Are you an expert on all things Michelangelo? Do you know the difference between a Pollock and a Picasso? Grab your paint brush, canvas and camera, because I think you’re ready to discover the best cities for art around the world, where art fairs, galleries and creative neighbourhoods inspire both novice artists and diehard enthusiasts alike. Let’s Gogh!
- 1 1. Miami, USA
- 2 2. Lagos, Nigeria
- 3 3. Paris, France
- 4 4. Singapore
- 5 5. São Paulo, Brazil
- 6 6. Basel, Switzerland
- 7 7. Hong Kong
- 8 8. New York City, USA
- 9 9. Berlin, Germany
- 10 10. Melbourne, Australia
- 11 11. Abu Dhabi, UAE
- 12 12. London, UK
- 13 13. Durban, South Africa
- 14 14. Valparaiso, Chile
- 15 Keep reading:
1. Miami, USA
What’s up Miami? This uber-eccentric beach city in Florida is home to the world-famous Art Basel fair that originally started in Basel, Switzerland. Over 2000 artists exhibit their work every year for the nation (and the world) to see. The fair has gained a high-brow reputation and is often celeb-spotting central, but there are still lots of emerging artists to uncover before the masses do.
The Wynwood Arts District is a former industrial neighbourhood that’s now Miami’s own artistic hub, with over 70 diverse galleries and museums, plus popular breweries, bars, cafes and restaurants in between. The main attraction – Wynwood Walls – draws in photographers, Instagrammers and travellers with its colourful outdoor murals. Neighbouring contemporary galleries like the Rubell Museum and The Robert Fontaine Gallery have a mix of emerging and established artist’s work and will help you to understand the sleek Miami art scene. During the Art Basel fair, Wynwood’s galleries open their doors for the Art Walk, when it’s free admission to roam free!
Where to stay: Generator Miami is everything you’ll need in this palm tree paradise, with a luxurious outdoor pool, sleek and social common rooms and modern dorms. The art of the city follows you into the doors of the hostel, with beautiful murals painted on the walls including one overlooking the pool.
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2. Lagos, Nigeria
Time to put Lagos on your list! This African capital city is home to the new major art fair Art X Lagos, which showcases innovative and modern African art. Lagos has 51 diverse art galleries, like the Mydrim Gallery, Museum of Contemporary Art, Rele Gallery and the Red Door Gallery. A standout – The Didi Museum – aims to elevate emerging artists while also showcasing Nigeria’s history. While it’s primarily an art gallery in the traditional sense, they also host book readings, poetry and jazz nights.
Alongside their growing dedication to visual arts, Lagos is also home to ‘Nollywood’ – Africa’s film industry (the 2nd largest in the world) that produces around 1,500 films annually, so it’s well worth watching a local film when visiting. Lagos isn’t just thriving in its art and culture scene, it’s also a surfing hotspot, so catch a wave or two while you’re at it!
3. Paris, France
Sure, you’ve heard of the Louvre and the Musee d’Orsay, but how well do you know the more alternative arty parts of Paris? The neighbourhood of Belleville is an emerging hipster zone, with a rich underground gallery scene and colourful street art. The Ateliers d’Artistes de Belleville is an exhibition space for local artists which also has regular workshops, while the Yvon Lambert Gallery and the Modus Art Gallery are smaller and lesser known choices to see contemporary art and photography. When you’re done gallery hopping, there are plenty of chic cafes where you can feast your belly on macarons and your eyes on the cool graffiti.
If you want to experience more of the traditional art in Paris, see what exhibitions are showing at the Grand Palais. The Musée National Picasso-Paris showcases the famous artist and Parisian resident Pablo Picasso and his own private collection, featuring artists like Gauguin, Matisse and Cézanne. There’s not much doubt that Paris is one of the best art cities in the world, but why not see a different side to it when you visit?
Where to stay: There are lots of hostels in Paris that are located in Belleville and the neighbouring district of Montmartre. Les Piaules is just as cool as the streets of Belleville, and has a bar, stylish hangout areas and a vintage photo booth – so you can make art of your own!
