A city’s street art will often tell you more about the people who live there than all of its galleries and monuments combined. We’ve picked out the best destinations for street art around the world, stretching across multiple continents and cultures.
'My God, Help Me Survive This Deadly Love' at the East Side Gallery in Berlin
Berlin is famous for its street and graffiti art, much of which still centres around the site of the Berlin Wall. The best-known site is the city’s East Side Gallery, a 1,316 metre-long section of the Berlin Wall which is covered in anonymous street art, including the notorious artwork My God, Help Me Survive This Deadly Love.
The wall is open to everyone and many artists have chosen not to claim their work, leaving big names to jostle with obscure artists. Despite this egalitarian approach, there have been accusations that some controversial pieces have been removed by the the local council.
Recent years have seen Berlin’s street art extend beyond the streets of Kreuzberg and across the river Spree to the Friedrichshain area’s Urban Spree artistic space. Just a few minutes’ walk from this gallery/bar/studios/collective hybrid, The Michelberger Hotel runs a free, daily street art tour, leaving from the hotel library at 12pm.
Muqattam, the canvas for eL Seed's tribute to Cairo's garbage collectors
Street art began appearing in the centre of Cairo during Egypt’s 2011 revolution. Artists like Abo Bakr created giant murals for the city, documenting the fighting and in memory of people killed during the uprising. Possibly the city’s most famous mural was organised by Alaa Awad, depicting Ancient Egyptians engaged in contemporary warfare.
Visitors can stay near to the birthplace of Cairo’s street art by checking into the Grand Agor Hostel, around which many murals stand. But hurry, the chance to see them is dwindling – since the revolution many of the walls have been knocked down and artists have been arrested.
While Cairo’s street art grew out of conflict as a form of resistance, it has continued to develop while the city is at peace. A recent high profile work was painted across 50 buildings by Tunisian artist eL Seed as a tribute to Cairo’s garbage collectors; climb to a certain point on Muqattam Mountain and you’ll be able to see the entire thing.
New York, USA
Chinatown in Manhattan, demonstrating the transition from graffiti to street art
New York’s street art began in the 1980s, although the wall that later become the famous Bowery Mural attracted artists as early as the 1970s. At the same time, contemporary street art was developing and quickly spread from then-empty neighbourhoods like the Lower East Side to Soho and beyond. Today, practically every corner of New York has some connection to the post-graffiti movement.
The last few decades have seen the Bowery Mural become an exhibition space for established street artists like Keith Haring, Crash, Martha Cooper, and Maya Hayuk. Similar projects have also appeared in Brooklyn waterfront neighbourhoods, Williamsburg and Dumbo. Meanwhile, over in Bushwick local residents like Joe Ficalora are commissioning street murals themselves to brighten the neighbourhood.
As street art is so established in New York, many hotels, bars, and local businesses offer street art-related events, with Hotel Quin hosting Nick Walk as their graffiti artist in residence.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Street art in Argentina's capital city
Buenos Aires’ street art began to develop in the 1990s, when local artists were inspired by the international street art movement developing in places like New York and Berlin. Large scale murals began to appear on deserted buildings and in 2015 Alfredo Segatori painted Argentina’s longest mural (21,528 square feet) on the shores of the Matanza-Riachuelo River.
Empty buildings and a relative lack of legal restrictions in Buenos Aires have proved attractive to both local and international street artists. Work currently on display include artists as aesthetically and culturally diverse as Spok, Carolina Cuore, Blu, Lean Frizzera, Ren, El Marian, and Fintan Magee.
Many building owners even encourage artists to work on their properties and there are regular street art tours all over the city. The Graffitimundo collective hosts public and private tours, and runs a street art gallery in Palermo Hollywood (stay within easy walking distance at the Vitrum Hotel). Meanwhile there are family-orientated tours and workshops from BA Street Art Tours.
George Town, Malaysia
'Children on the Swing' by Louis Gan in George Town, Malaysia
George Town became a UNESCO World Heritage city in 2012, and in celebration, the Penang Island Municipal Council funded a project to decorate the streets with art work. The majority of this project centred around Chulia Street and was curated by Gabija Grusaite and drawn by Ernest Zacharevic.
The popularity of the murals led to increased government support of the city’s street artists and today George Town is bursting with street art. Including the 101 Lost Kittens project — a campaign to create awareness around stray animals — murals like Kungfu Girl, Procession, and the Welcome to George Town street sculpture series.
In a similar manner to New York, many hotels in George Town now feature commissioned street art, such as the 101 metre mural at Hotel Jen, completed by artist J.M.Y.E.S. Whichever hotel you stay at, you’re bound to find a free map of where to find the city’s best street art.