Top 5 European Cities for art lovers

By Annabelle Thorpe

Europe’s cities are a treasure trove for art lovers, with vast collections of priceless works on show alongside contemporary galleries housing paintings by emerging artists. Whether you want to take in medieval masterpieces, discover the latest in avant-garde art or simply soak up the talent and beauty on show from some of the most famous artists the world has ever produced, these cities offer the best of all three.


Home to one of the world’s greatest art fairs, Art Cologne, Cologne is an often-overlooked gem, with a wealth of art to discover, from roof-top ice-cream sculptures to Roman mosaics. Many of the city’s art treasures are in private collections that once belonged to the city’s wealthy traders; the most impressive is the Ludwig Museum, home to the third largest collection of Picassos in the world, and the largest pop art collection outside the US, with works by everyone from Rothko to Warhol.

To experience the city’s contemporary art scene, head to the Belgian Quarter, where a steady stream of new galleries are opening up. Pop into Blast which promotes contemporary art by young German artists, with new exhibitions every six weeks, and a programme of talks and performances. Around the corner, Moltkerei Werkstatt specialises in avant-garde performance and installation works, while if you’re looking to buy, Figge Von Rosen is one of the city’s leading commercial galleries.

For more classic art, the Wallraf-Richartz Museum showcases works from the 13th to the beginning of the 20th century, with works by Rembrandt and Rubens as the highlights.  Sculpture lovers should head to the Cologne Sculpture Park, where 25,000 square metres of open grassland are dotted with sculptural works.


The Spanish capital, Madrid, is home to some of the most impressive galleries in Europe, most famously the ‘Golden Triangle’: the Prado, Reina Sofia and Thyssen-Bornemisza. Art is everywhere you turn, from the wonderful array of sculpture in Buen Retiro park to the vibrant El Rastro market, where local artists come to sell their works.

The Thyssen-Bornemisza gallery has one of the best private collections of 13th- to 20th- century art in the world. One of the greatest pleasures is the diversity of the work on show; one moment you can be gazing at Canaletto’s Venice, the next cartoon-esque works by Lichtenstein.

Reina Sofia is most famous as the location for Picasso’s iconic work, Guernica, which depicts the suffering during the Spanish Civil War and also has a wide collection of works by Dali. The huge Prado has a vast collection of works by iconic Spanish artists, including Velazquez and Goya.

For something more contemporary, the La Caixa Foundation is home to a constantly changing programme of exhibitions, as well as a permanent collection of more than 700 pieces from the 1980s onwards and a unique vertical garden.


Basel is one of the premier spots in the whole of Europe for contemporary art. Every June, the great and the good of the art world flock to ArtBasel, the world’s leading art fair, where more than 300 galleries display works by more than 2,500 artists. With more than 40 museums to explore, as well as countless private art galleries, Basel is a beguiling mix of 21st-century city and living museum.

Home to the largest collection of works in the world by Holbein, the Kunstmuseum focuses on artworks from between 1400-1600 and the 19th and 21st century. For more contemporary works, the Museum fur Gegenwartskunst has an impressive collection of modern art, including works by Cindy Sherman and Jeff Wall.

One of the biggest pleasures of a trip to Basel is popping into the numerous contemporary galleries that dot the city. All types of art are on offer, from trash and queer art at Galerie G Daeppen to German Expressionism at Galerie Henze & Ketterer & Triebold, and stone sculpturework at the Canadian Arctic Gallery.


Once the most famously divided city in the world, 21st-century Berlin has been reborn, with artists from East and West coming together to create Europe’s most vibrant contemporary art scene. With more than 400 galleries to choose from, there is no ‘artistic quarter’ as such, although Augustrasse in the Mitte district and the streets around Checkpoint Charlie are good areas to head for.

For classical art, Gemaldegalerie is dedicated to the works of the Old Masters, spanning the period from the 13th to the 18th century, with works by Caravaggio, Rubens and Bruegel. Contemporary art can be found at the Neue Nationalgalerie, housed in the famous ‘temple of light and glass’ designed by Mies van der Rohe. Berlin’s real gems are its off-the-wall, avant-garde galleries; try the wonderfully-named Intoxicated Demons Gallery, which specialises in urban art, and often hosts live painting shows, or the Strychnin Gallery for seriously surreal works.  

Perhaps the most unique art space in the city is the Wall itself. The East Side Gallery, stretching between Oberbaumbrucke and the Ostbahnhof, was created in 1989 with more than 100 artists from East and West Berlin asked to paint a section.


Palma de Mallorca has an impressive collection of world-class galleries dotted among the leafy streets and sunlit boulevards, and the island itself has long been a haunt for artists, drawn by the Mediterranean light and dramatic mountain landscapes. The island’s most celebrated artistic son is Joan Miro who settled on the island from 1956 until his death in 1983. The Fundacio Miro, just outside Palma, combines a selection of his works with the chance to see the studios where Miro created some of his most famous paintings.

Es Baluard exhibits contemporary art by artists either from, or with links to, the Balearic Islands.  Housed partly in a converted 16th-century fortress, and partly in a newly-built, minimalist gallery space, the gallery covers 20th-century art along with sculpture, video and installation works. 

Juan March, born on Mallorca, was once the sixth richest man in the world, and the Museu Fundacion Juan March holds an impressive collection of works by the best-known Spanish artists, including Dali, Miro and Anthoni Tapies. There are regularly-changing temporary exhibits alongside the permanent collection.


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