From the political street art of Berlin to the great Renaissance delights of Florence, every major city offers its own great masterpieces. So, with that wide choice, how do you choose the world’s best cities for art?
Some cities select themselves, of course. Who would not add Rome, Paris, London or Venice to any list of must-see destinations for art lovers?
To those favorites, many other cities now stake their claim to being recognized. Athens and Istanbul mix ancient with modern, while the likes of Tokyo and São Paulo offer the work of a whole different culture.
Here are the 18 best cities for art in the world.
With Gaudi’s Sagrada Família basilica and the wavy, organic forms of La Pedrera and Casa Battló, Barcelona is one of the best cities in Spain for architecture.
However, in art galleries such as the Museu Picasso and the Joan Miró Foundation, you will also find superb contemporary artworks.
Other galleries of major importance include the Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, and MACBA (Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona). The National Art Museum of Catalonia is worth a visit just to enjoy one of the best views in Barcelona from its steps.
Beyond architecture, sculpture, and painting, the Museu del Disseny de Barcelona focuses on design. Here you’ll find the best in everything from modern fashion, to stylish furniture.
Somewhat under the shadow of Barcelona and Madrid, Valencia deserves to be better known for its art. Between its many museums, galleries, and colorful street art, it has a wide range of work to explore.
The city is filled with both formal and informal street art. Local artists David de Limón and Carlos Andújar Domingo are the names behind some of the larger murals.
For more traditional galleries, the first call should be the Museo de Bellas Artes, where you can see works from Goya, Velázquez, and El Greco among many others. IVAM (Institut Valencià d’Art Modern) has an equally comprehensive collection of contemporary art.
If only to see the works of Michelangelo—most notably his statue of David—Florence would be a must-see for any art-lover. The Galleria dell’Accademia displays this, and many other major sculptures and artworks of Florence.
As a center of Renaissance art, Florence has no rival. One could spend a lifetime in the Galleria degli Uffizi studying its wonders, such as Botticelli’s Birth of Venus.
The Centro di Cultura Contemporanea Strozzina brings things up to date with video, photography, and even dance. But, with its countless other Italian museums and churches, you’ll never run out of masterpieces to see in this Tuscan delight.
The Acropolis Museum, opened in 2009, has to be the first destination for anyone interested in the artistry of ancient Greece. It’s full of archaeological treasures that Greece is known for, including priceless sculptures.
The National Archaeological Museum continues in that theme of ancient Greek ruins and wonders. Then the Byzantine & Christian Museum in Kolonaki moves you on to later centuries.
For more modern art in Athens, the Basil & Elise Goulandris Foundation in Pangrati has a great collection of works. From Picasso to Warhol, and Monet to Pollock, there’s a wide range of big international names as well as lesser-known Greek artists.
The medieval city of Istanbul seems to have come alive with contemporary art galleries in recent decades. Much of the art reflects a renewed self-confidence in their Turkish heritage among the artists of this most cosmopolitan of cities.
Trace some of that history in the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum, which has one of the world’s best collections of Islamic Art, including rugs, tiles, and calligraphy.
Apart from the many galleries in Istanbul’s pretty neighborhoods, you will not want to miss the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art, designed by Renzo Piano. Salt Beyoğlu, showcasing Eastern European art, is another essential stop.
Paris is known for its arts, and visiting the Louvre, and the Mona Lisa, is one of those things everyone has to do at least once in their life. Beyond that, of course, both the Louvre, and the city itself, have much more to offer.
There are at least 1,000 art galleries in the French capital, including famous Parisian landmarks like Musée d’Orsay and the Centre Pompidou. Sights such as the wonderful Musée National Rodin are easy to miss in the crowd.
Unexpected delights include the indigenous art of the grass-covered Musée du Quai Branly. The Palais de Tokyo can also surprise with its contemporary artists, many from Asia.
Berlin’s street art has become famous since the time of the Berlin Wall. Its legacy endures in the East Side Gallery, where dozens of international artists have painted a one-mile remnant of the wall.
However, a street art tour is still the best way to discover this side of Berlin. That will point you to areas such as Bülowstrasse, and Teufelsberg—and the Urban Nation Museum in Schöneberg.
More classic art can be found at institutions such as The Pergamon Museum and The Humboldt Forum. For modern work, Contemporary Fine Arts is an essential stop near Museum Island.
The “Eternal City” has more than 2,000 years of art on display in its streets, churches, and museums which make it one of the most beautiful cities in Italy.
Boxer At Rest, a naturalistic Hellenistic Greek bronze sculpture in Palazzo Massimo, dates to at least 100 B.C., for example.
Without even going into the city’s many museums, and public or private galleries, you can see art treasures such as the baroque Roman landmark, the Trevi Fountain. The Colosseum, the Vatican’s treasures, and the Borghese Gallery need no introductions either.
For contemporary art, don’t miss MAXXI, the National Museum of 21st Century Arts. Its futuristic design is by the late British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid.
Copenhagen takes art, architecture, and design very seriously—as you can see everywhere you look. Around Bredgade, and in the trendy Meatpacking District, you will find many art galleries exploring this obsession even deeper.
Among the stand-out galleries for modern art is Galleri Nicolai Wallner, which shows innovative work from around the world. Edition Copenhagen specializes in prints and lithographs, an often-overlooked art form.
