Visually inspiring cities: our top 6 picks

Published:  February 18, 2015

Between the members of the editorial team at desktop, we’ve been lucky to traverse a good few cities in this world.

Here’s a list of those we’ve found with the most wondrous visual tapestries.



Shibuya crossing on a rainy day, by Silvian Heach

Shibuya crossing on a rainy day, by Silvian Heach

Aesthetically, Tokyo is a joyous clash of Japanese culture. It’s as much shrines and sake as manga and MosBurger – fastidious traditionalists coexisting with a thriving swell of exclusive subcultures.

Much of the city itself is a neon sensory overload: buildings and signage forming a collage of fluorescence above eclectic individuals like characters from a Miyazaki animation.

I once crossed an intersection in Shibuya and locked eyes with a bearded old man in a tailored black trench coat and Charlie Chaplin hat – he peered back at me from behind oversized clear glasses filled, inexplicably, with water and a live goldfish in each lens.

This was a true Tokyo moment – unexpectedly humorous, inventive, well dressed, wise but unhinged. Visually compelling either way.



Photo by João Miranda

Photo by João Miranda

A place that breathes tradition and modernity, Lisbon is a beautiful city that has both kept and revived its aesthetic features from the 20th Century.

In Lisbon, Art Deco typography, Gothic-Baroque and modern architecture coexist — the idiosyncratic combination allowing you to read the Portuguese culture and the history of the city.

While you walk on the mosaic streets, you can see hundreds-old buildings and local businesses, museums and barber shops, all with well-preserved, graphically proud typographic signage that informs and adorns the city.




Valpo 1

Valparaíso, a Chilean port city just over a hundred ks north of Santiago, was known during the late 19th century to passing sailors as Little San Francisco, or, The Jewel of the Pacific – until the Panama Canal opened and a huge chunk of ship traffic diverted.

Today, the urban fabric of the city bears evidence of the influence of European immigrants, in its cultural diversity and bohemian attitude. Just behind the water a steep labyrinth of bluestone alleys stitched to the hillside climbs up and up, and there’s not a wall, stair or surface uncovered in street art. During the day these alleys feel like a sprawling en plein air gallery, and in the evenings you can hear a single trumpet curling its way over the purple sky.




The most populous city in India is a jam of visual cues, and sometimes the stimuli get a little hard to untangle.

The architecture of the city is a blend of grand Gothic and Victorian structures, littered with buildings in a Deco-Saracenic style (Art Deco blended with Islamic and Hindu aesthetics). In the Parsi quarters you’ll find buildings adorned with winged-creatures, marking the Zoroastrian presence.

There’s dilapidated hints at wealth, while the One World Tower (a 177-floor apartment building with Giorgio Armani-designed interiors) is shooting above the South Mumbai skyline. Meanwhile, young dudes with diamond-studded ears try to coerce you into a small unpaid role in their Bollywood film.

At night from the harbour near the Gateway of India, when all the taxi drivers have retired hand from car horn, you can watch the lights of the ships swaying in the Arabian Sea.




With a population classified as a monoculture, Kyoto couldn’t be more accurately described than a city of oppositional dualities. Both culturally and visually, the city centre is an intricately woven mix of Japan’s past and future. Pop culture comes in the form of plastic and heritage takes shape in hand-carved wood.

As the original capital of Japan, Kyoto is home to some of the country’s most regal buildings and landmarks. A popular tourist site, Kinkyaku Ji is an entirely gilded temple that appears to float on the surface of a meticulously moulded body of water. On the other hand, Kyoto also hosts Toei Studio Park — a place for novel celebration of 1970s ninja films, complete with throwing-star shaped foods, costume booths and a Meiji Period police office.


Nice 1

Nice basin

Right around the corner from some of the most sought-after real estate and accommodation in the world, Nice is so much more than a nice French seaside city. La-Colle sur Loup is a mediaeval town on the edge of the city, complete with winding alleyways, hand-shaped bricks and disgruntled Vespa riders. It’s certainly eye opening to take a day trip from such a tiny and colloquially French town to the literal bright lights of Monte Carlo. There’s a nearby mountaintop dwelling, where most of the world’s luxury perfumeries source their buds, essences and petals. Restaurants atop the mountain make use of the floral abundance, topping everything from soups to petit fours with crystallised violet and rose petals.

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