Are you an art lover looking for the perfect cultural European city break or weekend getaway? If so, here’s my guide to the 15 best cities in Europe for art lovers. These artsy cities are home to Europe’s best museums and art collections.
For each of these European cities, I tell you where to find the best art. I give you an overview of the most important museums to visit in each city. Hopefully, this list will provide some destination inspiration and help you prioritize your museum-going in Europe.
I’m a museum hound of the first order. I’ve written hundreds of articles on the best museums and art in Europe. I’ve linked some of them to the relevant art city in Europe to help you along.
15 Art Cities Worth Traveling For: Best Art Cities in Europe
Here are my picks for the 15 best cities for art lovers in Europe:
1. Amsterdam Netherlands: Van Gogh Paradise
Van Gogh fanatics should place Amsterdam at the top of their must visit list. But Amsterdam isn’t just Van Gogh. The “Venice of the North,” Amsterdam is a special destination for art lovers of all kinds.
Amsterdam boasts both age old museums and world class contemporary art galleries. Here’s the museums you can’t miss in Amsterdam:
Founded over 200 years ago, the revered Rijksmuseum is the crown jewel of Amsterdam’s Museum Plaza. The august museum houses over 1 million artworks. Its vast collection boats masterpieces by the Dutch heavyweights — Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Van Gogh.
The museum also displays work from lesser known artists whose oeuvre significantly influenced Dutch and European culture.
The must see masterpieces include Rembrandt’s Night Watch (taking up an entire wall) and Jewish Bride, Vermeer’s The Milkmaid, Franz Hal’s The Merry Drinker, and Van Gogh’s Self Portrait.
Van Gogh Museum
The Post-Impressionist painter Vincent Van Gogh is one of the word’s most beloved artists. Though Van Gogh only lived in Amsterdam briefly, the city is home to the world’s largest collection of his works. Van Gogh’s titular museum has 200 paintings and over 1,000 letters and drawings.
The Van Gogh Museum is a magnet for scholars and aficionados. Each room follows the periods of Van Gogh’s career in chronological order.
You’ll see some of his most famous paintings — Sunflowers, The Yellow House, Almond Blossoms, and his self portraits. You also get a sense of Van Gogh’s life through his letters to his brother Theo.
READ: Van Gogh Murder Mystery
Right next door to the Van Gogh Museum, you’ll find the brightly lighted Stedelijk. It’s the city’s home for modern and contemporary art. Opened in 2012, the new building replaced the museum’s striped old Neo-Renissance building.
It’s shaped like a tub, an eccentric architectural choice. The bathtub floats above the glassed-in ground floor.
You can see the birth of Dadaism in works by Kurt Schwitters and Paul Citroen. The permanent collection includes works by Picasso, Mondrian, Monet, Cezanne, Matisse, Chagall, and Renoir.
Rembrandt House Museum
Rembrandt’s home of 20 years — the place he made and lost a fortune — has now been restored to its former glory.
Everything you need to learn about Rembrandt has been recreated here — his studio, his living quarters, and his art.
You can step back in time into Rembrandt’s world. The museum displays hundreds of etchings and drawings by Rembrandt. The museum also has works from his contemporaries and pupils.
2. Athens Greece: Ruin Lusters Haven
I’m not a huge fan of the rather dirty city of Athens itself. But Athens is a must visit for lovers of antiquity. This is where you can immerse yourself in the ruins of Ancient Greece.
Here are the museums you can’t miss in Athens:
No visit to Athens is complete without a pilgrimage to the lofty Acropolis. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the site houses the spectacular Parthenon temple as well as other beautiful monuments.
The Parthenon is a marble temple dedicated to the goddess Athena, built between 447 B.C. and 432 B.C. It was the center of religious life. At the time, Athens was at its zenith during the age of Pericles.
The Parthenon was decorated with the finest art of its day, carved by master sculptor Phidias. The pediments had magnificent friezes (decorative horizontal bands), which depicted an Athenian religious process.
The carvings, called the Elgin marbles, have long been plundered and/or removed. Some are in the Acropolis Museum, some in the British Museum in London.
In 2009, Athens opened the gorgeous new Acropolis Museum. Designed by French-Swiss architect Bernard Tschumi, it’s a $200 million state of the art museum.
