Greatest little-known neighbourhoods

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In this excerpt from Lonely Planet's 1000 Ultimate Experiences, we take you to the big-city districts you might not have heard of yet, but they're the ones the locals love.

1. Koreatown, Toronto, Canada

Take your pick in Toronto – what might be the world's most multicultural city is made up of many little-known neighbourhoods. But we recommend Koreatown: go west on Bloor St, past the indie-flick fave Bloor Cinema and Honest Ed's tack-tastic discount store, and you've hopped continents. Bilingual street signs help you find the chobab (sushi) bars and kimchi-serving canteens, or walk past the bright billboarded shopfronts and dip into the PAT Central Market to pick up unrecognisable vegetables and ready-to-mix bibimbap (mixed meal). Don't miss a late-night trip to a noraebang – these Asian-style boothed karaoke bars will have you hollering 'I Will Survive' until the wee hours. The best time to visit is the first weekend of June for the Dano Festival, for traditional Korean dance, music and martials-art demonstrations.

2. Naka-Meguro, Tokyo, Japan

It's said that during WWII air raids, desperate Tokyoites threw themselves into the Meguro River. Nowadays they fling themselves into the 13-types-of-tea cafes and too-cool-for-school fashion emporia lining its banks. While wartime ghosts might haunt this formerly down-at-heel district in south-central Tokyo (just two stops down from Shibuya Crossing, Japan's Times Square) the living residents are looking only forward. Freshly graduated arty types looking for cheap rent have moved in, bringing with them galleries galore and an almost entirely chain-free, if eclectic, shopping experience – 1950s Pan Am boarding pass or secondhand bikini, anyone? For locals-only insight take a peek at www.bento.com; yakitori lovers can book a same-day reservation at popular restaurant Kushiwakamaru, open 1–5pm; expect to pay around JPY3000.

Related article: Maximum fun, minimum money: Hong Kong's best freebies

3. Waitakere, Auckland, New Zealand

It's technically part of Auckland, but it couldn't feel more removed from the big(ish) smoke. Waitakere, 20 minutes' drive west of the centre, is New Zealand's best bits in microcosm – black-sand beaches to make surf dudes drool, virgin rainforest walks, hills perfect for trekking and a flagon of microwineries to help you toast your good fortune at finding yourself here in the first place. Stop in at Titirangi market for arty browsing (last Sunday of every month) or pull over at a roadside stall to pick up fresh fruit and veg. City? What city? Race the Waitakere Marathon, hike the Waitakere Ranges or just kick back in the surf and sand at legendary Piha Beach.

4. Williamsburg, New York, USA

Billyburg rocks! Here, long-haired musos sinking lager in Bedford Avenue's bevy of bars fraternise with a world of immigrants – Puerto Rican, Italian, Jewish – to give a laidback, mixed-up feel to this chunk of Brooklyn. Walk from Manhattan across the Williamsburg Bridge and wander amid the galleries (there are at least 60), record shops and ethnic eateries. Don't miss out on tasting the wares of the Brooklyn Brewery – the borough once boasted dozens, but this is one of the last of the bunch. Bored with booze? Head to the McCarren Pool for outdoor gigs, or to the Streb Laboratory for an indoor trapeze lesson.

5. Crystal Palace, London, England

Navigate here by the Eiffel-like radio mast: this lofty southeast spot is worth finding. The namesake palace burned down in 1936 but its legacy park still hosts a maze, a stage and the world's first dinosaur models, controversial in the 1850s and now good to picnic near. Outside the park the area is more contemporary, with gloriously cosy cafes, a world of restaurants and some independent oddments including a jungly reptile shop and sell-everything vintage market. But best is the view: stand atop Westow Hill and the whole city spreads out below. Go by train from Victoria or London Bridge directly to Crystal Palace Station; or join the Green Chain crew and walk from the Thames.

6. Boedo, Buenos Aires, Argentina

While the tango shows of La Boca and San Telmo heave with tourists, follow the porteños (Buenos Aires locals) two neighbourhoods over for the real deal. It's blue-collar Boedo that was immortalised in the lyrics of the city's favourite tango tune, 'Sur'; its bars writhe with the most sultry performers. It's also a hotbed of political proselytising: 1920s left-wing writers gathered in Boedo's smoky cafes. Recapture the bygone feel by ambling between the distinctive 100-year-old cottages before nipping into Las Violetas, a stained-glass-and-gilt cafe dating back to 1884 (possibly the best-looking coff ee joint in town). Boedo local Susana Garcia has set up an online resource featuring the coolest cafes, tango schools and more at www.boedomas10.com.ar.

7. Observatory, Cape Town, South Africa

In a nation once divided into black and white, 'Obz' was a beacon of grey. During apartheid this suburb was one of the few in which races mixed – as they do today, in a clutter of bars and cafes kept lively by the students of the nearby University of Cape Town. There's graffiti and peeling paint, but also modern-twist mealie pap (a kind of porridge) on the menus and breakthrough bands on the playbill. The namesake Astronomical Observatory offers great star-gazing, too, uncapping its telescopes for visitors twice a month. On the second and fourth Saturday of each month, wait for entry to the observatory by the pillars in front of the main building. Get details at www.saao.ac.za.

8. Belleville, Paris, France

Perched on Paris's second-highest hill, this is the alternative Montmartre – only here you won't have to peer over other tourists' shoulders for sweeping city views. Instead, browse the noisy market along rue de Belleville (Tuesday and Friday) for picnic goodies and head to the district's refreshingly unmanicured park for a private sitting. The picnic could as easily be Algerian or Chinese as French – this northeasterly neighbourhood, birthplace of warbler par excellence Edith Piaf, has attracted immigrants since the 1920s. The slender cobbled streets host many a North African bakery, hookah-smoking hangout, artists' squat and noodle bar, all existing in happy harmony. Take the metro and alight at Belleville, Pyrénées or Jourdain. Stop at the lamp post at the steps of rue de Belleville: legend says Edith Piaf was born right here.

9. Balmain, Sydney, Australia

A 10-minute ferry-hop from Circular Quay, nipping under the Harbour Bridge, and you're in Balmain, tucked away from the city-centre action but with a buzz all its own. It's one of Sydney's oldest suburbs – Georgian mansions and iron-and-sandstone cottages still line the streets, though these days they compete with funky cafes and galleries. The quirkiest shopping is at the Saturday markets, held in the grounds of St Andrew's Church, where you can buy anything from Asian ingredients to patchouli candles. For a different odour, pop to nearby Pyrmont before dawn to watch the crabs, oysters and Balmain bugs being hawked at Sydney's potent fish market. Get down to Elkington Park for a dip in the newly renovated Dawn Fraser Baths, then get swinging on Darling Street at the Monkey Bar.

10. Noho, Hong Kong

SoHo is so last year – northern NoHo is the neighbourhood for the next decade. This enclave, to the north of Hollywood Road and behind the glass-and-steel behemoths that dominate Hong Kong Island, is centred on windy Gough Street. Formerly the site of the city's printing presses, the area still has a traditional vibe, spiced up with an infl ux of modern thinking. It's an ideal mix: jewellery boutiques, bespoke-shoe shops, a crop of galleries, and funky fusion restaurants serving world-class dishes at alfresco tables sit next to penny-a-pop soup stands, ladling cheap and hearty bowlfuls of age-old recipes. NoHo is renowned as Hong Kong's top 'rainbow tourist' destination; start off at Lot 10 Mediterranean restaurant on Gough Street and see where you end up.