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13 Best destinations for seeing world-class art

  • Multiple countries

Last updated: 12 April, 2024

The top cities and regions for world-class art museums and cutting-edge galleries. A feast for art lovers, and home to the masterpieces everyone should see.

Table of Contents
  • Amsterdam , North Holland, Netherlands

Group of people viewing a historical painting

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Amsterdam

Amsterdam has a rich artistic heritage that stretches back centuries. In the 1600s, now known as the Dutch Golden Age, wealth flowed into the city, and prosperous merchants commissioned paintings and portraits, to decorate the walls of their gabled mansions. Artists set up workshops to meet the demand, including Rembrandt in the capital and Frans Hals in nearby Haarlem.

No surprise then that the city is now home to three of the world’s leading art museums – all within walking distance of one another.

Perhaps no Dutch artist is more revered than Van Gogh, and though he lived only briefly in Amsterdam, it’s here that you can see the largest collection of his works – some 200 paintings and 400 drawings – at his namesake museum. The nearby Rijksmuseum houses an unparalleled collection of Old Masters, including Rembrandt’s celebrated ‘The Night Watch’ and four paintings by Vermeer.

The 20th century saw important Dutch art movements such as De Stijl and CoBrA, whose influence spread far beyond the country’s borders. A stellar assortment of these works – including the precise, primary-colour-blocked paintings of De Stijl founder Piet Mondrian – can be seen at the Stedelijk Museum, which also holds a first-rate modern and contemporary collection by international artists.

Good for age: 18+

  • Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain

Interior gallery with a single woman staring at several artwork

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Barcelona

Great art is in Barcelona’s blood. Although much was lost in the city’s turbulent past, the Catalan National Art Museum has the world’s greatest collection of Romanesque murals, salvaged from remote Pyrenean chapels; both Picasso and Miro, Barcelona’s 20th-century masters, were inspired by their bold otherworldly figures. The same museum has a treasure trove of elegant, courtly Gothic art from Barcelona’s golden age, notably by the great Jaume Huguet.

The city’s second golden age, beginning in the late 19th century, produced Ramon Casas and Santiago Rusinol avant-garde painters headquartered at the Quatre Gats cafe that cultivated the young Picasso.

Other key figures include theorist and abstract expressionist Antoni Tapies, one of the leading figures of 20th-century art in Europe; the famous conceptual artist Angels Ribe; Agusti Puig, heir of Picasso and Miro; and the jovial street artist El Pez.

Good for age: 18+

Duration: Any

Berlin

  • Berlin, Germany

Berlin

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Berlin

Berlin is a world-class art destination, thanks to three primary, complimentary causes.

First, there was a hoard of masterpieces collected on the order of culture-mad Friedrich the Great, followed by a succession of emperors – their royal curators and architects equipped with lavish budgets. Second came the spoils collected from a globe-spanning German Empire, and third, a generous amount of public funding in recent years has established Berlin’s state-owned museums way up there on the world’s A-list of art collections.

No less impressive is Berlin’s thriving contemporary art scene – the most fertile in Germany – with more than 600 private and commercial art galleries, showcasing a wealth of well-known, emerging and undiscovered talent.

Good for age: 18+

  • Florence, Tuscany, Italy

Florence

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Florence

With around a million paintings, frescoes and sculptures, Florence harbours the world’s densest concentration of Renaissance art (and not only), remarkable for both the sheer volume of work contained within its walls, but also for the quality; expect to see masterpieces by the likes of Giotto, Masaccio, the Lippis, Leonardo and Michelangelo.

Exactly why this ‘rebirth’ occurred in Florence is a matter for debate, but wealthy patrons such as the ruling Medicis, along with the presence of outstanding artistic talents and the 15th-century thirst for knowledge, certainly helped.

Adult price: £-

Good for age: 18+

  • Istanbul, Marmara Region, Turkey

Istanbul

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Istanbul

Its centuries as an imperial capital have also left it some extraordinary historical art to seek out – the gorgeous mosaics in the Chora and Grand Palace museums from the Byzantine era, and from Ottoman times, a hoard of beautiful things: miniatures, glass and metalwork, carved and inlaid woodwork, colour-drenched tiles, ebru (paper marbling) rugs and calligraphy. The Topkapi Palace offers a compelling intro, but it’s well worthwhile seeking out the art in Istanbul’s museums.

But in recent decades, a young, vibrant Istanbul has become a world-class centre for contemporary art too, with several new museums, as well as the Biennale and Istanbul Contemporary art fairs, creating a unique and enticing blend of old-meets-new.

Adult price: £-

Good for age: 18+

London

  • London, United Kingdom (UK)

Side view close up of a woman staring at gold-framed paintings on the wall

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London

With uncounted masterpieces created by the artist-filled centuries since the Renaissance, alongside priceless works plundered from across the former British Empire, London’s art collections are both staggering and unrivalled. These, plus a thriving art scene today that continues to add modern pieces to the classics, make London an art-lover’s paradise.

The capital’s art galleries range from vast, palatial buildings filled with classical paintings, to edgy white-cube galleries where up-and-coming artists show their work.

Huge riverside museums might take up half a day as you explore dozens of themed galleries, ticking off bucket list works and learning about the evolution of painting and sculpture.

Look out for smaller specialist venues, too, and a vibrant street art scene, especially around East London.

Good for age: 18+

Madrid

  • Madrid, Community of Madrid, Spain

Three visitors stand in front of an oil painting of the Cardinal Raphael. In the painting, he is wearing his red cardinal clothing. There is another painting hung on the wall to the left.

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Madrid

This vibrant city was the epicentre of Spain’s 16th- and 17th-century ‘Golden Age’, when the kings and clergy patronised artists such as Velazquez, Murillo, Zurbaran and El Greco, and couldn’t purchase enough paintings by Titian, Hieronymus Bosch, Rubens and others.