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You might be surprised to see Singapore on our best art cities list, but this metropolis is an artistic hotspot. The city is filled with a variety of galleries and museums that show both Asian and international works. The Singapore Art Museum is a major attraction with contemporary art from all over Southeast Asia. Singapore’s own art festival – Singapore Art Week – takes place in January, with experimental exhibitions and events shown around the city. If you fancy uncovering some street art, the neighbourhoods of Little India and Chinatown have an array of colourful murals (and delicious cuisine!) The colourful Haji Lane also features some eclectic murals that are a feast for every Instagrammer.
Where to stay: Fancy a trip into the future? There are lots of cool pod hostels in Singapore, and Dream Lodge is a solid pick. Not only does a modern pod bed await you, but also free breakfast!
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5. São Paulo, Brazil
Time to get bonkers about Brazil! The country’s busiest city São Paulo is also one of the world’s best cities for art, famed for its graffiti and alternative galleries. The city hosts two major art festivals, SP Arte (held on the first week of April every year) and Bienal São Paulo (bi-annual). The two biggest galleries are São Paulo Museum of Art (MASP) and Pinacoteca de São Paulo, which both house large collections of old and contemporary Brazilian art.
If you’re looking for somewhere that draws in the young locals, Galeria Choque Cultural is your best bet. It’s a former abandoned warehouse that’s now painted in colourful murals and showcases works from the city’s underground art scene, focusing on important social issues. No visit to São Paulo is complete without stopping by Beco de Batman (Batman’s Alley), where stunning street art covers every inch of the area.
Where to stay: The hostels in São Paulo reflect the city’s dedication to a bohemian and creative way of living. Café Hostel is located in the cool neighbourhood of Vila Madalena and has a herb garden and friendly outdoor bar.
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6. Basel, Switzerland
This picture-perfect Swiss town is home to the world-famous art exhibition and fair Art Basel, said to be the “Olympics of the art world”. Here the locals have always REALLY loved art, and in 1967 the city voted to purchase some Picasso paintings, but Picasso himself chose to donate 3 instead, which is when Basel’s love affair with art really took shape.
With 40 museums in Basel, it’s very unlikely that you’ll run out of things to see. The gallery Fondation Beyeler was created by famous collector Ernest Beyeler. While the gallery showcases major exhibitions from artists like Edward Hopper, Monet and Picasso, it’s also a stunning exhibition space with countryside views and cute gardens. The city’s must-visit museums include the Fine Arts Museum and Museum Tinguely (on Swiss artist Jean Tinguely). Other worthy pit stops include the Museum for Contemporary Art and the Kunstmuseum, which features 16th century art from the Netherlands and pieces from the French impressionism movement. If you want to save some coin and experience the great outdoors, during Art Basel the city has free installations in public spaces and events which are easily accessible throughout the town.
Where to stay:
YouthHostel Basel is a Scandi-lover’s dream, fit with massive windows with dreamy views of nature and light wood finishes inside. You’ll fit right in this artistic hub of a city!
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7. Hong Kong
The unofficial art capital of Asia, Hong Kong is not only the third city that hosts the Art Basel fair, it also has many international and local art galleries that have been steadily opening since the 2000s. Now with its own art festival – Art Central – Hong Kong is cementing its ultimate art city status.
You could spend many days (if not weeks) exploring all of the galleries, but some standouts include 10 Chancery Lane Gallery which focuses on contemporary Chinese art, Axel Vervoordt Gallery which has a sister gallery in Antwerp and features art that explores the concepts of space, time and the void, while the Whitestone Gallery (which has 2 locations) showcases modern Japanese art to Hong Kong. The newly opened and massive M+ Museum of Visual Culture exhibits visual art, design, architecture, and moving image significant to Hong Kong’s culture from the past two centuries. The museum aims at becoming one of the world’s leading cultural institutions, so visit before you hear about it everywhere.
If you need a breather from Hong Kong’s abundance of galleries, explore the lively neighbourhood of SoHo (short for South of Hollywood Road) for the trendiest bars, comedy clubs and restaurants in town.
