The 10 cities with bad reputations they don't deserve

A bad reputation is hard to shake. Just ask Lindsay Lohan, or Amanda Bynes. Once the public gets a certain idea about you, it's difficult to change their minds.

And so it goes with travel destinations as well. Though some places have managed to break free of their previous dodgy rep – Cambodia and Peru come to mind – many others continue to labour under a standing of dodginess that's grossly unfair.

Not every city lives up to its bad reputation. For travellers, it's worth seeking these places out and judging for yourself.

Detroit, USA

Something great is happening in Detroit. In the same way as artists, writers and other creatives flocked to East Berlin after the fall of the wall to take advantage of cheap rents and abandoned spaces, so too have they begun arriving in the one-time "Motor City". Detroit has been through some hard times, but these days the neighbourhoods abandoned by the city's blue-collar workers are being repackaged by the young and the innovative, with cafes, bars and even urban farms beginning to appear. It's well worth checking out.

See also: How Detroit made a comeback

See also: Detroit - home of the bus that changed America

Derelict buildings in Detroit.

Derelict buildings in Detroit. Photo: Alamy

Canberra, Australia

So long the butt of jokes among Australians and foreign visitors alike (endless roundabouts, comatose nightlife, public servant wonderland etc), Canberra has very slowly been morphing into a cosmopolitan hub. If it's not the city's growing bar and restaurant scene that draws you in, maybe it will be the world-class mountain-biking in the surrounding countryside, or the surprisingly high-quality wines produced at its vineyards.

See: 20 reasons Canberra is the new capital of cool

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Architectural projections light up the Parliamentary Triangle for the Enlighten Festival in Canberra.

Architectural projections light up the Parliamentary Triangle for the Enlighten Festival in Canberra. Photo: iStock

Mexico City, Mexico

Mexico City is known as a great place to go if you want to be kidnapped by bandits or caught in the crossfire of a drug cartel war – but little else. However, that's seriously unfair. This is a vibrant, friendly and above all fun city, with an artistic heritage owing to the likes of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, classic architecture, boutique hotels, great food, a boisterous bar scene, and a deep appreciation for mariachi, football, and lucha libre wrestling. What's not to love?

See also: What it's like at the world's busiest border crossing

Frida Kahlo museum in Mexico City.

Frida Kahlo museum in Mexico City. Photo: Getty Images

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

In fairness, Rio's reputation for petty crime isn't entirely unfounded – I met a guy there who'd been mugged three times in three days. However, for the vast majority of visitors this will never be a problem. Instead, what you'll find in Rio is a fun, friendly place where you can hang out at the beach, or shuffle around awkwardly in a samba club, or even drink at a bar in a favela and feel totally safe. Just don't go wandering around dark alleys by yourself at night.

See: The 20 must-do highlights of Rio

Rio de Janeiro: Fun and friendly.

Rio de Janeiro: Fun and friendly. Photo: iStock

Brisbane, Australia

My first ever job in journalism was working for a suburban magazine in Brisbane, and almost every month we'd be ordered to write a cover story about how our fair city had "come of age". Of course, it hadn't. Now, however, it actually has. Brisvegas might still be a big country town, but it's a big country town with culture, with brains, and with heart. Any Australian city would love to have the GOMA art gallery, or the bars of West End, or the relaxed pace of New Farm.

See: City guide - how Brisbane became Australia's coolest city

Streets Beach in Brisbane.

Streets Beach in Brisbane. Photo: iStock

Barcelona, Spain

First-timers tend to arrive in Barcelona on their guard, expecting to have their pocket picked the minute they step out of the airport. But Barcelona really isn't like that. All it takes is a small exploration beyond La Rambla and the Gothic Quarter to discover a safe, cosmopolitan and vastly multicultural city, a place where you could skip from tapas bar to tapas bar, museum to museum, attraction to attraction, for months without running into any serious trouble.

See: The top five (free) things to do in Barcelona

A tapas bar at La Boqueria market in Barcelona, Spain.

A tapas bar at La Boqueria market in Barcelona, Spain. Photo: iStock

Naples, Italy

The writer Elena Ferrante's "Neapolitan Novels" have sparked an influx of tourism into Naples, but that doesn't mean people are expecting to find a nice place. The city depicted in the books is the city most people know by reputation: violent, grimy and poor. So it must be a pleasant surprise for many of those tourists to find such a vibrant and enjoyable city, a place with the best pizza on earth, as well as a gritty, lived-in charm that's hard to resist.

See: Naples - embrace the chaos to enjoy this city

Naples: A gritty, lived-in charm.

Naples: A gritty, lived-in charm. Photo: iStock

Glasgow, Scotland

On face value, a "Glasgow kiss" sounds like lovely thing to receive. Trouble is it's local slang for a headbutt. That's indicative of Glasgow's reputation for violence, an assumption that, these days at least, is way off the mark. Glasgow is seriously friendly. Not just smile-and-nod friendly. It's friendly in a way that people actually want to make friends with you. Just spend a night in Glasgow alone and you'll very quickly realise that there's no pretension to the 'Weegies, no avarice. They just want to have a good time – without the headbutts.

See also: Scotland - a beginner's guide

An old police box converted to a sandwich bar in Glasgow.

An old police box converted to a sandwich bar in Glasgow. Photo: Alamy

Moscow, Russia

Russia's big, scary capital is the home of Vladimir Putin and his cronies, the former base of the KGB, and the modern seat of power for the country's mega-rich and elite. So it's a surprise to find that Moscow is also a pleasant, cultured and extremely enjoyable place to spend some time. Choose between ballet and bars, art galleries and architecture, riverside walks and restaurant visits. There's so much modern history in Moscow, so much contemporary culture, that you can forget the oligarchs and just enjoy.

See: How to enjoy a $1000 day on a $100 budget in Moscow

Moscow: Forget the oligarchs and just enjoy.

Moscow: Forget the oligarchs and just enjoy. Photo: Alamy

Beijing, China

The Chinese capital's bad reputation stems from the quality of its air – it's hard to see the constant photos of gridlocked streets in dense smog and think to yourself, "I'd love to go there." And it's true, Beijing is polluted. But it's also great. Its sadly shrinking hutong areas – traditional old neighbourhoods – are ripe for exploration, plus Beijing is home to vast art districts filled with galleries and showrooms, as well as bars, restaurants, great shops, and plenty of historical sights.

See also: 20 things that will shock first-time visitors to China

The 798 Art District in Beijing.

The 798 Art District in Beijing. Photo: Alamy

Which cities do you think have a bad reputation that isn't deserved? And which ones do deserve it?

Email: b.groundwater@fairfaxmedia.com.au

Instagram: instagram.com/bengroundwater

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See also: The most overrated cities in the world

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