Nine of the world's best neighbourhoods with a bad reputation you must visit

Some people like the shiny and the new. Some travellers enjoy the comfortable and the predictable. And that's fine.

But what about when you're after a destination with something more? What about when you crave a bit of grit, a bit of an edge? These places aren't necessarily dangerous, but they're different. They're part of a city and yet they're slightly removed – a little rougher, a little harder to get to know.

I like these areas. They have character. They have characters. And they're located in cities that don't always offer that.

El Raval, Barcelona

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Photo: Shutterstock

On one side of La Rambla, Barcelona's tacky, touristy main artery, you have the Gothic Quarter, a charming warren of alleys and centuries-old buildings filled with restaurants, bars, museums and galleries. Over the other side you have El Raval, where ladies of the night call out for your business, where pickpockets lurk and cabarets peddle their shows. This notoriously dodgy neighbourhood is gradually being gentrified, but still retains its rugged charm.

The Bronx, New York City

BX doesn't have a great reputation – it's not glitzy like Manhattan, not hipster-friendly like Brooklyn, not up-and-coming like Queens. This is a rough neighbourhood, the birthplace of hip-hop, the original home of the Yankees, and a borough that still has a high crime rate, particularly in the South Bronx. This, however, is New York at its raw and gritty best, where you'll find great record stores, plenty of high-quality cheap eats, and a surprising amount of green space.

Kabukicho, Tokyo

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Photo: Alamy

There are very few parts of the Tokyo metropolis you could describe as dodgy, but Kabukicho, a small area in Shinjuku, is one of them. This is a notorious red light district, home to hundreds of clubs and bars with varying levels of seediness, and a known hangout for gangsters and other nefarious types. It's still quite safe to wander Kabukicho at night at take it all in – but this is not the Japan you think you know.

Freetown Christiania, Copenhagen

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Photo: Alamy

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Christiania is an island of anarchy in a sea of predictability, a bizarre hippie town right in the middle of Copenhagen, the Danish capital. This is a partially autonomous community with its own rules, where cannabis trade happens before your eyes, where locals can sometimes seem friendly, sometimes suspicious, sometimes hostile. Christiania isn't exactly dangerous, it's just different, especially when you're used to sanitised Copenhagen.

St Denis, Paris

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Photo: Alamy

I've only visited St Denis, on the outskirts of Paris, once, and while I was there someone dropped a lit firecracker on my head from a pedestrian walkway. Welcome to St Denis. This is an area with a high immigrant population that has seen its share of political violence and unrest in the recent past. It's not a part of the world many tourists are likely to end up in, though it is something of a cultural melting pot, and nothing like the Paris you're probably expecting.

Morro da Babilonia, Rio de Janeiro

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Photo: Alamy

Rio's favelas are notorious crime hot spots, but they've also become tourist attractions in the recent past, with locals taking foreign visitors on tours of the likes of the Rocinha and Cantagalo favelas. It's also possible to visit some of the "pacified" favelas independently: Moro de Babilonia, a hilltop favela between the Leme and Botafogo neighbourhoods, is a particular favourite, with a few bars and restaurants that are changing perceptions of what favelas can be.

Long Street, Cape Town

<i>Food Stall on Long Street, Cape Town</i>

Photo: Alamy

Cape Town is a beautiful city, with loads of lively, interesting suburbs in the "city bowl". Most are pretty safe, too. At night though, the main bar and restaurant hub of Long Street starts to feel a little sketchy. You'll find beggars on street corners; experience the buzz of big, boozy crowds. There's probably very little real danger here – it's just an intimidating atmosphere for a first-time visitor.

La Boca, Buenos Aires

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Photo: Shutterstock

The Argentine capital's most colourful neighbourhood is also one of its most gritty, a historically working-class suburb where you can be out at night having the time of your life – and then things will just flip. If Boca Juniors, the beloved local football team, has a game on and they lose, this is not a part of town you want to be hanging out in. Still, La Boca is a must-see by day, and worth staying around in at night if you know what you're doing and aren't carrying a lot of cash.

Reitschule, Bern

This is a little like Christiania, although on a much smaller scale. The Kulturzentrum Reithalle, otherwise known as the Reitshule, is a former horse-riding school turned hippie squat turned music venue, a rambling, graffiti-covered building that has been the scene of a few well publicised clashes between students and local police. It's also set right in the middle of pretty, safe and slightly staid Bern, the Swiss capital. Well worth a visit.

See also: The world's best cities with the worst reputations

See also: Australia's greatest tourist attractions that don't live up to the hype

What are your favourite "rough" neighbourhoods? Why are they good places to visit?

Email: b.groundwater@traveller.com.au

Instagram: Instagram.com/bengroundwater

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