Where to stay: Rainbow Lodge HK is in the central neighbourhood of Tsim Sha Tsui and has easily accessible public transport to get you around town.
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8. New York City, USA
New York must be on your art radar, right? It’s one of the best art cities in the world because of its many art galleries, art schools and emerging and established artists. When it comes to galleries, there are the big-hitters like the Guggenheim, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) which are well worth the visit, but if you venture out of Manhattan it’s eclectic, alternative vibes all around.
In north-west Brooklyn, the neighbourhood of Red Hook is seeing an influx of artists making it their base. You’ll find the Red Hook Labs where artists can use the studio, visitors can explore the galleries and art students can learn at the school. There’s also Kentler International Drawing Space, where you can take part in art classes and visit exhibitions, as well as a space for artists to sketch. Don’t forget about Brooklyn’s funky neighbourhood Bushwick, where you can not only hit up the coolest warehouse raves but also visit alternative art galleries and see excellent street art. The Microscope Gallery expresses its work through film, sound, digital and performance art. Time to get trippy!
Where to stay: NY Moore Hostel is located in the Brooklyn district of East Williamsburg, and is conveniently located to get to the coolest parts of the city.
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9. Berlin, Germany
East Side Gallery,📸:@suitcaseonmysleeve
Ah Berlin, basically another way to say the word cool. The city has some of the biggest and best art galleries and museums, but also a thriving creative underground scene. For years Berlin has drawn in the world’s artists – you can even get an Artist Visa to become a resident of the city.
Berlin has its own neighbourhood dedicated to museums and galleries called ‘Museum Island’. When visiting this formerly divided city, seeing the East Side Gallery is a must-visit. Graffiti and murals cover over a mile of the Berlin Wall, making it the largest open-air art exhibition in the world. It’s an unforgettable moment in history and a free art gallery all in one.
It’s very hard to pick only a few museums in Berlin, so I’ll just mention the most unique ones. The Sammlung Boros collection is a contemporary art museum inside a converted war bunker, where colourful expressive paintings and sculptures contrast the harsh, rundown, concrete walls. Increasing its cool factor, the gallery is only open on weekends and by appointment. If you want something really different, me Collectors Room features macabre and unusual art ranging from tribal pieces to real life skulls.
Where to stay: the Grand Hostel Berlin Classic is as chic as the art in this city. Lounge in the stylish common room fit with a grand bookshelf and sleek bar.
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10. Melbourne, Australia
National Gallery of Victoria, 📸:@mitchel3uo
It’s boho central in the best art city in Australia, where numerous cafes line the graffiti-clad laneways and the coolest boutique designers open up shop. One thing that Melbournians and travellers can always rely on is the city’s dedication to the arts.
Melbourne’s biggest gallery, the National Gallery of Victoria (AKA the NGV International) holds some of the country’s biggest exhibitions from around the world, but also has a rich permanent collection featuring Australian, Asian and indigenous art, as well as pieces from artists like Salvador Dali and Pablo Picasso. The gallery displays some of the best work of Australian artists Tom Roberts and Frederick McCubbin. Melbourne’s other major gallery, the Ian Potter Centre (AKA the NGV Australia), is located in the iconic Federation Square and features Australian indigenous and non-indigenous art. If you have a bit more time to explore around Victoria, head 2 hours outside of Melbourne to Bendigo Art Gallery, which has big international exhibitions as well as local art.
Where to stay: Stay in a hostel in Melbourne that is just as cool as the city. Melbourne Hostel has cool vibes flowing from its walls with abstract art, exposed brick and industrial-style furniture. It’s in the cool neighbourhood of St Kilda, so you’re seconds from the beach and close to public transport that will take you into the centre of the city.
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11. Abu Dhabi, UAE
Louvre Abu Dhabi, 📸:@tanyasoum
This is one of the world’s more unexpected best art cities, but over the past few years Abu Dhabi has established itself as a unique Middle Eastern art capital. The city holds its own annual art fair in November, which features exhibitions, installations, talks and events that create conversations and buzz. Galleries from all over Abu Dhabi and neighbouring areas exhibit their work.
