Skip to Content

Street Art in New York City: A Guide to the Best Hotspots

The street art in New York City sits squarely at the center of an explosive, global urban art movement. The city overflows with murals from local talent as well as international artists. Scope out the world class street art of New York with this guide. Of course, I’ll show you the popular spots but I’ve also included the inside scoop on offbeat neighborhoods, hidden stairwells and crazy alleyways.

New York City street art by Pleks: Where is the real NYC
I think the real NYC is roaming down the streets and crawling up the walls. By Moroccan born Pleks.

Why is Street Art in New York Such a Thing?

New York’s graffiti movement was born in the 1970’s and grew up alongside the hip hop culture. Many of the kids doing the tagging felt invisible. They were ignored by the mainstream American culture (and economic opportunities). Tagging walls and subway cars with stylized names became a way to force visibility onto a complacent public.

Taggers like Blade used the subway system as a moving canvas, spreading graffiti to all corners of New York. After the city figured out how to prevent the tagging on subway cars, the graffiti artists move on to delivery trucks, storefronts and derelict buildings.

New York was way ahead of the curve regarding the modern street art scene. I have been on street art tours from Bristol UK to Tartu Estonia and Bogota Colombia and they all talk about how their local movements were a direct result of what was going on with the New York graffiti artists.

Today, there is still plenty of grit and graffiti all over NYC. However, there is also a coordinated effort to commission legal murals. Two such efforts include the Bushwick Collective, which runs an annual mural festival in Brooklyn and the L.I.S.A. Project which commissions small murals on storefront grates and in select spots in Little Italy.

Bushwick Collective mural by Beau Stanton
This piece by Beau Stanton is located in Bushwick. It’s specific to the space and flows around the corner.

Read More: Find another mythology inspired piece by Stanton on this Nashville murals guide.

Finding the Street Art of New York

Street art is one of the best free things to do in New York and you can find it all over the city. In fact, you could spend a lifetime seeking it all out. But unless you live there, you’ll need to prioritize. This NYC street art tour features four specific places where you can find a high concentration of it. It covers Bushwick Brooklyn, the Meresole district in Brooklyn, the Lower East Side and the Museum of Street Art (MOSA) in the Bowery.

Here’s a map that shows you the general locations discussed in this guide. You can use it to do a DIY tour of street art in New York…OR…you can take one of the guided tours mentioned below. Either way, get ready for some burnt retina because what you’ll find in New York is anything but boring.

Click here or on the image below to get a fully interactive version of a New York City street art map. It includes specific murals and key streets for finding the murals.

New York CIty Street art map
Street artist Phetus monsters in Brooklyn
These monsters by Phetus are so goofy, aren’t they?

Murals in NYC’s Bushwick Collective

Joe Ficalora is a longtime resident of Brooklyn and he developed the Bushwick Collective as a way to enliven a neighborhood plagued by tagging and crime. Ficalora works with local building owners and he curates selected artists to come and work on the walls. The Collective also sponsors an annual Bushwick block party every June.

The result is a 6-ish square block area stuffed with a rotating collection of world class art featuring heavy hitters like Stik, Beau Stanton, Buff Monster, Phlem and Pixel Pancho.

Take a guided tour: Brooklyn Unplugged does a two-hour tour of the Bushwick Collective. You can check pricing and reserve it here.

NYC street art Brooklyn dog mural Ruben Ubiera
This delightful dog is by Ruben Ubiera
Bushwick Brooklyn mural of boy by Lorato and Hicks
Joe Lorato and Logan Hicks do a new “boy” mural in Bushwick every year.
Street art in New York City: Bushwick face mural by Cabano Spiritu
This cheerful portrait is just one of many NYC street art pieces that reflect Latino history and pride. By Cabano Spiritu. To the left of it is an older blue piece by FKDL.

Read More: You can spot another FKDL piece, along with Shepard Fairey and D-Face in this Paris street art tour.

Street art NYC: Bushwick Collective D-Face skeletons
There is something so delightfully dangerous about D-Face and his Lichtenstein inspired deadly romances.

“I rethink, subvert and literally deface imagery drawn from a refuse of materialistic consumption”

D-Face
NYC Mural in Bushwich: Stags by Li Hill
by Aaron Li Hill
Bushwick mural: Tibetan snow leopard by Matt Adnate & Aaron Li Hill
Li Hill painted the snow leopards while collaborating with Matt Adnate on the portrait. Both celebrate Tibetan culture and their efforts to survive.

