Top destinations for art lovers

The towering presence of a cathedral, the luminosity of paint on canvas, the marks of the artist’s hand on clay… Sometimes you just have to see the original to fully appreciate a work of art. That’s why cities that boast architectural gems and famous collections top many travellers’ must-visit lists.

Thinking of planning an artsy excursion? Here are some top destinations to indulge your love of art.


True, the largest city in Canada is home to some big names, but there’s more to the T.O. art scene than the Art Gallery of Ontario, Museum of Contemporary Canadian Art and the Royal Ontario Museum. Check out the niche museums like the Gardiner Museum (whose speciality is ceramics), the Design Exchange (industrial design), the Bata Shoe Museum, the Museum of Inuit Art and the Textile Museum of Canada. There’s even the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir — a hand-carved stone temple complete with a neighbouring museum and educational centre.

While special exhibitions, festivals and events like Nuit Blanche fill up the calendar, you’ll also find some of the largest and most diverse commercial gallery spaces in the country — like the Power Plant and Gallery One. For a more intimate look, watch for annual artists’ studio tours throughout the city and surrounding areas, or book a private tour with a local tour company.

Visit and Toronto for the art lover for more information.

Washington, D.C.

Love architecture but looking to stay on this continent? This capital city was designed to impress with it’s neo-classical buildings and monuments — like the Capitol Building and Lincoln Memorial. And while it’s centuries newer than its European counterparts, the gothic-style National Cathedral is no less impressive when it comes to detail. (And yes, there really is a sculpture of Darth Vader on the roof).

If the buildings don’t wow you, then the collections inside certainly will. First-time visitors can easily spend a week at the Smithsonian Institute, which includes several museums dedicated to art and culture like the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Museum of the American Indian and African Art Museum. American history buffs will feel at home in the American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. For a wide selection of European and American art, the National Gallery is happy to oblige.

And did we mention that admission to most of these places is free? For more information, see

New York City

This city practically oozes glamour and sophistication — not to mention the latest trends in art, fashion and design. Explore over 5000 years of art at “the Met” (Metropolitan Museum of Art), or feed your love of modern art at the MoMA (more formally known as the Museum of Modern Art) and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

Is design more your style? You’ll want to check out the Smithsonian’s Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum while you’re in town. Fashionistas won’t want to miss the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) where you’ll find specialized collections of clothing, accessories and textiles on displays in its galleries.

To see the latest-and-greatest offerings, step outside the museums and visit one of the more than 500 galleries in the city in areas like Chelsea, SoHo, Midtown and the Upper East Side. (A gallery guide is a worthwhile investment.)

For more information, see

Amsterdam, the Netherlands

Where would the art world be without Rembrandt, Cuyp, Van Gogh and Modrian? (Among countless others!) From portraiture to still life and history painting to famous Dutch landscapes, the Netherlands artistic history is as rich as it is influential.

While the architecture of Amsterdam is certainly impressive — like the Royal Palace and the Westerkerk — a visit to its art collections is a must-do experience. Not sure where to start? The Rijksmuseum offers a comprehensive collection of Dutch art from early religious works to the masterpieces of the “Golden Age”. The Van Gogh museum boasts the largest collection of the artists’ works in the world, and the Stedelijk Museum is the place to head for more modern fare.

If you’re looking something a little unusual, try the Fluorescent Art Museum or the Optical Illusion Museum feature works by Dutch graphic designer M.C.Escher. Indulge your love of film with a visit to the city’s Tuschinski Theater, arguably one of the most beautiful cinemas in the world.

For more information, visit the Amsterdam tourism bureau website and Tourism Holland.

London, England

Art is a natural part of this cultural capital and popular tourist destination. Just in case the British Museum, National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery couldn’t hold your attention, there’s also Tate Modern, Tate Britain and Royal Academy of Arts.

Of course, many works by famous artists aren’t in a museum at all. Instead, you’ll find them in private collections and stately homes, from Kenwood House and Apsley House to Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. Hogarth’s House is the former home of the famous engraver, and current home to the largest collection of his works. The home of Sir John Soane, a famous collector, has also been turned into a museum.

See for more information.


The Louvre may get most of the glory, but you’ll miss out if you spend all your time with the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo. Experts warn your must-see list should also include the Musée d’Orsay (think Monet, Renoir, Rodin and Degas) and the National Museum of Modern Art at Le C entre Pompidou , where you’ll find works by Picasso, Kandinsky and Magritte. There are many smaller venues throughout the city as well — if you can spare the time.

