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The World’s Most Misunderstood Cities

SmarterTravel

Certain reputations are both earned and inevitable, but other pigeonholing perceptions are decidedly less fair (not all New Yorkers are rude, people!). In the spirit of global pluralism, contributor Emily Saladino packs a passport and an open mind to explore the hidden gems and unsung attractions of some of the world’s most popular (not to mention notorious) places.

Amsterdam

Bypass the stumbling co-eds and raucous British stag parties, and the Netherlands’ canal city has art, culture and class to spare. The Rijksmuseum, a national treasure stocked with Dutch masterpieces, reopened after a 10-year, €375 million renovation in 2013, as did the Van Gogh Museum. Soon thereafter, the Hague’s Vermeer-centric jewel box Mauritshuis Museum doubled its exhibition space. Modernists convene at Dutch design maven Thomas Eyck’s stylish Matter of Material boutique, and pick up cutting-edge duds at fashion collection Young Designers United.

Where to stay: Grand dame Hotel de l’Europe underwent an $85 million renovation to introduce the Dutch Masters Wing, a fleet of 23 individually designed suites fitted with reproductions of famous works from the nearby Rijksmuseum.

Mexico City

Those deterred by Mexico City’s reputation for street crime and urban sprawl are seriously missing out on one of the Americas’ hottest cultural capitals. The sleek Polanco neighborhood has Mexican magnate Carlos Slim’s $70 million Museo Soumaya, as well as star chef Enrique Olvera’s ground-breaking Pujol restaurant. Creative communities convene in buzzy districts like La Condesa, replete with indie galleries and Art Deco architecture, and Roma, which has an Eataly-esque gourmet food hall, Mercado Roma.

Where to stay: Polanco’s newly renovated W Mexico City is within walking distance of the Auditorio Nacional, and has 237 rooms with views of Chapultepec Park and the Zona Rosa, as well as a killer restaurant by super star Spanish-American chef, Jose Andres.

Houston

There’s a lot more to HTown than low-slung corporate parks and snaking highways. The city’s ascendant food scene spans authentic pho, barbecue, surprisingly nuanced Tex-Mex (try Cafe Adobe and Original Ninfa’s) and innovative plant-centric fare. Locals get their fill, then escape to Buffalo Bayou Park, a 160-acre swatch of green hills and sloping pedestrian paths in the heart of downtown Houston that was renovated to the tune of $58 million last year.

Where to stay: Downtown, there’s the classic St. Regis and Hotel Icon, while the Hotel Sorella CityCentre on the West Side has a mod, minimalist design scheme and knockout rooftop pool.

Dubai

Dubai may be best known for big-spending bankers and their monolithic construction projects, but the city-state also has a thriving contemporary arts scene. Alserkal Avenue, an arts district in the industrial Al Quoz neighborhood, has 250,000 square feet of galleries, open-air exhibition space, live performance venues and the Salsali Private Museum showcasing contemporary Middle Eastern and international art. It plans to double in size this fall, welcoming outposts of regional heavy hitters like Leila Heller Gallery, and launching an artist in residence program to support Dubai’s burgeoning creative community.

Where to stay: Hotel newcomers include the Langham (coming to the Palm in 2016) and St. Regis. Or, you could always go big at the Anantara The Palm Dubai Resort, which has overwater bungalows, lagoon views and a chic spa on Dubai’s man-made island.

New York

Towering skyscrapers, oversized attitudes and staggering price tags may give the Big Apple its bite, but a kinder, gentler Gotham abides in astonishingly cost-effective outer-borough attractions like Brooklyn’s Industry City. This collection of former warehouses has tiny galleries with free exhibitions, a food court with kiosks from local favorites like sausage shop Ends Meat, and a second-story loft that holds the enormously popular Brooklyn Flea in winter months. Outdoors enthusiasts can grab one of New York’s now-ubiquitous Citi Bikes and pedal to Green-Wood Cemetery, a surprisingly zen collection of Gothic buildings and rolling greens that serve as the final resting place for famous locals like Boss Tweed and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Where to stay: The city’s newest sleep is The Brooklyn—A Hotel, which straddles the burgeoning Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy neighborhoods and is decked out with black and white photography and works by local artists.

Baltimore

Fans of The Wire may prowl Charm City looking for Idris Elba lookalikes (and hey, who can blame them?), but locals shrug off Baltimore’s enduringly gritty media portrayal. Instead, they toast a burgeoning food scene at cocktail dens like Remington’s new Bar Clavel—a family run mezcaleria, or savor the Mid-Atlantic bounty at James Beard Award-winner Spike Gjerde’s Woodberry Kitchen. Local universities like Johns Hopkins and Maryland Institute College of Art offer performing art shows and other cultural diversions, and institutions like the American Visionary Art Museum keep things quirky (don’t miss the world’s first family of robots).

Where to stay: The Ivy Hotel, an 18-key boutique in an 1889 Mount Vernon mansion, opened in June and is easily the city’s poshest address. In addition to in-room Stumptown coffee and Frette linens, guests have access to a private library and spa with Natura Bisse treatments, and there’s afternoon tea served in the ivy-covered courtyard.

Tel Aviv

Israel’s stylish, resilient cultural core defies headlines. Sure, Ben Gurion International Airport may have notoriously unsmiling desk agents and extensive security clearance—but you’ll brave the customs counter in a sleek, solar-powered terminal (nicknamed Silicon Wadi) that received a $287 million upgrade in 2014. City streets are lined with mod startups, buzzy cafes and devastatingly chic locals (cop their style at trendy boutiques in Neve Tzedek and Sarona). There is also artistic inspiration aplenty at contemporary institutions Dvir and Noga Galleries, the grand Tel Aviv Museum of Art, and the Bauhaus Center Tel Aviv.

Where to stay: In addition to the Jetsetter-approved The Norman Tel Aviv, which occupies a sparkling Bauhaus building in the historic White City, Israel will welcome its first W hotel in the historic Jaffa neighborhood early next year.

—Emily Saladino

This article was originally published by Jetsetter.com under the headline The World’s Most Misunderstood Cities. It is reprinted here with permission.

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(Photo: Shutterstock)

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