Vacation recommendations please
February 27, 2023 5:07 PM   Subscribe

Imagine you're an American who enjoys art and museums a lot. Where in the world would you go for a vacation that feeds that love of art, besides New York?
posted by Brandon Blatcher to Travel & Transportation (49 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Silvery Fish at 5:15 PM on February 27 [7 favorites]

Paris! Closer to home: Washington D.C.!
posted by curoi at 5:15 PM on February 27 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: If possible, please include some suggestions and reasons for what spot you recommend, thankyou!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:19 PM on February 27

Mexico City. So many great museums.
posted by rhymedirective at 5:21 PM on February 27 [13 favorites]

London. Tons of museums, tons of artwork. You haven’t specified a type of art or museum that you’re interested in so it’s hard to make specific recommendations.
posted by terridrawsstuff at 5:22 PM on February 27 [6 favorites]

Paris is obvious, and with the Euro is more affordable than before from a US-pov.

Marfa, Texas
posted by artificialard at 5:23 PM on February 27 [3 favorites]

Los Angeles has a lot of good art museums: LACMA, the Broad, two locations of MoCA, the Getty, the Hammer, and the Norton Simon, to start.
posted by lisa g at 5:24 PM on February 27 [9 favorites]

Honestly, almost any of the famous classic European tourist cities will serve you well.

In particular, if you can get to Amsterdam this spring, they are doing a jaw-dropping "all the Vermeers" exhibit at the Rijksmuseum. If you get sick of Vermeer and Rembrandt, wander a few minutes over to the van Gogh museum. The Netherlands also features several smaller cities with important collections all easily accessed by train.

Vienna is often overlooked when thinking of the European circuit, but I could've spent several more days in the Staatsmuseum. And Berlin has much more than you might think. The hall won't reopen until 2025 but if you want to see the Pergamon altar and the Ishtar Gate, you shouldn't wait too much longer after that, as pressure for repatriation is only likely to mount.

Oh, if you mean in the U.S., Boston. If you are at all receptive to the aesthetic, the Gardner Museum is a remarkable folly of an Italian villa standing in the Emerald Necklace, the collection of a wealthy and ambitious woman working with Bernard Berenson. It has some extraordinary pieces (as in, taught in any major Western art history survey) and the courtyard is a sight to be seen. Then walk ten minutes to the massive MFA and, if you look at nothing else, look at the Benin bronzes--more remarkable pieces likely to be repatriated. (Note: I'm not against repatriation, but it's likely to decrease accessibility for the U.S.-based, so it's worth taking the possibility into account.) Then in Cambridge, the Harvard Museums unite three disparate collections, including important Japanese pieces. Boston's not much on the modern, though.
posted by praemunire at 5:28 PM on February 27 [12 favorites]

Madrid for the Prado (for Garden of Earthly Delights) and the Reina Sofia (for Guernica). Among others of course.

Or Barcelona, since the Gaudi buildings can never travel?
posted by vunder at 5:31 PM on February 27 [6 favorites]

Florence, if you want to see some Renaissance jams.
posted by greta simone at 5:38 PM on February 27 [6 favorites]


I live in Canada, and I lived directly across the river from Detroit for years. Detroit is a serious answer here.

The Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA) is great. Seeing Diego Rivera's Detroit Industry murals there in person is stunning.

Cranbrook: Institute of Art (bonus Institute of Science)

There are also now a whole ton of art and architecture tours of Detroit and nearby destinations in Michigan. I'd imagine some Detroit-area Mefites have some good current suggestions there.

In particular, if you can get to Amsterdam this spring, they are doing a jaw-dropping "all the Vermeers" exhibit at the Rijksmuseum. If you get sick of Vermeer and Rembrandt, wander a few minutes over to the van Gogh museum. The Netherlands also features several smaller cities with important collections all easily accessed by train.

