We love street art. What began as mere curiosity, many years ago, soon became a deep appreciation, and occasional obsession. There’s something so impressive about artists pouring themselves into works that in all likelihood will be removed or destroyed. Brushed away like a Tibetan sand mandala. Even in those street art cities that are friendly towards the scene, even commissioned pieces often fall victim to some deplorable vandal.
Aside from the more technical aspects, it’s simply a beautiful way to liven the concrete backdrop of an otherwise bland, almost dismal scene. Sometimes it’s a multi-story mural exploding with colour, becoming a focal point of the neighbourhood. Other times it’s a simple stencil, maybe conveying some cheeky social commentary.
We reached out to a few of our fellow travel bloggers and asked them to share some of their favourite street art from cities around the world, and what makes it so special.
Carol Guttery of Wayfaring Views
Most of the cities on this list built up a street art culture over decades. It usually starts with young adults in the hip hop scene expressing themselves with tagging and the culture evolves from there to graffiti and murals. No so with Nashville. They went from zero to WOW in just a few short years.
They have some cool home-grown artists, such as the one featured here by Peace Love and Good Deeds. In addition to making murals, they also sell “apparel with a purpose” on their website and the proceeds support local nonprofit organizations. There is a positivity to both the mural and their ethic that jives with the optimistic culture in Nashville.
Nashville has also engaged with world class muralists like Beau Stanton, Guido van Helten and Jason Woodside to provide large commissioned walls. The result is that these large mural projects are spreading all over Nashville. There is a whole parking garage covered with murals near Vanderbilt, there is a stunning portrait on a grain silo and there are murals creeping around the corners all over downtown, The Gulch and the 12 South neighborhoods. The murals give a bright coat of Instagrammable paint to the Nashville.
Get more eye candy and learn more on this guide to the murals in Nashville.
Bernie and Jessica Watt of Watt? Where? How?
We love Melbourne. It’s easily Australia’s most multi-cultural capital and the one that is most open to the arts. It has a feel that sits somewhere between San Francisco and a New York neighborhood, possibly due to the grid of streets and lane-ways in the center of town. But where dumpsters of decaying food matter and squalor were to be found 15 years ago, there’s now walls of impressive murals and stencils. The city has not just accepted the rise of street art, it’s begun to champion it, with the City of Melbourne realizing its value to the community and appeal for tourism.
The beauty of street art is that it’s only there for a fleeting moment, tagged, painted over by anti-graffiti task forces and occasionally protected by the National Gallery of Victoria. Even the most ambitious work can be lost to the layers of Ironlak (a popular spray paint). In the past, the city has attracted the crème-de-la-crème of international street artists, with New York artist, Keith Haring painting a piece at Collingwood in the 1980s and Banksy contributing three Rat stencils to the walls of ACDC Lane back in 2003. Today, it’s local artists like Haha (Regan Tamanui) whose Ned Kelly (a famed Australian bushranger) stencils are to be found around town and Brisbane’s Anthony Lister that inspire the next gen. It’s the Ned Kellys that we like the most because he’s so associated with the Australian celebration of the underdog, even though he was a career criminal.
It’s been a while since we’ve been back, so what was the best then will now be several layers of paint deep, but for visitors, you’ll find the best pieces in Hosier and Rutledge Lanes, ACDC Lane (including pieces dedicated to the band), and in our old favorite haunt, Fitzroy in the back streets off Brunswick Street.
Check out Watt?Where?How? on Instagram
Before visiting Bristol, I knew few details about the city we’d fall in love with. Aside from understanding a little of the vibrant music scene, there was really only one thing that popped into my head when thinking of Bristol: Street art. I mean, one of the most famous artists of all time hails from here.
There are few cities in the world where graffiti is truly appreciated, let alone encouraged. It’s almost impossible to walk anywhere in Bristol without passing street art on a regular basis. And I’m not just referring to scribbles and tags – though they too are common. I mean vivid, intricate works of art, like this one from Brazilian artist L7Matrix, near where we house-sat on North Street.
What I love so much about this one, on top of the fact that you can almost feel the bird’s movements, is the unconventional canvas. The way the vivid colours spread from the wall onto the sidewalk give a subtle, yet perfect uniqueness to the piece.
Alex and Lisa of Career Gappers
In Valparaíso, the colourful city considered by many as the cultural capital of Chile, street art isn’t just an art form. It’s an intrinsic part of the city’s history and identity.
During the military regime of General Pinochet that took hold of Chile between 1973 and 1990, political messaging through art was banned. Many people who were caught producing such works simply disappeared, numbering among the desaparecidos.
An underground street art movement began to grow, and Valparaíso, with its steep hills and narrow, winding back-streets, was the perfect nucleus for it. Artists could leave a tag and get away unseen.
After Pinochet’s dictatorship fell and democracy returned to Chile, the local government in Valparaíso decided to legalise street art in a move that signified a celebration of freedom of expression. Today it remains the only city in Chile where street art is fully legal.
