In the Northern Half of France, 9 Top French Cities Embrace Urban Art

Grand Place Lille
Le Havre
Press release

There was a time in France when graffiti was a bad word. It certainly wasn't synonymous with art. But times have changed. Since the 1990s, a slow but steady reckoning has elevated appreciation of urban art, loosely defined as creative works that relate to cities and are made by people who live in them, including graffiti and street art using stencils, posters, stickers, murals and more. In fact, these days urban art has been lauded by some as a very significant movement in recent art history.

Increasingly, street artists, in France and around the world, who once dodged municipal authorities are now commissioned to decorate their towns, sometimes on a monumental scale. Annual street art festivals attract thousands. Cities are collaborating with local street art associations to make wall space freely available for outpourings of creativity. And special street art tours are helping educate about what lies behind the dazzling, kaleidoscopic washes of color.

Many members of a French association of regional capitals and smaller cities, called Top French Cities, are no stranger to this cultural awakening. Here are nine in the northern reaches of the country that have served as canvases for talented graffeurs.

Angers: Home to the region's largest fortress and oldest surviving French medieval tapestry, this Loire Valley city is today a busy university town too. Accordingly, it has welcomed a mix of age-old architectural masterpieces and contemporary street art. Angers' annual summer Échappées d'Art festival showcases this by bringing art out of the museums and promoting contemporary creativity in urban spaces. Learn more about Angers.

La Rochelle: A major Atlantic port city since medieval times, La Rochelle boasts arcaded streets and half-timbered houses, as well as extensive parks and fine beaches. It also has the Gabut, epicenter of the Springtime Delights Festival, an annual celebration born of the desire to bring together different modern cultures through concerts, screenings, meetings and street art. Learn more about La Rochelle.

Le Havre: Rebuilt after WW2, this Normandy city's center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site of reinforced concrete architecture. Inspired by Un Été au Havre, this became the backdrop for three walking routes – guided or self-directed via an app – that feature local heritage, monumental works and original street art, such as the "Gouzous" of Le Havre-born graffiti artist Jace. Learn more about Le Havre.

Lille: With over 100,000 students, Lille is an international crossroads notable for its artistic and cultural life. This includes lively street art created during Collectif Renart's Biennale Internationale d'Art Mural, last held in 2017. The murals are on display during guided tours in the area around the old Saint Sauveur train station, led by a street artist and a local guide. Learn more about Lille.

Mulhouse: This Alsatian city takes pride in its identity, which now involves an embrace of street art. For instance, the Festival Mécaniques Urbaines annually hosts a three-day graffiti jam (see past results on Quai des Pêcheurs), and there's a city-sanctioned, self-guided tour of tagged city mailboxes, an acceptance of amusingly altered street signs and even special walls set aside for artists. Learn more about Mulhouse.

Nantes: Is there any wonder that street art is supported in the birthplace of Surrealism and Jules Verne, who inspired steam punk (which comes to life as quirky mechanical automatons at Machines de l'Île)? Nantes has made select walls available to graffiti artists, and projects like Parade, Balade et Distorsion point visitors to them, including a collection of larger-than-life murals. Learn more about Nantes.

Orléans: In 1429, Joan of Arc liberated Orléans, a key location along the Loire River. Today, the city is still an important junction, but also for urban art: ROADS Orléans Street Art is the region's street art event of the year, tackling urban culture through exhibitions and demonstrations by well-known local, national and international graffiti artists, musicians, hip-hop dancers and more. Learn more about Orléans.

Reims: As home to the cathedral where 34 sovereigns were crowned over 1,000 years, Reims has a long history. It also has a long mural on Rue Philippe, one of the longest street art installations in France. Sixty graffiti artists and painters worked to fill more than 8,500 square feet of wall around the theme of 'The Industry of Yesterday and Today.' Learn more about Reims.

Rennes: A city of beautiful contrasts. On the one hand, the typical, colorful, timber-framed houses of Brittany. On the other, more than 40 works of commissioned street art and the 30-plus tag-ready walls of the Urban Expression Network. An interactive map shows where they are and profiles the artists too. Look for animals by WAR, perhaps the city's most notable street artist. Learn more about Rennes.

About Top French Cities –

Top French Cities is an association of 29 cities, from regional capitals like Bordeaux to important towns like Avignon and Versailles. They are perfect for young travelers, families and anyone else looking for fun and authentic French experiences that will fit their budget. Most of these cities are university towns with a youthful atmosphere, but all of them reflect the heritage and distinctive flavors of the regions to which they belong. Many are forward-looking too, with historic buildings repurposed to house contemporary art and activity centers like Les Docks in Marseille. Many have created or integrated new, modern museums to contrast with their classical, architectural heritage, like in Nimes, where the cutting-edge Museum of Roman Civilization (Musée de la Romanité) is located across from the historic Roman amphitheater, or in Nantes, where whimsical mechanical creatures are being created, or in the UNESCO World Heritage Site concrete city of Le Havre.


Marion Fourestier
ATOUT FRANCE – France Tourism Development Agency
(212) 745-0963/67