One of America’s oldest and most beautiful cities, SANTA FE was founded by Spanish adventurers and missionaries in 1610, a decade before the Pilgrims reached Plymouth Rock. Spread across a high plateau at the foot of the stunning Sangre de Cristo mountains, New Mexico’s capital still glories in the adobe houses and baroque churches of its original architects, while its newer museums and galleries attract art-lovers from all over the world. The busiest season is summer, when temperatures usually reach into the eighties Fahrenheit; in winter, daytime highs average a mere 42°F, though with snow on the mountains the city looks more ravishing than ever.
As upward of a million and a half tourists descend yearly upon a town of just seventy thousand inhabitants, Santa Fe has inevitably grown somewhat overblown. There’s still a lot to like, however. Despite the summer crowds, the downtown area still has the peaceful ambience of a small country town, while holding an extraordinary array of cultural and historic treasures. The rigorous insistence that every building should look like a seventeenth-century Spanish colonial palace takes a bit of getting used to, but above all else, it’s rare indeed for it to be such fun simply to stroll around a Southwestern city.
Once you’ve got your bearings, the best places to get a sense of local history and culture are the Palace of the Governors and the New Mexico Museum of Arts downtown and the museums of Indian Arts and Culture and Folk Art a couple of miles southeast. Alternatively, set about exploring Santa Fe’s distinct neighbourhoods, such as the old Barrio Analco just southeast of downtown, home to the San Miguel Mission; the Canyon Road arts district, just beyond; and funkier Guadalupe Street to the west, with its new Railyard development.