Our favorite lesser-known neighborhoods in the world's greatest cities
Few travel lovers have trouble naming the world’s greatest cities; the likes of London, New York and Rio de Janeiro will always draw curious wanderers. But keeping tabs on the local trends that keep city life so exciting is another matter.
We asked our Lonely Planet Locals from around the globe to share their must-see neighborhoods. Some have been steadily developing their street cred for years, others are in the midst of rapid transformation – all are ripe for exploration right now.
Borgo San Frediano, Florence
On the southern side of Florence’s Arno river, the San Frediano neighborhood is breathing new life into the Oltrarno area, known more for its artisans than hipster appeal. With its narrow streets and tiny sidewalks, all the action is sandwiched between one of the city’s last remaining ancient gates and Borgo San Frediano.
First stop is Gesto, where the salvaged and upcycled vintage interior blends nicely with their tasty, tapas-style bites. Located nearby is possibly the best craft cocktail bar in town: Mad Souls & Spirits. Here, locals flock to try the concoctions dreamed up by cult alchemists Neri Fantechi and Julian Biondi in a tiny space with brick walls and exposed copper piping. Further down Borgo San Frediano, fusion cocktails take centre stage at Japanese hotspot Kawaii, offering the first sake bar experience in Italy.
Georgette Jupe is an American writer based in Florence. Follow her tweets @girlinflorence
Stroll through Seongsu-dong during working hours and you’ll probably catch the smell of ink heavy in the air from print presses in full throttle. Labeled the Williamsburg of Seoul, this industrial hub owes its new reputation to its salvaged spaces – abandoned warehouses and factories that have been transformed into cafés, restaurants, galleries and independent shops.
Many credit exhibition space and café Daelim Changgo for having led this revolution back in 2011. Today, a dozen venues have followed suit, populating the neighbourhood with fashion-forward twenty-somethings and their cutting-edge phones. Sip on a cup of single-origin coffee at Cafe Onion, Zagmachi or OR.ER and watch as the old and new combine to create something beautiful.
Hahna Yoon is a bilingual editor and writer based in Seoul. Follow her on Twitter @hahnay
The Triangle, Lisbon
Nestled between Lisbon’s Bairro Alto and Santos neighbourhoods and parliament, on the route of iconic Tram 28, is a cluster of three streets dubbed ‘The Triangle.’ Lower rents around these parts have attracted a new generation of creatives and entrepreneurs who are repurposing derelict tile-covered buildings on ruas Poço dos Negros, São Bento and Poiais de São Bento and setting up shop alongside dusty antique sellers and family-owned restaurants.
Originality and the near absence of tourist crowds are the main attractions here – spend an afternoon browsing speciality stores like travel bookshop Palavra de Viajante, custom-blend tea vendor Companhia Portugueza do Chá and boutique grocery store Mercearia Poço dos Negros, stopping for refreshments at cafe-by-day, wine-bar-by-night The Mill and Scandinavian-inspired coffee joint Hello, Kristof.
Sandra Henriques Gajjar is a Lisbon-based travel blogger.
Thanks to its colorful history and despite its increasing popularity, Copenhagen's coolest neighbourhood has managed to maintain its edge. Home to some of the city’s best street art, vibrant Vesterbro is packed with cool independent shops, street markets, restaurants and bars.
If you do anything, come hungry. Vesterbro packs a mean brunch at cafés like Mad & Kaffe and Granola, while the old Kødbyen Meatpacking District (a distinctly hip pocket within the Vesterbro area) and Sønder Boulevard, a hip street with bars, restaurants and charming shops. Don't miss Absalon, the welcoming church-turned-community-hub, for a meal and some friendly conversation. Thirsty? Craft beer lovers can sample the goods at local brewers Mikkeller and Fermentoren.
Caroline Hadamitzky is a travel writer and tour guide based in Copenhagen. Follow her tweets @lovelivetravel
Business Bay, Dubai
Ignore the unsexy name – Business Bay is one of Dubai’s most exciting neighbourhoods. Once a soulless expanse of half-built office towers – a casualty of the 2008 global financial crisis – the area is reinventing itself as a waterfront leisure destination.
