I travel for a lot of things: for history, architecture, food, the sunsets, and of course, for street art.
As much as I can, whenever I arrive in a new city, I keep on the lookout for street art, appreciating the medium’s unique charm.
As I have said in my post about the art on the Berlin Wall, when it comes to street art, all artists are equally deserving of the space. What could be a master’s work one day can be replaced by chicken scratches the next. Street art is transitory, and thus all the more valuable.
When I received a guest post for my Visit South America series about the best places to see street art in South America, it inspired me to come up with a post as well about the best places to see street art in Europe. Rather than just get one person to write it though, I decided to ask fellow travelers.
Here are their favorite cities in Europe for street art.
In the last couple of years, the abandoned buildings and obscured roads of Athens have been covered with street art.
The reason behind this artistic explosion seems to be the economic crisis that ravages the city. Through street art, the artists express their social and political views. Although street art is considered to be illegal in Greece, there are a couple of shopkeepers and property owners who ask the artists to paint their shops. Even the municipality of Athens has commissioned some of them to paint some buildings.
Nowadays, street art can be found almost in every neighborhood, but majority can be seen in Psiri, Monastiraki, and Exarchia in downtown Athens. It has become so popular that one can find a lot of guided tours, some of them made from the artists themselves.
One of my favorite artwork can be found in the streets of Psiri and it is called “All dogs go to heaven.” It is dedicated to a dog named Loukanikos that got famous by being photographed in the protests against the austerity measures a few years ago that took place in the center of Athens. (Text and photo by Chrysoula Manika of Travel Passionate)
When I visited the remote islands of the Azores, I had no idea of what to expect. I only knew they were the capital of the Portuguese cheese and that there were more cows than people living in the islands. So, when I came across some of the most incredible murals and graffities, I have to admit I was blown away!
The city of Ponta Delgada – capital of the archipelago – decided to take a step forward, and transform the gray, boring walls of the city into colorful displays of local art. Every year, a different local artist is invited to paint a wall and give life to a dead space.
Most of the street art found in Ponta Delgada has a message of hope and education behind it as well as political manifestos. So if you visit the far away Portuguese Azorean islands, you’ll be greeted with top murals and street art that will leave you breathless. (Text and photo by Yara Coelho of Heart of a Vagabond)
Barcelona is known for its beaches, nightlife, and Gaudi. However, this magical city holds so many other secrets! Barcelona is teeming with different urban tribes and vibrant subcultures, squats, street performers, travelers, hippies… It is an artistic hub: it attracts architects, designers, painters, video artists, and all kinds of creatives. It is also the skateboarding capital of the world.
This environment gives birth to extraordinary street art. The narrow streets of Barcelona’s old town are the perfect mix of medieval charm and modern urban grunge. The street art here ranges from small hidden paintings and enormous murals, to installations created out of trash.
The best sites to see street art in Barcelona are el Raval, el Gotíc and Poble Nou, but murals and spray paintings can also be encountered in unexpected locations all over the city. Some bars include street art as part of interior decor, the best example being Nevermind (which also includes an indoor skating ramp). The Squat La Carboneria features an enormous mural, depicting a hot-air-balloon-house escaping the confines of a jail-like city.
The documentary Las Calles Hablan explores the hidden world of street art in Barcelona for those who want to learn more. (Text and photo by Polina Kocheva)
As I was wandering the empty and quiet streets of Old Town Basel, my first evening in town, I turned a corner and came across this mural. WOW, did it catch my eye – how could it not? It’s huge, brightly colored and intriguing. Such a contrast compared to the darker, nondescript streets of Old Town.
It’s directly across from the Restaurant Bar L’Unique on a well lighted street – you can’t miss it once you’re in the area! There is so much detail in this mural, so much that I went into the bar of L’Unique and sat by the window staring at this street art for an hour trying to identify all the Rock legends.
The restaurant-bar “L’Unique” commissioned this mural painted by ART4000 to bring the glory days of classic rock legends from the 60s and 70s to Downtown Basel.
The wall shows portraits of rock stars like Janis Joplin, Keith Richert, Mick Jagger, Jim Morrison and the Doors, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Pearl Jam, Dave Groll and the Foo Fighters, Grateful Dead, Jethro Tull, Kurt Cobain, Frank Zappa, Madonna, Pink Floyd, and Bob Marley.
The famous Rolling Stones tongue logo, Who Mod Target logo, and Woodstock Festival logo with a dove sitting on a guitar are integrated in the design as well as the Beatles’ album cover “Abbey Road” with George Harrison, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, and John Lennon walking the crosswalk. When you’re in Basel, make sure to visit this street! (Text and photo by Inta Fish of Curious Cat Expat)
There are so many great street art around Berlin. The presence of graffiti there is almost mind-blowing.
