Six street-art destinations to see now

Carioca creativity in Rio de Janeiro

A mural by Eduardo Kobra on Boulevard Olímpico in Rio de Janeiro
A mural by Eduardo Kobra on Boulevard Olímpico in Rio de Janeiro © Alamy

Rio legalised street art in 2009, making it a beacon for international artists alongside the locals; proliferation was helped along by the Art Rua street-art festival that ran here for several years. But some say its big moment happened in 2016, when Etnias, the monumental work on Olympic Boulevard by Eduardo Kobra – all 190 metres of it – was completed to mark the Olympic Games. Today, tours of street-art marvels in the city’s favelas are widely available; the Favela Painting Project, founded by Dutch art collective Haas & Hahn in 2005, supported “community-driven art interventions” in the Favela de Santa Marta, which is still a destination for lovers of mural art. But a meander up, down and around the steep lanes of the charming Santa Teresa neighbourhood will also bring you face-to-face with work by some of the country’s best-known artists.

The pool at the Santa Teresa Hotel
The pool at the Santa Teresa Hotel
The hotel’s “crimson-on-ruby” bar
The hotel’s “crimson-on-ruby” bar

Stay: the Santa Teresa Hotel tops all sorts of best-of lists for many reasons: its mint situation high up the hillside in its eponymous quarter; its lovely pool surrounded by palms that catches the afternoon breeze; its decor recalling a (very cool late-20th-century) carioca home, with lots of private terraces and generous bathrooms with deep tubs; and its knockout crimson-on-ruby bar. santateresahotelrio.com, from R2.275 (about £353)


First Nations stories in Sydney’s Inner South

Street art in Newtown, Sydney
Street art in Newtown, Sydney © Alamy

Melbourne tends to hog the street-art spotlight in Australia, for the colourful assertions that adorn the narrow laneways of its Central Business District. But Sydney has come into its own, and today its suburbs of Newtown and Redfern – besides being good for their nightlife – have their own well-known street-art destinations. Among them are several compelling works by Aboriginal artists, including 40,000 Years, first painted in the early 1980s by Carol Ruff and several assisting artists, and restored in 2018 by a cohort of conservationists and indigenous artists; Welcome to Redfern, a work enveloping a small colonial house by Reko Rennie, one of the country’s rising Indigenous-art stars; and Mission Boy Dreams by the late Roy Kennedy, a moving large-scale reproduction of a work from a series of etchings and prints, adapted in 2005 for a wall of the Wyanga Aboriginal Aged Care centre.

A suite at The Old Clare
A suite at The Old Clare

Stay: The Old Clare is a conversion of a once-abandoned brewery in Chippendale, a neighbourhood that straddles Sydney’s Harbour, CBD and Inner West. The restoration honours the building’s structural good looks; the boiserie in what was the boardroom – now a master suite – was left entirely intact, and the street-level pub still boasts some of its original tile work. theoldclarehotel.com.au, from AU$300 (about £158)


Colonial meets contemporary on Malaysia’s favourite island

Street art in George Town on Penang, Malaysia
Street art in George Town on Penang, Malaysia © Alamy

George Town is the island of Penang’s massively atmospheric, pedestrian- (and bicycle-, and tuk-tuk-) friendly colonial historic centre, a Unesco Heritage site and one of Malaysia’s best-known tourist draws for good reason. Since the government unveiled a series of commissioned murals in 2012 as part of a then recently inaugurated annual cultural festival, the city’s draw for street artists has spread worldwide. The juxtaposition of contemporary styles and subject matter with the town’s centuries-old jumble of intersecting cultures and architectural styles is a heady one; its size and density means you hardly have to work to encounter the best examples – digital maps abound online, and most hotels have guides on hand.

Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion in George Town
Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion in George Town
The courtyard of Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion
The courtyard of Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion

Stay: part of the Unesco-protected site, the 19th-century Cheong Fatt Tze Mansion has charm in spades, from the ornate wood screen in the Escoy room to the lush gardens punctuated by a 100-year-old mango tree. If you’re after a longer stay, the hotel also operates a pair of spare but beautifully restored townhouses on Rope Walk, a 10-minute walk from the hotel. cheongfatttzemansion.com, from RM780 (about £130)


Art with a Mission in San Francisco

Clarion Alley in the Mission District, San Francisco
Clarion Alley in the Mission District, San Francisco © Alamy

San Franciscans like to say that one of the city’s finest collections is accessible to all, and free to visit: the murals of the city’s Mission District, many of which take as their subjects themes of social and racial justice and heritage (The Mission, historically a confluence of Latin American populations, has also long been one of its creative forcing grounds, home to countless artists and writers). As in Sydney, there are works both commissioned and totally illegal, ornate murals and gangland tags. There are also organised street-art tours, if you want a deep-dive into the sociopolitical motivations behind specific works – but a self-guided walk around the neighbourhood, which is one of San Francisco’s more colourful in many ways (not least for being home to taquerias that will spoil you for all others), is an ideal afternoon out.

