Make your LEGO city more realistic - awesome microscale LEGO city at Bricktastic Manchester 2024

Building LEGO cities has provided me with a hobby for over 3 decades and I suspect it will for another 3 decades if I’m lucky! Over the years I’ve tried to create accurate representations of the real world with LEGO bricks, with varying degrees of success.

Of course, some builders and LEGO collectors love the “toy” look of LEGO sets, and that’s fine – there is definitely something nostalgic about the bright colours and simplistic designs of early LEGO town and city sets. If you do want to make your own LEGO city more realistic, here are a few tips I’ve discovered over the years.

Divide and conquer

Cities and towns (at least in Europe!) are full of boundaries and obstructions – fences, walls, street furniture like bins and benches.

LEGO city builders can often overlook these details, with cities looking very uniform and open, but adding fences and walls around property can help recreate some of the segmentation of real LEGO cities.

Not everything is a grid

LEGO’s road baseplates have historically been very limited, with just a straight, cross road, and 90 degree corner available. This is also the case with LEGO’s new road plate system – 8×16 and 16×16 modular road plates released since 2021. Many cities don’t just rely on these, though – roads cut across others at angles that aren’t 90 degrees, and junctions are not as uniform as crossroads in many cases.

At least in Europe, cities aren’t all square. Roads and paths through the city can be very irrregular in size and direction – especially from medieval cities. LEGO roads and buildings make it easy to create grid-based cities but if you’re trying to replicate the look and feel of a European city, try adding some diagonal or angled paths or roadways!

Many LEGO city builders build their own roads from bricks, tiles and plates, which allows for much greater flexibility albeit at much greater expense!

Avoid bright colours…sometimes

Part of the appeal of LEGO for many fans is its bright colours – whites, yellows, blues, and reds – but many cities are composed primarily dull colours – browns, off-whites, greys, and almost-blacks. Cities can also be dirty, which can be hard to replicate well in LEGO bricks – especially if, like me, you prefer to use new-quality LEGO bricks in your city.

Signage for shops and businesses may well be rightly coloured and these details can add a splash of colour to your landscape.

Learn from others

There are thousands – maybe millions – of LEGO city builders worldwide. I find inspiration from seeing what others have built and adapting it for my own LEGO city or models. Here are a few of my favourite LEGO city builders who share their ideas:

Lead image: James and Mark Cole’s micropolis LEGO city at Bricktastic 2024.