It’s truly incredible what a coat of bright paint can do. Even the darkest, most depressing towns can turn into cheerful and charming places when brightened up by some lively colors. So, if you want to turn your frown upside down and find peace and quiet, visit the following under-the-radar, colorful towns. They are sure to tickle you pink and make your friends green with envy.
1. St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada
The capital of Newfoundland and Labrador, St. John’s is one of the oldest cities in North America, having served as a seasonal landing for European fishermen in the mid-16th century. The St. John’s Heritage Foundation takes the city’s history seriously, and that includes maintaining the vibrant colors of the houses of the city’s over 200,000 inhabitants. Many houses were originally painted with the same bright paint used to demarcate ships on the blustery open waters, and these bright hues soon became emblematic of the city’s quirky personality. Today, inhabitants are encouraged to refresh their home’s original colors or choose from a large selection of authentically-named options, such as the “orangey-red Christmas Syrup” named for a local holiday drink.
2. Olinda, Brazil
As one of the best-preserved colonial cities in Brazil, Olinda is a UNESCO World Heritage Site of narrow alleyways and red-tiled roofs set among the verdant hills of neighboring Recife. The Portuguese founded the city in 1545 and imbued on its architecture brightly-colored homes contrasted against baroque-style churches. Set on Brazil’s eastern shores, the city looks out over the Atlantic ocean and is bathed in sunlight and warmth for most of the year. Over the past few decades, it has become a magnet for artists and well-known for its own Carnival, free of admission to all who wish to take part in the fun.
3. Longyearbyen, Norway
This tiny arctic town on the Norwegian island of Svalbard is home to just over 2,000 people from almost 50 different countries, many of them there to do Arctic research at the local university. Colorful homes line the mere 40 km (25 miles) of roadway that traverse the town, a visual testament to the locals’ efforts to bring vibrancy into the harsh conditions in which they live. In winter, the town is plunged into darkness for two full months — all the better to see the Northern Lights — while summer means days of endless sunshine. Polar bears are common throughout the surrounding area with many houses left unlocked just in case a passerby needs shelter in a hurry from an unexpected four-legged local.
4. Taipa, Macau
While Macau may conjure up images of glitzy casinos and flashing lights, this island off the country’s main coast is a haven for heritage and local flavor. Though now under Chinese government, Taipa was heavily influenced by its 19th-century Portuguese settlers; cobblestone streets connect pastel-colored villas between colonial-era churches and Chinese temples, emblematic of the distinct diversity of Macau’s past and present.
5. Tobermory, Scotland
Tobermory, located on Scotland’s Isle of Mull, was founded as a fishing village and has more recently become a hub for wildlife watching with its large populations of otters, dolphins, whales, and white-tailed eagles. The BBC made this town famous among the toddler crowd when it chose it as the setting for Balamory, a once-popular children’s show. In it, the town’s multicolored homes are prominently featured, their bright exteriors housing an equally colorful cast of characters.
6. St. Pierre et Miquelon
These two tiny islands just off the coast of Newfoundland are all that remain of France’s dominion in North America — and despite their proximity to Canada, remain undeniably French. Houses squeeze together along the water’s edge, creating a patchwork of pastel that spans the breadth of the shore and extends into the copses behind the main street. Since the 16th century, dense cod populations have made the islands prime real estate for a booming fish trade, though allegiances changed quickly in the early 20th century when the United States enacted Prohibition-era laws. The islands’ easy access to North American shores meant that big-name gangsters — Al Capone, for one — made frequent trips to smuggle back foreign liquor to eager American customers. With the end of Prohibition, the island returned to its fishing routes and remains a unique and little-known, colorful outpost of France.
7. Chefchaouen, Morocco
This small city in northern Morocco, awash in tones of blue, has its history painted into the walls of its homes. Founded in 1471 by Muslim and Jewish immigrants fleeing Spanish persecution, the city became a haven for those in need of safety and security. In the 1930s, when droves of emigrants were leaving an ever-more-fascist Europe, a second wave of Jewish immigrants were responsible for covering the city in azure hues reminiscent of their new country’s expansive skies and ocean vistas. The original reason for that specific color has been muddled by history, but whether to keep aggressive mosquitos at bay or as a reminder of the very faith their painters were persecuted for, the blue walls — with a fresh coat applied annually — have become a defining feature of this Moroccan town.
8. Qarqortoq, Greenland
Qarqortoq, founded in 1775 as a fishing outpost, is a prime example of Greenland’s color-coded architecture with its red homes, yellow hospitals, black police stations, and blue fisheries. Despite being south Greenland’s largest city, Qarqortoq is small and best seen by foot. It doesn’t take long to summit the nearby hilltops, where you’ll be spoiled with amazing views of iceberg-studded seas and a panorama of multi-hued buildings.
9. Bo Kaap, South Africa
Tucked into the base of Lion’s Head, the striking sphinx-like mountain that erupts from Cape Town’s city center, Bo Kaap is one of the oldest areas of the city. It was first settled in the 1760s by a majority of Muslim immigrants from East Africa and Southeast Asia, whose descendants are now referred to as being Cape Malay. Under South Africa’s apartheid government in the 1950s, the neighborhood was subject to the Group Areas Act — a racist and discriminatory ruling that dictated who could live where — that designated Bo Kaap as a Cape Malay neighborhood. Today, its inhabitants take pride to live in the epicenter of Cape Malay culture in Cape Town. The area’s brightly-colored homes were originally painted as a way to celebrate the Muslim holiday of Eid, and were kept permanently as a testament to the community’s rich cultural heritage and political struggles.