You don't need to set foot in a museum to admire some of the world's best art. Generations of graffiti painters and writers have turned the streets of many cities into colour-splashed canvases, expressing the rich history and energy of each destination. Lace up your boots and hit the road at these stunning street art hubs round the world, from Asia to Africa.
George Town, Malaysia
Alongside a drool-worthy food scene, the streets of Penang's capital George Town are teeming with playful splashes of paint. It all began when Penang’s historic hub was awarded UNESCO World Heritage status in 2008. To celebrate, the government launched the ‘Marking George Town’ project with 52 caricatures around the city's most storied streets, each a cheeky steel rod sculpture of everyday folks and scenes. Many more nostalgic murals have sprung up since, from Louis Gan's vignettes of children at play to Ernest Zacharevic's iconic '101 Lost Kittens' – a series paying homage to Penang's street felines.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
Buenos Aires has shot into the street art spotlight in the last two decades, thanks to a cocktail of political protest, abundance of abandoned buildings, and relaxed graffiti laws. The walls of Argentina's capital paint its colourful history of hope and horror, from the dark days of military dictatorship to its 2001 economic crisis. Trendy Palermo is a hotbed of iconic graffiti, splashed with the likes of Santiago Spirito's historic stencil of workers demanding paint and Campos Jesses' portrait of Frida Kahlo. It's worth exploring quieter barrios like Villa Urquiza too, where disused buildings have become the canvas for massive surrealist murals.
Dubbed the ‘stencil capital of the world’, Melbourne is awash in colour-splashed, graffiti-covered laneways – so much so that it’s hard to pinpoint one district to plunge into. Our advice? Start off from the Central Business District, and wind your way through the rock 'n' roll tributes on AC/DC Lane, the dreamy colours of Blender Lane, the legacy-themed mosaics lining Drewery Lane, and the famed Hosier Lane packed with paint from windowsill to wheelie bin. Then, venture beyond to the buzzy suburb of Fitzroy where world-renowned artists like Ghostpatrol and Meggs have left their mark.
The land of Byzantine mosaics and Ottoman minarets, Istanbul offers a more modern visual feast too – surreal, large-scale street art. To see the city's finest, hop aboard a ferry to Kadıköy, a vibrant district perched on its Asian side. Host to street art festival Mural Istanbul since 2012, the 'hood has become splashed with surrealist gems from Turkish and international artists alike. Sprawled across the sides of buildings, you'll spot giant murals like Chilean legend Inti's Resistance, PixelPancho's Bambino, and Rustam Qbic's whimsical flower-headed woman.
No roundup of the world’s street art hubs is complete without a hat tip to the home of Banksy. The beating heart of London’s graffiti scene, Shoreditch is blanketed in ever-changing murals from buzzy Rivington Street to under-the-radar Holywell Lane, so you never know what's round the corner. Some icons that have stood the test of time include Banksy's famous Guard Dog and His Master's Voice, Steven Power's pair of painted trains atop a building on Great Eastern Street, and Mr Cenz's stunning portrait of a lady on Fashion Street.
District Six, South Africa
Political outrage first sparked an explosion of street art in 1980s Cape Town, and murals still fill the Mother City today. Nowhere is this mark in history captured more than the inner-city suburb of District Six, which was once torn apart by forced removals of its residents under apartheid. Today, its streets bloom with statements of freedom and equality, including a stunning tribute to Nelson Mandela by Cape Town artist Mak1one and portraits of anti-apartheid heroes like Imam Haron and Steve Biko.
The last decade has seen public art initiatives like The Crono Project and Galeria de Arte Urbana breathing new life into Lisbon’s cobblestones. With artists around the world flocking to leave their mark, this Portuguese capital has embraced graffiti on a grand scale. Case in point: Polish artist Sainer's iconic Crossroads stars a cigarette-smoking old woman stretched across an eleven-floor building. Then there's André Saraiva's 188-metre-long Tile Mural, crafted from over 52 thousand hand-painted tiles. It's worth stopping by Lisbon's Hall of Fame in Amoreiras too, a time capsule of decades-old graffiti.
Kampong Gelam, Singapore
Singapore is hardly a place that springs to mind when you think of street art, but a stroll through Kampong Gelam reveals pieces from many local street artists. A haven of quirky stores and cultural landmarks, this eclectic enclave pulses with murals along almost every alley. Its recent unveiling of Southeast Asia's first graffiti Hall of Fame is putting it on the street art map, with 238 metres of vibrant murals from 17 Singapore-based legends such as ANTZ and Didier ‘Jaba’ Mathieu. It is also home to annual festivals like Aliwal Urban Arts Festival as well as businesses that commission artists to paint murals.
Bushwick, New York
It’s no overstatement to call New York the birthplace of street art – the city’s graffiti boom from the 1960s arguably defined modern graffiti. While Queens was where it all began, the edgy Brooklyn neighbourhood of Bushwick has become a bit of a street mecca, drawing artists and graffiti lovers from ‘round the world. At its heart is the Bushwick Collective, a community project which has birthed landmark works like Blek Le Rat stencils, Dasic Fernández's rainbow-splashed stunners, Yok and Sheryo's funky gargoyle figures, Danielle Mastrion's larger-than-life portraits... the list goes on.