JR, Banksy, ROA – these names will ring a bell if you enjoy street art just as much as I do. I love traveling across the globe and seeing the work of these artists evolve from place to place, their art usually fitting exactly with the setting, always catching the public eye, telling them a story they weren’t always aware of, in the most creative way. So when street art invades a whole neighborhood, this just takes everything to a whole other level. Artistic neighborhoods are always a nice surprise.

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When surrounded by drawings, pictures, graffiti and sculptures, you discover another facet of the city you are in. You enter a new world making up just a few blocks and you feel like you’re getting to know the city you are touring in a whole new way. Here are five examples of artistic areas I have stumbled upon in my previous trips, which completely blew my mind.

5. Metelkova in Ljubljana (Slovenia)

In the heart of Slovenia, the Metelkova neighborhood is the most alternative place of the capital city, Ljubljana. Located in what used to be military barracks when the country was still a part of former Yugoslavia, the area became home to squatters in the nineties before transforming into a self-declared autonomous cultural zone. Nowadays, every inch of the neighborhood is decorated with graffiti, paintings, sculptures and other creations. Metelkova is a local haven for those who seek creativity and freedom of expression. Walking around the neighborhood is definitely the best way to get a glimpse of Ljubljana’s alternative scene. There you’ll find nightclubs, galleries, NGOs and over fifty studio spaces, located around a small courtyard featuring what has to be one of the weirdest playgrounds in Europe.


While in Metelkova, you should definitely stay in what was named the “hippest hostel in the world” by Lonely Planet, a few years ago. Hostel Celica used to be a prison and is now THE place to sleep in Ljubljana for travelers and artists who would like to experience staying in a cell, for a night. Celica is described by its owners as “a place that used to divide and categorize people according to different opinions and beliefs, which has grown into a true social center and a melting pot of ideas.”


4. Kampung Cina in Kuala Terengganu (Malaysia)

This one is for all the South-East Asia backpackers. Kuala Terengganu is located on the east coast of Malaysia and is not a very touristy place. However, those who step foot in Kampung Cina, the city’s Chinese Village are generally not disappointed – architecture enthusiasts and art lovers will instantly fall in love with this neighborhood.


Everything started in 2005, when a state assemblyman decided to make the alleys in Kampung Cina cleaner and more pleasant for pedestrians. A makeover was then given to seven lanes along the main road, each of them having its own theme. For instance, Tauke Wee Seng Hee Cultural Lane features a collection of vintage items such as old signs from shops in the Chinese Village, a colonial era telephone booth and a classic post box (still in use).  Eco Lane is a tribute to Terengganu batik as one of the business owners there had decided to decorate it with pieces of batik. One of my personal favorites is Payang Memory Lane which features face casts of seven leaders of Kuala Terengganu. Recently, the lane was decorated with colorful umbrellas hung above the lane, symbolizing how the local community is “united in diversity”. With all its colorful and thematic back alleys, Kampung Cina provides an excellent Instagram or Facebook moment for the social media aficionados.


3. McDougall-Hall in Detroit (USA)

It’s in Detroit that the ground-breaking open-air Heidelberg project was born, almost thirty years ago. In 1986, its creator, Tyree Guyton, along with his grandfather and a few kids from his block, decided to convert this impoverished neighborhood into a district of peace and joy. The goal was simple: to transform a crime-ridden area into a pleasant and meaningful place.The first step of the “Heidelberg Project” was to paint big colored polka dots on a few houses located on the main street of the decaying McDougall-Hall neighborhood. Then, every object and material found in and around the district was used to embellish the gardens. Soon enough, the whole place was transformed. Each house had its own unique theme (the house of stuffed toys, the house of clocks, etc.).


Over time, various artists joined the project and brought their personal touch to Tyree’s piece of art. The “Heidelberg Project” unites the community and shows a more positive side to the declining city of Detroit. McDougall-Hall, a place that many people were still avoiding a few decades ago, now attracts a significant number of curious visitors from around the world and many city residents have even returned to the neighborhood to settle there.


2. Tahrir Square in Cairo (Egypt)

Art is not always fun and beautiful. It usually sends a message, it tells us a story, one that is not necessarily happy, and a good example of that might be found in Tahrir.  This square in Cairo became the symbol of the Egyptian Revolution, back in 2011. And the walls around the area still help us to understand the gravity of this occurrence, which turned the country upside down for months and caused the deaths of thousands of people. During the revolution, art played a huge role though the transformation of public space in Egypt. From the very beginning, artistic practices became the heart of the resistance in the square and contributed tremendously on spreading a revolutionary spirit among the protesters. Nowadays, the smiling faces of the martyrs still haunt the walls of Tahrir.

These walls tell the story of how, throughout all the Egyptian revolution, the creativity of non-violence was posed to counter brutality and repression. The movie “The Square” pictures perfectly the impact of street art during the uprisings. Throughout the film, we follow Ammar Akbo Bakr, a well-known street artist from Luxor, painting and changing his mural as each new “phase” of the revolution begins. Through his work, we see how history keeps being revised and how democracy is a concept in perpetual evolution, especially during a revolution.

1. Belleville in Paris (France)

When people travel to what is the most touristy city in the world, they usually include places like the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame Cathedral or the Louvre Museum in their list of “Must-sees”. Very few, however, choose to explore lesser known and off-the-beaten-track neighborhoods, despite them being an integral part of what Paris really is. To get the full picture, you should definitely stop by the Belleville district when visiting the French capital.


This working-class neighborhood is also home to one of Paris’s Chinatowns but it would be a shame to describe it as only that. Belleville (which literally means “beautiful town”) developed throughout history as a culturally diverse place. There are Jewish bakeries, Arabic bookshops, Chinese restaurants, French bistros or African hair-stylists side by side. Cheap rents also brought a lot of artists to the neighborhood, making it the perfect place to open studios and galleries. While in Belleville, stop by “Rue Dénoyez”, one of the most renowned covered alleyways of the city. In this eclectic part of Paris, you’ll find numerous and unexpected hidden courtyards that will make you love the area even more! Underground Paris organizes Street art tours stopping by Belleville.


From Belleville to Tahrir, from Kampung Cina to Metelkova, each of these places, through its originality, moved me and got me dreaming. Dreaming of a world where just crossing a street or going through an alley makes you smile because you’re surrounded by shapes, colors and powerful messages that might change the course of your day. Many people despise street-art and that’s a shame because it makes beautiful and insightful things available to anyone. It is often much more than ugly graffiti covering a wall and it is all around. You don’t need to buy a museum ticket or a book to enjoy it. You don’t need to go anywhere in particular, you don’t need to pay for it. The street is the gallery. And traveling the world just made me more grateful all these anonymous artists took time (and often risks) to entertain or educate the crowd.

All photos by Elisa Fourt.


This post was written by Elisa Fourt.
Elisa Fourt was part of the Travelettes team from 2015 to 2017.  Elisa usually describes herself as a world citizen. She has lived, studied, worked and traveled in more than 60 countries throughout her life and she loves to share her passion for the world with others. When she is not planning her next trip or writing about the last one, Elisa likes to help people in need and get involved in various not-for-profit projects. She currently works for a NGO in the Middle-East. Follow her on Instagram @lisou.me