The Acropolis Museum recreated the intricate Parthenon friezes for display, including what’s shown in London. Through the museum’s wraparound windows, you can even spy the Parthenon ruins.
Greece’s archaeological museum is world class, housing priceless artifacts from the Mediterranean’s ancient civilizations. Highlights include the golden mask once known as the Death Mask of Agamemnon (more than 3,500 years), the bronze Zeus statue, and the ancient Horse and Jockey statue.
3. Barcelona Spain: Modernist Architecture & Modern Art
Barcelona is a magical city, another one of the must visit cities in Europe for art lovers. You visit for its dazzling jumble of surrealistic architecture and amazing art. There are no end of wonders from the Spanish giants: Gaudi, Picasso, Dali, and Miro.
Here’s the museums you can’t miss in Barcelona:
Modernism and Art Nouveau Architecture
No other architectural style defines and symbolizes Barcelona as much as Modernism. Modernism was Catalonia’s hallucinatory take on the international movement of Art Nouveau.
The king of the modernists was Antoni Gaudi, the creator of Barcelona’s most famous UNESCO-listed buildings — Sagrada Familia, Casa Battlo, La Pedrera, Palau Guell, Colonia Guell, and Park Guell.
The beautiful Picasso Museum is lodged in five adjoining medieval stone mansions in Barcelona’s El Born neighborhood. The palaces date from the 13th to 14th centuries, and are characteristic of the Catalan civic Gothic style.
Founded in 1963, the museum was launched with a donation of 574 works by Picasso’s secretary, Jaime Sabartes. In 1970, Picasso himself donated 800 more pieces.
At the museum, you can enjoy the best collection of Picasso’s work in Spain. There are over 3,000 pieces, mostly from Picasso’s formative years in Barcelona.
Joan Miro Foundation
The Joan Miro Foundation on Montjuic is Barcelona’s most emblematic gallery. The striking museum is housed in a spectacular building on Montjuic.
It’s a gleaming white light-filled design from the 1970s, created by Miro’s friend, architect Josep Luis Sert.
The foundation is one of Europe’s most fabulous single artist museums, without any stuffy pretense. Inside, you’ll find the world’s largest collection of the Surrealist artist Joan Miro’s lively paintings and sculptures.
National Museum of Catalan Art
The grand domed Neo-Baroque Palau Montjuic houses the National Museum of Catalan Art. The MNAC features the best Romanesque mural paintings in the world, including art work gathered from churches, chapels, and monuments.
The museum’s collection ranges all the way from Gothic art to modern art. You’ll find works by El Greco, Velazquez, Gaudi, Ramon Casas, Julio Gonzalez, and Dali.
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4. Basel Switzerland: Modern Art
Cosmopolitan Basel is a pretty city on the Rhine River.
Basel hosts one of the most well known art fairs in Europe, Art Basel, annually in June. 60,000+ visitors descend on Basel to see 300 galleries showing off the works of thousands of artist.
The fair gives an overview of what’s happening in the modern art around the world. It’s not exactly avant garde, with works pre-dating the 1970s. But it’s definitely worth an art trip to Europe.
Basel best permanent collection is in the Kuntsmuseum Basel. It has a stunning permanent collection from the 15th century to present. The highlight are the Holbeins, if you like old masters, and modern works by Magritte, Dali, Miro, and Mondrian.
The Foundation Beyeler
Fondation Beyeler is artsy inside and outside. The foundation’s permanent collection has pieces by modern masters such as Claude Monet, Cezanne, Van Gogh, and Picasso. They’re exhibited alongside contemporary works and tribal art pieces from Africa and Oceania.
The beautiful building was designed by Italian starchitect Renzo Piano. Situated in Berowerpark, the museum grounds are scattered with sculptures by Ellsworth Kelly and Alexander Calder.
5. Berlin Germany: Museum Island
Berlin’s Museum Island is a veritable museum treasure trove, dubbed Berlin’s Acropolis. Museum Island alone makes Berlin a fantastic city for art lovers in Europe.
On Museum Island, you’ll find five beautifully restored museums — the Pergamon Museum, the Bode Museum, the Neues Museum (new museum), the Alte National Gallery (old picture gallery), and the Altes Museum (old museum).
The Altes Museum displays ancient Greek and Roman artifacts amid a massive rotunda full of statuary. The Neues Museum houses prehistoric pieces and Egyptian art, including the famous bust of Queen Nefertiti.
