Photo by Shutterstock
Photo by Brendon Campos
Art meets nature at Brazil’s Instituto Inhotim, home to one of the largest collections of contemporary art in the country.
From a Japanese art island to a creative colony among ancient olive groves in Israel, these are the global art towns, big and small, we’d happily visit.
New York, London, Paris, Berlin, Los Angeles, Florence, Miami Beach, Hong Kong, São Paulo—these cities are all home to blockbuster art markets, creative superstars, and museums as famous as the works they house. We love these places, but we also love art destinations outside of the art-world orbit: places with an air of mystery, a whiff of a pilgrimage, a winking nonconformity, a love of experimentation, and a tight-knit sense of community.
Read on for 10 great destinations, big and small, art lovers should bookmark for their next vacation.
In the heart of Aarhus, Denmark’s second-largest city and one of its oldest (dating to the 8th century), a colossal rainbow ring rises above the city. This is artist Olafur Eliasson’s installation, Your Rainbow Panorama, a walkway circling and capping the ARoS Art Museum, itself a jewel among Aarhus’s many cultural institutions. The museum is home to another art colossus, the crouching Boy sculpture by Australian artist Ron Mueck, and it hosts collections of Danish art from the 18th century to today, as well as the work of international artists. Art lovers can wander among pieces by London-based, British-Palestinian Mona Hatoum, known for her probing and glowing installations; Japanese photographer Miwa Yanagi; and New York–based Tony Oursler, who has been innovating video and installation art since the 1970s.
In Aarhus, self-dubbed “Smilets By” (Danish for “City of Smiles”) and the “World’s Smallest Big City,” ARoS is just a jumping-off point for a smørrebrød (smorgasbord) of art destinations and happenings. Spiral out from the museum and see the city’s famous modern architecture, such as The Iceberg, a seaside apartment building that lives up to its name, and the grass-covered Moesgaard Museum. We love Charlotte Fogh Gallery, a Danish and international contemporary art gallery; the Højkant art collective and design shop full of cheeky creations; and the intimate PS Art Gallery and studio in a green, half-timbered, 17th-century home in the city’s Latin Quarter.
Juxtapose all this contemporary art and design with Den Gamle By (The Old Town), an open-air folk museum comprised of 75 historic buildings relocated from across Denmark, cobbled streets, and Danes dressed in period clothing baking bread and chopping wood. You can eat an actual smørrebrød here, as well as fried fish and frikadeller (Danish meatballs).
Brumadinho is home to the Xanadu of the art world: the Instituto Inhotim, a contemporary art museum and sculpture park in a 346-acre private botanical garden founded by mining magnate and art patron Bernardo de Mello Paz.
Celebrating 15 years in 2021, the institute is one of the largest outdoor art spaces in the world, placing hundreds of giants of the art world alongside thousands of giants of the plant world, from octopus agave to ponytail palm and swamp cypress. The garden hosts more than 700 works by 60 artists, including Brazil’s own beloved boundary-defying Hélio Oiticica. As Oiticica intended, visitors can walk through his Magic Square #5 (1977), a colorful abstracted “public plaza” built of cement, glass, and stone. You could spend weeks wandering the grounds, a crash course in modern and contemporary large-scale art, studying the likes of Elisa Bracher’s eucalyptus and cedar wood Embrionário, going tête-à-tête with Paul McCarthy’s Pinocchio Block Head, gazing through Olafur Eliasson’s mirrored Viewing Machine, and falling in love with your own reflection at Yayoi Kusama’s Narcissus Garden Inhotim, 750 stainless steel orbs bobbing in a reflecting pool.
While the garden is the main draw, Instituto Inhotim has many noteworthy pieces in its indoor gallery as well, such as the blue-and-white tile room Celacanto provoca maremoto by Adriana Varejão, the sci-fi-inspired plant and mirror maze structure Vegetation Room Inhotim by Cristina Iglesias, and the enforested glass geodesic dome by Matthew Barney.
