Photo: Traveloka

How People See the World’s Biggest Cities, Through Amateur Sketches

Travel Culture
by Matthew Meltzer Mar 29, 2019

When you hear Boise what comes to mind? Nothing? Potatoes? Lovely a place as the capital of Idaho is, it doesn’t exactly conjure up images of… anything. A big part of that is because it doesn’t have an icon, a landmark or associated image that immediately pops into the collective conscious when people hear the name. Some cities have one highly distinct image associated with them, like gondoliers in Venice. Others can be a bit more complex, like New York.

To see what images people associated with the world’s biggest cities, Traveloka, a Southeast Asian travel company, asked 108 people to draw the first thing they thought of when they heard a cities name. The results range from second-grade refrigerator art to pretty decent sketches, the highlights of which are below.


gif of amateur Venice sketches

Photo: Traveloka

No city had a more overwhelming common image than Venice, where a full-on 82 percent of respondents drew pictures of gondolas on gondoliers. Of course, it’s pretty hard to draw pictures of stagnant water in the summer, and crowds haven’t become as synonymous with this city as, say, Tokyo. Still, of the cities polled, Venice had the strongest image recognition, even if some drawings looked like family therapy sketches.


Cairo sketches gif

Photo: Traveloka

Though any trip to the Egyptian capital will yield disappointingly few pyramids, that didn’t stop respondents from drawing their best versions of them in 81 percent of responses. Some were downright artful, with 3D structures fronted by a stately sphynx. Others looked pretty indiscernible from diagrams from a third-grade geometry class. Or, if you want to get imaginative, the Pitons in St. Lucia. Either way, a drive out to Giza can take 45 minutes to an hour in traffic, another site that didn’t appear in drawings.


gif of Paris sketches

Photo: Traveloka

The Eiffel Tower is still the unwavering symbol of gay Par-ee, appearing in a full 78 percent of drawings. Some look like poorly sketched logos for the University of Alabama. Others could be over-decorated Christmas trees. The other popular image of Paris seems to be the croissant, though some look more like shrimp. Bread was also a common theme, often appearing with wine.

Rio de Janeiro

gif of amateur Rio sketches

Photo: Traveloka

It really speaks to the power of religion that a city synonymous with beautiful beaches and energetic samba dancing is still best known for the big statue of Jesus that watches over the city. Christ the Redeemer showed up in 64 percent of drawings, though many were just crosses that might as well have been hanging in your grandmas living room. One was even a stick figure, perhaps the most provocative image of Christ we’ve seen in centuries. Other images include soccer balls, despite the fact Brazil hasn’t sniffed a World Cup in two decades. And favelas, probably the most accurate depiction of Rio if not the most common.


gif of amateur sketches of sydney

Photo: Traveloka

Admittedly, the Sydney Opera House is pretty hard to draw, as it’ll either end up looking like a bunch of shark fins or a badly windblown skyline. But kudos to the handful of talented respondents who put together a pretty decent rendition, as 66 percent of people drew the iconic performing arts center in their depictions of Sydney. Animals were also popular, with koalas and kangaroos dominating the sketches despite very few living within city limits.


sketches of London gif

Photo: Traveloka

Big Ben and the London Eye dominated London drawings, though no sketches of the world’s most famous clock included the scaffolding that’s been blocking it from tourists since last year. Double-decker buses and London Underground signs were also popular depictions, making London the world’s best-known city for public transportation.

New York

sketches of NYC gif

Photo: Traveloka

Though the Statue of Liberty was the most popular single image of New York City, its food came in a close second. Bagels, pizza, pretzels, and apples made numerous appearances. There were some striking drawings of the skyline, as well as more than one depiction of the Twin Towers. One artist even drew a Yankees logo, but thankfully not one person referenced the Jets.


sketches of Berlin gif

Photo: Traveloka

History? Art? The world’s capital of electronic dance music? All apparently forgotten in the long shadow of beer, which appeared in 15 percent of Berlin sketches, nearly as often as the Berlin Wall. The Wall was in about a quarter of drawings, never looking like much more than a stack of bricks. Fortunately, not one person drew a picture of underground sex clubs. Or at least not anyone Traveloka was willing to publish.


sketches of Berlin gif

Photo: Traveloka

For some reason, indentured migrant construction workers didn’t make their way into a single image of Dubai. Lacking the city’s most common site, most respondents went with the Burj Khalifa (or what they thought it looked like) and the Burj Al-Arab. Followed by nondescript skylines and camels. Fat bags of cash also made an appearance, as did various depictions of the Palm Islands.


sketches of Tokyo gif

Photo: Traveloka

Since most people can’t really draw the Japanese characters that light up the city at night, it’s no surprise Tokyo’s responses were all over the board. Hello Kitty, Sumo wrestlers, and geishas were all popular responses, and traditional food made up 22 percent of all drawings. Godzilla even made an appearance, as did pictures of endless crowds of stick figures. Sony also was included here, the only brand name other than the Yankees strong enough to elicit immediate associations with a city.

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