The number one question I’m asked is “What’s your favorite city for Street Photography?” From friends and family to strangers and emails. The truth is I can’t deal in absolutes or favorites with most anything, especially when it comes to answering that one. There are things I like about most cities that make them stand out in their own way, and there’s too many things dependent for me to pick just one above all others. But I can pick some that personally stand out a little more than others.
So now that I’m almost half way towards my goal of photographing 100 cities, I thought I’d create my first Annually Updated Top 10 Cities for Street Photography. Only cities I’ve photographed so far during my 100 city project are eligible so check the list here before you get mad at me for not including cities like NYC or Tokyo this year (They’re coming, though). And we’ll see how much next year’s list changes with even more cities up for inclusion.
My Annually Updated Top 10 Cities for Street Photography
- Istanbul, Turkey
- Havana, Cuba
- Saint-Petersburg, Russia
- London, England
- Mumbai, India
- Paris, France
- Marrakech, Morocco
- Odessa, Ukraine
- Hong Kong
- Hanoi, Vietnam
Istanbul holds a special place in my heart so I might be a little biased here. It was the start of my 100 cities project, and jumping into this blog and mix of plans and goals I’ve set for myself. I lived here much of 2015 so I got to know it better than most cities too, but bias aside, I can’t imagine Istanbul not being towards the top of any street photography city list. Istanbul truly has it all.
Being the capital of 3 empires helps cram the city with so much to offer a photographer that other cities can’t touch. Culture, history, religion, politics, people, diversity, character, conflict, architecture, sea, sunlight, color, old world, new world, and the list goes on. It’s many world’s of atmosphere packed into one city. It’s no surprise it spans two continents.
You could live here for years and only touch the surface. The energy and atmosphere of Istanbul is what I miss the most, though. It feels more alive than other cities, with a raw beauty that I haven’t found anywhere else.
2. Havana, Cuba
If you imagined the perfect city for street photography in your mind, Havana might be what you’d picture. It’s extremely walkable, full of character and life around every corner, as photo friendly as it gets, almost too easy to shoot in, and all with an atmosphere frozen in time. The opportunities for photography are endless here. You can just walk in any direction and explore away.
Havana is also a city that invites you in with the people like not many, so it’s a complete experience for photography. The amount of times I get invited for a drink or even into someone’s home in Havana is something that you don’t experience elsewhere, especially in a large city.
Still, while Havana is no secret among photographers, people question me about it as much as any. “It seems too hyped, over photographed, packed with clichés, every photographer’s destination,” and on. And while the old car type clichés of Cuba do deserve caution when here photographing, it’s really mostly a bunch of nonsense. You won’t find many photographers that have been here that regret it. Most fall in love just like everyone else. And believe it or not, there’s still plenty to photograph here. So my advice is to just ignore any worries and get over here as soon as you can.
Saint-Petersburg is probably the least hyped and talked about city on my list, so why is it up at #3? Because people just don’t know how good it is. Now, the time of year does makes a big difference, but if you go in the summer, it doesn’t get much better for street photography. The winter can be beautiful in its own way too, you just won’t have many hours of light.
The summer in Saint-Petersburg might be my favorite place to be for street photography right now. The sunlight is out 20+ hours a day and the beautiful city is full of life just as long. More than that, though, there’s just something magical about the city. The canals, pastel colors, incredible architecture, bridges, islands, hundreds of parks, and more give it this atmosphere that has to be experienced. The life and people are full of character too. Many people go about their life without any care of what others think, so it’s not uncommon to see older women and men sunbathing in their underwear. At the same time, you have many people who care a lot, so you see a variety of fashion and looks. It’s a big, magical city with a mix of so many things.
4. London, England
London is as well-known as any city in the world, and as famous for street photography as it gets, but sometimes cities don’t live up to their fame. London isn’t one of them.
One of my favorite aspects of London are all the different neighborhoods, each with their own character. It’s like different villages grew until they combined into one large city over time. It isn’t like New York or Tokyo, where skyscrapers dominate over you. London doesn’t feel overwhelming for a city its size. You can spend your days exploring parts of London on foot and get completely different atmospheres when it comes to photography. Some areas are chaotic and crazy, while others are quiet and relaxing. There’s something around every crooked, winding street, and you never know what it will be.
The biggest knock on London is the weather, which I can’t say is undeserved, but if you get some sun, it’s really hard to beat this city. It’s as dynamic and fun to shoot in as it is famous.
I will mention that while I haven’t visited them yet on my 100 cities project, I have been to Kolkata and Varanasi years ago. From memory, I’d probably put them above Mumbai, but they’ll have to wait until next year’s list to see if they officially pass Mumbai (I’ll be photographing both in 2017).
India is packed with so many cities for street photography that it’s hard to name one. Out of the cities I’ve visited so far during my 100 cities project, though, Mumbai gets my pick.
Mumbai is the financial, commercial and entertainment capital of India. If you go by population, Mumbai is the largest city in the world’s second largest country. If you go by money, it’s the wealthiest city in India, but with some of its most extreme poverty. Mumbai is also India’s most diverse, cosmopolitan and westernised city. Basically, Mumbai is everything and more.
