There’s more to a city than just concrete, steel and hard work. The color of a city’s architecture and the creativity of its people can turn a dull, functional town into a thing of vibrant beauty. From the favelas of Rio de Janeiro to the Blue City of India and beyond, color is a core characteristic of some of the world’s most stunning cities. Join us to explore 10 of the most bright and colorful cities around the world today.
Cinque Terre – Italy
The pearl of Italy’s riviera is not a city, per se, but a collection of five seaside villages that are together celebrated as an UNESCO World Heritage site. Cinque Terre, Italy comprises the villages of Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore, all of which are perched high above the quiet Mediterranean below. These villages climb the mountainous overlook with bright, varied colors, appearing as if they were drawn in place by the pastel hand of a dreaming artist. Each quiet fishing village warmly accepts travelers, some of which are often amongst the world’s A-list celebrities. With a glance at the gallery below, it’s easy to understand why the world’s most famous would want to escape to a slice of heaven like this.
Jodhpur – India
Generations ago, the priestly caste of Jodhpur, India painted their homes blue to separate themselves from the rest of the citizenry. It wasn’t long until the rest of the old city, Brahmins or not, took up the tradition and painted their homes blue as well. While the city has expanded far beyond its old walls today, its central core is almost entirely indigo in color. Ask a few locals about the color choice today, and you’ll receive many answers. Some may point to the priestly caste years ago, others suggest it wards off mosquitoes, and others claim the blue keeps their homes cool under the hot Indian sun. No matter the cause, the effect is breathtaking. Visitors to Jodhpur can experience one of the most colorful cities on the planet, where every brick, beam and boundary has been painted in this cool, calming fashion.
St. Johns – Newfoundland – Canada
The city of St. Johns on the island of Newfoundland is arguably Canada’s most colorful city, a characteristic in contrast to its otherwise chilly climate. The cultural gem of its province, St. Johns features many museums, art galleries and urban parks throughout its hilly coastal environs. In the hip sections of the city, low-rise buildings have been painted in a vibrant array of colors, a visual quality that is noticeable even from the ships that pass by. When it comes to color, there’s nothing dull about this hamlet on the easternmost point of North America.
Old San Juan – Puerto Rico
If color was a drug, the addicts would have fled to Old San Juan long ago. Old San Juan, Puerto Rico is a marvelous mosaic of color in all directions, a city with a rich cultural heritage shared by the native Taino people and the descendents of European explorers. The buildings in Old San Juan are different from one step to the next, some warm and primary, others bright and pastel. Even the streets of this UNESCO World Heritage site are colorful– the blue bricks that pave Old San Juan were shipped over from Spain one-by-one during the 16th century. Its people are as bright, varied and beautiful as the colors that line its streets, and their hospitality must be experienced by every world traveler. We visited Old San Juan in late 2011, be sure to check out our review of San Juan’s premier boutique hotel, The Gallery Inn.
San Francisco – California
Despite its standing as the most culturally-progressive city in the United States, there’s another rainbow of colors shining brightly in San Francisco. This densely-packed peninsula city is home to a colorful architectural identity, one reflected in the varied paint styling that changes from door to door. The Painted Ladies, a row of homes in San Francisco’s Lower Haight district, are one of the most recognizable works of color in the city, but bright colors can be found anywhere throughout the town. The gallery below shares a few perfect examples.
Valparaiso – Chile
Valparaiso, Chile has been called the “Ocean’s Sweetheart”, “The Jewel of the Pacific” and the city that “goes to paradise”– and it is also the cultural capitol of this geographically narrow nation. It is covered with color from city limit to city limit, a characteristic which has charmed Chileans and foreigners for generations. The city of Valparaiso climbs from the shore of the pacific into the mountains above, covering the hills with a sight as rich as the personalities within. Its culture, its color and its progressive spirit have earned it another nickname which fits this list quite well– the San Francisco of the South.
Bo Kaap – Cape Town – South Africa
A small corner of Cape Town, South Africa is home to the Cape Malay ethnic group and a visually vibrant architectural sensibility. A group of Southeast Asian and Muslim immigrants came together in the quarter of Bo Kaap, a hilly neighborhood of Cape Town. The buildings of Bo Kaap are separated by bright and friendly colors which change from address to address. Pinks, oranges, yellows and blues mix together to create a community of eye candy, one that easily earns its place in a list of the top 10 most colorful cities around the world.
Guanajuato – Mexico
The silver city of Guanajuato is the most colorful in all of Mexico, one celebrated for its cultural and mineral importance during the colonial period and beyond. For 250 years, the Guanajuato silver mines were the most productive in the world, providing 30% of the world’s silver. A city shot up around these mines as they were being explored, and the colonial-era architecture is evidence of this building boom. Yet the spirit of Guanajuato is reflected in the color of those buildings, varied across the full spectrum from one end of town to the other. Like others on this list, the colorful city of Guanajuato is also now celebrated as an UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Wroclaw – Poland
Despite its tumultuous past, the city of Wroclaw, Poland has long embraced color as a part of its cultural identity. As Europe warred around it, Wroclaw has been a city of Germany, Prussia, Austria and finally Poland, where it is now the 4th largest city of its newest country. The buildings of its city center are rich in color, progressing from earth tones to pastels in a very old-world manner. This colorful take on classical architecture makes it one of the most colorful cities in Europe, and a departure from the rest of the entries on this list. While Wroclaw is varied in color, it has a most subtle-yet-effective way of communicating it to its visitors. Where some cities are over the top, something about Wroclaw strikes you as “just right”.
Favela Painting – Rio de Janeiro – Brazil
The favelas (or shanty towns) of Rio de Janeiro can be difficult and dangerous for those who call them home. Over 11 million Brazilians live in favelas like those in Rio, where sanitation, running water and even police access are not guaranteed. If you can view them from afar, there is a strange beauty to their nature, one recognized by Dutch artists Jeroen Koolhaas and Dre Urhahn. Koolhaas and Urhahn visited favelas in Rio to work with the locals to create brilliant works of colorful art on the walls of the homes they live in. Simply called Favela Painting, the duo’s manner of charitable art makes the locals the artists and their city the canvas, instilling pride in a place that few would find desirable. This work by the people of Rio might be the most colorful neighborhood in the world, clearly the gem of our list of ten.