Aztec Nezahualcóyotl created this area for the population to enjoy the flora and fauna. It was meant not only for entertainment but also for medicinal, artistry, food provision and religious purposes. Today around 2,000 animals of some 260 species consider these 17 hectares (42 acres) their natural habitat. Different biospheres have been recreated to make these guests feel more at home. Temperate woods of conifer trees shield the bears, deer and wolves; there are pastures for herbivores and deserts of arid and semiarid regions for other creatures; the Arctic tundra for the polar bears and even a coastal shore for sea lions. This is also the home of the Russian pandas, which were the first to produce offspring in captivity.
The Bosque de Chapultepec, or the Chapultepec Forest, is one of Mexico City's favorite attractions. Counted among Western Hemisphere's largest urban parks, it covers close to 686 hectares (1,695 acres). It is a verdant oasis of the city that delineates tales of the Aztec era through its Montezuma cypress trees and several Mesoamerican artifacts that are preserved in the on-site museum. The park is also home to the magnificent Chapultepec Castle which is a memory of the region's Spanish rulers. Apart from the castle, the Monument to the Ninos Heroes, the Carcamo, the Tlaloc's fountain and the baths of Moctezuma are some of the park's notable attractions.
Coyoacán is famous for being one of the oldest boroughs in the ever sprawling Mexico City. Dating back to the 1500s when it was the capital of the Conquistadors (Spanish conquerors), this region still features some of the original 16th Century architectural wonders, quaint cobblestone streets and tiny plazas from the Colonial era. It is estimated that an influx of over 70,000 people flock to this historic district on weekends for the multifarious events and festivals that take place throughout the year. It is also famous for a market selling local arts and crafts.
Recently named a barrio magico (magic neighborhood) by the secretary of tourism, San Ángel is located southwest of the city center. Populated by historic cobblestone streets, fragrant gardens and grand estates this neighborhood is flush with Colonial history. Many of the city's popular attractions are located near the San Ángel neighborhood including the Bellas Artes Palace, Templo Mayor and many art galleries, markets, open-air restaurants, boutiques and more.
A living testament to the ingenuity of the Aztecs, the canals of Xochimilco, meaning "Land of Flowers," are the last vestiges of a once extensive irrigation and transportation network built by the Aztecs. Artificial islets were created by layering logs, earth, mud and roots tied with vine and planting ahuejote, a native plant whose tough roots bind the walls of the chinampas. Today, Xochimilco has been restored, plied by brightly colored boats that sail down the 14-kilometer (8-mile) stretch of this navigable waterway. Vendors selling handicrafts and local delicacies are joined by mariachi and marimba bands that float by on wooden boats. A whirlwind of colors and sounds, a celebratory air presides over Lake Xochimilco at all times while the weekends are a veritable fiesta with locals heading to the canal to partake of the charms of this UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are several chinampas along the way, but the most renowned is the Island of the Dolls, instantly recognizable thanks to the numerous dolls strung up in trees.