It seems that everyone wants to “live like a local” on their city breaks these days. No, we don’t mean getting up at 7am for a crowded commute to the business district, sustaining yourself on Starbucks and overpriced sandwiches, and spending the evenings watching Netflix. We mean escaping the tourist trail to discover what really makes a city tick. 

Invariably, this entails leaving behind the overcrowded centre in favour of an up-and-coming neighbourhood – to which residents, not tourists, flock for bustling restaurants, cosy cafes, hip bars and independent boutiques.

But which districts to choose? To sort the fab Camdens from the drab Croydons, we asked 10 of our destination experts – each bristling with insider knowledge – to pick their favourite quarters, along with the best places within them to eat, drink, shop and sleep.

Do you agree with their selections? Have we missed any offbeat gems? Please let us know in the comments at the bottom of the article.

1. Strasbourg Saint-Denis, Paris

By Hannah Meltzer

Paris is not so much a city as a cluster of characterful and contrasting villages, and among these, Strasbourg Saint-Denis on the Right Bank is perhaps the coolest. It’s just outside of the touristy and often expensive centre, but big sights like the Louvre are still within comfortable walking distance and you can zip across town on Metro Line 4. 

Historically a working-class neighbourhood, it strikes a good balance between authentic Parisian character and things to do, not least at night when the rue des Petites-Ecuries becomes a buzzy hub of activity.  

Where to eat and drink 

Rub shoulders with Paris’s hippest foodies, literally, at Vivant 2 (, where diners sit shoulder-to-shoulder at the marble counter-top, watching chefs deftly throw together gourmet seasonal delights like fondant onion or delicately braised scallops, all paired with natural wines, bien sûr. Further along the rue des Petites-Ecuries, try Jah Jah (, a lynchpin of Paris’s growing vegan scene, serving up Jamaican cuisine. For Parisian street food par excellence, check out the famous Kurdish sandwiches at Urfa Durum ( 

At night, catch some jazz at New Morning ( or have a giggle at the Saturday night English-language hour at Goku Comedy Club ( Follow with artisanal cocktails in a cool setting at Le Syndicat ( 

Where to shop 

Stock up on culinary goodies at family-run Julhès Paris on Rue du Faubourg Saint-Denis; buy essential oils, incense and spices at the little boutiques that line Passage Brady; head to Chine Machine (, a no-frills thrift shop with a loyal following. 

A room for the night 

Hôtel Grand Amour is the preferred rendezvous of the arty types of the quartier, in particular its lively courtyard terrace bar. The rooms are full of eccentric and sometimes racy décor, making you feel like you’re in the home of a cool Parisian pal.

2. Garbatella, Rome 

By Tim Jepson 

This is the real deal, a low-density working-class neighbourhood begun in the 1920s on the model of an English garden city that has the first sprinkling of new galleries, bars and restaurants but still feels more like a close-knit community than a hipster haven. 

Three metro stops from the Colosseum and you’re in the Italy of another era – a world of washing between windows, timeless old trattorias, tranquil, mural-decorated streets and squares you want to explore (like Via Luigi Orlando, Piazza Benedetto Brin and Via del Porto Fluviale) and the now celebrated lotti, or historic housing blocks, whose shared courtyards and architectural panache lend the area its distinctive look and feel.

Where to eat and drink

Garbatella combines traditional trattorias such as Tanto pè Magnà (no website; Via de’ Jacobis Giustino 9; 06 5160 7422) and Li Scalini de Marisa (no website; Via Roberto de Nobili 17; 06 5160 1969) with neighbourhood pioneers such as Ristoro degli Angeli (, founded in 2004, and creative newcomers like La Casetta ( For coffee and aperitivi with the locals, head for Foschi (Piazza Bartolomeo Romano 3) and Dei Cesaroni (Piazza Giovanni da Triora, 6).

Where to shop

Indie stores are yet to infiltrate in any number, though the Mercato Usato (Via Manfredo Camperio 25), with a host of vintage outlets under one roof, and a handful of galleries such as 10B (, are signs of things to come.

A room for the night

The Caravel ( has bright, modern four-star rooms, while Duca’s House ( offers contemporary B&B at the heart of the neighbourhood.

3. Conde Duque, Madrid

By Annie Bennett

While a lot of visitors to Madrid hang out in ultra-hip Malasaña, only those in the know drift over the border formed by San Bernardo street into this quietly cool, more grown-up barrio. 