There’s no shortage of scenic spaces. Stand beneath the vaulted arches and admire the stained glass windows in Saint-Chapelle Cathedral, or admire the decorative details of the Sacre Coeur Basilica. The city’s historic cemeteries display a fine variety of monuments and memorial sculptures as well.

For more information, visit the Paris Convention and Visitors website.

Florence, Italy

It’s known as “the cradle of the Renaissance” and one of the most beautiful cities in the world for a reason. A tour of Firenze, with all of its palaces, monuments and religious buildings, showcases a variety of master works — before you even set foot in a building.

Of course, you won’t want to miss some of the most notable institutions in the world like the Galleria dell’ Accademia (Academy Gallery), which houses Michelangelo’s David , or the Galleria degli Uffizi (Uffizi Galleries), where you can find works from Giotto, Botticelli, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci. In addition to the Royal Apartments, former home of the powerful Medici family, the Palazzo Pitti also houses five galleries including costumes, porcelain and carriages as well.

For more information, read A Florence fling and visit the Florence Tourism Board website.

Rome, Italy

Ancient ruins, the Colosseum, the Pantheon, Piazza Navona, Galleria Borghese, Castel Sant’ Angelo, National Gallery of Antique Art — we could go on, but there’s a long list of reasons to visit this “open-air museum”.

And while not technically part of Rome, the Vatican city tops many “bucket lists” — whether people plan a religious pilgrimage or simply want to see the famous sites, like the Sistine Chapel, St. Peter’s Basilica and the eleven Vatican Museums.

Since you won’t be able to see it all in one trip, be sure to toss a coin in the Trevi fountain before you go. Legend has it this gesture guarantees a return trip to Rome.

For more information, visit the Turismo Roma website and How to do Rome in 48 hours.

St. Petersburg, Russia

Looking for more treasures? Through the centuries the Russian royal family had a love of art and the riches to furnish one of the finest art collections in the world. You’ll find notable names like Leonardo, Picasso and Poussin among the three million items in the State Hermitage Museum — not to mention a wealth of art ranging from pre-historic to post-modern, and from European to Asian. Tour the collection in the Winter Palace and Main Museum Complex, or head down to the recently opened Storage Facility at Staraya Derevnya for a peak into the full collection.

While the Hermitage is the largest collection, it certainly isn’t the only one worth a visit. The State Russian Museum houses the country’s largest collection of Russian art, and the Academy of Fine Arts Museum displays works from its famous alumni. To see traditional Russian handicrafts, head to the Museum of Applied Art. If you’re looking for something out of the ordinary, check out the Museum of Non-Conformist Art, which shows Russia’s counter-culture art movement under the Soviet Union.

For more information, see

Tokyo, Japan

Had your fill of European and North American art? Tradition meets contemporary in this city where you’ll find temples and shrines alongside modern art. There are over 240 museums to choose from — ranging from the comprehensive Tokyo Fuji Art Museum and the contemporary Nerima Art Museum to smaller museums dedicated to various arts and styles. (Some even let you try your hand at creating work.)

While not technically “fine arts”, local arts and crafts are also worth a look. Try the Edo Shitamachi Traditional Museum, Folk Museum of Ota City and Adachi Museum, for instance. Music lovers will also enjoy the Musashino Music College Musical Instrument Museum, which has over 5000 instruments from around the world.

For more information, visit Tokyo Tourism Info.

Sydney, Australia

While it may not be a major artistic hub like the other cities on this list, Sydney gets marks for diversity.

Australia’s history and location encompass a variety of styles influences, and the seven major collections at the Art Gallery of New South Wales cover them all, from European masters to distinctly Australian works, Aboriginal art to works from across Asia. Hunt for your own treasures in the many boutique galleries throughout the city, or take a stroll through the city to see the architecture and public art with the Sydney Sculpture Walk.

For a behind the scenes look, you can book a half day or full day tour with Sydney Art Tours, which explore smaller galleries and artist studios. Steep in creative energy in Balmain, the suburb of Sydney where artists, writers, musicians and filmmakers congregate. Shop the boutique stores and commercial galleries for some treasures, or enjoy a pub tour to enjoy the atmosphere.

For more information, see

Naturally, this list is just a small sampling of experiences. A destination doesn’t have to be an internationally famous artistic hub to offer a meaningful experience for the art lover. Keep your eye open for opportunities — large or small, near or far — to satisfy your passion for the arts.

Additional sources:,

Photo © Richard McGuirk

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