Street art in Eastern Europe only started to make an impact on its cities in the last few decades following the dissolution of Communist governments. While the artwork has always been a way to express emotions aimed at society, the risk of being imprisoned for painting on buildings was real and not a prospect many wanted to risk.
Today things have changed for the better. Street art and graffiti are openly displayed, and artists are happy to put their names to a piece without the need for anonymity. Tourism has increased to these Eastern European countries, and in addition to discovering the culture and history of these cities, visitors are also being drawn to its street art.
The once grey facades of often bullet-riddled buildings are now coated in vibrant street art ranging from historical figures, animals, moments in history and simple iconography.
The list of countries in Eastern Europe with urban works of art is expanding rapidly, and with thanks to fellow travel bloggers, I have compiled the 10 top street art cities in Eastern Europe to add to your next trip itinerary.
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Bosnia and Herzegovina
Contributed by Kamila of Mywanderlust.pl
Most tourists visit Mostar for the iconic Old Bridge, but not many know that this city in Bosnia and Herzegovina has a pretty fantastic street art scene. The city, badly damaged during the 1990s Balkan War, uses street art to bring reconciliation and understanding to the still divided place.
Since 2012 there has been an annual street art festival in Mostar featuring local and international artists and each year there are more and more amazing murals that we can admire on the walls. The biggest street art hub in the city is a so-called Sniper Tower, the abandoned building of the former bank that is veiled with works of both, professional and amateur artists. That’s also my favourite place on the map of Mostar street art – the selection of murals is vast, and their meaning is easy to understand even for those who are not interested in this kind of art.
Other places where you can find street art in Mostar are near the university and on the former frontline at Alekse Šantića street. Unfortunately, still not too many people know about street art but discovering those magnificent murals is one of the best things to do in Mostar.
At first glance, Plovdiv seems an unlikely place to find eccentric street art. Yet, the combination of modern street art candidly scattered around the ancient Old Town quarter of Plovdiv is strikingly beautiful. Plovdiv is the second-largest city in Bulgaria, but for an Eastern European city, it is surprisingly small and calm. Art plays a crucial role in the history of Plovdiv. The Painters’ Society was formed in Bulgaria in 1912 and, in 2019, the city was elected as the European Capital of Culture. Plovdiv currently has more than 40 art galleries.
The Art Gallery of Plovdiv is one of the most notable, which consists of 5000 pieces of art. The street art, which can mainly be discovered in the Old Town, adds to the community feel of the city, bringing people together from near and far. Plovdiv’s street art is one of the city’s many attractions, which draws in both national and international visitors.
I feel that street art doesn’t always look that tasteful, especially when splashed on to pretty, historic buildings. That said, I find the street art in Plovdiv to be very restrained and serves to compliment both the historical and modern aspects of the city. It’s well worth a visit!
Prague’s street art scene emerged fully in the late 80s as the Communist government in this Eastern European country ended. Before that, pieces of art would turn up, but not on a vast scale, and the government would be quick to whitewash over this art. This new-found autonomy in the 80s resulted in the city’s street art, reflecting messages of hope rather than anger or despair. Street artists created an art form to express their freedom, and the once bland grey concrete walls that reminded the people of Prague’s repression began to be covered in bright and uplifting artworks.
One of the city’s famous pieces of street art is the John Lennon wall on the west side of the Charles bridge & Vltava River. The singer had no direct connection to the wall however it was used to display love poems and messages of peace per Lennon’s ethos. After the death of John Lennon, the wall became a focal point in the city for urban art.
Another famous piece of street art is the painting of Bohumil Hrabal: one of the most iconic figures in Czech literature. A commemorative mural depicting Hrabal is at Palmovka train station.
When I visit different cities, I look out for street art, and Tallinn was not an exception. Tallinn is relatively new in the scene of street art. The formal street art program began there in 2016 during the Baltic Sessions event when examples of mural work were created.
Tallinn got serious about that in 2017 with the Mextonia festival, which put Estonia on the global street art map. The festival was conceived as a gift from Mexico for the 100th anniversary of the Estonian Republic. The imagery of cross-cultural folk mythology and nature can be seen throughout Tallinn’s murals. I visited Telliskivi Creative City to see the street art of Tallinn. I was impressed by this area and the variety of street art I saw.
Cinzah is a New Zealand based multidisciplinary artist, one of the founders of New Zealand ‘Street Art’ scene. He made his mural of the Estonian Sea Eagle on the wall in Telliskivi Creative city during the Mextonia festival. Cinzah´s work reminds us to consider our relationship with our environment and how we make an impact on our surroundings. Other places you can look for street art in Tallinn are the Cultural Kilometre and the harbour area.
I have viewed street art in 40 cites in 13 countries. Budapest has some of the most exciting street art that I have seen.
The old Jewish Quarter is full of art – political, abstract, historical, and just plain entertaining. Everywhere you wander in the Jewish Quarter; you’ll find street art. One moment, you see a mural of a giant Rubics Cube (it was invented by Hungarian Enro Rubic). A few blocks away, you’ll see a street art reproduction of the 1957 Times Magazine cover of the Man of the Year that featured the Hungarian Freedom Fighters.