Dominated by the massive Conde Duque Cultural Centre (, housed in an 18th-century barracks that takes up an entire block behind Plaza de España, this grid of sloping, narrow streets and hidden squares is what Madrid is all about – if you like mooching around, looking up at elegant if slightly scruffy buildings and popping into little shops, bars and galleries, you’ll be happy here. 

Where to eat and drink

Seek out ULFLTRD Coffee ( for the best brews in town, then channel your inner Penélope Cruz at a terrace table at Café Moderno in Plaza de las Comendadoras, which featured in Parallel Mothers, Pedro Almodóvar’s most recent feature film. 

Opposite the Conde Duque cultural centre, Frutas Prohibidas ( has great juices and vegan dishes. Taberna La Dichosa ( is a favourite with locals who come to share some tapas for lunch or dinner and try craft beers and less familiar Spanish wines by the glass. 

Find a space at the marble counter at De Vinos ( for more wine, vermouth or a gin and tonic.

Where to shop

At Quesería Cultivo ( they not only sell artisan cheeses from all over Spain but make some of their own too. You’ll probably need to taste a few. High Street names haven’t made it into the barrio – yet. Misia Madrid ( specialises in independent international clothing brands, or for a quirkier, sporty look, rifle through the rails at Maggie Shop (

A room for the night

You get a great view across Conde Duque from the roof terraces at the buzzy Riu Plaza España. For something more intimate, book an apartment at Eric Vökel Madrid Suites.

4. Amsterdam Noord

By Rodney Bolt

A post-industrial creative surge has sparked new life into Amsterdam Noord, just a jump across the water behind Central Station. The cavernous sheds and shipyards of the vacated NDSM dockland now brim with artists’ studios, and burst with vast dance parties. 

Graffiti artists from the world over have free play on the walls outside (spawning Straat, a street-art museum; The solitary tower of a former Shell research facility, rebranded the A’DAM Toren ( now beats with a basement nightclub, and has a sky-bar on the roof. Yet, around Van Der Pekstraat, there’s also a quiet, traditional quarter, all brick gables and cosy cafés.

Where to eat and drink

Pllek (, a restaurant and café housed in a gigantic box of converted shipping containers, was one of the trailblazers in Noord’s new life, and remains a favourite hangout for artists from nearby studios and hipsters from across the water.

Stork ( offers fresh fish in a former rail factory, Café Ons ( brings a traditional bricks-and-beer touch, and Bar Pekky (, adorned with the owner’s artwork, combines neighbourhood camaraderie with live music and stand-up.

Where to shop

The Eye Film Museum ( not only houses one of the world’s premier film collections, but hosts a shop full of movie memorabilia, hip accessories and diverting gadgets.

The Van Der Pek neighbourhood street market (Van der Pekstraat; Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays) is refreshingly free of tourist tat, and Fromagerie Kef ( puts prime Dutch cheeses on the tables of the city’s top restaurants.

A room for the night

Sir Adam Hotel, on seven floors of the Adam Toren, attracts on-the-rise rock stars with its Sixties and Seventies retro, dashes of Dutch designer quirkiness, and funky sounds.

5. Sants, Barcelona

By Sally Davies

Barcelona has few hidden corners any more, and almost every neighbourhood with a decent-sized plaza has been proclaimed the hippest new barri at some point. Hiding in plain sight, though, is Sants, traversed by thousands every day thanks to its underground transport hub, but visited by few – for now. 

Once a village in its own right, Sants is about to see a spectacular urbanistic overhaul, including the creation of a futuristic station building (to be completed by 2026 and named, according to reports, after soprano Montserrat Caballé) and acres of green space, but the cultural and gastronomic transformation is already under way, with stylish hotel Nobu leading the charge.

Where to eat and drink

It calls itself a vermutería (vermouth bar), but La Mundana ( is best known for superb tapas riffing on classics and drawing in influences from as far afield as Japan.

NEØ Coffee House ( embraces a zero-waste, vegan concept and provides a quiet but sociable space for the barri’s young creatives to work in.

Beer aficionados, meanwhile, head to Homo Sibaris ( for over 100 bottled craft beers and eight draught beers made on the premises.

