Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de María) is the largest and oldest cathedral in the Americas, built in 1573-1813, and seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Mexico, seen here with flowers planted on the Zocalo Square.

Peruse impressive museums, follow your taste buds to cutting-edge fine dining establishments and explore fashionable art, food and fashion scenes on a trip to remember. (Getty Images).

Larger than Rome, London and New York City, today's revitalized Mexico City is a dynamic and vibrant destination. With its centuries-old historic landmarks, rich cultural heritage, modern art and architecture and cutting-edge fashion scene, it's no wonder why Mexico City has been named the World Design Capital for 2018.

[See: 6 Sinking Cities to Visit Before It's Too Late.]

Mexico City is also an international culinary hot spot. In addition to classic and modern dishes, chefs are combining their inspiration from countries around the world, such as France, Italy, Spain, Israel, Japan and Thailand, with indigenous ingredients to create inventive plates at the city's new dining establishments and food halls. Restaurants such as Pujol, Quintonil and Rosetta have received critical acclaim as some of the world's best restaurants. There's even an emerging Mexican wine scene, in addition to local spirits and artisanal mezcals. From historic districts to the colorful and trendy neighborhoods, Mexico City's diverse enclaves are not-to-be-missed. Here are a few reasons to start planning your next getaway.

The Historic Sites and Museums

Begin your visit with a tour of the central plaza, Plaza de la Constitución, also known as El Zócalo. At the heart of the Historic Center of Mexico City, this expansive plaza was at one time the ceremonial site for the Aztecs. Today, it's where the city celebrates events like the annual Independence Day on Sept.16. Just next to the plaza, you'll find the impressive Aztec ruins of Templo Mayor. The grand temple, constructed in 1325, was one of the principal Aztec temples in the capital city once known as Tenochtitlan. The city and the temple went through a number of significant changes over a period of nearly 200 years until the Spaniards tore down the pyramids and the temple in 1521 to use many of the stones to build the Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption, the largest cathedral in Latin America.

Art enthusiasts, especially those interested in the city's famous muralists, will want to tour many of Mexico City's museums. The Antiguo Colegio San Ildefonso was built as a Jesuit seminary in the mid-16th century and is known as the birthplace of the muralist movement and is home to the first mural by Diego Rivera called "La Creación" (The Creation) along with murals by several other well-known artists, including José Clemente Orozco.

Other must-see museums include the Palacio de Belles Artes, renowned for its murals, art and sculpture collections and stunning architecture, and the Modern Art Museum, which maintains one of the most extensive collections of Mexican art. Fans of the distinguished Mexican painter Frida Kahlo flock to the Museo Frida Kahlo, the blue-colored home of the renowned artist's family and where she lived with Diego Rivera. Another stop for Kahlo and Rivera devotees is the Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo, the former art studio and home of the dynamic couple.

The Lively Neighborhoods

Spend time exploring San Angel's picturesque upscale neighborhood followed by a visit to Plaza San Jacinto. Saturday's market at the plaza is a colorful and animated place to stroll and shop for Mexican arts and crafts. Make reservations for lunch between 3 and 5 p.m., the traditional time for lunch in Mexico City, at the famous San Ángel Inn, which is across the street from Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo. Request a table outdoors in the beautiful courtyard of the historic hacienda-style building to enjoy the ancient trees and beautiful flowers. Once a Carmelite monastery, the building dates back to 1692 and has a long and fascinating history. Dine on Mexican specialties such as Veracruz-style sea bass or crepes filled with the Mexican delicacy, huitlacoche, a fungus that grows on corn and is referred to as "Mexican truffle."

[See: 10 Bucket-List Destinations That Don't Cost a Fortune.]

Polanco, the city's most prestigious neighborhood, is bustling with Mexico City's financial and business districts, high-end shopping areas and boutiques, luxury hotels, upscale restaurants and vibrant nightlife scenes. Two other significant art institutions are in Polanco: Museo Soumaya and Museo Jumex. After spending the day browsing designer shops on Avenida Presidente Masaryk, have dinner at one of the acclaimed fine dining establishments like Enrique Olvera's Pujol. Meanwhile, Dulce Patria – located at the Las Alcobas hotel – serves vibrant and playful takes on modern cuisine, inspired by chef Martha Ortiz Chapa's Mexican culinary roots and artist Frida Kahlo's palate. Before dinner, sample a few Mexican vintages at Vinícola Urbana, a rooftop vineyard in the heart of the city, where you can learn about and taste Mexican wines.

Roma, along with the adjacent neighborhood of Condesa, is recognized as one of the city's major cultural and culinary hubs. The once-wealthy area known a century ago for its stylish mansions is now a hip neighborhood with art nouveau-style buildings and tree-lined boulevards boasting restaurants, bars and galleries. For authentic Mexican cuisine, spend a day with Jorge Fitz and Alberto Estua of Casa Jacaranda. Begin the morning with a tour and shopping for ingredients at the colorful stalls of Mercado de Medellín in Roma Sur, where the food lover can delight in freshly dried chili peppers, prepared mole pastes, marigold-fed chickens, locally grown organic Mexican chocolate and fresh huitlacoche, the prized Mexican truffle. After the market visit, stroll over to Casa Jacaranda for an exciting afternoon of cooking while learning about the history of and tricks to preparing Mexican specialties. Then, enjoy lunch on their upstairs deck overlooking the pretty tree-lined street. Savor Mexican wines and food prepared from scratch such as tamales, mole poblano with chicken, and calabaza en tacha (candied pumpkin) served over local ice cream from the market.

