2015 has no shortage of must-see places. Publications such as the New York Times, Rough Guides and Lonely Planet all put out annual lists of the countries, cities and regions that travellers should see each year.
We scoured these lists to find a few cities that are making big strides but still under many travellers’ radar. Specifically, we wanted to find out exactly what made these cities not only worth visiting, but also worth living in for the long-term. Here’s what a few of the locals had to say about living in this year’s hottest destinations.
Wellington, New Zealand
New Zealand attracts more than its fair share of visitors – both outdoors enthusiasts and movie buffs flocking to spots featured in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. Among the nation’s hottest cities is Wellington, which made Rough Guides’ list this year. Not only does Wellington have a bustling café and craft beer scene, but in 2015 the city of 200,000 people is celebrating its 150th year as New Zealand’s capital.
Sarah Melke, director of the Visa Wellington on a Plate food festival, said the city has no shortage of trendy restaurants, bars and cafes. Cuba Street, in particular, located just the south of the Central Business District (CBD), is “seriously cool”, she said. The city has more than a dozen independent coffee roasters.
Wellington’s funky, creative vibe comes in part from a strong community feel. “We say that Wellington ‘acts like a city, but loves like a village,’” Melke said. Travel blogger Liz Carlson, who moved to the city from Washington DC, agreed. “Every barista has a smile for you, people in shops ask you how you are doing, and strangers greet you on the street,” she said.
The community vibe can be felt across the city’s neighbourhoods. Kelburn, just north of the CBD, is easily accessed by cable car and is popular with students and families, while film buffs may want to check out Miramar, southeast of the city centre. That’s where the Weta film studios are located and where Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson calls home.
Oman was selected by both the New York Times and Skift for being a laid-back, quiet Arab country that’s just a one-hour flight from Dubai. Nizwa, in particular, was cited by Rough Guides because the city is taking over as the 2015 Islamic Capital of Culture, an award that honours a city’s contribution to Islamic culture, language, arts and science. A number of events and celebrations highlighting Nizwa’s contributions will be held throughout the year.
Once the capital of Oman, Nizwa has a storied history that’s best seen in the historic Nizwa Fort, built in the 1650s with massive walls designed to withstand mortar fire. Aside from the historic fort, the city also has a bustling souq, where many of Nizwa’s 700,000 residents shop for food, spices and the city’s famous handcrafted silver jewellery. But even amid all that history, locals are friendly and approachable. “Nizwa has a small town feel with a big history,” said Nicole Brewer, who has lived in Nizwa for the past two years and writes for the travel blog iluv2globetrot.com. “It is a pretty laid-back place but people will help you if you need anything.”
Brewer lives in the Hay Al Tourath neighbourhood, known for its quiet vibe and the many college students who reside there. Most neighbourhoods in Nizwa have an easy-going feel. While many people live in houses, expats are increasingly choosing to live in the apartments that are becoming more plentiful around the city.
With the opening of the new, air-conditioned Chennai Metro Rail, this east coast city that was once a mere jumping off point for the rest of India is becoming a destination in its own right, reports Lonely Planet. As one of India’s safest big cities, Chennai, which has 4.3 million residents, also feels less congested and hectic than other cities of its size because it is spread out. Easy access to beaches and historic temples, as well as the city’s Tamil culture, also make it appealing for expats.
Lifelong resident Dr Wasim Mohideen, author of the Chennai Foody blog, agreed that Chennai used to be “sleepy” but is now coming into its own. “It has moved from being a very conservative city to one that now has a great mix of tradition and modern chic,” he said. “People are quite laid back and helpful and they now accept change with open arms.”
Some of the nicest neighbourhoods to live in include Besant Negar, located on a peaceful beach, and RA Puram, located 10km south of downtown. Both are known as “posh” places with good schools and plentiful restaurants and cafes. The suburbs have rapidly expanded and are nearly the size of Chennai itself. While most people have traditionally lived in houses, apartment buildings have been constructed in recent years, adding to expats’ housing options.
A city of well-preserved colonial architecture, Salta emerged on this year’s Rough Guides list as place with a particularly vibrant culture. You see it in the bustling street markets, thriving vineyards and peñas – restaurants where ancient Andean regional meals are served with folk music and dance.
Known as Salta, la Linda (Salta, the beautiful one), the city of just 600,000 residents has a small town community feel. Year-round mild weather makes Salta an ideal place to walk, as well as a great place to enjoy picnics and drinks outside.
“We have a wide variety of landscapes, from mountains to lowlands, from deserts to jungles, within a few hours of travelling,” said Patricia Guadalupe Díaz, a Salta native who teaches Spanish to travellers.
Though locals can at first seem reserved, most will go out of their way to help visitors – even those who don’t speak Spanish. “We always try to make them feel welcome by showing them our daily habits, like drinking ‘mate’, which is not only a beverage but a symbol of friendship and ‘reaching out’ to someone,” said Guadalupe Díaz. This attitude accompanies a slower pace of life that can take some getting used to, particularly for Americans, she added. “Even when we’re in a hurry, we have the time to drink a coffee with someone,” she said.
In fact, many neighbourhoods, including the west zone where Guadalupe Díaz lives, still have traditional shops such as a bakery and butcher, where everyone knows your name. In comparison to the busy city centre, the west zone has little traffic and attracts working-class young people, families and retirees.
Johannesburg, South Africa
South Africa’s largest metropolis ranks number one Rough Guides’ cities-to-visit list for reinventing itself out of its apartheid and crime-riddled past. While residents and visitors once eschewed downtown for safer gated suburbs, a dropping inner city crime rate has meant that locals are venturing out again – and bringing with them a spate of new boutiques, museums and galleries.
“Joburg is a city of opportunity and you get the feeling that everyone is here to make something of themselves,” said Crystal Espin, who moved to the city from Cape Town three years ago and documents trendy new spots on the website Joburg’s Darling. In turn, she said, residents are friendly and are always willing to help one another.
The neighbourhood of Lonehill, located to the north of downtown, is a particularly active community where residents work to keep local parks clean and streets safe. “Lonehill is filled with lots of young professionals and families who like to live an active lifestyle,” Espin said. “Residents spend their weekends and afternoons walking their dogs, running, cycling and enjoying time in the park.”
Those who like to be close to a hot restaurant scene should consider Parktown North and Parkhurst, both 10km north of downtown. The area near Parkhurst’s 4th Avenue is a particularly vibrant hub for restaurants and shops.