Art

Not the Louvre: Europe’s Greatest Museums You Might Have Missed

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life,” said Pablo Picasso. It offers us a glimpse into the complexities of perspective and acts as a channel into another’s mind. Art is distinctive: onlookers will experience, interpret, and admire different forms of it in different ways, engulfing endless possibilities for how it is valued, appreciated, collected, and celebrated. The best part is that you don’t have to be a definitive art pro to enjoy great art. It is both a way to be transported into another world and perspective as well as a form of entertainment, value commodity, and an investment all in one.

Whether you know your Matisse from your Max Ernst, are more partial to the likes of Warhol’s Pop Art or Lucian Freud’s nudes, or are still defining your own personal taste—there is always room for everyone to relish in the art space and, at the very least, find enjoyment browsing any of the world’s great museums. 

The Louvre, Vatican Museums, Tate, and all things Gaudi are likely already on your itinerary. Visitors travel far and wide to catch a glimpse of the Mona Lisa or Van Gogh’s Starry Night because these are part of those textbook experiences that one MUST do. Aside from these tourist-friendly classics, though, there is so much more to discover. With endless options to explore, where to begin? We have curated the ultimate cultural smorgasbord of Europe’s greatest art museums you might have otherwise overlooked.

ROME, ITALY

“Only in Rome is it possible to understand Rome” says, Goethe. We agree. Rome’s colossal cultural wealth is an understatement: between the ancient architecture on every corner, delicious cuisine, and hints of romance in the air, Rome is a city that radiates history. Once you have visited the Colosseum and its cats for the umpteenth time (no shame in it!), give these a try.

GOETHE HOUSE

Goethe fell in love with Rome during his travels and who can blame him. This small museum offers an exceptional look into the life of writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, known as one of Germany’s greatest literary figures, and his escapade in Italy. His works include poetry, novels, scriptwriting, science, botany, anatomy, and color theory. The historical significance of the house is hard to deny—Goethe and his friend Tischbein would gather with other German intellectuals in this space during the periods of 1786 and 1788. The museum houses a permanent collection, Goethe in Italy, that includes his sketches, letters, and information about his life in Italy. A portrait of Goethe, by Andy Warhol (1982), is featured here in addition to some of his famous works: Iphigenia, Tasso, and the Roman Elegies. The second exhibition is always a visiting one, with the most current being Piranesi Today. Goethe House gives its visitors a glimpse of what Goethe’s life was like when staying in Rome, allowing guests to enjoy a perspective on the city through the lens of a poet. 

Photo Courtesy of Goethe House

The Must-Sees: Goethe in Italy exhibition; Goethe by Andy Warhol; and photography from Flaminia Lizzani, Elisa Montessori, Gloria Pastore (1949) Gabriele Basilico, Sebastian Felix Max Renkel, Ernst, and Judith Schalansky.

Via del Corso, 18 / 00186 Roma RM, Italy / 39.06.3265.0412

Found in the middle of the gorgeous Italian property, Villa Borghese, is a special gallery full of historical classics. The Borghese Gallery and Museum is inside the previous villa of Cardinal Scipione Borghese, a nephew of Pope Paul V and a member of the 13th century noble Borghese family. Scipione became the main contributor to the gallery’s initial founding when he began collecting pieces by Italian painter Caravaggio. The gallery and museum are home to Borghese’s collection of paintings, sculptures, and antique items that are now displayed for public viewing. The Borghese Gallery has twenty rooms that hold antiquities, mosaics, and classical/neo-classical sculptures as well as paintings by Caravaggio, Raphael, Titian, Federico Barocci, and Baroque sculptor Bernini. In addition to the gallery and museum, the Borghese Villa property includes a stunning garden that is an attraction in its own right. Inside the garden, visitors will find the beautiful Temple of Aesculapius surrounded by a pond. This is the perfect spot to enjoy art, architecture, and landscape all in one.

Photo Courtesy of Borghese Gallery and Museum

The Must-Sees: Saint Jerome Writing by Caravaggio, The Last Supper by Jacopo Bassano, Sacred and Profane Love by Titian, Entombment of Christ by Raphael, and Apollo and Daphne by Bernini.