Bazaars and temples, colonial architecture and skyscrapers, bay promenades and fishing villages, Asia’s biggest slums and Bollywood stars’ most expensive homes. Mumbai is filled with a variety of scenery and life that rivals any city in the world. It’s filled with an urban energy that consumes you and endless interest that keeps you wanting more. All of this adds up to one of the top cities in the world for street photography.
6. Paris, France
The city credited by many as the birthplace of street photography would be hard to leave off my list. When thinking of the classic black and white street photos from the past, scenes of Paris come to mind first for many. That’s a lot of hype to live up to when times change and the city is photographed as much as Paris, but for me, it still doesn’t disappoint.
There’s a lot more to Paris than the classic romanticized image of the city, though. The center of Paris, especially around streets like Rue de Rivoli, provides plenty of the classic picturesque street photography atmosphere, which is what will attract many photographers. And of course there’s the impressive parks like the Tuileries Garden, the scenic Seine River and all the famous architecture. All of these spots provide the atmosphere that makes Paris one of the most visited cities in the world, and why it’s so photographed, but what puts it on the list for me is how it also provides a much different atmosphere in many places.
Paris isn’t all beauty and romance. It’s also one of the edgier cities in Europe. This edginess in many areas does come with some negatives, but it also brings character, interest, a different atmosphere, and, in my opinion, photo opportunities that are very different from the clichés you might relate to Paris. It’s a city with a lot to offer, on both sides of the spectrum when it comes to your definition of beauty.
Marrakech is the most challenging street photography city on the list, but it more than makes up for it in photo opportunities and atmosphere. It’s one of the more interesting cities for street photography that I’ve been to, not only for the rich variety of life and scenes to capture, but also for this challenge that it brings. While comparatively, not a photography friendly city, it is one of the most photogenic cities you’ll find. Many photographers come here for that reason, but leave frustrated if they’re not prepared for the challenge. You have to be on your game if you want to get close, candid shots.
If you’re ready for the challenge, you’ll be rewarded with all the life, colors, chaos, atmosphere, unique charm, and more that Marrakech has to offer. It’s chaotic, full of touristic hassling and haggling, and comes with this challenge, but as far as non-stop photo opportunities, it ranks as one of the best cities I’ve been too. There’s so much happening everywhere, so many characters and interesting people, so much color and beautiful scenery, and it’s all mixed in with a unique look that is all Marrakech. And that beautiful sun is always above making sure you have no excuse not to go out and capture some that.
8. Odessa, Ukraine
I have to include a city from Ukraine, one of my favorite countries in the world for street photography. It’s a close call between Kiev and Odessa, but the unique beach life gives Odessa the edge for me.
I went to Ukraine for the first time in 2015 and fell in love. So much so that I returned in 2016 and plan on returning again in 2017. I like places that feel authentic, are full of character and mood, while being a little rough around the edges. Ukraine is all this more than any place I’ve been. There’s nothing fake about the atmosphere and it doesn’t feel over photographed. It’s more untouched, while still being a large country with plenty going on. And the markets are the best you’ll find anywhere. Odessa’s Privoz Market is no exception.
Odessa provides this atmosphere that I love, but adds the Black Sea and more. It’s become the country’s top vacation getaway with beaches that fill up during the summer. The city is filled with history and character, while being extremely walkable. You can enjoy the pedestrian streets, old courtyards, parks, and markets in the city, and then take a walk to the beaches to enjoy the unique character, and characters, that fill it. They aren’t the typical tourist beaches you might be used to, either, which provides even more for street photography, in my opinion.
9. Hong Kong
One of the biggest things I appreciate in a city is how unique it is. Does it provide an experience and atmosphere that you won’t find anywhere else. Hong Kong is a city that does just that. While being known as one of the world’s largest financial hubs, it’s also a multicultural cities like no other, providing a modern exterior with a traditional interior to explore. It’s a one of a kind city full of character, variety and interest, showing the future in one direction and the past in another.
Hong Kong has one of the most impressive city skylines I’ve seen, but down on the ground in the narrow alleys and older neighborhoods, you can experience a completely different atmosphere. Hong Kong is one of the more unique cities I’ve been to with an international urban vibe mixed with old world Asia.
10. Hanoi, Vietnam
I live in Ho Chi Minh City and I love Ho Chi Minh City, but when it comes to street photography, I have to be honest. Hanoi is the winner. When it comes to best cities in Asia for street photography, Hanoi is towards the top of my list too. Vietnam’s capital has endless character, charm, plenty of places to shoot, some of the most photography friendly people you’ll meet, and packs this all into a very walk friendly city. Being thousands of years old, you feel the city’s age when exploring the streets. It can feel almost like groups of villages packed into one big city with the authentic, old world atmosphere it exudes.
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) is a great city which some photographers might prefer, but Hanoi is so much older and filled with even more character. They share many similarities, including the friendliness of the people, but Saigon is a little more polished and urban, while Hanoi is more walkable and gives a little more of the exotic. If big city skyscrapers and development are your preference, then Saigon might win out, but for me, Hanoi has a very attractive blend of big city and old world. Both cities are highly recommended, though, so visit both and decide for yourself.
For 2017, I have plans to photograph at least 20 more major cities across 4 continents so we’ll see how this list gets shaken up next year, but with 45 cities down, every one of these cities comes highly recommend and are sure to provide an amazing experience for street photography, and more. (To see what cities I have tentatively planned for this year, check here.)