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Walter Bibikow / Getty Images

Photo by Walter Bibikow / Getty Images

A street near the main plaza in Mexico City.

You’ve got a day to spare in the largest city in the Americas. Here’s what you do.

Construction cranes have become a constant in Mexico City as ultramodern office towers rise at a rapid rate, with restaurants, hotels and museums taking shape in their shadows. Amid the bustle, the Museo Soumaya—home to the art collection of Carlos Slim, one of the world’s wealthiest men—now ranks as the country’s most-visited art museum. The action isn’t limited to the big business districts, though. The Centro Histórico is rolling out the red carpet with pedestrian-only streets and restored palaces, while the nearby neighborhoods of Condesa and Roma are seeing chic establishments set up shop in storefronts more than a century old.

Newly renovated buildings in Centro Histórico include the 17th-century palace-turned-hotel Downtown México, where you can sample chocolates in flavors such as Mexican coffee and banana bubble gum at Que Bo! More traditional sweets tempt at lost-in-time candy purveyor Dulcería de Celaya, in business since 1874. Nearby, peek inside and buy postcard stamps at the belle époque Palacio Postal.

Head to the elegant Condesa area to escape the crowds and enjoy a lunch of enchiladas—hibiscus flower or chicken with mole negro—in the rooftop garden at Azul Condesa. Then stroll through peaceful Parque México and its popular dog park, where you’ll likely find dozens of well-trained pups playing and snoozing in the sun.

Creatives converge on the shops, galleries and cafés in Roma. Browse through books at El Péndulo, then visit celebrity chef Mónica Patiño’s Delirio, a gourmet store/restaurant, for a treat to take home. Or grab an orejita (elephant ear) from the acclaimed La Puerta Abierta Bakery. Close by, the cultural center Galería Casa Lamm hosts edgy art exhibitions, with most works for sale.

Roma is also home to some of the city’s best cantinas, including the 1950s institution Salón Covadonga, where you can enjoy refreshments alongside regulars playing dominos, and La Clandestina, a charming hole in the wall with 22 varieties of mescal. Hit Cabrera 7 to see and be seen, or grab a late-night bite and Mexican craft beer at Conde Sandwich (try the serrano ham on ciabatta), a cozy newcomer to the neighborhood.

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