Piazzale Scipione Borghese, 5 / 00197 Roma RM, Italy / 39.06.841.3979

THE MUSEUM OF ROME

Housed in an 18th century neoclassical palace, The Museum of Rome is located right in the heart of Renaissance and Baroque Rome between Piazza Campo dei Fiori and Piazza Navona. Its striking features—such as the staircase designed by architect Giuseppe Valadier—proves that the palace is a work of art in and of itself. As for the collections, the museum is home to over 100 pieces from the Middle Ages into the 20th century. Featuring artists such as Nicola Salvi—designer of the Trevi Fountain—Pompeo Batoni, Giuseppe Bartolomeo Chiari, Ippolito Caffi, Antonio Canova, among others, guests will find paintings, drawings, sculptures, photographs, ceramics, furniture, and more. The museum originally came to life by art historian Antonio Muñoz with the intention of documenting ‘old Rome’, but escalated to becoming a well-established art museum. Now, guests are able to browse and explore Rome’s past through what is spoken in the art.

Photo Courtesy of Studio Visuale

The Must-Sees: Alcova Torlonia: Detail of the Ceiling by Filippo Bigioli, The Toilet of Venus by Francesco Podesti, and The Colosseum as Seen from above by Ippolito Caffi

Piazza di San Pantaleo, 10 / Piazza Navona, 2 / 00186 Roma RM, Italy

NATIONAL MUSEUM OF CASTEL SANT’ANGELO

Once the tallest building in Rome, The Castle of the Holy Angel is an 1800-year-old museum, archeological site, and historic monument. The original structure was created as a mausoleum for Roman Emperor Hadrian, but has since been used as a defense fortress, dungeon, and now a museum and cultural venue. Visitors are able to browse the many rooms, exhibitions, and scenic courtyards. The museum displays the history of the castle through vintage prints and monuments while the castle exterior is decorated with divine sculptures. The fifth floor of the castle offers a terrace (The Angel Terrace) that overlooks a stunning view of Rome’s architecture. Additionally, there is the famous elevated passage (the Passetto di Borgo) that takes you right to the Vatican. To top it off, the Ponte Sant’Angelo connects the castle to the center of Rome where you’ll witness the Tiber River glistening amongst ancient Roman architecture as you walk across. This dreamy vision offers everything you could want from ancient Rome—architecture, history, archeology, and an incredible view.

The Pauline Hall

The Must-Sees: The Original Angel by Raffaello da Montelupo, View of the River Tiber by Rudolf Wiegmann, Archangel Michael by Peter Anton von Verschaffelt, frescos in the Room of Apollo, Madonna and Child by Luca Signorelli, and Room of Urns

Lungotevere Castello, 50 / 0019 Roma RM, Italy / 39.06.681.9111

CHURCH OF ST. LOUIS OF THE FRENCH

The Church of St. Louis of the French is the national church in Rome of France. It is located on a path between the Pantheon and Piazza Navona and is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, The King of France, St. Louis IX, and St. Denis the Areopagite. Its baroque style exterior features statues of St. Louis, St. Jeanne of Valois, and Charlemagne to demonstrate the church’s French homage while the interior is decorated with frescos and, most famously, Caravaggio paintings. Inside the Contarelli Chapel, located in the left corner of the church, is where three of Caravaggio’s paintings are found. Dating back to the 1600s, the paintings are centered around St. Matthew. The series includes The Calling of Saint Matthew (left wall), Inspiration of Saint Matthew (front and center), and The Martyrdom of Saint Matthew (right wall). The Polet Chapel, on the other hand, is known for its detailed frescos, “Histories of Saint Cecilia” by Domenichino. In addition to Caravaggio’s must-sees, the church includes works by Tibaldi, Francesco Bassano il Giovane, Giovanni Baglione, Antoine Derizet, and Cavalier D’Arpino. 

Life of Saint Matthew Series by Carravagio

The Must-Sees: Life of Saint Matthew Series by Carravagio

Piazza di S. Luigi de’ Francesi / 00186 Roma RM, Italy / 39.06.688271

MILAN, ITALY

Milan is the capital of Italian fashion, design, luxury, and aesthetics. From the gorgeous Gothic Revival and Renaissance architecture of the Duomo Cathedral, detailed collections in the Modern Art Gallery, and the uber-cool rotating exhibitions in the Mudec museum, it comes as no surprise that there is an abundance of art to discover when visiting. In addition to these itinerary classics, here are our Milano art-scene must-sees to include. 