The opulent Louvre Abu Dhabi opened its doors in 2017, featuring art from all over the world, including Egyptian artefacts and French art. The building is a masterpiece and is a very popular Instagram spot for travellers. The gallery Warehouse 421 is another stunning art exhibition space, with surrounding glass walls and greenery and natural colour schemes throughout. New York University even has a campus and an art gallery there, with displays created by their most promising students.
Do you need any more convincing to visit this architectural feast of a city, with art from all over the world? Its art scene is only expected to get even bigger, with plans to open a Guggenheim and the extraordinarily large Zayed National Museum over the coming years.
12. London, UK
Tate Britain, 📸:@kjjmurphy
You probably figured that London would make the best cities for art list, since it was home to artists like David Hockney, William Morris and Lucian Freud, but there is even more to uncover than what’s at first sight. You’ll find lots of museums and galleries covering different time periods, genres and styles. While the British Museum, V&A, Tate Modern and the National Gallery are featured in every guidebook, there are lots of smaller and lesser known museums that are worth just as much hype.
If you’re a fan of the Arts and Crafts movement and the Victorian period, Leighton House Museum, William Morris Museum and the Tate Britain are all standouts. For the traditionalists, Kensington Palace and The Wallace Collection in Marylebone will make you feel like a royal for the day. Fashion lovers should head to the Fashion and Textile Museum, and modern art enthusiasts should visit smaller galleries like the Whitechapel Gallery, the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park and the Chisenhale Gallery in Bow. If you’re on the hunt for street art in London, the neighbourhoods of Shoreditch and Brixton are essential, with colourful Instagram-friendly murals at every turn.
If you’re spending a bit longer in the UK or want to tick off as many exhibitions and museums as possible, think about getting the National Art Pass. You’ll get free entry into many galleries and museums, and half price entry for exhibitions. But you could visit all of these galleries and still not even scratch the surface of London’s art scene!
Where to stay: SoHostel is a five-minute walk from the all-important central line on the London Underground, so you can easel-y zip across the city and visit some of the best art galleries in no time. Plus, how does free breakfast and activities like free walking tours and beer pong nights sound?
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13. Durban, South Africa
This South African city is also a rising art capital, showcasing the country’s and the wider continent’s unique and culturally significant pieces. Durban Art Gallery exhibits traditional ceramics and sculptures, as well as tribal artefacts. The contemporary gallery KZNSA hosts emerging international and local artists and doesn’t shy away from difficult subjects. Durban is a part of UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network, and as well as visual art, the city also has a focus on literature and holds the Time of the Writer Literary Festival annually. If you want to buy an authentic souvenir during your travels, the African Art Centre sells locally and ethically produced pieces like jewellery, crafts and pottery. After all that art exploring, take time to explore Durban’s beautiful coastline with a walk along the beach.
Where to stay: The ultra-boutique hostel CURIOCITY Durban deserves some attention. Not only is the décor seriously dreamy, the hostel has an outdoor cinema, spa, bar and yoga space. Plus, you can even take surfing lessons!
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14. Valparaiso, Chile
This bohemian city has chilled creativity down to a tee and is one of the best art cities in Chile. The town has had a major boost since becoming a world heritage centre in 2003, with museums and cultural spaces popping up all over town. Even the city’s former prison was transformed into a Cultural Park which exhibits local art, theatre, music and dance.
In the neighbourhoods of Cerro Alegre and Cerro Concepción, you’ll find colourful houses, art galleries, restaurants and bars where photographers and foodies can get lost. There are awesome museums in these areas, like Sala de Arte Wenteche which has local Chilean and Latin American art and Galeria Bahia Utopica which has an impressive range of contemporary local and foreign pieces. Get planning, because this Chilean city deserves some love!
Where to stay: Hostal Voyage perfectly fits in with the city’s bohemian vibe, with a colourful courtyard fit with beautiful murals that rival your childhood dreams.
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Are you drawn to the world of art as much as I am? Do you fancy a visit to one of the best art cities around the world? Maybe all of them? Let us know in the comments!
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