Mexico City gets a bad rap and often conjures up images of crime and pollution. Like any major metropolis there are areas to avoid, but since 2000 money has been poured into the capital, giving it a facelift and making it safer. The culinary scene is exciting and the city is going through something of a cultural renaissance. The Mexico City I visited was hip, vibrant and cultured. These are my top recommendations of things to do.

The best place to start any trip to Mexico City is in the Historic Centre. During the 16th Century the Spanish colonists built what is now Mexico City on the ruins of the old Aztec Empire. The Historic Centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and contains most of the city's historic attractions from both eras. A staggering 1,500 of its buildings are classified as historic or artistic monuments. Some highlights include the pre-Hispanic ruins at Templo Mayor, Diego Rivera's murals at Palacio National and the Zocalo, which is one of the world's biggest squares and is the focal point for public gatherings since the days of the Aztecs.  

There are more museums in Mexico City than in London and one of the best is the Museo Frida Kahlo which is housed in the Casa Azul (Blue House). It was once the home of the Mexican artist and political activist and is now a museum and art gallery dedicated to her. 

Visiting the house helps you gain a deeper understanding of her fascinating and dramatic life. The traditional cobalt-blue colonial house is where she grew up with her family. She later lived there with her husband, fellow artist and communist Diego Rivera, before she eventually died there. 

The museum contains a collection of Kahlo and Rivera's artwork along with the couple's collection of pre-Hispanic artefacts, Mexican folk art, photographs, memorabilia and personal effects. What's so engrossing about a visit to the house is that it remains much as it was when the couple lived there. This is most apparent in Kahlo's studio, where her paint and brushes are left in a mess with paint coming out of the tubes. It's best to go early in the morning to avoid the large queue that forms after 11:00am.

The Museo Frida Kahlo is in the neighbourhood of Coyoacán, which was once a country village on the outskirts of the city. Thankfully, it still retains its smalltown charm with its leafy 16th-Century plazas overlooked by old churches and narrow residential backstreets. The town has a bohemian feel to it with plenty of retro bookstores and coffee shops that are easy to while away a few hours in. 

Coyoacán is also home to the Leon Trotsky House Museum. The Russian dissident lived for a short time with Kahlo and Rivera in Casa Azul before moving to a house nearby, where he was murdered with an ice axe in 1940. This house is now a museum displaying photos, newspapers and personal effects of Trotsky's. 

Other great neighbourhoods that demand a visit are Condesa and Roma. These posh, leafy districts neighbour one another and are where many expats and well off Chilangos (slang for residents of Mexico City) live. Condesa and Roma are home to the city's hip cafes, rooftop bars and buzzing nightlife. Daytime can be spent wandering around Condesa's designer boutiques, chilling in one of the neighbourhood's many parks and admiring the restored Art Deco buildings. Condesa has a couple of good hostels for budget travellers and is a great base for exploring Mexico City further.  

Condesa and Roma have many mezcalerias - watering holes that specialise in pouring mezcal. It's a distilled alcoholic beverage made from agave, which is also the plant that tequila comes from. Mezcal was once the drink of the poor but in recent years has become one of the trendiest drinks in Mexico with over 150 different brands on the market. The state of Oaxaca is said to have the best mezcal and you can't go wrong choosing a tipple from there. Mezcal has a smoky taste as wood fires are used to roast the agave. It's often served in small, shallow saucers and is meant to be sipped to appreciate its taste. But beware: at 38 to 55 percent proof it can leave you with a terrible head the next morning. 

Adjacent to Condesa is Chapultepec Park, one of the biggest city parks in the world. At 686 hectares it is home to forest, lakes and many green areas and is also a good place to go shopping for souvenirs at one of the many stalls. Like Dublin's Phoenix Park, it is the home to the nation's President. It has a zoo which is free of charge and an amusement park. It also contains several interesting museums, including the National Museum of Anthropologies and the Museum of Natural History. 

The National Museum of Anthropologies is considered one of the best anthropology museums in the world. It showcases important archaeological and anthropological artefacts from Mexico's pre-Columbian heritage. It is housed in a large and impressively designed building which can be overwhelming to tackle in just a few hours. If stuck for time just concentrate on its Aztec and Mayan hall which has the best displays. They include replicas of murals in Teotihuacan and the original Aztec Sunstone which was discovered in 1790 when the cathedral in Zocalo was being built. It's worth paying the extra for the audio tour as the information on the displays can be a bit sparse. 

An hour's drive from the city is Teotihuacan, which is one of the most remarkable archaeological sites in Mexico. These ruins date back to 100BC and the site contains two of the largest pyramids in the world. The biggest is the Pyramid of the Sun, which is worth climbing its 243 steps to get a great view of the site. 

Deirdre Mullins