World's Most Underrated Cities

Sure, popular cities have their place. But if you like exploring, there's interesting stuff in the world's most underrated cities.

Travel+Leisure
Detroit
Detroit
Photo: Aaron Sneddon

Welcome to the urban underdogs—cities that aren't on the radar for most travelers. Some, like Slovakia's capital of Bratislava, might be overlooked because of their proximity to better-known cities. Others, like Detroit, can't seem to live down a bad rap. But if undiscovered art scenes, experimental cuisine, great architecture, and interesting neighborhoods are on your travel checklist, then these cities deserve a second look.


For a traveler, the main appeal of these neglected cities is authenticity. "You go to the Old Town in Prague, it's mostly tourists. In Bratislava, it's all locals," says Jaroslave Vitazka, a project manager for a private equity firm who has called the city home since 2002. Or, as Phillip Cooley says about Detroit: "It's real, it's honest. You can spend the day at an urban farm, and then head off to a Tigers game or the opera, just like the locals do."


Detroit

A new breed of urban homesteader is helping to revive Motor City. Abandoned factories and warehouses like the Russell Industrial Center have been turned into studios for artists and artisans, while gardens now flourish in formerly vacant lots. The exuberant Heidelberg Art Project turns urban blight into a symbol of hope. Detroit's food scene, meanwhile, is taking off. Foran's Grand Trunk micropub, the Eastern Market, Supino Pizzeria, and Slows BBQ are just some of the gastronomic must-dos. Don't forget the city's museums, including the Detroit Institute of Art, home to Diego Rivera's "Detroit Industry" murals, and the delightful Motown Museum.


Don't Miss: If you're there on the weekend, swing by Café d'Mongo's, an antiques-filled speakeasy with live jazz that's open only Friday nights.


Taipei, Taiwan
Taipei, Taiwan
Photo: Hung-Wen Wan

Taipei, Taiwan

In the 1980s and '90s, this city of 3 million was choked in smog. Today, Taipei is one of Asia's most pleasant capitals, with acres of green space and an easy-to-use public transport system. And there's plenty to do for outdoor enthusiasts: Yangmingshan National Park, a hot springs in Beitou, hiking trails throughout the surrounding mountains, and riverside bike paths. But the biggest draw is the cuisine. Taipei has some of the best Chinese food in the world, from humble holes-in-the-wall to culinary temples. Don't fret if you can't speak or read the lingo—friendly locals are eager to help visitors.


Don't Miss: Lan Jia Gua Bao, near the Gongguan Night Market, serves superlative gua bao, or braised pork belly buns.


Tucson, AZ
Tucson, AZ
Photo: Saqib Karori

Tucson, AZ

It's not just rodeos and golf in this laid-back city of 518,000. Surrounded by mountains and Saguaro National Park, Tucson has abundant natural beauty and a rich cultural heritage. Now you can add a happening downtown to its list of attractions. Decade-long efforts to redevelop the area have resulted in top-rated restaurants like chef Janos Wilder's Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails, along with scores of new shops, restaurants, and bars. And every second Saturday, a few downtown blocks are closed to traffic in the evening for a street fair, with artisans, food vendors, street performers, and live music acts.


Don't Miss: Some of downtown Tucson's historic buildings have been given a second lease on life. Have a drink at Hotel Congress before attending a concert at The Rialto, a theater built during the Roaring Twenties.


Glasgow
Glasgow
Photo: Jason Smith / Alamy

Glasgow

London and Manchester might dispute this claim, but Glasgow has the best music scene in Great Britain. Acts like Belle and Sebastian and Franz Ferdinand got their start in clubs like King Tut's and the Barrowland Ballroom. And there's much more to experience in Scotland's largest city. Take your pick of innovative restaurants such as the mod-Scottish Cail Bruich or the seafood-centric Crabshakk. Architecture buffs shouldn't miss the Glasgow School of Art, an Art Nouveau gem designed by native son Charles Rennie Mackintosh. A new Zaha Hadid–designed transport museum opening this spring seals the city's reputation for forward-looking design.


