Until fairly recently, most people regarded street art as mere "graffiti," deeming it less worthwhile than works displayed in traditional museums and galleries. But thanks in part to the influence of popular figures such as UK-based Banksy, the form has gained both respect and credibility. In Paris, interesting street art is popping up just about everywhere. You only have to raise your eyes off the ground and train your attention on street corners, the backs of buildings, and quiet passageways to find whimsical, cartoonish figures and mysterious murals. Of course, certain areas are particularly well endowed with visually arresting open-air works. Use our guide to beeline to some of the best places to see street art in Paris. And if you're interested in getting a more in-depth view of highlights in the capital, companies offer regular tours in English.
The bustling, traditionally working-class Belleville district harbors some of the city's most dramatic, and captivating, street art. With its inexpensive rents, ample space for studios and workshops, and diverse communities, Belleville seems a natural cradle for ambitious urban art projects. And it's indeed now a major center of contemporary artistic life in Paris.
Where to Start
We recommend getting off at Metro Belleville (Line 2 or 11) and walking a couple of blocks to Rue Denoyez, a street that's more or less dedicated to urban design and creation. Murals, colorful portraits of famous and lesser-known personalities, and artful graffiti line the entire street, which is also occupied by a number of artists' studios and workshops. On a related note, if you happen to be in town during the month of May, make sure not to miss out on the Belleville Open Studios event, which sees hundreds of artists open their doors to the public for free.
Other streets to explore in Belleville include Rue de Belleville and the Place Frehel, where a cool blue mural of a man with a hat and standing in a crouched position graces the side of a building. This is a familiar sight for anyone who regularly makes their way down the steep, narrow Rue de Belleville.
It sits beside a 1993 installation from French artist Ben entitled "Il faut se méfier des mots" (You have to be wary of words). Featuring a dummy dressed in blue and standing on a wooden platform below a giant chalkboard on which the enigmatic message is scrawled, this is an example of creative, mixed-media street art that continues to fascinate and perplex.
Finally, continue up Rue de Belleville toward Metro Jourdain for curious figures and portraits, then over to the area around Metro Ménilmontant for graffiti and abstract wall art in colors so riotous that Jackson Pollock might be jealous. An enormous fresco at 68 rue de Ménilmontant was painted by leading street artist Jérôme Mesnager, while at number 38 on the same street, you can admire a tightrope cyclist from the artist Nemo.
The Butte aux Cailles
The only neighborhood to possibly outdo Belleville in the street-art department is the Butte aux Cailles, a sleepy, village-like district in southern Paris that few tourists ever venture to explore. Lauded for its art-deco houses, quiet, leafy villas, and neighborhood cafe life, the area is also unusually rich in open-air art.
Where to Start
Get off at Metro Corvisart (Line 6) and walk a few blocks to Rue des Cinq Diamants, one of the main streets in the area. Here, including at number 13 and in front of Basque restaurant Chez Gladines, you'll see numerous figures and murals from popular French street artist Miss Tic, who has been working in the area for over two decades. Also look for her work at number 27 and number 30, Rue des Cinq Diamants.
On the same street, you'll also find works from noted Parisian street artist Jef Aérosol. Otherwise, we recommend walking around the Butte aux Cailles and its intimate, winding streets to happen on other murals and curious figures.
There's something nostalgic and charming in the area's numerous portrayals of children playing amid urban landscapes, and the murals bring bursts of color to an area whose facades are otherwise resolutely grey.
Another area that's replete with interesting and eye-catching urban art is the neighborhood around Metros Charonne and Oberkampf. The works are more dispersed here than in other areas, so the best strategy is probably just to amble around and stay attentive to sides of buildings, side passageways and even sidewalks for touches of color and creation.
Streets such as Rue de Charonne, Rue Oberkampf, Rue Saint Maur, and Rue de la Fontaine au Roi are all hotspots of urban art in the 11th arrondissement (district). Get off at Metro Oberkampf or Saint-Maur to see some of its more iconic pieces.
At the corner of Rue Oberkampf and Rue Saint-Maur (Metro: Saint-Maur), a modulable and curated space run by an association called M.U.R. is reserved for local street artists. The display changes frequently, making this an especially worthwhile spot.
On nearby Rue de la Fontaine au Roi, meanwhile, some 20 street artists have been commissioned to create murals and other open-air works. Walk up the street to see familiar Parisian staples such as the "Space Invaders," colorful figures that resemble low-resolution characters from early video games.
Incidentally, you can in fact find these pixelated figures—created by an anonymous artist who goes by the name "Invader"—peeping out above or below street signs on the sides of buildings all over Paris. Finding them can be the object of a fun game, for travelers of all ages.
Although the vast majority of noteworthy street artists work in areas a bit out of the way from the city's major tourist attractions, there are some exceptions.
After visiting the whimsical art and culture hub known as the Centre Georges-Pompidou in central Paris (Metro/RER Les Halles or Metro Rambuteau), head over to the Place Igor Stravinsky just south of the main entrance. Here, take in a monumental mural by Jef Aérosol, a noted Parisian street artist. It depicts a man placing a finger over his mouth as if urging passersby to quiet down. Although the figure has no moustache, many swear he bears an uncanny resemblance to Spanish painter Salvador Dalí—or even suggest the mural is meant to represent him. The piece looms behind the quirky Stravinsky Fountain, with animated, colorful sculptures from artist Niki de Sainte Phalle and Jean Tinguely.
Finally, head over to the posh Saint-Germain-des-Prés district on the left bank of the Seine, where a striking commemorative mural stands in front of French musical legend Serge Gainsbourg's house (5bis Rue de Verneuil).
Depicting the master of French chanson alongside his former partner, the actress, musician and style icon Jane Birkin, the mural draws a regular stream of devoted Gainsbourg fans to an otherwise sleepy stretch of St-Germain.
To home in on other sites of interesting urban creation in the capital visit the Paris Convention and Visitor's Bureau website.