From thousand-year-old shrines to cutting edge contemporary art, the world is home to some truly astounding cities to kickstart your creativity. But how to choose? We’ve rounded up the 50 best cities in the world for arts and culture taking into account the number of museums, galleries, cultural attractions and heritage sites, the range of arts and cultural venues and the most visited attractions in the world. Each of these cities offers masterpieces aplenty, as well as ample opportunity to soak up culture and find inspiration.
The best cities in the world for arts and culture in 2022
50. Austin (United States)
The ‘live music capital city of the word’, Austin is one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States. It’s home to more than 30 museums, including the Blanton Museum of Art and Texas State History Museum, as well as 64 theatres and 250 live music venues. The city is rich in talent too, and thanks to its burgeoning creative scene, it recently became part of UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network.
49. São Paulo (Brazil)
São Paulo boasts more museums than any other country in Latin America, with 110 dotted across the city. Cultural heavyweights include the Museu de Arte Moderna, Museu de Arte Contemporânea and Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo and Pinacoteca, home to works by everyone from Portinari to Picasso.
48. Guangzhou (China)
Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong Province, was once known as the manufacturing capital of the world, but it has bold plans for its arts and cultural offering over the next few years. With a history stretching back over 2,200 years, the city already has two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, 15 national museums and dozens of galleries, including the Guangzhou Museum of Art. By 2035 authorities are aiming to have increased the number of museums fivefold too.
47. Oslo (Norway)
This compact cultural city is home to some of Norway’s best-loved galleries and cultural institutions. Edvard Munch and Henrik Ibsen have been the city’s poster boys for over a century, but there’s plenty of contemporary culture to dive into too. In fact, in the past few years, several high capital projects have kicked off the city’s cultural scene, like the Deichman Building, the Bjovika cultural quarter, the Munch Museum and the National Museum. Today, the city boasts 11 national museums, 52 art galleries and 8,485 historical and heritage sites.
46. Edinburgh (Scotland)
Edinburgh might not be very big compared to some of the other entries on our list, but it packs a supersized cultural punch within its city walls. Famous for its historic architecture and unique topography, it’s home to superstar museums like the National Museum of Scotland and the National Gallery of Scotland, 12 major festivals every year and a rich literary tradition dating back to the enlightenment. The Old Town and New Town are both UNESCO World Heritage Sites too.
45. Lagos (Nigeria)
Nigeria’s largest city Lagos is home to a thriving cultural scene, with top billing arts institutions such as the Centre for Contemporary Art, the Didi Museum and African Artists’ Foundation. It’s also one of the world’s fastest-growing cities, with a lively arts scene on both the streets and behind the doors of its celebrated institutions. Currently, there are 14 theatres, 54 cinemas, 51 art galleries and 12 museums dotted across the city.
44. Zurich (Switzerland)
This culturally vibrant city is an international hub for arts and sciences, and its cultural institutions are some of the most forward-thinking in the world. Renowned venues include the Schauspielhaus, the Opera House, and the Tonhalle, as well as more than 40 museums, such as the Museum Rietberg and Museum Haus Konstruktiv. Film and theatre are big here too. Every year thousands flock to Zurich to get involved with renowned festivals like Theaterspektakel and the Zurich Film Festival.
43. Cape Town (South Africa)
Home to 580 heritage sites, 35 art galleries and 14 national museums, Cape Town’s cultural offering is as diverse as it is abundant. The city also boasts a handful of design districts, home to institutions such as the Freeworld Design Centre and the Mutual Building in the CBD, and Etafeni Centre in Nyanga.
Singapore is on a mission to become a global cultural centre and has been ploughing investment into the rejuvenation of national buildings, historic spaces, theatres, museums and galleries. It’s working. Each of its 72 historical and heritage landmarks, 225 art galleries, UNESCO World Heritage Site and six museums reflect the city-state’s rich, multicultural history and identity.
41. Dublin (Ireland)
For a city spread across just 115 sq. km, Dublin punches well above its weight when it comes to arts and culture. There are 5.3 cultural attractions per sq. km. The Irish capital offers at least 62 museums, as well as 51 public libraries, three universities and 52 art galleries. Cultural highlights include the Hugh Lane Gallery, the National Gallery of Ireland, the Irish Museum of Modern Art and the National Concert Hall. The city boasts a proud literary heritage too, including the likes of James Joyce, Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw, to name a few.