Seeing some of this stuff in person made me go, "OH OKAY. That's why they're called the Dutch Masters. Got it." Worth the trip for sure. Standing in front the The Night Watch is a "holy shit" moment of staring at a painting.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 5:38 PM on February 27 [3 favorites]

Amsterdam for sure, and not just because of the big famous museums (though these are awesome, too) but because there are a ton of tiny, weird museums, like the Cat Cabinet—yes, a museum about cats. In all, Amsterdam says it's home to more than 60 museums and describes itself as the most museum-dense city in Europe.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 5:40 PM on February 27 [4 favorites]

Detroit is also home to the Heidelberg Project.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 5:45 PM on February 27 [1 favorite]

I might suggest a New England road trip. Just Massachusetts museums.
Providence RI less than an hour away. Rhode Island
posted by ReluctantViking at 5:46 PM on February 27

Cranbrook: Institute of Art (bonus Institute of Science)

Cranbrook is a gorgeous little campus on its own. The girls' school was designed by Eliel Saarinen and is filled with Arts and Crafts artifacts created by him and his family (including his more famous son Eero). The boys' school is a bit more of a pastiche of an English boys' school, but still handsome and harmonious.

Sadly, it looks like both Pewabic Pottery and Motawi Tileworks haven't brought back their tours since COVID, but if you go later, you should check to see if they've been restored.

The big issue with Detroit for tourists is that you better show up with a car. Transit sucks even downtown, and it's ~45 minutes' drive from the DIA to Cranbrook.

(BTW, if anyone was trying to get to Vermeer and couldn't get a ticket, I've got one for early May I'm not going to be able to use. AFAIK they're transferrable even though they're not refundable, so I'd be happy to transfer it for cost. Memail me.)
posted by praemunire at 5:50 PM on February 27 [3 favorites]

If I were myself and I liked art and museums, I would bike to every art & museum in my radius, and then expand my radius, and then repeat the process. When I had exhausted all those options, I would expand my definition of art and museums. For example, I really like food. A food museum could be a grocery store, a farmer's market, etc. A food art museum might be a restaurant or food cart (in this era, takeout!)

Here is a list of the world's largest cities. I would sort it by highest density for "city proper". Likelihood of museums in an extremely dense, extremely large city is (I'm guessing) extremely high. Here are the top ten by this metric (NYC is #18) - Manila, Dhaka, Kolkata, Mumbai, Paris, Luanda, Seoul, Barcelona, Chennai, Jakarta.
posted by aniola at 6:00 PM on February 27

Washington DC. Museums there are mostly (Smithsonian so) free admittance.
posted by Rash at 6:07 PM on February 27 [3 favorites]

I can’t believe no one’s said Philadelphia yet, if you’re staying in the US. Barnes, Rodin, Philadelphia Museum of Art, plus not that far a drive from Washington D.C. I also love Chicago and LA for art.

Worldwide… Amsterdam. Italy - Rome, Florence. My dream location in a perfect world might be Istanbul for the Middle East+West thing.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:08 PM on February 27 [4 favorites]

Florence: aside from the big guns there's also the Galileo museum which I liked and which has a wicked armillary sphere and lots of nifty old science equipment, and of course many churches and palaces.

Vienna: beyond the Staatsmuseum (which is good!) there's the Kunsthistorisches, which I thought was just excellent (OMG the automata!), and you can also grab some beer and sausages at Bitzinger.

London: museums aplenty, but the V&A is just bonkers-good.

Edinburgh: the National Museum is quite nice indeed, and the others are equally good (I just prefer tech'ish museums more than pure art).
posted by aramaic at 6:10 PM on February 27

Chicago! The Art Institute, Museum of Contemporary Art, tons of smaller more specific museums like Mexican Art in Pilsen or photography in the Chicago Cultural Center, public art in the parks like Millennium Park, skyline and architecture galore (go during Chicago Open House for insider access to some beautifully designed buildings), and botanical art in the Conservatories. The whole city is a work of art, in my opinion.
posted by carlypennylane at 6:18 PM on February 27 [13 favorites]

Surprising, perhaps, but as a fellow lover of art (I tend toward modern), I will throw in Houston (not in summer maybe though). The Menil is one of my favorite museums of all time -- heavy on the surrealist -- there is a whole complex of museums affiliated with the Menil, the Rothko chapel. The Contemporary Art Museum Houston is badass and I've seen some things I think about 10 years later (a more recent fave here). There's the Buffalo Soldiers Museum, the museum of funerals, the Beer Can House, the Orange Show, the Museum of Contemporary Craft. I think you could do 2 museums a day for 10 days and not exhaust what there is. There are artist hubs and art events all the time. Also, outside of New York and L.A., Houston has some of the best food in the United States, if you are into that sort of thing.
posted by *s at 6:19 PM on February 27 [5 favorites]