If you're still in the mood for dinner, reserve a spot at Rosetta, another top restaurant located in Roma Norte. For a lighter casual meal, nosh from the stands at one of the new food halls, Comedor de los Milagros, situated across from Mercado de Medellín.

Where to Stay

For an unexpected treat close to the shops and nightlife scene in Roma, stay at Ignacia Guest House. This intimate bed-and-breakfast, behind Casa Jacaranda, has just five rooms and a hidden courtyard where you can savor a quiet breakfast each morning. After a hectic day in this city, this retreat offers the perfect respite to retire to in the evening.

[See: The Best Hotels in Mexico.]

If you prefer a larger luxury hotel with many amenities, there are quite a few properties to pick from, and The St. Regis Mexico City is one of the finest. Located on the main avenue, Paseo de la Reforma, all of this St Regis outpost's rooms and suites have floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the city. Visit the Remède Spa after a day of sightseeing to experience one of their treatments inspired by ancient Mexican healing traditions and customs.


10 Life-Changing Trips to Cross Off Your List in 2018


10 Life-Changing Trips to Cross Off Your List in 2018

These enriching trips deliver life-altering experiences.

Walking man in Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia.

(Getty Images)

At the start of each calendar year, jet-setters resolve to travel more, shift their perspective and cross new and exciting destinations off their bucket lists. From far-flung isles in remote corners of the world to vibrant metropolises, the possibilities can seem limitless. That's why we've narrowed down 10 inspiring places where you can immerse yourself in vibrant cultures, otherworldly landscapes and exhilarating adventures that allow you to get out of your comfort zone and get a fresh outlook on life. With that in mind, bookmark these 10 transformative trips for 2018.

Bhutan

Bhutan

Tiger's Nest Monastery (Taktshang) in the Kingdom of Bhutan.

(Getty Images)

This remote country in the Himalayas was inaccessible to international visitors until the '70s. Buttressed by Nepal, Bangladesh, India and Burma, the still-undiscovered country offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience for travelers with its rugged landscapes, filled with pristine valleys, mountains, forests and rivers. If you're looking to splurge, retreat to the Six Senses Bhutan, a luxury hotel slated to open in summer 2018 that will put an emphasis on wellness, hospitality and local heritage. During your visit, make sure to discover hidden gems in the touted happiest place on earth – based on the country's gross national happiness index – like the rice paddies and undulating hills in the countryside and the vibrant bazaars in Thimphu.

Skellig Michael, Ireland

Skellig Michael, Ireland

Skellig Micheal island in Ireland

(Getty Images)

Otherwise known as Great Skellig – and the backdrop for Jedi Master Luke Skywalker's hideout in "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" – the island near County Kerry in southwest Ireland has seen a substantial uptick in visitors since the film debuted. The otherworldly UNESCO World Heritage Site is hard to reach, but that's part of its appeal. Once you get on the island, you can marvel at a centuries-old monastery and admire the fascinating and diverse seabird species on the island, including kittiwakes and puffins. After making the pilgrimage to the spellbinding isle, unwind in nearby coastal hot spots, like County Kerry, renowned for its craggy sea cliffs, storied stone walls and jaw-dropping scenery.

Cognac, France

Cognac, France

France, Cognac, Otard distillery, rows of kegs in cellar

(Getty Images)

You may associate Cognac's picturesque region with its namesake brandy, but there's plenty more to experience aside from top-notch tastings. Stroll along its narrow streets and admire medieval framed houses, modern restaurants and the storied warehouses filled with cognac. A must-visit is the Louis XIII de Remy Martin, where you can sample a glass of the vintage brandy. Then pop over to the Château Royal de Cognac, where you can take a guided tour the State Room, where King Francois 1 once hosted guests, before touring the Château cellars and enjoying a guided tasting. Book a tour with outfitter Bordeaux Excellence to fully appreciate the spirit without sweating the logistical details.

Bolivia

Bolivia

Salt Piles in Salar de Uyuni, Potosi, Bolivia, South America

(Getty Images)

Bolivia's Uyuni Salt Flats have long captivated visitors. Covering more than 4,050 square miles at roughly 12,000 feet above sea level, the salt flats were formed by prehistoric lakes. To experience the otherworldly landscape in all its glory, consider staying in a hotel composed of salt, where everything – from the walls to the furniture – are made with salt blocks cut from the flats. And if you're interested in capturing a special photo of this surreal backdrop, visit during the rainy season (December to April), when you can catch sight of the salt flats' captivating mirrored effect, when it's hard to tell where the sky ends and land begins.

