Xalapa's central main square doubles as a terrace, with its south side overlooking the valley below and, in clear weather, the snowcapped cone of Pico de Orizaba beckoning in the distance. Greener and better kept than most other plazas in Mexico, you’ll find monkey puzzle trees and manicured hedges among the shoe-shiners, snack stalls, balloon sellers and wandering minstrels.

On its lower levels look for the gallery El Ágora de la Ciudad, which also screens art-house movies; the giant mosaic sculpture of the plumed serpent Quetzalcoatl that doubles as a kids' climbing frame and slide; and the 1931 sculptures of the Virtues: strength, justice, prudence and temperance.