Don't Miss: Hit the vintage shops along Byres Road. We Love to Boogie has a well-curated collection, café, and free Wi-Fi.


Nara, Japan
Nara, Japan
Photo: Kevin Cheng

Nara, Japan

Often neglected in favor of nearby Kyoto, this former imperial capital is equally rich in ancient Buddhist temples, shrines, and gardens, but without the camera-wielding crowds. You'll find tame deer and the 8th-century Todai-Ji temple complex in Nara Park, while the lovely Isui-en garden provides serenity just a short walk away. The city also has an impressive collection of machiya, or traditional wooden townhouses. Spend an afternoon wandering the narrow streets of Naramchi, the old merchant district where many machiya have been converted into cafés and restaurants.


Don't Miss: Nara is the birthplace of sake, and numerous breweries can be found in and around the city. Arrange a visit to Harushika, a 127-year-old brewery, or drop by Kuramoto Hoshuku, a popular sake bar run by another local brewer.


Bratislava, Slovakia
Bratislava, Slovakia
Photo: Ben Hsu

Bratislava, Slovakia

Fairy-tale buildings, charming squares, a medieval castle looming over the city. No, we're not talking about Prague, but its Slovak counterpart down the Danube. Since Slovakia joined the EU in 2004, its once-sleepy capital has transformed into a buzzing hot spot. Nowhere is this more evident than the revitalized Old Town, where locals pack the many atmospheric cafés, bars, and restaurants. Though the dining scene has become more international, a new wave of old-school beer halls is finding favor among Bratislava's hipsters. Check out Beer Palace near the opera house and Kolkovna in the new, riverside Eurovea complex.


Don't Miss: Take a boat down to the futuristic Danubiana Meulensteen Art Museum, situated on a peninsula near the borders with Austria and Hungary.


Providence, RI
Providence, RI
Photo: (c) Capitolshots Photography

Providence, RI

Move over, Boston. A renewed waterfront, vibrant arts scene, and sophisticated dining have turned this small college town into New England's most exciting city. Edgy galleries like New Urban Arts and AS220 host parties as well as exhibitions, while the RISD Museum shows French Impressionists, 20th-century masters, and rising young artists (including alums). The once-derelict West End neighborhood is now the city's epicenter of cool, with friendly dive bars, vintage stores, terrific eateries, and indie record stores. Swill cocktails at The Avery before moving on to the E&O Tap, a local institution.


Don't Miss: Opened in March 2010, Cook & Brown brings French finesse to down-home classics. Try the stuffed quail with cranberry relish and wild rice.


Adelaide, Australia
Adelaide, Australia
Photo: iStock

Adelaide, Australia

Nicknamed "the city of churches," this picturesque coastal city has long shed its stuffy reputation thanks to its multiethnic mix, lively café culture, and avant-garde art scene. Every February sees the Adelaide Fringe Festival, while the biennial Adelaide Festival of the Arts takes place in March. (The next one is in 2012.) During the rest of the year, get your art fix at cutting-edge galleries such as Greenaway Art Gallery and the aboriginal art–focused Tandanya. Bustling Central Market provides a window into the culinary scene. Adelaide is also blessed with a mild climate, so you can enjoy its fine beaches and the 125-acre Adelaide Botanic Garden all year round.


Don't Miss: People-watch from an outdoor table at Scoozi, one of the dozens of welcoming cafés on Rundle Street East.


Valparaíso, Chile
Valparaíso, Chile
Photo: Jared J. Fernandez

Valparaíso, Chile

A two-hour drive from Santiago, this port city has long been known for the colorful houses that dot its steep hills. In recent years, it's been undergoing a renaissance as residents turn historic buildings into character- filled boutique hotels, restaurants, and galleries. Catch this new spirit in Cerro Alegre or Cerro Concepción, two bohemian neighborhoods accessible by the city's distinctive ascensores, or funicular elevators. Check into Hotel Gervasoni or the Zero Hotel, both located in 19th-century mansions with sweeping views, before having dinner at one of the many fine restaurants in the area.


Don't Miss: One of the homes of Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda, La Sebastiana is now a museum filled with quirky items collected by the poet during his travels.



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