Murals around Meresole Street in Brooklyn

I was met on Meresole by Audrey aka @bytegirl. She is an unapologetic cheerleader for New York street art and she is dialed into the local scene. While on tour with her, you get a running commentary on the state of politics in New York, who’s riffing on whose work and who’s zooming who.

Take a guided tour: You can tour this neighborhood by booking with Graff Tours.

From Bytegirl, I learned that the Merisole area once housed a German brewery in the 1800’s. I learned that people are calling this area “Williamsburg East” in an effort to artisinally gentrify the housing prices. I learned that this old school working class neighborhood is the wild west when it comes to street art culture. And also that, like the Arts District in LA and Telliskivi Creative District in Estonia, it’s full of artist studios (mixed in with the odd metal shop and bartending school).

I learned that because a local prude lodged a complaint about a nude mural, someone went around appending existing murals with penises and bare breasts. Because street artists are like that.

Street art of New York: Ostrich mural in Meresole district
The boobs on this ostrich were not part of the original package. The rest of the ostrich is by Kremenart.

There is a rich collection of murals and graffiti in the industrial buildings around Meresole, but it’s messy. The works aren’t officially commissioned, but the artists will often get the local “Orthodox handshake”, which is an informal permission from the building owner. Building owners who don’t do the handshake get tagged. Those who do, might end up with a bodacious ostrich, or one of the thoughtful and well-crafted murals below.

Brooklyn street art mural Puero Rican pinata by MrBbaby
MrBBABY designed this piñata as an homage to Puerto Rican culture.
Brooklyn mural of Native American with fist raised by Lanopi
Acknowledgement of the Standing Rock Reservation’s objection to the Dakota Keystone pipeline. By Lonopi.
Phibs mural in Brooklyn blue and orange bugs
Artist Phibs from Melbourne often uses this blue and orange color palette to paint abstract organic creatures.

You also find a ton more of of Phibs in native Australia, they have an amazing street art scene in Melbourne.

Brooklyn Meresole st stencil
The street art in NYC’s Meresole area isn’t just on the walls, look to the ground for messages too.
Brooklyn mural by Croctime red and purple monsters
I have a monstrous appetite for street art. “Croc Time” by Ramiro.
Street art NYC by Dis-satisfied man with fish
This piece is by Dis-Satisfied, who sometimes calls himself Mr. Never. The “never again” and “$1.28” tags are his trademark.

MOSA Features Street Art That Isn’t in the Street

The Museum of Street Art (MOSA) in the Bowery isn’t a conventional museum. It is an indoor mural gallery that plummets down a full twenty floors of stairwell at the CitizenM Bowery hotel. CitizenM is a cool hotel chain with a modern edge and they also have street art surrounding their property in Shoreditch London. The designers for the Bowery project wanted to honor New York’s street art culture. They worked with Marie Flageul to curate a collection from twenty artists who had been part of the 5 Pointz collective.

5 Pointz was an old warehouse district that had been adopted by aerosol artists. It was slated for redevelopment but the developer defied a court order and whitewashed the works before they could be properly documented. The artists sued and won a judgment. The CitizenM has chosen to given them a space to flex their creative muscle and celebrate New York’s history and culture.

Take a self-guided tour: You can do a free self-guided tour of the stairwell. They control how many people are in the stairwell at any given time and prefer that you book it ahead on the MOSA website. However, if it’s a slow day and you are in the neighborhood, stop in and ask nicely at the reception desk.

NYC Museum of Street Art MOSA
MOSA mural Allen Ginsberg by Damien Mitchell
Portrait of Allen Ginsberg by Damien Mitchell
New York street art portrait of Ru Paul by Elle
…and another portrait, this one of Ru Paul by @Ellestreetart
Zimad mural on Puerto Rico at the MOSA stairwell
Another mural celebrating Puerto Rican pride. This one is by Zimad.
The Yok mural of a pickle MOSA
Fancy a wacky pickle? By The Yok.
Street art NYC: MOSA mural light bulb by Meres One
by Meres One

“Art should be an encounter and moreover a source of knowledge, inspiration and delight”

Liesbeth Willems

New York’s Street Art on the Lower East Side

I met up with Bytegirl once again for a tour of Manhattan’s Lower East Side. The area has historically provided high density tenement housing for newcomers to America. The Immigration Act of 1924 severely restricted immigration in order to “preserve American homogeneity”, a concept which disturbingly resurfaced in 21st century America. These laws had a particularly negative effect on Asians (as a whole), Italians and Eastern European Jews. These practices codified discrimination and those who were able to immigrate, clustered on the Lower East Side.

