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Top 5 European Art Cities

May 22, 2008
If you're looking for a culture and art holiday, Europe is a fine choice. The continent has an impressive array of galleries, museums and exhibitions meaning that you're likely to find something of interest in almost every major city you visit. Yet with this much choice comes a new problem, how do you pick which European art city to prioritise? Hopefully this top 5 European art cities should help you decide which place to start your art history holiday in...

Berlin

Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Germany's capital has been a thriving European arts centre, mixing the old and the new with great aplomb. For the culture vulture, the first place to investigate is the Museumsinsel ("museum island"), which is a section of five museums: the Alte Nationalgalerie, Altes Museum, Neues Museum, Bodemuseum and Pergamonmuseum. The Alte Nationalgalerie hosts works by German and French Impressionists, as well as German artists including Adolph von Menzel, Max Lieberman and Karl Freidrich Schinkel, while the Altes Museum hosts treasures from Ancient Roma and Greece.

Elsewhere in the city you can take in the Dahlemer Museum which displays art and culture from other continents, the Gemaldegalerie which features the paintings of Botticelli and Rembrandt, and the Neue Nationalgalerie which features more modern works by the likes of Picasso and Munch. Berlin is a great choice to take an art history holiday!

Rome

Rome's art and architecture spans two millennia, with ancient sculptures sitting comfortably alongside abstract modern pieces in one of the most stunning cities in Europe. Art is all over the city, and even if you wanted to avoid it, you'd be hard pushed to be able to do so! The Vatican Museums are the main highlight - composed of a large collection of renaissance works and antiques line the Vatican buildings, are there are a few modern works of religious themed work from the likes of Gauguin, Chagall and Picasso. Of course, the Sistine Chapel is a must see on your visit to Rome. Its legendary ceiling is one of the best known pieces of art in the world, let alone Europe. Alongside these Catholic collections, there are a number of museums and galleries most certainly worth a look, including the Borghese Gallery, the National Gallery of Ancient Art and the National Etruscan Museum.

Vienna

The Hapsburgs' empire is responsible for much of Vienna's impressive collection of artistic pieces on display to this day. The ruling family controlled vast lands between 1282 and 1918, and much of the spoils are on display to this day, making it an excellent choice for those wanting to see high quality art in Europe. The majority of this, and a clear sign of the diverse lands controlled, is visible at the Kunsthistorisches Museum which boasts ancient art by the Greeks and Egyptians, to (slightly) more modern pieces by Pieter Brueghel and Rembrandt. For something a little more modern, visitors to Vienna should head to the MuseumsQuartier Wien which hosts the Leopold Museum and the Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien. The former has work by Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt, while the latter hosts contemporary pieces from hyperrealism to American pop art. If these three don't satisfy, Vienna has plenty more artistic merit going for it, including the Osterreichische Galerie Belvedere (medieval and baroque) and the Kunsthalle Wien (contemporary art including Kandinsky, Picasso and Pollock.)

Florence

Florence could well be the cultural capital of Europe - art is so hard to avoid during a stay there! With paintings, sculptures and architecture encompassing everything you see and do it's easy to become overwhelmed, but as the birthplace of Renaissance art this is no real surprise. Simply there are too many museums and galleries to list, and simply wandering where the mood takes you guarantees an educational and entertaining experience, but make sure you don't miss out on the most famous cultural buildings: The Galleria dell' Accademia (the place Michelangelo's David calls home!), the Galleria degli Uffizi (the first museum for modern art in Europe) and of course the magnificence of the Duomo. If you're planning an art holiday in Italy, this (along with Rome) should definitely be on your list!

Paris

Paris is such an art city that the greatest pleasure is exploring the smaller galleries dotted around the place, or taking in the wonderful architecture from a street side café. That said, like in Florence, there are certain museums and galleries widely regarded as absolute 'must sees'. In terms of sheer renown, it's hard to beat the Louvre (though even harder to beat the crowds around its most famous exhibits - the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo!). A converted royal palace, even the building itself is aesthetically splendid, and a stroll around the building is a real pleasure. The Musee d'Orsay is another treasure - a neo-classical railway station converted into an exhibition space. It hosts an impressive number of 19th and 20th century pieces by artists such as Cézanne, Renoir, Monet, Manet and Van Gogh. Fans of modern art can't go wrong with the iconic Centre Pompidou, which itself is a monument to modern architecture. As well as this famous trio, you can find several smaller museums devoted to individual artists, including Picasso and Rodin. If you're looking for a European art holiday close to home, you can't beat a trip to Paris.

All of these cities offer a great mix of culture, art, and splendid atmosphere to enjoy the rest of your holiday. Whether you want a European art history holiday, or just to supplement the area's other attractions, you can't go wrong with any of these cities.
About the Author
Kieron Sellens is the marketing manager of the Association of Independent Tour Operators (AiTO). With AITO's cultural breaks you can choose from tailor-made art holidays, historical tours, musical trips and many more. The independent tour operators that AITO represent specialise in worldwide holidays tailored to their customers' requirements.
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