40. Warsaw (Poland)
While Warsaw’s history dates back to the 12 century, the city has reinvented itself so many times that it’s acquired the nickname ‘Phoenix City’. Famed for its diverse architecture spanning medieval market squares and post-WWII socialist-realist tower blocks, it’s also home to cultural treasures such as the Warsaw Rising Museum, the National Museum and The Fryderyk Chopin Museum. The Historic Centre of Warsaw is UNESCO-listed too.
39. Vienna (Austria)
Vienna is home to countless world-class art collections, including one of the largest collections of Gustav Klimt’s paintings in the world, but music really put this cultured capital on the map. Hayden, Mozart, Beethoven, Mahler, Schubert, Brahms and Strauss all lived and worked here, and you can see many of their masterpieces at one of the city’s 26 theatres and 7 sprawling concert halls, plus the renowned Renaissance Revival State Opera House. There are over 100-odd museums dotted around the city too.
38. Johannesburg (South Africa)
Johannesburg is home to a whole host of cultural attractions, from downtown Newtown all the way to Soweto. The city is home to three theatres, four major concert halls and 281 heritage sites.
It’s also home to more than 76 art galleries, including the Johannesburg Art Gallery – the largest art collection in the country. Every year, the annual city-sponsored Arts Alive festival and Johannesburg Carnival celebrates the city’s diverse heritage too.
37. Osaka (Japan)
Japan’s second city is home to dozens of world-class museums and galleries. Seamlessly blending traditional culture with cutting-edge contemporary arts and architecture, it’s home to some of the country’s leading museums. It’s where you’ll find the National Museum of Art, the Osaka Museum of History and the City Art Museum.
It’s also one of the world’s leading cities in terms of cultural attractions, with a hefty 1,798 to its name. To put that into context, Milan has 1,480 and Barcelona has 1,321.
36. Lisbon (Portugal)
Home to 78 art galleries, five major concert halls and 44 museums, Portugal’s colourful capital city is a big hit with music, art, theatre and history buffs. It’s home to distinctive art forms, such as fado – a musical style – and ceramic tiles, as well as cutting-edge design and contemporary art. It boasts three UNESCO World Heritage Sites and 312 historical sites too.
35. Toronto (Canada)
Toronto played an important cultural role throughout the 20th century as English Canada’s centre of commerce, media and arts, but it really kicked off after World War II with new infrastructure, theatres, galleries, museums and festivals popping up across the city to tell Canada’s story. Today, it’s home to 76 museums and 433 art galleries, like the Royal Ontario Museum. It’s a worldwide centre of film too, particularly well-known for the Toronto International Film Festival.
34. Brasília (Brazil)
This architectural and cultural gem is home to a variety of museums and galleries dedicated to preserving art, such as the National Museum of the Republic, the Chamber of Deputies art collection and the Cultural Complex of Samambaia. Design is a particular forte, with a calendar of events featuring notable names such as the Salão Brasil Criativo – Design & Negócios, the Capital Fashion Week, the Senai Brazil Festival, the Brazilian Graphic Design Biennial and the JAM Nerd Festival.
33. Helsinki (Finland)
This Nordic creative hub is home to over 100 art galleries, 76 museums and over 20 performance art spaces. Some of its best-known museums and galleries include the Ateneum, the Amos Rex and the Helsinki City Design. It’s not all behind closed doors either. Local law mandates that 1% of building costs are dedicated to art, so there are over 500 sculptures, monuments and artworks sprinkled across the city. June 2021 saw the first-ever Helsinki Biennial too. The event draws creatives from across the world to explore the city’s artistic landscapes through digital artworks, performances and virtual reality experiences.
32. Berlin (Germany)
Berlin is home to a varied and rich art scene. Cultural offerings range from long-standing institutions such as the Gemäldegalerie and Alte Nationalgalerie to alternative spaces like the East Side Gallery, a 1.3 km section of the Berlin Wall featuring murals by over 100 artists. There are more than 50 theatres sprinkled across the city, including the Friedrichstadt-Palast, which is the largest in Europe.
31. Montreal (Canada)
Often referred to as ‘Canada’s Cultural Capital’, Montreal is the country’s centre for French-language art, design and dance. There are 72 galleries, 66 museums and 275 heritage sites dotted around the city.
Cultural heavyweights include the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, the DHC/ART and Place des Artes. It also boasts world-renowned dance troupes, with homegrown companies like the Grand Ballets Canadiens.
30. Bogota (Colombia)
Bogota became a UNESCO City of Music and Creative City in 2012 thanks to its rich and vibrant music scene. The city hosts over 60 annual music festivals, including the world-famous “Festivales Al Parque”. It’s also renowned for its arts – particularly performing arts and audiovisual arts. There are currently 44 art galleries and 77 museums across the city, ranging from the mainstream National Museum to the more unusual Museo del Oro.
