- United Kingdom
- Helen Armitage
Home to contemporary art galleries, eclectic cuisine, hip bars and a whole host of creatives, these 10 neighbourhoods and towns are claiming their stake as Britain’s coolest. From Bristol’s bohemian quarter, Stokes Croft, to Ouseburn, Newcastle’s former industrial district turned cultural hub, we take a tour of the UK’s most artsy, fashionable communities.
As Birmingham’s resident creative quarter, Digbeth boasts a wealth of cultural goings on from Digbeth Dining, a weekly street food event, and the monthly Digbeth First Friday, to its annual festivals, Supersonic and the Flatpack Film Festival. The Custard Factory, a collection of independent businesses located in restored Victorian factories, is the place to head for hip boutique shopping, while the neighbourhood’s street art – featuring works by graffiti artists Gent 48 and Jimmy C – is sure to thrill art fans. Head to Digbeth’s long-standing pubs like The Rainbow and The Spotted Dog – former hangouts of Birmingham’s notorious Peaky Blinders gang – for drinks and a feel for the neighbourhood’s history.
Like many of Britain’s historic seaside resorts, Margate has suffered in recent years, but thanks to a recent cultural renaissance that’s seeing it hailed as the Kent coast equivalent of trendy Shoreditch, the town is seeing an influx of visitors and new residents. Indie boutiques, quirky cafés and classy restaurants reside in Margate’s Old Town, and the revived Dreamland amusement park, spearheaded by fashion designer Wayne Hemingway, lend the town retro charm. Meanwhile, its arty regeneration – the Turner Contemporary opened its doors on the seafront in 2011 and has since shown works by British enfant terrible Grayson Perry and Margate homegirl Tracey Emin – has made the town a mecca for art fans.
West End, Glasgow
Winner of the Academy of Urbanism’s Great Neighbourhood Award in 2014, Glasgow’s West End is a bohemian hub where contemporary culture sits comfortably amongst historic architecture and leafy suburbs. The stunning University of Glasgow campus and Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum, home to one of the finest art collections in Europe, hark back to the West End’s past while the charming cobbles of Ashton Lane are home to a buzzy vibe and plenty of bars and restaurants. Events like Òran Mór’s ‘A Play, a Pie and a Pint’ lunchtime theatre programme and the annual West End Festival give the neighbourhood extra cultural pull, and the beautiful Glasgow Botanic Gardens are a tranquil respite from the West End’s more bustling areas.
There may be talk of other contenders for its crown of cool, especially amid the accusations of hipster gentrification, but Shoreditch is still Hackney’s cultural hub. East London’s fashionable folk flock to the area during the day for its legendary street, quirky café culture and hip boutiques while at night its chic bars put Shoreditch on the map as one of London’s best nightlife destinations. Shoreditch doesn’t disappoint foodies either: not only does it boast acclaimed restaurants like celebrity chef Mark Hix’s Tramshed with its Damien Hirst centrepiece, it’s also home to PUMP Shoreditch – a daily street food market based in a former petrol station.
Northern Quarter, Manchester
Bohemian and creative, Manchester’s Northern Quarter – with its community of indie record and fashion stores, lively bars and restaurants and thriving arts and music scene – is the cultural heart of the city. The department store Afflecks has been a mecca for alt-fashion since opening in 1982, and the Manchester Craft and Design Centre – a collection of artists and creatives housed in the city’s former fish market – proves the neighbourhood arty worth. Local music fans head to the Northern Quarter’s live venues – among them the legendary, long-standing Band on the Wall and Castle Hotel – while eclectic neighbourhood restaurants cook up everything from authentic South American eats to gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches.
Formerly a hive of activity during Newcastle’s industrial heyday, Ouseburn gradually fell into decline and as recently as 30 years ago was a shadow of its former self, blighted by derelict factories. Nowadays, however, thanks to the efforts of grassroots community groups, Ouseburn is hailed as the city’s cultural quarter. Revived historic buildings are now home to cultural organisations like The Biscuit Factory, a contemporary art gallery, and Seven Stories, the national centre for children’s books. Coupled with plenty of real ale pubs and annual events – like the family-friendly Ouseburn Festival and the artist- and artisan-focused Ouseburn Open Studios – have the area pegged as one of the North East’s best places to live and play.
Baltic Triangle, Liverpool
Until quite recently a rundown warehouse district, since the late-noughties a steady trickle of creative businesses, artists and social venues have seen the Baltic Triangle dubbed as ‘Liverpool’s answer to New York’s Meatpacking District.’ Several digital agencies and tech companies now call the neighbourhood’s grand renovated warehouses home, which in turn have attracted a host of hip hangouts like restaurant-cum-events space Camp & Furnace and artisan eateries like Baltic Bakehouse. Events like the Liverpool Art Fair and the Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia add to the Baltic Triangle’s cultural character, while new apartment developments are making the area increasingly resident-friendly too.
A small town of 3,000 nestled in Somerset’s River Brue valley may not seem the likeliest contender for one of Britain’s coolest neighbourhoods, but Bruton boasts an arty allure that could rival any urban cultural hub. Alongside its charming community of antique shops, cafés and restaurants – including the beautiful At The Chapel, a bakery, restaurant and wine store located in a former church – the town is also home to the most recent addition to the Hauser & Wirth group of galleries. Opened in 2014, the gallery – which also has locations in London, New York, Los Angeles and Zurich – welcomed over 100,000 visitors in its first year and has hosted exhibitions by American installation artist Jenny Holzer and Swiss video artist Pipilotti Rist.
Nestled on the Firth of Forth, Leith’s maritime heyday may be over but an influx of acclaimed restaurants, contemporary art galleries, and hip watering holes have transformed it into one of Edinburgh’s best neighbourhoods. Foodies can get a fix at Leith’s Michelin-starred restaurants – The Kitchin and Restaurant Martin Wishart – but if fine dining doesn’t suit you, the neighbourhood boasts plenty of delightful delis and trendy café-bars along its charming waterfront while local entertainment comes in the form of exhibitions at venues like The Leith Gallery and Coburg House Art Studios and events like the 100-plus-year-old Leith Festival and the Edinburgh Mela Festival.
Stokes Croft, Bristol
Often called Bristol’s most bohemian neighbourhood, Stokes Croft is a street running northwards from the city centre, home to an eclectic range of hip pubs and restaurants, quirky shops and artists’ studios. Akin to an outdoor gallery, Stokes Croft is also home to plenty of graffiti and street art including works by Bristol’s best-known artist Banksy, like his Mild Mild West mural, while just up the street is The Arts House – an artistic hub boasting a café serving locally sourced eats, an art gallery, and a basement area that doubles as a live performance space and cinema.