In recent years, the boom in cultural recognition of street art has been hard to ignore; reevaluation and reclassification of this traditionally antisocial art form have led to a new appreciation for spray can-wielders everywhere. These days cities are more likely to embrace street artists seeing the value of their work, and rightly so. Their ability to transform otherwise unattractive structures, and even reinvigorate an abandoned area of town, has done a lot to help and beautify countless communities. In honour of these urban illustrators, we’ve listed our picks of 10 European street art cities below.
In the past decade Bristol has been synonymous with street art, specifically graffiti from the artist Banksy. Although he isn’t the be all and end all in the UK street art world, his wide-spread acclaim cannot be ignored. Many of his best-known pieces first appeared here, and many exhibitions have been held locally in his honour, with his current works reaching the heady prices of £120,000+. All this attention has lead to a healthy appreciation of street art in Bristol, along with a large fan base of up-and-coming artists. The city’s involvement in street art actually goes back a few decades when numerous artists, including Nick Walker – who is regarded as having first introduced stencil graffiti to the area – were active in the original 80s graffiti boom.
Although there are many fan-based sites offering interactive maps of the city and advice on where to see the best pieces, Bristol Street Art Tours offer a walking guide which will ensure you don’t miss the most exciting works. In any case, don’t miss Nelson Street, which was transformed as part of the See No Evil project, as well as Banksy’s famous piece on Park Street (pictured above). The annual street art festival UpFest ensures new pieces are added to the city yearly, and a local crowd, inspired by the cities notability for graffiti art, have become active in creating dynamic art pieces.
Cologne has such strong connections with the European street art scene that it is sometimes referred to as the “European Mecca” for urban artists. Over the years, street art in Cologne has developed from an underground culture into a legitimately regarded art form, and is displayed in many galleries and celebrated at numerous festivals. To ensure you see as much of this graffiti holy land as possible, CityLeaks offer many tours between May and July, covering the important city quarters of Innenstadt, Kwartier Latäng, Ehrenfeld, and Belgisches Viertel. These final two districts are probably the most famous for their contributions towards illustrations in the city, both being student districts with many bars, clubs and restaurants. El Bocho, a famous street artist from Berlin, has contributed some of Cologne’s most recognised works, with his subjects centering around communication and city life. His colourful works are made up of a specific, very unique drawing style, giving his pieces high recognition value. You can see one of his works in the picture above, found in Heliosstraße in Cologne Ehrenfeld.
Artists such as Hardnesh, Matthew Dawn, Blisser (work pictured above), Jolly and Night have made Ghent their creative stomping ground, but the city’s most recognised spray can wielder is ROA. Having decorated walls across the world with his trademark animal images, you can check out his work on an organised Street Art Belgium Tour, or download one in a choice of languages from their website. Don’t miss Werregarenstraat, also known as the graffiti alley: a whole road dedicated to street art and one of the few places in the city where it is completely legal.
Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Graffiti art in Rotterdam has had creators and an appreciative audience for the last few years, however an event in 2009, Reflexo on Urban Art (the R.U.A), bought numerous big and beautiful art pieces to the city, of which there are still 5 left. Be sure to check out the renowned piece from Horoiwa called Cryptic Duality, and take a walk along the colourful Noorderkanaalweg. Tours of the city are available through MAMA, an art collective whose Kunstblock Tours also include a graf lesson.
Although many visitors to Granada come for Alhambra, a moorish palace declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city is also famous for its surrealistic street art scene. The modern art form sits in juxtaposition to many of its ancient attractions, of which there are plenty in one of the oldest cities in the Iberian peninsula. One of the most famous artists here is Raúl Ruíz, known as “El Niño de las Pinturas” (the painting kid), whose letters are highly stylised and often form quotes and inspiring sentences. Arguably his most famous pieces is an image of Joe Strummer, painted in 2013. To ensure you see this and many more notable pieces, try a Street Art and Caves Tour. Starting from 3pm each day at the Oasis Hotel, they stop by the most notable graffiti, as well as the city caves where a commune of hippies now lives. Tours are free, although tipping is encouraged. If you’d rather go it alone check out the areas of Cuesta Escoriaza, Calle Molinos, Calle Vistilla de los Ángeles and Colegio de Santo Domingo de Guzmán.
