Exclusive Cultural Experiences
Art, music and architecture lovers could spend a lifetime visiting the world’s top cultural venues. Here are 14 unique experiences to add to the top of your travel list, from Friday night jazz at the LA Country Museum of Art to a backstage visit to Versailles.
Bankside, London SE1 9TG, UK
It’s impossible to ignore the hulking 1950s architecture of the Tate Modern, slap-bang in the middle of the most-walked part of the South Bank. A visionary refurb of this former power station has resulted in an artistic behemoth with multiple gallery spaces (containing both free exhibitions and ticketed exhibitions), including the fantastic Turbine Hall for oversize installations. Outside, the Millennium Bridge leads over the Thames to the City and the great domed St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Place d'Armes, 78000 Versailles, France
Without a doubt Versailles is the most luxurious palace in Europe, built to astound visitors and impress the king’s subjects into awed submission with crystal chandeliers, gilt, and fine art. This opulent monument is also attractive to those with simpler tastes: Visitors with green thumbs will love the king’s kitchen gardens while others may want to rent bicycles to pedal the lavish grounds, and animal lovers will enjoy the sheep, goats, and chickens receiving the royal treatment at the queen’s quaint hamlet. La Petite Venise, an excellent restaurant on the grounds, offers garden seating on sunny days.
Rue de Rivoli, 75001 Paris, France
This former royal palace is one of the largest museums in the world, and its art collection is considered one of the most comprehensive. It contains around 400,000 works, although—mercifully, perhaps—not all are on display at any one time. There are some pieces that never get taken off the walls. The Mona Lisa and her smile attract millions of visitors each year. Other must-see masterpieces include the sculptures Winged Victory of Samothrace and Michelangelo’s Rebellious Slave, and the Eugène Delacroix painting The Death of Sardanapalus. There’s no real trick to avoiding crowds at the always-packed museum. The best you can do is try to go in the off-season, early or late in the day, and on a weekday. Your chances of being alone with the Mona Lisa will still be slim to none, but you might be able to actually see that enigmatic smile behind the Plexiglas.
1 Rue de la Légion d'Honneur, 75007 Paris, France
Small enough to get around without being overwhelmed, the Musée d’Orsay is a favorite stop in Paris not just for its size but for its collection of Impressionist, Postimpressionist, and art nouveau art. Perfectly set in the center of the city, on the banks of the Seine, and opposite the Tuileries Gardens, the museum is housed in the former Gare d’Orsay, a railway station that was built for the Universal Exhibition of 1900—so the building itself could be seen as a work of art. The extraordinary collection spans art created in the period between 1848 and 1914.
14 Rue Bonaparte, 75006 Paris, France
Paris’s most prestigious fine arts school resides in what remains of the 17th-century Couvent des Petits-Augustins, the 18th-century Hôtel de Chimay, some 19th-century additions and some chunks of assorted French châteaux that were moved here after the Revolution (when the buildings briefly served as a museum of French monuments, before becoming the art school in 1816). The entrance is on quai Malaquais.
1000 5th Ave, New York, NY 10028, USA
The Metropolitan Museum of Art—or, commonly, the Met—is one of the world’s great museums, alongside the Louvre, the British Museum, and a handful of others. It would be easy to devote an entire week’s visit to the museum alone, and realistically you probably won’t get far beyond a few exhibitions and galleries at one shot. The Costume Institute’s temporary shows are always popular, while others will (like the museum itself) focus on a range of regions and periods—at any one time there may be temporary exhibitions on an Italian Renaissance painter, miniatures from Mughal India, and Polynesian carvings. The Temple of Dendur, a roughly 43' x 21' x 16' temple that dates to around 15 B.C.E. and was given by the government of Egypt to the United States in 1967, is one of the museum’s most photographed (and Instagrammed) works. The 34 period rooms, including a 12th-century cloister, English parlor and a Shaker “retiring” room, are among the museum’s other highlights. On summer evenings, site-specific installations make the rooftop terrace is a favorite place for drinks. The general admission of $25 for adults, $12 for students, and $17 for seniors is a suggested one for New York residents, as well as students from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. Whatever you pay also includes same-day entry to The Met Cloisters.
