The world's most underrated cities (and five most overrated)

UNDERRATED CITIES

NAPLES, ITALY

View of Piazza del Plebiscito, Naples, Italy, BREAKOUT 2 SunJul22coverhard - Too-Hard Destinations - Brian Johnston CREDIT: Shutterstock

Photo: SHUTTERSTOCK

It's gritty, and occasionally dangerous, but Naples has heart, and the pizzerias will be reward enough for those who take a chance on it. Of course, there's also the world's finest collection of Pompeiian frescos in the Museo Archeologico Nazionale, a host of Renaissance masterpieces in various palaces, and a charming old town. But did we mention the pizza?

ADELAIDE, SOUTH AUSTRALIA

"Radelaide" is one of those rare Australian cities that lives up to its sarcastic nickname with a world-class dining scene to go with a solid festival calendar, a thriving arts scene, and great live music. The food and wine is the highlight though: restaurants such as Africola, Orana, Press, Andre's Cucina, The Pot, and Parwana worthy of a flight alone.

KRAKOW, POLAND

It's one of Poland's oldest cities, with a medieval core, royal castle, Jewish quarter and cobbled old town. Spend your days exploring the various neighbourhoods and nights hopping from basement bars to rooftop restaurants. Further afield the Wieliczka salt mines are not to be missed.

MINSK, BELARUS

Minsk still carries the legacy of its Soviet days, but therein lies its charm. From brutalist architecture to Soviet-era bars, pompous promenades to parade ground squares, it's all still here. The big surprise however is its thriving street art scene, art galleries, fashionable cafes and 30-day visa-free entry. As the city gears up to host the European Games in 2019, now is the time to visit.

LISBON, PORTUGAL

This is, hands down, Europe's most exciting capital city right now, a friendly, laidback hub full of neighbourhoods, each distinct and enticing, from the winding alleyways of Alfama to the nightlife hub of Bairro Alto✓, the historic beauty of Belem to the locals-only vibe of Campo de Ourique✓​. The food in Lisbon is excellent and the high-quality wine is cheap.

BUSAN, SOUTH KOREA

Though it's little-known to those who haven't visited South Korea, Busan is a bustling port town in the nation's far south that has plenty to offer. The clean, accessible city beaches are something of a rarity in this part of the world. Rugged mountains ring the city. There's also an excellent food scene, highlighted by the lively Jagalchi Fish Market, and the sort of thriving nightlife you'd expect from a coastal hot spot.

MIDTOWN, NEW YORK, US

Often derided as a soulless tourist trap to be avoided at all costs, Midtown has recently unveiled several exciting new hotels and attractions. Millennials should check out the Instagram-friendly Moxy Times Square and those on a budget will appreciate the wallet-friendly rates at the new Pod Times Square. Notable new family attractions include the Spy Museum and National Geographic's Ocean Odyssey.

NEWCASTLE, BRITAIN

Twilight on Newcastle Quayside, England
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Rob McFarland
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Once gritty, grey and industrial, Newcastle has blossomed over the past decade into a modern, vibrant cultural centre thanks to world-class venues such as Sage Gateshead and the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art. This transformation culminated in the city hosting Britain's biggest event during 2018: The Great Exhibition of the North – an 80-day festival celebrating the north's pioneering spirit and achievements in art, design and innovation.

BUDAPEST, HUNGARY

Thanks to the increased popularity of river cruising, the hordes are slowly discovering this beautiful city straddling the Danube. Highlights on the Buda side include the Grand Royal Palace and the ornate St Stephen's Basilica, and the Pest side has Europe's largest parliament building, the Opera House and the foodie-paradise of Central Market Hall.

PERTH, WESTERN AUSTRALIA

Perth City Skyline - taken from Kings Park.

Photo: Frances Andrijich

Western Australia's capital dramatically upped its game this year with several impressive developments. In January, it gained a $1.6 billion sports stadium, then two months later unveiled the stunning Yagan Square, the country's largest public city space dedicated to Indigenous culture. There are new hotels, too, by Aloft, Westin, QT and Intercontinental.

LA PAZ, BOLIVIA

La Paz, Bolivia. Cable car

Photo: Shutterstock

Once considered dangerous, La Paz is now one of South America's most interesting capital cities – and it's the highest capital city on Earth. Shamans still rule the streets spruiking black magic, but there are new trendy cafes between markets offering sheep hearts and llama fetuses. The old quarters, where lights are still fuelled by kerosene, are still there, but so are arts and coffee districts and five-star hotels.

