By Alix O’Neill
This article first appeared in our September/October 2016 issue.
A thriving creative scene, unrivaled gastronomy and joie de vivre – here’s our pick of the world’s most vibrant cultural hot spots.
London, United Kingdom
Tired of London, tired of life, the saying goes, but with four Unesco World Heritage sites and three of the top 10 museums and galleries in the world to its name, it is unlikely you’ll tire of the British capital anytime soon.
Best for Performing arts – London reportedly has the biggest theater audience of any city in the world.
Don’t miss The nine-day, multi-venue London Design Festival will feature talks, events and large-scale installations. September 17-25. (londondesignfestival.com)
Where to stay Inspired by the glamour of 1920s cruise liners, the Mondrian London at Sea Containers on the South Bank is the first hotel designed by renowned British creative Tom Dixon. Each room has a Jackson Pollock-esque drip painting by the designer. The Mondrian London is a short walk from Tate Modern (tate.org.uk) and is working with the art gallery on a Georgia O’Keeffe exhibition, running until October 30.
Room to book The 1,200 sq ft River View Apartment boasts enviable views of London’s leading landmarks.
Price From $1,510 per night
No serious list of cultural capitals would be complete without the addition of the City of Light. A hub of art, fashion and gastronomy, the French capital, with its handsome boulevards, world-class galleries and chic boutiques, never fails to charm.
Best for Shopping – for avant-garde clothing and accessories, it has to be Leclaireur on rue de Sévigné (leclaireur.com) while fans of Isabel Marant (isabelmarant.com) should pay a visit to the designer’s original boutique on rue de Charonne.
Don’t miss The Paris Autumn Festival (festival-automne.com) is a celebration of contemporary arts until December that will include over 40 events in theater, music, dance and film.
Where to stay After almost four years, the renovation of the Ritz is finally complete. It was worth the wait. The iconic hotel is now home to the world’s first Chanel spa. The nearby Place Vendôme is packed with historic monuments, not to mention several haute couture and high-end jewelry stores.
Room to book The seriously stylish Suite Coco Chanel.
Price From $28,130 per night
New York, USA
It’s the energy that sets the Big Apple apart from its competitors. This is a city that continually reinvents itself. From avant-garde theater and improv comedy to cutting-edge galleries and an experimental culinary scene, creativity abounds in the city that never sleeps.
Best for Novelty. There is always something new and exciting happening in NYC, such as experimental art and theater or unusual food fusions.
Don’t miss Open House New York (ohny.org) takes place October 15-16. During the annual weekend-long festival, a number of normally off-limits historic buildings, landmarks and architectural masterpieces will open their doors to the public.
Where to stay Located on 53rd Street and Fifth Avenue, opposite MoMA, the delightfully lavish Baccarat arrived on the scene last year and is the place to rest your head in Midtown. Striking displays include handmade glassware (some 15,000 pieces), as well as an eclectic collection of French artworks, carefully curated by Frédéric Chambre.
Room to book The Baccarat Suite, for floor-to-ceiling windows, dining and butler’s areas, walk-in closet and a bathroom indulgently stocked with La Mer beauty products.
Price From $15,800 per night
St Petersburg, Russia
If it’s romance you’re after, Russia’s former imperial capital won’t disappoint. The sense of history is palpable and the grand baroque and neoclassical architecture provides an antidote to Moscow’s Stalinist high rises.
Best for Ballet and opera – the magnificent 19th-century Mariinsky Theater (mariinsky.ru) has hosted the premieres of numerous masterpieces.
Don’t miss Erté: an Art Deco Genius is the first Russian exhibition devoted to the artist. At the State Hermitage Museum (hermitagemuseum.org) until September 18.
Where to stay Situated on Nevsky Prospekt, a short walk from the Hermitage, the Belmond Grand Hotel Europe exudes old-school elegance. A shot of vodka at the caviar bar is just the ticket after a day’s sightseeing.
Room to book The Kandinsky Suite, named after the abstract Russian artist, includes 24-hour butler service and views of the city’s Philharmonic Hall.
Price From $4,800 per night
Containing the greatest concentration of the world’s most important artworks, Florence is, unsurprisingly, a cultural hub – around 16 million tourists visit annually. The Uffizi Gallery is home to masterpieces, such as Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus and Caravaggio’s Bacchus.
Best for Renaissance art.
Don’t miss The first exhibition dedicated to Ardengo Soffici opens at the Uffizi Gallery on September 26.
Where to stay Florence’s key attractions are within easy walking distance of the St. Regis. As well as a sumptuous spa, the hotel offers art lovers a bespoke experience with access to the most exclusive museums and private collections in the city, plus dinner at the hotel’s Michelin-starred Restaurant Winter Garden.
Room to book Modeled on the grand Medici court, the majestic Royal Suite boasts antiques and a balcony with vistas of the Arno river. Butler service is included.
