The Zocalo is the ideal spot to begin your sightseeing in Mexico City. Once the main center of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan, this is the beating heart of Mexico's capital. Within a few meters you will discover pre-Hispanic ruins and majestic colonial buildings. In the surrounding streets you will encounter a cross section of Mexico City's population: business executives, workers, and fashionistas, as well as vendors, buskers and Aztec dancers. Tourists and locals alike wander these streets where Mexico's past and present intersect.
The main square of the city is called the Zocalo but its official name is Plaza de la Constitucion. It takes up a whole city block and is among the largest squares in the world where people gather for civic and cultural events and celebrations throughout the year. Over the years the Zocalo has undergone several different incarnations; inside the Zocalo metro station you can see scale models of its many different phases.
The Palacio Nacional (National Palace) is another of the must-see tourist attractions in Mexico City. This beautiful colonial building, located to the east of the Zocalo, is the very site where the palace of the Aztec ruler Moctezuma once stood. The walls above the main staircase and along the corridor of the second floor are covered with murals by Diego Rivera, who depicted the history of Mexico from before the arrival of the Spaniards through to modern times. This series of murals, entitled "Mexico a Traves de los Siglos" (Mexico Through the Centuries) was painted between 1929 and 1951 and highlights the most dramatic moments of the nation's past. Other areas of the National Palace that are open to visitors include the Treasury, historical presidents' quarters and a botanical garden.
Mexico City's cathedral, the Catedral Metropolitana, located north of the Zocalo, went through several construction phases. The variety of architectural and artistic styles combine to create a fascinating testament to the passage of time. The cathedral is also replete with colonial religious art and beautiful gilded altarpieces. Time for a break? Head to the terrace bar at the Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico, located across the street from the southwest corner of the Zocalo, for a refreshment and a spectacular view of the square.