New York’s best neighborhoods for street art

For many people, the words “New York” conjure images of a Technicolor riot of graffiti: elaborate murals, eye-popping bubble letters, and subway trains dazzling their way through tunnels like motorized rainbows. Though graffiti styles have changed over time—and the subways have been scrubbed clean—New York remains the essential city for street artists, who journey from around the globe to tag, stencil, paste, and paint on the biggest canvas in the world. While street art can be found all over town, some neighborhoods are especially rewarding for the graffiti connoisseur. Here’s a guide.

North Brooklyn

The center of New York’s booming music scene, North Brooklyn also has great street art.

  • With its critical mass of hipsters and long-time residents, Williamsburg boasts some of the city’s best eating and drinking—it’s a must on the itineraries of all visitors under 40.
  • Greenpoint presents an intriguing mix of trendsetters and Polish immigrants. Both areas feature paste-ups, stencils, and small wall pieces.
  • Bushwick, with its enormous industrial buildings, has more monumental, block-long murals. It’s less gentrified and still like feels a secret. Try to keep it that way.

Visitors staying at the W Union Square, the Hotel Gansevoort, or The Standard have a short walk to the L train, which goes to Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Bushwick.

Long Island City

Long Island City, just over the East River from Midtown in Queens, is home to a graffiti mecca: the legendary 5 Pointz. An enormous warehouse entirely given over, inside and out, to street artists, 5 Pointz must be seen to be believed. Anyone is free to paint here, provided you first present a sketch to Meres One, the space’s curator. The pieces range from demure stencils to intricate, grandiose, 30-feet high scenes depicting battles between aliens and skeletons. An aficionado could happily spend the better part of a day watching and marveling.

Long Island City is a quick subway ride from Midtown on the 7, E, V, or R subway lines. The Grand Hyatt, Millennium UN Plaza, and Affinia 50 are fewer than 10 minutes by train from LIC.

Chelsea and the Meatpacking District

Unlike in Bushwick, the streets here are quite developed, so the pieces tend to be smaller. And with so many of the art world’s movers and shakers afoot (Chelsea is the epicenter of NYC’s art scene), street artists jostle for the space that remains, sandwiching their work between doors and windows, unabashedly working atop one another, and no doubt secretly hoping to score a gallery deal of their own. (The wall across the street from Pastis is notorious for its constant pasting-over by new artists.) The huge number of restaurants, bars, and clubs in the area means that you can gallery- and street art–hop all day and then eat, drink, and dance all night, without walking more than 15 minutes in any direction.

The GEM Hotel, Maritime Hotel, and Hotel Indigo are located within easy walking distance from the art and nightlife.

Jessica Allen and Garrett Ziegler of We Heart New York

[Photo credit: Flickr/gsz (Garrett Ziegler)]