Steampunk is a fascinating genre that fuses elements of 19th-century industrialisation and science fiction. Throughout literature, films and fashion, it has captured the imaginations of many.
A large part of what makes the genre so appealing is the settings of the stories. From towering clockwork structures to cobblestone streets illuminated by the warm glow of gas lamps, cities in steampunk have a particular visual charm.
So, join us as we ponder the top ten steampunk cities in the world. Here, we’ll be looking at real-life cities that showcase elements of the steampunk aesthetic, whether it be through individual buildings or the general feel of the place.
But before we get into our steampunk cities list, how can you recognise what a steampunk city is in the first place?
What are the main features of a steampunk city?
Although all the elements of a steampunk city cannot fully be recreated in a modern city, the main features of a real-life steampunk city would include a distinctive range of Victorian aesthetics and imaginative technology. In these urban areas, the architectural charm of the Victorian era manifests in intricate facades, ornate details, and the abundant use of brass, copper, and wrought iron.
Some other typical elements of a steampunk city to look out for in modern cities may be towering smokestacks, which power the city, and large clockwork mechanisms. In rarer cases, streets may be lit by gas lamps, or feature an abundance of dimly lit alleyways.
So, now we know what a steampunk city is, and what its key features may entail, let’s take a look at ten cities around the world that wouldn’t look out of place in a steampunk story.
1. London, England
First on our list of real-life steampunk cities is London, England.
The British capital possesses a unique blend of Victorian architecture that resonates with the genre’s aesthetic, particularly evident in landmarks like the Houses of Parliament and St. Pancras Station. Meanwhile, the city’s famous clocktower, Big Ben, looks like it is taken straight from a steampunk story.
Additionally, London’s association with the Industrial Revolution enhances its steampunk allure. During the mid-18th Century and well beyond, the city was a hub of industrial activity, utilising steam power to run factories and workhouses which brought about decades of technological advancement. Today, structures like Battersea Power Station stand testament to the city’s long industrial history.
Moreover, London’s diverse neighbourhoods and bustling streets offer a vibrant tapestry of cultures and styles that align with the diversity often found in steampunk narratives. The city’s cosmopolitan nature fuels the sense of adventure and exploration that is inherent to the genre.
2. Prague, Czech Republic
Prague, capital of Czechia, is another city with a particularly steampunk feel. This feel stems from the city’s Gothic and Baroque architecture, represented by landmarks such as Prague Castle and Charles Bridge, setting a fantastical backdrop.
The Astronomical Clock is an especially steampunk-like feature of the city, with its decorative facade and gothic sculptures. This is thought to be the oldest clock in the world still in operation.
But, on a wider scale, the whole of Prague’s historical charm adds to its steampunk allure. Its well-preserved medieval streets, labyrinthine alleys, and hidden courtyards create an atmosphere of mystery and intrigue.
3. Edinburgh, Scotland
Our next steampunk city is Scottish capital Edinburgh, which possesses a unique blend of characteristics that reflect the genre. This is pronounced with its varied range of historic architecture, featuring notable Victorian and Georgian influences.
In particular, landmarks such as Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile showcase the city’s architectural charm and provide a fitting setting for steampunk narratives. Likewise, the prevalence of Gothic elements seen on landmarks like The Scott Monument and St. Giles’ Cathedral, with their intricate spires, and gargoyles, create a visually striking aesthetic.
Meanwhile, in a manner similar to steampunk societies, Edinburgh has a long history with scientific and technological innovation that has lasted through the ages. Figures like James Watt, the inventor of the steam engine, have come to represent the city as vastly influential in a variety of different fields.
4. Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona, Spain, possesses a unique combination of features that make it a compelling steampunk city. A large reason for this is the city’s many architectural marvels, which are renowned for their distinctiveness and boldness.
These unique masterpieces, which include the Sagrada Familia, Casa Batlló, and Park Güell, showcase unconventional designs and fantastical elements not seen in most other major cities. They stem from Barcelona’s association with the Modernist movement, led by the visionary architect Antoni Gaudí.
The city’s industrial legacy further enhances its steampunk character. Barcelona played a significant role during the Industrial Revolution in Spain, with textile factories, manufacturing sites, and innovative infrastructure shaping its urban landscape.
In modern times, Barcelona’s vibrant arts scene, renowned for its experimental and avant-garde spirit, also aligns with the steampunk ethos. The city has been a haven for artists, performers, and creative thinkers who push the boundaries of conventional expression.
5. Tokyo, Japan
No list of steampunk cities is complete the biggest city of them all: Tokyo, capital of Japan. This megalopolis has a certain steampunk allure that is shaped by a combination of captivating elements.
Perhaps most obviously, the Giant Ghibli Clock, installed outside the Nittele Tower in the city, is widely regarded as one of the most prominent examples of steampunk-style architecture. This gigantic copper and steel structure only comes into life at certain times of the day, but when it does, it puts on a show for the watching public.
Meanwhile, the city’s bustling neighbourhoods, such as Shibuya and Akihabara, offer a diverse tapestry of sights and experiences that align with steampunk themes. Akihabara, in particular, known as the centre of otaku and geek culture, showcases an array of retro-futuristic gadgets, anime-inspired creations, and a vibrant subculture that resonates with the steampunk spirit.
And, the same can be said for Tokyo’s vibrant street fashion scene. The Harajuku district, for example, is known for its eclectic and avant-garde fashion styles, offering a platform for creative self-expression.
Here, individuals don imaginative ensembles that often incorporate steampunk-inspired elements, blending Victorian aesthetics with contemporary flair.