Philly art museum is great!
posted by supermedusa at 6:26 PM on February 27

This post helped me plan a trip to Mexico City last fall and oh my god it was so cool. All the recommendations for museums in that thread are on point and I saw .0005% of what's there, but I also loved how much art there was in public spaces. I found out after I got back about the neighborhood that painted eight thousand murals on rooftops meant to be seen from the cable car route that passes overhead.

Closer to home, the Smithsonians alone would make DC a great museum city, but there's also the Art Museum of the Americas, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Textile Museum, the Kreeger, the Philips, the Rubell, the Basilica if you're into religious art, Dumbarton, Glenstone, plus a ton of local galleries if that's your scene. And you're an easy drive or train to Baltimore and the American Visionary Art Museum is absolutely worth the trip (and you get to hang out in Baltimore!)
posted by jameaterblues at 6:36 PM on February 27 [5 favorites]

Have you ever visited an insectarium? Not an insect garden, an actual, indoor, separate-enclosures-for-interesting-bugs insectarium? There's one in Durham.
posted by amtho at 6:47 PM on February 27 [1 favorite]


Contemporary: Centre Pompidou

Impressionism: Musée d'Orsay

Everything else: The Louvre

All of these places are a short subway ride away. All are world class institutions.
posted by mmascolino at 6:47 PM on February 27 [1 favorite]

Seconding Houston - I went in knowing very little about the city last March and had a fantastic day visiting the Menil and the Museum of Fine Arts followed by tacos and beer at the West Alabama Ice House.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:53 PM on February 27 [1 favorite]

Closer to home, Cincinnati:

Cincinnati Art Museum - essentially a smaller version of the Chicago Art Institute with a similar breadth of a collection. When this museum was founded, Cincinnati was one of the largest cities in the US so lots of old money funded the place.

Contemporary Arts Center - One of the country's oldest museums focused exclusively on contemporary art and has little to no permanent collections. Everything except for the kid's "exploratorium" is a special, temporary exhibit. This is housed in a wonderful modern Zaha Hadid designed building.

The unexpected: The American Sign Museum - basically a large collection of signs and neon from the last 100+ years. Americana through signage.

And an accomodation suggestion: the 21c Cincinnati. It is right next door to the Contemporary Art Center and features two floors of gallery space that rotates exhibits of 21st century created works (the restaurant and bar are pretty great too).
posted by mmascolino at 6:58 PM on February 27 [2 favorites]

If I wanted a city, not just museums in a city, but a city that fed my love of art I personally would chose Paris or Vienna. Remarkable museums but the cities themselves are so beautiful. I see beauty in every corner I pass.

Somewhat similarly, I would also choose Dakar, Senegal. I have a personal love of of wax fabrics (kitenge, igitenge, pagne, and many other names are used). The designs and patterns and the fashions made from them are just so beautiful to me, somewhat similarly, I love the “car rapides” buses and how they are decorated. Folk art has a special place in my heart and I think car rapides are just a beautiful expression of it. I am not as knowledgeable about it, but also the sous-vitrine reverse glass paintings are fantastic as well .
posted by raccoon409 at 7:12 PM on February 27

Berlin, for contemporary art.
posted by pinochiette at 7:13 PM on February 27 [1 favorite]

Boston. The Fogg museum at Harvard. The Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Isabella Stuart Gardner museum. At one place in town you can sit at the very bar where Ben Franklin ate oysters. Boston has a lot to offer.
posted by Oyéah at 7:14 PM on February 27

Another vote for Mexico City from me.