The Bode Museum was built in a Neo-Baroque style. It houses sculptures from the Italian Renaissance and Mannerist periods, including works by Canova and Donatello.
The star attraction of Museum Island is the Pergamon Museum. A highlight is the stunning Pergamon Altar, which the Nazis used as inspiration for their Zeppelin field in Nuremberg.
You can also admire the Market Gate from Miletus, the Ishtar Gate from Babylon, and a wooden dome from Spain’s Alhambra.
East Street Gallery, Berlin Wall
The East Street Gallery of the Berlin Wall is the longest and best preserved section of the wall. It’s a free outdoor art gallery with 105 murals, created in 1990 after the borders started to open.
The graffiti style works, painted in 1990, were created as a monument to the fall of the divide. The most renowned mural is Dmitri Vrubel’s Fraternal Kiss. The mural shows Leonard Brezhnev and Erich Honecker kissing, based on a real photograph.
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6. Bilbao Spain
Underrated Bilbao is a bit of a hidden gem in Basque Spain. Bilbao is chock full of historic landmarks, modern starchitecture, and world class museums.
In 1997, Bilbao took a risk on the Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum. It created a glistening landmark that sparked tourism and helped revitalize the city.
Inaugurated in 1997, Frank Gehry’s shimmering museum has been called both a palace and a ship. The exterior courtyards are scattered with world renowned outdoor sculptures: Jeff Koon’s flowering Puppy, Louise Bourgeois’ Maman spider, Anish Kapoor’s Tall Tree and the Eye, and Fujiko Nakaya’s The Fog Sculpture.
On the inside, the Guggenheim’s architecture continues to amaze. There’s a glass-enclosed 50 meter atrium, crowned with a skylight in the shape of a metal flower.
You’ll find works by Richard Serra, Robert Motherwell, Cy Twombley, Yves Klein, Marc Chagall, Andy Warhol, Eduardo Chillada, and Anselm Kiefer.
Museum of Fine Arts
The museum boasts over 10,000 art works, arranged chronologically from the 12th century to the present. It has works by Spanish luminaries such as Picasso, Goya, El Greco, Zurbaran, Murillo, and Chillada.
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7. Florence Italy: Cradle of the Renaissance
If you love Renaissance painting, put Florence on your Europe art bucket list. Florence is the “Cradle of the Renaissance.” The High Renaissance blossomed and thrived in Florence, long before heading to Rome.
There are scads of amazing museums in Florence. But these are the four must see museums in Florence:
The Uffizi Gallery has the world’s best collection of Italian medieval and Renaissance art. The museum is a crowd pleaser, the third most visited site in Italy. It deserves its accolades and should be on your itinerary for Florence.
The Uffizi houses seminal works from the 13th to 18th centuries, with a concentration on Renaissance art. Here’s where you’ll find one of the world’s most iconic paintings, Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus.
The Uffizi is a nonstop steady stream of masterpieces. There are important statues and beautiful decorated ceilings. You’ll find works by Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, and Raphael.
The magnificent Pitti Palace is an incredibly unique combination of splendor, in situ art collections, and beautiful gardens. It’s one of the most popular must see attractions in Florence. The palace was the regal home of the Medici family.
The in situ collection is part of the palace’s over-the-top decoration. Paintings in rich frames cover the walls beneath gilded and frescoed ceilings. The collection includes Spanish, Flemish, Medieval, Italian Renaissance, and Baroque works.
The palace houses several museums. The Palatine Gallery is the best, boasting some of the world’s most famous paintings. It has works by Raphael, Rubens, Titian, Pietro da Cortona, and Caravaggio.
Michelangelo’s David is icon of the Italian Renaissance, perhaps the world’s most famous sculpture. The 17 foot statue is the embodiment of male beauty, a Calvin Klein-like model of physical perfection.
Michelangelo’s David is shown in the moment before battle. David is in a classical contrapposto stance — a twisting position where the weight is shifted mostly to one leg. David was the symbol of the Republic of Florence, embodying strength and courage.
Here’s my guide to Michelangelo’s David.
The National Museum of the Bargello in Florence has a world class collection of Renaissance sculptures.
The Bargello boasts early Michelangelo works, some of Donatello’s most famous sculptures, and works by other famous Renaissance artists like Cellini and Giambologna. Basically, the Bargello is to Renaissance sculpture what the Uffizi Gallery is to Renaissance painting.