Brera Academy is a public academy of fine arts located in Milan, Italy. Its art gallery, Brera Art Gallery, is technically independent of the academy but still affiliated as they share the same site in the Brera Palace. The palace’s baroque-style architecture is particularly impressive and reflects its 17th century origin. Founded in 1806 during the Napoleonic era, the palace gallery now houses many Italian sculptures, paintings, and classic collections from artists such as Raphael, Giovanni Bellini, Caravaggio, and Titian. There is much history surrounding the art, as paintings were originally relocated to Milan during the time when Napoleon suppressed many monasteries. This is an incredible place to explore the history of art, since the collection includes pieces from 4000BCE all the way through to the 20th century. 

Brera Art Gallery

The-Must Sees: The Marriage of the Virgin by Raphael, Pieta by Giovanni Bellini, Crucifixion by Bramantino, The Death of Cleopatra by Guido Cagnacci, Supper at Emmaus by Caravaggio, and Portrait of Count Antonio Porcia by Titian. 

Via Brera, 28 / 20121 Milano MI, Italy / 39.02.8695.5601

THE MUSEUM OF THE 20TH CENTURY

Located near Piazza del Duomo in Milan, the Museum of the 20th century is an art museum dedicated primarily to Italian art. The collection features over 400 Italian paintings, a room committed entirely to famed foreign artists, and sections on movements such as Post-Impressionism, Realism, Abstractionism, Novecento Italiano, and landscape. Foreign artists at the gallery include Picasso, Mondrian, Kandinsky, Matisse, Klee, and Braque. Other exhibits include a section on the Italian Futurists—a 20th century movement of art based on technology and industrialization—with works from Giacombo Balla, Umberto Boccioni, Luigi Russolo, Mario Sironi, and Guiseppe Pellizza da Volpedo. Additionally, there are some contemporary pieces from Andy Warhol, Frank Stella, Roy Lichtenstein, Daniel Buren, and Joseph Kosuth. The third floor focuses on Italian masters and informal work by them, including pieces by Alberto Burri, Gastone Novelli, Carla Accardi, Emilio Vedova, and more. The museum features a restaurant bar on its top floor, giving guests an incredible view of Piazza del Duomo.

The Museum of the 20th Century

The Must-Sees: Elasticità by Umberto Boccioni, Donne al caffè (Women at the Café) by Piero Marussig, The Fourth Estate by Giuseppe Pellizza da Volpedo, Wald Bau by Paul Klee, and States of Mind II: Those Who Stay by Umberto Boccioni

Piazza del Duomo, 8 / 20123 Milano MI, Italy / 39.02.8844.4061

FLORENCE, ITALY

What better way to explore art than in the birthplace of the renaissance itself. There is nothing quite like a visit to Florence to embrace everything the city has to offer: namely culture, cuisine, and an incredible collection of Italian art. Home to some of the world’s most famous pieces, there is no shortage of incredible options to explore. Besides stopping into some of the more obvious places: the Uffizi Gallery, Academia Gallery, or the Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore, as examples, consider somewhere slightly unheeded.   

LAURENTIAN MEDICI LIBRARY

Celebrated as an architectural work of art, The Laurentian Medici Library is one of Michelangelo’s famous Mannerism/Late Renaissance projects. The 16th-century library houses over 11,000 manuscripts, 4500 printed books, and many items from the private collection of the Medici family. The Medici family was an old aristocratic Italian family, known primarily for banking and politics. The library’s original construction was to strengthen the Medici family’s reputation as intellectuals. The library carries many ancient manuscripts including the Latin Bible and poetry from famed Greek poet Sappho. Messages are also reflected through the library’s architecture. One of the library’s most intriguing features is in theatrium. Many critics have analyzed the architecture of the room’s recessed columns to resemble aspects of the human body, otherwise known as the ‘ideal form’ during the Italian Renaissance. As such, the library hosts an abundance of literary history that speaks volumes today. 

Laurentian Medici Library

The Must-Sees: The atrium, staircase, reading room, the Nahuati Florentine Codex, Rabula Gospels, and Codex Amiatinus (earliest manuscript of the Latin Vulgate Bible)

Piazza San Lorenzo, 9 / 50123 Firenze FI, Italy / 39.055.293.7911

PARIS, FRANCE

Heading on a romantic getaway in Paris? Paris is an excellent destination to enjoy romance, culture, and an amazing pain au chocolat. Paris’ 19th-century architecture, cobble-stoned boulevards, quaint corridors, and beauty of the Seine are only some of the reasons why it is such an iconic global city. The Eiffel Tower and gothic Notre-Dame cathedral are visions of design and architecture that make Paris so classic. Art pros already know to stop by the Louvre, so let us suggest you take your ventures a step further by checking out these more out-of-the-box art spots.

