Some neighbourhoods are effortlessly charming while others bring new meaning to the phrase 'beauty is in the eye of the beholder'. From gritty to glossy, these 10 neighbourhoods around the world have been completely revamped into coveted places to live, work and play.
Grünerløkka cafe. Image by Megan Eileen McDonough / Lonely Planet.
Prenzlauer Berg in Berlin, Germany
From rags to riches, Prenzlauer Berg was among several of the city’s East Central neighbourhoods to reap the benefits of German reunification. Comprised of cobblestone boulevards, quiet courtyards, swanky cafes and avant-garde boutiques, many of the historic buildings have remained intact. Don’t miss KulturBrauerei, a former 19th-century brewery turned culture centre with cafes, restaurants, a movie theatre and concert hall. Spice up your Sunday with a trip to the Mauer Park flea market and stick around for the lively karaoke party that ensues. Both the U-Bahn and the S-Bahn stop at Schönhauser Allee, as does the M1 tram.
Mauer Park flea market in Berlin. Image by Megan Eileen McDonough / Lonely Planet.
Shoreditch in London, England
Jack the Ripper may have terrorised 19th-century Shoreditch but that’s hardly the scene these days. Visit the Geffrye Museum for a glimpse into life for working-class English families. Unconventional travellers will appreciate Callooh Callay, an off-the-beaten path bar inspired by Lewis Carroll’s surreal poem Jabberwocky, or a browse in Hoxton Street Monster Supplies (www.monstersupplies.org), a quirky shop that has served customers since 1818. Shoreditch is part of London's East End within the Borough of Hackney and easily accessible via the Liverpool Street and Aldgate East Underground stations.
Rivington Street in Shoreditch, London. Image by Megan Eileen McDonough / Lonely Planet.
Kallio District in Helsinki, Finland
No longer a factory workers' residential area, Kallio now attracts a young and entrepreneurial crowd. Despite its recent facelift, Kallio still exudes a liberal-minded attitude. The area landmark is Kallio Church (www.helsinginkirkot.fi/en/churches/kallio-church), an art nouveau masterpiece designed by Lars Sonck in 1908. Start your exploration at Hakaniemi, a century-old market hall selling everything from vintage stamps to freshly baked bread. The tiny, dimly lit Pub Sirdie (pubsirdie.com - Finnish only) is reminiscent of pre-revamp Kallio. From the city centre, take tram routes 3B or 3T, which also take you past Helsinki’s top sightseeing attractions.
Naka-Meguro in Tokyo, Japan
Thanks to low rents and a prime location along the banks of the Meguro River, Naka-Meguro caters to a cultural community of designers, internationals, bohemians and celebrities. When you've finished marvelling at the cherry tree-lined river, browse through Cow Books' rare collection of out-of-print progressive books focusing on 1960-70s social movements. If you're lucky, you can spot them in their bookmobile made from an old ice cream truck. Naka-Meguro is also somewhat of a DIY paradise, with hundreds of handmade buttons up for grabs.
Cherry blossoms bloom in Naka-Meguro, Toyko. Image by tenaciousme. CC BY 2.0.
Baixo Augusta in São Paulo, Brazil
São Paulo’s most notorious neighbourhood has definitely toned down its red light district reputation but it's still party central. A nighttime stroll takes you past gay clubs, lavish lounges and underground bars that showcase its 'anything goes' atmosphere and clientele. Bar Tubaína (tubainabar.wix.com - Portuguese only) is a sustainable restaurant decorated with recycled retro-style furniture and repurposed rainwater, while Bar Volt (barvolt.com.br - Portuguese only) is illuminated by geometric neon lights. The entertainment-heavy Rua Augusta is about two miles long, running from the high-class Jardins area, crossing Avenida Paulista and eventually reaching the city’s historical centre.
Florentin in Tel Aviv, Israel
This run-down neighbourhood in the south of Tel Aviv has contrasting historical and modern influences, with luxury apartments and upscale boutiques within steps of 60-year-old synagogues, ethnic restaurants and textile shops. Browse through handcrafted furniture and accessories at Sandalwood (sandalwood.co.il) or wander along Sderot Washington, a pedestrian-only cobblestone boulevard lined with cafes, bars and artist workshops. Quench your thirst at Shtern 1 (www.shtern1.co.il - Hebrew only), a dimly lit bar on Frenkel Street serving more than 100 varieties of boutique beers and Israeli microbrews.
Tel Aviv (Florentin) by Ernesto Jorysz. CC BY 2.0.
Williamsburg in Brooklyn, New York City, USA
Drawn by cheap rents and close proximity to Manhattan, artists transformed Williamsburg into the creative playground it is today. Abandoned lots have since been converted into chic boutiques, high-rise condominiums and art studios. Search for second-hand designer goods at Beacon's Closet and then catch a show at Brooklyn Bowl. Bedford Avenue is like a tree with many branches. Trendy eateries, indie concert venues and quirky cafes appear at every street corner. Located just east of 14th Street in Manhattan, one stop on the L train takes you straight into this hipster hangout.
New York, Williamburg Bridge by Tomas Fano. CC BY-SA 2.0.
Grünerløkka in Oslo, Norway
Former factory district turned fashion hub, with laid-back cafes and galleries galore, Grünerløkka is a colourful mix of old and new decor. Independent boutiques and design shops showcase Oslo’s more alternative side, with 19th-century buildings serving as a picturesque backdrop. Recharge with a hot cup of coffee at Cocoa (www.cocoa.no - Norwegian only), Norway’s first cocoa bar. Pop into the Sunday Birkelunden bric-a-brac market to fashionistas on the prowl for vintage items ranging from jewellery and vinyl to kitchenware and antique furniture (check www.visitoslo.com for more info). Take the 11, 12 or 13 trams to Olav Ryes plass.
Bicycle on a bridge in Grünerløkka. Image by David Borland / Lonely Planet Images / Getty Images.
CBD/Newtown in Johannesburg, South Africa
Under apartheid, the Central Business District (CBD) was a whites-only residential area. When this law was revoked, the demographics shifted drastically, ultimately leading to high crime rates. Although still a work in progress, Johannesburg's CBD is bouncing back with improved security, new transportation systems and restored heritage attractions. Snap a picture of the Carlton Centre skyscraper, the tallest building in Africa, or get inspired in Newtown, where vibrant street art covers nearly every wall. For a crash course in South African beer culture, visit the interactive SAB World of Beer.
Nelson Mandela Bridge, Newtown, Johannesburg. Image by Stuart Fox / Gallo Images / Getty Images.
Saint-Roch in Québec City, Canada
Gone are the days when Saint-Roch was best known for its empty lots and unpopular shopping mall. Québec City’s most popular neighbourhood is also its most innovative, with IT companies and emerging designers setting up shop along Saint Joseph’s Street. The Route 440 overpass is covered with colourful frescoes that make this urban setting heaps more inviting. Saint-Roch is stocked with restaurants by day and indie music venues by night, while fashion boutiques and artisanal breweries fill in the gaps. Grab a bite at Le Cercle, whose original decor includes plants growing out of old Ketchup cans. From here, the Old Town is a 15-minute walk.
Le Cercle in Québec City. Image by Megan Eileen McDonough / Lonely Planet.
Megan Eileen McDonough is the Founder of Bohemian Trails (www.bohemiantrails.com), an online travel magazine covering avant-garde neighbourhoods, inspiring street art, innovative tech hubs and everything in between. Her travels have taken her to Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and across the United States.
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