10 of the World's Most Colorful Cities

Town full of bright blue buildings
Photo: Ruslan Kalnitsky/Shutterstock

Travelers may say they visit a place because of its attractions, but sometimes the reason is based on something much simpler and much less tangible. Sometimes, visitors just like the looks of a place.

Towns with bright buildings and structures with creative paint schemes are popular throughout the world. Tourists flock to photograph brightly painted streetscapes in Morocco (pictured), India, the Mediterranean, the Caribbean and even the Arctic.

If that's you, if you're drawn to places with colorful buildings, these 10 cities are calling.

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Photo: Chirag Pai/Wikimedia Commons

The capital of the Indian state of Rajasthan, Jaipur is known as the Pink City. With a few exceptions, all the buildings within the historic city center are pink. This unusual color choice dates to the 19th century when a Rajasthani king ordered all buildings to be painted pink ahead of a visit by England's Prince Albert, the Prince of Wales, in 1876. The color choice was meant to evoke a sense of hospitality and welcoming.

The unique visual appeal of Jaipur is enhanced by its architecture. The City Palace, Amber Fort and Hawa Mahal (pictured) are a few popular sites, while a host of temples, gardens and squares allow people the chance to fill out their sightseeing itinerary.

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Willemstad's colorful buildings date to the early 19th century, when it was the capital of the Dutch colony known as the Netherlands Antilles. White was the dominant color of the Caribbean island's structures at that time, but the colonial governor, named Albert Kikkert, suffered from debilitating migraines, and the sunlight reflecting off the white facades reportedly made his condition worse. He ordered the buildings' owners to paint their walls using other colors. Though Kikkert has long since passed away, the colorful tradition has survived.

The bright paint jobs of this city have earned it recognition from organizations like UNESCO, which has named the Curaçao capital a World Heritage Site. The island is popular for its casinos, beaches and resorts, but many visitors also stroll through the historic areas like Punda and Otrobanda. In all, there are more than 800 designated historic and archaeological sites on the island.

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Like the Pink City, Jodhpur is another city in Rajasthan, India, that is noted for the uniform color of its buildings. Located on the edge of the Thar Desert, Jodhpur has two nicknames. It is known as the Blue City because of the color of the buildings in the historic center, and it is also called the Sun City because of its cloudless climate. Once an important trading center, Jodhpur has continued to grow, and the metropolis now stretches well beyond the old town. Tourists flock here, not just for the blue houses, but also for the historic temples, palaces and gardens. The 15th century Mehrangarh Fort is one of the most popular of these attractions.

Blue was originally the color of the Brahmins, the high-caste of priests and teachers. And though the caste system is officially banned by the country's constitution, the blue-hued tradition remains, with people from other levels of Indian society also adopting the color for their homes.

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Bo-Kaap, Cape Town

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Bo-Kaap (also written Bo Kaap) is a multicultural neighborhood in Cape Town, South Africa, that is known for its brightly painted buildings and cobblestone streets. Formerly known as the Malay Quarter, it has been a predominantly Muslim district for more than a century, and it has one of South Africa's oldest mosques. Most inhabitants' ancestors are from the Indian subcontinent and insular Southeast Asia. Afrikaans has long been the language of this community, though English continues to gain ground. The historic two-story homes and bright paint schemes (pictured) have made this neighborhood a popular stop for tourist photo ops.

No one has a definitive answer as to why the houses in Bo-Kaap are so brightly painted. Some claim that residents merely choose the bright colors because they were the cheapest hues available. Others claim that the colors were painted to celebrate the multicultural makeup of the neighborhood or to demonstrate independence after the end of apartheid. One theory is that the neighbors on a specific street coordinated their painting so that none of the houses on the block clashed with any others.

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Cinque Terre

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Cinque Terre is a region in northwest Italy on the Ligurian Sea. Translated as "five lands," Cinque Terre consists of five villages perched on the coastline overlooking the Mediterranean. The five communities — Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola (pictured) and Riomaggiore — were extremely isolated until they were connected with the rest of the country by rail in the 19th century. Because some of the towns are still inaccessible by car, trains and ferries remain the preferred means of transportation today.

Cinque Terre experienced a tourism boom starting in the 1970s. The tradition of bright-colored buildings is not an old one; the trend started with the increase in the number of tourist arrivals. Despite the origins of this tradition, visitors often praise the lack of tourist development and the absence of brand names and corporate hotels in Cinque Terre.

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Photo: Bud Ellison/flickr

Located in the mountains of Central Mexico, Guanajuato was once a center of the silver mining industry. Visitors can trace the city's past by visiting the many 16th century plazas and churches scattered throughout the hillsides.

Brightly painted buildings are found all around Guanajuato. Unlike many Mexican cities, this place is free from traffic jams. The narrow streets are simply too difficult for cars to navigate. Despite the pleasant setting, there are not many tourists in Guanajuato. Most visitors seem to prefer the similarly historic (but less colorful) San Miguel de Allende, about an hour away.

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Photo: patano/Wikimedia Commons

Greenland's cultural and political center, Nuuk has a population of just over 17,000, making it one of the world's smallest capitals. Nuuk is surrounded by mountains, waterways and fjords, and it serves as a gateway to Greenland's nature tourism and Northern Lights excursions. Most tourists start and end their Greenland journey here.

For a long time, Nuuk's architecture was focused on function, not attractiveness. However, as the territory gained more autonomy from Denmark, it re-embraced more traditional housing. Brightly colored paint jobs became the norm in some parts of the city, and a blend of native and colonial architecture, with both modern and traditional elements, can be seen in the public buildings around town.

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St. John's

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Originally founded in 1497, St. John's is North America's oldest city. Now a hip Newfoundland enclave, it is known for its candy-hued houses, vibrant art and music scenes, creative restaurants and youthful energy. It is also a convenient base for exploring the scenic Avalon Peninsula by car, boat or on foot.

The hilly terrain begs comparisons with San Francisco, and the pastel buildings, both residential and commercial, add to the lighthearted, creative vibe of St. John's. Zoning rules, which limit height and other details, have kept the British colonial-era feel in place in the center of the city (though critics say that this has slowed development). The heritage buildings and bright colors make St. John's feel different than almost any other place in North America.

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The deep blue paint, narrow lanes and historic architecture make Chefchaouen, Morocco, one of the world's most atmospheric towns. Founded in the 1470s, early residents, Jewish and Muslim refugees fleeing the Spanish Inquisition, started painting their homes blue, a tradition that has lasted until this day.

Why blue? The prevailing theory is that Jewish settlers choose the color because it mimicked the sky and served to constantly remind them of God. Since the 1960s, Chefchaouen has experienced a tourism boom. First popular with intrepid backpackers and marijuana-seeking hippies, it now draws a wide range of visitors hoping to experience the uniquely colorful ambiance.

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Located on the Isle of Mull in Scotland, Tobermory has a population of about 1,000. It began as a fishing village, but is now also a tourist destination. It is known for the colorful buildings — mostly shops and restaurants, but also private residences — that line its waterfront and Main Street.

Tobermory was the filming location for a popular BBC children's series called "Balamory." Families of young fans are a large percentage of the town's tourists. The well-respected Tobermory Distillery is also located here. The town seems committed to its colorful image. One of the most notable buildings in the center of town, the Mishnish Hotel, was painted black (a typical color for pubs) about a decade ago, but soon after changed back to a bright yellow hue.