Where to shop 

La Conxita de Sants ( is a hybrid record and book store, with an especially good section on music and plenty of armchairs in which to peruse them.

A room for the night

The David Rockwell-designed Nobu wears its Japanese influences subtly but to great effect. Get a room on a higher floor for a spectacular view across the city.

6. Piraeus, Athens

By Heidi Fuller-Love

With a dedicated metro link that puts Piraeus just 15 minutes from Syntagma Square and a host of exciting new projects in the pipeline, Greece’s once grungy main port is no longer just the place to catch a ferry to the islands.

A raft of cool night-time venues has replaced the brothels and hash dens that once lined the cobbled alleys of red light district Troumba; neoclassical mansions framing the switchback streets of hilltop enclave Kastella have been converted to hip boutique hotels; top galleries – including Istanbul’s Rodeo and Lebanon’s Carwan – are carving a string of stylish art emporiums out of the port’s disused tobacco warehouses.

Where to eat and drink

Never slow to spot a rising star, Greek celebrity chef Lefteris Lazarou left central Athens to set up his Michelin-starred seafood restaurant Varoulko ( here. Locals flock for dazzling dishes, including crab brioche with lemon and avocado cream, and garlicky steamed clams.

At the other end of the foodie spectrum, Stoa Rakadiko’s wobbly tables and caned chairs evoke old school Piraeus, but there’s nothing passé about the skioufikta handmade pasta topped with nutty local gruyere and other creative dishes.

Where to shop

Steps from the neoclassical Dimotiko Theatro, Tsamadou street’s lively hive of indie designer stores, bookshops and sweet-scented spice emporiums lead to a bustling central market – stands sell everything from cured pork to medicinal herbs – which morphs on Sundays into a sprawling flea market. 

A room for the night

With a gourmet rooftop restaurant and sweeping sea views, The Alex is a chic boutique beauty with spacious suites in high-flung Kastella.

7. Schillerkiez, Berlin

By Paul Sullivan

The fast-changing, multicultural nature of Neukölln – one of the 12 boroughs of Berlin – keeps it consistently exciting. Decidedly more upbeat than when Bowie namechecked it in his eponymous 1977 song (misspelt as “Neuköln”), it has retained its Turkish and Middle Eastern immigrant character, but these days has a lively Western expat community too. 

This dynamic mix can be experienced in microcosm in the small-but-hip neighbourhood known as Schillerkiez. Bordering the perennially popular Tempelhofer Feld, an airport turned public park, its dozen or so streets, tree-lined promenade and central square offer a characteristic, heady mix of cheap kebab shops and buzzy brunch spots, classic German corner pubs and speakeasy cocktail bars, gaudy casinos and underground art galleries.

Where to eat and drink 

Brunch in a church? Contemporary bistro Terz ( is set inside the square’s handsome Genezareth Kirche and has fluffy pancakes and eggs Benedict, small plates, and a daily-changing lunch menu.

Hole-in-the-wall dumplings and bao bun spot Han West ( caters to vegans and vegetarians as well as meat-eaters; there’s no seating but you can dine in at neighbouring craft beer brewery Brauhaus Neulich (

Elegant Barra ( has seasonal dishes like chestnut and pear soup; afterwards, whisky bar Keith ( has tipples from as far afield as Taiwan and Tasmania.

Where to shop

English Traders Berlin ( is dedicated to durable, often unique goods from artisans all around the world, ranging from Moomin cups to kitchen knives and wall posters.

For delicate jewellery and upscale women’s accessories Rita in Palma ( delivers.

Fantasiakulisse ( has a collection of vintage movie and theatre props and posters – and over 200 mannequins, many used in classic films.

A room for the night 

Decent hotels are lacking, but Airbnb features an apartment in a charming 19th-century building right on the promenade (sleeps six;

8. Lido, Venice

By Anne Hanley 

Once, this narrow island that separates the Venetian lagoon from the sea was a Belle Epoque playground for the rich and beautiful. Later it became something of a dormitory town – Venice without the canals and glorious palazzos, but with cars and buses. But the Lido is slowly getting its mojo back – and not just during the 12 days at the end of the summer when it hosts the starry Venice Film Festival. 