The first time I went to the city, I wanted to see Blu’s artwork in Kreuzberg, a beautiful mural showing the torso of a man straightening his tie and wearing gold watches on both wrists which are connected by a chain. I call it the Golden Handcuffs and it became a symbol for that part of Kreuzberg.
It won’t be long, however, before the buildings on which the murals are painted will be torn down, replaced by apartments and commercial establishments. So if you want to see Blu’s artwork, do it now before it is too late. (Text and photo by Marcela Faé of Fotostrasse)
You can barely walk 100 meters through the city of Bristol, in England’s west, without stumbling across an interesting lane way or street full of art.
For those in the know, this shouldn’t come as a surprise, because this is where world-famous street artist Banksy hails from. For me however, it was a pleasant and unexpected surprise. A world class street art scene was not something I expected to be seeing on my day exploring the city.
The street art scene in Bristol is so big that it is actually home to Europe’s largest street art and graffiti festival, UpFest, which is held each year in July. It attracts artists from all over the world wanting to add their creativity to any vacant piece of wall, allowing them to be among street art royalty.
This particular piece, one of my favorites from the day, can be found right in the heart of the city on Nelson Street. It’s called ‘See No Evil’ and was created by famous Italian street artist Mr Wany. (Text and photo by Jen Seligmann of The Trusted Traveller)
In Copenhagen, there is a city-within-a-city, Christiania, a place where freethinkers and artists converged and governed themselves. They have their own laws, flag, and currency. They build their own houses, use their own particular mode of transport (the Christiania bikes), and are very protective of their freedom.
In this culture, art is very much thriving, including street art. Virtually almost every public wall in Christiania is filled with artwork, from the walls separating it from the EU, to their commercial establishments, museum, schools, and even houses (See the house above? Isn’t it amazing?).
Christiania is definitely a must-visit when you’re in the Danish capital! (Read: Exploring Freetown Christiania)
My husband and I are very passionate about street art and try to search out big and small pieces wherever we go. One of the places we visited recently and really liked was Dresden.
Street art in Dresden is mostly around the Neustadt, the ‘new city’, which funnily enough is the oldest part of Dresden, the only part of town to survive the 1945 firebombing.
You won’t find many of the big, bold walls that you get, for example, in Athens or Berlin.
Most street art in Dresden is made up of small pieces or paste ups, because most artists are not yet famous and work at night, eluding the police. Small pieces that take only a few minutes to complete are obviously easier to complete.
This is one of the reasons why we loved Dresden street art so much. It’s miles away from the ‘fashionable’ commissioned big walls of famous artists (that I still love), and feels like street art in its primacy – the work of young artists looking for a way to express themselves. (Text and photo by Margherita Ragg of The Crowded Planet)
Someone once told me that the presence of street art shows the intellectual richness of a city. I never stopped believing in that statement. When I moved to Hamburg, I felt at home all of a sudden. Hamburg showed me a completely different face of German society which is believed to be very stiff. Not true. Well, at least, not in Hamburg.
The society in Hamburg is participating; it is involved and engaged. It has a very strong subculture which goes back to 80s. The residents constantly fight for their city and claim it back from the rich real estate speculators.
I remember having a real goosebumps moment as Beginner (a famous Hamburger hip hop band) had a gig for free in front of “Rote Flora” in the neighborhood of Schanzenviertel. Thousands of people gathered to celebrate (under the rain) the 25th anniversary of its occupation, saving it from being turned into just another musical theater. It has since become a meeting point for political awareness.
Luckily there are many more buildings and neighborhoods like this in Hamburg, like St. Pauli, Harbour Street, Gezi Park Fiction, and Gängeviertel, among others. They all present themselves in the form of street art as well. You will be surprised at the creativity of this city when you see the works of street artists like OZ, who was famous for spraying smileys all over the city. Unfortunately, OZ, the grandfather of German sprayers, died in 2014 while spraying. Rest in peace, OZ. (Text and photo by Cansel Sörgens of Citizen on Earth)
I had no idea the street art scene in Lisbon, Portugal was so big, until I took a guided street art tour.
Apparently I have only seen a small part of it in the couple hours of touring, and that’s saying a lot, considering the huge amount I got to enjoy. It’s pretty organized as well, and not too random. There are lots of big walls, such as a long city center wall where street art legends share sections and showcase their skills. There is also a very long wall, around a metal hospital, that’s painted blue, where amazing artists paint insane street art murals.