Sites not to miss include Balmy Alley, near the 24th Street BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) stop – a block-long swath of murals dating back to the 1980s; and Clarion Alley, between Mission Street and Valencia Street, where nearly 700 discrete works have been commissioned by the Clarion Alley Mural Project since its founding in 1992, and which also stages readings and performances. And don’t miss the MaestraPeace Mural that covers two five-storey façades of the corner Women’s Building on 18th Street – a collaboration between seven local female artists, completed in 1994. sfmuralarts.com for more info

A seating area at The San Francisco Proper Hotel
A seating area at The San Francisco Proper Hotel
The San Francisco Proper’s restaurant
The San Francisco Proper’s restaurant

Stay: we’re fans of Kelly Wearstler’s Proper Hotels, to which the LA-based designer brings all the colour and ebullience of her signature style along with unfussy service (and gratifyingly unfussy room rates). The San Francisco Proper goes fully zany with the colour scheme, perhaps to compensate for a Market Street address that’s just this side of gritty – but also walking distance from The Mission (and from everyone’s forever-favourite restaurant, Zuni Café, without a visit to which you can’t really say you’ve been to San Francisco). properhotel.com, from $289


In Belgium, Arne Quinze brings street art to music

A work by PichiAvo at North West Walls Festival 2014
A work by PichiAvo at North West Walls Festival 2014 © Arne Quinze Studio

The North West Walls project was born in 2014, as an outgrowth of Rock Werchter, the four-day music festival that takes place every July outside Brussels (this year’s line-up includes The Blaze, Dua Lipa, Måneskin, Black Pumas and Michael Kiwanuka among the 100 or so performers). A celebration of street art curated since its inception by Arne Quinze, the Walls are a permanent structure that is renewed each year by a new crop of international street artists. Quinze is so far quiet as to which talent will be on display come July, but last year’s included Cara To (@caratoes), a Hong Kong-based Belgian illustrator whose work combines line designs and lights, and British street artist Sophie Mess, whose hyperrealist botanical murals can be found from Dublin to Rotterdam and Paris, via Cheltenham, Bristol and Shoreditch High Street station. northwestwalls.be; rockwerchter.be

A room at Le Dixseptième in Brussels
A room at Le Dixseptième in Brussels
The restaurant at The Hoxton Brussels
The restaurant at The Hoxton Brussels

Stay: in central Brussels. There’s not much worth seeing in the exurbia that surrounds Rock Werchter stadium, so you may as well make a city break of it. We’ve written before about our affection for Le Dixseptième, the old-world luxe B&B facing the pretty church of Sainte-Marie Madeleine, just off the Grand Place. The Hoxton Brussels brings slicker design – and reasonable proximity to the perennially buzzy Saint-Géry and Dansaert neighbourhoods. ledixseptieme.be, from €170; thehoxton.com, from €163


Aberdeen puts itself on the mural map

A mural by Anders Gjennestad for Nuart Aberdeen
A mural by Anders Gjennestad for Nuart Aberdeen © Alamy

The theme of the 2024 installation of Nuart Aberdeen, the award-winning festival of street art that proliferates across Scotland’s Granite City every June, is “Living Heritage”. Eleven artists are invited to create site-specific murals in both commercial and residential areas; these works will join extant art dating back as far as the first Nuart festival in 2017 (which have handily been digitally mapped by the festival’s organisers). This year’s invitees include Bahia Shehab, founder of the graphic design programme at The American University in Cairo and BBC 100 Women list-maker; and HERA (aka Jasmin Siddiqui), who has worked on UN-funded projects for Street Art for Mankind, an NGO, and who participated in the first Nuart Aberdeen in 2017. aberdeeninspired.com

The bathroom of the signature suite at Malmaison Aberdeen
The bathroom of the signature suite at Malmaison Aberdeen © Malmaison

Stay: Malmaison Aberdeen has 79 rooms and suites, a genteel Queen’s Road situation (that’s a fairly easy walk to the main drag of Union Street), and a restaurant, Malmaison Bar & Grill, that’s popular with locals. malmaison.com, from £119

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