JEU DE PAUME

Jeu de Paume holds A LOT of history—this Parisian arts centre focuses on modern and postmodern photography/media but was once an extension of the Louvre and Museum de L’Orangerie. It is located in the Tuileries Gardens next to one of the largest public spaces in Paris, Place de la Concorde. Throughout the museum’s history, it has featured an extensive amount of avant-garde art including the likes of Picasso, Braque, Matisse, Cassou, and Léger, and was once home to stolen art during the Second World War. Stolen impressionist and post-impressionist masterpieces from famous family collections, such as from the Rothschilds and David-Weills, were showcased here at one point in time. Though the pieces were returned to their homes post-war, there are many missing items such as a large Picasso piece and seven works of art from Matisse. With this turbulent history behind it, the museum acts more as an arts centre in modern times. Currently, there are many photography features with the most current exhibition being Masterworks of Modern Photography 1900-1940. This collection dives deep into 230 inter-war period images that depict art movements—such as Surrealism and Bauhaus, as examples—from Paris, New York and Moscow. Photographers such as Berence Abbott, Edward Weston, Claude Cahun are featured in this collection from Thomas Walther that is normally on display in New York.

Jeu de Paume

The Must-See: Masters of Modern Photography 1900-1940, The Thomas Walther Collection

Tuileries Garden 1 Pl. de la Concorde / 75008 Paris, France / 33.1.47.03.12.50

CARTIER FOUNDATION FOR CONTEMPORARY ART

Luxury conglomerate Cartier brings contemporary art into the forefront through their Parisian art museum. Originating in 1984 as a space to celebrate both renowned artists and young artists, the museum is now home to over 1500 different works of art. Housed inside the beautiful glass building, visitors will find contemporary pieces from French and foreign artists such as Jean-Pierre Raynaud, Vincent Beaurin, Pierrick Sorrin, Damian Pettigrew, Yukio Nakagawa, James Coleman and Thomas Demand to name a few. In addition to the collections, the garden is an included work of art. Commissioned by Lothar Baumgarten, it was created on the idea of providing the viewer with a glimpse into nature that is “calculated and wild”. This space is both tranquil but also thought-provoking to onlookers as they browse through. This museum is a great stop-in for those who want a unique experience that focuses entirely on modern art. 

Photo Courtesy of Ateliers Jean Nouvel

The Must-Sees: Cherry Blossoms by Damien Hirst, Sun Is Gone by David Lynce, Conceptual Forms/Mathematical Forms: Surfaces by Hiroshi Sugimoto, and Guerrier de verre by Alessandro Mendini

261 Bd Raspail / 75014 Paris, France / 33.1.42.18.56.50

VENICE, ITALY

Among the romantic canals, gondola rides and—of course, the Bellinis at Harry’s Bar, come opportunities to appreciate the artisanal qualities of the islands. Known primarily for Murano glass, Venice is a hub for artisanship, creativity, culture, and celebration. Small shops and cafes are found between the narrow, cobble-stoned roads with street performances, churches, and larger gatherings found in the larger (read: more crowded) public spaces such as St. Mark’s square. In midst of all that there is to enjoy, be sure to check out these suggestions for some art exploration. 

PEGGY GUGGENHEIM COLLECTION

Located on the Grand Canal in an 18th century palace is one of the island’s largest museums, featuring modern European and American art from Peggy Guggenheim’s personal collection. The palace was the American socialite’s home and includes a body of work from modern American artists, Italian futurist artists, and European artists in the realms of cubism, surrealism, abstract expressionism, and sculptures. Though she began collecting artwork much earlier on, it wasn’t until 1951 that she began to display her collections publicly. Guests will find pieces from Braque, Picasso, Max Ernst (Peggy’s once husband), Salvador Dali, Kandinsky, and many more. The museum also features long-term loaned items from the Gianni Mattiolo Collection, Boccioni, Russolo, Severini, Depero as well as the Rudolph and Hannelore Schulof Collection. This offers a glimpse into one of the world’s most intriguing personal art collections and is a definite must-see when in Venice. 