6. Budapest, Hungary
Another European capital city that boasts a range of steampunk characteristics is Budapest, Hungary. The city’s distinctive blend of Gothic, Renaissance, and Art Nouveau styles provides a setting that aligns with the genre’s aesthetic.
This is seen notably with landmarks like the Hungarian Parliament Building and Buda Castle, whose ornate facades are particularly reminiscent of the Victorian era. On a broader scale, this is also evident in some of Budapest’s historic districts, for example Buda Castle Hill and Andrassy Avenue.
What’s more, Budapest’s famous thermal baths, such as the Széchenyi and Gellért Baths, offer a unique steampunk element. The steam-filled pools and atmospheric interiors create an otherworldly experience, reminiscent of the immersive settings often found in steampunk narratives.
And, its underground labyrinth systems, such as the Labyrinth of Buda Castle, further contribute to its steampunk character.
7. Berlin, Germany
Berlin, the capital city of Germany, is next on our steampunk cities list. Largely, this is down to its history of cultural and technological innovation in the city, that has shifted dramatically over the course of the last century from the industrial age to the modern age.
Dating back to the 19th and early 20th centuries, Berlin’s role as a hub of industrialisation during the Industrial Revolution meant it was on the cutting edge of technological development. With its factories, railways, and scientific advancements, Berlin experienced a period of growth and increasing global stature.
However, the Berlin of this period was largely lost due to devastating wars and natural degradation. As such, there is a particular nostalgic value to the mid to late 19th Century in Berlin, which is a common theme in many steampunk stories.
Meanwhile, in the modern era, Berlin’s spirit of intellectual curiosity and artistic exploration aligns well with the genre’s themes and motifs. The city has long been associated with artistic experimentation, underground clubs, and avant-garde theatres, providing a breeding ground for creative expression and pushing boundaries.
8. Boston, United States
Moving onto the North American continent, Boston is another city whose characteristics embody the steampunk genre. This is especially evident when viewing its industrial history, architectural composition and grand academic institutions.
First, Boston was a hub of early American industrialisation, with manufacturing, textile mills, and technological advancements driving its growth. This connection to the industrial era provides a rich backdrop for steampunk narratives exploring the fusion of technology, Victorian aesthetics, and societal change.
The architectural charm of Boston further enhances its steampunk character. The city showcases a variety of architectural styles, including Georgian and Federalist, but it is notable in particular for its Victorian designs, in much the same way as steampunk settings are.
Meanwhile, Boston’s esteemed academic facilities play a significant role in shaping its steampunk identity. The city is home to prestigious universities and institutions like Harvard University and MIT, and this association with scientific progress and innovation reflects the genre’s fascination with intellectual pursuits.
9. Manchester, England
Manchester, England, encompasses an intriguing array of elements that contribute to its designation as a steampunk city. Chiefly, this is on account of its rich industrial revolution heritage, as Manchester played a crucial role in the advancements of the era.
Put simply, Manchester was a textile manufacturing powerhouse, and the impact of its steam-powered technological innovations were felt around the world. Even today, the surviving mills and warehouses of the city show evidence of Victorian-era machinery and infrastructure, as do other well-known buildings like Manchester Town Hall and Rylands Library.
The city’s innovative spirit is another key aspect. Manchester has a long-standing reputation for its scientific advancements and engineering prowess, resonating with the steampunk genre’s fascination with technology.
Similarly, Manchester has a vibrant cultural and artistic scene that further enhances its steampunk charm. The city boasts a thriving music, arts, and theatre scene that aligns with the steampunk ethos of celebrating individuality and embracing alternative forms of expression.
10. St. Petersburg, Russia
Last but not least on our list of cities that have steampunk characteristics is St. Petersburg, Russia. This grand city, with its many examples of imperial architecture, is renowned for its grandeur and opulence, as well as its colourful past.
Landmarks like the Winter Palace and the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood exhibit a blend of neoclassical, Baroque, and Gothic revival styles. These help to evoke an atmosphere reminiscent of a bygone era, in line with the steampunk genre’s alternate history and retro-futuristic aesthetics.
Indeed, St. Petersburg’s industrial legacy adds to this sense. The city played a significant role in Russia’s industrialisation, and helped to drive technological advancements driving progress during the 19th and early 20th centuries, the remnants of which are still often visible today.
Honourable Mention: Oamaru, New Zealand
While technically not a city, we couldn’t finish off this list without mentioning the coastal town of Oamaru, New Zealand.
Oamaru deserves an honourable mention due to its unique characteristics that align with the genre’s aesthetics and spirit. While only being a small town, Oamaru has embraced steampunk culture in a remarkable way.
For one, it has many examples of Victorian architecture that make the town stand out in comparison to many others nearby. The town’s historic precinct boasts well-preserved buildings with ornate facades, intricate detailing, and the prominent use of limestone, fitting in perfectly with the steampunk genre’s love for all things Victorian.
And, at the heart of Oamaru’s steampunk culture is Steampunk HQ, a renowned steampunk-themed attraction. This unique establishment showcases interactive art installations, retro-futuristic contraptions, and an impressive collection of steampunk-inspired artworks. It has become a hub for steampunk enthusiasts around the world.
Oamaru’s annual Steampunk Festival further solidifies its reputation as a steampunk destination. The festival, drawing visitors from near and far, features a range of events and activities. These include costume competitions, art exhibitions, music performances, and workshops, all centred around the steampunk theme.
That’s it for our exploration of 10+ steampunk cities in real life. While there are no cities that are direct matches for steampunk settings, it’s clear to see where the genre got some of its inspiration from.
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Last Updated on 14 July 2023 by Michael