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Architecture

6 Historic Alleyways to Wander Around the World

By Fiona Mokry
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When many people think of alleyways, dark, dingy, and often dangerous corridors come to mind. While some back passages are reserved for dumpsters and loading zones, that’s certainly not the case for all alleyways. From the medinas of Morocco to taverns of Tokyo, here are six locations filled with spectacular and historic alleyways you’ll definitely want to get lost in. 

Marrakech Medina – Marrakech, Morocco

Alleyway of the Marrakech Medina in Morocco
Photo credit: Renato De Santis/ Shutterstock 

The magical historic walled quarter of Marrakech dates back to the 11th century. The central Moroccan city was once the capital of the Almoravid empire, and its ruling dynasty is credited with crafting its intricate maze of narrow alleyways. Marrakech rose to and fell from power multiple times throughout the centuries, but today it is regarded as a prized center of culture, architecture, and history — and it was recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage in 1985. 

Wandering through the old medina, surrounded by ancient ramparts, is an experience like few others. The medina was built entirely from clay, which earns it the nickname of “the Red City.” Each snaking passage is lined with tiny souks selling fragrant spices and perfumes, handmade leather goods, and other handicrafts — making it an ideal spot to buy traditional souvenirs.

Kemeralti Bazaar – İzmir, Turkey

Shops of the Kemeralti Bazaar in İzmir, Turkey
Photo credit: Serenity-H/ Shutterstock 

For an authentic Turkish market experience, the Kemeralti Bazaar of İzmir should be at the top of your list. Less crowded than the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Kemeralti — and the historic covered Kizlaragasi Han Bazaar alongside it — is an ancient shopping center composed of streets and alleys where locals have shopped since the 17th century. Every turn through the stone alleys uncovers another corner of the market, each of which is devoted to different wares. Home goods, children’s items and toys, fabric and clothing, gold and jewelry, and dried goods are just a few of the sections you’ll stumble upon. 

While shopping is undoubtedly the main attraction at the Kemeralti Bazaar, don’t skip out on the food. Authentic Turkish cuisine — from kebabs to baklava to Turkish coffee — is served and enjoyed in a lively atmosphere. Plan to spend at least a half day shopping, eating, and perhaps getting lost — though you probably won’t mind. 

Acorn Street – Boston, Massachusetts

Cobblestone lane of Acorn Street in Boston, Massachusetts
Photo credit: Sean Pavone/ Shutterstock

It’s easy to see why Acorn Street is one of the most photographed streets in the country. The charming 19th-century cobblestone lane is framed by narrow brick sidewalks, colonial row homes with cheerful flowers sprouting from window boxes, and antique street lights. The quaint Boston street — tight enough to be considered an alleyway — draws hordes of tourists, photographers, and artists from around the world. 

While homes on Acorn Street are worth several million dollars, the origins of the street are much humbler. When it was first built in the 1820s, it housed the neighborhood’s tradespeople and servants. The cobblestones on Acorn Street are original, making it one of the last authentic cobblestone streets in the country. 

Golden Gai – Tokyo, Japan 

Alleyway lined with izakaya bars in Tokyo's Golden Gai district
Photo credit: Jui-Chi Chan/ Alamy Stock Photo

The end of World War II in 1945 spurred the development of the Tokyo district now known as Golden Gai. At that time, the area around Shinjuku Station’s east exit morphed into a black market known for illicit activities. After the area was cleaned up in the 1960s and 1970s, its six rows of tightly packed alleys hosted cozy izakaya bars that became a haven for intellectuals and artists. 

The 1990s saw an economic downturn that closed many of the area’s venues, but entrepreneurs later breathed new life into the area. Today, more than 280 bars (most of which can only accommodate five to six patrons at a time) are crammed into these six blocks, which have retained their historic charm while the rest of Shinjuku has modernized around them.

Old Passages – Dubrovnik, Croatia

Narrow passage in Dubrovnik, Croatia
Photo credit: aprott/ iStock

The medieval walled city of Dubrovnik hasn’t changed much through the centuries, with its limestone buildings, Baroque- and Renaissance-style architecture, cobblestone streets, and labyrinth of alleyways. To get a feel for this jewel along Croatia’s Adriatic coast, start by strolling down Old Dubrovnik’s gleaming main stretch, Stradun. Then duck into any of the offshoot passages that could lead you to a cluster of street cafes, a beautiful medieval church, or a steep stairwell leading to yet another winding passageway. 

Hours could be spent wandering beneath the terracotta roofs of the Old Town, but the most historic path in Dubrovnik sits well above them. First constructed in the 13th century, the Dubrovnik City Walls stretch over a mile long and protect the city with towers, bastions, and fortresses that stand up to 82 feet tall. Walking on top of the ramparts offers the best views over the city, the sparkling Adriatic, and the Old Port of Dubrovnik.

Tunis Medina – Tunis, Tunisia

Colorful mosaics decorating the Tunis Medina in Tunisia
Photo credit: usaid_abbasi/ iStock

The birth of Tunis Medina began when the 16,500-square-foot Al-Zaytuna Mosque was erected in the seventh century. The city expanded slowly around this significant cultural and religious center, and its Old Town remains standing more than a millennium later. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1979, the Tunis Medina is considered one of the best preserved medinas in the world. 

Its 700-plus acres are crisscrossed with alleys, and lined with cafes, shops, hookah bars, and local residences. Ancient mosaiced archways, elaborately decorated doors, and hundreds of monuments — from mosques to mausoleums and palaces — offer compelling evidence that this city was once the wealthiest in the Islamic world. 

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