99 Margaret Corbin Dr, New York, NY 10040, USA
The Cloisters, a museum devoted to medieval art and architecture, is a delightful respite from the hustle and bustle of NYC. This tranquil treasure is definitely worth a half day (or more) trip on your next visit. A branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Cloisters opened in 1938 and is located in Fort Tryon Park in northern Manhattan. Perched on a towering cliff, the museum offers commanding views over the Hudson River to New Jersey and the George Washington Bridge. The buildings include elements from medieval sites from Europe (primarily France) and renowned artwork includes the Unicorn Tapestries and the Annunciation Triptych, but the heart of the museum is the cloistered garden. This lush space consists of an interior courtyard surrounded by covered walkways. The flowering garden within invites contemplation and appreciation of a different time. The Cloisters includes a broad terrace with expansive views across the Hudson. The view is so prized that in 1901, J.P. Morgan purchased 12 miles of the New Jersey coastline to protect it from excessive quarrying and in 1933 John D. Rockefeller, Jr. donated 700 additional acres of NJ to preserve The Cloisters’ view. Be sure to include time in your visit to explore beautiful Fort Tryon Park.
Gl Strandvej 13, 3050 Humlebæk, Denmark
If you’re visiting Copenhagen, don’t miss a visit to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. It’s an easy 1/2 hour train ride from the city followed by about a 10 minute walk. Everything about our visit was excellent but a highlight is spending time in the sculpture garden which overlooks the Sound (and you can see the coast of Sweden in the distance). This is a great outing with kids. The children’s wing does a fantastic job of creating interesting ways for the kids to plug into modern art and the museum. On our visit there was a sculpture garden detective kit where kids had to seek out certain sculptures and examine different aspects and make some discoveries. Our kids loved it and it kept them engaged -- and it allowed me to leave them with my husband while I viewed the galleries in peace. There is also a great winding slide near the children’s wing that they spent a lot of time on. At the end of the day we got a bite to eat and and a glass of wine (for the adults) on the terrace overlooking the Calder sculpture garden and the Sound. Don’t miss the gift shop with lots of great modern design items to tempt you.
1380 Sherbrooke St W
The city’s largest museum, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (Musée des Beaux Arts) is actually a collection of five different buildings—or pavilions, to use their term—each one with a particular focus. The original 1912 Beaux Arts structure houses the institution’s ancient art collections. Across the street, the modernist Desmarais Pavilion displays contemporary works, both from the museum’s permanent collection and visiting exhibitions. The Claire and Marc Bourgie Pavilion, located in a former church, is focused on Canadian art. The Liliane and David M. Stewart Pavilion has exhibits on decorative arts and design. Finally, in 2017, the new Pavilion for Peace opened to house a remarkable bequest from two of Montréal’s leading collectors, Michal and Renata Hornstein, with 750 works by everyone from Old Masters (Tintoretto, Veronese, Brueghel, and Rembrandt) to contemporary artists. Museum fatigue will almost surely set in if you try to explore all the pavilions in one visit. If time allows, you may want to return more than once during your stay in Montréal. The museum’s Wednesday evening hours make this easier, with all the pavilions open till 9 p.m. and half-price admission after 5 p.m.
5905 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036, USA
Encyclopedic is one way to describe L.A.’s oldest art institution. Sprawling is another. The Los Angeles County Museum of Art opened in its current Miracle Mile location in 1965 and has not stopped growing, becoming the largest museum in the western United States. Its 135,000-piece collection spans 6,000 years of art. It also includes some of the museum world’s most photographed outdoor sculptures, such as Michael Heizer’s mind-boggling Levitated Mass and Chris Burden’s Urban Light. The museum hosts some 40 exhibits per year, plus a dynamic schedule of events, such as Tuesday film matinees and picnic-friendly Jazz at LACMA (held weekly on “summer” weekend nights—which in L.A. means April to November). While anyone can join free tours throughout the day, docents also lead customized experiences for a fee, which will take you through the galleries before or after hours to marvel at artists as wide-ranging as Henri Matisse, Ai Weiwei, Diego Rivera, and Catherine Opie. Kids are also catered to with a special gallery, Sunday activities, and a free membership, which includes entry for them plus an adult guest any day of the year. Pro tips: Plan to spend several hours at the museum, fueling up on wood-fired pizza midway through the day at Ray’s & Stark Bar. And if you’d like to experience the outdoor sculptures without the crowds, go early in the morning or on Wednesdays, when the museum is closed and gloriously quiet.
6 Piazzale degli Uffizi
Ideally you’d have a whole day to appreciate the world’s foremost collection of Renaissance paintings, housed in the 16th-century headquarters of the Medici court. But for those with less time, highlights include the three great Maestà altarpieces in Room 2, Gentile da Fabriano’s glowing Adoration of the Magi (Rooms 5 and 6), Piero della Francesca’s Duke and Duchess of Urbino (Room 7), Fra Filippo Lippi’s ethereal Madonna and Child with Two Angels (Room 8), and the celebrated Botticellis in Rooms 10 to 14. Advance booking is advised.