The Best Cities For Street Art Around The World

I’ve always loved a good art gallery but I know not everyone feels the same way. I get it. Looking at still life oil-on-canvases isn’t for everyone. But the good news is that some of the coolest art in the world isn’t locked away in stuffy art galleries or museums – there are plenty of creative paintings and murals on the sides of buildings, along fences and across public walls.

Graffiti has been around since ancient times but what has really changed is way the many people now perceive the public scribblings. From a mark of gang culture and vandalism to a political statement to genuine artistic expression, graffiti has evolved with the times and is now accepted as “street art” in cities all over the world. Here are a handful of places known for their vibrant street art culture across Europe, South America and The Pacific.

Valparaiso, Chile

This city located close to the Chilean capital is famous for the colorful houses and murals, which line its steeply hilled streets. The extreme incline between one part of town and the next created the need for lots and lots of staircases, many of which have now been turned into richly hued works of art.

Graffiti took off in this city back in the ’70s as a way to protest the Pinochet regime and was initially frowned upon but as the years progressed, the city decided to let the street art flourish. As a visitor to Valparaiso, you cannot only wander the colorful laneways, you can get your hands dirty too. The city runs tours where you can actually hit the streets and create some graffiti with the aid of local artists who help you design your own unique stencils.

London, England

London might be home to some of the most celebrated art galleries in the world, but the city is quickly making a name for itself as a street art hub as well. Parts of the city that were once rundown and off the tourist radar have now been regenerated and have become prime places to view colorful murals.

East End is one of the off-the-beaten-track neighborhoods where many street artists have flocked. While some of the artwork in the area is done furtively, a surprising number of artists are commissioned to put their mark on the city’s public spaces. A few artist’s work to keep an eye out for include “Stik,” so named because he draws stick men across the city; Christiaan Nagel, who leaves colorful sculpted mushrooms on the rooftops of buildings; and Pablo Delgado, who creates miniature “paste up” images all over East London.

Berlin, Germany

Berlin is a street art lover’s paradise with both historical graffiti and a thriving present-day art scene to take in. Graffiti really took off here in the ’80s with those on the west side of the Berlin Wall expressing their beliefs and frustrations with the aid of spray cans. After the fall of the wall, graffiti spread throughout Berlin, and although large chunks of the wall are now gone, you can still see many murals left over from times past.

There are also a new crop of street artists that have made a name for themselves leaving their signature artwork on the sides of buildings across the city. While street art is technically illegal in Berlin, it’s such a draw card for visitors that the city still promotes it.

Melbourne, Australia

Melbourne has long been Australia’s artistic capital and there’s as much to see out on the streets as there is in the galleries. Graffiti got its start here in the ’70s and ’80s and there has always been a heavy focus on what’s known as “stencil art.”

In more recent years, the street art has evolved to include other techniques, including street installations, woodblocking and reverse graffiti – a method, which involves carving an image out of dirt (like you might do on a car window). Over the past decade, Melbourne has also held a number of stencil festivals where the public can watch live demonstrations, listen to debate about graffiti, take part in workshops and more.

[Photo credits: Flickr users szeke, Gabriel White, bobaliciouslondon, Gianni Dominici, m.a.r.c.]

Luxury Vacation Guide 2012: East London

London, a perennial tourist favorite, is no stranger to the luxury travel market. What’s relatively new is the proliferation of luxury hotels and other venues in traditionally working-class East London.

In 2012, East London’s reputation as luxury territory will intensify. Why? The Olympics, mostly. London hosts the Summer Olympics from July 27 through August 13. The Olympic Village along with many Olympics sites are are located in London’s East, far beyond the capital’s traditional tourist sites.

London’s East has seen significant high-end hotel development over the last several years. Luxury hotels like Hoxton Hotel, Andaz Liverpool Street by Hyatt, Boundary, Shoreditch House, and Bethnal Green’s Town Hall Hotel have transformed East London’s hotel scene.

Edgy fashion, weekend markets, and various creative venues will continue to characterize East London, but there are luxury shopping opportunities as well. East London is packed with galleries and specialty shops, with particularly interesting hubs in Shoreditch and Spitalfields.

