Whether you prefer to see the classics in Rome or modern-art installations in Basel, we’ve captured Europe’s best arts and culture destinations. You’ll find traditional arts and culture centers like Florence and Paris in the lineup, plus a few surprises, like Cambridge and Granada. Get ready to soak up some serious culture in these outstanding cities across Europe.
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1. Florence, Italy
Florence, the city of the lily, gave birth to the Renaissance and changed the way we see the world. For centuries it has captured the imaginations of travelers, who have come seeking rooms with views and phenomenal art. Navigating Piazza della Signoria, always packed with tourists, requires patience; there’s a reason why everyone seems to be here, however. It’s the heart of the city, and home to the Uffizi—the world’s finest repository of Italian Renaissance art.
2. Cambridge, England
With the spires of its university buildings framed by towering trees and expansive meadows, its medieval streets and passages enhanced by gardens and riverbanks, the city of Cambridge is among the loveliest in England. The exquisite King’s College choir defines the traditional English Christmas, when theFestival of Nine Lessons and Carols is broadcast live on Christmas Eve. On top of all its tradition and history, Cambridge remains a lively city and an extraordinary center of learning and research where innovation and discovery still happen behind its ancient walls.
3. Córdoba, Spain
Strategically located on the north bank of the Guadalquivir River, Córdoba was the Roman and Moorish capital of Spain, and its old quarter, clustered around its famous Mezquita, remains one of the country’s grandest and yet most intimate examples of its Moorish heritage. Córdoba today, with its modest population of a little more than 330,000, offers a cultural depth and intensity—a direct legacy from the great emirs, caliphs, philosophers, physicians, poets, and engineers of the days of the caliphate—that far outstrips the city’s current commercial and political power.
4. London, England
History and tradition greet you at every turn in London; it’s also one of the coolest, most modern cities in the world. If London contained only landmarks such as Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace, it would still rank as one of the world’s great destinations, but Britain’s capital is much more. From the National Gallery to the Tate Modern, a visual feast awaits. Whether it’s Shakespeare or avant-garde drama, the play’s the thing.
5. Salzburg, Austria
Art lovers call Salzburg the Golden City of High Baroque; historians refer to it as the Florence of the North or the German Rome; and music lovers know it as the birthplace of one of the world’s most beloved composers, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756–91). If the young Mozart was the boy wonder of 18th-century Europe and Salzburg did him no particular honor in his lifetime, it is making up for it now. Since 1920 the world-famous Salzburger Festspiele (Salzburg Festival), the third-oldest on the continent, have honored “Wolferl” with performances of his works by the world’s greatest musicians.
6. Rome, Italy
For over 2,500 years, emperors, popes, artists, and common citizens have left their mark here. Archaeological remains from ancient Rome, art-stuffed churches, and the treasures of Vatican City vie for your attention, but Rome is also a wonderful place to practice the Italian-perfected il dolcefar niente, the sweet art of idleness. Your most memorable experiences may include sitting at a caffè in the Campo de’ Fiori or strolling in a beguiling piazza.
7. Milan, Italy
It tends to be negatively compared with the likes of Rome and Florence, but Milan is no lightweight in the culture department. Aside from being one of the world’s great fashion centers, the city is home to Leonardo Da Vinci’s The Last Supper, world-famous opera house La Scala, and the impressive new Prada Foundation.
8. Venice, Italy
Carnevale and the Biennale are just the tip of the iceberg here. Titian, Tintoretto, and Tiepolo, as well as contemporary artists, are represented. Then there are the landmarks like the Rialto Bridge and Palazzo Ducale, both of which are simply unforgettable.
9. Paris, France
Paris is one of the most beautiful cities on earth, a truth easily appreciated on a stroll that could yield one stunning vista after another, from the epic Eiffel Tower to the regal Jardin des Tuileries to the petite cafés bursting onto the sidewalks. Beyond the city’s visual appeal, the cultural riches of the French capital are unsurpassed. Whether you opt to explore the historic, fashion-conscious, bourgeois, or bohemian and arty sides of Paris, one thing is certain: the City of Light will always enthrall.
10. Basel, Switzerland
The hub of Switzerland’s vibrant pharma industry, wedged between France and Germany, this city on the Rhine has more than 30 museums, including the world-class Kunstmuseum, the Museum Tinguely, and the Fondation Beyeler. Baselworld in spring andArt Basel in summer—the world’s premier fairs for watches and contemporary art respectively—as well as Switzerland’s most famous carnival, or Fasnacht, gives midsized Basel an outsized role as an international destination.
11. Berlin, Germany
Hip, energetic Berlin has grabbed the world’s attention with its exuberant urban life and vibrant arts scene. Gone are the days of drab Cold War Germany and a city divided by the Wall. In this cosmopolitan and affordable capital, neighborhoods like Mitte, Friedrichshain, Prenzlauer Berg, and Kreuzberg bustle with restaurants, cafés, and nightlife. Museums and sights such as the Pergamon on MuseumIsland, the Brandenburg Gate, and the Jewish Museum provide a window into Berlin’s rich history.
12. Bilbao, Spain
Northern Spain is a misty land of green hills, low russet rooflines, and colorful fishing villages; it’s also home to the formerly industrial city of Bilbao, reborn as a center of art and architecture.The gleaming titanium Guggenheim and the Museo de Bellas Artes (Fine Arts Museum) shimmer where steel mills and shipyards once stood, while verdant pastures loom above and beyond.
13. Madrid, Spain
Madrid represents the artistic legacy of one of the greatest global empires ever assembled. King Carlos I (1500–58), who later became Emperor Carlos V (or Charles V), made sure the early masters of all European schools found their way to Spain’s palaces and this collection was eventually placed in the Prado. Between the Prado, the contemporary Reina Sofía, the eclectic Thyssen-Bornemisza collection, and Madrid’s smaller artistic repositories—the Real Academia de Bellas Artes de San Fernando, the Convento de las Descalzas Reales, the Sorolla Museum, the Lázaro Galdiano Museum, and the CaixaForum—there are more paintings than you could admire in a lifetime.
14. Granada, Spain
The Alhambra and the tomb of the Catholic Monarchs are the pride of Granada. The city rises majestically from a plain onto three hills, dwarfed—on a clear day—by the Sierra Nevada. Atop one of these hills perches the reddish-gold Alhambra palace, whose stunning view takes in the sprawling medieval Moorish quarter, the caves of the Sacromonte, and, in the distance, the fertilevega (plain), rich in orchards, tobacco fields, and poplar groves. In 2013, Granada celebrated its 1,000th anniversary as a kingdom.
15. Barcelona, Spain
The infinite variety of street life, the nooks and crannies of the medieval Barri G?tic, the ceramic tile and stained glass of Art Nouveau facades, the art and music, the throb of street life, the food (ah, the food!)—one way or another, Barcelona will find a way to get your full attention.