The World’s Most Fascinating City Neighbourhoods to Explore. Copyright © 2023 Terence Carter / Grantourismo. All Rights Reserved.

The World’s Most Fascinating City Neighbourhoods to Explore

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These are the world’s most fascinating city neighbourhoods to explore if you love going local when you travel,and we’ve rented apartments in all of them. They include everywhere from Venice’s lesser-visited quarters such as Dorsoduro, Cannaregio and Castello to the Buenos Aires barrios of Palermo, Palermo Soho and Palermo Hollywood for their bohemian-chic vibe.

Our decision to not spend our time on our grand tour ticking off top ten tourist sights, saw us happily, and often aimlessly, exploring off-the-beaten-track neighbourhoods – 100% guilt-free. These are the world’s most fascinating city neighbourhoods we found on our world tour.

We spent a lot of hours ambling around backstreets, taking in the atmosphere of places and seeing how people live their lives, continually delighting in the extraordinary contrasts and nuanced differences in the ebb and flow and rhythm of life of communities around the world.

The world is not the same. People live differently to each other from country to country, city to village, street to street, and from house to house. Rush through a place in a few days and you probably won’t notice but settle in for a while, and you’ll appreciate the subtle differences that make everyday neighbourhoods such fascinating places to explore. These are my favourites.

The World’s Most Fascinating City Neighbourhoods to Explore

These are the world’s most fascinating city neighbourhoods to explore if you’re a fan of going local when you travel and we’ve rented apartments in all of them.

New York City

New York City boasts many of the world’s most fascinating city neighbourhoods to explore but our favourites are the East Village and the Lower East Side for the colourful characters, arty eccentrics, and committed activists who keep the gritty neighbourhoods real.

We love the urban oases that are the neighbourhoods’ secret community gardens and the passionate locals who tend to them, and for the immigrant history of the Lower East Side that has made this area one of New York City’s most compelling neighbourhoods.

Paris

Paris is undoubtedly home to some of the world’s most fascinating city neighbourhoods to discover, such as the arty, bohemian ‘village’ of Montmartre, one of the city’s most widely misrepresented and misunderstood quarters.

We also adore Paris’ multicultural neighbourhoods, just over the hill, with their bustling Middle Eastern and North African vibe. We also love the area for the ordinary Parisians who come here to continue to enjoy their city in simple ways – reading books, going for strolls, picnics in the parks – despite it being overran with tourists.

Venice

Easily home to some of the world’s most fascinating city neighbourhoods to explore, Venice is so much more than San Marco. We love Venice for the ease with which it’s possible to still get off the beaten track in areas like the Dorsoduro, Cannaregio and Castello in one of the world’s most touristy cities.

What we love: exquisite architectural details and artistic beauty everywhere, even in places you don’t expect them to be; local markets where Venetians shop for fresh produce every morning, including the city’s chefs and restaurant owners; and that it’s possible to live in an everyday neighbourhood, even on an extraordinary waterway such as the Grand Canal.

And that even in some of Venice’s most touristy parts of those neighbourhoods that locals have bought seafood, sipped a spritz, met their friends, and gone home to prepare lunch before most tourists have finished their hotel breakfast.

Tokyo

More of the world’s most fascinating city neighbourhoods to explore can be found in Tokyo. We especially love Tokyo for the neon lights of its village-like neighbourhoods successfully masquerading as big city suburbs.

Some of our favourites are micro-neighbourhoods: the atmospheric alleyways lined with yakitori eateries in Omoide Yokocho (Memory Lane) in Shinjuku; the gritty lanes dotted with teensy late night bars in the Golden Gai; and the quaint ‘shitamachi’ quarter with its antique wooden houses and little old ladies in aprons watering plants in leafy Asakusa.

Marrakech

Marrakech is home to even more of the world’s most fascinating city neighbourhoods to explore. We especially love the fact that we can still get wonderfully lost in the old medina’s dusty lanes, even after countless visits.

Our pick of neighbourhoods to get lost in is the frenetic market street of Rue Bab Doukkala and the surrounding neighbourhood that was our home for two weeks on our last trip, and the bustling area around the main square, the Djemaa al Fna, with its smoky food stalls, storytellers, and snake-charmers, that is the locals’ nightly amusement park.

Istanbul

Istanbul is home to more of the world’s most fascinating city neighbourhoods to explore but we love the quarters between Taksim and Galata the most, particularly those on and around Beyoğlu’s Iskiklal Cadessi, Istanbul’s entertainment, shopping and cultural centre.

We adore it for the hundreds of pedestrian lanes that lead off it, lined with shops, markets, restaurants, cafés, bars, pubs, clubs, music venues, theatres, and galleries. We especially love that the backstreets come alive after dark when backgammon boards are packed away, Turkish coffees are replaced with beers, the tables outside the bars fill with friends, and the narghile guy starts to really earn his living.