DRESDEN, GERMANY

Dresden, most famous for being bombed during World War II and with its remaining monuments left to blacken during the East German period, has seen a slow revival in the last decades. The Saxony capital's impressive architecture has been renovated, its famous Frauenkirche church reopened and its old town revived.

UTRECHT, NETHERLANDS

The Netherlands specialises in delightful, easily navigated, relaxing and canal-girt towns that provide a more relaxing and pretty alternative to tourist-swamped, scruffy Amsterdam. Utrecht, 30 minutes from Schiphol airport,  is surely the best of them all. It has a well-preserved old town enlivened by a large student population and centred around a superb cathedral and tower.

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA

It's a city sprawling across a plateau seamed with gold and scarred with the tell-tale mine dumps that mushroomed across the landscape as its foundations were mined. But in spring, blooming jacarandas turn the streets purple, and year-round its pulse electrifies a city too often passed over for prettier places. You'll find cutting edge everything in this African metropolis: food, art, museums, theatre, hotels and – not least – people.

KIEV, UKRAINE

Buried for too long in that amorphous expanse known as the USSR, Ukraine's capital city is shaking off its communist past and revealing itself as a classy destination. Majestic gold-domed churches, including the UNESCO-listed Saint-Sophia Cathedral, and a cobblestoned old town contrast with modern flourishes such as street art, contemporary architecture and an easily navigable metro system.

DALLAS, US

Don't ever think of Dallas as a mere transit city (Qantas flies direct from Sydney) or a has-been location for the eponymous television show. It's a delightful city with a polished skyline, profusion of parks, eateries and quirky neighbourhoods (visit the former warehouse district, Deep Ellum, for live music and Bishop Arts District for restaurants, bars and galleries) and the must-see Sixth Floor Museum, from where Harvey Lee Oswald shot JFK.

CANBERRA, AUSTRALIA

Don't be put off by the goings-on in Australia's parliament; there's more to Canberra than politics, and the city has undergone an astonishing transformation in recent years. Today you'll find it abuzz with exceptional food and coffee, high-end vintage shopping, boutique hotels and art produced by talented young creatives.

OVERRATED CITIES

CASABLANCA, MOROCCO

Moroccans buy goods in a souk market on the first day of the the Islamic holy month of Ramadan in Casablanca, Morocco, Thursday, May 17, 2018. During Ramadan, the holiest month in Islamic calendar, Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, smoking and sex from dawn to dusk. (AP Photo/Abdeljalil Bounhar)

Photo: AP

Though this coastal city is world famous, thanks in large part to the eponymous movie, there's little to see or do in Casablanca. It doesn't have the old-world charm of Fes. It doesn't have the edge of Tangiers. It doesn't have the air of adventure you'll find in Marrakech. Casablanca is a financial hub, a modern centre of commerce which fails to impress.

SHANGHAI, CHINA

Where Beijing is old and charming, Shanghai is brash and modern – and it's a city that feels like it could exist anywhere. If you're excited by the prospect of colossal skyscrapers and endless shopping malls, of western-style coffee shops and fast food joints selling hamburgers, then maybe you'll fall hard for Shanghai.

PAPEETE, TAHITI

Tahiti looks nice – do you remember that classic television advertisement from the '80s? Well, Tahiti is nice, as long as you step away from Papeete with its hodge-podge development, traffic jams and never-ending pearl shops. The Tahiti of your dreams can be found a 10-minute flight away on Moorea Island or amid the remote Society Islands.

SAN FRANCISCO, US

San Francisco, Golden Gate Bridge

You often can't see the Golden Gate Bridge like this due to fog. Photo: Shutterstock

It's crowded, food and accommodation is insanely expensive and most of the summer you can't see the harbour or the beaches for all the coastal fog that comes in around June and won't shift till October. Add to that the crime – want to see crack addicts, go to SF.

PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC

Is there a city more destroyed by mass tourism in all of Europe? (OK, put Venice aside for a moment). From the selfie-stick holders at the Charles Bridge to the bucks party groups from England at every bar in the city, Prague is to Europe what Disneyland is to the US.

CONTRIBUTORS

Brian Johnston, Rob McFarland, Catherine Marshall, Craig Tansley, Kerry van der Jagt, Sue Williams, Ben Groundwater

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