Great art cities have both local and global appeal. Their museums and galleries offer a visual history of the local culture, landscapes, and people, while their creative energy draws talented artists from the rest of the world. We surveyed the globe to come up with this list of the best cities for art lovers. Whether you’re into paintings or photography, sculpture or street art, the 12 cities in this list offer a visual feast for visitors.
The Louvre, the Musee d’Orsay, Centre Pompidou … these would be incredible art museums in any city, but in Paris they’re just a few among dozens. Try the Musee de Cluny for medieval art, the Musee de L’Orangerie for Monet’s “Water Lilies,” or the Musee Cernuschi for Asian art. Once you’re museumed out, consider a street art tour with Underground Paris or Viator. Check out TimeOut.com/paris for other art listings, including galleries and exhibitions, around the city.
Miami is one of the best cities for art lovers because its scene is always hopping. From murals springing up all over the Wynwood neighborhood to seasonal festivals like Art Basel, a massive international art fair held in Miami Beach each December, the city offers a full menu of cutting-edge visual arts. Enjoy art with a view at the Perez Art Museum, which overlooks Biscayne Bay, or check out smaller collections such as the Frost Museum of Art (on the Florida International University Campus) and the Margulies Collection at the Warehouse, displaying contemporary works near the famous Wynwood Walls. And don’t miss a street art tour with Wynwood Art Walk or Viator.
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Beijing has seen a recent boom in contemporary art, with much of the activity centered on the 798 Art District, where old industrial buildings have been transformed into galleries and open-air art installations. You can wander through the area yourself or take a tour with a company such as Bespoke Beijing or Viator. The National Art Museum of China makes an interesting stop for changing exhibitions of both local and global art. If your tastes tend toward antiquities, check out the Poly Art Museum for ancient bronze works from the Shang and Zhou dynasties.
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Montreal is a city of many charms, not least of which are its colorful museums and galleries. Start at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, which hosts excellent exhibitions (recent ones focused on Chagall and Faberge) alongside a wide-ranging collection including works by Inuit artists and 20th-century Canadian art. The Museum of Contemporary Art is also worth a look, with a variety of changing exhibitions. You’ll find numerous private galleries along the cobblestone streets of Old Montreal and in the more modern downtown area; see Montreal-Art.net/en for a full list of galleries, sorted by neighborhood. You can also take a Montreal mural tour with Viator.
If you love Renaissance art, there’s no better place to go than Florence. Delve into the magnificent collection of the Medici family at the Uffizi, which includes masterpieces by Giotto, Botticelli, da Vinci, and more. (Save yourself an hour or two by purchasing a skip-the-line ticket.) You’ll also want to marvel at sculptures in the Bargello Museum, tour multiple museums (including a modern art collection) at Pitti Palace, and stop by the Accademia Gallery to see Florence’s ultimate masterpiece: Michelangelo’s David.
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New York, Paris … Lagos? This exuberant city in Nigeria may not have attained the fame of the world’s biggest cities for art lovers, but it’s a fascinating place for visitors interested in African art or the work of up-and-comers. Start at the Nike Centre for Arts and Culture, where thousands of paintings, textiles, and carvings are spread across four floors in a dizzying display of colors. The National Museum is also worth a visit (though many visitors find it a little dim and disorganized), as are the city’s numerous local galleries; our favorites include the Red Door, Terra Kulture, and Alexis Galleries.
St. Petersburg, Russia
St. Petersburg would deserve a spot on this list for the State Hermitage Museum alone; this stunning collection was founded by Catherine the Great and is one of the largest art museums on the planet. (Consider booking a small-group tour with a curator to get more out of your visit.) You could spend days oohing and ahhing over royal jewels, Egyptian mummies, and French Impressionist paintings, but you’ll also want to make time to visit the Russian Museum, with its collection of work by artists all over Russia, and Erarta, which displays more contemporary offerings. There’s even a museum devoted to photography called Rosphoto (also spelled Rosfoto).
Australia’s second city offers something for every art lover. Museumgoers should visit the National Gallery of Victoria, which has collections in two different venues: one presenting art from around the world, the other displaying indigenous and non-indigenous works from across Australia. If you prefer your art on the grittier side, consider joining Melbourne Street Tours or Viator for a look at the city’s murals and graffiti. There are also more than a hundred local galleries to sample.
New York City, U.S.A.
With dozens of museums and hundreds of galleries, New York‘s art scene might be the biggest in the world — and the most overwhelming. Local operators like New York Gallery Tours and Viator can help you make sense of the contemporary art scene, taking you to the most interesting galleries in Chelsea, SoHo, Tribeca, and the Lower East Side. Of course, you’ll want to hit at least a few museums too; beyond the don’t-miss Metropolitan Museum of Art, our favorites include the Museum of Modern Art, the Frick Collection (Old Masters in an East Side mansion), and the Rubin Museum (a less-known collection of Asian art).
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Mexico City, Mexico
Long associated with artistic power couple Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo, Mexico City is proving that its burgeoning art scene has much more to offer. You can still visit Kahlo’s home and studio, and see Rivera’s murals at various buildings around town, but you can also check out contemporary art at the Museo Jemex or marvel over folk art from around Mexico at the Museo de Arte Popular. Viator offers several art-focused tours in the city, including one dedicated to emerging artists.
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Home to thousands of artists, Berlin has flourished as a hub of creative energy since the fall of the Wall. Where to start? Dive into the Berlin Gallery District, an area around Checkpoint Charlie that’s home to dozens of galleries and museums; see BerlinGalleryDistrict.com for a list and a map. Or consider a walking tour with Viator that first shows you the city’s graffiti and mural art, then takes you to a workshop where you can create your own street art under the guidance of local artists.
Sao Paulo, Brazil
You’ll find South America’s hottest art scene in Sao Paulo. You can begin your exploration at the Pinacoteca do Estado, which surveys the last couple of centuries of Brazilian art. For a wider collection, check out the Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo, with European and other works. Then take a day trip to Embu das Artes, a charming artists’ community near Sao Paulo. (Viator offers a private excursion.) And don’t forget the colorful street art all over the city; Viator offers a three-hour bike tour.
More from SmarterTravel:
- 9 Best Cities for Public Art
- Mediterranean Art: Trailing the Masters
- 12 Great Museums You’ve Never Heard Of
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This story was originally published in 2017. It has been updated with the latest information.