5 of the best alternative art cities

For travellers planning a culture-focused adventure, as hubs of human creativity, cities are the best place to start. From Milan to Riyadh, Budapest to Shanghai, the world abounds with buzzing metropolises, each offering something unique in the cultural sphere. Some cities function as living galleries in themselves through city-wide street art or award-winning architecture. Others offer artistic ways to explore history and culture, from immersive exhibitions to forward-thinking initiatives. But whichever you choose, you’ll find inspiration on every corner. Here are five of the best.

1. Budapest 

For a burgeoning street art scene
Art takes to the streets in the vibrant Hungarian capital. Here, city walls act as a canvas for many homegrown and international artists to make their mark, whether through political messages, murals or tributes to beloved figures and concepts. Street art first appeared in Budapest’s Jewish Quarter as it began to rebuild after the devastation of the Second World War. Though the art form has now spread well across the city, the Rubik’s cube and Refugee Girl in the Jewish Quarter remain iconic works to get you started, both large, colourful murals that are sure to draw you in. Then, join a street art walking tour, or create your own, passing the city’s infamous ruin bars and bustling restaurants as you take in the work of urban collectives such as Neopaint and Színes Város — who fund and support artists and commission works to keep the city full of colour.

2. Milan

For a journey through fashion history
Milan’s fashion heritage dates back to its days as an important trading hub, when rich merchants would bring luxurious fabrics to the city and hone their bartering skills in its streets. The area’s fashion-forward reputation was later cemented by design icons such as Giorgio Armani, Dolce & Gabbana and Versace, all of whom grew their brands here. It’s easy to plan an artisanal tour taking in contemporary fashion houses, modern art galleries, historic cathedrals and neoclassical architecture as you go. 

To immerse yourself in couture culture, head to the Quadrilatero d’Oro neighbourhood. Marvel at the gilded interiors of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II arcade and browse the wares at the world’s first Prada store, first opened in 1913. Then, venture south to take in an exhibition at the Armani Silos or the Fondazione Prada — the latter is hosting the ‘Wes Anderson – Asteroid City: Exhibition’ through until 7 January 2024. 

3. Shanghai

For a modern insight into an ancient past
With a rich past that lives on in art and architecture, Shanghai has long been a magnet for both home-grown and international creatives. But today, it’s the way the traditional temples blend into the surrounding modern metropolis that continues to captivate visitors. Begin with a wander through the warren-like streets of the original Old City, taking in the 600-year-old City God Temple and the nine-bend Jiu Qu Qiao Bridge. Then, make for the Shanghai Museum, where more than a million artifacts — including ancient sculptures, ceramics and calligraphy — are on display.

The city also has a burgeoning modern art scene, partly due to the success of the forward-thinking Shanghai Bienniale. The newly developed West Bund area of the Huangpu River is swiftly becoming a prime destination for contemporary art, with galleries including the Shanghai Centre of Photography and the West Bund Museum. And you can invest in culture yourself at the Shanghai Art Fair, taking place 16 to 19 November 2023.

4. Copenhagen

For award-winning architecture
Design is woven into the skyline of the Danish capital. Copenhagen’s architecture has been awarded many accolades over the years, including UNESCO World Capital of Architecture 2023. Today, many of the city’s most popular itineraries centre on these eye-catching aspects. The harbourfront Copenhagen Opera House sports a neo-futuristic style while the Black Diamond Royal Library and the Bicycle Bridge punctuate the skyline with their distinctive designs.

Danish icon, Arne Jacobsen, was a pioneer of modernist architecture in the city and his legacy lives on in the Radisson Collection Royal Hotel, Copenhagen. Sat opposite the Tivoli Gardens, this stylish spot was designed by Jacobsen back in 1960. Spiral staircases, Egg and Swan chairs and the iconic room 606 — a testament to Jacobsen’s original interiors — make it a perfectly preserved time capsule of mid-century modern design.

5. Riyadh

For creative vision 
Saudi Arabia’s largest city has actively positioned itself as a global destination for creative travellers and to this end, it has established the Riyadh Art initiative. The first public art project of its kind in the country, Riyadh Art aims to transform the city into a ‘gallery without walls’ through public art installations, festivals and workshops. 

Visit in winter and you’ll see the city sparkle under the lights of Noor Riyadh, the world’s largest light art festival. This year’s event, running from 30 November to 16 December, will be the third annual iteration, with works by over 120 local and international artists illuminating 40 locations around the city. An accompanying exhibition will take place in Riyadh’s Jax district until March 2024. Also in progress, under the Riyadh Art umbrella, are a sculpture park, the Hidden River art trail and a number of impressive installations within the city’s public transport infrastructure.

This paid content article was created for Radisson Hotel Group. It does not necessarily reflect the views of National Geographic, National Geographic Traveller (UK) or their editorial staffs.

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