Peggy Guggenheim Collection

The Must-Sees: Landscape with Red Spots No 2 by Wassily Kandinsky, Au Vélodrome by Jean Metzinger, The Clarinet by Braque, The Poet and On the Beach by Picasso, The Kiss by Max Ernst, Study of a Nude and Men in the City by Léger, Birth of Liquid Desires by Dali, Blue Dancer by Severini, and The Solidity of Fog by Russolo

Dorsoduro, 701-704 / 30123 Venezia VE, Italy / 39.041.240.5411

FORTUNY PALACE

Art takes on a new form at Fortuny Palace—the previous atelier and home (now-turned art museum) of fashion designer Mariano Fortuny, who was a couture dressmaker from 1906-1946. The Palace exterior is a classic example of Venetian-Gothic style architecture while the interior boasts marble columns and intricate detail. The museum collection includes fabrics, lamps, stage lighting, wall hangings, as well as painting collections. The designer also dabbled in drawing, sculpting, engraving, photography, printed fabrics, and theatre costumes—which are evident throughout the museum showings. The painting collection features 150 originals by the designer who spent a great phase of his career focusing on art. Most notably, guests should not miss his light creations and lamps. This museum offers great insight into the art space in the context of fabric, fashion, and set design. 

Photo Courtesy of Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia

The Must-Sees: Paintings, Lighting, and Textile collections

S. Marco, 3958 / 30124 Venezia VE, Italy / 39.041.520.0995

GREAT SCHOOL OF SAN ROCCO

Here, you will find what is arguably some of the best work by painter Tintoretto. In sum, Tintoretto is to the Great School of San Rocco what Michelangelo is to the Sistine Chapel. He was commissioned to paint the walls and ceiling of the school, which took him approximately 24 years to do between 1564 and 1587. The school is a two-story building and religious centre that is full of 60 paintings that depict stories from the Old Testament (ceilings) and New Testament (walls). Other works found in the school are paintings by Titian, Palma il Giovane, and carvings by Francesco Pianta. This is an opportunity to see paintings in their original forms, which is a true gift considering what a rarity it is. Art enthusiasts who appreciate the blend of architectural design with the precision of painting will love exploring this space. 

Great School of San Rocco

The Must-Sees: The Grand Staircase: The Virgin Appears to the Plague VictimsThe Virgin Saves Venice from the Plague, Charity and Reason before the PoorScience and HistoryWealth and Peace, The Annunciation by Titian, The Visitation and Upper Hall/Sala Capitolare by Tintoretto

San Polo, 3052 / 30125 Venezia VE, Italy / 39.041.523.4864

BASILICA OF SAINT MARY OF HEALTH

Also known as The Salute (which literally translates to ‘health’ in Italian), the Basilica of Saint Mary of Health is a Roman Catholic ‘plague church’ because it was dedicated to the Saint of Health during the Plague. This eye-catching church is visible from Venice’s famous St. Mark’s Square as it is located near the Grand Canal. Its stunning baroque exterior exudes Venetian romanticism while the interior offers glimpses of Byzantine influence. The alters describe scenes by Luca Giordano such as Assumption of Our Lady, The Presentation of Our Lady in the Temple, and Nativity of Our Lady. Artist Titian worked throughout the Basilica with his ceiling paintings David and Goliath, Abraham and Isaac, Cain and Abel as well as other paintings near the altar. The Basilica’s dome is iconic on its own, representing the Virgin Mary and her womb. This site is an architectural and aesthetic vision that simultaneously combines architecture and visual art. 

Basilica of Saint Mary of Health

The Must Sees: Marriage at Cana by Tintoretto, The Descent of the Holy Ghost by Titian, The Queen of Heaven Expelling the Plague by Josse de Corte, and Pentecost by Titian 

Dorsoduro, 1 / 30123 Venezia VE, Italy / 39.041.274.3928

BARCELONA, SPAIN

Culture, art, and creativity are etched into the Barcelona’s design, and it is obvious upon immediate arrival—where, upon landing in the airport, you are welcomed by Miró’s mosaic. For one, it is impossible to plan a visit to Barcelona without including all things Gaudi on the itinerary. The Spanish architect’s legacy is reflected through the city landscape due to his signature Art Nouveau and modernist aesthetic found in many of the landmarks. We know you won’t miss all Gaudi’s greatest labors of love, but be sure not to skip out on these incredible spots as well. 

