10 Cities With a Bad Reputation That Travelers Actually Love
They have more to offer than meets the eye, according to travel experts.
Now that travel restrictions have eased, the tourism industry is rebounding as people explore the sites they put off seeing over the last several years. If, like many Americans, you're deciding where to travel next, experts say to keep an open mind. There are plenty of unfairly judged cities whose reputations precede them—and believing the negative hype could mean missing out. Case in point: a recent Reddit thread that asked users to share "a city everyone told you not to go to that you ended up loving," which now has more than 3,000 comments.
To better understand which cities have gotten an undeservedly bad rap, we asked travel experts to share their thoughts on some of the places included in this thread. Read on to learn which 10 cities in the U.S. and around the world deserve a second chance.
The Redditor who posed the question that inspired this story gave Baltimore as their pick: "Everyone told me I'd be wasting my time visiting, but I took the Amtrak train up one day and loved it."
Countless others agreed, noting that any stereotypes about safety were not an issue for them in the city. "Baltimore has been working hard to change this perception and has come a long way in recent years," says Fred Hoffman, a travel expert and founder of The True Wilderness.
He points out that Baltimore has a rich history and is full of charming neighborhoods, bustling markets, a thriving arts and theater scene, and stunning architecture.
"Its Inner Harbor area is a popular tourist destination with attractions such as the National Aquarium, Maryland Science Center, and historic ships like the USS Constellation, adds Hoffman. "Foodies will also find plenty to love in Baltimore with its famous seafood dishes like crab cakes and oysters."
The Reddit poster said that as far as international destinations go, they believe the North Ireland capital gets the worst reputation—and many others concurred.
"Belfast is great! The people, the Peace Wall, the history—There's even a castle!" wrote one commenter. "I found Belfast charming, walkable, friendly and affordable and I had several great meals so I hope to go back soon," shared another.
Some of the biggest attractions in Belfast are the Titanic Belfast, a history museum about the ship on the site where it was built, the historic St. George's Market, and Giant's Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that's "a landscape of dramatic cliffs" along the Atlantic Ocean.
According to a 2023 Gallup poll, less than half of Americans view Philadelphia as a safe place to live or visit. However, there are many reasons to embrace "the city of brotherly love," which served as the U.S. capital for 10 years.
According to Margaret J. King, PhD, director of The Center for Cultural Studies & Analysis, Philadelphia is "full of history, ethnic food, culture, diverse population, music, architecture, and museums—which is why, as a cultural analyst, I decided to move here from California!"
She notes that while a typical tourist might come to see the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, there's much more to explore outside of these historic sites. "The vibe is European, colonial, and East Coast. Come and see us!" King says.
Justin Crabbe, a travel expert and CEO of Jettly, notes that, despite being one of the world's most popular tourist destinations, Mexico frequently makes headlines due to violence and organized crime, which can give its cities a bad reputation.
However, Mexico City, a bustling metropolis in the heart of the country, attracts tens of millions of visitors each year. "One of the main reasons for this is Mexico's rich cultural heritage and diverse natural beauty," Crabbe says. "Mexico City is an especially vibrant, pleasant, and, above all, entertaining city with an artistic heritage thanks to artists such as Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera, to name a few, classic architectural style, great food, and a lively bar scene."
Hoffman says that the "windy city" has so much more to offer than meets the eye—and that it's a fan favorite among travelers.
"The city's skyline is dominated by iconic skyscrapers like the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) and the John Hancock Center. Visitors can take a stroll along the famous Magnificent Mile, which boasts high-end shops, restaurants, and hotels," he says.
"Chicago is also home to some of the best museums in the country, including the Art Institute of Chicago and the Field Museum of Natural History, Hoffamn adds. "And let's not forget about its famous deep-dish pizza and hot dogs—a must-try for any foodie."
Though some authorities still warn of high crime rates in the Colombian city, the International Economic Association World Congress points out that Medellín is now safer to visit than the American cities of Chicago, St. Louis, and Detroit.
"Today, Medellín has undergone a complete makeover. It is one of the most vibrant cities in Colombia for travelers. Medellín's Metrocable, a gondola system, offers a beautiful way to see the city," says Ravi Parikh, founder and CEO of RoverPass.
A Redditor added, "Medellin has perfect weather, great people, and the dollar goes a long way."
Since the pandemic, San Francisco's reputation has taken a severe hit, The New York Times reports. However, both residents and visitors say that focusing on issues such as overcrowding, drug abuse, homelessness, and abandoned storefronts only tells a small part of the city's story.
"San Francisco may have a reputation for being expensive and overcrowded, but it's also one of the most picturesque and culturally diverse cities in the world," says Hoffman. "With its iconic Golden Gate Bridge, colorful Victorian houses, and hilly streets, San Francisco offers endless opportunities for exploration and discovery."
Hoffman adds that the city's art scene, with numerous galleries and museums showcasing both classic and contemporary works, adds to its unique appeal. "And for food lovers, San Francisco is a paradise with its diverse culinary options, including fresh seafood and famous dishes like sourdough bread and clam chowder," he says.
Following a 2010 Forbes poll, Cleveland, Ohio earned the unfortunate distinction of being designated "the most miserable city in America." Unaffectionately dubbed "the Mistake by the Lake," the city was skewered for its high rates of unemployment, high taxes, "mediocre sports teams," and "dismal weather," Reuters reports.
However, experts say that Cleveland has more recently transformed into a cultural hub of the Midwest. "Visitors now appreciate its world-class museums, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and its revitalized waterfront," says David Doughty, a travel and aviation expert, and the CEO of Admiral Jet.
"People are really sleeping on Cleveland!! They were number 1 in craft breweries for awhile and still have 50+, the local music scene is INSANE," agreed one Redditor, with several others citing how walkable the city is.
Rio de Janeiro
Another city that travelers say is worth the visit is Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
"Known for its iconic Christ the Redeemer statue and vibrant Carnival celebrations, Rio de Janeiro may not seem like a city with a bad reputation. However, it has often been associated with high crime rates and unsafe neighborhoods," says Kyle Kroeger, founder and CEO of ViaTravelers. "While these issues cannot be denied, they do not define the entirety of this beautiful city."
"With stunning beaches, breathtaking landscapes, and a lively atmosphere, Rio de Janeiro offers a unique and unforgettable experience," Kroeger continues. "Visitors can also immerse themselves in the local culture by trying traditional Brazilian dishes, exploring the vibrant street art scene, and dancing to samba music."
If there's any city that gets a bad reputation, it's New York. And while there are certainly downsides to visiting New York—rats, garbage, high cost of living, and noisy traffic, to name just a few—travel experts say the pros outweigh the cons in this case.
"New York is a melting pot of cultures, offering endless opportunities to explore diverse neighborhoods, cuisines, and experiences," says Hoffman. "From the iconic landmarks like the Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building to the bustling streets of Times Square and Central Park, there's never a dull moment in this city. And for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle, New York [state] also has beautiful parks, beaches, and hiking trails just a short distance away."
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