Some of the best museums in Copenhagen include the SMK (The National Gallery of Denmark), the Danish Architecture Center, and Copenhagen Contemporary. The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 30 minutes from Copenhagen, is the most visited art museum in Denmark.
Centuries of empire left Britain with a vast treasure trove that makes it one of the world’s best art cities. Much of this is found in London landmarks such as the British Museum, the National Gallery, and the eclectic Victoria & Albert Museum.
More recent decades are reflected in major modern art galleries such as Tate Modern, and the Saatchi Gallery. The European capital city is also bursting with everything from discreet private galleries, to pop-up video events from emerging talents.
Around Shoreditch, you’ll find the epicenter of street art in the capital. As it’s by nature ever-changing, you’ll need to join a guided tour to decipher it all.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
The Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum are the reason many visitors come to Amsterdam as these are some of the best museums in Europe. The former holds wonders such as Rembrandt’s The Night Watch, while there are 200 works by Van Gogh in the latter.
However, these are only the two most famous art museums in a city that can seem obsessed with art. There’s also the Stedelijk Museum, where you’ll find modern art by the likes of Picasso, Mondrian, Koons, and Lichtenstein.
For more contemporary art, visit private galleries such as Galerie Ron Mandos on Prinsengracht, close to Amsterdam Centrum. If you love photography, you’ll also not want to miss FOAM Photography Museum.
San Francisco, California
Street art has a firm place in California culture, as reflected in the murals around San Francisco’s Mission District. Of the 500 or so paintings, some are now major landmarks for visitors.
The De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park takes American art back from today to the 17th century. It’s now one of the most visited art museums in the country, making it a worthy stop during a day in San Francisco.
Located close to Downtown San Francisco, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) concentrates on 20th-century art. Highlights include works by Andy Warhol, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Freda Kahlo, as well as some of those street artists.
Venice stands apart from other beautiful Italian cities in not having been part of the Roman Empire. It then traded for centuries with Byzantine—with Marco Polo going as far as China—to give its art a different “eastern” look.
If you have a day in Venice, you can see this Venetian style in the Doge’s Palace, or the city’s other public buildings, and churches.
For Renaissance art, look no further than the Gallerie Dell’Accademia, then the Pinault Collection in Punta Della Dogana and the Peggy Guggenheim Collection for modern art.
Venice is now best known for contemporary art, a reputation built around the Venice Biennale. This is held for six months every year in the Arsenale della Biennale di Venezia, and its gardens.
São Paulo, Brazil
South American art is celebrated in São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city. You’ll discover great collections in more than 200 museums, galleries, and other exhibition spaces.
The Brazilian landmark Museu de Arte de São Paulo (MASP) has a great permanent collection, and always interesting changing exhibitions. As well as Brazilian and other Latin American artists, it holds work by Gauguin, Picasso, and Van Gogh among others.
The Museu de Arte Moderna, and Pinacoteca do Estado de São Paulo are also key to understanding Brazilian art. Then take to the streets to see the many murals from artists such as Alex Vallauri or Eduardo Kobra.
Melbourne is another city that wears its art on its sleeves, from wonderful public sculpture to alleys full of colorful murals. Inge King’s Rings of Saturn and Forward Surge are only two of the spectacular open-air displays.
For street art, you only need to walk down its laneways, where you’ll also find many great galleries. Hosier Lane may be the most photographed halfway and is one of the best places to visit in Melbourne, but AC/DC Lane wins out on its name alone.
Then tear yourself away to visit venues such as the National Gallery of Victoria, the country’s oldest public art museum, located in Melbourne’s Southbank. Other must-sees are the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, and ACMI, the national museum of screen culture.
Japan is a place where art seems part of everyday life, from exquisite sushi creations to shops full of cutting-edge design. Its many art galleries, however, are harder to find among the busy neighborhoods of Tokyo.
Major collections can be found at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, and the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum. The Sumida Hokusai Museum is dedicated to the work of the famed woodblock master.
For something very different while in Tokyo, take in the experience at teamLab Planets. This extraordinary museum in Toyosu is hard to describe, but essentially, it involves walking through water, literally in the works of art.
It may be no surprise that the modern city-state of Singapore is also a center for contemporary art. The foundations of that art scene have been laid with a strong embrace of public art.
The water-spouting Merlion by Lim Nang Seng on Marina Bay is a famous Singaporean landmark. No visitor can miss the First Generation sculpture by Chong Fah Cheong of children jumping into the Singapore River near the Fullerton Hotel.
National Gallery Singapore, the Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, and the Singapore Art Museum offer more institutional collections. Large numbers of interesting private galleries also showcase local and international artists.
With its reputation for beaches and nightlife, Miami surprises many new visitors with its strong arts scene. Miami Art Week, built around the annual Art Basel Miami Beach art fair, is central to changing those perceptions.
Major contemporary art institutions to visit include the Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM), and the Institute of Contemporary Art Miami (ICA), with its lovely sculpture garden.
However, there is even more to see when exploring the Miami Design District, Allapattah, Downtown Miami or South Beach. Cozy galleries, the street art at Wynwood Walls, and other public art help make Miami an ever-changing canvas.
Has this grand tour of the world’s best cities for art inspired you to visit some, or all? Then browse Celebrity’s itineraries to find the perfect cruise to take you on a journey of discovery.