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8. London England: Amazing Free Collections
London is literally overflowing with fantastic museums. They showcase world class art, ranging from the prehistoric to modern periods.
You could spend a lifetime visiting these must see museums in London. They’re rich, diverse, and endlessly fascinating. Even better, many of London’s best museums are free, absolutely free.
Here’s the museums you can’t miss in the art city of London:
Opened in 2000, the Tate Modern is home to room after room of world famous international modern and contemporary art. There are paintings, installations, sculptures, films, and photography.
Among other modern art masterpieces, you can clap your eyes on Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Diptych, Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain, Amadeo Modigliani’s Peasant Boy, Pablo Picasso’s Nude Woman in a Red Armchair, Giorgio de Chirico’s the Uncertainty of the Poet, Henri Matisse’s The Snail, and Salvador Dali’s Lobster Telephone.
Don’t miss the room with Mark Rothko’s luminous Seagram Murals, with their deep hues of black, blue, purple, and red. They were inspired by the Michelangelo’s Laurentian Library in Florence.
In London’s artsy Bloomsbury area, you’ll find one of the world’s foremost museums. Opened in 1753, the British Museum is a universal museum, holding a massive collection of the world’s most important historic artifacts.
Most famously, the British Museum holds title to the Elgin Marbles, effectively acquired by conquest. As I mentioned above, these beautiful friezes were once wrapped around the Parthenon.
Other must see highlights are the Egyptian mummies, the renowned Rosetta Stone, the Assyrian lion hunt reliefs, the Lindow Man, the Lewis Chessmen, and the Sutton Hoo Ship Buria.
The National Gallery is incredibly diverse, featuring 2,000 European paintings from the 13th to the 19th centuries. You’ll find familiar names like Rembrandt, da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli, Turner, Monet, and Van Gogh.
The most famous painting on display is Leonardo da Vinci’s The Virgin of the Rocks. But Van Gogh’s Sunflowers also draws hordes of admirers.
The gallery is an artistic experience in and of itself. It has soaring ceilings and glass topped domes. The floor of the entryway is covered with beautiful mosaics.
The stunning Tate Britain boasts a domed rotunda, beautiful spiral staircase, terrazzo floors, and Victorian details. The Tate Britain underwent an extensive renovation in 2013. The result is an ultra pretty museum experience.
The museum is home to Turner’s watercolors and Francis Bacon’s abstract religious triptychs and screaming popes. Its masterpieces include Sir John Everett Millais’ Ophelia, John William Waterhouse’s The Lady of Shalott, and John Constable’s Flatford Mill.
Eight rooms are dedicated to Turner, one of Britain’s greatest artists. In the mid 19th century, Turner shocked the art world with loose brush strokes and fiery palette, presaging the Impressionist movement. The gallery includes some of Turner’s greatest masterpieces: Self Portrait, Peace, Burial at Sea, Norham Castle, and Sunrise.
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9. Madrid Spain: The Big Three
Madrid is a genteel capital, a hub of culture and old world elegance. Madrid also has three of Spain’s best museums, making it another must visit city for art aficionados.
The Prado is one of the world’s most sensuous and extensive depositories of Western art. The artistic anchors of the Prado are Francisco Goya, Diego Velazquez, and Peter Paul Rubens. There are also masterpieces by Titian, Bosch, Fra Angelico, and El Greco.
But be sure to see the Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights triptych, the Black Paintings of Francisco Goya, Diego Velasquez’s Las Meninas, the newly restored Fra Angelico Annunciation, and José de Ribera’s intriguing The Bearded Woman.
Here’s my guide to visiting the Prado.
Opened in 1992, the Reina Sofia is Madrid’s modern art museum. There’s a special focus on Spain’s favorite sons, Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali, and their respective schools of Cubism and Surrealism.
The star of the Reina Sofia is Guernica, Picasso’s grim depiction of the seemingly casual Nazi bombing of Guernica Spain in 1937.
The Reina Sofia is also a great place to get weird with Surrealist Salvador Dalì. Other featured artists include Miro, Juan Gris, Rene Magritte, Paul Klee, and Eduardo Chillida.
Housed in the Villahermosa Palace, the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum offers something for everyone. Mixing contemporary and classic, the museum covers every major period in Western art, from 13th century Italian Renaissance to 20th century Pop Art.