Even the city of Lisbon supports good street art, by flying in famous artists from Brazil to paint whole buildings to make them appealing. Moral of to the story: Lisbon is one of the best cities on Europe when it comes to street art. (Text and photo by Justin Carmack of True Nomads)
You may might not be able to pinpoint Slovenia on a map let alone spell the name of its tongue-twisting capital, but if you’re in search of cutting-edge European street art, Ljubljana is where it’s at.
Slovenia is a well-known rock climbing nation, but it seems passion for scaling heights has been commandeered for creating art on concrete as the city’s urban side, including the prevalent street art scene, is now in the spotlight. Lonely Planet recently named Ljubljana one of the top ten places to visit in Europe and Wallpaper has just produced one of their design-led guides to the city.
Lovers of the urban outdoors can find the biggest concentration of alternative art in the mecca that is the Metelkova district – this ultra-hip artists’ area is in the abandoned Slovenian headquarters of the Yugoslav National Army and is the perfect place for an art tour by day, or a drinking session by night, packed with innovative and unusual designs created with tiles, sculpture, and installations as well as a spray can.
Imagine if Berlin’s art scene mated with Copenhagen’s hippie Free State of Christiania and spawned a very cool love child; that child is called Metelkova, and I guarantee you won’t mind baby-sitting. (Text and photo by Jaillan Yehia of Savoir There)
Leake Street in London is a 300-meter long tunnel with a difference. Colorful and cool rather than dark and damp, this tunnel, also known as “Banksy Tunnel” or “Graffiti Tunnel,” runs under the platform and tracks of Waterloo Station.
In 2008, this bog-standard London tunnel was transformed into a giant exhibition space for some of the world’s top graffiti artists by Banksy’s ‘Cans Festival.’ Artists who took part included C215, Blek le Rat, Faile, Pure Evil, Logan Hicks, Eelus, and of course, Banksy himself.
Nowadays, the tunnel is transformed almost daily by budding graffiti artists who use the tunnel to display their art, thanks to a council ruling that says it’s not illegal to graffiti inside the tunnel as with anywhere else in London. Take a can of spray paint along and create your own art! (Text and photo by Hannah Kacary of That Adventurer)
It was that right amount of dusk. The time of day when the sun hasn’t quite disappeared but has started to give way to the cool that evening brings.
My family and I were walking the cobbled stone streets of Modena, Italy, on our way to find a place to eat. We were heading to the pedestrian only Piazza Della Pomposa when we happened upon an imposing mural painted on the side of a mustard colored building on via Nazario Sauro.
My immediate impression was an appreciation of the play on color, in which the work mirrored the color scheme of the building facade. However, the character depicted on the mural was less pleasing to the eye. A rodent clutching onto Euro coins with a noose wrapped around its neck.
As the sun went down for good, we walked away from the image and I was left questioning. Was it a political satire of sorts? Maybe. The hair on my arms began to stand. Was it from the cool of the evening? Or was I simply left with a feeling of being a bit disturbed?
The work by Ericailcane certainly left an impression. (Text by Andrew Tolentino and photo by Brenda Tolentino of Dish Our Town)
The St-Ouen Flea Market is the largest market in or just outside of Paris, with more than 2,000 stalls. Many people refer to these markets also as the Clignancourt markets, as that is the station on the Metro that you arrive at.
When you leave the Metro and start to wander through the streets, and past the many hawkers is when you see street art on many surfaces.
The Flea Market came into being when Napoleon insisted that Paris be cleaned up. The peasants who were selling their wares from the pavement were suddenly made to sell their goods from erected shops and they had to pay taxes. This made their lives more difficult as they had to come up with better goods to sell and to make money to pay the taxes and survive.
The area where these flea markets are, is quite vibrant and different. I loved this piece of street art that we saw when we arrived here. (Text and photo by Paula McInerney of Contented Traveller)
Portugal’s second city, Porto, appears to have finally embraced street art and currently plays host to several talented artists.
The council not only supported an indoor street art exhibition in 2014, it also commissioned at least one gigantic mural that I know of in the heart of the city’s art district. They haven’t always been so indulgent and had a tendency of indiscriminately painting over some extremely well-executed pieces.
Perhaps one of the most prolific local street artists is Hazul. I first noticed his work a few years ago but he’s been very busy since then, despite the council obliterating some of his earlier work with white paint.
You’ll find his distinctive designs all over Porto city center. In fact, there’s now a map to help you track down all 56 of them. Whether in black and white or color, Hazul’s human figures are usually hooded and mysterious. He also seems partial to stylized fish and birds as well as interlinked geometric shapes. (Text and photo by Julie Dawn Fox in Portugal)
Prague, Czech Republic
One of Europe’s most well-known stretch of graffiti is the Lennon Wall located in the otherwise upscale embassy district of Mala Strana in Prague.
