Apparently these are the coolest neighbourhoods in the UK

Bleak little country

The problem with defining a “cool” neighbourhood is that coolness is subjective: it means different and often contradictory things depending on who you ask. For what it’s worth, my definition would hinge on a high concentration of good-looking and well-dressed people; bars and clubs that are open late and play good music, and some kind of creative scene or cultural vitality. For some less enlightened people, though, cool is synonymous with “bougie”, “upmarket” or somehow vaguely “quirky”.

Time Out’s list of the 51 coolest neighbourhoods in the world – based on a survey of 20,000 people and published earlier this week – gestures towards all of these definitions. Four British neighbourhoods made the grade (in Margate, Glasgow, London and Manchester), none of which seem to have anything in common with each other. If they are “cool”, they are cool in disparate ways. But what do the people who actually live in these places think? Dazed spoke to some of them to find out.


This beachside area has been ranked the eighth coolest neighbourhood in the world. In Europe, only Lisbon’s Cais do Sodré has been deemed more trendy – which, while I’m sure Cliftonville is lovely, seems excessive. Long acting as a retirement community for ageing London hipsters drawn by its cheap rents, Margate has been heralded as “Hackney-on-sea” – but now, according to Time Out, it has at last vanquished its east London rival. 

“Generally speaking, there’s cool stuff going on in Margate,” says local resident Stuart, while noting that some of the places mentioned by Time Out are “great but not cool in any way shape or form”. He also says that gentrification is an ever-larger problem in the area, caused in part by Airbnb’s removing flats from the market. “There’s a massive turnover of businesses: people come in from London, do it for fun for a bit and then bugger off,” he says. “This makes it feel quite transient.”

Benny, a former Cliftonville resident, bristles at its description as the coolest place in Britain. “It’s the fourth poorest ward in the whole of England and Wales,” he says. “It’s a mix of communities, extreme deprivation and extremely fast gentrification, in a way that does not work well: it clashes.” While there are lots of fancy coffee shops and delis, and it’s becoming more LGBTQ-friendly (it’s home to a new queer venue, CAMP, which is mentioned in the Time Out piece), Benny believes that portraying Cliftonville as a hipster’s paradise ignores the problems the area is facing. 


There’s no doubt whatsoever that Glasgow is one of the coolest cities in the UK and deserves to be acclaimed as such. But Shawlands specifically? That’s a different question.

For the uninitiated, Shawlands is a neighbourhood in the Southside of Glasgow, a rapidly-gentrifying corner of the city celebrated for its multiculturalism, abundant greenery and queer cafe-related drama. But many of the Glaswegians I spoke to insisted that nearby Govanhill would have been a better choice. “It’s Govanhill’s uncool middle-class neighbour,” says Matt, a Glaswegian who has known Shawlands as a leafy middle-aged suburb for as long as he can remember. “It’s essentially where cool young Southsiders move to start families and become uncool.” On the plus side, he concedes, “the Morrison’s there does really good reductions” – a handy tip the travel guides won’t tell you. 

Emma, who lived in the Southside until recently, is just as negative. “I’m not surprised at all that Shawlands has made the list only after it has been besieged with English people who can no longer afford rent in London,” she exclaims. “I’d argue that it’s not even in the top 11 coolest areas in Glasgow.” Surely I could find one Glaswegian who would accept Shawland’s ranking, without going as far as speaking to someone who actually lives there? “Maybe it’s cool if you’re an elder millennial who likes to queue for bread at 9am every weekend, or if you’re the kind of person who still uses the word ‘hipster’ to refer to flannel shirts and Sailor Jerry flash tattoos,” says Jemma. Sorry Time Out, but the people of Glasgow – all three of them –  have spoken: you are wrong.


Walthamstow is a multicultural and diverse area, but in terms of the people who have moved there within the last decade, they tend to fall into one of either two demographics: chic heterosexual couples in their forties who have well-paid jobs in the third sector, or former Shoreditch socialites who sold their shares in VICE and moved there to start a family when they hit 35. The latter group I can take or leave, but I’ll admit I find the former quite aspirational – I’d like to steal their lives, Talented Mr Ripley-style. I also think Walthamstow is a lovely place (a stroll around its desolate but starkly beautiful marshes followed by a visit to the William Morris Gallery? If Carlsberg did days out in London!) But maybe “cool” isn’t the right word, exactly. 

Calum, who lives in Walthamstow, tells me he’s not surprised it’s been deemed such a cool area. “It still feels affordable compared to a lot of London, it has plenty of green space, a great cycling infrastructure, as well as nice bars and pubs,” he says. “Walthamstow is what Stoke Newington thinks it is.” To Calum, part of the appeal is that the area has retained a real sense of community: he knows his neighbours and the people who work in his local shops; people say hello to each other on the street. “When I moved to Walthamstow in 2012, people used to tell me it was a good thing it’s on the Victoria line, as that made it easy to leave,” he says. “Walthamstow was cool then too, but people couldn’t see it. Now they’re finally catching up." 


Manchester is, like Glasgow, an undeniably cool city: it’s fun and exciting and there’s a lot going on. But the Northern Quarter? Every week some terrible new novelty venue launches there and is met with widespread derision on the internet: there’s a bar that looks like a Blockbuster video store; a bar that looks like a pawn shop; a bar where you can play old-school video games; a bar where you can play ping-pong; a cafe where you can buy waffles shaped like genitalia. 

The Northern Quarter is fast becoming early 2010’s Shoreditch: a twee, infantilised playground of Instagram traps aimed at “people who want something a little bit different”, when what they should want is a half-decent boozer. According to local resident Tom, the writing has been on the wall for a long time. “The real problem is that it doesn’t feel like an area with dozens of individual bars: it feels like the same bar with a different tired gimmick slapped on the front,” he tells Dazed. “I haven’t been in the Blockbuster one but that seems the worst offender – just the same beers and cocktails as you’d get anywhere but with a really half-arsed novelty element.”