This is where you’ll find some fan favorites — Impressionists, Post-Impressionists, German Expressionists, and Surrealists. You’ll find works by artists like Dürer, Caravaggio, Rubens, Sargent, Monet, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Kirchner, Mondrian, Klee, and Hopper.
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10. Milan Italy
You may be surprised that Milan is also a great destination for art lovers. Milan has some of the greatest artistic treasures of the Renaissance.
You can find works by the finest Renaissance masters like Michelangelo, Bellini, and Botticelli. There are also Milanese museums with cutting edge modern works by the Italian Futurists and Spatialists.
Here are the museums you can’t miss in Milan:
Leonardo’s The Last Supper
The Last Supper is one of the world’s most iconic paintings, located in the refectory of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Painted by Leonardo da Vinci, the billboard size painting is a Renaissance masterpiece. It shows the moment when Christ reveals that one of his apostles will betray him.
You’ve got to be organized and reserve in advance to see this quasi-restored, yet still beautiful, masterpiece.
I’ve written a complete guide to everything you need to know about seeing The Last Supper — what to expect, how to get tickets, and an analysis of the painting itself.
The Pinacoteca di Brera is Milan’s premiere museum. It boasts works from the 14th to 20th centuries, including important pieces by Raphael, Caravaggio, Guercino, Bellini, and Titian.
The museum’s must see masterpieces are Caravaggio’s Supper at Emmaus, Francesco Hayez’s The Kiss, Andrea Mantegna’s Lamentation of Christ, Raphael’s Marriage of the Virgin, and Guercino’s Dead Christ.
But the Brera isn’t just Renaissance art works. It also has an impressive collection of modern art by the likes of Picasso, Modiglianai, Braque, de Chirico, and Morandi.
Here’s my complete guide to the Brera Museum.
The Pinacoteca Ambrosiana is a hidden gem in Milan, a beautiful place to lose yourself in classic Renaissance art. It’s a nifty combination of great art, no crowds, and rare Leonardo da Vinci paintings and journals.
Housed in a beautiful library, the museum’s claim to fame is its important cache of drawings, including Leonardo’s Codex Atlanticus. The codex is a 12 volume set of drawings and writings Leonardo created between 1478-1519.
The other must see masterpieces include Caravaggio’s Basket of Fruit, Leonardo’s Portrait of a Musician, Titian’s Adoration of the Magi, and Botticelli’s Madonna del Padiglione. Another must see is Raphael’s cartoon (preparatory drawing) for School of Athens, which is one of the most famous frescos in the Vatican Museums.
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11. Munich Germany: Old & New
Munich has some absolutely world class museums. Most of museums are clustered together in the Kunstareal or museum district.
Here are the museums you can’t miss in Munich:
The Pinakothek Trio
Munich’s most touted museum is the Alte Pinakothek. It’s Bavaria’s best museum, with a collection of European masters from the 14th to 19th century. There, you’ll Albrecht Durer’s mysterious Self Portrait.
There’s a slew of works from Italian Renaissance masters — da Vinci, Botticelli, Raphael, Titian, and Fra Angelico. And you’ll also find classics from Flemish and Dutch artists like Rembrandt.
The Pinakothek der Moderne has cutting edge modern and contemporary art from the 20th and 21st centuries. The building itself is worth a visit, with a towering glass rotunda. You’ll find works by Franz Marc, Ernst Kirchner, Paul Klee, Miro, and Dali.
The Neue Pinakothek starts where the Alte Pinakothek leaves off. It showcases wondrous modern art from the late 18th to the early 20th century. You’ll find works by the French Impressionists, Dali, Picasso, Miro, and Magritte. A highlight is Gustav Klimt’s Portrait of Margaret Stonborough-Wittgenstein.
The Neue Pinakothek is currently closed until 2027 for structural renovations. But an exhibit of its best pieces is on display in the Alte Pinakothek.
If you’re a fan of Greco-Roman sculpture, head to the Glyptothek Museum. The Glyptothek is housed in an impressive Neo-Classical building.
Each gallery houses works from different time periods, illustrating the evolution of sculpture over the centuries. The best known sculpture is the Barberini Fawn.
Munich also has a hip new museum, the Lenbachhaus. The stunning gold museum has a soaring atrium that glitters with a whirl of colored glass and steel.