It remained a rough and tumble area well into the 1980’s when the crack and AIDs epidemics crushed the creative class who had moved into the neighborhood.

Immigrant history paired with a scrappy creative class and a cheap housing market creates the perfect conditions for street art to thrive. This is also true for San Francisco’s Mission District murals and Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood.

The L.I.S.A Project fertilizes those conditions by working with artists and building owners to keep the area’s street art fresh. You’ll note on the NYC street art map above that the art is spread all over the Lower East Side and spotting street art is one of the coolest things to do in SoHo.

Take a guided tour: The L.I.S.A Project offers tours that cover the Lower East Side and Little Italy. Check out their schedule and book here.

LISA Project 100 Gates Project Mural
The L.I.S.A Project curated a project to bring 100 murals to storefront grates. Best viewed in the evening or Sunday when the stores are closed. By Tanya Taylor.
New York City urban art by Dan Witz
These window settings created by Dan Witz are like a horror story waiting to be written. You can find them on Allen Street in the disused building that is perched in the median.
NYC street art mural: heart by Chrisrwk
The romantic robot was done by Chrisrwk and the Glam mural was done by Indie184.
New York City STIK mural in SoHo
There are several pieces by STIK in NYC. One is on a water tower in Bushwick, another abuts the Tenement Museum and this delightful one is near Little Italy. Street art literally saved Stik from a life of substance abuse and I find his simple works very touching.

Find more STIK in Bristol England.

Vhils street art sculpture SoHo New York
Vhils has created a whole new art form with these detailed three dimensional sculptures. He actually adds plaster to the building surface and then chisels off chunks like a large scale wood cut.

Vhils also has a nice piece in the Shoenberg neighborhood in Berlin and he has also contributed to the popularity of the Quinta do Mocho street art in Lisbon, Portugal.

Freeman Alley stickers New York
Be sure to check out Freeman Alley for stickers and stencils that are edgy, goofy, political and always changing.
New York street art stickers
Sometimes the best street art is in the small details. These kinds of stickers can be found all over New York’s light poles, fire hydrants and in Freeman Alley.
NYC mural Shepard Fairey Bowery
An optimistic mural from the man who developed Obama’s “Yes We Can” poster. By Shepard Fairey.
treet art NYC: Kobra mural in SoHo with Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse and other dead rockers
Kobra’s homage to dead rockers: Janice Joplin, Kurt Kobain, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Amy Winehouse.
Little Italy Audrey mural by Tristan Eaton
“Audrey of Mulberry” by Tristan Eaton.

Keep your eyes open because Eaton also has several other works on the Lower East Side. He’s also been busy creating murals in Honolulu.

Six More Resources for Finding Street Art in NYC

If your appetite for street art is as voracious as mine, then the four locations explored here may not be enough for you. So, check out the following resources for finding and learning more about NYC’s street art scene.

If you know of some additional hot spots for finding the street art of New York City, please comment below or find me on Facebook. I’d love to hear about it.

Street Art Addiction is Real sticker

(This article contains affiliate links. This means that if you choose to purchase, I’ll make a small commission.)

Find More Great Global Street Art

Study great street art in other cities by checking out my guides to:
Top Street Art Cities in the World | Books About Street Art|Street Art Festivals | Buenos Aires | Bogota | San Diego | San Francisco | Los Angeles |Nashville | Chicago | New York | Havana | London | Reykjavik  | Belfast | Bristol | Berlin | Paris | Estonia | Rural Australia | Melbourne | Honolulu | Salt Lake City

Follow my street art board in Pinterest for more eye candy.

Stay up to date with Wayfaring Views and subscribe to the newsletter.

Share the best street art in New York with your friends and pin this post!

One more picture because I just can’t control myself:

Street art tiger in NYC
I do love me an endangered species. By Project Cat.
Blisters and Bedbugs on the Camino and Why It’s Worth Going Back for More
← Read Last Post
San Andrés Colombia woman in water walking to Haynes Cay
8 Things to Do in San Andrés Island Colombia for Discovering Gilligan's Island
Read Next Post →