Art historians tell us that humans have been creating murals for thousands of years as a way to share our lives with others. In recent history, outdoor murals have been a popular place to share political and social movements or simply bring color and beauty to an otherwise ugly space.
At one time, cities fought to keep muralists away, often criminalizing the painting of public or private spaces, but the tide has turned. As large, colorful outdoor murals have begun to attract visitors, cities now commission these artworks.
I’ve had the chance to explore outdoor murals around the world and I’ll share a few of my favorite destinations.
In 1990, artists from 21 countries began painting murals along the infamous Berlin Wall, the ugly concrete structure once used to separate East and West Germany. Eventually, this became known as the East Side Gallery and is the world’s longest open-air gallery.
Long before the East Side Gallery was created, Berliners were well known for their graffiti walls that often contained political messages. A few of these can be seen along the back of the gallery, adjacent to the Spree River.
2. Buenos Aires
Street art has long been socially acceptable in Buenos Aires and the city government itself has a history of commissioning murals. It’s no wonder this city tops most lists of best cities for outdoor murals. Political themes are popular as are murals dedicated to the country’s favorite sport, fútbol (also known as soccer).
Located in the Barracas neighborhood, El Regreso de Quinquela is the longest mural in the world painted by one artist, Alfredo “El Pelado” Segatori. Both the Barracas and nearby La Boca neighborhoods are well known for their colorful houses and numerous giant murals. Many are politically themed but with a healthy dose of humor thrown in.
3. New York City
The first outdoor murals began appearing in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood in the 1960s. In the 1970s, the Lower East Side became known as the cradle of the city’s mural movement. Today, there are murals of all sizes and styles gracing walls throughout the five boroughs.
If you want to see where it all began, head to the Graffiti Wall of Fame in East Harlem. If you’re looking for more recent artworks, you’ll find them in DUMBO, a trendy neighborhood within Brooklyn. Here you’ll find eight painted walls near the York Street subway station.
4. Los Angeles
Los Angeles has a long history of murals dating back to the Chicano movement of the 1960s and 1970s. But the city government hasn’t always been supportive of these artists, often prohibiting any street art. Fortunately, this tactic didn’t work and artists from around the world have been known to show off their talents on walls throughout the city.
Among the best areas to see outdoor murals in LA is the Arts District in downtown. Within easy walking distance are dozens of murals of all shapes, sizes, styles, and topics. One of the oldest and best known murals is Undiscovered America by Earth Crew 2000, first painted in 1992 and restored 25 years later.
American artist Keith Haring helped jump start the outdoor mural trend in Melbourne in 1984 when he painted the Keith Haring Mural in the Collingwood neighborhood. A city known for its tolerance has long supported street art, thus making it one of the most colorful in the world.
Hosier Lane, often referred to as “practice alley,” is the epicenter of street art in Melbourne. Here you’ll find art from both newbies and pros. Music lovers should not miss AC/DC Lane — named in honor of the Australian rock band –— featuring a range of murals dedicated to musicians.
London has all the typical outdoor murals you’d find in any major city, but it has something unique to add to the genre — works by the mysterious artist Banksy. His first stenciled wall art appeared in Bristol, England, in the 1990s. Today, many of his provocative artworks can be found throughout London.
Brick Lane is considered the epicenter of street art in the UK and over a dozen murals can be found in this one area. Another popular destination for mural spotting is Shoreditch, boasting murals of exceptional size.
The prevalence of outdoor murals has been increasing for decades. Cities that once banned them have pivoted and encouraged their presence to attract visitors and beautify once drab neighborhoods. Today, street art is a major attraction in cities of all sizes prompting both guided and self-guided tours.
Before your next trip to Berlin, Buenos Aires, Los Angeles, New York, Melbourne, or London, be sure to research where you can see outdoor murals of all kinds. At the same time, keep your eyes open for new murals as they are always in the works.