The World’s Most Colorful Cities
Exploring new cities is always a pleasure, but when those destinations are Crayola-colored and candy-striped, it’s even more of a treat. Countries around the world—from Chile to South Africa to the picturesque colonial town of Trinidad in Cuba—are home to cities that have done away with the practical in favor of the fun, whether due to a city-wide artistic streak, a cultural love of color, or a Hollywood payout.
Curaçao’s anything-but-white city of Willemstad, for example, is a visual tonic. Rumor has it the governor demanded the vibrant hues to soothe his migraines. And the jewel-like homes that fill Burano, Italy, are also the result of a government decree. A formal request to paint a home must be submitted to local officials who decides which colors may be used according to a 16th-century coloring system.
Other cities on this list have only recently been washed in colors, thanks to social art projects and surprising film promotions (you have the Smurfs 3D movie to thank for the striking blue city of Júzcar, Spain).
Consider this an afternoon mood booster—or an Instagram bucket list. After all, it's hard to take a bad shot of these colorful coastal towns and hillside cities. Read on for our always-expanding list of the most radiant cities in the world.
This piece originally appeared on Travel + Leisure.
It’s easy to spot the Venetian Island of Burano from the sea. The jewel-colored homes act like a beacon, which is what they were intended to be. According to island lore, local fisherman started painting their homes in bright colors—hues of orange, red, yellow, and purple—so they could see them while out fishing in the fog and could follow their colors back home. Now, the practice has become law, and if you live on the island and want to paint your home, you must ask for permission from the government, who will assign your home a color. For visitors, the homes are just a welcome dose of cheerfulness.
Bo-Kaap, Cape Town, South Africa
Formerly known as the Malay Quarter (named for the slaves taken from the Malaysian Archipelago), the bright buildings in Bo-Kaap stand out among Cape Town’s more traditional structures. The mosques and homes in Bo-Kaap, a historically Muslim quarter, are a dazzling rainbow of blues, fuchsia, sunshine yellows, and neon greens. While the neighborhood is one of the city’s oldest—it dates back to the 16th-century—the residents only recently started transforming their homes. It's an expression of freedom, a celebration of Ramadan and Eid, and, perhaps, just a matter of whatever can of paint is on sale.
The dazzling colors that adorn the capital city of this Caribbean island stem from an unlikely source—headaches. According to local lore, back in the 1800s the governor of the Dutch colony decided that the color white caused his migraines. He issued a decree that buildings could be painted anything but white. Today, this jewel-colored city is an almost perfectly preserved Dutch colonial trading settlement with a UNESCO World Heritage designation (and a picture perfect backdrop for vacation photos).
India’s Blue City, tucked into the Western state of Rajasthan, is a colorful reminder of India’s caste system. In the past, Brahmins, the so-called upper class, painted their homes in the royal hue of blue to differentiate their properties from those of the lower class. Over time, others just mirrored the effect. Even the city's Mehrangarh Fort got a solid coat of blue. Many suspect the color is now popular for a number of reasons—including tradition. The blue paint’s chemical composition might be a good defense against termites, the color keeps dwellings cool in the blazing sun, and the vivid color is downright beautiful.
La Boca, Buenos Aires, Argentina
Caminito, the city’s famed kaleidoscopic street, sits on the edge of the Riachuelo River. As whimsical as the area is, its fanciful facade has a very practical explanation: the homes were built from scraps from the local shipyard and painted with whatever leftover paint was available. Today, the vivid block of color brightens the working class neighborhood and has made it a tourist destination for visitors from across the globe.
Located in the central Cuban province of Sancti Spíritus, the buildings in the 16th-century city of Trinidad reflect the natural environment—sugarcane green, ocean blue, and sunshine yellow—sometimes all mixed together on the same building. The UNESCO World Heritage site was built by money made largely from the heinous slave trade, and the resulting Afro-Cuban culture is represented in the colorful streets. Highlights include the old San Francisco Convent, the Palacio Brunet, and the Palacio Cantero.
Jodhpur isn't the only color-coded city in the country. There’s Udaipur, the White City; Nagpur, the Orange City; and Jaipur, the rose-hued Pink City. The Rajasthani capital city got a coat of pink paint in the 19th-century when India was still a British Colony. To honor the visit of Edward, Prince of Wales, the local leader dyed Jodhpur with the hue traditionally associated with hospitality. Since then, a law has been enacted to ensure that the city stays pink and welcoming to visitors.Explore all 13 colorful destinations on Travel + Leisure.