The result is that street art has burgeoned and become one of the defining aspects of the city’s character. Shops and restaurants compete to have leading local artists go to work on their walls. Buildings tall and small are daubed with beautiful murals.
This mural is Equinoccio de Primavera, or ‘Spring Equinox’, by local artists Jekse and Cines who work together as Un Kolor Distinto. Standing over 50 metres high on the side of a 15-floor building, it is the tallest mural in Valparaíso, and one of four commissioned and funded by a regional cultural programme.
While many works around the city still tell the important story of its troubled past, we loved this piece because of its positive messages of hope, love, fertility, light and life. It seems to encapsulate the spirit of a place that has been through dark times and emerged with its vibrant and creative spirit stronger than ever.
Check out more Career Gappers Valparaiso Street Art
Cynthia Fogard of Adventuring Woman
Minneapolis, Minnesota is my hometown and my favorite city for street art. Public art is popping up all over. We have murals, mosaics, arty utility boxes, even painted streets and sidewalks. I see something new almost every time I’m out and about. (Having a poor memory, I started keeping track on my phone.)
Minneapolitans embrace art that provokes thought and change. Much Minneapolis public art has cultural, social, and political themes. Youth are a big part of the Minneapolis street art scene. “I See Generations” was the result of a project led by young people from the American Indian community.
The young woman in the portrait was part of the group who decided what message they wanted to share. That message is two-fold: connecting Native youth to their traditions and expressing who they are and their hopes for the future. It’s a monument to the power of representation. I love the flower pattern, evoking American Indian floral beadwork.
The mural is, along with two others, on the Minneapolis American Indian Center’s east wall. MAIC is one of the country’s oldest Indian centers. The murals mark the entrance to the American Indian Cultural Corridor, the only such urban corridor in the U.S. Seek out this part of East Franklin Avenue to find American Indian businesses, art, and crafts as well as vibrant public art.
Check out Adventuring Woman on Instagram
Cathy Merrifield of Roarloud
Montreal is a city full of culture, great food, endless festivals and lots and lots of street art! Visit during the Mural Festival to see art in process and a great party on Saint Laurent Boulevard. All year long you can find art around every corner and down most alleyways. Artists from around the world have graced the city with incredible murals, many take over the whole building.
Taking a street art tour is a great way to see many areas of Montreal and more murals than you can if just walking. During the cold weather, it is nice to ride around in a warm car and jump out for photos. This wave mural mesmerized me when we drove by. A pedestrian walked by at the perfect time to look engulfed in art.
Check out Street Art Chat’s Instagram
John Quinn of CarpeDiemeire
My street art city of choice is Brussels. This European capital astounded me with the sheer volume of art its streets offered. As Europe’s self crowned capital of comics, you can take the comic book street art tour, with Asterix, Tintin and The Smurfs all brightening the dull greys of the otherwise uneventful city. It doesn’t stop at the familiar characters, as 50 years of Belgian comic heroes line walls and playgrounds. There are so many hidden murals, I imagine you could easily spend a few days roaming the streets.
My favourite piece isn’t comic based though. I found it by accident, hidden on Rue de Namur. It depicts an old man whose facial hair is a mix of beard and random words. It completely captivated me, how seamlessly it all blended together and climbed along the wall. The advancing years of the man and his heavy wrinkles suggested wisdom and a warming character. I can’t tell you the meaning of the mural, but my instinct feels it is deep and poignant.
Check out more of Carpediemeire’s Brussels Street Art adventure
New York, USA
Lynn and Justin of Mad Hatters NYC
We’ve been street art fanatics for many years. But we’re pretty sure that if we weren’t fans before we arrived in New York City then the city would definitely have converted us! New York City has long been credited as one of the urban epicenters that gave rise to graffiti as an emerging art form. And because of that, It has the pedigree to attract incredible local and international talent. It also has the infrastructure to support ambitious, high-profile projects. Add to that the fact that in New York City people are vocal about the subjects they are passionate about, and you have pretty intoxicating combination.
A stunning example of all of this coming together is in this mural by Eduardo Kobra at the City-As-School High School. The public school is located in the West Village (and happens to be the high school Jean Michel Basquiat graduated from!). Kobra is a familiar name to most, as the Brazilian artist has rendered his signature murals all over the world. In 2018 he completed 18 large-scale murals throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn. This awe-inspiring 8,600 square-foot Ellis mural is one of our favorites. The five faces are portraits of real people who arrived in New York about 100 years ago and passed through Ellis Island. In one simple image, this beautiful mural initiates a dialogue about current issues, acknowledges the importance of education, and celebrates a history we can all be proud of.
Check out more of Mad Hatters NYC Street Art
Aga of A Matter of Taste
Marseille is a fantastic place to visit for street art fans. There are loads of interesting pieces around the city, especially in the Panier & Cours Julien areas. Le Panier, being the oldest neighbourhood in the city settled by Greeks in 600 BC, makes for an interesting contrast to the modern thing that is street art.
