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Europe's five best cities for street art

Banksy mural The Mild, Mild West
Banksy mural The Mild, Mild West Copyright William Avery, via Wikimedia Commons
Copyright William Avery, via Wikimedia Commons
By Jonny Walfisz
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As a new piece of biting political street art goes viral, we have a look at some of the best locations to check out local graffiti.

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A new piece of street art in Bristol, UK has gone viral for its critique of the British government. By the urban artist, John Doh, the work is part of a long held heritage for street art in Bristol.

Outside of the confines of galleries, street art is often funny, political, beautiful and sometimes all three. A tradition that harks back to cave paintings, street art can give the public a way of defining their city’s values that are separate from art institutions.

Here are some of the best cities in Europe for checking out bold and beautiful street art.

Bristol: Home of Banksy

Home to John Doh’s latest works criticising UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak, Bristol has a long history of trail-blazing street art. Bristol is home to none other than the anonymous king of street art, Banksy.

Although his actual identity remains a mystery, Banksy is without a doubt the most famous street artist. His satirical works have gone far beyond the streets of Bristol, with works around the world and in galleries.

He’s made films and even created installations that mock the establishment, such as his “bemusement park” Dismaland and a famous incident where one of his works was shredded by the picture frame straight after it was sold at auction.

Despite his worldwide fame, there are still some of Banksy’s earliest originals to find around Bristol, as well as many other great works from a generation of street artists inspired by him.

Berlin: More than just Berghain

Berlin has been a street art hub since the 70s and one of the most iconic pieces of street art in the world can be found on the old division between the East and West cities.

The East Side Gallery is a collection of street murals on the longest remaining section of the Berlin Wall. 118 artists came together to create the incredible different works. Probably the most famous is Dimitrji Vrubel’s “Fraternal Kiss” which shows ex-USSR general secretary Leonid Brezhnev and ex-leader of East Germany, Erich Honecker embracing in a sultry kiss.

Joachim F. Thurn/Deutsches Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archive)
Fraternal Kiss, at the Berlin WallJoachim F. Thurn/Deutsches Bundesarchiv (German Federal Archive)

Beyond the wall, Berlin is filled with amazing murals and smaller works from street artists. A trip down to fashionable Kreuzberg and you’ll find plenty of the art that has put Berlin on the map for its graffiti. Street art is such a great way to understand the changing politics of the city, you can even go on one of the many competing organised walking tours of Berlin’s works.

Angoulême: Small town, big ideas

About an hour from Bordeaux is the small commune of Angoulême. Despite its size, it holds its own alongside the street art capitals of Bristol and Berlin. Home to the European School of the Visual Arts as well as the its International Comics festival, the city is known for its adoration of all things comic books.

Take a stroll through the city and you are likely to wander across one of the many incredible works of street artists dedicated to turning Angoulême into a comic book landscape. Max Cabannes’ “La Fille des Remparts” is one of the most famous works. Near the market, the mural takes up an entire building’s side and creates a wistful version of Angoulême.

Stavanger: Nordic delights

In Norway’s third biggest city, Stavanger, there is an absolute must for any street art lover’s calendar. Nuart Street Art Festival has been running for over 15 years. The Nuart festival is heralded as one of the most innovative places for street art, and many artists have debuted some of their most challenging works.

The artists of Stavanger have always stayed sharp on the political button. Nimi, a Norwegian street artist, started painting images of a dove flying away from Putin after dropping some bird poo on his head after the Ukraine invasion began.

Belfast: Political expression in the Northern Irish capital

Often inspired by the years of the “Troubles”, Belfast’s street art captures the intriguing politics of Northern Ireland. Some of the most iconic of these works are on the huge Peace Wall. Intended to keep republican and Catholic neighbourhoods apart from loyalist and Protestants, the wall has been covered with street art, much like the Berlin Wall.

Walking along the Peace Wall, you see the messages for peace on the unionist side. On the other side, though, there are paintings that depict political prisoners and the continued fight against oppression that the republican Irish face from the British.

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