29. Hong Kong
This cosmopolitan and outward-looking city boasts a vibrant cultural sector. The West Kowloon Cultural District (WKCD) is the city’s flagship cultural quarter with a series of world-class performing arts venues and museums. There are also four major concert halls, 55 theatres, 111 art galleries, 57 cinemas and 39 museums peppered across the city. As well as preserving traditional Chinese culture, the city prides itself on its innovative arts programs. For example, XCHANGE: Social Gastronomy project uses the arts to reduce the city’s enormous volume of food waste.
28. Barcelona (Spain)
Barcelona is home to Gaudi’s greatest hits, including the soaring La Sagrada Familia, Park Güell and the psychedelic La Pedrera. The city boasts 1,321 world-leading attractions, including the Museo Picasso, which houses over 3500 works by the 20th-century icon. The city is also renowned for its contemporary art, music and dance scene.
27. Sydney (Australia)
Sydney boasts a vibrant arts and culture scene. The UNESCO World Heritage-listed Sydney Opera House is right in the thick of the action but there’s more to see of the city’s cultural scene, not least 79 museums and 107 galleries. The Art Gallery of NSW and Museum of Contemporary Art Australia are two of the country’s most important cultural spaces. Both host major events and exhibitions from the world’s leading artists throughout the year. There’s also a myriad of private galleries, like the Olsen Irwin and Sherman Contemporary Art Foundation, to explore too.
26. Nanjing (China)
One of China’s four ancient capitals, Nanjing has been a cultural centre for intellectuals and artists for centuries. The Ming and Qing dynasties’ most famous poets and artists worked here, and today, many of the country’s leading art groups are based in the city. These include the Qianxian Dance Company, Nanjing Dance Company, Jiangsu Peking Opera Institute and Nanjing Xiaohonghua Art Company. The city boasts 40 museums, over 500 heritage sites and 85 art galleries, including the Jiangsu Art Gallery – the region’s largest gallery.
The Nanjing Museum was one of the world’s top 20 visited museums in 2019 and 2020, with 1.51 and 4.17 million visitors respectively.
25. Melbourne (Australia)
Sydney might have the Opera House, but everyone knows Melbourne is Australia’s creative capital. Its narrow lanes are brimming with galleries, arts institutions and live music. There are at least 162 art galleries around the city, including the National Gallery of Victoria, Australia’s oldest gallery, and the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art. There are also 2,765 historic and heritage sites to explore too.
24. Brussels (Belgium)
This multicultural and multilingual capital doesn’t just consider itself a ‘city of culture’, but a ‘city of cultures’. There are over 313 art galleries, ranging from the Royal Museum of Fine Arts and the Musée Fin-de-Siècle to the ADAM Brussels Design Museum and Foundation A Stichting. Prominent historic and industrial buildings are being transformed into major cultural spaces, like the Kanal Project.
23. Chengdu (China)
Chengdu is best-known for its giant pandas, but it’s home to an array of cultural treasures too. There are over 150 museums across the city, including Du Fu Cottage and the Museum of Contemporary Art. It’s also home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites and burgeoning fashion industry. The city is well on track for its ‘Plan for Building Western Cultural Creativity 2022 too. The ambitious plan is setting out to become one of China’s most important creative and cultural hubs, home to 100 globally influential designers and 200 new museums.
22. Mexico City (Mexico)
The fifth-most populous city on earth, Mexico City boasts a thriving food, fashion, arts and design scene. In 2018, the World Design Organization named Mexico City its ‘World Design Capital’. The city is brimming with museums (over 150), world-class art galleries (over 200) and renowned dedicated art fairs, like the Zona Maco.
21. Stockholm (Sweden)
With 83 museums, Stockholm has one of the highest numbers of museums in the world. Amongst these is the Moderna Museet, an early patron of modern and pop artists including Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Andy Warhol. Other cultural attractions include Fotografiska, which attracts over 500,000 visitors every year. The Vasa Museum, Scandinavia’s most visited museum, houses the world’s only preserved 17th-century ship.
20. Florence (Italy)
Florence may have had her moment during the Renaissance, but five centuries later the crowds keep coming – and for good reason. It’s compact but still manages to pack in 72 museums, eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites and dozens of fresco-adorned baroque churches within its city walls. Over 2 million visitors hotfoot to the renowned Uffizzi Gallery every year, to see works including Botticelli’s celebrated Birth of Venus. Over at the Galleria Accademia, you can get up close to Michelangelo’s famous marble man, David.
