The Loretto Inn and Spa on the corner of the Old Santa Fe Trail in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Tourists flock to Santa Fe to discover the fascinating city perched on a 7,000-foot desert plateau and guarded by mountain ranges. Santa Fe is fascinating, artistic, and a tad mysterious and mystical. Perhaps it has something to do with the blend of Native American, Spanish, and Anglo cultures, and the legendary El Camino Real (The Royal Road).

Native Americans founded the settlement we know today as Santa Fe many moons ago. The town has kept its architectural heritage almost intact and its outstanding natural beauty has been a magnet for artists since the oldest times. This is the heart of the Southwest region, a land adorned with Territorial and Spanish revival architectural styles and absolutely no skyscrapers.

Start your delightful experience in the Plaza

There’s no better way to start your journey of exploration of this beautiful city than with a tour of the historic Plaza. This is the pulsating heart of the local community, a grassy square decorated with trees and benches and dominated by the presence of an imposing obelisk right in the center. The plaza dates back to 1610 and has been the scene of the town’s turbulent past. It also was the final destination of the Santa Fe Trail, where wagon trains and stagecoaches brought adventurers and fortune seekers into town.

Yes, it had its share of rowdy bars and brothels but today you’ll see no trace of these. The plaza you’ll discover is a fascinating site, the scene of fairs and fiestas, but also of political debates and tourist crowds. There’s no visiting Santa Fe’s Plaza without stopping by at the Palace of the Governors not only to admire its architecture and visit the state’s history museum but also to take a look at the handmade goods displayed by talented Native American artisans under the palace’s portico.

Head for lunch or dinner at La Casa Sena, where the menu abounds in New American West cuisine with New Mexican touches and seasonal ingredients or at enchanting Luminaria that invites guests to taste progressive Santa Fe cuisine in a lovely patio delicately illuminated with chandeliers, candles and an impressive fireplace.

Santa Fe, NM, USA – December 7, 2012: The old water tower in the Santa Fe Railyard Park, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Tour the museums to understand the town’s heritage

If you want to familiarize yourself with Santa Fe’s past and present, there’s no better way to do it than by visiting its museums. Santa Fe houses an impressive number of museums that illustrate the city’s rich past and cultural diversity. You can choose the Museum of Indian Arts and Culture or the Museum of International Folk to discover the diverse cultural facets of the region. For spectacular exhibits, stop at the Museum of Contemporary Native Art, where you’ll have the opportunity to admire an impressive collection of contemporary Native American art.

As the city’s name suggests, Santa Fe (City of Holy Faith) is big on spirituality. If you’re curious to find more about its religious heritage, visit at least the three finest churches in town: St. Francis Cathedral, Loretto Chapel, and San Miguel Mission. Be open to understand the city’s deep connection with spirituality and you’ll discover why art plays an important role in the city’s life and why the people here seem more relaxed and at peace than in other parts of the country.

Visit the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum to admire the beautiful paintings of this talented 20th-century American painter and admire New Mexico’s landscapes through her eyes. For lunch, you can stop at La Fonda Hotel and order a Southwestern cuisine specialty and a margarita at its renowned La Plazuela bar and restaurant. The hotel itself is a landmark because it stands on the site of the oldest hotel in the country.

Sage Creek Southwestern art gallery on Canyon Road, the arts district of Santa Fe in New Mexico USA

For more art, visit the New Mexico Museum of Art but also the galleries on the Canyon Road, an iconic street dressed in vintage charm and traditional architecture. Don’t miss a tour of the Santa Fe Botanical Garden on Museum Hill, if you want to wander among pretty gardens and perfumed orchards and discover the local flora. For lunch, stop at El Farol, a historic Spanish tapas bar. The restaurant has served its first tapas in 1835, so there’s no better place to taste authentic Spanish cuisine than here.