The new three story wing, designed by Norman Foster, houses an incredible collection of Expressionist works. It has pieces by Wassily Kandinsky, Franz Marc, and Paul Klee.
Expressionism thrived in Munich. This is literally the best collection of that period anywhere in the world.
You can’t help but notice the Brandhorst Museum, housed in a glittering modern building. Opened in 2009, the colors change and shimmer, the effect changing depending on how you move.
Inside, there are wide open galleries. The collection includes works from the mid 20th century to the present. You can find pieces by Warhol, Cy Twombly, Joseph Beuys, and Damien Hirst. Twombley’s graffiti paintings have a dedicated floor.
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12. Paris France: Would Class Museums
The sheer number of museums in Paris can be overwhelming. There’s visual art in all forms in Paris — classical, Renaissance, contemporary, fashion, and shrines to Monet and Picasso. There are world renowned collections in architectural landmarks.
Once you’ve seen the worlds most enigmatic smile, you can visit Paris’ small intimate museums. They include single artist showcases, private collections, and secret hidden gem galleries.
Here are the top museums you can’t miss in Paris:
If you love art, the august Louvre is likely on your Paris bucket list. The Louvre has 35,000 works of art from the 6th century B.C. to the 19th century A.D. It’s a sumptuous Renaissance palace itself, with a lavishly decorated interior and beautifully painted ceilings.
The Denon Wing is the most visited wing, home to the Louvre’s best known art work and the ravishingly ornate Apollo Gallery. The Sully Wing is known for its statuary and antiquities. The Richelieu Wing houses the lavish apartments of Napoleon III and famed Dutch art works.
The Louvre houses the classics — Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic Mona Lisa, the Winged Victory of Samothrace, Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People, and Vermeer’s The Lacemaker. The Louvre has the largest collection of Leonardo paintings in the world.
The Musee d’Orsay is one of Paris’ true treasures. The museum is housed in a stunning converted Beaux-Arts railway station. It has the world’s largest collection of French paintings from 1848 to 1914, a period when Paris was the world’s undisputed artistic capital.
The Orsay is where you’ll find a spectacular cache of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art, including many works by the movements’ most revered figures, Monet and Van Gogh.
The Orsay also has rich collections of decorative arts, sculpture, and photography. Here’s my guide to 25 must see masterpieces at the Orsay.
The Centre Pompidou is Paris’ modern art museum, the largest one in Europe. Opened in 1977, the Pompidou is known for its radical “inside out” architecture, designed by Renzo Piano. Within the guts of this exoskeleton lie 120,000 works of art.
The Pompidou has Europe’s most important collection of wild and crazy 20th century art.
There are works of Fauvism, Dada, Cubism, Surrealism, Pop Art, and contemporary art on display. You’ll find works by Kandinsky, Rothko, Kiefer, Hockney, Picasso, Pollack, Miro, Klee, Matisse, and Modigliani.
If I had to pick my favorite small museum in Paris, it would be the spectacular Rodin Museum. Rodin’s titular museum is housed in the 18th century Hotel Biron, a romantic mansion where Rodin created some of his greatest works.
Rodin is considered the father of modern sculpture. He was absurdly talented, his works a torrent of expressive power. Like Michelangelo, Rodin wanted to convey the raw emotion and physicality of a subject, not just an idealized or sanitized view.
The museum’s permanent collection includes many iconic Rodin sculptures and works from the brilliant Camille Claudel. Claudel was Rodin’s student and muse.
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13. Rome Italy: Ruins & Renaissance
Rome is truly blessed with a veritable plethora of amazing fine art museums. You could spend years exploring them all in proper fashion.
Here are the art museums you can’t miss in Rome:
The Vatican Museums are the public art and sculpture museums in the Vatican City complex. A museum path takes you along its long finely decorated corridors and wings.
Most of the fine art, as opposed to decorative art, is in the Vatican Pinacoteca (the painting gallery), the Pio-Clementino Museum (the sculpture gallery), the Raphael Rooms, the Borgia Apartments.
At the end of your march, you’ll arrive at the Sistine Chapel, the highlight of a Vatican visit. In 1508, Pope Julius II summoned Michelangelo from Florence to paint the ceiling of his private chapel. Michelangelo spent 4 years toiling away on the stunning scenes.