The chic, cool, and big brand dominated city of Milan may seem like the last place you’d find an active counter-culture of urban art, however, art in the form of graffiti and sculptures is rife here. Artistic duo Urbansolid have implanted numerous bodies and body parts protruding from the sides of buildings. One of their objectives is to bring graffiti to life, hence their inclusion of 3D objects. The museum Spazio Wow, dedicated to comic books, is aptly decorated with vibrant cartoony images, with the terrace here having been painted by one of the regions most famous street artists, Nais. To ensure you see as much of the artistry as possible, join a Waam Tour, or show yourself around the neigbourhoods of Navigli or the design street via Tortona. Quartiere Isola, near Porta Garibaldi metro station, is also worth swinging by; it’s an upcoming area that was painted legally as part of a rejuvenation project. If the weather isn’t so great when visiting the Fashion Capital, pop into The Don Gallery, which specialises in street art exhibitions.
France’s second largest city, and specifically the area of Cours Julien, houses numerous hipster neighbourhoods decorated with unmissable street art. The Cours Julien itself is a district full of artists, musicians and “bobos”, a slang term in French for the bourgeoisie. The street art here is vibrant and large, with beautiful murals covering whole sides of buildings. Images focus on everything from film references to commentaries on social issues. The vast number of themes the paintings touch upon are reflective of Marseille as a multicultural melting pot, and it is little wonder the city was voted 2013’s European Capital of Culture.
The historically industrial city of Linz is using street art to try and reinvigorate some of the closed factories that helped make this area financially strong. For instance the “tabakfabrik” tobacco factory is now used as a space for artist’s ateliers, exhibitions and youth projects. Similarly, Soulvention is a group who offer tours and workshops to teach the art of graf, and help to make the city a little brighter. Boxoffice is another working space, which invites world-renowned artists to decorate the largely abandoned harbour area. Directly on the Danube you can see works of Roa from Belgium, Aryz from Spain and Stohead from Hamburg. To get a view of some of the amazing art here take a boat tour around the docks, which have even been known to gain standing ovations from their audiences due to the imagery on display.
Porto is another city in which abandoned buildings are being given a new lease of life via the medium of street art. Structures that had been deserted for decades are now attractively decorated in vibrant colours and styles. Earlier this year between May and June a huge expo took place in the city, the first of its kind, with five floors dedicated to the appreciation of street art. National and international artists were on display, with many paintings from this still visible on Porto’s streets. Hazul, one of the most popular artists here has over 60 pieces displayed throughout the city, and is currently working on a map to assist fans in finding them all. Those who would rather be shown around by a professional can begin a tour at Inky Graffiti and Street Art Shop. The guided tours by a professional artist include trips on buses, trams and the metro to discover the main street art areas of the city, including the historic centre, the Barrio das Artes and the city’s abandoned factories.
Street art in Greece is a fairly recent phenomenon, with most of the current artists having been instigated into action during the recent economic crisis. Artists struggling through this time began decorating the city to demonstrate their dissatisfaction in the state of the country under the motto of “crisis makes creative”. An annual festival in Thessaloniki now gives artists a space to showcase their talents alongside bands, skate shows and dance performances. One of the most famous artists here, WD (whose name stands for Wild Drawing), creates dark, socio-critical pieces which can be seen in locations across the city. One of his most famous pieces, inspired by Bjork, is known as “Pagan Poetry” (above). Further popular pieces can be found on the wall of the student flats on Telloglou Street which, unsurprisingly, depict the financial ruin of the once glorious ancient Greece. Although there are examples of notable street art pretty much everywhere, a Street Art City Tour by The Box Gallery offer experienced guides to show you around the streets and introduce you to the best and most important street art projects in town. If you’re lucky, you can watch an artist painting live and have a chat with them about the work.