Kertesz Street has a lot of murals. The Alice in Wonderland painting by Spanish street artist Dan Ferrer is very evocative and a bit scary.Alice seems to be trapped and inside an overly small house that she cannot escape.Dob Street is another place to wander with murals by Okudart, Luke Embden, and others. You’ll also find the Rubics Cube mural on Dob St.
Budapest street art now draws many tourists to the city. It’s worth a trip to see the street art and the rest of the city.
Warsaw, the capital city of Poland, is one of the best cities for street art in Europe. Make sure to add street art to your Warsaw itinerary as you will see how deep the love for this art form runs as you discover many examples scattered around the city.
Praga district, located on the eastern side of the Vistula river, was once the most dangerous area in Warsaw. It was known for notorious crimes and was almost left abandoned by the locals. Now it is home to the creative souls of the city and is the place to head to if you love street art. The street art has turned Praga into one of the top attractions for tourists visiting the Eastern European city of Warsaw.
There are plenty of other streets where you can find fantastic street art that you can either explore on your own or through tours. My favourite ones are:
Goose on street Brzeska 14A, created by an Italian artist Diego with the help of school children.
Gran & Grandpa on Barkocińska 2A by a local artist
Mechanical Centaur on Dolna 37 street – a vibrant and intriguing work of art
A playground on Stalowa 41 by the Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic
Although Krakow is well known for its conventionalism, it has established itself as the pioneer for Polish street art in Eastern Europe.Poland has a long tradition of graphic art which evolved through its large-scale poster design used during its communistic rule. As the Polish were so frequently graced by such powerful imagery, it is no wonder that urban art has become so popular in the country. Replacing the vast propaganda posters are massive murals on the sides of buildings commemorating note-worthy events in Polish history.
You can find street art in abundance in the old Jewish quarter of Kazimierz. As soon as you walk into the district, you will notice a grittier feel with old, dilapidated looking buildings. This vibe adds to the atmosphere, and you will feel like you have just walked down a Barcelona backstreet. No matter where you look, you can find some form of street art from huge murals to artsy little stencils on the sides of bins and street boxes.
If you are near Krakow train station, check out the mural of Chester Bennington. Renowned for his photo-realistic work, this mural commemorates the tragic suicide of Linkin Park’s frontman. The mural shows a happy, warm expression on Chester’s face. To us, this portrays the struggle that goes on behind the brave face of depression sufferers and the dark hidden nature of this illness.
In contrast, we also see the smiling face of dancer Fred Astaire holding on to a street lamp with the words “I’m happy again” written next to this iconic figure of stage and screen.
Some of the best street art I came across in Eastern Europe was in Lodz, Poland. This quiet Polish city is famous country-wide for its vivid cultural life which results in little statues, murals and other decorations. We spenttwo days in Lodz with our baby to explore the place and emerge to the culture.
These artworks are all around the centre, so hard to miss them. There are a lot of intriguing statues on the walking street, Piotrkowska Street, while you will see murals on the wall of the old factories in the nearby streets. Lodz centre is rather small, and you can stroll around the area in an hour.
I found these art installations exciting and refreshing. They utilised the not-so-nice looking old walls, and the statues brought a unique charm to the walking area too.
The vibe of the city attracts especially the younger generation. The nightlife seems vibrant too, and we will return to explore it when our children are a bit older.
Out of many of the eastern countries in Europe, Ljubljana has established itself as a creative hub for street artists from Slovenia and its surrounding neighbours. Metelkova, once an army base, has established itself since 1991 as the bohemian area of the city attracting painters, musicians and students. At first glance, it can come across as slightly intimidating, but once you have wandered around its streets, you will realise that it is part of its appeal.
Once grey buildings are now brought to life with non-conventional murals and statues depicting mythical creatures, slogans and graphic designs. The area is autonomous, and the street artists, squatters and hippies that live there reflect their emotions and opinions through a range of mediums, often including recycled rubbish – a nod to the environment.
Don’t be surprised to see a statue made out of old abandoned objects next to a piece of street art that is delicate both in style and subject. In Metelkova, everything is artsy and quirky and not as it seems.
At night the area comes alive with the best nightlife in Ljubljana and probably the cheapest beer. And if you are after a bed for the night then check in to Hostel Celica Art – Metelkova’s old prison!
One of the best and most prolific cities in Europe for street art is Ukraine’s magnificent capital city, Kyiv. Kyiv has become synonymous for street art saturating the city walls on both residential and business buildings. One of the reasons I love the street art in Kyiv is because it pops up in unexpected places. The city’s street art covers around 285 sq kilometres, and you will find it hiding in the craziest of places.
If you’re interested in the street art of the city, there are several tours available. They will take you walking around the city to various districts, like Podil, where you will have the time to photograph and learn about each piece of art and its creator.
There are so many artists with works displayed in Kyiv. The following two are some of my favourites in the city:
Crows (Herald of Life) was painted by Alexander Britcev. It symbolises the crows that live in the same neighbourhood where it was displayed.
And my personal favourite is the Upside-Down Girl, painted by Fintan Magee and it symbolises Ukrainian gymnast Anna Rizatdinova.
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