For dining, there is the outstanding Viajante, a Michelin-starred restaurant, located in the Town Hall Hotel in Bethnal Green. Other Michelin-starred restaurants not far from the East London hubbub include St. John Bar and Restaurant in Clerkenwell (with a less formal outpost, St. John Bread & Wine, in Spitalfields) and Club Gascon, located just inside the City of London, across from Smithfield Market.

[flickr image via Harshil.Shah]

World’s first pop-up mall: London’s Boxpark

Millions of us will head to the mall this week to return gifts or buy what we really wanted from the after-Christmas sales. Chain stores, fast food courts, and packed parking lots are what most of us associate with shopping malls, but a new retail concept in hip East London is looking to change that. Boxpark is the world’s first pop-up mall, made out of 60+ shipping containers that house a mix of international labels like The North Face and Levi’s, UK designers Luke and Boxfresh, plus cafes and eateries such as Pieminister. Boxpark will be open for five years, and stores may change after a year or two. Befitting the Shoreditch neighborhood, don’t expect Claire’s Accessories or the Gap, but rather street fashion, cool sneakers, and funky concept stores and art galleries Art Against Knives and Marimekko. Already a huge trend with restaurants, one-off shops, and hotels, the flexibility of the pop-up concept means an urban (or anywhere, since the containers can be moved!) location, up-and-coming designers, and more creative retail spaces.

Check out all the retailers at plus info on sales and special offers.

Round-the-world: Victoria Park Village, London’s most perfect retail cluster

London is the final stop on our round-the-world trip. This stop is different than the seven that preceded it; from the moment the plane lands, we are no longer in vacation mode. The point of our visit is to do research in preparation for a move to London in December.

First and foremost, our objective is to figure out what sort of living situation we can afford; after that, our goal is to assess neighborhoods based on the quality of local grocery stores, restaurants, and cafes as well as a dry cleaner, good transportation links, and the other sorts of intangible atmospheric factors that make a neighborhood appealing.

In our housing search, we focus on London’s East. The areas that appeal to us the most are in three East London boroughs: Hackney (specifically London Fields, the north side of Victoria Park, Shoreditch, and Dalston), Tower Hamlets (Bethnal Green), and Islington (Clerkenwell and around).

Along the way, we stumble across Victoria Park Village, a neighborhood that checks all our boxes and also perfectly embodies an outsider’s fantasy of an ideal London neighborhood. Victoria Park Village is at the intersection of Victoria Road and Lauriston Road, in the borough of Hackney, just north of Victoria Park.

Emerging from the park along Lauriston Road, a visitor immediately notices plenty of trees, strong foot traffic, many retail establishments, and the slender spire of a small church on the horizon. Were this intersection in Notting Hill, one could imagine a heavy tourist presence. Because this neighborhood is a fair hike from higher-volume tourist areas, it’s firmly off most tourist itineraries.

Carrot cake from Amandine.

The neighborhood has two great cafés, Loafing (below) and Amandine (above); Bill Hall, a greengrocer/fruiterer; a fishmonger; one of four branches of The Ginger Pig butcher shop; several barbershops; a wine store with frequent tastings called Bottle Apostle; a handful of clothing stores; several estate agents; Haus, a fancy home furnishings store, a local bookstore (Victoria Park Books); and a smattering of restaurants. For dining, there’s Su Sazzagoni, a Sardinian trattoria and delicatessen; a takeaway restaurant called Hope Caribbean Cuisine; and Fish House, which is, at least somewhat expectedly, a seafood restaurant.

Loafing, on a late weekend morning.

One appeal of London for many visitors is the promise of a quaint neighborhood, a place where the vague, romantic notion of the English market village merges with London’s bustling energy. The thing is, many parts of London’s West that might once have fulfilled such fantasies have become very expensive, mobbed with tourists and clogged with international high-end boutiques. Nothing against Aesop and agnès b. outlets, but they belong in a shopping district, not a neighborhood retail landscape. Victoria Park Village, with its inarguable cuteness and many local, small-scale specialty shops, delivers the traditional neighborhood goods.

Next week, I’ll finish up the Capricorn Route series with some reflections on five weeks on the road as well as a trip top ten list.

You can check out other posts in the Capricorn Route series here.