Last Updated on May 31, 2023
Most visitors come to Paris to explore its grand museums and historic landmarks, but the city is also home to an energetic street art scene that offers a unique perspective on Parisian culture. Street art has a long and notable history in Paris: one that dates back to the 1960s and the May ‘68 protests, where students led anti-capitalist revolts against the policies of the then-president, Charles de Gaulle, and against the American Vietnam War and its effects.
These protests were marked by a surge of creative expression, including street art, which emerged as a means of political and social commentary. But it wasn’t until the 1980s that street art truly began to flourish in the French capital. Blek le Rat (aka Xavier Prou) and Jérôme Mesnager are commonly cited as the two pioneers of the movement.
Prou was known for his stencil-based art and for his political and social commentary, while Mesnager – whose work is still widely exhibited in galleries and museums around the world – was known for his simple, yet striking, images of white figures, which he painted on building and walls throughout the city.
Since then, street art has continued to evolve and thrive in Paris, with artists from all over the world arriving to showcase their work. Of course, the legality of this work is, as in many other cities, somewhat ambiguous. Under French law, graffiti and other forms of street art that are deemed to be a form of damage to property can be punishable by fines and even imprisonment.
Happily, however, in recent years there has been a growing recognition of street art as a legitimate artform, and many local authorities and property owners in Paris have begun to embrace it. L’Hôtel de Ville (Paris City Hall), for instance, openly supports the annual series of events celebrating the city’s alternative arts (including street art), known as Paris Face Cachée, or PGC.
And some owners even commission street artists to create murals and other works of art on their properties, recognising the cultural and economic value that street art can bring to a neighborhood. Here are a few of the best areas to head to for some truly interesting street art in Paris.
Belleville for the most diverse street art
Belleville is probably the best-known spot in the city to view street art. Often referred to as an ‘open-air museum’, it was this northeastern arrondissement which housed the most renowned Paris street artists in the 1980s (including Mesnager) and it continues to do so today. The culturally diverse, traditionally working-class area boasts all manner of street art, much of which is rich with political and social commentary.
From the hyper-realistic paintings of Nô, whose work often serves as a commentary on unjust migrant laws, to Fred Le Chevalier’s literary-inspired paste-ups which depict a boy who has the ability to walk through walls, to the iconic mixed-media mural from Ben warning us to “beware of words” (pictured below, 1993) — the area holds much to offer for anyone interested in street art. If you’ve only got time to visit one area on a self-guided tour of the craft, I’d recommend Belleville.
Getting There: Stop at metro Belleville or Pyrenées.
Route: Start at the top of hilly Rue de Belleville (Metro Pyrenées) and head down Rue Piat to see the Belvédère pavilion at the Belleville park, with panoramic views of the city framed by street art and murals. Next, descend the hilly street to see works such as the one mentioned above as well as a mural by Fred Le Chevalier.
Towards the bottom of Rue de Belleville, cut a left onto Rue Denoyez, a quirky pedestrian alley filled with colorful works and lined with artist studios, before paying a visit to the Parc de Belleville. Next, head to Rue de la Fontaine au Roi for colorful murals and graffiti, and finish up on Rue Oberkampf (technically in a neighboring area in the 11th arrondissement) for brightly painted murals, graffiti, and intriguing art installations.
Highlights: Rue Denoyez, Rue de Belleville and the Belvédère pavilion in Belleville park (with stunning views of Paris — and the work of street artist Seth).
The 13th arrondissement for electrifying murals and feminist street art
Next up, the 13th arrondissement also offers an exciting and dynamic landscape for street art enthusiasts. Much like Belleville, the treizième is known for its vibrant cultural diversity and strong support for artistic expression. It’s a particularly prime location for murals: the wide and open walls of buildings and street corners serve as canvases for local and international artists to unleash their creativity.
The microdistrict known as the Butte-aux-Cailles is home to some magnificent works by street artists who happen to be women, such as Carole B. and Miss.Tic. Miss.Tic, a local legend in the Parisian street art scene, sadly passed away in 2022, and tributes to her around the city have been numerous in recent months.
Getting There: Get off at Metro Nationale, Place d’Italie or Tolbiac and walk to the center of the neighborhood on Rue de la Butte aux Cailles.
Route: Begin at Place d’Italie and explore the surrounding streets and alleys to discover various street art pieces, before heading to Rue de la Butte-aux-Cailles, where you’ll find great feminist street art pieces depicting strong female figures, feminist slogans and social justice themes.
Next, walk to Rue des Cinq Diamants to admire a diverse array of colorful street art, before continuing on Rue de la Glacerie, where you’ll encounter large-scale murals, smaller stencils, and paste-ups. Head towards Rue Jeanne d’Arc for more feminist works and end your walk on the bustling rue de Tolbiac.
Highlights: Le Lavo//Matik — a gallery-shop devoted to street art, and Carole B’s work, ‘Liberté Égalité Féminité’ (pictured above).
Montmartre for historic insight into art and street art
Montmartre is one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, long celebrated as a haven for artists. It was here that, from the 19th century, artists flocked to escape the mainstream art world, and where painters such as Van Gogh, Picasso, and Dali once worked. This artistic heritage has contributed to the area’s vibrant and bohemian street art culture, with colorful murals and graffiti adorning its walls, streets and quaint alleys.