And also:
- Glasgow. My love for the Kelvingrove Museum (and its exhibit on colonialism and British culpability) compels me to say so. But there's also the People's Museum if you'd like a proletarian take on Scottish life. There's also the Hunterian Gallery at the University of Glasgow that has physical exhibition of their Roman past including bits of the Antonine Wall, not to mention popular Scottish artists including Callum Keith Rennie - and there's a lot of beautiful Art Deco architecture around due to him. Their Museum of Modern Art is also good, if you're into that sort of thing, and at the very least you can check what kind of traffic cone is on the head of Duke statue in front of it. Street art of course, and a pretty great standup comedy and live performance scene as well. The Science Centre too, if you have kids. If you go around summer especially, you can do a two-fer with the Edinburgh Fringe Festival if you're into that. (Oh in the Parliament there's usually a rotating exhibition)

- KL - my city I guess, as well as Penang. Street art is rife (examples) and in terms of museums, the Islamic Art Museum is pretty great, and sources its exhibits from across the Islamic world (i think they're still hosting a couple of things on loan from the Louvre). In central/old KL itself: the textile museum, museum on finance by the central bank, the old national palace, the telecommunications museum. I'm also fond of the national art gallery as well, which is near Lake Garden so it's a nice sightseeing spot. But architecturally it's also an interesting city. The mix of cultures do mean if you're also looking for a crash course on major Asian cultures in the region it's a pretty great introduction.

- oh yeah, Milan is a pretty good place too, especially if you're interested in playing tourist with regards to Leonardo da Vinci's scientific legacy.
posted by cendawanita at 7:48 PM on February 27 [3 favorites]

I'm gonna give you a really random suggestion: Williamstown, Massachusetts. Because you've got Mass MOCA and the Clark Institute and the Williams College Museum of Art in a ten-min radius.
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:54 PM on February 27 [3 favorites]

Lots of great suggestions here already, so I'll just add a few US options that haven't been mentioned:

+ Santa Fe, New Mexico has several awesome art museums (mostly focused on Native American and southwestern art), as well as a stunning array of contemporary art galleries. And if you're a Georgia O'Keefe fan, you'll be in her neck of the woods. Depending on the time of year, you can visit her studios and home in the desert. Also, easy to go to Taos and Albuquerque for even more art. Big recommendation to make a trip here!
+ Denver has at least 5 excellent art museums, as well as a small (but growing) community of artists showing their work in local studios. I can vouch for the Denver Museum of Art, the Contemporary, and the Kirkland Museum. And there are others I would have liked to go to if I'd stayed longer.
+ Wisconsin! The Art Museum at the University of Madison - Wisconsin is fantastic, the contemporary art museum just down the road from it is great, and you can bundle both of these with the truly outstanding Milwaukee Art Museum just about 90 mins away. And it's out of your way a bit, but the Kohler Arts Center in Sheboygan is a stunner.
+ Nelson Atkins Museum of Art, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, and Crossroads Art District in Kansas City, MO
+ Crystal Bridges and The Momentary in Bentonville, AR

There are great museums all across the US in random cities -- and of course, Chicago, Paris, Amsterdam, Florence, and Barcelona have amazing art for you, too!
posted by luzdeluna at 7:55 PM on February 27

in the USA?
Houston. Wonderful collections.
San Francisco has several very good collections: the de Young, Palace of Fine Arts, Asian Art Museum, SFMoMA.
Los Angeles has LACMA and the two Gettys, which really are excellent. The Getty collection is not huge but the quality is A+.
Washington DC has wonderful museums including several that are sort of art-adjacent like the Library of Congress exhibits and the National Portrait Gallery.

Abroad, I mean... you'd need to narrow it down a bit, there is so much. But the default answer for Art Capital of the western world, for the past several hundred years, has been Italy. Within Italy, you really cannot go wrong, but the heaviest hitters are Florence, Rome, Milan (those warlords that ran the place collected some superb stuff) and Venice. Smaller but historically wealthy towns like Bologna have stuff that would be Best in Country anywhere else.

