To explore and experience a city, travelers often plan to stroll around the streets or check out the work of local artists. Happily in London, Paris, Barcelona, Berlin, Hamburg and Prague you can do both at once by taking a street art tour.
Street art can be loosely defined as visual art in a public location and takes a variety of forms including paint, stencil, paper paste ups, stickers, installations and yarn bombing. Opinions vary regarding what should be considered street art. Is there a difference between street art and graffiti? Does street art need to be unsanctioned, or could the artist have permission, or be paid for materials or their time? Is it only street art if the artist has complete creative freedom? I think art is in the eye of the beholder, if it’s art in a public place and you like it, its street art.
While it is easy to come across street art during a visit to London, Paris, Barcelona, Berlin, Hamburg or Prague, the following tours are conducted by knowledgeable guides who’ll give you their definition of street art, explain the history of street art globally and locally and tell you about the artists and the stories behind the street art. The ephemeral nature of street art means that you could even take the same tour on a future visit and are sure to be shown something new.
London – Street Art London
Street Art London run walking tours in Shoreditch, Hackney Wick and occasionally Dulwich and also offer private tours. Start with one of the Shoreditch tours which depart from Old St Underground Station on Tuesdays and Thursdays (10:00-12:00, £12) or Saturday and Sundays (11:00-15:00, £15). We were lucky enough to be guided by founder Richard Howard-Griffin (Griff) who was excellent. His extensive knowledge of the art and artists made the tour so much more than just walking around looking at art.
For those who are looking for something more hands-on, Street Art London also runs public and private Graffiti Masterclasses in Shoreditch. If you can’t make a tour, or if the tour leaves you wanting more, another option is taking in an exhibition at Howard Griffin Gallery in Shoreditch and you can order prints by a small selection of street artists from Howard Griffin Prints.
One of my street art friends enjoyed a tour with Shoreditch Street Art Tours who run various morning and afternoon street art tours (10:00-13:30 and 13:30-17:00, £15), bespoke photography workshops and night photography tours.
Pablo Delgado, London. Image courtesy of RJ @ Flickr.
Stik, London. Image courtesy of Martin Deutsch @ Flickr.
James Cochran, London. Image courtesy of MsSaraKelly @ Flickr.
Paris – Underground Paris
Underground Paris run walking tours in Belleville (Saturday 11:00-14:00) and the 13th Arrondissement (Sunday 13:00-16:00) for €20 (€15 online) and also offer private tours. They also offer workshops; a graffiti mural workshop and a stencil art workshop.
We took the Belleville tour which meets at Le M.U.R. / Café Place Verte (105 rue Oberkampf) where an artist was hard at work on a mural. He took a break to tell us about his mural, then returned to work while our guide briefly discussed the definition and history of street art with us before we started walking. The tour was quite interactive with the guide encouraging questions and discussion as we strolled through the streets and parks of Belleville. We finished back at Le M.U.R. to see the now completed mural which was up until a new artist painted over it a week later.
Barcelona – Barcelona Street Style Tours
Barcelona Street Style Tours (BSST) run walking tours of the El Borne/Gothic Quarter (14:00 daily) and the El Raval (16:45 daily). Tours run for 2h-2h30min and while there is no charge, donations are recommended (note that other tours on this page charge €15-€20). BSST also offer a 3h Poble Nou bike tour with a reservation 24h in advance (€18 including bike hire).
We took both the walking tours with BSST cofounder Mike, a laid back Californian with an excellent knowledge of the stories behind the street art and artists. Mike filled us in on everything from the tradition of street art on the metal shop shutters (persianas) to the backstory of street artist ‘Art is Trash’ (El Arte Es Basura) who creates art from piles of rubbish in the street, to the history of the El Raval murals created to protest the death in police custody of local Juan Andrés Benítez.
Also worth a browse is Base Elements, Barcelona’s urban art gallery which stocked prints from many of the artists we’d seen on the streets. We took home a couple of smiley fish prints by Barcelona-based artist Pez.
Chef Love, Barcelona
Pez & Cranio, Barcelona
Onegizer Konair persiana, Barcelona
Alternative Berlin, Hamburg and Prague
Alternative Berlin run a street art workshop and tour on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 12:00-16:00 (€15). The tour meets at Alexanderplatz and after a few hours travelling by foot and public transport through the street art neighborhoods of Berlin, we headed to a former margarine factory in the upcoming district of Lictenberg where we painstakingly created our own stencils and put spray paint to canvas.
Alternative Berlin also offer other tours (Real Berlin Experience, Twilight Tour, Green Tour , 666 Anti Pubcrawl and Taste Berlin) and private tours.
Alternative Hamburg offers a street art tour and workshop in Hamburg which is similar to the Berlin tour.
Alternative Prague include street art in their alternative tour and offer street art and graffiti workshops.
Herr von Bias, Berlin.
Adnate and Med, Berlin.
Street Art – Buying Online
As mentioned above, you can buy street art online at Howard Griffin Prints and Base Elements. Another site selling multiple artists is paperandfabric.com.
Individual artists also sell online, see store.obeygiant.com for the art of Shepard Fairey and artofdavidwalker.bigcartel.com for the art of David Walker.