There are several places to eat across the sculpture park and the institute has many recommendations for nearby lodging, including Villa Rica, decorated with local art, or Villa Domaso, surrounded by lush nature.
Rising from the Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, with Table Mountain as a backdrop, is the world’s largest museum devoted to contemporary African art: the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, commonly known as Zeitz MOCAA. First things first, the museum itself is a marvel, a towering structure revamped from the historic Grain Silo Complex with an interior that looks like an abstracted concrete-and-glass honeycomb.
Zeitz MOCAA is home to works by some of the continent’s leading artists such as Athi-Patra Ruga and Mary Sibande of South Africa, Njideka Akunyili Crosby of Nigeria, Ghada Amer of Egypt, and Nandipha Mntambo of Swaziland. The permanent collection also includes works by artists of the African Diaspora, like Kehinde Wiley and Frohawk Two Feathers, both of the U.S.
But Cape Town was an artist’s haven long before the arrival of MOCAA in 2017. The Woodstock neighborhood alone, with its pink town hall, is home to several renowned galleries dedicated to contemporary African artists including SMAC, Goodman Gallery, Stevenson Gallery (all of which have sister galleries in another top South African art destination, Johannesburg).
Cape Town is also delightfully crowded with public art, such as Es Devlin’s installation Zoetrope at the Waterfront and Arch for Arch, a woven wooden structure next to St. George’s Cathedral that honors Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The organization Baz Art hosts the annual International Public Art Festival, which in 2021 focused on painting murals in the Salt River neighborhood. There are also several art road trips worth taking from the Cape. Drive inland through mountainous wine country (many of the vineyards you’ll pass have their own fantastic art collections) to Stellenbosch, an oak-lined university town packed with art studios and the awe-inspiring Dylan Lewis Sculpture Garden.
Legend has it that Henri Matisse said the quality of light is just different—magical—in Collioure, a laidback and ancient fishing town on the French Mediterranean 15 miles from Spain. Matisse and André Derain would summer here and become the first fauves (French for “wild beasts”), leaders of fauvism, the early 19th-century art movement known for its bold colors and brushstrokes, an unruly descendent of Impressionism. Matisse’s famous Open Window (1905) and Derain’s Fishing Boats (1905) were painted here, among many more fauvist works.
Collioure’s very petit harbor still captures the brilliant sunlight, bouncing off a 13th-century castle and fortress and layers of mismatched pastel buildings that look like scoops of gelato along the water. Visitors can see the town through the artists’ perspectives along the Chemin du Fauvism, which features both empty bronze frames that outline the views of their most famous canvases, as well as reproductions. The Maison du Fauvism offers guided tours.
Keep cool with an actual scoop of gelato—countless gelaterias line the streets and try a bite of Catalan fare at Le Neptune overlooking the bay or the Templiers restaurant and hotel, a cozy spot with a bar made from a ship hull and walls lined salon-style with paintings.
Within hilly olive groves, tucked between the Mediterranean sea and Mount Carmel, is Ein Hod, a small artist colony established in 1953 by artist Marcel Janco, one of the founders of the avant-garde dada movement, which formed in reaction to World War I. Legend has it that Janco toured Israel, sketchbook in hand, and stumbled across the then-abandoned village and found it could be the perfect refuge for artists.
Today Ein Hod, 12 miles south of Haifa, has about 650 residents—mostly painters, sculptors, jewelers, architects, and artisans—and the landscape is dotted with their handiwork: outdoor bronze sculptures (look for Couple in a Sardine Can by Ben Levy), murals, studios, galleries, and workshops that offer classes for visitors. See the abstract colorations of Miriam-Ruth Sernoff Frohlich at the Sernoff-Frohlich Gallery Of Fine Art, the soulful book art of Nechama Levendel at the Karoyan Gallery, and the work of many locals under one roof at the Artists Gallery Ein Hod.