Then, in the 19th century, came Picasso and Goya; the latter’s portraits of the Spanish royal family, Madrid’s citizens, its fiestas and demons are seared into the city’s soul.

The result was an unrivalled hoard of artistic treasure that you can see in the ‘Triangle of Art’ – the Prado, Thyssen-Bornemisza and Reina Sofia museums. These three are home to scores of masterpieces and each rank among the world’s greatest art museums. The Reina Sofia is home to arguably the most famous painting of the 20th century, Picasso’s Guernica.

If you have time for more, the Real Academia de Bellas Artes, the Lazaro Galdiano Museum and the Ermita de San Antonio de la Florida won’t disappoint – in any other city, they’d be top attractions.

Good for age: 18+

  • New York, United States of America (USA)

New York

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New York

The staggering wealth and cultural aspirations of New York’s industrial magnates helped lure some of world’s finest art here throughout the 20th century, making New York a global art powerhouse (rivalled only by London). Masterpieces proliferate, but the modern and contemporary art collections are equally staggering.

Even if you have little interest in Art per se, this is the place to taste it. Museums are admirably inclusive, being accessible and offering special programmes for kids.

Good for age: 18+

Nice

  • Nice, Cote d'Azur, France

Abstract painting inside a gallery

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Nice

Nice can rightly claim France’s best hoard of modern art after Paris’s – and much of it was created here, in the early 20th century, when the Riviera’s light, colour and warmth attracted artists such as Renoir, Matisse and Chagall.

Wealthy collectors later founded museums, often in charming and historic buildings, and many artists donated works to their adopted towns. Just outside of Nice’s borders you’ll find museums dedicated to other world-renowned artists such as Picasso, Bonnard and Cocteau.

Being far less busy than Paris’s art museums, they’re a pleasure to wander – often set in pretty sculpture gardens, with lovely cafes or wine bars attached so you can sit and ruminate on your art fix.

Good for age: 18+

Paris

  • Paris, Ile-de-France, France

Man looking at Van Gogh's self-portrait in the Orsay Museum

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Paris

Few countries have defined the history of Western art like France; from the 19th century onwards, the country was considered the epicentre of the art world, with Paris as its heart. The city was the home to world-renowned artists such as Picasso, Van Gogh, Rodin and Dali, and central to movements like Impressionism, Cubism and Pointillism.

Even today, cutting-edge galleries house the best modern and contemporary art, in spectacular buildings whose architecture is as much an attraction as the art inside. But the city is also an art capital thanks to its museums, which showcase everything from non-Western indigenous art and medieval sculpture, to Renaissance art and Impressionism.

Good for age: 18+

  • Provence, France

A portrait of Van Gogh set on a pillar, by a stone wall

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Provence

Mention art in Provence, and two names immediately spring to mind: Cezanne and Van Gogh (see bios below). But the region offers so much more than the duo who created the iconic images of its lovely landscapes.

Although Provence can’t match the explosion of contemporary art along the neighbouring Cote d’Azur, new foundations, galleries and museums have sprung up, notably in Avignon and Arles, with outstanding collections.

Good for age: 18+

Venice

  • Venice, Veneto, Italy

Venice

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Venice

Venice is best known as a centre of religious art, daubed across small yet stunning Catholic churches and scuole. But there’s also a vibrant contemporary art scene: a slew of good commercial art galleries, the palatial collections of world-class patrons such as Peggy Guggenheim, and the world-famous Venice Biennale.

Good for age: 18+

Munich

  • Munich, Bavaria, Germany

tourist inside of Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich city. The New Pinakothek is art museum for modern and contemporary art

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Munich

Munich’s Kunstareal (art district) is one of the world’s great cultural hubs. It’s home (at last count) to over 40 art galleries and 18 museums – three of which rank among the world’s greatest art museums.

The Old (Alte) Pinakothek shows masterworks from the Middle Ages to the 18th century, its forte being old Dutch and German masters such as Rembrandt and Dure. It also has one of the world’s best collections of Rubens.

The New (Neue) Pinakothek has iconic canvases by Romantic and French Impressionist painters – with works by Edouard Manet, Paul Cezanne and Vincent Van Gogh.

The Modern Pinakothek (der Moderne) takes over from the mid-20th century with paintings by artistic giants such as Dali, Picasso and Warhol.

Munich’s world-class art horde is largely thanks to Bavaria’s art-loving monarch King Ludwig I (1786-1868), who passionately collected priceless objets d’art from across the world.

Adult price: £5

Good for age: 18+

  • San Francisco, California, United States of America (USA)

Gallery and paintings inside the SFMOMA

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San Francisco

From its myriad of art museums to its on-the-rise-again street art, there’s no shortage of stand-out artwork in San Francisco.

Nearly everything about the city has an artistic edge. There’s the exquisite Art Deco beauty of the Golden Gate Bridge, and the colourful heart sculptures – which debuted in 2004 – that still dot the streets in spots like the Lyon Street Steps and SOMA’s Moscone Center.

The city is home to several world-class art museums, including the Museum of Modern Art and the De Young Museum for fine art.

For showcasing local artistic talent, there are top-quality independent art galleries and special events such as SF Open Studios, the spring Art Market and the DIY Renegade Craft Fair.

Good for age: 18+

Frequently asked questions

What are the world’s greatest artworks?

See our round-up of the world’s greatest artworks.

Who are the world’s most famous painters?

See our summary at the bottom of our round-up of the world’s greatest artworks.

What are the world’s most important styles of art?

See our summary at the bottom of our round-up of the world’s greatest art museums.

Where can I see the world’s greatest art?

See our round-up of the world’s greatest art museums.