Source: Conde Nast Traveler, by Sebastian Modak.
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
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.
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
You’d be forgiven for thinking <ahref=”https://www.cntraveler.com/story/to-experience-kyotos-history-stay-in-a-machiya-townhouse”>Kyoto’s nickname, the “City of Ten Thousand Shrines,” is an exaggeration. But after a walk through its beautifully preserved streets, you’ll quickly be correcting your assumption. While it’s hard to nail down the exact number of shrines—new ones seemingly pop up overnight—there are at least 1,600 temples within the city limits. There are the world-famous landmarks, of course—think the vermillion gates of Fushimi Inari-taisha and the shimmering Golden Pavilion of Kinkaku-ji. But the truly magical thing about Kyoto is the way you can explore the city, without a <ahref=”https://www.cntraveler.com/story/does-anyone-use-guidebooks-anymore-travelogue-podcast”>guide book or itinerary, and stumble upon Zen gardens, sprawling temple complexes, and immaculately maintained shrines with nary a tourist in site. Its seventeen <ahref=”https://www.cntraveler.com/galleries/2016-07-19/unesco-newest-world-heritage-sites”>UNESCO World Heritage sites speak to this ancient capital’s cultural significance, but they’re really just the beginning when it comes to all the beauty that Kyoto offers.
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.
Western music as we know it would be unrecognizable without Austria’s capital
, which nurtured the talents of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, and Mahler, plus local boys Schubert and Strauss. It’s also the site of the Vienna Secession, a revolutionary art movement founded in 1897 by luminaries like Gustav Klimt. Visitors today can see the fruits of all that creativity in the city’s <ahref=”https://www.cntraveler.com/stories/2014-12-03/the-art-lover-s-guide-to-vienna”>100-odd museums—including the Belvedere and the Museum Moderner Kunst—and hear it at legendary opera houses such as the Staatsoper and Theater an der Wien.
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 do
and 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
? As good as done. We’ll sleep when we’re dead.
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
London, United Kingdom
Where do we begin? There’s the obvious—<ahref=”https: www.cntraveler.com=”” destinations=”” london”=””>London as inspiration and setting for the rise of Shakespeare, Dickens, Orwell, Eliot; the West End as the stage for, well, all the world’s top talent; and the breeding ground for all those iconic bands that only need a “the”: The Kinks, The Clash, The Stones. But London is also <ahref=”http: www.cntraveler.com=”” galleries=”” 2014-06-09=”” banksy-art-around-the-world”=””>Banksy’s favorite canvas, home to more than 1,000 galleries; and the kind of place where you can spend a whole day in a single museum and still be ready for more when it opens the next morning. —J.S.</ahref=”http:></ahref=”https:>
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.
Somehow, a city that dates to the fourth millennium BC has one of the most thriving contemporary cultural scenes in the world right now. To wit: There’s the annual Sacred Music Festival
, which puts on full display—this year has Indian percussionists, Israeli orchestras, and Malian singer sharing the same stage. In October, the Manofim Contemporary Art Festival draws people to performances, poetry readings, and exhibits in unexpected places, like private homes or down Asael Street in Abu Tor, where, for example, last year’s “House Project: Stories Made by God” explored the divided neighborhood. —J.S.
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.
When it comes to arts capitals, Athens is often overshadowed by its European neighbors. But the ancient city is undoubtedly having a moment. This summer saw the arrival of documenta, the spectacle of modern and contemporary art occurring every five years that, for the first time, took place somewhere else other than Kassel, Germany. (The two cities shared hosting duties.) During the July and August , paintings, sculptures, and performances could be found everywhere, from the Acropolis to private homes and tavernas. While it remains to be seen whether the visual extravaganza will leave a permanent mark on the city’s art scene, other cultural stalwarts have been cropping up, too: The Renzo Piano-designed, $623 million Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, home to the National Opera and the National Library of Greece, opened last year, while the revamped is finally open to the public after a 12-year hiatus. To really get a feel for the city’s creative scene, Athens is best explored by foot without any specific agenda in mind: With street art to , neighborhoods like Metaxourgeio and Kerameikos offer enough gallery-hopping to fill an afternoon—and then some. —Lale Arikoglu
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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