Getting there: Get off at Metro Abbesses or Anvers.
Route: Start at Abbesses Metro Station, where you can see the famous mur des je t’aime. The mural, created by artists Fédéric Baron and Claire Kito, consists of over 600 tiles made of enameled lava, on which white chalk-like scrawlings of “I love you” are inscribed in 250 languages.
Next, wander along Rue des Abbesses and spot more colorful murals and graffiti. Next, head to Rue Norvins to explore notable works by artists such as Jef Aerosol before checking out Place du Tertre for street art in Montmartre’s alleys and side lanes. Walk along Rue Poulbot to enjoy more vibrant murals and graffiti and finish up at Rue l’Abreuvoir, famous for Levalet’s collage art.
Highlights: The Mur des je t’aime (the ‘I love you’wall) and Swed Oner’s ‘support your local homeless’ series .
Le Marais for Space Invaders
The Marais neighborhood is known for its eclectic mix of historic architecture, trendy shops, and a vibrant art scene — including its street art culture! One of the most iconic elements of street art in the Marais is the ubiquitous presence of Space Invaders.
These tile mosaics, resembling the classic video game characters, can be found on walls, street corners and doorways. You can even download an app on your phone (Flash Invaders) that allows you to scan the the Space Invaders and collect points.
Getting There: Metro Saint-Paul or Hotel de Ville.
Route suggestion: Begin at Rue des Archives and explore this historic street with its mix of boutiques, cafes and street art. Next, walk along Rue Vielle du Temple where you’ll find plenty of Space Invaders, then explore Rue des Ecouffes for hidden gems and semi-hidden murals.
Highlights: Galerie Artkanoid in the Haut Marais (a gallery dedicated to discovering the latest trends in the street art market), and Unsolub’s mural in Passage des Gravilliers.
The Canal de l’Ourcq / Villette area for its mural-and-graffiti culture
The Canal de l’Ourcq / Villette neighborhood’s industrial heritage and urban landscape (long stretches of walls, bridges and warehouses) affords street artists a unique and fertile spot to express themselves. The nearby Parc de la Villette, with its open spaces and cultural institutions, attracts a diverse and creative community, lending the area a brilliantly dynamic atmosphere.
The area is very well known for its vibrant graffiti scene — with everything on show from colorful tags and throw-ups, to elaborate pieces with intricate details. It’s a bright, colorful locale, and the work here brilliantly reflects the diversity of styles and techniques of Parisian graffiti culture.
Route: Begin at the Parc de la Villette, where you can find various large-scale murals and graffiti pieces, before walking along the Canal de l’Ourcq, keeping an eye out for the graffiti-covered warehouses along the way. Finish up the walk at the Rotonde de la Villette, a historic building turned cultural centre, known for its vibrant graffiti and art scene.
You can also see a number of eye-catching, artistically impressive murals in the area, including from artists such as Marko, author of the mural depicting Frida Kahlo above.
Highlights: The Rotonde de la Villette and Le Mur de l’Ourcq — a large-scale mural located on the side of a building alongside the canal.
Metro: Porte de la Villette.
Vitry-sur-Seine for a street art village just outside the city
Fancy an unusual day trip just outside the city walls? Vitry-sur-Seine, a suburb located in the southeastern outskirts of Paris, is renowned for its thriving street art scene. The town has a long history of supporting street art and has become a prominent hub for both local and international street artists to showcase their work.
The village’s streets, walls, and public spaces are all adorned with a diverse range of street art, including murals, graffiti, stencils and installations. Much of this is thanks to the famous French street artist C215 (Christian Guemy), who moved to Vitry in 2008 and encouraged other artists to do the same. The suburb continues to attract artists from across the globe.
Getting There: Take RER Line C from central Paris (at St-Michel/Notre Dame, Invalides or Pont de l’Alma) to the Vitry-sur-Seine stop.
Route suggestion: Begin at Vitry-sur-Seine RER station and walk along Rue Camille Groult, where you’ll find a range of street art (including murals and graffiti, as well as stencil art on the walls of buildings, warehouses and fences).
Next, head towards Rue Auguste Blanqui, where you’ll be greeted with large-scale murals painted by artists such as C215, INTI, and Jef Aérosol. Then continue your tour on Rue de la Glacerie, which is a popular spot for international street artists. End your walk at the Vitry-sur-Seine Street Art Gallery on 89 Avenue Georges Gosnat.
Highlights: Le Mur de Vitry (a sweeping legal graffiti wall), and breathtaking murals by C215 (Christian Guemy).
Portfolio pages of the artists mentioned in this piece:
- Blek le Rat
- Jérôme Mesnager
- Fred Le Chevalier
- Carole B
- Miss. Tic
- Jef Aerosol
- Swed Oner
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Paris Unlocked Associate Editor Rachel Naismith is a former micro-bakery owner and manager of a Glasgow-based food bank. She currently lives in Paris where she writes about the city’s shifting culinary landscape. Her work has appeared in publications including Palate Magazine, Travel Mag and the HIP Paris Blog.