Graffiti is often used as a form of signage or advertising for local restaurants and businesses. The art also depicts current political affairs, topics important to the multicultural population of Marseille or just simply beautiful artworks. Unfortunately, at the same time, there’s also a lot of tagging (it’s always sad when tags appear on top of attractive art) and other ways of spray-can-vandalism happening too.
The stairs on the photo lead to Cours Julien. It’s a quarter on a hill, favoured by all sorts of artists, where streets are filled with street art. The stairs are also a popular hangout spot and kind of a divider between the colourful Cours Julien and the rest of the city. The art on them changes often but always stays visible from a distance.
Kasia of Kasiawrites
I’ve seen many amazing places for street art, but one of my favourites has to be in Toronto. I’ve watched the city embrace and celebrate its street art scene over the years. Today, Toronto’s street art scene is one of the most influential and dynamic in North America. Some of the best graffiti artists from all over the world have made their mark here and you can spot their work in various parts of the city.
You will find colourful and intricate designs in small alleys, street corners, buildings and public spaces. Some are small while others can cover a whole building or a good part of one. One of the best-known areas in the city for street art is the Graffiti Alley. It literally is a series of back alleys dedicated to street art that is literally everywhere you look. Another great project is the Underpass Park, created in what was once a shady underpass. Today, a skate park and colourful street art make this a popular neighbourhood hangout.
Toronto’s street art is colourful, artsy and elaborate. New pieces seem to pop up in the least expected places, making finding them a rewarding treasure hunt
Alexander Popkov of Engineer on Tour
Helsinki and Finland overall are very new to street art and it is taking its first “baby-steps”, according to Roosa, who is the organizer of street-art events in Helsinki.
There is a lot of formalities that street artist has to follow, primarily to make it fit into the surrounding area. Similarly, like cottages in Finland, fit very well into nature, the murals in Helsinki fit very well to the streets.
Like on this mural below, there is a girl that actually used to live in this house.
Many people tell that now there is a ‘street art boom’. More and more international artists are coming to work on Helsinki walls.
Check out more about Engineer on Tour’s Helsinki Street Art
Summer Rylander of Eat Something, Go Somewhere
While this example is far from the most evocative of Hong Kong’s dynamic street art scene, I’m still charmed by its unexpected location. I was somewhere in the streets of Central—a hip, energetic bar- and restaurant-laden district on Hong Kong Island—when this beetle(?) maneuvering a large ball on an unforgiving incline caught my eye. What does it all mean? Is this an expression of struggle and tenacity? An appreciation for the small creatures to which we pay no mind? I can’t say, but I do like the fact that someone saw an empty space on the side of some concrete steps and decided to brighten up the place with their creativity.
Hong Kong is full of surprises, which is why it’s not only my favorite city for street art, but my actual favorite city. The phrase “a feast for the senses” is one of those old clichés, I know, but goodness is it ever true for Hong Kong! There’s something interesting to see, listen to, smell, or taste around every corner. Don’t limit your urban exploration to just one area of the city, but do be sure to explore Sheung Wan for colorful murals, poignant graffiti, and a few pieces you’re likely to recognize from Instagram.
Check out more Summer Rylander on Instagram
George Town, Malaysia
Cassie Bailey of Cassie the Hag
Walking around George Town, Malaysia, is like a street art treasure hunt of sorts. Some of the wall art is obvious – either due to its placement on a key street or the small crowds that gather for photos – and others are tucked away down dead ends or are to be glanced at by peering over fences.
It was the Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic who transformed George Town in 2012 after being commissioned by the government. This was initially in celebration of George Town being made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009 since the town was formerly better known as being the first British Settlement in Southeast Asia. The street art has restyled a crumbling historical town into a colourful gallery of interactive artworks; by placing ‘props’ next to the artworks tourists are able to ride stationary motorbikes or play on the swings alongside illustrated local children. The pieces are thoughtful as well as playful, showing what early childhood was like in Penang a generation ago with some critical of the effect globalisation has on cultural traditions.
New artists and locals alike have now added to these artworks and some sadly of the originals are now fading. It is a special memory for me as it was only my second month into solo travel and myself and a new friend explored with such glee, playing alongside the local children as if their laughter was as real as our own; as if their painted smiles wouldn’t fade from the crumbling walls in the years to come.
See more Cassie the Hag on Instagram
During those first couple of weeks along the Caribbean coast and our month in Medellin, we were bombarded on a daily basis with some of the most incredible graffiti we’d ever seen. Finally, several weeks on, we arrived in Bogota, the epicentre of Colombian street art.
Joining a tour guided by one well-connected to the Bogota scene, we were treated to wall after wall of phenomenal murals. And then we arrived at this park. Nearly everything, from stairs to benches, were covered in these intricate patterns and tribal designs.
I’m not sure if it was the choice of colours against the grey sky and green mountains, or the sheer abundance of it all; but this was one of the most beautiful street art scenes I’ve ever witnessed.
This is an ever-growing list of amazing street art cities around the world. If you have a favourite Street Art City with a beautiful photo of your favourite piece from that city, contact us to be featured!