In a world where indulging our passions has become second nature, travel has become more than just an enjoyable getaway, but a means by which to explore interests old and new.
Why and where we choose to travel is a choice motivated by a number of factors, each of which varies from person to person. From history and cuisine to discovering the world's best beaches, these are motivators that come up time and again. But recently, there has been a long overdue shift to travelling for the arts.
The arts have always held a mesmeric power in their ability to shine a spotlight onto destinations and neighbourhoods that, perhaps, we would not have considered otherwise. Travelling through the lens of galleries, museums, architecture, theatre and more shows another side to these destinations, as you step away from the crowds to discover a world which gives you a true flavour for a destination, its culture and its people. Here, the top 9 cities in the world to visit–if not solely for their art hubs.
1 Mexico City, Mexico
Mexico City is an unmissable destination on the global contemporary arts circuit. 2018’s World Design Capital has much to celebrate–from internationally renowned museums to lesser known architectural landmarks. Home to the famous Barragán Houses, named after the eponymous Mexican architect, Mexico City has become a place of art-fueled pilgrimage for many.
Wandering between his home studio at Casa Luis Barragán to Casa Gilardi, Cuadra San Cristobal and onto Casa Pedregal, the might of Barragán’s influence is inescapable–but he is not the only architect making an impression on Mexico City’s cityscape. Discover the lesser known works of contemporaries such as Mathias Goeritz, Félix Candela and Mario Pani and get a sense of the emerging talent that makes a stroll around any neighborhood here one full of architectural admiration. For real insight, head to the National Autonomous University of Mexico campus, down in the south of the city, and check out the Central Library adorned in stunning murals by the late Juan O’Gorman. A certified UNESCO World Heritage Site, UNAM is an architectural showpiece that few take the time to appreciate.
Mexico City is not all about architecture, and it would be an injustice to visit the city without stopping by some of its top museums. Whilst Kurimanzutto and OMR attract the international spotlight (and quite rightly so), José Garcia is a relative newcomer doing its part to bring works of leading Mexican artists onto the world stage. Stay at Las Alcobas and rub shoulders with Mexico City’s elite in a privileged location set amid the capital’s top bars and restaurants and it’s most fashionable boutiques.
2 Cape Town, South Africa
Cape Town has always been ahead of the game when it comes to art and culture, but it’s been catapulted onto the world stage thanks to the recent opening of the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa (MOCAA), the largest collection of contemporary African art in the world. Located in the newly renovated Silo district, the impressive building (once a Grain Silo Complex) has been reimagined by renowned architect Thomas Heatherwick and is a totally unique space that fits into the African context.
From the Silo District, head to to Long Street where you can browse traditional art and antiques stores and pick up something to return home with. To eat? Stroll through town up to Bree Street, the strip that cuts through town towards Table Mountain, a vibrant setting that’s packed with bars, cafes and specialty eateries such as dedicated bars for gin, bacon and cheese. Make sure to stop by Bocca, La Parada and Chef’s Warehouse for a spot of people watching and delicious small plates. Sleep at the newly opened Silo Boutique Hotel, which boasts incredible views and is part of the Zeitz Museum complex, putting you right in the heart of the art-loving action.
3 Lima, Peru
Lima is rapidly becoming a global cultural hub for arts and cuisine. The city's museums showcase some of the country’s finest treasures, while providing insight into the region’s ancient civilizations and historic sites, which can then be explored in greater depth elsewhere in the country.
Housed in an elegant, whitewashed mansion, the Larco Museum hosts the world’s largest private collection of Pre-Columbian art including ceramics, gold and silver jewelry and an extensive selection of ceramics from the Moche culture, featuring memorable erotic pottery. In addition to the museum, the property includes a gorgeous garden and a top notch restaurant. Our favorite places to eat are Central and Maido, #4 and #8 respectively on the World's 50 Best Restaurants List. Stay in Hotel B Lima, a breezy, elegant fin de siecle spot for Lima’s well-heeled.
