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Einstein once said, “Creativity is contagious. Pass it on.” Maybe that’s why cities are such breeding grounds for creative genius. But not all metropolis are created equal. Take Helsinki, this year’s World Design Capital, and our spiritual home. It has a mere million people, yet it’s bursting with innovative ideas. So, are there other unlikely contenders for the world’s most creative city? You better believe it!

Literary Dublin

All together, now: Joyce, Wilde, Binchy, Stoker, Roddy Doyle, Elizabeth Bowen, Synge, Heaney, Yeats, O’Casey, Beckett, Clare Boylan, Flann O’Brien, Anne Enright, Michael Longley, Eavan Boland, Brendan Behan, Sebastian Barry – and breathe! All these people lived in or wrote about Dublin.

The city, one of UNESCO’s Cities of Literature, has books nailed. There’s also the Dublin Writer’s Museum, the Irish Writers’ Centre (which runs creative writing classes if you’ve caught the story bug) and fantastic bookshops everywhere. But if you can’t visit, just crack open Joyce’s Ulysses – it’s as much of a map of the city as anything you’ll get from the Ordnance Survey.

Artistic LA

Forget about your starlets, hunks and closed sets – LA is also home to a staggeringly vibrant art community. In one downtown area alone, Gallery Row, there’s no fewer than thirty-three galleries and fifteen museums, as well as an excellent selection of public art and, count them, thirteen theatres.

It’s been home to a cohort of modern artists like James Turrell and Mike Kelley, and art festivals and fairs like Art Los Angeles Contemporary and the LA Art Show keep reeling in the fans and collectors. Throw in the Downtown Art Walk, and, just like at the movies, you’re guaranteed never to be bored.

Festive Edinburgh

We reckon the Scottish capital is the Grandmaster of sheer, unadulterated culture. Proof? The Edinburgh Festival. This isn’t just one festival – it’s actually a whole bunch of unrelated, near-concurrent events that together form the largest cultural shindig in the world.

There’s the International Festival, the Fringe, the Film Festival, the Jazz and Blues Festival, the Military Tattoo (think army, not needles), the Book Festival, the Mela, the Comedy, Art, Swing, Harvest, Politics, Science, and Storytelling Festivals, and a whole fistful more. It doesn’t get more creative (or exhausting!) than this. 

Classical Vienna

Pop and rock? Mere upstarts! Vienna is to classical music what Nashville is to country. Maestros Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven and Johann Strauss Jr all worked there, and Schubert, Schoenberg, and Johann Strauss Sr were born there, too.

Vienna’s annual concert schedule includes over 15,000 events in venues ranging from the Vienna Musikverein and the art nouveau Vienna Konzerthaus, to tiny concert cafes where you can listen to live music while drinking your Viennese coffee. Lovely!

Street arty Sao Paulo

From the old to the new: the walls of Sao Paulo are covered with some of the most vibrant graffiti in the world. The Brazilian government calls it visual pollution, but they can’t eradicate it.

One group of street artists, called Pixadores, say their work is about revolt and defiance – they use gothic lettering, black paint and heavy metal influences. Another duo, 6EMEIA, painted over 50 of the inner city’s storm drains with large, colourful images. Grass-roots creativity at its finest! 

That’s our five. We think they’re pretty hard to beat. Needless to say, if you think there are more deserving candidates, we’re all ears.

Image credit: Alex E. Proimos