Buenos Aires

Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires is home to many of the world’s most fascinating city neighbourhoods to explore, but we adore the barrios of Palermo, Palermo Soho and Palermo Hollywood for their bohemian-chic vibe and the vibrant street art that enlivens drab walls.

We also love the abundance of parks and gardens in Palermo that get the locals outside and on the grass, picnicking, sunbathing and snoozing the moment the sun comes out.

We love the fascinating markets across Buenos Aires in cobblestoned quarters neighbourhoods like Palermo Soho, but also in San Telmo, and the civilised local lifestyle that involves plenty of lingering in cafés and bars, late dinners, and long nights out, right across Buenos Aires.

Rio de Janeiro

Of Rio de Janeiro‘s many local neighbourhoods to linger in, the highlight for us is the laidback beachside suburb of Ipanema, where locals spend their days on the sand, sipping coconuts and working on their tans.

In the evenings, you’ll find Rio’s locals in the classic botecos, everyday neighbourhood bars, snacking on tasty, affordable food, chatting to friendly staff and listening to low key live music.

Then there are surprises such as the small neighbourhood street festivals (though they’re no Carnival) that spring up unexpectedly. In Rio, there is always something going on, you just have to know where to find it.

Mexico City

Mexico City has so many cool neighbourhoods to discover but I have to confess that my favourite barrio isn’t one of hipster hoods, but rather its the city’s old heart and historic quarter.

We love ‘el centro’ for the old city’s main plaza, the Zocalo, which always has something happening and hasn’t given way to tourists in the way that so many other main squares around the world have.

We adore Mexico City’s historic heart for the street food stalls that smell of corn tortillas, located in the old centre and liberally sprinkled throughout the city. We also love Plaza Garibaldi, home to the city’s mariachis, that makes for one of the best night’s out.

And we love that everywhere is off-the-beaten-track in a way in one of the world’s most underrated metropolises.

Berlin

Berlin easily boasts some of the world’s most compelling city neighbourhoods but one of our favourites is laidback, bohemian East Berlin ’burbs like Prenzlauer Berg with their vintage clothes stores and retro furniture stores.

We also adore the neighbourhood’s countless, speakeasy-style, late night bars and clubs with their easygoing locals propping up the bars and we love Prenzlauer Berg’s lively Sunday fleamarket in the Mauerpark with its vinyl record stands, Soviet memorabilia, and, in the warmer months, karaoke concerts.

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A travel and food writer who has experienced over 70 countries and written for The Guardian, Australian Gourmet Traveller, Feast, Delicious, National Geographic Traveller, Conde Nast Traveller, Travel+Leisure Southeast Asia, DestinAsian, TIME, CNN, The Independent, The Telegraph, Sunday Times Travel Magazine, AFAR, Wanderlust, International Traveller, Get Lost, Four Seasons Magazine, Fah Thai, Sawasdee, and more, as well as authored more than 40 guidebooks for Lonely Planet, DK, Footprint, Rough Guides, Fodors, Thomas Cook, and AA Guides.

21 thoughts on “The World’s Most Fascinating City Neighbourhoods to Explore”

  1. Great compilation of the best of the best. You hit on a lot of my favorites, from the quiet canals in Cannaregio to Memory Lane in Tokyo, as well as the East Village and Montmartre. I’ll keep this bookmarked for my next trips.

  2. Via one of my favorite Paris and travel blogs – Prêt à Voyager – I read three interviews (tnooz, traveling-savage, travelblather) that you gave about GranTourismo, how the project came about, how you secured funding for the year, etc. Kudos, the interviews were fantastic. You and your husband are very generous with your time and sharing detailed information that is a great help to your fellow travel-loving writers and photographers.

    I have a day job and dream of making a living from my photos, while traveling, of course, but am very hesitant to pitch ideas and “take the leap” from part-time passion to full-time freelancer. I’m mortified of failure, but feel that – somehow, someday – I need to really give “it” a go.

    You are a true inspiration. If I manage to achieve a soupçon of your success, I will be thrilled. Cheers.

  3. Hi Risamay – merci for the kind words!

    We always advise people not to give up their day jobs in the beginning. We both did other things for years while we wrote part-time, then one of us made the shift to full-time travel writing first (Terence), then, once we had a year’s worth of commissions lined up, I made the shift.

    Maintain your steady income stream while you slowly start to pitch, then you have nothing to fear and nothing to lose. Then once you’ve established yourself, take the risk. Trust us, it’s worth it. Best of luck!

  4. Thanks. And will do! My current plan definitely errs on the side of caution and is longer term … I’m 36 and have a happy, steady (and travel-related) day job and am angling (and saving) to travel for a year at 40. In the meantime, I continue to travel once or twice each year on shorter trips (don’t get me started on how brief American paid-leave packages are, even when “generous”).

