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Since my bestselling novel, Oil and Marble, is art-historical fiction, and I’m an obsessive traveler, a lot of people ask: where are your favorite art cities?
Are you still planning — or dreaming of — a last minute summer vacation? While traveling, do you want to soak up some world-class art? Or want to be inspired to create some of your own?
In these cities, you don’t just visit art in museums (although that’s part of it), you EXPERIENCE art in the parks, streets, architecture, restaurants… and in the people.
Some call it the City of Lights; I call it the City of Art. Home to some of the world’s greatest museums (Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, l’Orangerie, Pompidou, Musee Rodin) and masterpieces (Mona Lisa, Venus de Milo, Winged Victory, The Thinker, Monet’s Water Lillies), you could spend a lifetime in Paris and still not soak in all the great art. But just as importantly, you don’t need to enter a museum to feel like an artist. Walk down the streets, soak in the architecture, stroll down the Seine and see: Paris itself may be the greatest masterpiece anywhere on this list.
The cradle of Western Civilization may be suffering from a financial crisis, but it remains one of the richest in art. Not only is a visit to the Acropolis a necessary pilgrimage for any art-lover, but you can also stroll along a 10-mile boardwalk through town to see a whole crop of ancient temples and ruins. From the Romans to the Renaissance all the way to contemporary artists, Athens is probably responsible for inspiring more art throughout history than any other city on this list.
New York City
The Met, Moma, Guggenheim, Whitney, Frick… These are just a few of the world-class art collections in Manhattan. Want to see Van Goghs, Rembrandts, and Raphaels alongside modern-day artists? There’s no place like New York. This is the one city where the Old Masters hang right along side the future of art — shown in local galleries or created in the streets. Plus, you can leave the art museums and go see the best theater in the world on Broadway.
The Eternal City is the City of Eternal Art. Rome’s art is truly immortal. Here, you can stand under Michelangelo’s Sistine Ceiling, marvel at Raphael’s School of Athens, throw a coin into the Trevi fountain, and walk amongst the ruins of ancient Rome. Plus, every public space — from Piazzas Novana and Popolo to the Spanish Steps and the Vatican — is a work of art itself that can help you get in touch with your inner Italian artist and create something molto bello of your own.
A visit to EITHER the Van Gogh museum OR the Rijksmuseum (with Rembrandts and Vermeers galore) would make a trip to the ‘Dam a dream experience — but combine the two museums and this capital becomes an art fantasyland. On top of that, strolling the canals, looking at Dutch houses, and feasting your eyes on a market full of tulips will put you over the moon for this Netherlands capital. Plus, there is hardly another city in the world that can boast the bohemian, artistic free spirit of Amsterdam.
The National Gallery. British Museum. Victoria & Albert. Not one but TWO Tates (Tate Britain and Tate Modern). Whether you want the largest collection of Renaissance sculpture outside of Italy, the biggest JWM Turner collection in the world, Picassos, da Vincis and Cezannes, OR the Rosetta Stone, London will impress any art aficionado. Plus, after the museums, you can enjoy Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Parliament, and St. Paul’s Cathedral — each an artistic landmark in its own right.
Goya, Valasquez, and Hieronymus Bosch at the Prado. Holbein, Monet and Dali at the Thyssen-Bornameszia. And — the artistic jewel of any crown — Picasso’s Guernica at the Reina Sofia. These are world-class art museums surrounded by a city of contrasts: from narrow cobblestoned streets and Moorish memories to modern-day skyscrapers — all gleaming under the Spanish sun. Whether you are strolling through a museum, dining on Tapas or shopping in the Rastro (the city’s 500-year old flee market), Madrid will inspire YOU to create some magic of your own.
The city itself is a work of intense modern art: a crush of humanity, cars, and high-rises that overwhelm the senses. But even though Tokyo is known as a maze of frenetic modernism, it is also a city of quiet tea gardens, cherry blossoms, and a world-class art museum, the Tokyo National Museum which houses the largest collection of Japanese art in the world — including paintings, sculptures, and even mummies. For an artistic clash of past and present, Tokyo cannot be beat.
Russia’s intellectual and cultural center, St. Petersburg is the best place to peer back into Old Russia. Founded by Peter the Great in 1703, it is still where Russia meets the West in an explosion of art. In St. Petersburg, you can enjoy the Russian ballet, musical concerts, and one of the most expansive art collections in the world at the State Hermitage Museum (housed inside the sumptuous Winter Palace). Founded by Catherine the Great, this collection boasts over three million items including Picassos, Cezannes, Raphaels, Rembrandts, and a Michelangelo (incidentally, the only Michelangelo on public display I have never seen. This is a reason for ME to get to St. Petersburg — it’s on this list because it’s top of MY travel list).
I saved the best for last (as far as I’m concerned, anyway). This Tuscan capital has arguably given birth to more great art than any other: Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, Donatello’s Judith and Holofernes, Ghiberti’s “Gates of Paradise,” Michelangelo’s David and Leonardo’s Mona Lisa… There is no other city that can boast such a list. Here you can immerse yourself in the Renaissance by visiting world-class museums (Uffizi; Accademia; Bargello), touring the famed Duomo, and hiking up to Piazza Michelangelo for a view of the greatest work of art of them all: Florence.
These are my favorite art cities. What are YOURS?
(Photos from BigStock.com)