View of the Zocalo from the Town Hall, Veracruz, Mexico

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Veracruz City

Veracruz, like all great port cities, is an unholy mélange of grime, romance and melted-down cultures. Conceived in 1519 and due to celebrate its 500th birthday in 2019, this is Mexico’s oldest European-founded settlement. But usurped by subsequent inland cities, it’s neither the nation's most historic nor its most visually striking. Countless sackings by the French, Spanish and North Americans have siphoned off the prettiest buildings, leaving a motley patchwork of working docks and questionable hybrid architecture, punctuated by the odd stray colonial masterpiece. But Veracruz' beauty is in its grit rather than its grandiosity. A carefree spirit reigns in the zócalo (main square) most evenings, where the primary preoccupation is who to cajole into a danzón (traditional couples dance), and there are some decent beaches in the southern part of the city.

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