The world, or the online world, is obsessed with trying to find the most hipster neighbourhoods. How often do you see articles crop up saying “these are the most hipster neighbourhoods in the world” or “these are the most hipster cities in the world” or “these are the hippest places in the UK right now?”
It is hard to put a finger on exactly what defines a neighbourhood as hipster, there’s all the cliched things like artisan coffee shops and street art, but if you’re going by the dictionary definition of hipster “a person who follows the latest trends and fashions, especially those regarded as being outside the cultural mainstream,” I would say it’s a place which reflects those alternative trends and fashions, where lots of small creative businesses are thriving, which attracts those inspired by alternative culture but crucially, is still affordable enough for those working in creative industries to live in.
Of course hipster neighbourhoods are often only hipster for a specific amount of time before they move on to the next yuppified and inflated cost stage of the gentrification process (Williamsburg in New York and Shoreditch in London are probably the best examples of this) so the challenge with defining a hipster neighbourhood is getting it at the stage when it’s actually still hipster.
I’ve visited quite a few hipster neighbourhoods in my travels, in cities as varied as Beirut, Berlin and Tokyo. Here’s 13 I experienced and what I thought of them.
Reading about Athens’s Exarchia before we visited, I found the descriptions of the area very intriguing; the articles described a neighbourhood inhabited by the city’s anarchists (Greece has had a lot to be anarchic about recently), with politically charged street art and an alternative, creative vibe. As with many now trendy, hipster areas, it was once dangerous but appears to have mellowed out with the opening of bars and cafes and many other businesses. Many of the articles did advise caution though and it was with some trepidation I made my way down there with Paul on a Friday night. The entire Exarchia Square, the centrepoint of Exarchia, was filled with people holding banners and signs displaying anarchist messages, drinking and playing music. We bought two beers from the shop and took a spot on the corner, interested to take in the goings but also keen not to be an anarchist tourist. The atmosphere wasn’t as dangerous as I expected it to be; in fact it was a celebratory environment with some people dancing to the music played from a speaker. Exarchia itself is very enjoyable area to hang out in, with great independently owned bars, restaurants and shops.
Mar Mikhael, Beirut
Beirut is perhaps not the first place which springs to mind when you think of hipster cities but the alternative, hipster culture is very much alive in Lebanon’s capital, even resulting in the publication of this article. Mar Mikhael in Beirut’s north east is where the hipsters are drawn to and its main street, Armenia Street, is lined with cool bars, lovely little galleries selling local art, and inspiring murals. My favourite Mar Mikhael spots were Radio Beirut, which live streams its gigs from local bands, Plan Bey, a gallery which sells fantastic art from local artists some of which is now hanging in my flat in Glasgow, and a street mural of Fairouz, an iconic Lebanese singer.
Cours de Julien, Marseille
Marseille, France’s second largest city, has so many areas which are wildly different from each other, including the main port area which is the (albeit, very beautiful) commercial city centre, the traditional old town, and Cours de Julien which is the hipster area. I really loved Cours de Julien as it is so strikingly different from the rest of the city; it has little lanes filled with tiny, alternatively minded businesses like vintage clothes shops, tattoo parlours and guitar shops, all types of casual food joints serving food from around the world, and almost all of the walls and stairs in the area are daubed in bright acid colours. Cours de Julien’s centrepoint is its square which when we visited had people sitting around, playing guitar, skateboarding, and doing other things hipsters like to do.
Germany’s Dresden is roughly separated into two sections; the altstadt (the old town) and the neustadt (the new town). The altstadt is the pretty, touristy section of the city while the neustadt is the hipster area, with cool bars, street art and a grungy, alternative vibe. Dresden’s neustadt is fairly small, all located within the proximity of a few streets. Without a doubt, my favourite place in the area was the bar Katy’s Garage. Katy’s Garage has a fabulous beer garden we thought we would miss out on due to visiting at Christmas time but the owners still made use of it by lighting a bonfire, putting tables around it, and serving warm cups of gluwein from the little makeshift outdoor bar. Sitting by the warm fire with the chilled out locals was the most relaxing, cosy atmosphere.
As with many hipster neighbourhoods, Warsaw’s Praga was once rough and dodgy and is now hip and cool. It has some fantastic little bars, including my favourite bar in Warsaw, W Oparach Absurdu, and that hipster neighbourhood staple; street art. Praga was not completely gentrified however, the streets are still dilapidated and there’s a more than a bit of a rough and ready feel to it. Plus, the area has all kinds of different businesses and is populated by different types of people, not just hipsters.
Here we go, yet another once dodgy and dangerous area turned hipster. Ruzafa ticks all the boxes of a cool neighbourhood, lots of dive bars and restaurants and an alternative, bohemian vibe. My favourite thing about Ruzafa however was its food market which is in a very striking Brutalist concrete building painted in different bright colours. The most well known spot in Ruzafa is Ubik Cafe which is a cafe/bookshop/gallery/restaurant and music space all in one bookshelf laden mismatched furniture space.