It started as a wall dedicated to the former Beatle, whose assassination in 1980 triggered massive public outrage including among the youth in what was then communist Czechoslovakia. Since then, the wall has evolved and become reflective of the times.
From the collapse of the Eastern Bloc in the late 80s/early 90s to the war on terror, the wall has been painted over with several layers of artwork reflecting the frustrations and ideals of generations of Czechs.
Though owned by the Knights of Malta, the wall has served as a canvas for each passing artist, including tourists who decide to leave their own memento at the site. (Text and photo by Albino Chua of I Wandered)
Reykjavik is known for its street art, and you really don’t need to wander that far to find it.
Murals decorate the buildings all along the main Laugavegur street. You can also take a trip out to Heart Park, which will only cost your bus fare and is one of the city’s little secret street art locations.
We trekked out past the Old Harbor to find this amazing piece by Guido van Helten. It’s a three-part piece, which is so lifelike that we couldn’t help but stop and stare at it for quite some time. (Text and photo by Holly & Caileigh Robertson of The Brave Little Cheesehead)
In the last few years, Rome has literally been invaded by some incredible street art painted by both Italian and foreign artists. They have changed the look of entire neighborhoods, showing that Rome is more than classic art and archeological sites.
Street art can be found in areas such as Quadraro, Pigneto, San Basilio, Prenestina, or in the abandoned industrial sites of Ostiense, and they show a rather surprising side of the Italian capital.
Street art projects in Rome are usually discussed with the people living in the area to be affected, and they attract increasing number of tourists. The paintings have so far been commissioned by private citizens, as well as by the local governments or associations.
The M.U.R.O. (literally translated, the acronym means “wall”) project of the Quadraro area is like an open air museum, just as its creator, David Daivù Vecchiato, wanted. I particularly liked the Tunnel del Quadraro, in via Decio Mure, where artist Mr. THOMS painted his “Il RisucchiAttore,” as well as the “Nido di Vespe” painted by Lucamaleonte in Via del Monte del Grano. (Text by Claudia Tavani of My Adventures Across the World and photo by Lavinia Monaco)
The city of Sofia, the capital of Bulgaria, is surprisingly full of street art. The most famous street art pieces are created by the so-called Transformatori group, a group of local artists.
So what did they do? They started some years ago by painting boring transformer boxes in the most colorful ways possible. This idea was supported by the municipality of the city. How cool is that?
There are now over 50 transformer boxes transformed into art by over 30 different artists , which results in them having very unique styles. Watch out for them mostly around Rakovski Street and Tsar Shishman Street. (Text and photo by Clemens Sehi of Anekdotique)
This colorful piece of street art was the first to catch our eye in the Estonian town of Tartu.
We were wandering the streets with no particular aim when we came across a large mural beside a set of stairs near the center of the Old Town; the photograph here is just a section of the painting which features five other, equally funky, characters.
Once we’d noticed this bit of street art, we began to notice more and more until we realized it was actually quite prolific in the town. Later, we asked at our hostel and discovered that since 2010, Tartu has held an annual street art festival, called Stencibility. The hostel provided us with a map showing the locations of more street art.
The painting in which we saw the Hindu god Ganesh as a telly tubby alongside a meditating Maggie from The Simpsons (not sure if that’s just our interpretation!) was by artists Okeiko & Hypnobooster and was created for the 2013 festival.
One great feature of the street art in Tartu is that there is more and more to see each year. Definitely a must-visit for street art lovers! (Text and photo by Kirsty Bennetts of Kathmandu & Beyond)
Most people venture to Zaragoza for the historical importance it holds as a former outpost of the Roman Empire at its strength, but also for the mixed history of Moorish occupation following the fall of the Empire.
Walking through the city you can feel the history, the age of the buildings; but hidden down the alleyways and between the collapsing buildings you’ll find the opposite to the old – new street art by hundreds of artists, including this large piece by ROA, one of Belgium’s most notable street art exports.
Within Zaragoza, street art is EVERYWHERE. (Text and photo by Dale and Franca of angloitalian)
There you go, 21 cities in Europe that’s best for street art. Have you been to any of these? What else can you recommend?
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Aleah Taboclaon is a freelance writer and editor. She likes running (completed one marathon, training for the next!), diving (PADI open water diver), and traveling with her Kindle. Connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and Google Plus. You can also email her; she would love to hear from you!