19. Moscow (Russia)
Russia’s capital city is home to some of the country’s greatest cultural treasures, from the Bolshoi Ballet to the Kremlin. The Ministry of Culture manages a whopping 500 institutions at 1,000 sites across the city, from museums and art schools to libraries and amusement parks. There are 261 museums to explore (almost as many as Paris), as well as 24 national museums, over 4,000 historical sites and three UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
18. Washington D.C. (United States)
For a crash course in American History, you can’t get much better than Washington D.C. As well as its iconic monuments like Lincoln Memorial, it’s home to more than 75 museums. These include some of the country’s most prestigious institutions, like the Smithsonian Institution, the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the Renwick Gallery. Both the National Gallery of Art and the National Museum of Natural History made it into the top 20 visited museums in 2019 and 2020, with over 10 million visitors combined. You’ll also find some of America’s most prestigious venues, like the National Theatre and the Folger Stage.
17. Los Angeles (United States)
Los Angeles is the global capital of the entertainment industry – and the city has an arts scene to match. It’s home to 219 museums, including renowned institutions such as the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, The Broad and The Getty, major concert halls, plus an array of exhibitions and music festivals such as LA/LA. Unsurprisingly, practising artists make up most of the city’s creative workforce, making for a rich and diverse arts scene.
16. Amsterdam (Netherlands)
Amsterdam is small, but it’s home to a staggering 144 museums and 196 art galleries. Blockbuster sights include the Anne Frank Museum, the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum. Some of the world’s most prolific artists and thinkers once lived here, including Rembrandt and Descartes, but its contemporary art scene is bustling too. In the past 15 years, 25 renowned institutions have popped up. It’s home to four UNESCO World Heritage Sites too, including The Canal Ring.
15. Milan (Italy)
Milan may not have a 1,000-year-old arena or the Vatican City to its name, but it’s a strong contender as one of Italy’s most vibrant cultural cities. Once known as an industrial powerhouse, today it’s better known for its arts, culture and creativity. The city is home to 90 museums, including the newly opened Mudec-Museum of Cultures, 800 heritage sites and 190 art galleries. Blockbuster sights include the Duomo Cathedral, Castello Sforzesco and da Vinci’s ‘The Last Supper’ at Santa Maria delle Grazie.
14. San Francisco (United States)
San Francisco is renowned as the centre for American counterculture and one of the highest number of artists and arts organisations per capita in the United States. In fact, cultural tourism generates around $1.7 billion for the city per year. It’s home to 132 museums and over 50 art galleries, including renowned institutions like the SFMOMA and de Young Museum. Art is everywhere though, from the Mission murals to those highly Instagrammable heart sculptures.
13. Rome (Italy)
The Trevi Fountain, the Capitoline Museum and the Colosseum… Is it any wonder that Italy’s colourful capital is also one of the world’s most impressive cities for art and culture vultures? While the city itself is often described as an ‘open-air museum’, and the entire historic centre of Rome is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, there are 83 museums to duck into too. In fact, in 2019 and 2020, the Vatican Museums was the sixth most visited museum in the world, with over 8 million visitors.
12. Buenos Aires (Argentina)
Buenos Aires is best known as the land of the tango, but its cultural assets extend well beyond performance. There are 132 museums and 124 art galleries dotted around the city, as well as 371 heritage sites. In 2005 it became the first-ever UNESCO City of Design too. The city boasts striking architecture and diverse city neighbourhoods such as Arts District in La Boca, Audiovisual District in Palermo, Design District in Barracas and Technology District in Parque Patricios. It’s well-known for its festivals too – there are more than 80 spread throughout the year.
11. Taipei (Taiwan)
Taipei is the cultural and creative heart of Taiwan and home to around a third of the country’s creative industry. The National Palace Museum is one of the best collections of Chinese art and antiquities in the world, with nearly 700,000 items. Unsurprisingly, it’s one of the top 20 most visited museums in the world, with over 4.5 million visitors in 2019 and 2020. There are some 131 museums and 198 art galleries located across the city, including the National Museum of History and the Taipei Museum of Contemporary Art. It’s well known for nurturing emerging creative talent too and has put ‘design thinking’ at the heart of its urban planning.