Berlin is the hipsters’ Mecca and the most hip neighbourhood of the granddaddy of hipster cities seems to be Neukolln, south of Kreuzberg. We stayed in Neukolln when we visited last Christmas and it certainly is very cool, with lots of fantastic bars (if you go to one I’d recommend Das Gift which is owned by a member of Glasgow band Mogwai) sandwiched between laundromats and kebab shops. Apparently the new upcoming area in Berlin is Wedding in the north of the city but when we visited in December most of the places there were closed due to it being Christmas time so it was hard to get a feel for it. Kreuzberg was once the hipster centre of Berlin, and I believe kind of still is, but many of its residents are fighting hard against gentrification and rents in the area have apparently risen massively – in fact, even Google are set to open an office there. That being said, when we were in Kreuzberg in December certain areas did still feel quite shifty; we saw quite a few obvious drug dealers and other dodgy looking folk hanging around.
South Side, Glasgow
If you are unfamiliar with Glasgow and Google hipster neighbourhoods, the one that will definitely come up is Finnieston (it was recently named the hippest area in Britain by The Times) but I don’t think that is correct; Finnieston has more expensive restaurants and slick bars then alternative culture and independent businesses. I’d say the hipster neighbourhood in Glasgow is now the South Side; it is where the artists have moved after being pushed out of the increasingly expensive West End and is the area where the most creative businesses have opened. The South Side really is fantastic; it has the Tramway gallery, the social enterprise bar/restaurant/live music space The Glad Cafe and loads of great small, independently owned bars and restaurants. Disclaimer: I possibly am biased because I live in the South Side. I wrote about my neighbourhood extensively in this piece for my blog.
I lived just outside Seoul for two years and visited again last year so when I Googled Seoul’s most hipster neighbourhood I was curious to see what would come up: Seoul is a mammoth, sprawling city and very difficult to contextualise. The neighbourhoods in the articles Google suggested were Itaewon (no chance, too tacky), Hongdae (no, too many drunk students and partying), Noksapyeong and Haebanchon (hmm, kind of – but more popular with expats), Hapjeong, and Seongsu. The former is the neighbourhood I first thought of when considering hipster areas in Seoul; it has laid a back, alternative vibe, narrow streets and lovely tiny restaurants and bars, including my favourite bar in Seoul, Tribe. However, Seongsu, which had absolutely nothing when I lived there, has exploded onto to the scene in recent years, so much so it was voted one of the 10 coolest neighbourhoods in the world by Lonely Planet. When I visited Seongsu on our trip last year I found it so weird; it is like someone looked at pictures of what a hipster neighbourhood looks like and decided to build one from scratch like in The Sims. It has the warehouse galleries, the exposed wall cafes and the artisan coffee, but it is slightly, dare I say it, trying too hard, and also not quite right; one of the trendiest looking cafes with the most stylish people in it was playing Ed Sheeran. Surely no self respecting actual hipster cafe would do that.
Hackney Wick, London
It feels foolish pinning down the most hipster neighbourhood in the mammoth gentrifying monster that is London but I believe at the moment it’s Hackney Wick, even if this might move on to somewhere else tomorrow. London is huge and has loads of hipster areas (I ended up in possibly the most hipster destination of my life on my last visit in Peckham, a neighbourhood which looked very different to my memories of Only Fools And Horses) but Hackney Wick, with its warehouses, craft breweries and sprawling murals feels like a safe bet. We spent a very enjoyable summer afternoon in Hackney Wick lounging by the canal in the shadow of the Olympic Stadium, and a friend of ours who is into the techno underground club scene ended up in some after party in a warehouse there too, which I guess is proof of how Hackey Wick embraces hipster culture 24/7.
The most famous neighbourhood in Hamburg is the dreaded Reeperbahn (strip clubs and stag dos galore) but the most interesting is Sternschanze north of the city centre. There’s a great flea market, lots of cool, laid back bars, tasty kebabs shops and a very interesting place called Rote Flora which was a grand concert hall turned squatter area turned culture centre; it now hosts donation based concerts and lectures, an archive about the history of social movements in Hamburg, and an alcoholism self help group. There’s also a skateboard park behind the building and a bunker which acts as a canvas for street artists. The Rote Flora and its surroundings are often the starting point for anti authority demonstrations and protests which can lead to confrontations with the police, particularly on the 1st May, Workers Day. We were actually in Hamburg on 1st May and were warned to stay well away from the area.
Tokyo is another mammoth city with countless neighbourhoods but I’ve been told by a friend who lives there Shimokitazawa is the most hipster. It certainly looked that way when we visited last year, its narrow streets were lined with vintage clothes shops and cafes and there were many trendy looking people wandering around. Another sure sign of a hipster neighbourhood: lots of second hand record shops. Paul was in heaven making his way round them all.
Isola is possibly my favourite neighbourhood of all of those I have visited. It is situated in the north of Milan on the other side of the railway tracks so it feels quite separate from and totally different to the main city which is often described as cold and businesses like (which I actually disagree with; I think Milan is fantastic and misunderstood and will address this in a later blog post). There was a real community feel in Isola when we visited; it had little squares, markets, trattorias and tables outside cafes where families and people of all ages were chatting and enjoying life. There were so many things I loved about the area but my favourite was probably its best known bar Frida, which is hidden behind a graffitid wall and has a roofed outdoor terrace, affordable food and drinks and a bohemian but unpretentious vibe.