This tiny bohemian enclave is also home to two museums, the Nisco Museum of Mechanical Music and the Janco-Dada Museum, created in 1983 to honor the work and vision of the colony’s founder. This museum features the restored stone-arch studio of Janco and the DadaLab, where museumgoers can try their own hand at creating the absurdist, convention-defying art that defined this movement. Since 1990, Ein Hod has hosted an international Sculpture Biennale, inviting artists to install large-scale works outside amid ancient olive trees.
You can eat with the locals in one of the village’s classic stone buildings at Café Ein Hold. While larger hotels are available in nearby Haifa, Ein Hod itself offers a handful of quaint and eclectic apartments for rent, many with views of the Mediterranean.
Looking out from the Berriedale peninsula onto the River Derwent is the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA), or as founder—businessman, art collector, and high-stakes gambler David Walsh—calls it: a subversive adult Disneyland.
MONA is as irreverent as its benefactor, its website describing the museum’s everchanging identity as a “really elaborate marketing stunt” and “somewhere people can come to say ‘not sure about the art but the architecture is amazing.’”
And many are not sure about the art: MONA has the work of some of the biggest shock jocks of the art world: Hermann Nitsch’s bloody 6-Day-Play videos and Wim Delvoye’s stinking waste machine that is Cloaca Professional, to name a few.
Regardless of your take, the museum has helped put Hobart’s art scene on the map, bringing deserved attention to other art spaces like the Art Mob, which specializes in Tasmanian and Australian aboriginal art by the likes of Queenie McKenzie and Dennis Nona. Across the harbor are the contemporary fine art Despard and Handmark galleries, the latter of which is part of the bustling Salamanca Arts Centre, a transformed warehouse space home to several galleries and exhibition spaces, a theater, and the jewelry and metal collective Hammer & Hand, as well as public art such as We Are Made of Stardust by Michaela Gleave and Escape Pod by Colin Langridge. Stay in the neighborhood at the Henry Jones Art Hotel, which features contemporary art by Tasmanian artists in its rooms.
Leading ceramics artists and students worldwide travel to Jingdezhen, China, the “Porcelain Capital of the World,” where the ruins of ancient kilns meet contemporary factories and galleries. For more than 1,700 years and many imperial reigns, kilns have been firing in this hilly city of Jiangxi province along the Chang River, where ceramic masters have innovated technologies to produce the most coveted china, such as the emblematic blue and white pottery developed during the Ming Dynasty.
The stunning Jingdezhen Imperial Kiln Museum—shaped like ancient kilns in red brick, and the Jingdezhen Ceramic Industry Heritage Museum, help put the expansive history of this art industry in context. The industry, however, is alive and well today, cultivating the next generation of ceramicists at the renowned Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute and employing 30,000 people at outfits like the Porcelain Sculpture Factory in the Eastern suburbs or in the nearby Sanbao International Porcelain Art Village filled with artist studios and workshops. The Pottery Workshop, run by artist and curator Caroline Cheng, is an education center and hub for young artists in Jingdezhen, known as jingpiao. Every Saturday morning, the jingpiao sell their wares—traditional pottery, jewelry, contemporary art—at the Pottery Workshop Creative Market.
Countless ceramic artists and designers have their practices in the city such as Cheng herself, plus Wan Liya, Juz Kitson, Lin Wang, Robin Best, and Ryan LaBar. Walk down the Taoxichuan, known as the Ceramic Art Avenue, to peak into studios, galleries, and markets, and try some classic Jiangxi fare such as Lushan San Shi and fish banquets. The Fairfield by Marriot Jingdezhen hotel is near many of these attractions, and there are a handful of gorgeous Airbnb options.
There is a string of tiny flecks of land in the Seto Inland Sea that are teaming with museums, architectural marvels, and art installations. Naoshima, commonly referred to as Japan’s art island, home of the Benesse Art Site, leads the pack. Here, massive sculptures such as Lee Ufan’s Porte vers l’infini (2019) and Beatriz Millhaze’s Yellow Flower Dream (2018) dot the landscape creating a fine art playground. (Until recently, one of Yayoi Kusama’s massive pumpkin sculptures sat on a pier before a typhoon swept it out to sea. Benesse Art Site is in the process of restoring it.)