10. Istanbul (Turkey)
Sitting on the boundary point between two continents, Istanbul’s history dates back over millennia, with hundreds of museums, galleries and archaeological sites to prove it. Home to at least 1,984 leading cultural attractions, visitors hotfoot here to see superstar sites like the Hagia Sophia and the Topkapi Palace Museum. It’s not all ancient history though, with everything from twirling Whirling Dervishes and the Istanbul Biennale to its subversive contemporary art and film scene.
9. Shanghai (China)
It’s a global centre for finance, business and economics, but Shanghai is also a thriving, dynamic hub for arts and culture. The city is home to 120 museums, including one of the world’s most visited museums – The Shanghai Science and Technology Museum, which received close to 6 million visitors in 2019 and 2022. It’s also home to 770 private and state-owned art galleries, including the Shanghai Art Museum the Power Station of Art (a converted former power station) and the World Expo Museum.
8. Beijing (China)
The National Museum of China is one of the world’s most popular museums, with over 9 million visitors in 2019 and 2020. The China Science Technology Museum is the 19th most visited museum in the world, with close to 4.5 million visitors in 2019 and 2020. Beyond these two blockbuster sights, there are seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites, over 50 museums, ancient Chinese art collections and sprawling 20th contemporary art enclaves.
7. Madrid (Spain)
This cultural powerhouse is rich in museums, art galleries and heritage sites. The Reina Sofia is one of the most visited museums in the world (8th), with over 5.5 million visitors in 2019 and 2020. Meanwhile, the Museo Nacional del Prado ranked as the 14th most visited museum in Europe. It’s home to a wide variety of cultural institutions too. These range from the Prado Museum, home one of the world’s most prized collections of European art, to the Matadero de Madrid, a transdisciplinary space dedicated to performing arts, music, visual arts and design.
6. St. Petersburg (Russia)
Widely viewed as Russia’s cultural capital, St. Petersburg is home to some of the world’s largest and most impressive art collections. In 2019 and 2020, close to six million people visited The Hermitage Museum to explore its 17,000 item collection, making it the 13th most visited museum in the world. Other cultural heavyweights include the Peter and Paul Fortress, the State Russian Museum and St. Isaac’s Cathedral. It also boasts over 100 theatres, including the renowned Marinsky Theatre, home to the world-famous Mariinsky Ballet.
5. Seoul (South Korea)
Seoul is fast becoming one of the world’s cultural capital. Some of the world’s most famous galleries are flocking to the Korean capital, including Frieze, König Galerie, and MCM Haus. Beyond the international names, there are 244 regional art galleries, 201 museums, three UNESCO listed heritage sites and a whole host of acclaimed festivals to dive into too. With the city in the midst of a creative renaissance, now is the time to visit too. Major new cultural landmarks are coming to the fore every year, like The Oil Tank Culture Park.
4. New York (United States)
NYC’s arts and culture scene need no introduction, it’s one of the most iconic in the world. It’s home to a staggering number of institutions, including 2,219 leading cultural attractions, 140 museums, over 1,500 art galleries and 637 theatres. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the city’s biggest hits and one of the world’s most popular museums, averaging over 6.5 million visitors every year. But the whole city is full of free art too. Just take a stroll along the High Line, Central Park or Cadman Plaza and you’ll encounter dozens of photographs, murals and sculptures.
3. London (UK)
When it comes to art and culture, London caters for every taste. The city boasts a handful of the most visited museums and galleries in the world, including Tate Modern (over 7.5 million visitors 2019/2022), British Museum (7.4 million visitors 2019/2022), National History Museum (6.5 million visitors 2019/2022) and the National Gallery (7.3 million visitors 2019/2022). The city is home to 192 museums, 478 art galleries and over 3,700 leading cultural attractions. Plus, it’s been the inspiration for everyone from Shakespeare, Orwell and Dickens to Banksy, The Stones and Amy Winehouse.
2. Tokyo (Japan)
This superstar city is home to over 8,800 leading cultural attractions, 618 art galleries and 297 museums. Steeped in a deep and vibrant history of arts, Tokyo is renowned for its historic shrines, performing arts and world-class venues. Blockbuster sights include the Tokyo National Museum, the Imperial Palace and the National Museum of Nature and Science.
1. Paris (France)
Paris is packed with world-class art, much of which is on show at the world’s most popular museum, the Louvre. Close to 10 million people visited the museum every year pre-pandemic for the chance to get up close to Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, the iconic Venus de Milo, and more. Beyond the Louvre, it’s home to close to 300 museums (the most in the world) and 1,142 galleries. Famed for culture on all fronts – fashion, cinema, historic monuments, dance music and art – it’s attracted the world’s brightest minds, artists and writers for centuries, and it shows little sign of ever slowing down.