Whenever you’re planning your next mucho-needed escape from the office, there’s always this tussle between Mr Logic and Monsieur Risk over who’s going to get the final word. Don’t get us wrong, we know exactly where Mr Logic is coming from because ticking off all the postcard sights currently sat on your European bucket list comes with a good time guarantee. But we’re also big fans off Monsieur Risk and his unrivalled ability to lead you astray, off the totally beaten tourist-track and into the lesser known neighbourhoods where no open-top buses have ever trundled through.
That’s what life’s all about. It’s about finding your own treasures, stumbling across somewhere that’s not yet been written about in Travel + Leisure a billion times already, and having your own stories to tell. It’s about venturing out the way to find the unsung soul of whatever city you’re in, dropping into neighbourhood bars with a “yes man” attitude, grabbing a bite to eat at authentic restaurants and kicking it with the bona fide locals that love these ice cold quarters. As the philosopher, Andre 3000, once said, “what’s cooler than being cool? Ice cold.”
That’s why we’ve been busier than a hipster at a craft beer festival pulling together a list of Europe’s coolest neighbourhoods. Don’t worry, though, we’ve not listed anywhere based on how many beard rollers and tubs of moustache wax they manage to sell. No. All these places are hip, hop and totally cool because of their endemic charm, untouched wow-factor, relaxed vibes, down-to-earth character and quirky enterprises where you’ll actually want to hang out. They’re that sort of cool. So, let’s do this shall we:
There’s a bunch of cool things to do in Athens, from hiking in Kolonaki to queuing outside the Greek Parliament to popping a selfie of you and the Acropolis on your Insta-stories. But doing any of that stuff at the cost of skipping the Exarchia neighbourhood will leave you missing out on the epicentre of Greek politics, vibrancy and counterculture. It’s where all the students hang out, and that’s what keeps it so energetic and friendly. It’s one of those places with such a laid-back vibe you’ll feel at ease the moment you step out of your cab. Yes, it’s got everything on the hipster wish list in that it’s got cool cafés, graffiti-covered walls, an underground culture and a busy arts scene, but it’s not forced in the slightest, and that’s what makes the atmosphere so unique.
Sweden oozes cool. It’s not something you need to go in search of on a bicycle or hand-painted longboard, it’s just something you’re surrounded by… all the time… from the moment you step off the plane, ferry, bus or whatever you arrived in. It’s a country that loves minimalism and creative gastronomy and pulling on a warm layer of swagger before you leave the house. It’s just that Sødermalm does it better than anywhere else. It’s a labyrinth of cool streets dotted with epic eateries, drinking holes, vintage stores, music shops, knickknacks and bookstores. Yes, even the bookstores have a hip vibe. As a neighbourhood, it’s awesomely creative. And it’s uber-relaxed too, which is probably what adds that extra layer of coolness. It’s got that whole “I’m not going to try and impress you, I’m just gonna impress you” thing. It’s so worth checking out.
London’s got a bunch of cool places - there’s no denying it. But what makes a place cool to begin with is creatives moving there and painting it in their vision - writers, artists, designers, photographers, poets and all those culture-shaping types. But what’s happened recently is, well, London got expensive, and so all these culture-shapers have moved to Bristol, and that’s why it’s enjoying such an epic moment, especially Montpelier. It’s the home of Banksy and Alex Lucas, of beatnik cafés and mind-melting street murals, of restaurants where you can sit on swings and play board games, and some of the most foodie-worshipped restaurants in the UK. It’s everything hipster’s want in a place, except it’s genuine and that’s what makes it so cool.
Canal Saint Martin, Paris
Nestled between the Musée National Picasso, Metiers Art Museum and the Bataclan is the new cool kid on the block, or the new cool block in the city. Either way, Canal St. Martin is where the young crowd gather these days, flocking to their favourite spots to catch up with friends and sip on whatever wine’s second cheapest on the menu as the soak up the warm evenings and canal-side views. Like everywhere, the gentrification of this hip-hub has well and truly begun, but that’s one of Paris’ best traits - it’s such a celebrant of local charm and quaint traditions, nowhere can ever truly lose its identity, and Canal St. Martin is proof of this. Cocktail bars aside, there are too many long-time cool cafés and mmmmmm-inducing bakeries for the culture to fall into the canal and float away. But we still recommend you get here before it becomes a bit done with.
It doesn’t matter which city you point at, the trendiest neighbourhoods all share a similar trend in their history: cool enclaves are built on gritty pasts and sassy reputations, and Praga is no different. What was once a decidedly dodgy hood nicknamed “the Bermuda Triangle” for all the wrong reasons has been totally transformed into one of Europe’s most awesome creative hubs. It’s still overflowing with once-abandoned warehouses and forgotten factories, but all these monolithic-looking structures have been converted into bars, clubs, eateries, restaurants, art-house cinemas, galleries and venues. It’s the nucleus of Warsaw’s buzzing culture; the energetic pulse of the young boho-types - a melting pot that’s been influenced by New York revelries as much as it has the Cold War era - and it never ceases to dazzle.
Having been influenced by everyone, from Bismarck to Bowie, JFK to Hitler, it’s no wonder Berlin’s become such a mesmeric place and Europe’s capital of cool again and again... and that’s got a lot to do with Kreuzberg - the cool-capital of Berlin. Sure, some people say this mantle has been snatched by Neukølln, and it could well be heading that way (there’s a massive abandoned airport right in the middle of the city, that’s why!), but it hasn’t happened yet. The thumping activity and non-stop noise that comes from this district are what pumps through Berlin’s arteries more than anything else. It’s got an unrivalled combination of grit and glamour and a distinctly Turkish vibe that can’t be replicated anywhere else. Eclectic bars, foodie-obsessed dinner joints, independent stores, infamous techno clubs, highbrow this and lowbrow that, and an awesome mix of expats, creatives, and old-school Berliners are what make this place the cultural trendsetter it is. There’s no other way of putting it: the Berlin we know and love today would be nothing without the drumbeat of Kreuzberg.
Five-four-three, even two years ago, plonking Zurich and cool in the same sentence was so oxymoronic a single chuckle could have created a chorus of snort-laughs. Zurich has just never been one to hang around with the cool kids. For most people, Switzerland is still that place with a square flag that invented muesli and sitting on the fence. But what you’re forgetting is that this country also gave the world velcro, absinthe, bobsledding and the Swiss army knife, and that’s the break-the-mould Swiss mentality that Langstrasse is choosing to rock n’ roll with. Not trying - choosing. The culture on this super-long street (that’s literally what Langstrasse means) is awesomely diverse, the atmosphere has that stay up-all-night kind of vibe, the bars are buzzing, the clubs are crowded with good-time people and there are neon lights everywhere. Okay, so heading here might be a little bit of a risk because it’s still got some catching up to do before it becomes one of the cool kids at the back of the bus, but a) give it time and b) if you’ve got buddies working over in Zurich, tell them you’re coming to stay for the weekend and then go check this street out for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.
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