I'm looking for a short term describing a town which is not important, possibly looked down on by people coming from other places. There is probably nothing interesting to do there, etc. One expression that comes to mind would be shit-hole, but I'm looking for terms which are either neutral or at most moderately offensive.
One-horse town: An old-fashioned expression referring to a small, boring, backward place.
Backwater: A town where nothing important ever happens and progress rarely occurs.
Jerkwater town: A location with little to offer in terms of worthwhile sites or basic conveniences.
Podunk: A fictional locale defined by its insignificance and relative inaccessibility.
Back of beyond used in the figurative sense may suggest a dull, unimportant place:
- A place that is remote or unsophisticated.
For me, the term burg comes to mind.
Random House Kernerman Webster's College Dictionary:
Informal. a small, quiet city or town.
This has the possibly unfortunate fact that in some contexts it has exactly the opposite connotation. The American Heritage® Roget's Thesaurus:
Informal. A large and important town
Also consider: the sticks. McGraw-Hill's Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions:
and the sticks n. a rural or backwoods area. (Always with the in this sense and always plural.) You hear a lot about how things are in the sticks. They’re worse.
A colloquial British English phrase for this is the arse-end of nowhere.
Despite the bodily reference, the phrase is not normally considered particularly offensive, and is definitely a milder phrase than shit-hole.
I would describe somewhere like this as a dead-end town, as this article from the Huffington Post describes. It was a line from the Pet Shop Boys song West End Girls that made me think of it though.
The word "stopover" is defined by oxforddictionaries.com as
A place where a journey is broken.
Referring to a town as a stopover sometimes implies that it is not important in and of itself, but only as a convenient halfway point between two more significant places. It is thus not necessarily negative when the town in question actually is small. However, referring to a populous city as a stopover may indicate a more disdainful attitude under which the city's economic or cultural contributions are considered negligible despite its size.
A moderately to slightly more than moderately offensive descriptive term would be to refer to the town as "the armpit of" whatever context fits, such as "That town is the armpit of the county." This approach can be escalated to use more and more offensive body parts depending on how much the location is disliked by those describing it... i.e. "Washington DC is the scrotum of dirty politics."
Fictional exemplars, in US at least: Mayberry, Dogpatch, Smallville.
(Real) Peoria is a metonym for mainstream-to-conservative, stodgy, and boring, but often still important: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Will_it_play_in_Peoria%3F
You are describing a pissant town:
- noun: an insignificant or contemptible person or thing.
- adjective: worthless; contemptible.
A neat aside: while looking up the definition, I learned that the word comes from an Australian soccer coach insulting his own city:
pissant town: A city or town which is basically very dull and boring and serves no real purpose. Originates from Disgruntled Adelaide United coach Aurelio Vidmar who after a disappointing loss referred to his own city as a pissant town:
"...because of this pissant town this club will never win anything"
- Aurelio Vidmar
Informally, you could simply call an unattractive town a hole (Collins entry lists this meaning) - it isn't quite as offensive as shit-hole but wouldn't be considered entirely neutral either.
It's used in the dialogue from the Chronicles of Narnia, for example:
"And so would you," he went on, "if you'd lived all your life in the country [...] and then been brought to live in a beastly Hole like this."
"London isn't a Hole," said Polly indignantly.
A word that works both in British and American English and I think accurately captures all you asked for is nowheresville:
- a location lacking identifying or individualizing qualities
- a place or state denoting failure or relative obscurity
Since "backwater" (first preference) and "sticks" (second preference) are already in the answer list, I would like to suggest "boondocks":
Rough or isolated country:
‘this place is out in the boondocks, you'll never get here by bus’
The word carries the connotation of a very rural place, surrounded by nature in an unkempt state (quite similar to "the sticks").
A mostly-neutral term would be Anytown, especially in the US (where it might be Anytown, USA). From Oxford Dictionaries
Anytown (also Anytown USA) NOUN
Any real or fictional place regarded as being typical of American small-town appearance or values.
‘the party was looking for that elusive candidate from Anytown’
That example suggest a neutral-to positive connotation, but one of the additional example sentences illustrates the less attractive connotations of your meaning just about perfectly (and also usage outside the Americas):
‘Supermarkets stand accused of committing grievous bodily harm to the social and economic fabric of British life, turning urban centres into ghost towns or undifferentiated Anytowns.’
I may be a bit late to the party, but I think I can come up with better alternatives to the all rather offensive terms from John Feltz and freeling10, namely referring to cultural exemplars of "boring" towns:
In British English, you could compare the place to the city of Milton Keynes, e.g.
Burbank is the Milton Keynes of California.
Adelaide is a bit like Milton Keynes.
In Britain, Milton Keynes is often used as an exemplar of a totally nondescript, uninteresting town which is nevertheless not actually a bad place to live. Sadly, I couldn't find any direct references of this usage but merely an indirect reference on Urban Dictionary.
- Fittingly enough, in (Southern) California, you can compare a place to Burbank:
I would never move there! Come on — that'd be like moving to Burbank!
I've heard Cleveland being used in this sense as well, and it's got a less regional flavor than using Burbank has, i.e. it might be understandable to more people.
Again, see Urban Dictionary for an indirect reference thereof.
Additionally, I agree with abligh that nowheresville is a good candidate albeit being a bit more negative than the other examples I provided above.
Finally, a nice term for Australian audiences would be Woop Woop, e.g.
Doesn't Jeff live out Woop Woop these days?
However, this term has a decidedly negative connotation, a bit like the sticks.