VACATION IDEAS

12 Most Colorful Towns in the World

Some cities don't need neon to brighten up the landscape. From pastel towers on the Italian coast to a crayon-colored artist colony in Argentina, these 12 towns make color the primary focus.

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA

Diverse and unrepentantly eccentric, the City by the Bay wears its colors proudly, from the displays of elaborately embroidered cheongsamin Chinatown windows to the Seven Sisters, the famous lineup of delicately-tinted Victorian homes on Alamo Square. For more freestyle paint jobs, check out the murals at Clarion Alley, a narrow sliver connecting Mission and Valencia Streets. A multiplicity of art styles drawn in innumerable hues covers the walls and fences of the alleyway, providing the (mostly) consenting community with a dynamic gallery of homegrown creations. If that's still too restrained for your tastes, join a million other revelers at the annual San Francisco Pride Celebration and Parade (usually held on the last full weekend of June). It's the biggest LGBT event in the country, and, as such, one of the biggest tsunamis of color on the planet.

WILLEMSTAD, CURAÇAO

From a distance, Willemstad's waterfront looks positively unreal, like a doll city plunked down into the Caribbean. The oldest section of Curaçao's capital dates back to 1634, and the commingling of Dutch architecture and a Caribbean palette has resulted in a riotous cityscape rivaling the town's own Carnival for vibrancy. One island legend claims that the painting began in earnest when a Dutch governor proscribed white houses, believing the tropical sun's powerful glare a medical risk. See the buildings up close and then cross the Swinging Old Lady (the local name for the pontoon-supported, 1888 Queen Emma Bridge) for a view from the across the river. Gouverneur de Rouville restaurant has a terrace with the perfect vantage point (the wide selection of rums is also a plus).

LONGYEARBYEN, SVALBARD, NORWAY

At Longyearbyen's latitude, about the only warm things around are the rusty reds of many of this coal-mining town's homes. The capital of the Svalbard archipelago lies a full 12 degrees north of the Arctic Circle—which means it's not just Nordic, it's the most Nordic of all Nordic lands (according to its proud inhabitants, anyway). The rows of identically constructed homes—done up in rich, Crayola oranges, blues, and reds—stand out starkly from the snow-strewn hills and crevasses of Longyearbyen's otherworldly surroundings. The entrances to some defunct mines remain open to visitors, with Mine No. 2B being particularly endorsed. "As a matter of fact," Norway's official tourism guide blithely asserts, "this mine is where Santa Claus lives." Those rosy homes? That's where the elves work.

BO-KAAP, CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA

Settled by the successors of African and South Asian slaves brought by the Dutch beginning in the 1500s, and subsequently influenced by the migration of Islam, Cape Town's Bo-Kaap district has over time developed into a candyland of lemon, lime, and grape-tinged houses. For more on the neighborhood's past, head to the Bo-Kaap Museum, housed in a historic building largely unchanged from its original 1760s form. Then trek up Wale Street and turn off onto Chiappini Street for a particularly striking row of Dutch and Georgian terraces, cheery aquas and pistachio greens, and glimpses of the surrounding cloud-draped hills.

BERLIN, GERMANY

For a once-shattered city, Berlin has a reputation as an art destination that hinges on a somber irony: The postwar apportioning that divided the city into East and West was, and is, a driving force for its creative spirit. The East Side Gallery, slapped onto a .8-mile remnant of the Berlin Wall, displays the political and occasionally absurdist imagery of a world torn asunder—a vibrant visual paean to a society in flux. A rich collection of Berlin's art resides in the city's 180 museums, but the real draw for color junkies is the public art scene. Pieces like Jeff Koons's sculpted, ocean-blue Balloon Flower populate Berlin's plazas, while unauthorized artworks—some, like the artist Blu's mask-ripping mural in Kreuzberg, massive in scale—adorn urban surfaces everywhere. The Tacheles art house, converted from a derelict building built early in the 20th century, is a gallery inside and out: Combining planned exhibitions and the colossal canvas of the building's own façade, Tacheles remains a work in progress, just like its chameleonic mother metropolis.

SEE THE TOWNS!

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