New York City is the birthplace of modern graffiti, so it’s only natural that each neighborhood has its own personality when it comes to street art flair. In fact, it’s nearly impossible to visit any of New York’s five boroughs without spotting at least a few impressive murals. From revamped neighborhoods like Williamsburg, to iconic ones dripping in rock and roll history like the East Village, here are New York’s best neighborhoods and blocks for gritty graffiti.
Lower East Side
A stroll through Manhattan’s Lower East Side takes you past historic buildings, indie music venues, trendy designer boutiques, and some beautiful pieces of street art. Artists on display run the gamut from newcomers like Brooklyn-based Maya Hayuk to modern mosaic artist Space Invader to world-renowned names such as Shepard Fairey. There’s something for every taste and temperament in the LES. Not to be missed is the mural at the corner of Ludlow and Rivington streets, commissioned to honor the 25th anniversary of the Beastie Boys' album Paul's Boutique.
Hunts Point, the Bronx
This South Bronx neighborhood is home to work by graffiti legends Tats Cru, a collective currently comprising muralists Bio, BG183, Nicer, How and Nosm. Spot their work on Drake Street, Spofford Avenue and one block over at Edgewater Road. The group began working here in 2008 and have also invited fellow artists to contribute – stencilist Nick Walker, Los Angeles’ collective The Seventh Letter and Evoke to name a few. For more Bronx street art, head to the Bronx Wall of Fame on E 173rd St at W Farms Road.
Former factory district turned hipster haven, Williamsburg, is one of Brooklyn’s top neighborhoods for spotting vibrant street art. Bordered by Bushwick to the east and Greenpoint to the north, Williamsburg is a mix of old and new artistic and architectural influences. Artwork includes pieces by Tristan Eaton and How & Nosm (both at the corner of Fillmore Pl and Roebling St), Cernesto Wonder’s mural at 184 N 8th St and Robots Will Kill at the corner of N 3rd St and Bedford Ave. For an overview of different styles, walk along N 6th St between Bedford and Kent Aves.
East Harlem, also nicknamed El Barrio and Spanish Harlem, runs north of 96th St between Fifth Ave and the Harlem River. Here lies the famed Graffiti Wall of Fame (E 106th St at Park Avenue). Local activist Sting Ray founded the wall back in 1980 to encourage positive expression within the community. A slew of respected artists have showcased their work here, including the likes of Flight, Dez, Crash, Tats Cru and Skeme. Every August there is an event where old pieces are painted over by new ones.
Also in August, the festival Los Muros Hablan NYC (losmuroshablannyc.com) is a fantastic example of how the neighborhood pays homage to its Hispanic heritage. The urban art fest draws muralists from all over Latin America, Puerto Rico and New York.
Although Long Island City’s beloved 5Pointz is now closed, Queens still has plenty of other graffiti hubs that are worth a visit. In 2009, Ad Hoc Art began Astoria’s Welling Court Mural project and the initiative has been livening up the neighborhood ever since. Tons of artists have participated – Cake, Clown Soldier, Danielle Mastrion, Lmnopi and Fumero to name a few. Best of all, Astoria Park and the Socrates Sculpture Garden are within walking distance.
The wall at the corner of Bowery and E Houston St, otherwise known as the Bowery graffiti wall, has become a street art institution in recent years. Keith Haring painted the first mural in 1982, but it wasn’t until 2008 that curator Jeffrey Deitch and wall owner Tony Goldman began sanctioning the murals. Since then, they’ve collaborated with a number of well-known artists like Shephard Fairey, Barry McGee and Os Gêmeos.
The Germania Bank Building on 190 Bowery at Spring St is also prime real estate for graffiti artists.
While not quite as gentrified as its Williamsburg neighbor, Bushwick is notorious for being home to some of the best street art across the five boroughs. The Bushwick Collective, an outdoor gallery at Troutman St and St Nicholas Ave that features work from an organized group of top-notch street artists, is largely responsible for this growing awareness. Italian artist Pixel Pancho, Australian artist Reka, Polish-born Olek and New York-based artist Zimad have all contributed pieces to the space. Artwork rotates regularly throughout the year and is curated by Joseph Ficalora.
Located on the border of Little Italy, Soho and Chinatown, Kenmare St has emerged as a hotspot for young and up-and-coming artists. Among them is Kelsey Montague, whose black-and-white angel wings can be seen alongside other pieces outside the Italian pizzeria L’asso (192 Mott Street). Montague is also known for engaging the Instagram crowd by posting inspirational messages and the hashtag #Whatliftsyou alongside photos of her work. The hashtag and accompanying pics of tourists posing in front of the work regularly pop up on social media.
East Village / Alphabet City
The East Village isn’t just a hip neighborhood for musicians and foodies – street artists flock here as well. Punk rock fans should check out the mural honoring Joe Strummer, former Clash frontman, at Avenue A and E 7th St, a nod to the areas rich musical history. But it's the graffiti adorning the construction boards of the Houston restoration project which is the real draw here. Seen on First Ave at 1st St, the site is being run as an experimental canvas by the Centre-fuge Public Art Project. Launched in January 2012, pieces rotate bimonthly and feature both high-profile artists, like Iranian stencil duo Icy and Sot, and recent art school grads.
This gallery-filled lower Manhattan neighborhood is a huge hit with arty types. Plus the addition of the the High Line, New York's most beloved of elevated parks, gives pedestrians a birds-eye view of downtown Manhattan and the Hudson River. On Tenth Ave and 25th St, you can see Kobra’s V-J Day mural among other pieces.