For Venetians, the attraction of what is basically a sandbank with houses on it has shifted: it’s no longer simply a place to head to with rolled-up beach towels and bathing togs on a summer’s day. The night-time scene has exploded, turning the lungomare beach-side strip into one endless party. It’s a place for the warmer months, however: don’t expect much joy through the winter. 

Where to eat and drink

Al Mercà ( injected a buzz into a mainly dowdy eating scene when it glassed in the old fishmarket to become the hot eating and drinking spot on the Lido. But some old favourites stand the test of time, including Trattoria Andri (no website; via Lepanto 21; +39 041 526 5482) which serves Venetian classics in a Belle Epoque setting. 

Parked on lungomare D’Annunzio, where revellers spill out onto pavements and the beach beyond, El Pecador ( is an old double-decker bus serving excellent panini and hamburgers.

Where to shop

Head to the old marketplace on riva di Corinto (, where stalls sell fruit, veg and much more on Tuesday mornings, while there’s a farmers’ market on Friday mornings. 

A room for the night

Rooms at the delightful Quattro Fontane ( are booked up years ahead for the Film Festival in late August-early September. At other times the lush garden and relaxed vintage-chic interior provide a charming base from which to explore.

9. Ajuda, Lisbon

By Mary Lussiana

Though much of Lisbon increasingly marches to the tune of the French and American tourists who have invaded it; the café’s reverberating with demands for café au lait and flat whites, authentic Ajuda offers the real thing. 

In this case, bica – the Portuguese version of espresso, for here gentrification and tourism are just whispers on the warm breeze. That is slowly changing, say the alfacinhas (“lettuce eaters”, Portugal’s nickname for Lisbonites), and the arrival of the chic Wine & Books Hotel (see below) and the glittering Royal Treasure Museum (, housed in Ajuda’s National Palace, the home of the last Kings of Portugal, suggests a district on the rise.

Where to eat and drink

Tasca Memória (, part of the Wine & Books Hotel, offers classic Portuguese dishes with a contemporary twist, from black pork cheeks with saffron risotto to octopus with tomato rice.

Mestrias ( is a neighbourhood favourite for its speciality of bacalhau à brás (dried cod with potato and egg).

Community hub Erva Principe Mercearia ( doubles as an enticing food shop and little café with occasional guest speakers.

Where to shop

Established in the 18th century, acclaimed ceramics factory Sant’Anna ( is still going strong in Ajuda, producing beautiful, hand-made tiles.

Wonderful jewellery can be found at Alexandra Corte-Real’s shop ( 

A room for the night

The Wine & Books Hotel ( draws on Portugal’s cultural heritage and has 24 rooms overlooking the beautiful, neo-classical Igreja da Memória, and its own spa and restaurant (as above).

10. Holesovice, Prague

By Will Tizard

Prague’s Holesovice neighbourhood was once known only for its sleepy residential blocks and decidedly shabby exhibition grounds (with attached Communist-era funfair). Now, it’s become so hip you can’t visit the district’s beloved Café Lajka pub without running into celebrated Czech filmmakers, writers and artists. 

Situated between the Hradcanska metro stop and the northern bend of the Vltava river, Holesovice has become a hub for designer startups and creative spaces, a warren of little studios, cool cafés and an arthouse cinema – with the streets between the National Technical Museum and the DOX modern art gallery providing the epicentre. 

Where to eat and drink 

The beer garden of Letensky Zamecek ( is a long-standing favourite for its views of the city, though Bio Oko ( is now the beating heart of Holesovice and ideal for catching an indie film after meeting up in its vintage lobby bar. The nearby Cobra bar ( is where to carry on afterwards. 

The vegan burger and bakeshop specialist Chutnej ( draws patrons in with a quiet buzz and lovingly crafted meals built around Bohemian-harvested mushrooms and beets, while good old Lajka ( serves its own excellent craft beer late into the night. Mr. HotDoG (, revelling in its deliberately cheesy name, serves up the district’s most enticing sliders and chilli cheese dogs.  

Where to shop 

Vnitroblock ( is an arty space with a host of design shops, the Signature café and the country’s tiniest cinema, Pidikino. The DOX gallery store ( is the place to score porcelain and brilliant coffee table books. Sister Conspiracy (, is all about sustainable fashion. 

A room for the night 

You’re in hipster central at Mama Shelter. A leisurely breakfast on the terrace is a fine way to map out your city break.

This article was first published in January 2023 and has been revised and updated. 

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