Smellwalking: Exploring cities using scents

Apr 21, 2017

Take a whiff of olfactory-based experiences – from tours that allow you to explore cities by smell to concerts where perfumes are released into the air. BY CARLA AVOLIO

Almost like a time machine, artist Peter de Cupere’s installation (above) at the Fashion Museum in Hasselt, Belgium, transports you to the 1920s. Visitors partially enter a giant cloud of cotton – imbued with a perfume that was popular then – before making their way to the main Jazz Age: The Roaring ’20s exhibition (till March 2016).

As part of an ongoing research project exploring our relationship with smell, artist Nina Leo leads olfactory walking tours through Ontario.

Wearing suits (above) that block out the senses of touch, hearing and sight, participants pick up – through their nostrils – clues from their surroundings, like markets or urban streets.

“Aroma jockey” Odo7 (aka Erich Berghammer; above) spins dance beats, together with scents, at festivals and clubs around the world.

Using electric fans, charcoal burners and spray bottles, the Austrian DJ releases vapours – of exotic spices, oils, herbs and more – into the crowd. Catch him at Shanghai’s cool vinyl bar URVC in December.

In Singapore, sniff your way down memory lane at the National Museum’s recently reopened permanent galleries (above). Its multisensory exhibits feature smells reminiscent of everything from the Tembusu flower to the Singapore River in the past.

In Japan, the Ministry of Environment has protected a hundred locations across the country based on fragrance alone. See if you can pick up notes of beech and dogtooth violet flowers in the forest of Shinjo in Yamagata. Or follow the waft of freshly made sweets and rice crackers to the stores and bakeries along the famous candy alley in Kawagoe town, Saitama prefecture.


Nose your way across cities, guided by books and digital maps focused on local scents.

Smell maps show you where you can find everything from chocolate and waffles to second-hand books in cities around the world like New York.

Flip through the pages of the Smell York book, a scented guide infused with aromas of the English city – from the fragrance of wild heather to the smell of tea and cake. In Singapore, Allsense’s Scent Maps reveal where the best chilli crab and pungent durian can be found.