The Top-5 Cities to See Street Art in Europe
Written by Giulia Blocal Riva
Each European city has its own history, character, and aesthetics in relation to graffiti and street art. There are just as many styles and scenes as there are cities in Europe, each sparked from the clash between the local street culture and the aesthetics imported from New York through publications like the movie Wild Style (1983) and the book Subway Art (1984).
This influx from overseas captured the imagination of teenagers throughout Europe. It was a major cultural shift, one that has determined the look of European cities for decades to come.
Since the 1950s, London has been home to a vibrant underground scene that has seen numerous countercultural movements, such as the Punks and the Do It Yourself movement, which strongly influenced London’s street culture.
As Banksy’s works were becoming a London icon in the 2000s, many graffiti and street artists from America began viewing the city as a gateway to the rest of Europe.
In 2008, the Tate Modern held a ground-breaking exhibition titled Street Art that profoundly shifted public opinion, putting London at the forefront of the revolution that lifted graffiti and street art from vandalism to museum art.
Where to find street art in London:
The East End: an expansive district that encompasses Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Shoreditch, Brick Lane and Spitalfields. Although the vacant low-rise buildings that attracted many artists in the 1990s are gone, the area is still packed with excellent street art.
Leake Street: known for the graffiti-covered Leake Street Tunnel, a disused railway tunnel where Banksy organized his Cans Festival in 2008.
Brixton and Stockwell: hidden gems await to be discovered in the streets of Brixton and Stockwell, including the renowned Stockwell Hall of Fame.
Graffiti and street art have a long history in Paris, stretching far before the arrival of modern graffiti from the US. Images taken by Brassai throughout the 1930s, as well as posters from May 1968 student protests, paint a vivid picture of the emergence of Paris’ street culture.
From the 1980s, New-York-inspired graffiti coexisted with the work of street artists such as Blek Le Rat (who pioneered the technique of stencil art in the early 1980s) and Space Invader. Their figurative works appealed to a wider audience than the graffiti subculture, laying the foundation for the first generation of European street artists.
Today, Paris is known for its plethora of galleries, fairs and art spaces dedicated exclusively to urban contemporary art.
Where to find street art in Paris:
13th arrondissement: home to the open-air museum Boulevard Paris 13 and to many art galleries specializing in urban contemporary art, this is the place to go if you are after massive murals by the leading players in street art.
Montmartre: Paris’ legendary bohemian neighborhood has welcomed artists since the 19th century, and it’s not exempt from this role with today’s urban artists. Walking up and down its slopes, you will stumble upon great and small discoveries.
Canal de l’Ourcq: of grungier origins is the street art on this canal in north-east of Paris, where graffiti has been thriving for decades and street art murals follow one another -thanks in part to the festival Ourcq Living Colors.
The broadcast of Style Wars on Dutch national TV marked a turning point in the graffiti scene of Amsterdam. Prior to this, only tags created by hooligans and punks had been present. After this pivotal moment and throughout the 90s, Dutch graffiti artists developed a bold, colorful style that was strongly influenced by the wildstyle overseas.
The late 90s were also the dawn of the Amsterdam street art scene, pioneered by an international community of artists in the likes of the collective The London Police. They transformed Amsterdam’s streets through many unsanctioned pieces, until the authorities stepped in and turned Amsterdam into the polished city we know today.
Where to find street art in Amsterdam:
NDSM: Evicted from the city center’s squats, Amsterdam’s artists moved to the vacant warehouses at NDSM wharf, once the largest shipyard in Europe. Although the grunge vibe is gone, there is still some great street art to be found around NDSM, including that in the collection of STRAAT museum.
Planetenweg: by walking along this curved street you can admire a series of large-scale murals by world-famous artists, commissioned by the street art festival If walls could talk in 2019.
Bijlmer: most of the street artists who painted in Amsterdam’s alleged ghetto are from Brazil. The art project R.U.A. – Reflexo on Urban Art asked them to connect their cultural background with the many ethnicities living in Bijlmer, which are mostly coming from former Dutch colonies like Suriname.
Murals began to appear on the Berlin Wall in the mid-1980s. International artists, including Richard Hambleton and Keith Haring, left their traces on this dreaded symbol of division, while graffiti culture -imported from America through film and literature- began to take hold on the northern side of the Wall.
Today, Berlin is home to the infamous graffiti crew 1UP and to cultural institutions specializing in urban contemporary art, from the established Urban Nation museum to the countercultural space Urban Spree.
Where to find street art in Berlin:
Kreuzberg: it’s where you can find those squat buildings that are the very last bastion of that subculture that made Berlin so popular among graffiti and street artists from all over the world.
Schoneberg: a formerly blighted area, Schoneberg is home to many gigantic murals, including those forming the Art Mile realized in 2016 for the opening of the Urban Nation museum.
Teufelsberg: a hilltop NSA listening station abandoned in 1992, which has since become a must-go for local and international graffiti writers and street artists.
Ever since the 1980s, art has been used to convey political messages in Lisbon, with the PCTP/MRPP party creating several murals all across the city. Later on during the 1990s, New-York-inspired graffiti emerged, driven by a globalized hip-hop culture.
Since the 2010s, Lisbon City Council has pioneered an active role for public art in its drive for urban renewal, developing a firm policy for commissioned urban art that has no equal in Europe. As a consequence, the number of large-scale murals that can be found in Lisbon’s alleged ghettos is impressive.
Where to find street art in Lisbon:
Marvila: Next to abandoned warehouses, craft beer taprooms, and art galleries (including the legendary Underdogs Gallery, founded by Vhils), you can find many large-scale murals produced by the MURO Urban Art Festival in 2017.
Barrio Padre Cruz: The previous year, the festival MURO produced over 50 murals in this suburb just outside Lisbon -one of the biggest social housing districts in Europe.
Quinta do Mocho: home of the urban art festival Loures Arte Publica, which commissioned to local and international street artists over 100 murals to transform an area that, for a long time, has been associated with criminality, violence, and drugs
Besides the five capitals seen in this article, dynamic street art scenes also characterize cities like Bristol, Glasgow, Belfast, Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Rome, Athens, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Munich, Prague, and Warsaw, among many others.