Forbes has released a list of the coolest neighbourhoods around the world and South Africans can smile with pride in the knowledge that they, along with the USA, are the only country on the list to have two neighbourhoods from the country listed.
The list is essentially an ode to the oft-overlooked and up-and-coming areas that will increasingly come to wield substantial pull on the global tourism market. In a time of overtourism, when popular attractions are crowded out and a pain to visit, it is the lesser-seen destinations with their unique attractions that are increasingly coming to be desired.
Sure, go ahead and see those major sights but also get out there and check out what the locals are doing - and where they’re doing it.
Ann Abel, a contributor to Forbes, asked some of her favourite travel experts about which neighbourhoods they're currently enjoying exploring and below is the result.
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No list of the coolest neighbourhoods in the world would be complete without some of the unique Afro-urbane offerings that Johannesburg has to offer. This list does not fail with the listing of the Maboneng precinct. At one point it was a no-go zone until the end of Apartheid, but since then the area has experienced significant urban renewal with an expanding art and culinary scene.
This neighbourhood boasts a diverse array of culinary offerings from Argentine grill to Ethiopian cuisine and much, much more. Make sure to explore the area’s cultural attractions such as Arts on Main and the Museum of African Design.
Sants: Barcelona, Spain
Sants is an oft-overlooked neighbourhood in Barcelona, known (according to a Culinary Backstreets correspondent) by locals “...as a place they pass through on their way to Barcelona’s main train station…”. While other parts of Barcelona have had to deal with an influx of tourism due to its ever-increasing popularity as THE European destination, Saints has managed to avoid much of the tourism-induced change that has afflicted much of the city.
What this means though is that the traditional charm and way of life has remained largely unchanged. So for an authentic Catalonian experience, travellers are encouraged to walk this fascinating space where tradition and innovation exist alongside one another.
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Navy Yard: Washington D.C, USA
The fastest growing neighbourhood in Washington DC is taking advantage of the space it exists within. With a waterfront location, an inheritance of industrial infrastructure and a history that dates back to the late 18th century, the Navy Yard is one of the coolest neighbourhoods around.
Craft beer, artisanal foodies and restaurateurs are increasingly making the space their own, steadily challenging preconceptions of the neighbourhood being no much more than the location of the Washington Nationals baseball park.
Amsterdam Noord: Amsterdam, Netherlands
What was once considered to be no more than an emerging hotspot has since become a thriving, albeit quaint, hub of culture and activity. This seeming village within a city is green, family-friendly with a varied offering for visitors to enjoy. From flea markets to green coffee, film museums to the highest swing in Europe - you can enjoy it all here.
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Getsemani: Cartagena, Colombia
Whilst most visitors to Cartagena tend to stay within the confines of the old city, the outer walled town has many a charming attraction to make for some out-of-the-ordinary exploration. Offering an authentic look at what life in the city is like for the locals, the neighbourhood of Getsemani is steeped in deep-rooted local culture and identity. Today the area has seen some gentrification with cool new cafes, bars and restaurants popping up.
Plekhanov: Tbilisi, Georgia
Shedding all the baggage of the Soviet era and embracing, its history and culture - Georgia is increasingly becoming an attractive place for travellers to visit. The capital of Tbilisi is a must-see on any journey to Georgia, but of particular interest is Plekhanov.
It is another space on this list that has seen substantial change and modernisation occurring parallel to native tradition. Of particular interest is the Fabrika, a former Soviet sewing factory that has become a multifunctional space where creatives operate and frequent with a coterie of cafes, bars, shops and studios to explore and enjoy.
Casco Viejo: Panama City, Panama
Once one of the most dangerous neighbourhoods, marked by gang warfare and violence, today the Casco Viejo neighbourhood is cleaning up its act. The neighbourhood is one of the most fascinating places to see in Panama City to see the unsanitised reality of local life and its history in this Central American country.
The city is abuzz with restoration and rejuvenation as new developments, restaurants, rooftop bars and cafes are opening and expanding the neighbourhood’s cool offerings.
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District 5: Saigon, Vietnam
Basically Chinatown in Vietnam, there is no cooler place to experience this cultural crossover than in District 5 in Saigon. Get away from the crowds and head down to the District where you will find temples, local markets and a buzzing nightlife with bars and restaurants serving up live music almost nightly.
This is a great way to get a feel of the old, less touristy side of Saigon.
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Keramikos: Athens, Greece
Yet another addition to the list that has a neighbourhood where old-world charm and tradition exists alongside innovative and contemporary creativity in a blissful union. The Keramikos neighbourhood is a short ten-minute walk away from the city centre of Athens making this well worth a visit.
With low rental prices and close proximity to the city centre, the space has come to be a haven for young Athenians who have gone on to open bars, restaurants, cafes and galleries for all to enjoy. This mixture of new and old makes this a must-see stop for any trip to Athens.
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Seongsu-dong: Seoul, South Korea
This creative hotspot in Seoul is one of the coolest places to see and be seen in South Korea. Infinitely instagrammable, with hipsters, hypebeasts and photographers trawling the streets, the ‘cool’ in this area is literally visible. Graffiti covered warehouses have been rejuvenated and repurposed to offer spaces for visitors to enjoy great food at trendy restaurants and cafes or take in some art.
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Pilsen: Chicago, USA
Taking over the crown long held by Damen Ave and the surrounds, Pilsen in Chicago is fast becoming one of the coolest neighbourhoods in the world and for good reason. With mural-lined walls and more galleries than you can count, Pilsen is a cultural hub in a city filled with creative hotspots.
The area has a fascinating history that has contributed to the uniqueness of the area with successive waves of Eastern European and Mexican immigrants shaping the character of the area over the years.
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