A little imagination, a pinch of adventurousness: the only extra costs to visiting these fantastically compelling under-the-radar spots.
Welcome to the other side of travel. Are you game for it?
Crumbling industrial ruins like something out of Bladerunner 2049, abandoned neighbourhoods, crime: Detroit’s clichés endure.
Yet if you thought this old Midwestern city attracted only urban explorers of the hard-hat wearing kind, who slip into its redundant, rusting car factories under cover of darkness, you’d be missing a trick.
Now intrepid travellers are drawn to Detroit by the buzz of reinvention: the city’s a hive of street-food markets, inventive little bars, bike shops and music joints building on the legacy of legendary Detroit players such as the Supremes and Marvin Gaye.
And while Detroit’s once mighty auto industry may have declined to a faint engine growl, you can still trace its fascinating story at the Henry Ford Museum or on a car plant tour.
Sure, Detroit retains patches of urban blight and, arguably, the city’s new fortunes are being unevenly shared around, but if you prefer a Colgate version of travel you probably wouldn’t want to come here, anyway.
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Pugnacious in the face: Glasgow
Speaking of urban grit, what Glasgow doesn’t have is the chocolate box charm that lures many more visitors to the Scottish capital, Edinburgh.
But who says Glasgow would want to be seen as a pretty wee thing, anyway? For what Edinburgh lacks is Glasgow’s pugnacious culture, equally friendly and proud, that’s fed into a music and arts scene that makes the city one of the most spirited you’ll probably visit.
Edinburgh: hip? Not so much. Trawl the top-notch vintage stores of Glasgow’s Byers Road and East End, on the other hand, and you can see this is a city that cocks a snook (or something else) to mainstream conventions.
And can Edinburgh boast a dialect that’s occasionally incomprehensible even to inhabitants of its sister city only 50 miles away? Dinnae be a dolly, mon!
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Pumping powerhouse: São Paulo
In fact, São Paolo and Glasgee have quite a bit in common. OK, so the climates are… contrasting, but both are overshadowed by more obviously tourist-friendly cities and both exemplify simultaneous urban thrill and blight.
On most travel itineraries, São Paolo plays decidedly second fiddle to that city whose scantily clad inhabitants desport themselves on equally comely beaches against a backdrop of soaring, jungle-clad hills.
But guess where more of the pale and interesting travellers to Brazil end up? Not at the joint that inspired Barry Manilow to song, that’s for sure.
Instead they’re drawn to the world’s third biggest city, where hundreds of ethnicities (including the largest Japanese and Italian populations outside their respective countries) thronging in 15,000 bars contribute to a seriously addictive metropolitan energy. (Just don’t get addicted to anything else.)
As Brazil’s financial powerhouse, this city of 20 million has a high-spending, cultured population who enjoy superb museums, cutting-edge art, some of the world’s most indulgent restaurants and shopping lavish enough to make even the most avaricious blush.
Sure, dip your toe in Rio but then leave it to Barry and head over to – as its inhabitants call it – Sampa.
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Ah, sybaritic Sydney, with its gorgeous, glistening harbour. And arty Melbourne, seductive hybrid of European sophistication and Aussie front.
But… sorry… Ad-where? Like yoga, Valium and a throaty red all rolled into one, Adelaide is a secret balm to the calm-seeking traveller.
There’s a reason why JM Coetzee, the Nobel Prize winning South African novelist, upped sticks here: it has the kind of laidback serenity where creativity can flourish.
That, of course, and surrounding vineyards producing an ocean of remarkably yummy wine.
Adelaide was the first place on Earth to let women vote and to legalise nude swimming, which tells you about the free-spirited mentality that circulates here. Ample live music and predictably good grub are also in its favour.
Who knows? Visit and, like a certain pessimistic literary genius, you may find reason never to leave.
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Bucharest: Eastern European start-up
Kleptomaniac dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s shadow still hangs over the Romanian capital, making it a byword for architectural desecration and general Euro-naffnes.
But believe the rumours and you risk missing out on perhaps Eastern Europe’s buzziest city at the moment, emerging as a confident modern capital before your eyes.
There are lovely remnants of old world culture on offer here at world-class performances by the national opera and ballet companies. Contrast such genteel scenes with a visit to Nicolae’s ruinous Parliamentary Palace, with its 1,000 marble-lined rooms crammed with chandeliers – no wonder his compatriots shot him.
Lastly, Bucharest is the gateway to a frequently beautiful country of ancient wooden churches, bear-filled mountains and folk customs long vanished elsewhere.
Bucharest holiday? It sure is a conversation starter.
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With charms to equal Lisbon’s and yet far fewer same-same hipsters wittering about their “authentic” hovel, Porto has abundant appeal to the flipside traveller.
Food is the obvious place to start. You may well be content with a redoubtable plate of tripe and beans beside the Douro River, the kind of meal that makes you want to go out and hunt boar with a blunderbuss or possibly make war with Spain.
Then there’s the drink with which Porto shares a name. (And who can begrudge a tipple-titled city?) Go for a sophisticated dry variety at one of the port houses lining the city’s great waterway, not the sickly sweet stuff that’s oiled many a suburban British Christmas.
Beyond that, Porto’s ample allure lies in exploring its tumbledown streets: cobbles below and collections of family smalls swaying in the wind above. Street art and bold modern architecture mix up the sightlines, and wide Atlantic beaches are only a bus ride away.
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Marseille: nothing if not salty
When you realise no part of Paris remains that’s not been bought up by absent oligarchs or overrun by gormless tourists, it’s time to flee. Many a more curious Francophile traveller is heading south, to Marseille.
This is a salty city, in several senses. There’s the heady maritime breeze that washes over the great, U-shaped Old Port, bristling with yachts – ”a yellow-studded maw of a seal with salt water running out between the teeth”, as a literary visitor once described the docking spot.
Then there’s Marseille’s gritty reputation: for organised crime, as dramatised in the classic 70s gangster flick The French Connection, and nowadays for far-right politics.
Marseille, in other words, is edgy – far more so than preserved-in-aspic Paris. The southern city’s pull is mainly about atmosphere, strongly on show, for example, in the anarchically winding streets of the ancient Panier quarter, which the Nazis, disliking edginess, tried to dynamite out of existence.
Marseille has a handful of highly distinctive sights, too, such as the exemplary 50s modernist housing estate the Unité d’habitation [caps correct], a concrete play in light and colour.
Taxi drivers think you’re a nutter driving out to look at a block of flats but travellers to the other side often get that reaction.
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