JOAN MIRÓ FOUNDATION

Spanish ceramicist, sculptor, and painter Joan Miró was known for pushing the boundaries of Surrealism into Fauvism and Expressionist styles of art. The foundation is a modern art museum that honors the painter’s legacy while also promoting young, new artists. The foundation features temporary exhibitions and academic projects, while also collaborating with other venues and organizations. The museum holds over 10,000 paintings, sculptures, drawings, designs, and carpets from the artist in addition to unique pieces by Peter Greenaway, Rothko, Saura, and Alexander Calder. Calder’s Mercury Foundation is a showstopper in particular. It is one of the world’s deadliest works of art as it is, quite literally, a fountain of liquid mercury. Not to worry, as the fountain is held behind glass to protect visitors from fumes. When you are spent from browsing all the art, you can grab a coffee from the museum’s cafe and head to the terrace for an amazing view of Barcelona.

Photo Courtesy of Joan Miró Foundation

The Must-Sees: The Mercury Fountain by Alexander Calder, and Couple d’Amoureux aux Jeux de Fleur d’Amandier by Miró

Parc de Montjuïc, s/n / 08038 Barcelona, Spain / 34.934.43.94.70

PICASSO MUSEUM

Picasso’s namesake museum in Barcelona houses one of the most extensive collections of the artist’s work. He lived in the city during his formative years as an artist, between the ages of 14 and 24. The museum opened in 1963 and was founded on a donation of 574 works by Picasso’s secretary, Jaime Sabartés. The permanent collection is divided into three sections of the artist’s work: ceramics, engravings, and his paintings/drawings. The setting alone —located in five stunning gothic mansions on Montcada Street, a once admired area during the Baroque and Gothic periods where many members of nobility used to live— makes it worth checking out. The ceramic collection alone holds over 41 pieces and was donated by Picasso’s wife Jaqueline. Picasso himself donated his 58-painting series Las Meninas where he re-interpreted the original Las Meninas by Diego Veláquez. With over 4,251 pieces to explore, this museum holds a colossal amount of art history. This is one you should consider carving out some serious time for.

Photo Courtesy of Picasso Museum
Photo Courtesy of Picasso Museum

The Must-Sees: The First Communion, Science and the Charity, and Las Meninas 

Carrer de Montcada, 15-23 / 08003 / Barcelona, Spain / 34.932.56.30.00

BARCELONA PAVILION

The Mies van der Rohe Foundation began in 1983 when the city of Barcelona rebuilt the iconic German Pavilion that the architect designed for the 1929 International Expo. The Pavilion became a standard for modern architecture, most notably because the design included materials such as red onyx, marble, and travertine. The modern theme extends to the interior of the building as well due to features of modern furniture, such as the Barcelona chair, that compliments the overall minimalist aesthetic of the architectural design. The foundation now commissions contemporary artists and architects to design installations for the building. Inside, visitors will find bright acrylic walls by architects Kazuyo Seijima and Ryue Nishizawa paired alongside intricate sculptures. Not only is the foundation and building a full presentation of Mies van der Rohe’s work and design influence, it is also a research center focusing on contemporary architecture. A perfect go-to for those that admire modern architecture and its blend with contemporary art. 

Photo Courtesy of Gili Merin

The Must-Sees: The Barcelona Chair

Av. Francesc Ferrer i Guàrdia, 7 / 08038 Barcelona, Spain / 34.934.23.40.16

BARCELONA MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART

Smack dab near the middle of Barcelona’s gothic centre is “the pearl”—the white, modern building that is home to the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary art. It is hard to miss, considering it is a far cry from the gothic architectural style that gives the city a world-renowned reputation. The museum initially began from an idea by art critic Alexandre Cirici Pellicer, who wanted a space for contemporary artists to show their work in 1959. Its modern exterior reflects the museum’s theme, focusing on over 5,000 works of contemporary, post-war art from the ’40s to the ’60s, ’70s, and onward. Some international art is present; however, a large sum of the work features post-1945 Catalan and Spanish artists. The museum also includes two halls and a 15th-century chapel as additions of the venue, featuring performances and installations in that particular space. 

Photo Courtesy of Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art

The Must-Sees: Other than the skateboarders outside of the space out front, some current exhibits include In Real Time: Rafael Tous Collection of Conceptual Art, Felix Gonzalez-Torres: The Politics of Relation, and SAMPLER #4: Things that Happen

Plaça dels Àngels, 1 / 08001 Barcelona, Spain / 34.934.12.08.10

COSTA BRAVA, SPAIN

Drive two hours north-west of Barcelona and you will find a quaint coastal town called Cadaqués. This fishing locale offers everything you’d need from a picturesque, European beach town: cobbled roads, white seaside buildings, a Mediterranean view, and charm. A 20-minute walk from Cadaqués brings you into a nearby village called Portlligat, where one of the world’s most hidden art gems remains. 

