A well-known street artist once told us that you can see the soul of a city through its street art. From graffiti to 100-foot-tall murals, it can tell a lot about the culture, aesthetics, and issues of concern in the local community.
We’ve had many conversations with street artists in more than 30 cities and five continents. They have inspired us to explore every city that we visit through street art on the walls and public art on the streets. It has often given us an in-depth understanding of the city and the issues faced by its residents.
There is wonderful street art in New York City, Melbourne, London, Los Angeles, Buenos Aires, Lisbon, and Paris (to name just a few large cities). There are also hidden gems all over the place in mid-sized cities, small towns, and occasionally in the middle of nowhere.
Here are 10 cities that fly under the radar regarding street art. Some are top tourism destinations, while others are lesser known.
Singapore has a reputation for cleanliness, orderliness, and rules — a culture that appears to be at odds with street art. But nothing is further from the truth; there are amazing street art murals all over Singapore. The process of being able to paint a mural in Singapore is complicated and can take upwards of 1–2 years to get approval from the government. Many, many wonderful artists have gone through that process.
YC Yip is one of the most well known and you’ll find his murals in Chinatown, Tiong Bahru, Kampong Glam, and elsewhere. His murals are about the history of Singapore and life in the 1960s and ‘70s. They are great ways to understand Singapore’s history and culture. The Kampong Glam, Little India, and Joo Chiat areas have a lot of murals by many other artists. The el Lio mural by Didier Jaba Mathieu wraps around a building at Ophir and Beach Roads and is a must-see.
2. Hanoi, Vietnam
From the Imperial Citadel of Thang Long (a UNESCO World Heritage site) to the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum and the beautiful Hoan Kiem Lake (Turtle Lake), Hanoi has endless attractions for tourists of all types. While not as well known for street art, Hanoi has some wonderful pieces. Wander down to Chung Hung Street in the Old Quarter to find a series of murals depicting old Hanoi. Since the murals are painted in Tromp-l’oeil (three-dimensional optical illusion) style, you will feel as if you are walking right into the scene. It’s a great spot for interactive photos.
While not technically a painted mural, Hanoi also has the longest ceramic mosaic mural in the world (Guinness Book of World Records). It is approximately 3.7 miles long and was completed in time to celebrate the millennial anniversary of Hanoi in 2010 (new panels have been added since then). Located in the Hoan Kiem District near West and Truc Bach Lakes, it can be first spotted on the ride from the airport into the Old Quarter. Up close, it is stunning and worth the effort to see.
3. Budapest, Hungary
Budapest is a city of old and new, castles and churches, thermal baths, and chic nightclubs. Foodies, shoppers, and art lovers will find much in the city to enjoy. It is a place steeped in Jewish history and memorials, including the Shoes on the Danube, the Dohany Synagogue, and the Holocaust Memorial.
The Jewish Quarter has a lot of street art. On one block, you will find a giant Rubik’s Cube (Dob Street 10) which was invented by Hungarian Erno Rubik. On another is a giant mural of the 1957 Times cover from when the Hungarian Freedom Fighter was named Man of the Year. Walk a few more blocks (Dob Street 4) to see a mural of Angel San Briz (“Angel of Budapest”) by Okuda San Miguel. Briz saved thousands of Jews during the Holocaust. There are dozens more murals throughout the Jewish Quarter and more in parts of Buda and Pest.
4. Butterworth, Malaysia
Penang is well known as one of the top spots for street art in Asia and around the world. The scene in Butterworth developed after Penang, so it is not as well known. But it has equally stunning street art and is well worth a day trip to take in the Butterworth Art Walk. There are interesting murals that depict the area’s past and seafaring histories. While there are a lot of international street artists featured in Penang, Butterworth mainly has the work of Malaysian artists. Look for some Instagrammable spots along the alleys.
One of the easiest ways to get to Butterworth from Penang is to take the ferry from the Georgetown Ferry Terminal to the Butterworth Terminal. It’s also possible to rent a car for the trip. Grab — the Asian version of Uber rideshare — can also be used to get to Butterworth. The ferry trip takes about 20 minutes and then a 10- to 15-minute walk to the murals. The Penang Bird Park and Too Bow Tong Temple are nearby and a nice addition to the trip.
5. Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia
Many people start their trips to Borneo with a stop in Kota Kinabalu in Sabah, Malaysia. It’s a quaint, coastal city with interesting street art and great food. Not surprisingly, conservation and endangered species are featured in some of the street art in Kota Kinabalu.
The Vanishing Wall is a stunning mural painted by Sabahan artists organized by Kenji Chai. The walls speak to the destruction of the environment and depict sun bears, orangutans, pygmy elephants, and other native species running from a businessman (representing capitalism) to the forest. Some are skeletal, others are burning. It’s a very impactful mural. The mural is a short walk from the center of town. Along the way, there is a set of murals on pillars behind the HSBC bank. This mural also has an environmental theme. There is another very large mural on the Weisman building.
