The art scene can really define a place. A city with an abundance of museums, galleries, and public art spaces like murals and sculpture gardens is no doubt vibrant and awash in color, emotions, and ideas. That art can be a magnet, attracting visitors from near and far.
Anywhere I travel, depending on how much time I have, I visit at least a couple local museums, from the iconic to the obscure, and check out the street art.
Whether you’re a die-hard art aficionado or just want to explore art for clues about where you are—for example, it’s not every place where you’ll find protest art on city walls—these cities around the world appreciate art—even revere it. Your art craving will be so, so satisfied.
Houston, Texas, U.S.
They don’t mess around with anything “little” in super-sized Texas. In Houston, art is no small matter. The greater Houston metro area has 150 museums and cultural institutions. It’s not every city that can say it has a Museum District. Houston does, and in it, you’ll find 19 museums—one of the largest concentrations of cultural institutions in the U.S. There are four walkable/bikeable zones in the Museum District’s 9 square miles. Plus, what’s cool about Houston is not only has institutions like The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, but it also has quirky ones like the National Museum of Funeral History and the Art Car Museum.
There’s something mysterious about the medieval city of Istanbul. The ancient sites add to the mystique, but so does the art. The city has a vast collection of Islamic art, rugs, tiles, and calligraphy that you won’t find elsewhere. You’ll also find contemporary art galleries. Put Istanbul Modern, which offers contemporary art, photography, architecture, and design, on the top of your museum-hopping list. It’s in the trendy Beyoğlu district. The AKM Atatürk Cultural Centre is home to several exhibit spaces and performance halls. The AKM Gallery showcases works by contemporary artists.
London, United Kingdom
While London is known for the British Museum, the Victoria & Albert Museum, its Natural History Museum, and a host of others, as well as galleries, it’s also big on street art. In fact, in a survey by Radical Storage, London is the best city in Europe overall for street art, and it is the most engaged city on social media for street art, with more than 28 million views on TikTok.
London’s Shoreditch neighborhood is Europe’s hotspot for street art, but throughout the city (think Camden, Soho, Covent Garden, and Croydon neighborhoods), you’ll see sculptures, murals, statues, and more. You can take the guided, nearly three-hour Shoreditch Art Tour. Come nightfall, make your way to the Illuminated River installation, a public art trail that uses LED technology to set the legendary London bridges aglow.
Miami, Florida, U.S.
Miami’s magic is more than its beautiful beaches, fancy restaurants, and shopping on Ocean Drive. The art is worthy of celebrating too, especially during December, when people from around the globe come for the international Art Basel Miami Beach. The week surrounding it—Miami Art Week—is filled with satellite fairs, art shows, and other events that showcase local artists. The number of galleries is an embarrassment of riches in the Miami Design District, Wynwood, Allapattah, Little Haiti, Downtown Miami, South Beach, and elsewhere. You must experience the Wynwood Walls, an outdoor museum of giant museums, full of colors, history, and stories. It’s unlike anything else you’ve seen. Your art binge won’t be complete without time at the Pérez Art Museum Miami, beloved for its contemporary arts of the Americas and stunning architecture by Herzog & de Meuron, and at the MDC Museum Of Art & Design, with its contemporary art.
New York City, New York, U.S.
New York doesn’t like to take a back seat to anyone about anything. That goes for the art scene too. When it comes to art cities, it ranks at the top not only in the U.S. but also in the world. The Big Apple is leading art capital in the U.S. and has the largest share of art institutions in the country. There are some 145 museums alone, not to mention the numerous galleries, sculpture gardens, murals, and public art. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, the largest museum in America, the Guggenheim, and The Museum of Modern Art are world-class museums. Just as impressive is the street art all over the city.
When it comes to world-class art cities, Paris is one of the grand dames. It is home to the Louvre Museum, the biggest museum on the planet with an area the size of more than 780,000 square feet and treasures like the Mona Lisa painting among its 38,000 pieces. Another must is The Centre Pompidou in trendy Le Marais, with its contemporary and modern art collection that is the largest in Europe. Your itinerary won’t be complete without Musee d’Orsay, Rodin Museum, and The Palace of Versailles.
San Francisco, California, U.S.
You don’t need any arm twisting to take a trip to San Francisco. The Golden Gate Bridge at night is a piece of art in itself, and the city offers art institutions like the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the de Young Museum and Legion of Honor, with artifacts from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas. The galleries are impressive. Pop in the Jack Fischer and Hosfelt Galleries to see if you disagree. And in the wild and wacky city by the Bay, the array of street art is colorful, poignant, and one of a kind. Don’t miss the murals in the Mission District.
Malta has been under the radar for many U.S. travelers, but that’s starting to change, and art fans have reason to explore this small island nation in the Mediterranean. For one thing, the
three-island archipelago just south of Italy is generating some buzz. In March of 2024, Malta will host its first Art Biennale, which earned patronage from UNESCO. It will highlight immersive art experiences that investigate the Mediterranean. This continues through May. Come October, there’s another first—the opening of a contemporary art museum: Malta International Contemporary Art Space (MICAS), which will house the work of world-renowned artists that tell the story of Malta’s history and geography. There will also be an outdoor sculpture gallery.
Art is not an afterthought in Vienna. There are more than 100 museums in Austria’s capital city. Here, you’re privy to the world’s largest Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, and Pieter Bruegel collections. At the Albertina are gems like some of the most valuable graphical collections in the world, like Dürer’s “Hare” and Klimt’s studies of women. There’s much buzz about the reopening of the Wien Museum after a few years of renovation and expansion. There’s also urban art everywhere. You can find out more about the city’s museums here.
Pack Your Bags
Great art is worth traveling for. Truth is, a city that has an abundance of museums, galleries, and street art is likely to also be the kind of place where the food is great, the theater is great, and the music is great. You’re going to have a good time, so get going.