Then there are the museums and galleries: the mind-bending subterranean Chichu Art Museum designed by architect Tadao Ando housing works by Claude Monet and James Turrell; the Benesse House Museum, which melds a hotel and exhibition space with nature (with a restaurant serving kaiseki meals that rival the art for presentation); the kooky art facility Naoshima Bath where—you guessed it—visitors can take a bath surrounded by the artwork of Shinro Ohtake; and the Miyanoura Gallery 6 in the site of a former pachinko parlor once popular with islanders.
If you’re willing to island hop, head to Teshima to see large-format paintings in the Teshima Yokoo House (named for artist Tadanori Yokoo) and Inujima for an art museum housed in a old copper refinery.
One of the oldest cities in the U.S. (older than the country itself, with a founding date of 1607) Santa Fe and its iconic pueblo architecture encompass many art scenes and histories, from the vast indigenous collections of the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) to the electro-pop experiences of Meow Wolf to the storied career of Georgia O’Keeffe who was so deeply influenced by the New Mexico landscape.
Housed in a historic Peublo Revival-style post office downtown, the IAIA’s Museum of Contemporary Native Arts stewards the National Collection of Contemporary Native Art, featuring 9,000 artworks created since 1962 including pieces by legends such as George Morrison, Helen Hardin, and Fritz Scholder. From here, walk past the Santa Fe Plaza to the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum to see up-close and personal Black Hollyhock Blue Larkspur (1930), Pelvis IV (1944), and Spring (1948), among others. O’Keeffe fans can stay at the Abiquiú Inn, next to the The O’Keeffe Welcome Center housed in the artist’s former home and residence.
Around Canyon Road, you’ll find 80-plus galleries including Turner Caroll Gallery—whose international roster of artists includes Judy Chicago, Wanxin Zhang, and Swoon; Nedra Matteucci Galleries with its renowned sculpture garden; and the art collective and gallery Cielo Handcrafted, with goods including stoneware ceramics, leather totes, and silver jewelry.
Down Cerrillos Road, follow the neon glow of Meow Wolf’s House of Eternal Return, an “explorable art experience,” a sort of dayglo haunted house with more than 70 immersive rooms.
About 50 miles northwest of Cabo San Lucas on the Baja California peninsula lies the bohemian Todos Santos, oft-compared to a young Taos and one of Mexico’s “Pueblos Mágicos” (magical villages), a designation given to places that have preserved their original architecture, traditions, history, and culture. Surrounded by Mexican cardon, the tallest cacti in the world, and azure water where whale sharks pass, Todos Sontos is also home to a thriving artist enclave. February is a prime month to engage the local art scene with the annual weeklong Festival del Art and Todos Santos Open Studio Tour. However, visitors can stroll the old-town cobblestone blocks fluttering with papel picado year-round to see what artists are up to.
A great place to start is La Sonrisa de la Meurta, an international gallery and workshop (with a sister location in Belgium) featuring graphic arts—from limited-edition prints to card decks to handkerchiefs—printed by young and emerging Mexican artists. Nearby (everything is nearby in Todos Santos) are the Galería Arturo with Mexican artist Arturo Mendoza Elfeo’s whimsical impasto and textured canvases, and Galería Logan, featuring American expat Jill Logan’s dreamy swirling canvases in sunbaked colors. For a historical perspective, stop by the Centro Cultural, housed in a red-brick former school with revolutionary murals dating back nearly a century.
The Hotel San Cristóbal makes for a chic home base in town, while Paradero Todos Santos could be your cultural retreat at the intersection of desert, mountains, and Pacific coast. At the hotel, and beyond, order any fish dish: Todos Santos began as a fishing town and fisherman still take their little panga boats out daily.
Sign up for the Daily Wander newsletter for expert travel inspiration and tips
Please enter a valid email address.
more from afar
Frank Lloyd Wright Homes, Farm Stays, Glamping Sites—Airbnb’s New Search Categories Feature These Cool Listings