Here are my guides to visiting Vatican City:
- Masterpieces of the Vatican
- Guide to the Vatican Pinacoteca
- Guide to the Vatican’s Raphael Rooms
- Guide to the Sistine Chapel
- Underpants in the Sistine Chapel
- Guide to St. Peter’s Basilica
The Borghese Gallery houses one of the world’s most jaw dropping art collections in a luxurious garden villa. The famed museum is rich in ancient Roman, Renaissance, and Baroque art. It boasts major works by art superstars — Bernini, Titian, Caravaggio, Raphael, Rubens, and Canova.
In particular, the cardinal commissioned Gian Lorenzo Bernini — the Baroque “master of marble” — to create a series of sculptures that would become the pièce de résistance of his gilded sanctuary. The most famous Bernini pieces are David, Apollo and Daphne, and The Rape of Persephone.
Be sure to linger in the Caravaggio Room (where you’ll find six of his paintings!) and the magnificent Venetian Room. Here’s my complete guide to the Borghese Gallery.
The Capitoline Museums sit atop a beautiful square, the Piazza dei Campidoglio on Capitoline Hill. In the 16th century, Michelangelo re-designed the square, transforming it from pagan to papal. In the center is a grand statue of Marcus Aurelius on horseback (the original is inside).
The Capitoline Museums give you a unique up close look at Rome’s ancient imperial history. The stash of ancient art and artifacts is unparalleled. It’s housed in two buildings connected by an underground passageway, lined with evocative funereal steles.
Inside, you’ll find some of the world’s most famous ancient sculptures — Spinario, Bust of Commodus, Capitoline She Wolf, Medusa, and Dying Gaul. Here’s my complete guide to the Capitoline Museums.
Rome is filled with secret palace museums. These rarely visited Roman palazzos hide some of Rome’s unmissable masterpieces, set amid dazzling rooms designed and decorated by Rome’s rich and famous.
They are just as splendid as Rome’s must see sites. And they offer a refuge from Rome’s crowds and the ability to enjoy Rome’s cultural riches in relative privacy. A true art lover will be utterly delighted by these unique museum experiences in Rome.
Some of these magnificent palazzos were acquired by the government. Others remain in private hands. My last time in Rome, I made a thorough investigation of Rome’s amazing palace museums — Palazzo Doria Pamphilj, the Palazzo Barberini, Villa Farnesina, Palazzo Spada, and Palazzo Colonna.
Here’s my complete guide to Rome’s secret palace museums.
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14. Venice Italy: Venetian Old Masters
Most people visit Venice to admire the beautiful canals on the floating city. But Venice is a hotspot for art lovers as well.
In Venice, you can see masterpieces from the Venetian school of the Renaissance and also get a dash of modern art.
Here’s the museums you can’t miss in Venice:
Peggy Guggenheim Museum
The Guggenheim Museum is housed in the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, a must see site along Venice’s Grand Canal. It holds one of the world’s finest modern art collections.
Virtually every piece is a seminal work of art. Guggenheim’s collection includes works from the major movements of Cubism, Surrealism, Futurism, and Abstract Expressionism.
There’s an entire room dedicated to her beloved Jackson Pollack, an artist Guggenheim “discovered.” You can see works by Picasso, de Chirico, Vassily Kandinsky, Miro, Paul Klee, Max Ernst, Magritte, Willem de Kooning, Dali, and Alexander Calder.
The Accademia Gallery is Venice’s most important museum. It’s housed in the former Santa Maria della Carita church and convent complex. The museum was built, in part, by famed Italian Renaissance architect, Andrea Palladio.
The Accademia houses the world’s most important collection of Venetian painting. The gallery has pieces by Veronese, Titian, Tintoretto, Tiepolo, Bellini, Canaletto, Mantegna, and Giorgione.
It also possesses the world’s most famous drawing, Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man (which isn’t often on display). Don’t miss one of the world’s most famous Last Supper paintings, Veronese’s The Feast in the House of Levi.
Like Rome, Venice’s palaces, beautifully strewn along the Grand Canal, are filled with some stunning art.
The Doge’s Palace is one of Venice’s most iconic landmarks. This pink and white marble Gothic-Renaissance building was the residence of the doges, the rulers of Venice for more than 1,000 years.