Canouan, St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Canouan, St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Caribbean, Grenadines, St. Vincent, near Arnos Vale

(Getty Images)

If you're looking to get away from it all for some much-needed R & R on an out-of-the-ordinary and inspiring tropical retreat, it's hard to match the seclusion of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. On the tiny, tucked-away island of Canouan, you'll find unspoiled coral reefs, top-tier spas and upscale hotels. Reachable by flight from Barbados, St. Lucia or Grenada, the Pink Sands Club on the island's northeast coast offers an abundance of wellness amenities, from guided yoga classes to facials at the on-site spa. Plus, the property boasts a championship 18-hole golf course and a wide range of activities, from organized snorkeling and diving excursions to expert-let hikes to Mount Royal.

Venice, Italy

Venice, Italy

Italy, Veneto, Venice, Gondola under bridge

(Getty Images)

Each year, 30 million tourists descend upon Venice – and for good reason. From Piazza San Marco to its legendary Grand Canal, Venice charms visitors with its enchanting gondolas, winding passageways and old-world scenery. While there are plenty of classic landmarks to cross off your list, including Saint Mark's Basilica and the Doge's Palace, don't overlook the hidden treasures in this canal-laden city. Visit the Rialto Bridge to catch a memorable sunset, watch a performance at the Teatro La Fenice and make your way to the Bridge of Sighs. And for an upscale stay, consider checking into the JW Marriott Venice Resort & Spa near the Doge's Palace. Combining modern surroundings and unique excursions for guests (think lace making and glass blowing), the property blends contemporary accents with old-school glamour.

La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico

La Paz, Baja California Sur, Mexico

Mexico, Baja California Sur, La Paz, wooden boardwalk at blue hour

(Getty Images)

During the migrating season – from December to April along Mexico's 775-mile Baja California Peninsula – whales travel about 12,000 miles from the Bering Sea to the warm, calm waters of La Paz. At this picturesque beach town, gray whales and sea lions can often be observed. Snorkelers also tend to flock to the nearby Isla Espíritu Santo, and divers venture to the Sea of Cortez. Back on land, La Paz offers a lively seaside promenade, striking architecture and noteworthy museums, such as the Museum of Natural History and the Whale Museum.

Garzón, Uruguay

Garzón, Uruguay

Gorgeous red grapes ready to harvest at early morning with dew drops over the fruits.

(Getty Images)

If you're goal is getting off the grid and sampling top-notch wine and cuisine, slip away to Garzón. The tiny town in southeast Uruguay was transformed when billionaire Argentine businessman Alejandro Bulgheroni opened Bodega Garzón, a sustainable 205,000-square-foot LEED-certified winery. The winery boasts a food partnership with acclaimed international celebrity chef Francis Mallmann (you might recognize him from Netflix's "Chef's Table"). After sampling tannat – the classic Uruguay grape the country is known for – retreat to the upscale Posada del Faro, a hotel along the beach ideally located near the winery. Another must-see is El Garzón, a hotel and restaurant where you can savor specialties such as burned pears and veal milanesa.

The Iberian Peninsula, Portugal and Spain

The Iberian Peninsula, Portugal and Spain

Portas do Sol in Lisbon, Portugal.

(Getty Images)

Divided between Lisbon, Portugal, and the southern and western tips of Spain, the Iberian Peninsula is famous for its proximity to the Pyrenees, along with its imaginative and flavorful gastronomy. One of the best ways to experience all that the area has to offer, including its famous cathedral architected by Antoni Gaudí, is cruising with the luxury boutique ocean liner Windstar Cruises. On an eight-day sailing (from $2,699 per person), you can visit Lisbon, Málaga (the birthplace of Pablo Picasso), Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca – without having to unpack your bags. Other highlights including touring the Alcázar Palace in Seville and exploring the Alhambra, the storied UNESCO World Heritage Site with Moorish influences.

Adelaide, South Australia

Adelaide, South Australia

Adelaide: Adelaide city skyline illuminated at night viewed across Torrens river

(Getty Images)

South Australia offers an idyllic mix of top-tier wineries and alluring outdoor attractions. The capital, Adelaide, has become a rising creative capital with its burgeoning bar, cafe and culinary scene. When you're not checking out the city's noteworthy museums, such as the Art Gallery of South Australia and the South Australian Museum, sample the city's complex wines. Approximately 60 percent of all exported Australian wines come from South Eastern Australia, including the Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale and Coonawarra. If you're craving more adventure, head to Adelaide Hills to hike through verdant forests, venture to Kangaroo Island, where sea lions are often spottedb or check out Cleland Wildlife Park, an area filled with dingoes, Tasmanian devils and koalas.

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Tags: travel, vacations, Mexico


Gwen Pratesi is a James Beard Finalist in Journalism, award-winning food and travel writer, and coauthor of PratesiLiving.com, where she shares the stories of her international food and travel experiences. She also freelances for other regional, U.S., and international publications. You can follow her at Twitter (@pratesiliving), Linkedin, Google+, Facebook, and Instagram.

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