In Asia, my recollection is that the National Palace Museum in Taipei is where the best Chinese stuff wound up via the Great Retreat. It's an incredible museum.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:18 PM on February 27 [2 favorites]

If I had the time for a long vacation, I'd go to Melbourne (NGV and ACMI for starters, good theaters, loads of public art and street art and interesting architecture and there are arts festivals throughout the year) and plan a few days' side trip to Hobart to go to MONA.
posted by EvaDestruction at 8:54 PM on February 27 [1 favorite]

(Not disagreeing that for Classics/Masters, you want Europe)

Choose LA - but really make it So-Cal for a week.
All the museums listed are great (LACMA, Gettys, MOCAs, Broad, Norton Simon.) UCLA also has a lovely sculpture garden and the Fowler Museum on campus with an astonishingly curated collection of international and indigenous art (plus a traditional silver collection) and it's just a mile or two from there to the Hammer Museum in downtown Westwood. There's also the Museum of Latin American Art, and the Skirball Center has an amazing Noah's Ark exhibit (with animals from reclaimed materials) as well as rotating exhibitions related to Jewish culture. Rent a car (you'd have to anyway) and widen your scope a little bit and you get the delightful OCMA (Orange County Museum of Art), which is in a super cool building. Farther (but not too far) in Palm Springs, the Palm Springs Art Museum is extraordinary.

AND THEN... well how narrowly or broadly do you define art? Would the Neon Museum count? The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures? The art installations just outside Joshua Tree are wild and weird, as are the giant metal sculptures that dot the Anza Borrego Desert. If you dip down to San Diego, you can glory in the cluster of art and culture and history museums that make up Balboa Park, or swing through Chicano Park to see the Barrio Logan murals and maybe catch an artist painting a new one. You can sip a beverage with the ladies who lunch before popping in to the La Jolla Contemporary Art museum with its breathtaking views of the water, or wander way off the beaten path on your way back to LA and discover that you don't need to go to Place Pompidou in Paris to find a Niki de Saint-Phalle, she has a huge installation tucked in the middle of a So-Cal park (bring comfy shoes for the walk!)
posted by BlueBlueElectricBlue at 10:27 PM on February 27 [2 favorites]

MBAM/Museum of Fine Arts in Montreal was a great experience. I saw old masters of the Western tradition next to modern reinterpretations by artists like Kehinde Wiley and Kent Monkman. Superb.

A couple of suggestions further afield:

If you're in the area, Museo de Antioquia in Medellín, Colombia was pretty good. Lots of Botero, of course, since he's the "hometown hero", but there's more in the exhibitions to help round out the experience, all thoughtfully presented.

You could put together a day or two in Dakar, Senegal with a focus on visual arts. The IFAN museum has a very nice collection of artistic and cultural objects from across West Africa, in a collection that was started during the colonial era. When I was there, the Musée des Civilisations Noires had a very nice show of modern art from Dakar, not sure if it's still showing. The city held a Biennale again last year that was well-reviewed. Combine that with gallery visits and a stop at Marché Kermel for current traditional arts on sale, and you'll find you've covered a lot of ground.
posted by gimonca at 3:29 AM on February 28

The big art museum in Cleveland has a lot of treasures, and I remember having a good time at the textiles museum nearby - the docent took us backstage and showed us stuff in storage.
posted by brainwane at 5:03 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]

Second, third or fourth-ing Vienna. It wasn't my favourite European city of the ones I've visited, overall, but it had arguably the best array of art museums.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:23 AM on February 28

I mean, if you want to plan a trip around art, you could do a lot worse than like, documenta.

If you don't want to wait until 2027, the Kochi Biennale is on until April 10 and has big "art lovers in tropical paradise" vibes.

Similarly the crowds/excitement/overwhelm of Berlin Gallery Weekend. IDK, my approach is that it's kind of a numbers game so you want to maximize the things you see and resources that the institution is tossing around in the hopes of having a choice aesthetic experience, your-philosophy-on-this-may-vary.
posted by athirstforsalt at 7:47 AM on February 28

Yes yes Cincinnati! We also have TONS of public murals, which are done by Artworks teen interns!

Not necessarily an art museum but the Cincinnati Museum Center is gorgeous in its own right and has incredible mosaics installed in then 1930s that are 100% worth checking out. And you don't even have to purchase admission to see them; they're in the main rotunda which is public space.