6. Valparaiso, Chile
In South America, people flock to Buenos Aires to see street art. Valparaiso has flown more under the radar but has equally interesting murals in the areas of Carcel, Miraflores, Alegre, Concepcion, Bellavista, and elsewhere. Just like Buenos Aires, there is a variety of styles to be seen: stencil, graffiti, spray-painted murals, and more.
Local street artist Teo’s mural inspired by Vincent van Gogh’s paintings of The Sunflowers, Cypresses, and Starry Night is on the wall of Hostal Girasoles. He even included van Gogh in the mural. The Alegre and Concepcion areas are a short walk from the Seaport. Templemen Street in Alegre is one place to start the search for street art.
7. Detroit, Michigan
The street art scene is exploding in Detroit and the Motor City is soon to become the “Street Art City.” Since the 1930s, the Detroit Industry Murals by Diego Rivera has been the most famous collection of murals in Detroit. Housed at the Detroit Institute of Arts, the mural is made up of 27 panels depicting the local auto industry.
But out on the streets, the street art scene is exploding. There are murals all over the city — Eastern Market, Southwest Detroit, the Grand River Corridor, and elsewhere. Between Rosa Parks Boulevard and Warren Avenue on the Grand River Creative Corridor, there are more than 100 murals. A must-stop on a mural tour of Detroit is the Eastern Market. Featured artists include Tashif Turner, Hebru Brantley, and Ouizi. Some of the murals are visible on the market walls and others can be seen by walking the side streets. Murals in the Market and BLKOUT Walls hold annual street art events in Detroit.
8. Jersey City, New Jersey
New York City has a prominent place in the history of street art and some of the best in the world. Less well known and across the Hudson River is Jersey City, another center for street art. Just a short hop on a train or ferry from New York City, Jersey City has street art galore. The first and easiest place to start is in downtown Jersey City. There are pieces by Shepard Fairey, Gaia, Alice Pasquini, Pixel Pancho, and others just a few blocks away from the Grove Street Station (PATH).
There are dozens of murals near the New Jersey entrance to the Holland Tunnel and underneath Route 139. Kingdom by Distort is a massive mural at 580 Luis Munoz Marin Boulevard. In addition, there is a 180-foot mural of David Bowie by Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra on Jersey Avenue. Underneath Route 139, there are dozens of murals that were painted during a Jersey City street art festival. While all of these are in Jersey City, they are closer to the Hoboken PATH stop (a 15-minute walk). Best reached by car, Jersey Heights in Jersey City also has many murals.
9. Boston, Massachusetts
Boston, Massachusetts, is known as the place to go for American history, sports, museums, and food. Street art is another reason to visit the city. There are hundreds of murals by artists such as Shepard Fairey, Silvia Lopez, Chavez, Jef Aerosol, MARKA27, Okuda San Miguel, Kenji Chai, and many other local and international artists.
Visit the Central Wharf to see Fairey’s Blue Planet mural. Roxbury is another neighborhood to see dozens of murals; on Blue Hill Avenue and Malcolm X Boulevard. Malaysian artist Chai’s work (see Kota Kinabalu above) is at 55 Malcolm X Boulevard. In the Fenway-Kenmore area, Chavez’s mural wraps around a building at 30 Leon Street. Nearby Cambridge, a short ride on the T, has many murals as well. Get off the T at Central Square and walk down Massachusetts Avenue and some side streets to see them.
Located a 45-minute drive from Boston, Salem has wonderful murals about a mile away from the more touristy areas. The Punto Urban Art Museum was created by a local nonprofit to build community and break down socio-economic barriers. All of the murals are within a three-block area in the El Punto neighborhood. Community members as well as local and international artists have come together to create an open-air museum.
10. Austin, Texas
Austin is a creative and musical city with a fantastic street art scene that reflects the city’s slogan, “Keep Austin Weird.” From the iconic Greetings From Austin mural on South First Street, to Love Will Win on Lavaca Street in the downtown area, to Goonies Never Say Die on East 6th Street, street art is everywhere in Austin. One of the famous murals in the city, You’re My Butter Half, is on the United Way Building at 2000 East Martin Luther King Boulevard.
The HOPE Outdoor Gallery is a place for new artists and visitors to try out their street art painting skills. Originally in downtown Austin, it is now near the Austin Airport. Their murals and mentors program teaches young people how to create street art. You can’t go wrong on a street art tour of Austin.
Part of the joy of street art hunting is finding new places with unique artists and perspectives. There are many cities that get an honorable mention and could be on this list in the future. Some of them include Rotorua, New Zealand; Rabat, Morocco; Phnom Penh, Cambodia; Oslo, Norway; Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa; Lynn, Massachusetts; and Nairobi, Kenya. There are dozens more sites with thriving street art communities. There is so much creativity and conversation taking place on the walls of cities all over the world. Take time to explore and discover.