4 Beirut, Lebanon
Perched along the Mediterranean, the vibrant Beirut is, at first glance, a place travelers wouldn’t make a go-to for its present tumultuous tenor, but this would be a grave mistake.
A remarkable city steeped in history and culture, many have deemed it the ‘Paris’ of the Middle East–and for good reason. Beirut exudes warmth and civility, with an extraordinary arts scene, starting with the remarkable Beirut Arts Fair, a diaspora featuring incredible galleries from the region and beyond. March Hachem gallery is a must, featuring artists like Raouf Rifai. With outposts in New York and Paris, it has become a formidable competitor to some of the more well-known gallerists.
Tajalliyat Gallery downtown features extraordinary rotating exhibits with some of the region’s most extraordinary artists, including (most recently) Boutros Al Maari. Equally marvelous are the extraordinary Lebanese designers like Timi Hayek who specializes in handmade garments; in fact, there is an entire community organized around haute fashion design called Starched downtown, a consortium of local designers. Orient 499 is a veritable luxe orient fantasy land, housing beautiful home furnishings and art. Equally impressive is Bokja, a women-run design enclave that houses exceptional, eclectic pieces you may feel compelled to return home with. The city has an entrepreneurial spirit and phenomenal infrastructure, lending itself well to setting up an art business, be it fashion, design, or studio art.
Stay at the visually stunning and intimate Hotel Albergo and dine at Em Sherif, which serves up Lebanese haute cuisine in an unparalleled setting. Makan features rotating chefs delivering a diversity of cuisines from all over the world, housed in a gorgeous old Beirut house and garden (with seriously cool art on the walls).
5 Zurich, Switzerland
For those looking for a Euro Art fix, but veered more towards contemporary than classical works of art, Zurich has an art scene like no other European city. The birthplace of the Dada Movement and home of Le Corbusier’s final architectural masterpiece before his death in 1967, Zurich truly sits at the forefront of contemporary art.
2018 will also mark 20 years of the Contemporary Art Fair Zurich and is sure to be easy on the eyes with a range of exhibitions featuring everything from abstract photography to conceptual installations–from established and emerging artists alike. A city for the avant garde, the cutting-edge and the creative, swing by Galerie Eva Presenhuber and Peter Kilchmann Galerie before you go and admire the ever-changing exhibitions. Home to many a haute horologist, stop by Vacheron Constantin or IWC’s flagship to browse exceptionally luxurious timepieces.
Stay at the Widder Hotel, where a medieval facade belies slick contemporary interiors and walls are splashed with abstract art, encapsulating Zurich’s art scene in one charming boutique hotel. Not only are they nailing interior decor, but The Widder also boasts a seriously impressive restaurant. Encouraging you to ‘follow the flavour,’ the menu is a cacophony of intriguing dishes and themes, including ‘Smoke Signs’, ‘Basil Bash’ and ‘Intro to Cilantro’.
6 Beijing, China
A decommissioned military factory on the outskirts of Beijing where whitewashed turbine halls and generator rooms now house artwork over weapons, the 798 Art Zone is one of Beijing’s buzziest hangouts. An atmospheric space sprawled across the neighbourhood of Dashanzi in a flurry of modern art, 798 is the ideal place to discover contemporary Chinese art and culture. A must visit for any culture vulture, 798 draws you in with a fascinating combination of the politics, society and culture of China.
Head to Originality Square to admire striking Bauhaus architecture, the mystical Cholima statue and some of the best exhibits through galleries filled with innovative paintings, photography, sculptures and the occasional multimedia outlet.
To sleep? That’s easy–stay at The Peninsula. The hotel boasts an inspiring gallery, The Peninsula Art Journey, showcasing pieces by renowned artist Zhao Ying Chao; it's the perfect complement to a culture-packed visit to the Chinese capital. For a bite in 798, head to Fodder Factory, a little-known restaurant balancing kitsch with industrial-chic, which will blow you away with its spicy Hunan dishes. Expert tip: be sure to bring a local with you to translate the menu.