And then there's the Art Academy, a college of art and design, which often has exhibitions.
posted by cooker girl at 7:48 AM on February 28

I thought of another one. The best art vacation I've ever had was to attend the Venice Biennale. It's 2024 (though there are music/theatre/architecture/other biennales this year). They've already started planning it! Unless you can get in as a journalist, it is not cheap but the pavilions each country creates have a theme and they are like nothing you've ever seen. Huge, amazing installations and cutting edge techniques. It was also a neat way to see Venice and I met tons of interesting people.
posted by *s at 8:51 AM on February 28

Just from personal experience:

DC has the National Gallery of Art, which is not a Smithsonian, and all the Smithsonian facilities, including The National Portrait Gallery, the Smithsonian American Art Museum (which shares a building with the National Portrait Gallery and has a second facility at the Renwick which now has a focus on art made with crafting techniques and not just the usual paintings and sculpture), the National Museum of Asian Art (aka the Freer and Sackler galleries) and the National Museum of African Art next door and connected underground, and the Hirshhorn, all of which are free to enter. And then if you haven't seen enough art you can visit the Phillips Collection, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, or trek out to the deepest, richest suburbs to Glenstone. And I'm sure I'm leaving stuff out.

Paris has the Louvre, which by itself could probably support a week's worth of visits, the Musée d'Orsay (which is merely large), the Musée de l'Orangerie (which is small but concentrated), the Centre Pompidou, the Musée Rodin, and a bunch of other things like the opera and the Panthéon and a famous church or two (we really liked Sainte-Chapelle).

Amsterdam: visit the Rijksmuseum (not quite as big as the Louvre, but still too much for one day's visit), the Van Gogh museum, Rembrandt Huis (reopening March 18 with "30% more Rembrandt"), the Stedelijk Museum, and then take a side trip to The Hague for the Mauritshuis and Panorama Mesdag among others.

I'm getting tired of digging up links, so here comes a more or less lazy speed run:

London: the V&A, the Tate, the Tate Modern, the London Transport Museum (classic Tube posters!), and I'm sure I'm forgetting things from visits decades ago.

Munich: the Alte Pinakothek, the Neue Pinakothek, the Pinakothek der Moderne, and the Lenbachhaus, among others.

Vienna: to everything else listed above, add the Kapuzinergruft.

Other people have covered LA, Chicago, Philadelphia, and Houston better than I could. I grew up in Tulsa and I'm not sure I'd recommend it for a vacation at this point, but if you happen to be there Philbrook is excellent, Gilcrease has a great collection of western art that I'm curious to see in its new home once it opens, and there are some good bars (we liked Valkyrie and Hodges Bend on a visit a few years ago, and we've heard good things about Saturn Room).

I can also think of single museums that really affected me in other places (Stockholm's Moderna Museet, Denmark's Louisiana, the Pergamon Museum in Berlin [admittedly problematic, even if it did blow my mind], Oslo's weird Vigeland Sculpture Park) but I don't know that I'd plan trips around them and I don't remember what else I saw in any of those places.

Let us know when you get back from all of these!
posted by fedward at 9:00 AM on February 28 [1 favorite]

At this point I think I'm just agreeing with others, but based on personal experience:

Paris, Madrid, London would be my first choices. Florence, Berlin (check out the Ramones museum), Barcelona, Amsterdam, Rome next. If you can get to Berlin, a day-trip to Weimer to check out Bauhaus stuff would be good. Other German cities are worth a look if you're in the area but not essential IME. Leipzig's Stasi museum is interesting but only if you were already there. Krakow has the Schindler Factory museum (covers history of WW2 occupation) which is fascinating, as well as old buildings (and Auschwitz) but not much art.

Also: Cairo for museums. India for great buildings and ruins and museums more than art galleries. Australia has some stuff that's worth looking at if you're there, but I wouldn't prioritise it.
posted by Pink Frost at 1:53 PM on February 28

If you're going to Amsterdam, I'd highly recommend adding in time for a side trip to the Kröller-Müller Museum. It's a bit of an expedition to get there, but you'll be rewarded with one of the largest Van Gogh collections in the world, not to mention a fabulous sculpture collection, set in glorious parkland.
posted by brushtailedphascogale at 2:06 PM on February 28 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks all, these are all great and definite food for thought! Appreciate it!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:16 PM on February 28

2nding Cleveland, Ohio.

Also Mexico City. If you want a sampling of some of the museums there, check out mt HS Spanish teacher's blog, Travels of a Retired Teacher.
posted by kathrynm at 3:40 PM on February 28

It depends on what kind of art and museums interest you.

