Our 10 Favourite Neighbourhoods Around the World

In our Slow Travel Manifesto we said that one of our most enjoyable ways to explore a new place is to wander aimlessly and be open to what we might come across. In a big city this can be overwhelming and the best way to focus your exploration is to choose a specific neighbourhood. Our favourite cities have distinct diverse neighbourhoods with their own characters, and we gravitate towards areas with independent businesses and restaurants, good food, an artistic creative vibe, beautiful architecture, or a village-like feel.

These are our favourite neighbourhoods around the world.

The Mission, San Francisco, USA

The Mission, San FranciscoI was inspired to write this post because this week we are in our favourite city San Francisco. In a city made up of diverse neighbourhoods we have plenty to choose from but the Mission is the area we’re always drawn back to. Mexican immigrants and hipsters create a vibrant mix of vintage clothing stores, political street art, cool independent cafes, and Mexican tortillerias. I’ve compiled a long “to eat” list for our two weeks in the city and Mission restaurants dominate. It has everything from giant burritos to vegetarian Japanese, Indian dosas, and gourmet ice-cream. Spending a month or two renting an apartment here is high on our travel wish list, once we can bring ourselves to pay the crazy rental costs.

Testaccio, Rome, Italy

Testaccio, RomeRome is an incredible city but the crowds can be overwhelming. That’s not a problem in the gritty Testaccio neighbourhood where tourists rarely venture. We discovered the neighbourhood on a food tour and loved it so much that we returned a few months later to stay for four nights. It may not be as beautiful as other parts of the city but this is the place to come if you want to live like a modern Roman.

Our days revolved around food: beginning with cornetti and tiny cups of espresso standing shoulder to shoulder with locals at the counter of a local bar, we moved on to shop for lunch in the wonderful produce market and gourmet delis, spent the afternoon licking gelato on a piazza bench alongside elderly gents, took in a contemporary art exhibition at the converted slaughterhouse before dinner, and then feasted on tonnarelli cacio e pepe in one of the excellent neighbourhood restaurants.

This is Rome after all and it’s not lacking in history: you can visit Keats’ grave, see the Monte Testaccio, made up of 53 million broken amphorae (food containers) from Roman times, and even most market stalls and restaurants date back generations.

Trastevere, Rome, Italy

Trastevere, RomeYes, Rome gets two neighbourhoods on the list. Trastevere is much more popular with visitors than Testaccio but we love wandering the narrow cobblestone streets where atmospheric crumbling buildings drip with ivy, balconies are enlivened with geraniums, and washing dangles below. Restaurant tables spill onto the streets and there’s a festive atmosphere in summer. It’s far quieter and more relaxed than chaotic central Rome but it’s still in a great location and it’s possible to walk to all the major sights.

Mong Kok, Hong Kong

Mong Kok, Hong KongMong Kok is a densely packed neighbourhood of gritty tenement buildings, bustling markets, hotels rented by the hour, and Chinese medicine pharmacies alongside spangly electronics shops selling the latest gear. It’s a place where Hong Kongers live, work and shop. The crowds are intense, the traffic frenetic, but it feels alive and vibrant. Mong Kok is particularly chaotic at night when the crowds descend and hundreds of neon signs light up the streets. Somehow we were energised rather than overwhelmed by the intensity and loved strolling the streets past food stalls and street performers.

Palermo Viejo, Buenos Aires, Argentina

Palermo Viejo, Buenos AiresWe weren’t fans of Buenos Aires’s busy commercial centre but it’s surrounded by diverse barrios that are perfect for exploring on foot. We enjoyed our stay in the residential neighbourhood of Barrio Norte, but our favourite area was funky Palermo Viejo with its wide tree-lined streets, low-rise buildings, independent shops, pavement cafes, vegetarian restaurants, and creative vibe.

Alfama, Lisbon, Portugal

Alfama, Lisbon, You feel like you’ve stepped back in time in Alfama, the oldest neighbourhood in Lisbon, with its winding maze of steep cobbled streets overlooking the Rio Tejo. Getting lost in the labyrinth you’ll past magnificent churches, colourful tiled houses, and tiny neighbourhood eateries with the cheapest lunches in the city. At night the haunting sounds of heartbreaking Fado music drift from bars and elderly residents people watch from their balconies. Some parts have a gritty, decaying feel but it’s a place where Lisboetas live not a tourist site and we loved joining them for our month in the city.

Nimmanhaemin, Chiang Mai, Thailand

iberry cafe, Chiang Mai

The quirky iberry cafe

The neighbourhood around Nimmanhaemin Road is the coolest area in Chiang Mai. It’s near the university so attracts a young crowd of funkily dressed Thais who love to shop in the stylish boutiques, work on laptops in the many cafes, and eat at the varied range of international and Thai restaurants. It’s becoming more popular with visitors, especially the many digital nomads and expats who have made Chiang Mai their temporary home, but there are far fewer tourists than in the old town. Nimmanhaemin also has a good selection of apartments and some of our favourite vegetarian restaurants.

Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Santa Teresa, RioRio isn’t just about the beaches. We chose to stay in the historic hilltop neighbourhood of Santa Teresa, home to artists and bohemians. The cobblestone streets and cafe lined squares have a European feel and it was so quiet and green that we didn’t feel like we were in the centre of a big city. It’s only a 10 minute walk to Lapa for some of Rio’s best live music venues.

Habana Vieja, Havana, Cuba

Havana Vieja, CubaIf the internet wasn’t so limited in Cuba we would have extended our stay to live in Habana Vieja for a while. We loved this old part of the city with its many art galleries, leafy plazas, and crumbling colourful architecture. Traffic is limited to vintage American cars, bicycles, rickshaws, and the odd horse and cart, and instead people fill the streets. Salsa and son drifts from bars and old Cuban gents smoke cigars in doorways—it’s classic Cuba.

Arashiyama, Kyoto, Japan

Otagi Nenbutsuji temple, Arashiyama

Otagi Nenbutsuji temple, Arashiyama

We found the concrete high-rises of downtown Kyoto unexciting but when you explore the neighbourhoods towards the mountains on the outskirts of the city you discover the traditional Japan of narrow stone streets, old wooden houses, monks in flowing robes, and the sounds of chanting and gongs from the many temples and shrines. Gion is the place to spot geishas and Higashiyama has many beautiful temples to explore, but Arashiyama is our top pick. Located a 20 minute train ride from the centre in the western hills it’s one of the most traditional neighbourhoods where you can wander through bamboo groves, eat a fabulous Zen Buddhist meal in a temple, get up close to monkeys, and explore the quirkiest temple in Kyoto.

Trail Wallet

We’d love to know your favourite neighbourhoods especially if you have any tips for Paris, Munich, Naples and Palermo where we’ll be visiting this summer. Leave a comment and share your favourites.

48 thoughts on Our 10 Favourite Neighbourhoods Around the World

    • Just discovered your blog and love it. My husband and I are considering spending a couple of years in Chiang Mai. I guess one of the things I worry about (which you actually list as great) is the weather. How hot is it really year-round. I’ve read the stats, but can you tell me a little more about the various seasons?

      • I love hot weather so Chiang Mai is perfect for me. It’s actually much cooler than Bangkok so during the winter months it’s not too hot at all. It starts getting hotter in March. We had A/C, a pool, and a scooter for getting around so it really wasn’t a problem. The thing we didn’t like about that time of year was the hazy skies as the farmer’s burn the fields and the air quality isn’t great. We haven’t been in CM during the rainy summer season but plenty of people do stay year round so it can’t be that bad.

        • I’m in Chiang Mai right now and have been here for the rainy season and its not bad – the air is fresh right after the rain but in the city it’s gritty and i did start to miss the blue sky. So I’m headed to Hawaii for a while. And will enjoy my digital nomad experience there! Thanks for your great blog – really enjoy it!

  1. Great idea for a post, guys! Enjoyed seeing your picks, and being inspired by them. We love Arashiyama too. Good eats there as well. We’re with you all the way on Old Havana and the Mission too. We’re partial to New York, and would recommend a wander in Washington Heights or Inwood, all the way uptown in Manhattan. There’s so much to offer: parks, culture, history, amazing food…and it’s often overlooked!

    • I actually couldn’t warm to New York (it was November and we’d just come from sunny San Francisco) but will have to give it another go in the summer. Thanks for the neighbourhood tips!

  2. Nimmanhaemin for sure! I also really love Siam in Bangkok and the Dashilar Hutong area in Beijing.
    We were in Paris a couple of years ago and we ended up in this perfect little neighbourhood, I’ve tried looking it up on a map for you guys but I can’t remember where it was. Sorry!

  3. I love your choices for neighborhoods! Both my husband and I still work in the “real” world, so we often feel like we don’t have time with the limited amount of vacation that we get to really seek out some of these not quite so much on the tourist path places and explore! I can’t wait for a time, someday down the road, when we can travel at a more leisurely pace and really have time to immerse ourselves in the local experience.

    • I completely understand feeling like that when you have limited time but I also think it’s worth spending time in different neighbourhoods even on short trips, perhaps just going for dinner one night after hitting the tourist sights during the day. It mixes things up a bit and can end up being the most memorable part of the trip.

  4. Unfortunately I’ve only been to a few places on your list, but I whole-heartedly agree about Arashiyama! Kyoto as a whole is amazing, but there is a special magic to Arashiyama. It was an excellent (and exceedingly photogenic!) place to wander about for a day, just heading down whichever winding lane struck our fancy.