SALVADOR DALÍ HOUSE MUSEUM

Found in Portlligat, Spain, in a blend of 1930’s fisherman huts transformed into a mansion, is the original home of the legendary painter, Salvador Dalí. The Spanish Surrealist artist is known primarily for his exploration of subconscious imagery, with his most famed painting being The Persistence of Memory. You will spot the building from a mile away as the giant rooftop egg sculpture is impossible to miss. To Dalí, eggs represented the world, hope, and the perfection found in life, thus the sculpture is one great reminder of his ethos. If the giant egg isn’t a giveaway to his eccentric personality, the interior of his home certainly is. A necklace-adorned polar bear welcomes guests, and the interior boasts many surreal sculptures, unfinished paintings, a wall of photographs, and equipment used by the late artist. Each room has an unusual design and is a form of Dalí’s art that comes to life as you meander through. He lived and worked in this home until 1982, making this a unique experience and real life glimpse into the mind of one of the world’s greatest surrealist painters.

Photo Courtesy of Salvador Dalí House Museum
Photo Courtesy of Salvador Dalí House Museum

Platja / 17488 Port Lligat / Girona, Spain

DALÍ THEATRE-MUSEUM

Just 50 minutes away from the artist’s former home is the Dali Theater-Museum, designed by the artist himself, in his birth town of Figueres. Dali is buried in a crypt below the stage. The heart of the museum is the town’s theatre that Dalí knew as a child. It was here that one of the first public exhibitions of young Dalí’s art was shown. The museum displays the single largest and most diverse collection of works by the artist, the core of which was from the artist’s personal collection. In addition to paintings from all decades of his career, there are sculptures, three-dimensional collages, mechanical devices, and other curiosities from Dalí’s imagination. A highlight is a three-dimensional anamorphic living-room installation with custom furniture that looks like the face of Mae West when viewed from a certain spot. Dali once said, “I want my museum to be a single block, a labyrinth, a great surrealist object. It will be [a] totally theatrical museum. The people who come to see it will leave with the sensation of having had a theatrical dream.” And indeed, the museum achieves this and more.

Mae West Room

Plaça Gala i Salvador Dalí, 5 / 17600 Figueres / Girona, Spain / 34.972.67.75.00

NAPLES, ITALY

As one of Italy’s largest urban centers, Naples’s seaside allure can be mesmerizing. Its historic city centre is a UNESCO World Heritage Site; it has the highest-rated Michelin star restaurants, and has unarguably the world’s best pizza. There is as much antiquity to explore in the area as there are ancient ruins nearby—along with many Renaissance, Baroque, and medieval churches and castles. Once you have finished indulging in its legendary cuisine, walk it off with some of our favorite art stops.  

DONNAREGINA CONTEMPORARY ART MUSEUM

Among browsing the historic city center of Naples, you will find a museum located in the 19th century Palazzo Donnaregina. Admire the buildings detailed exterior in contrast to the bright coloured modern art found in the interior. The place houses unique temporary exhibits as well as permanent collections from artists Bruno Di Bello, Carl Andre, Carter, David Robbins, Ettore Spalleti, Franz West, George Brecht, Haim Steinbach, Judith Hopf, Lucio Fontana, Marina Abramovic, and others. Currently, visitors can explore the Utopia Dystopia exhibit that analyzes social changes from the last century, such as the industrialization, urbanization, and struggles related to freedom and body choice. Once finished browsing the museum, visitors can access the Donna Regina church adjacent to the building to explore further. 