Price From $11,250 per night
In terms of artistic wealth, Venice may not be a match for Rome or Florence, but for aesthetes and romantics, no other city compares to La Serenissima. Getting lost in the meandering streets is a joy, as is sampling the local seafood. For works by Canaletto, Bellini and Titian head to Galleria dell’Accademia, gallerieaccademia.com
Best for Palaces and piazzas.
Don’t miss The oldest, most prestigious celebration of cinema on the planet, the 73rd Venice International Film Festival. Running until September 10, head to the Palazzo del Cinema on Venice Lido to mingle with the stars or purchase a ticket online (labiennale.org) for one of the public screenings.
Where to stay George and Amal Clooney spent their wedding night at the 16th century palazzo Aman Venice. Arrive in style by boat and prepare to be wowed by the opulent interior – Murano chandeliers, a rococo ballroom and trompe-l’oeil grand staircase.
Room to book The stunning 18th century frescoes are reason enough to check into the 1,108 sq ft Alcova Tiepolo Suite, but the suite also boasts marble fireplaces, a view over the garden terrace, a living room with writing desk and armoire with personal bar.
Price From around $4,500 per night
The imperial capital of Japan for more than a millennium, Kyoto today remains home to some 1,600 Buddhist temples and 400 Shinto shrines. The pace of life in the birthplace of tea ceremonies is far removed from futuristic Tokyo – think Zen gardens and a still-active geisha culture. The city also has a thriving modern art scene.
Best for Gastronomy – after Tokyo, Kyoto has the greatest number of Michelin-starred restaurants in the world.
Don’t miss Kabouku Tearoom (ippodo-tea.co.jp/en) where you can learn how to brew different types of green tea – there are more than 40 varieties to choose from.
Where to stay There are several luxury western hotel chains in Kyoto, but for an authentic taste of Japanese culture, it has to be Hoshinoya. Traditional-style houses cling to a lush mountainside that tumbles down to a river, the property, which is reached by a cedar boat, is a welcome respite from city life, yet just 15 minutes from the urban center.
Room to book The minimalist two-story Tsukihashi maisonette provides views of the river and the maple-tree forest, which is ablaze with scarlet and crimson leaves during autumn.
Price From $770 per night
Few places are as visually arresting as Rome. History stops you in your tracks at every turn. It’s easy to stumble across the Pantheon or the Roman Forum without even trying, which is why the Italian capital is a great city to explore on foot. The Vatican and Sistine Chapel are essentials, but the real beauty of Rome can be found outdoors amid its ancient ruins.
Best for Classical architecture.
Don’t miss Rome Film Festival (romacinemafest.it) which starts on October 13.
Where to stay New kid on the block, The First Luxury Art Hotel Roma is a boutique property of just 29 rooms, located a 10-minute walk away from the Spanish Steps and the boutique-lined Via Condotti. Inside the beautifully restored 19th-century townhouse is a contemporary art-gallery vibe – over 150 works by both established and up-and-coming artists are on permanent display here.
Room to book The Jacuzzi Suite View includes a private terrace with its own Jacuzzi and a luxurious marble-clad bathroom filled with Ortigia toiletries.
Price From $962 per night
Madrid is a favorite among art lovers – the city boasts three world-famous galleries; the Museo Nacional del Prado, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía and Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, all showing the work of creative geniuses, such as Dali, Picasso and Goya. The nightlife is also a huge draw, with lively bars and clubs.
Best for Impressionist artwork and surrealism.
Don’t miss Bosch: The Centenary Exhibition, which is at the Prado (museoprado.es) until September 11.
Where to stay The Prado is a 10-minute stroll from Hotel Urban Madrid, but there’s ample visual stimulation in this striking property. A mix of Art Deco elements and South Pacific artifacts, the design is unashamedly bold. There’s even a museum dedicated to Papua New Guinea in the basement. We love the luxurious rooftop pool with Cenia marble flooring.
Room to book The duplex Loft Suite has a 13ft-high window with views over Carrera de San Jerónimo.
Price From $1,000 per night
Istanbul’s confluence of Eastern and Western culture is the secret to its appeal. Where else can you dine at celebrated global Italian chain Cecconi’s to the sound of the muezzin? Artistic treasures from the Byzantine and Ottoman empires are all around, but the city has so much more, with museums, such as Istanbul Modern, showing the work of contemporary Turkish artists.
Best for Ancient mosques. Don’t miss Haggling in the Grand Bazaar.
Where to stay From the rooftop terrace of the Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet, the views of the city, including the Bosphorus, Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque, are hard to beat. The interior is decorated in the Ottoman style with modern comforts.
Room to book Featuring works by local artisans, three balconies and a kitchenette with pantry, the Marmara Suite offers sanctuary from the city’s frenetic pace.
Price From $3,900 per night