Source: Conde Nast Traveler, by Sebastian Modak. September 13, 2017

Florence, Italy

Despite initial appearances, Florence is no stuck-in-amber Renaissance city, but the fact that it can seem that way speaks to how well-preserved and significant it is from a historical and cultural perspective. In reality, though, it’s no surprise Florence takes the top spot this year, as it strikes a perfect balance between the old and new, masterpiece and modern, from Michelangelo’s David to the Gucci Museum. Yes, you should save a day for the Uffizi (say hi to Venus for us), but you should also make time for the oft-overlooked Bargello Museum, rich with sculpture, including early works by Michelangelo, and the Museo Bardini, a former convent that now houses an impressive collection of medieval armor and antiquities. —Jenna Scherer

Rome, Italy

At its peak, the Roman Empire extended over nearly two million square miles of land across Europe, Asia Minor, and North Africa. Today, that history—and the far-flung influences that made their mark on this ancient capital—are on display everywhere. (Vespas zip by the Roman Forum, which dates back to the seventh century BC, like its no big deal.) The recently restored Colosseum is such a part of the modern city’s fabric that after a few days you start taking its grandeur for granted. The city’s main attractions are famous not because of tourist hype, but because they really are that impressive—the Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, the Capitoline Museums…the list goes on and on. No wonder it’s known as the Eternal City: You could spend forever here and find new artistic and cultural treasures every day.

Paris, France

Hemingway famously called Paris “a moveable feast” for its tendency to stick with you long after you’ve left. But he may have also been hinting at, how, no matter where you go while in the city, there’s always something to see, hear, taste, or feel. He, like so many authors from around the world, found inspiration in the city’s cafes, alleyways, and bars. Meanwhile, with some 150 museums, Paris doubles as an art history class, offering the very best of the discipline across centuries and styles. Facing so much choice, travelers will be forgiven for skipping the Louvre in favor of quieter moments at Musée Rodin or L’Orangerie. Paris continues to set the pace for innovation, as well, all while lending technological progress an aesthete’s eye for perfection. Recent endeavors have included greening its urban landscape and experimenting with everything from stylish water taxis to VR time-travel telescopes.

Santa Fe, New Mexico

You can’t see all the art that Santa Fe has on offer on a single trip, so unless you’re one for total sensory overstimulation, we don’t suggest you try. On a first visit, it can seem there are more art galleries than restaurants in the city—they line the central plaza and its side streets, while the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum is downtown’s centerpiece. The city has a unique ability to look outward, while also staying true to its traditions: The Museum of International Folk Art is packed with 130,000 objects, a tribute to craftspeople from around the world, while the annual SWAIA Indian Market, which runs every August, is the showcase for the region’s Native American artists and artisans.

Venice, Italy

Nowhere else on earth is quite like Venice—a town built on water, accessible only by foot or boat, and a trading hub that linked the disparate cultures of the Old World. Western Europe is famous for its cathedrals, but there’s none that match the magnificence of St. Mark’s Basilica, an architectural marvel owing to its blend of Byzantine and Italian architectural styles. But its not all about the past: The Venice Biennale, which runs this year until November 18, and late summer’s Venice Film Festival, the oldest film festival in the world (its first edition was in 1932), continue to cement the city as a gathering place for artistic innovators. And there’s no more colorful time to visit than during the masked extravaganza of the Venice Carnevale in February. Just remember, as the locals continue to emphasize, to be respectful while joining the tourist crowds.

New York City

Take it from us: It can be exhausting living in New York City. It’s not only the subway stress, the crowds, and the delightful smells. It’s also because there’s just so much to doand it can be hard to summon the willpower to say no and have a night in. But then again, why would you want to? Free party at the Brooklyn Museum with a sneak-peek of an exhibition highlighting black female artists, followed by a live performance by a multicultural brass band? We’ll be there. Beer tasting and lectures on brewing and botany amid the greenery of the Botanical Gardens in the Bronx? Yep. A career-spanning film retrospective of Frank Lloyd Wright at MoMA? As good as done. We’ll sleep when we’re dead.

Barcelona, Spain

Ground zero for Catalonia’s proud and resilient culture is home to Gaudí’s (still under construction) psychedelic masterpiece La Sagrada Família and his Seussian Park Güell; the Museu Picasso, with 3,500 works by the Spanish master; and the Gothic Quarter—all vestiges of its storied past. But today, it’s a whirlwind of creative energy, with abstract artists live-painting in the refreshingly rough-around-the-edges El Raval, and local indie rock and electronica on display at the Sidecar Factory Club, which has been showcasing Barcelona’s underground since 1982. For the exhibition-hoppers out there, the possibilities are virtually endless, but this fall, you might want to start at an exhibit highlighting the work of the minimalist master Brian Eno at Arts Santa Mònica or a celebration of Giorgio de Chirico, who pioneered so-called “metaphysical art” in the early twentieth century, at CaixaForum.

 

Mexico City, Mexico

La Casa Azul, an electric-blue house in Mexico City‘s Coyoacan district, is more pilgrimage site than museum. That’s because it once was home to Frida Kahlo, the famous artist whose work—and mystique—is known and revered around the world. Now it houses a vast collection of her work and personal effects, and is one of the city’s most frequented stops for art-loving tourists. But, to visit the densely packed space, or even the grandiose Palacio de Bellas Artes, is to scratch the surface of this constantly-buzzing city’s creative scene. New destination-worthy museums open every few years in Mexico’s capital: Take 2011’s ultra-modern Soumaya, stocked with the personal collection of the multi-billionaire Carlos Slim, and 2013’s Museo Jumex, which houses an impressive collection of contemporary art in an imposing, jagged building. And that’s not even mentioning the one-room galleries and hole-in-the-wall music venues that pop up seemingly ever week, or the art fairs, like February’s Zona Maco, which draws crowds rivaling Art Basel in Miami Beach.

Istanbul, Turkey

It’s the boundary between two continents; the entry-point into Europe for the Silk Road that extended all the way to the Korean peninsula; a place where you can sip an espresso in a third-wave coffee shop, steps from a Roman aqueduct, while the call to prayer emanates from a mosque that was built in the time of the Ottomans. There are the classics, of course, like the syncretic Hagia Sophia—once a church, then a mosque, and now a museum—and the famous Whirling Dervishes whose entrancing, twirling dance is an act of devotion to their Sufi faith. But under all that history and millennia-old tradition is a thriving, and subversive, hip-hop, contemporary art, and film scene, spurred by creators who use their expression as a way to comment on the turbulent times the country currently finds itself in. To find up-and-coming and established creatives alike, start with a Saturday evening in Karaköy, where Istanbul’s old-meets-new aesthetic is in full bloom. Or head to the 15th Istanbul Biennale, taking place from September 16 through November 12, where everything from modern dance to street art will be on display.

Washington, D.C.

There’s a reason that schoolchildren come to D.C. by the busload—it delivers a crash course in American history and culture. With so much art, culture, and science lining the Mall and its outskirts, you can effectively spend a whole day on a museum crawl without ever stepping foot in a car, bus, or subway car. The National Gallery’s Sculpture Garden is ideal for a quick loop any time of the year—but make sure to head there around sundown on summer Fridays to picnic near masterpieces while listening to live jazz. The Renwick Gallery has a constantly growing permanent collection that showcases craft as a discipline and the nearby National Portrait Gallery lets you gaze into the eyes of history-makers. Perhaps the most exciting new addition? The National Museum of African American History and Culture, a highly anticipated, long overdue tribute to black heritage, which opened last year.

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