Photo by Amedeo Benestante

The Must Sees: Current exhibit: Utopia Dystopia: the Myth of Progress Seen from the South curated by Kathryn Weir, Untitled by Mimmo Paladino, Dark Prussian: Blue Portal IV by Gianni Piacentino

Via Luigi Settembrini 79 / 80139 Napoli NA, Italy / 39.081.1997.8017

PIO MONTE DELLA MISERICORDIA

In the center of Naples is a church, The Pio Monte della Misericordia, which houses Caravaggio’s famed The Seven Works of Mercy. It was commissioned by the church’s brotherhood, a group of nobles, that wanted painters to create a visual expression of charity through art. Painted in 1607, The Seven Works of Mercy represents the Catholic “works of mercy” beliefs. The acts in the paintings represent each belief: bury the dead, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked, visit the sick, refresh the thirsty, visit the imprisoned, and feed the hungry. The image is particularly striking due to Caravaggio’s use of ‘chiaroscuro’, which is a strong contrast of shadow and light. The piece is an absolute vision of precision and detailed work that transcends beyond the image. German art historian Ralf van Bühren explains the light in the painting as a representation of mercy, suggesting to onlookers to discover “mercy in their own lives.” The church also includes paintings by Luca Giordano, Fabrizio Santafede, Carlo Sellitto, and Battistello Caracciolo. Head here if you consider yourself a fan of Baroque and Renaissance style Italian art—this church houses a piece you will never want to miss.

Photo Courtesy of Grafiluce L. Romano

The Must-See: The Seven Works of Mercy by Caravaggio

Via dei Tribunali 253 / 80139 Napoli NA, Italy / 39.081.446944

VARESE, ITALY

Varese is a city in northern Italy known for having stunning aristocratic villas, a charming atmosphere, and its proximity to Lake Maggiore. The Lake is both Italian and Swiss, where onlookers can expect incredible mountainous landscapes that make this region so unique. Varese is for those that crave nature’s beautiful hillside scenery along with the art and culture that only Italy can provide. When in town, perhaps on your way from Milan or Lake Como, be sure to visit Villa Panza. 

VILLA PANZA

This adorned 18th century white-stucco villa is an aesthetic dream. Surrounded by a signature Italian garden, this Varese mansion is now a venue and contemporary art museum—the lovechild of Giuseppe Panza di Biumo, a large collector of modern art, because the 50,000 square ft. building offered the perfect amount of space for him to display his gatherings. His 2,500-piece art collection is distributed amongst some of the world’s best contemporary art museums; however, around 10% of it remains in the villa for viewing. His Villa Panza collection includes pieces by Dan Flavin, Ruth Ann Fredenthal, Ford Beckham, David Simpson, James Turrell, and Robert Irwin. Included are Land Art installations on the property as well as an upscale restaurant, Luce. Works include renaissance furniture, pre-Columbian and African artifacts in addition to over 150 works by American artists. The villa offers a spacious art experience that blends luxury and Italian charm with a modern American art influence. 

Photo Courtesy of Fondo Ambiente Italiano

Piazza Litta, 1 / 21100 Varese VA, Italy / 39.0332.283960

RIVOLI, ITALY

Near the Italian-French border is Rivoli, a small town where medieval charm continues to runs rampant throughout the cobbled streets. Between the mom-and-pop style coffee shops, antique bell tower, and the House of the Green Count, Rivoli is prized for being home to the Castle of Rivoli. 

CASTLE OF RIVOLI MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART

This UNESCO World Heritage site offers a matchless experience that blends contemporary with antiquity. Housed in a formal 9th century royal residence is a leading contemporary art museum called the Castle of Rivoli. The castle is a previous residence of The House of Savoy, an ancient royal family that owned many buildings within the area during their reign from 1003 to 1946. The museum opened in 1984, focusing on curation, education, research, as well as a library and archives. It is also a wonderful spot for those that love performance, as visitors can occasionally find the museum hosting plays, concerts, and film festivals. Most recently, sculptor Giuseppe Penone donated 200 of his notes, sketches, and photographs. Another large collection by collector Cerruti came to the museum in 2017—displaying works by Andy Warhol, Picasso, Kandinksy, Modigliani, Francis Bacon, and Renoir. The permanent collection exhibits an admirable amount of contemporary art from the 1960s to current, in addition to installations and works from many Arte Povera artists. Many Italian and international artists such as Yang Fudong, Karel Appel, Stefano Arienti, Claudia Comte, and Franz Ackermann are featured, among many others. 

Photo Courtesy of Castle of Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art

The Must-Sees: Cerruti art collection, Svolgere la propria pelle – finestra by Giuseppe Penone

Piazzale Mafalda di Savoia / 10098 Rivoli TO, Italy / 39.011.956.5222

Editor’s Note: Some of the activities, hotels, and restaurants listed on our website may be currently closed due to Covid health restrictions. We urge you to check before visiting and to exercise caution and follow CDC guidelines if traveling or visiting any of our recommendations.