The Next Big Thing: 10 Awesome Comeback Cities to Visit

Michele Sponagle, March 10, 2016
Fares from Washington DC:

    Hello again. It’s time to re-introduce yourself to these 10 cities that have done the impossible and transformed themselves from C-list destinations into ones worthy of your precious vacation time. You’ll be glad you gave them that second chance to woo you, courtesy of new attractions, hotels, and restaurants that come wrapped up with a fresh "can-do" attitude and plenty of pride.

    Buffalo, New York

    Former visitors are in for a shock—in the best possible way. The city has shed its ugly duckling image to emerge a vibrant urban hub busily reinventing itself. Think new boutique hotels like soon-to-open Curtiss and Hotel Henry, both housed in beautifully renovated historic buildings; a revitalized Canalside area, where an old railway bridge hosts a cafe come summer; and a thriving craft beer industry. Design fans find their happy place amid stunning buildings from legendary architects, including Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan (Wright’s mentor), and at the underrated Albright Knox Art Gallery. And yes, those famous chicken wings are as good as ever, but the city’s cuisine scene has grown with the addition of notable eateries such as Toutant (modern Southern fare) and EXPO Market, which showcases six food vendors offering everything from Burmese cuisine to a turkey and stuffing sandwich. So diverse, so Buffalo.

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    Liverpool, England

    The English port town was a common punch line in jokes about how crummy life was there. Until recently, Liverpool's primary bragging point centered on ties to the Beatles. But no more—it has become a cutting-edge cultural hub, now boasting the largest national museum collection outside of London, with standouts like The Tate Liverpool and Walker Art Gallery, focused on British works. Shopaholics can give their credit cards a workout at Liverpool One—the U.K.’s largest open-air retail complex, spread over 42 acres. And fans of the Fab Four can get a ticket to ride the Magical Mystery Tour bus, see rare memorabilia at the revamped Beatles Story Museum, then bed down at the Hard Day’s Night hotel, complete with lighting fixtures fashioned out of Beatles’ sheet music.

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    Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

    Over the last decade, Pittsburgh has successfully shed its steel town image by showing off its playful, edgy, and sophisticated sides. This is, after all, home to The Warhol, a celebration of the work and life of hometown hero Andy Warhol; as well as the Mattress Factory, a funky space attracting international artists. As a testament to the city’s new cool, top hotels are multiplying in number, including the sleek Fairmont Pittsburgh and a freshly opened ACE, housed in a century-old YMCA building. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh was named as the next big food city by Bon Appetit magazine. Snag a table at Cure, which taps into modern Mediterranean flavors, and you’ll find out why.

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    Cartagena, Colombia

    Forget everything that you think you know about Colombia. It has entered a new chapter and has taken its place in the spotlight as a chic Caribbean vacation spot. Think of it as a more affordable, less crazy Rio. It has the long stretches of beach with fine sand the color of cafe au lait, along with the kite surfers plus the lively bars where salsa music blares. The old part of the city is charming at every turn. Imagine elegant colonial buildings painted in bright jellybean hues, couples holding hands while eating gelato from local artesans, and contemporary art galleries that celebrate Colombian culture. The locals are a welcoming bunch, very proud of the renaissance of their city, and happy to show it off.

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    Hamilton, Ontario, Canada

    This metropolitan city has been called "Brooklyn of the North" and also the "waterfall capital of the world." It’s a former industrial town whose affordable housing and proximity to Toronto (a 45-minute drive) is drawing new residents and investment. On James Street South past meets present. Old world Portuguese bakeries now share the block with hipster cafes, art galleries and vintage clothing boutiques. On Hamilton’s once-barren waterfront, a popular roller skating rink now offers views of the sun setting by the lake. And local food truck owners are now opening brick-and-mortar locations (like Southern Smoke Barbecue House on Ottawa St. South)—proof the city is hopping.

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    Detroit, Michigan

    If there's any city that has earned the right to be the poster child of comeback cities, it's Detroit. It has been on the brink of total breakdown more than once, yet it always battles back better than ever. This time, it's the citizens that are leading the charge rather than city officials. Grassroots efforts are elevating the city with new businesses like Detroit Denim, which produces upscale all-American made jeans; and Shinola, known for its chic watches. Add to the mix the bold Heidelberg Project, an effort to change the lives of East Side residents through street art. Construction is also underway for a new hockey arena, the future home of the Red Wings. Riverside bike paths and oodles of stunning architectural landmarks make Detroit city ready to claim a spot among great U.S. cities—and remain there.

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    Marseille, France

    Once upon a time, this port town was one you'd pass through without stopping because it was polluted and dangerous. Fast forward to 2016 and Marseille is pretty, not gritty. Its revamped Vieux Port, the former domain of pickpockets, is full of cute-as-button cafes, market stalls, and attractions. An abandoned pier houses the sleek MuCEM, a museum devoted to the history of the region. The freshly reopened Beaux Art Museum, meanwhile, showcases the work of European masters like Peter Paul Rubens, and the Museum of Decorative Arts and Fashion, highlights everything from 17th-century shoes to Art Deco sofas. The city’s food scene has been overhauled, too, and now boasts five Michelin-starred restaurants.

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    Ljubljana, Slovenia

    As the European Capital of 2016, Slovenia's capital— crowned elegantly with a castle perched high on a hill—has a new, yet old, face. It’s leading the way to greener pastures with lush parks, a car-free city center and a clear river that runs through it all, and that's perfect for urban paddle boarding and kayaking. Aside from its proximity to vineyards and picturesque mountain ranges, Ljubljana attracts many first-time visitors with its affordability. Whether you’re traveling on a budget or going the luxury route, your dollars will go farther here than almost anywhere else in Europe these days. Eat like royalty for less, and embrace the Slovenian love of desserts and dumplings—even if it will make you wish you packed more stretchy pants.

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    Seoul, South Korea

    Not so long ago, Seoul was a struggling city without much to woo visitors. But courtesy of its new status as a high-tech capital of the world, everything has changed. The flood of foreign investment is funding the city's charge forward, and bolstering the kind of infrastructure that benefits tourism—think modern hotels, efficient transportation systems, and well-kept parks and attractions, including the ancient Changdeokgung Palace, a UNESCO heritage site dating back to the 13th century. In a place with more than 10 million inhabitants, it’s hard to imagine finding tranquility, but it’s absolutely possible. Get yourself to one of the many bathhouses to soak in a bath infused with ginger or green tea, then chill in a sauna. Find your bliss here.

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    Melbourne, Australia

    With its more famous and glamorous sister city Sydney grabbing all the attention, Melbourne has long seemed like the shy, pretty wallflower at a high school dance. That’s not the case now. The city is strutting its stuff after being named one of the world’s most livable cities. Stroll the beaches in St. Kilda and sip cocktails on a patio with an ocean view. Shop in the historic city center chockablock with elegant Victorian-era architecture. And discover the newest area for tourism—Melbourne Docklands. Once just swampland, it has been reinvented as cultural and business hub. Take a boat cruise from here or sign up for a few lessons on the art of sailing yachts. Or head to the sky aboard the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel (similar to the London Eye) to marvel at the beauty of the city skyline at night.

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    Read the original story: The Next Big Thing: 10 Awesome Comeback Cities to Visit by Michele Sponagle, who is a contributor to SmarterTravel.

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