I'm a big Medieval/Renaissance/Baroque geek, so if someone came up to me on the street and asked your question, my immediate answer would be "Florence, Italy." I like art and museums a lot, and I was saucer-eyed in Florence. From about 1400 to about 1700, its rulers the Medici were prosperous and welcoming to artists; they commissioned painters, sculptors, architects, metalworkers, with the result that the entire city is art. The Uffizi alone takes a whole day to see properly. Then there's the Bargello (mostly sculpture) where Donatello's David is (among others), and the Accademia, where Michelangelo's David is, and the Pitti Palace, which has a ton of cool artifacts and a great clothing & textile collection AND a garden where some of the world's first operas were performed... and then there are the churches and abbeys, if church architecture and/or frescos are things you like. Definitely don't miss the dome in the Cathedral, which has a 360° fresco of the Last Judgement, including a Dante style 3-headed Satan chewing on some guys, which is absolutely worth the endless stairs to see up close. But even in the streets you'll come across things like the Neptune Fountain, which Michelangelo hated so much he wrote a sarcastic little verse mocking the sculptor. In what other city could you find that?

Planning a vacation, you could do Florence and Venice-- Venice also has a million places to see art, especially if you go during the summer when the Bienniale is on. The Bienniale and the Guggenheim Collection are good places to see things that are more contemporary if you have Baroque fatigue. You can also go *way* earlier and see some Byzantine art in San Marco, including the bronze horses that once stood above the Hippodrome in Constantinople, so lively they might be about to shudder flies off their skin. They date to probably before 500 AD.

(No coincidence that Venice and Florence were both republics (nominally at least), where rulers had to hang onto their positions through popularity and prestige, and found that art and architecture were excellent ways to do that)

I love this stuff, but YMMV depending on your interests. If planning a vacation to Italy, good times to go are during February, March, April or maybe September/October. Avoid August, when a lot of things close down and it gets really hot. The food is great, the language is easy and if you make even a bit of effort to speak it, people will meet you with open hearts.


A few people have suggested London. I live here, and can give you a local's view for what it's worth (if anything):

The free museums are a bonus; the V&A is absolutely my favourite. The National Portrait Gallery, my other fave, is shut till June. It's worth the side trip to Baker Street for the Wallace Collection, especially if you like arms and armour; their tea room is also lovely. Two museums which charge admission which I think are worth it are Sir John Soane's Museum (an eccentric Baroque architect's house full of stuff he collected) and the Tower of London (not art, but redolent of history and an amazing armoury, with bonus ravens). If you like Tudor and Restoration stuff, a train trip out to Hampton Court Palace is worth a day and the cost of admission. They have some amazing tapestries and some beautiful portraits of Charles II's favourite ladies, and there is often music in the Chapel with its blue ceiling painted with stars. I don't know the other palaces as well, but they are fun.

The bad: London is an expensive city. Accommodation, food and public transport will all cost you. It's car-heavy (for a European city), so not as pleasantly pedestrian as Amsterdam or Venice. Our nation is basically dying-- all our social support systems are cut to ribbons on top of the cost of living crisis, so people are stressed, bitter and wary, and there's a lot of homelessness. Very little real joy here these days.

But in our favour (back to The Good): we are a multicultural city, much more so than Vienna (soooo white) or the Italian cities I mentioned. Vienna and Paris, for example, are quite conformist in their culture; in London you can let your freak flag fly and nobody will bat an eyelid. We're also a LGBTQ-friendly city (yeah, the UK is TERF island, but in London at least the TERFs are vastly outnumbered).

I've written you a wall of text, with probably more information than you wanted, but you're a MeFite I like a lot, so... I hope it's helpful? somewhat? a bit? Anyway, bon voyage!
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:47 PM on March 2 [2 favorites]

So many great suggestions above. A lovely museum I haven’t seen mentioned is the the Louisiana Museum 30 minutes outside of Copenhagen. It has nice art, yes, but the setting is stunning. I especially loved walking the grounds which are littered with sculpture. If you’re in Copenhagen itself I also love the Designmuseum Danmark (especially if you love Danish design).

In the US I don’t think I’ve seen Pittsburgh mentioned. The Andy Warhol museum is exhaustive.
posted by Bunglegirl at 7:16 PM on March 3

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