According to Condé Nast Traveler readers these are the World’s Best Cities for Arts and Culture Lovers.
Siena is legendary for the Piazza del Campo, the city’s central square that has remained largely unchanged since the 13th century. A wealth of Renaissance artworks can be viewed in the city’s numerous churches. The crown jewel is Siena Cathedral, which houses pieces by Michelangelo, Donatello, and Bernini.
Hemingway famously called Paris “a moveable feast” for its tendency to stick with you long after you’ve left. Paris has more than 150 museums. The Louvre alone boasts 70,000 masterworks, including The Mona Lisa and Winged Victory of Samothrace. Paris is also a haven for literary giants, from Frenchmen like Voltaire, Hugo, and Balzac to expats like Stein and Hemingway. Parisian architecture is peerless, encompassing towering Gothic cathedrals such as Notre Dame and Sainte-Chapelle, plus Art Nouveau head-turners like Castel Beranger.
Nowhere else on earth is quite like Venice—a town built on water, accessible only by foot or boat, and a trading hub that linked up the disparate cultures of the Old World. St. Mark’s Basilica is one of the most singular cathedrals in the world, thanks to its blend of Byzantine and Italian architectural styles. The birthplace of Titian, Tintoretto, Monteverdi, and Vivaldi, Venice has served as a muse for writers from Shakespeare to Percy Bysshe Shelley to Thomas Mann. The whole city goes masked during the annual Carnevale, and visitors can check out the modern masterpieces at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection year-round.
There’s a reason they call it the Eternal City. Ever since the days of Romulus and Remus, Rome has been a global center of civilization and culture. You’ll find countless sites here to take your breath away: ancient ruins like the Colosseum and the Roman Forum, the artistic and architectural grandeur of Vatican City, and other stunners like the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. It’s also a hub for every artform imaginable—greats from Michelangelo to John Keats to Federico Fellini have left their mark upon the city. All roads lead here, after all.
To many across the world, this picturesque Alpine town is synonymous with a scales-singing lapsed nun and a horde of curtain-wearing children. But there’s much more to Salzburg than The Sound of Music. For one thing, it’s the birthplace of musical wunderkind Amadeus Mozart (the city still hosts Mozart Week, an honorary concert and opera festival, every January). For another, a walk through the Altstadt (“Old Town”) is a trip into the past—streets lined with immaculately preserved buildings dating from the medieval and Baroque periods. The annual Salzburg Festival brings world-class theater and music to the city each summer.
The capital of old Bohemia has been one of Europe’s leading cultural centers for more than 1,000 years. Prague’s striking skyline has remained largely intact in the wake of Nazi occupation and bloody coups against Soviet oppression. No wonder it’s the hometown of artistic revolutionaries like Dvorak, Kafka, Kundera and president-playwright Vaclav Havel. Prague’s architectural and museum offerings are vast and varied, and it’s also a center of theater and film.
Music as we know it would be unrecognizable without the existence of Austria’s capital, which nurtured the talents of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, and Mahler, plus local boys Schubert and Strauss. It’s also the site of the Vienna Secession, a revolutionary art movement led by Gustav Klimt. Visitors today can see the fruits of all that creativity in the city’s 100-odd museums—including the Belvedere and the Museum Moderner Kunst For architecture buffs, superlative buildings abound, from the Romanesque (the towering St. Stephen’s Cathedral) to the unclassifiable (the colorful Hundertwasserhaus).
The Pearl of the Danube has a history stretching back 2,000 years, though the Celts who originally settled it called in Aquincum. Its cultural heyday was the 1800s, when the two cities of Buda and Pest fused into one. Though battered by centuries of wars and coups, Budapest remains a stunningly beautiful city, marked by Renaissance, Baroque, and Art Nouveau architectural marvels, plus the ruins of an Ancient Roman settlement. Museums abound, including the Hungarian National Gallery (pictured) and the Museum of Music History. Having incubated the careers of both Bartók and Liszt, it’s also a hotbed of music, theater, opera, and folk dance.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky called his adopted metropolis “the most intentional and abstract city in the world.” Built in a short, fevered period of time based on one man’s—Peter the Great’s—vision, Russia’s second-largest city is a sort of work of art in and of itself. Despite its tumultuous history, St. Petersburg has proved fertile ground for giants both literary (Pushkin, Nabokov, Rand) and musical (Shostakovich, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky). Today, it’s home to hundreds of museums, concert halls, theaters, and arts festivals, plus the legendary Mariinsky Ballet.
For centuries, the Catholic faithful have been making the pilgrimage to this town, the capital of Galicia. Their destination: the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, which, according to legend, holds the remains of Saint James the Great, one of Jesus’s 12 apostles. But you don’t have to be religious to be awed by the towering Romanesque structure, or by the medieval town that surrounds it. The cutting-edge Galician Contemporary Art Centre provides a modern perspective on the region’s culture.
This 4,000-year-old settlement used to go by another name: Thebes, a.k.a. the birthplace of the Oedipus complex. The Luxor of today is two-sided: On the east bank of the Nile, there’s the modern town, and on the west bank, the Necropolis—the millennia-old city of the dead. It has been dubbed an “open-air museum” thanks to all the marvels of the ancient world—including the temples of Luxor and Karnak—jostling against the contemporary city. Across the river, the Valley of the Kings is the burial site for more than 60 pharaohs and other nobles from the New Kingdom era.
UNESCO named Kraków the City of Literature in 2013, and they weren’t kidding. Poland’s second-largest metropolis was home to three Nobel-winning writers: Czeslaw Milosz, Wislawa Szymborska, and Ivo Andric, and the city still hosts around 30 book festivals every year. Here you’ll also find Jagiellonian University, one of the oldest colleges in the world, and a wealth of museums including the Czartoryski (pictured), where you can see Leonardo da Vinci’s iconic Lady with an Ermine.