    We honestly didn’t care too much for Chiang Mai (there wasn’t anything wrong with it, it just didn’t do much for us), but we didn’t make it over to Nimmanhaemin; I think that would have been much more our speed!

    • Glad you enjoyed Arashiyama too. We were so lucky to have nearly a month in Kyoto and get to explore so much of it. We’d love to go back.

      Chiang Mai is the kind of place that grows on you. I don’t think it’s that exciting to visit but it’s a great place to live (and heaven for vegetarians). Nimmanhaemin is a totally different vibe from the old town so if you make it back there it’s worth checking out, or even finding a guesthouse and staying there for a few days.

  5. Trastevere is my favorite place in the whole world. I lived there for 4 months a few years ago and I don’t think any other place will ever compare. That said, I NEED to get myself to San Francisco soon. And spend a lot of time in the Mission.

    • How wonderful! We’d love to stay there for a few months but the rent is just so high. I’m not sure there is anyone who doesn’t love San Francisco so hopefully you will too.

  6. Nimmanhaemin!!! It helps we lived across the street from that area so we spent heaps of time there- doing what, of course mostly eating!

    Loved BA’s- I appreciated all the shoe shops was like a dream. My favorite in Peru is San Blas. In Australia I loved my ‘hood in Cairns. In Tasmania, Hobart is fabulous.

    Have fun in Europe! Haven’t been to Paris in ages, sounds dreamy!

  7. Hey Guys,

    Really fun post! We are two San Franciscans so we know all about the Mission. You should check out the outer Richmond for some great eating and the lower Haight for some great drinking. We are currently 5 months into our first RTW trip and have been to your favorites in Rome and Rio. We agree. We are headed to Portugal in a few weeks and will definitely check out Alfama. Sounds great. Enjoy the Bay, we miss it! If you get a chance head over to Oakland, it’s beautiful and a ton of fun as well.

    • We still haven’t been to the outer Richmond so thanks for the tip. There are so many great neighbourhoods on SF! We went to Oakland last weekend and loved it – such a great art and food scene, and it’s warmer too :)

  8. Awesome site guys! Love this list. As a native Bay Arean, I always say that no matter where I go, San Francisco always stays my favorite city. Don’t miss Bi-Rite creamery next time you’re in the mission.
    My boyfriend and I just launched our own travel blog, check it out when you have a chance!
    http://www.dontforgettomove.com

  9. Great post – we are headed to Cuba and South America on our travels and will definitely be checking out your suggestions for possible places to put our feet up for a while. We too are very keen to explore options out of the cities to get a better taste of the local atmosphere. Thanks again for all your inspiration, keep up the good work!
    crackingcoconuts.com

  10. Great selections. I lived in the Mission for 4 years and just got back from a 1+ year RTW trip. I always tried to find / wander / stay in these types of neighborhoods. Trastevere and Testaccio were definite favorites and Palermo is amazing!

    In Paris I’d recommend the area around the 11th and 10th arrondissement. Definitely the closest to the Mission I’ve seen in Paris with lots of great restaurants and bars, very casual, not touristy, and somewhat gritty. I also stayed in the 5th near the start of Rue Mouffetard which has a different vibe but also great.

  11. Hello and thank you for the interesting list – will use it when we start travelling at some point in the future. I just discovered your blog through “The Voluntary Life” where Jake recommends your article on getting rid of stuff and I really enjoyed reading your posts. You’re definitely funny and very informative.

    I’m German, so I did a quick search in German on Munich and it seems that Schwabing isn’t the hippest place anymore, but Maxvorstadt, so you might want to check that out.

    Keep up the good work and thanks for everything!

  12. Nice site,your posts are so informative!
    I have a question for you.In South America(Argentine and Peru),do you think that for a lady,alone, is safe to travel ?Did you meet anyone doing it…?
    I would like to do it,starting fromn September or October,and spend around 2 months each(and maybe some vecinities)?Is any place to be avoided,from your experience?
    Thank you!

  13. This is such a great top ten! Love that you have focused on neighbourhoods rather than whole cities, I always find it overwhelming figuring out where is best to stay in a large city. I am especially intrigued by Santa Teresa as I visited, and fell in love with, Rio when I visited!

  14. We are from San Francisco, which we adore. Another favorite neighborhood of ours is the Marigney in New Orleans. It’s southern Bohemia, with sll yhr charm and character, and makes you want to be a writer.

  15. Sorry, meant to add that our home neighborhood in SF is Bernal Heights, adjacent to the Mission, and is a great neighborhood in its own right!

  16. When in Paris, try Le Marais. it used to be hip and a good place to eat falafels. Saint Germain can be touristy, but there are many places, tiny streets filled with small galeries, bakeries and bistrots. If you can find a place close to jardin du luxembourg and église saint sulpice, it would be best. In the 10th arrondissement, close to canal saint martin, hip and local. But if you can housesit at île saint louis, it would be a great luxury! There are many choices! All of them have an interest.

