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 15 I experienced and what I thought of them.
Bushwick, Brooklyn, New York
New York City is so gentrified its most hipster neighbourhood couldn’t possibly be in Manhattan – every inch of the island has monstrously expensive rent more accessible to investment bankers than artists. Anthony Bourdain famously said of the East Village, once the home of New York’s punks: “It was like Mad Max, post-apocalyptic. Now it looks like a f****** Dave Matthews Concert.” Instead, the artists and creatives of New York have moved to the outer boroughs like Brooklyn and Queens, although much of Brooklyn has also become hugely expensive: the former hipster haven of Williamsburg now has an Apple store and is considered just as gentrified as Manhattan. Instead the hip districts have moved outwards and the current hotspot is Bushwick, south east of Williamsburg. Bushwick has lots of dive bars, a thriving nightlife and cool places to eat, but undoubtedly its most well known sight is the Bushwick Collective street art project. Spectacular murals covering every inch of wall over the three streets, it looks amazing and is a must visit on any New York itinerary.
When researching hipster neighbourhoods in Copenhagen you are usually presented with two options: Vesterbro and Nørrebro. I found the latter to be far more laid back and less gentrified. It had a lovely unpretentious vibe, with casual food joints, packed outdoor tables, and cute little parks. Bizarrely, one of the most popular places to hang out in Nørrebro is its Assistens Cemetery; while walking through it you will see people lolling around the grass and enjoying picnics near the gravestones.
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 the neighbourhood, 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 some sort of anarchist tourist. The atmosphere wasn’t as dangerous as I expected it to be; in fact it was celebratory, with some people dancing to the music played from a speaker.
Mar Mikhael, Beirut
Beirut is perhaps not the first place which springs to mind when you think of hipster cities but the alternative 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 hang out and its Armenia Street is lined with cool bars and lovely little galleries selling local art. 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, and the street murals that cover its alleyways.
Cours de Julien, Marseille
The neighbourhoods of Marseille, France’s second largest city, are wildly different from each other. There’s the glitz of the commercial city centre, the cobbled streets and narrow alleys of the Old Town and the vintage clothes shops, tattoo parlours and acid bright street art of Cours de Julien, the hipster neighbourhood. The focal point of Cours de Julien is its palm tree lined square where the locals gather play guitar, skateboard and do 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 and the neustadt is the alternative area, with cool bars, street art and a grungy vibe. My favourite place in the neustadt is Katy’s Garage, a bar set in a former tyre shop which has a hugely popular beer garden. We thought we would miss out on it due to visiting at Christmas time but the owners still made the most of it by lighting a bonfire, putting tables around it, and serving warm cups of gluhwein from the little makeshift outdoor bar. So cosy and Christmassy.
As with many hipster neighbourhoods, Warsaw’s Praga was rough and dodgy before it become hip and cool. It is not completely gentrified however, the streets are still quite dilapidated and there’s a more than a bit of a rough and ready feel to it. Praga has some fantastic little bars, including my favourite bar in Warsaw, W Oparach Absurdu, a creative space called SoHo House which houses art exhibitions and independently owned shops, and plenty of that hipster neighbourhood staple, street art.
Ruzafa is yet another once dodgy and dangerous neighbourhood turned hipster. It ticks all the alternative culture boxes: dive bars, street art, chic cafes and artists studios. The most well known spot in Ruzafa is Ubik Cafe, a cafe/bookshop/gallery/restaurant and gig venue all in a bookshelf laden mismatched furniture space. However, my personal favourite spot in Ruzafa was the food market which is housed in a striking Brutalist concrete building painted in bright colours.
Berlin is the hipsters’ Mecca and the most hip neighbourhood of the granddaddy of hipster cities is currently Neukolln, south of Kreuzberg. Neukolln 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 as it was Christmas so it was hard to get a feel for it. Kreuzberg was once the hipster centre of Berlin, and is still packed with alternative culture, but many of its residents are fighting hard against gentrification and rents in the area have risen massively.
South Side, Glasgow
If you Google Glasgow 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 than alternative culture and independent businesses. I’d say the hipster neighbourhood in Glasgow is now the South Side as 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 recently. The South Side has the Tramway gallery, the social enterprise bar/restaurant/live music space The Glad Cafe and many 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.
Seoul is a city that transforms at lighting speed so when I revisited in 2017 (after living just outside from 2010-2012) I was very curious to see how it had changed. Before my recent visit I Googled “most hipster neighbourhood in Seoul” and was presented with Itaewon (no chance, too tacky), Hongdae (no, more of a student partying area), Noksapyeong and Haebangchon (kind of, but more English teacher enclaves), Hapjeong and Seongsu. The former is the neighbourhood I first thought of when considering hipster areas in Seoul; it has a laid back, alternative vibe, narrow streets and lovely tiny restaurants and bars, including my favourite bar in Seoul, Tribe. Seongsu had been named by the Lonely Planet as one of the 10 coolest neighbourhoods in the world but was a non entity when I lived there – there was no reason to go there. After it received the Lonely Planet accolade I had to visit and when I did I found it so weird; it was like someone had Googled “what does a hipster neighbourhood look like” and built a fake, Sims like version from scratch. Seongsu had the warehouse galleries, exposed wall cafes and artisan coffee, but it felt like it was trying too hard and also wasn’t quite right; one of the trendiest cafes with the most stylish people in it was playing Ed Sheeran on the stereo. Surely no self respecting actual hipster cafe would play Ed Sheeran.
Hackney Wick, London
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 I believe its most hipster is Hackney Wick, even if this might move on to somewhere else tomorrow. Hackney Wick has warehouses, craft breweries and street art murals and we spent a very enjoyable summer afternoon there lounging by the canal in the shadow of the Olympic Stadium. A friend of ours who is into the techno underground club scene ended up in some after party in a warehouse there too, 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 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 area 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.
Tokyo is another mammoth city with countless neighbourhoods but I’ve been told by a friend who lives there that 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 businesseslike (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 places I loved in the area but my favourite was probably its best known bar Frida, which is hidden behind a graffitied wall and has a roofed outdoor terrace, affordable food and drinks and a bohemian but unpretentious vibe.
- This post was originally published in June 2018 and has been updated to include new additions.