  5. Such a lovely post.

    Totally my kind of experience…give me an afternoon lost in Montmartre over happy snaps at the Eiffel Tower any day.

    A personal fave of mine is Hong Kong’s Mong Kok. It’s always “on” and an incredible, frantic assault on all the senses. I love the way you can be in the scented lobby of a sparkling, 21st-century high-tech hotel one minute, and in a pungent “wet market” amongst fish heads and bladders the next.

    Brilliant.

  6. Fascinating indeed. I’m surprised you didn’t include a city from Spain. Your posts on that country intrigued me.

    I have enjoyed your postings from around the world; I’ve learned a lot traveling along with you. Thank you for giving us the opportunity to participate in the monthly competitions. Even though I didn’t win, it has made me a better writer (my opinion, of course).

  7. I loved Palermo Soho, even though I stayed only for a weekend. It’s on my list of places to live (not visit – live!). I liked it’s mixture between classical argentinian and somewhat bohemian european style, the street art, the people, the cafes, the bars… everything.
    Montmartre is very beautiful, too. But I wouldn’t really recommend it by night, as some parts of if aren’t that safe.
    And what to say about East Village… it was my most recent adventure back in January, and loved it!

    Thanks for the recap, I enjoyed traveling through these neighborhoods with your post!

  8. Thank you! I almost included Barcelona’s neighbourhoods and the Gracia where we stayed, but something had to give… :(

    Thank you for your kind words also. I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed the competitions and sorry you didn’t win, but who knows, the judges scores aren’t all in yet for the last competition, for which we expect to make an announcement tomorrow. We will continue to host competitions occasionally. More on that soon… :)

  9. Agree! We love Palermo Soho (and Hollywood – and good old Palermo too) – we’ve going for years and we’re torn between the Palermos and San Telmo.

    The area we stayed in at Montmartre was safe, though you should take care around the strip clubs and the seedier part of Pigalle late at night for sure. The East Village also has its dangerous bits too of course, around the eastern edge of Alphabet City, but it’s our most favourite part of New York City.

    I’m so glad you enjoyed the post! Thanks for dropping by!

  10. Absolutely in love with Venice, Berlin and Paris, only been to NYC besides that. There is something so special about Venice though. It’s like once you get lost in the city streets, and you will, you get lost in time. Loved it there. Can’t wait to go back and explore some more.

  11. Hi Julie – thanks for the kind words. Much appreciated.

    Re Montmartre, you’re probably thinking of that narrow area from Metro Anvers up the hill to Sacre Coeur and those tourist-heavy lanes nearby centred on and around Rue Rustique with the dreadful ‘art’ market on Place de Tertre. Also, during the day, Pl. Saint-Pere and Rue d’Orsel see quite a lot of tourists. As does Rue Lepic (from Metro Blanche near the Moulin Rouge) because they’re all going to see the cafe that the movie Amelie made famous.

    But there’s a whole lot more to Montmartre than that. We had a Parisian friend who we used to stay with years ago who lived on the other side of the hill on Rue Joseph de Maistre, close to Metro Guy Moquet – that area *never* sees tourists. Nor does the area beyond the basilica, around Rue Caulaincourt and Custine, which is quite posh – white upper-middle class French – and then the area around the hill toward Barbes, which is very working class and multicultural, home to many North Africans.

    In fact, on our last trip we were in a rental apartment on Rue des Abbesses for two weeks and after dark we’d rarely see tourists, even at restaurants on and around Rue des Abbesses – if they were foreign, they were most probably expats, speaking French and having dinner with their Parisian friends.

    There’s some serious art there too. We did this wonderful walk with Context (see here: https://grantourismotravels.com/2010/04/22/an-amble-around-arty-montmartre/) with a local artist and she took us to her own studio as well as pointed out other art studios, so there is a real art scene there too. She says the same thing about Montmartre, which is also her home: https://grantourismotravels.com/2010/04/25/local-knowledge-marie-theres-from-montmartre/

    Hopefully the next trip, you’ll discover these areas too :)

  12. Mmmm – not sure I agree that Montmartre is misrepresented. I still see it as a tourist rip-off area with lots of bad art and I’ve been going there for years. I love your blog, though and hope I get to see all the places you’ve visited.

  13. Great list! I think every city or town has something special to offer when you take the time to get to know the place. We all think of Venice as the Grand Canal, but it’s also about ordinary people living in an extraordinary part of our world. I love the fact that this what a person gets to see through slow travel. Always take quality over quantity! :)

  14. Hi Nancie – totally agree with you. Good point about Venice. I often see people complain about Siem Reap being so touristy and think, well, that’s because you didn’t make an effort to get out of the tourist zone and explore the backstreets or get into the village-like neighbourhoods on the edge of town. It’s often not hard to do and those places can be the most rewarding to explore. Thanks for reading!

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