Inside the palace’s grand interior are museum exhibits, reception rooms, and the Doge’s Apartments. In the Great Council Hall, you’ll find Tintoretto’s Il Paradiso, the world’s largest canvas painting. But the real highlights are two works by Veronese — Rape of Europe and the frescoed ceiling of the Council Chamber.
The Palazzo Rezzonico museum is a shrine to 18th century Venetian artists, a period called the “Age of Decadence.” It’s a beautiful and rare in situ museum. You’ll find paintings and frescoed ceilings by Tiepolo, Longhi, Canaletto, Guardi, Molinari, and Lazzarini.
Palazzo Santa Sofia is commonly called Ca’ d’Oro or the Golden House. The jewel box museum houses an art collection gifted by Baron Franchetti.
The most famous piece is the St. Sebastiano by Andrea Mantegna. There are also works by Titian, Gordon, Guardi, Van Eyck, and Baroque sculptures by Giambologna and Bernini.
Ca’ Pesaro is a spectacular 18th century Venetian palace and a hotspot for modern art lovers. At the top of the stairs, you’re greeted by Rodin’s Burghers of Calais.
The collection includes art works by works by Kandinsky, Chagall, de Chirico, Ernst, Matisse, Miro, and Gustav Klimt. The absolute highlight is Gustav Klimt’s glittering Judith II.
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15. Vienna Austria: Museumsquartier
With both scale and glamor, Vienna’s museums are truly superb. Vienna played a crucial role in the development of many art movements. For centuries, the greatest minds and artists convened in the artsy capital.
Vienna’s artistic heritage is also due to its imperial past, courtesy of the Hapsburg dynasty. The music and art loving royals governed for six centuries and left their imprint on the city.
Here are the museums you can’t miss in Vienna:
Likely the grandest of Austria’s museums, in a sea of riches, is the Kunsthistorisches Museum. Open in 1891, the Kunsthistorisches is Vienna’s Louvre. The museum is one of the world’s most impressive fine art museums.
The Kunsthistorisches is housed in a lavish palace. It consists of works from the venerable Habsburg art collection, built by emperors. The ornate facade, dramatic stairways, marble floors, and impeccable gardens won’t let you forget it either.
The museum’s Picture Gallery features a collection of paintings from the Italian Renaissance, Northern Renaissance, and Baroque periods. There’s an unparalleled trove of works by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. There are also pieces by Vermeer, Durer, Caravaggio, Velazquez, Rembrandt, Raphael, and Titian.
The Belvedere Palace was built in 1712-23 by a master Baroque architect. It was the swishy summer residence of Prince Eugene of Savoy. The Belvedere was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001.
The Belvedere is also one of Europe’s most important museums. It’s a haven of Baroque and Austrian art from the 19th and 20th centuries.
The Belvedere’s main claim to fame is the world’s largest collection of Gustav Klimt paintings. It also boasts masterworks by Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka (two important Expressionist painters), works of French Impressionism, and works from the Vienna Biedermeier.
Here’s my complete guide to visiting the Belvedere Palace.
Opened in 2001 and situated in Vienna’s museum complex, the Leopold Museum holds one of the world’s most important collection of Austrian art.
With over 6,000 art works, the museum has a thematic collection of Art Nouveau and Expressionist masterpieces from the first half of the 20th century. The museum has many works by Egon Schiele, Gustave Klimt, Oscar Kokoshka, and Richard Gerstl.
If you’re a Schiele fan, the Leopold Museum has the word’s largest collection. The museum is home to one of my favorite Klimt masterpieces, Death and Life.
The stunning Albertina Museum is housed in the Hofburg Palace. The museum is a veritable treasure trove of art, with a fantastic collection of modern works — over a million drawings, photographs, graphic prints, paintings, and architectural plans.
The most famous permanent exhibit is the Batliner Collection, which showcases modern works. You can admire Monet’s water lilies, Post-Impressionism works by Degas, Cezanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, and Gauguin, works of German Expressionism, and a good collection of Picassos.
The Albertina also has a very fine collection of graphic art, with drawings by Durer, Michelangelo, Rubens, and da Vinci. A highlight is Durer’s famous drawing of a hare. It’s so fragile that it’s only on display occasionally.
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I hope you’ve enjoyed my guide to the 15 best cities for art lovers in Europe. If you’d like to see great art in Europe, pin it for later.