Bordered by glitzy Downtown Dubai to the north and intersected by Dubai Canal, there’s a 12km-long promenade for strolling, while ferries cruise south to Dubai Marina and north to the Al Fahidi Historic District. Things will only improve over the next few years as parks, playgrounds, marinas, hotels, cafés and boutiques pop up along the canal. Away from the water, Bay Avenue is the community’s buzzing heart, with casual restaurants, a pleasant park and weekly farmers’ market during the cooler winter months.
Lara Brunt is an Australian travel and lifestyle journalist based in Dubai. Follow her tweets @larabrunt
Damansara Heights, Kuala Lumpur
Post-facelift, Jalan Batai has developed into a community-focused street replete with eateries and cosmopolitan conveniences. While the road has yet to draw KL’s cool kids, the offerings – farm-to-table restaurant Sitka, Ben’s Independent Grocer (including a great coffee bar) and the elegant Torii Yakitori & Whiskey Bar – deserve attention. Swing by Plaza Damansara, a beat-up area seeing an uptick of shiny shops and restaurants such as café-bakery Huckleberry, Skullduggery speakeasy and Flour, a North Indian restaurant that peddles a knockout biryani.
Kong Wai Yeng is a Kuala Lumpur-based writer. Follow her tweets @wyeng
Sunset Park, New York City
The success of art and commerce behemoth Industry City has shone a light onto one of Brooklyn’s most exciting under-the-radar neighborhoods, Sunset Park. Situated below Park Slope, on the south and western borders of Green-Wood Cemetery, Sunset Park hosts a heady mix of cultures and traditions.
On the east side stands Brooklyn’s Chinatown, with its rows of restaurants, bubble tea shops and boutiques. The west is home to a large Latin American community and plenty of friendly bars, not to mention the historic Melody Lanes bowling alley. At the centre of it all is Sunset Park itself. Set on one of the highest hills in Brooklyn, it offers spectacular views of lower Manhattan for the locals and visitors who flock here on summer evenings.
Robert Balkovich is a writer and gin-based cocktail enthusiast. Follow his tweets @robertbalkovich
Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro
Low rents and excellent transport links have helped make Botafogo the hottest neighborhood in Rio. Talented young chefs, entrepreneurs and creatives are the driving force behind an increasingly exciting nightlife. The focus is on originality and collaboration, with established spots like Bukowski and Comuna being joined by funky new concept bars and multipurpose spaces.
Gastro bars like CoLAB and Void House of Food are tapping into a growing interest in international cuisine by hosting regular guest chefs who serve anything from ramen to Trinidadian street food. Other popular spots include WineHouse and South Ferro, respectively serving excellent yet affordable wines by the glass and gourmet pizza by the slice.
Travel and food writer Tom Le Mesurier is the founder of Eat Rio Food Tours. Follow his tweets @eatrio_net
In the space between two of Seattle’s most popular neighborhoods, a new community has slowly been taking shape. Embraced by Seattle restaurateur Ethan Stowell, owner of Frelard Pizza Company, the name Frelard reflects those of its neighbors: Fre(mont) and (Bal)lard.
Visitors wandering from the Fremont Troll to the Chittenden Locks can now stop to sample one of the area’s growing restaurant, bar and brewery options. Start with a traditional brown ale or IPA from one of the oldest breweries in Seattle, Hale’s Ales. There are plenty of options for food too, from the aforementioned Frēlard Pizza Company to the protein-rich menu at Giddy Up Burgers. It’s the perfect place to refuel on a day spent exploring beyond Seattle’s main tourist sights.
Valerie Stimac is a Seattle-based travel writer and editor. Follow her tweets @Valerie_Valise
Tooting in South London has developed into an uber-cool neighborhood in recent years and lost none of its gritty charm in the process. Rubbing shoulders with perfectly pleasant yet slightly square Wimbledon, Earlsfield and Balham, Tooting is a more captivating affair, reveling in multiculturalism and originality. Its high street, which stretches between two Tube stations, is one of the best ‘curry corridors’ in the country, and contains some superb South Asian restaurants, like Dosa n Chutny and Apollo Banana Leaf.
The best shopping can be found inside eclectic Tooting Market, and quirky bars and pubs include The Castle and The Antelope. The Tooting Commons create over 200 acres of green space between them, and are home to Tooting Bec Lido – the largest swimming pool in the United Kingdom.
Will Jones is a London-based writer. Follow his tweets @willjackjones
This article was originally published August 2017. It was updated September 2021.