    • Thanks for the tips. We just found a studio apartment in Belleville which sounds quite an interesting and untouristy neighbourhood. We’ll definitely check out La Marais for falafel.

      • Oh good! I lived there 20 years ago. It used to be an immigrants area, lots of people from north africa and asia, especially vietnam. There they have one of the best asian restaurants in town (so they say). I can´t remember its name… but it´s the biggest in the area and very renowned. There are some big asian supermarkets. You can try to eat at african “foyers”, where africans live and eat typical food (very tasty and cheap, i loved their ginger juice) On Belleville streets you could find lots of small arab shops, selling products you can only find there, like their soft drink Boga cola. It´s really interesting and you can also find some old time France around there too. I count on you to know how it is today!

      • A friend and I just finished an eleven-day trip to Buenos Aires and Uruguay. Not a “slow travel” trip by any means, though intermittent parts of the trip approached that ideal. In our four days in Bs As, we took a couple of Subte (subway) rides (to Plaza Italia, and Belgrano), but most of our time was spent in and near Centro. We stayed at two B & B’s, the first was Casa Jasmin in Once for the first night (only available night), and the rest at Ada & Valentyn near Plaza de Mayo in Centro – both excellent places to stay. We also did a lot of walking, and we fell in love with the San Telmo barrio, a place with a strong “alternative” and hip ambience to it, cobblestone streets, slower pace, etc. San Telmo is directly next to Centro, and certainly worth checking out on foot. There are a couple of very pleasant blocks on Calle Chile with a lot of outdoor dining and nightlife, and nearby Territorio is a nice mellow little pub, etc.

        • Our copious amounts of walking took us through a number of neighborhoods ranging from La Boca to Recoleta to Once (and pretty much all the neighborhoods “below” those), as Bs As is a good walking city. Calle Florida is a long pedestrian street, and very interesting in its own right despite being more of a tourist destination. “Cambio!” is a commonly-heard word along that street, shouted by people who want to give you more pesos than the official rate in exchange for receiving coveted US Dollars, of great benefit to visitors from the U.S., though this “azul” (blue) exchange rate for pesos has questionable legality. However, Rachel at the B&B in Once was able to guide us to a safe “azul” place, at least at the time. We understand these places can disappear with little or no notice.

  17. I think this is a great post. All of the areas make me want to go there. My friend is heading to Rome next month so I sent her the link to your post. Personally it makes me want to visit San Fransisco, which has long been on my mind.

  18. Hi, we are heading to Chiang Mai and will be there over Loy Krathong. Can you recommend a good area to stay in for this festival. I like your description of Nimmenhaemin, but was thinking maybe the old town is better for the festival?

  19. Hola ! I love all of your info. I am selling everything and made the decision to move to Sayulita or San Pancho Mexico. It is just Me and my little dog Pancho. If you have any info. on long term rentals ? We live on a fixed income of around 25 hundred a month. Any suggestions would sure help me and my Four legged Fur person. Thank You For Your time. Deanne and Pancho

    • It’s really best to go there and ask around about rentals. The places available online are much more expensive. You should be able to find something within your budget no problem, although it’s best to arrive before the winter high season starts to have more choice. Good luck with it!

  20. I love Alfama, in Lisbon! So happy that you mentioned it in your short-list. Two other places that I definately want to see is The Mission, in San Francisco, and Santa Teresa, in Rio de Janeiro. Great post!

  21. Awesome site! I live in Cape Town RSA, have a guesthouse, and have done some travellng (Europe and Asia) Enjoyed your comments on Thailand! Yip a special place that. Keep up the good “work?”!

  22. A friend and I just finished eleven days in Argentina and Uruguay and, though it was not a “slow travel” trip by any means, intermittent parts of the trip were indeed “slow” and we saw some other places where we think we could have enjoyed settling in for a couple weeks or so and just hanging out, if time was no object. (We are both still employed, and we live two thousand miles apart in the USA – Illinois and Portland.)

    Right on top of that list was our brief stop in DURAZNO, Uruguay. I think this small city (about 35,000 people) is an undiscovered gem, because it’s off the tourism radar. The place has a very laid-back feel to it, and with all of the trees there (even more than Davis CA, Ann Arbor, etc.) and the well-kept buildings in town, along with the delightfully haphazard Latin American color scheme which I love, we both found the place to be incredibly gorgeous. The central plaza is to die for. I had the feeling that a slow traveler would be readily invited into homes and have a lot of fun hanging out, etc. – often the little urban “jewels” like this which are very attractive for reasons other than tourism are also accompanied by friendly and accepting local folk.

  23. Great stuff. Thank you. My wife and I are in paris right now for the first time and came across your site. Very exciting to read about your adventures.

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