paris louvre

The Louvre is easily one of the most iconic museums in the world. (Photo: Alamy)

Culture + Style

How to Get in on the Local Art Scene, from London to Abu Dhabi

The world’s great art cities are where museums and galleries converge. They are where famed masterpieces and the latest contemporary designs are found around every corner.

Read on to discover some the best art cities dotting the globe, from well-established London to modernist upstart Abu Dhabi.

As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.

Seek the Epicenter of Art in Paris

The city of art is renowned for its Louvre Museum. The world’s most visited gallery, housed inside a colossal palace in central Paris, is home to masterpieces including da Vinci’s “Mona Lisa” and Delacroix’s “Liberty Leading the People,” but the French capital’s art scene is so much more.

In an art hub in the suburb of Romainville, Komunuma brings together four of Paris’ most prestigious galleries — Air de Paris, Galerie Sator, Galerie Jocelyn Wolff and In Situ Fabienne Leclerc. Each has a number of international artists-in-residence showcasing modern works of art.

Each October, Paris attracts thousands of art buyers and spectators to the Foire Internationale d’art Contemporain, an exhibition where international galleries, museums, collectors and curators trade contemporary masterpieces and plan exhibitions around the world. The Art Paris Art Fair, held in the Grand Palais Éphémère, does the same each March.

Get Experimental in London

national gallery london
The National Gallery London sits high on the must-visi cultural institutions in the city. (Photo: Getty Images)

The British capital has no shortage of world-famous museums and art galleries. The National Gallery on Trafalgar Square, Tate Modern beside the Thames, and the Saatchi Gallery house the nation’s greatest works of art. International artists are also well represented, with Pollock, Matisse and Picasso just some of the famous names hanging across London.

London hosts a number of commercial art galleries where you can visit for free and view the finest art for sale. The minimalist White Cube in Bermondsey has hosted the likes of Tracey Emin and Damien Hirst; the experimental Victoria Miro sells work by Yayoi Kusama and Grayson Perry; and Mayfair’s Thaddaeus Ropac works with contemporary artists, including Anish Kapoor and Anselm Kiefer.

London also has some of the world’s top art auctions, weekly art fairs and shows by students at leading art schools.

Find Art World Icons in Florence

The Florentine cityscape is a work of art in its own right, and the heady combination of classic and contemporary art pieces makes the city Italy’s culture capital. The Galleria dell’Accademia, home to the legendary David statue by Michelangelo, and the Uffizi Gallery house some of the world’s greatest treasures, but a contemporary art scene is emerging.

In Studio Abba, located inside the 16th-century, Renaissance Palazzo Rosselli del Turco (formerly the U.S. embassy), a permanent collection by Hungarian artist Karl Stengel is exhibited alongside collective and solo displays from around the world. In Palazzo Strozzi, La Strozzina is the base for the Centre for Contemporary Culture Strozzina, home to a rotating calendar of visual art workshops and shows.

On a high peak overlooking Florence, the 16th-century military base Forte di Belvedere plays host to exhibitions of sculptures by the likes of Antony Gormley and Jan Fabre throughout the summer.

Catch Up on Counterculture in Berlin

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Berlin’s East Side Gallery is a must see. (Photo: Getty Images)

Berlin’s avant-garde counterculture has made the German capital one of the world’s great contemporary art cities. Hundreds of galleries are scattered across Berlin, including Contemporary Fine Arts, Daimler Contemporary and the KW Institute for Contemporary Art, but authentic art is also to be found on the streets.

After the fall of the Berlin wall, graffiti artists brought the streets to life. Many new graffiti pieces by top street artists appear on Haus Schwarzenberg near Alexanderplatz.

At the East Side Gallery on Mühlenstrasse, political graffiti covers the last remaining 1.3-kilometer stretch of the Berlin Wall, and the Friedrichshain has an abundance of buildings covered in impressive paintings and murals.

Go Scandi Modern in Copenhagen

The Danish capital is the undisputed home of Scandi modern art. The Nyhavn area is the base of Kunsthal Charlottenborg, a popular contemporary art museum housed in a 17th-century structure. The museum hosts a changing calendar of modern art events and exhibitions throughout the year.

Etage Projects is a contemporary design gallery and lecture hall where up-and-coming designers are pushing the boundaries of art and architecture.

For something more traditional, the Statens Museum for Kunst is Denmark’s national gallery and the largest collection in the country. Art dating back to the 14th century is housed here, including pieces by Matisse, Picasso and Eckersberg.

See Why Abu Dhabi Is an Art Lover’s Haven

man walking in loubre abu dhabi
Abu Dhabi is rich with museums, like its outpost of the Louvre. (Photo: Marriott International)

As the new kid on the block, Abu Dhabi is quickly emerging as one of the world’s great art cities. In the cultural district on Saadiyat Island, ambitious grassroots movements and international galleries are building a base for the Middle East’s artistic growth.

The Louvre Abu Dhabi is the showpiece of the UAE’s art scene. The Jean Nouvel–designed concrete and stainless-steel structure, topped by an Islamic lattice moucharaby dome, is building up a collection of European and Islamic works of art by the likes of Henri Matisse and Francis Bacon, along with 2,800 medieval Islamic coins.

The Guggenheim Abu Dhabi is bringing the finest modern art to the desert, including works by Richard Prince and Donald Judd.

The NYU Abu Dhabi Art Gallery offers a changing calendar of exhibits and events to connect local artists with international collectors and enthusiasts. And art galleries like Warehouse 421 and Salwa Zeidan Gallery focus on modern art.

Jump into Johannesburg’s Art Scene

Johannesburg is home to Africa’s hottest art scene. The strip of art galleries on Jan Smuts Avenue in the Rosebank district plays host to a large number of independent art galleries, open until 9 p.m. for free on the first Thursday of each month.

The Everard Read gallery, established in 1913, claims to be the oldest gallery in Africa and features works from top South African artists and up-and-coming designers. The Victoria Yards industrial area is also home to a collection of creative galleries.

In the Newtown and Maboneng areas, murals by local artists line the city streets, showcasing sociopolitical issues faced in these communities. Graffiti artist Falko 1’s “Family Time” mural in the Central Business District, a brightly colored elephant mother and calf, is one of the most popular.