Ten of the world's most underrated cities worth visiting

Some cities have famous names yet are barely known to travellers. Don't miss out on their less-obvious but often world-class attractions.

ROTTERDAM, NETHERLANDS

Rotterdam lacks Amsterdam's long history and cosy, canal-side atmosphere but makes up for it with contemporary style, great shopping and a harbour-front location. Old-town remnants linger, but post-WWII reconstruction bequeaths the city impressive architecture. Museumpark is an attractive green space adjacent to excellent Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum, a showcase of centuries of Western art. Rotterdam has several other world-class museums and loves its summer festivals. See en.rotterdam.info

CHENNAI, INDIA

Chennai (formerly Madras) is a booming high-tech centre yet has eclectic sights from British-era monuments such as Fort St George and the ornate High Court to Portuguese churches, Hindu temples and vibrant visual-arts and classical-dance scenes. It's also renowned for spicy southern Indian cuisine. The city is flanked by Marina Beach, which runs for twelve kilometres and is a colourful parade of families, cricketers and street vendors. See chennai.nic.in

GUANGZHOU, CHINA

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Fast-paced, southern trading city Guangzhou (Canton) delivers the dizzy energy of twenty-first-century China amid eye-catching contemporary architecture. The city is also scattered with sprawling parks, venerable temples – the Temple of Six Banyans was founded in 537 – and landmarks associated with revolutionary history. Guangzhou also has one of the world's great cuisines and a dynamic fine-dining scene: nowhere better to while away the day over dim sum. See eguangzhou.gov.cn

HOUSTON, USA

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Houston has shaken off its once staid and solely business-oriented image to reenergize itself with specialty shopping, ethnic dining, a distinct immigrant flavour, and a more sophisticated vibe that hasn't seen it sacrifice its laidback cowboy attitude. The city has first-class galleries and museums, orchestras and ballet and, just outside the city, the superb NASA Space Centre. It's also a short drive to outstanding beaches. See visithoustontexas.com

MANCHESTER, UK

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One of the powerhouse cities of the British Empire has over the last decades undergone a Cool Britannia transformation that has spruced up its monumental Victorian buildings, industrial heritage and docks, added contemporary architecture, and given the once preeminent city back its buzz. Check into a chic boutique hotel, dine out in gastro-pubs, enjoy the great nightlife and explore new entertainment and arts districts. See visitmanchester.com

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YOKOHAMA, JAPAN

Though a short train ride from Tokyo, Japan's biggest port city is under-visited despite its fine redeveloped waterfront, nautical history and breezy, kitschy appeal. A top sight is Sankei-en, one of Japan's best classical gardens with reconstructed historical buildings and 2000 cherry trees. Yokohama Museum of Art is excellent, the Cup Noodle Museum quirky and Yamate district features nineteenth-century European architecture. Raucous Chinatown has 600 eateries. See yokohamajapan.com

GDANSK, POLAND

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Most people of a certain age think of Gdansk as a grimy industrial city that produced the 1980s anti-communist Solidarity movement. But this port town was centuries previously a Hanseatic trading port, and has a magnificent old town to prove it, crammed with churches, warehouses, gargoyles and the half-timbered houses of wealthy merchants, now enlivened by cafés and bars, shops selling amber, and interesting small museums. See visitgdansk.com

HAMBURG, GERMANY

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Wealthy trading cities invariably have upmarket shopping, good restaurants, green spaces and fine museums, and Hamburg obliges, throwing in a rowdy nightlife and outstanding live-music scene for good measure. Speicherstadt district, World Heritage-listed for its brick warehouse architecture, bursts with cafés and galleries. The city is near the conclusion of a two-decades waterfront revamp that showcases the best of the forward-thinking Europe often ignored by tourists. See hamburg-tourism.de

ALEXANDRIA, EGYPT

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With no pharaonic monuments, Alexandria is overlooked yet has grand squares and Belle Époque streets that ooze faded elegance. Great cafés and street markets, antiques district Attarine and a laidback, youthful lifestyle are other reasons to visit. Roman mosaics and Greek artefacts are constantly unearthed: in particular, don't miss the superb Graeco-Roman Museum. The ultra-modern cultural centre and library Bibliotheca Alexandrina (pictured above) continues the city's millennium-old cultural life. See alexandria.gov.eg

SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL

São Paulo is huge and unlovely but multi-cultural and sophisticated, and beats Rio any day when it comes to culture, shopping and dining. Brazilians come for the latest fashions, best restaurants and top-notch art galleries and museums. Museu de Arte houses internationally significant European art and collections of Brazilian, African and Asian paintings and sculptures. São Paulo also has a terrific nightlife and music scene. See cidadedesaopaulo.com