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A modern art guide to Europe

From avant-garde showcases in Berlin to the host city for the world’s most prestigious art fair, here are the best travel destinations for modern art lovers, according to global travellers.*

Berlin, Germany

The Hamburger Bahnhof is a former train station that now houses an extensive collection of modern art

The Hamburger Bahnhof is a former train station that now houses an extensive collection of modern art

For the best of Berlin’s contemporary art scene, start on Augustrasse and Linienstrasse for a number of galleries worth popping into. One of these, the spacious KW institute, was founded in the nineties by a group of dedicated young artists and continues to showcase promising up-and-coming art that’s often pretty avant-garde (entry is free on thursday evenings between 6 and 9pm). Then there’s the König Galerie – opened by another young enthusiast, Johann König, at the age of 21; housed in a Brutalist church, the space is filled with provocative and inspiring installations, such as Jeppe Hein’s ‘Impossible Physics’ (involving a wrecking ball that bashed into the gallery walls). For an extensive collection of work by established contemporary artists, try the Hamburger Bahnhof within a former train station, or the CFA in the heart of west Berlin. And finally, be sure to take a street art tour of the city’s most famous murals and street installations for a taste of the counterculture. Check into the CALMA Berlin Mitte just off Augustrasse.

Bilbao, Spain

Jeff Koons' giant 'Puppy' outside Bilbao's Guggenheim

Jeff Koons' giant 'Puppy' outside Bilbao's Guggenheim

The first stop in Bilbao for modern art lovers has to be the Guggenheim. Creatively interactive and filled with an internationally-renowned contemporary collection, it’s also surrounded by open-air sculptures by the likes of Salvador Dalí, Anish Kapoor and Jeff Koons (what’s not to love about the latter’s giant, flower-covered ‘Puppy’?). There’s also the Bilbao Museum of Fine Arts, in which you’ll discover some of Francis Bacon and Picasso’s finest works, amongst others. Stay in Hotel Miró, just opposite the Guggenheim.

Basel, Switzerland

Visit the Fondation Beyeler in Basel, designed by Renzo Piano. Photo: Mark Niedermann

Visit the Fondation Beyeler in Basel, designed by Renzo Piano. Photo: Mark Niedermann

Even if you’re not in town in time for Art Basel (a four-day, prestigious art fair held in June each year), this Swiss city is brimming with attractions for the modern art-lover. Visit the Fondation Beyer, a modern art museum set in a verdant park and showcasing work by Monet, Warhol and Van Gogh, before having a coffee in the delightful Reithalle Wenkenhof. Next up, the hallowed halls of the Kunsthalle, one of the city’s oldest galleries, which hosts a number of exhibitions by leading contemporary artists. For boundary-pushing stuff, try Balzer Projects or Stampa; the latter is a gallery that has propelled the likes of Marlene Dumas to fame and continues to champion innovative new artists. Stay in an artistic suite at the Nomad Design & Lifestyle Hotel, just around the corner from the Kunsthalle.

Rotterdam, The Netherlands

Rotterdam's Kunsthal is as celebrated for its linear exterior as it is for its thought-provoking exhibitions

Rotterdam's Kunsthal is as celebrated for its linear exterior as it is for its thought-provoking exhibitions

Despite being known as the Netherlands’ second city, Rotterdam has an ever-flourishing art scene that easily competes with Europe’s cultural behemoths. Open-air installations and constructions like the leaning Cube Houses designed by Dutch architect Piet Blom are dotted between revered institutions. Check out the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, with its astoundingly well-curated collection, and the Kunsthal, celebrated as much for its linear exterior as it is for its thought-provoking exhibitions. Just a 9-minute walk from the Witte de With Center, you’ll find rooms with eye-catching graphic wallpaper and port views at the Mainport Design Hotel.

St Ives, UK

The Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden is a St Ives must-see

The Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden is a St Ives must-see

This sleepy Cornish fishing town is home to one of the UK’s four most famous modern art museums, the Tate St Ives. Having undergone extensive refurbishment, the gallery recently reopened with a plethora of exciting new features including a roof garden and added learning spaces. Wander around the world-class exhibitions before having a cup of tea with scones and Cornish clotted cream in the café overlooking Porthmeor Beach. Another must-see while you’re in town is the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden; the late artist lived and worked in St Ives for the last 25 years of her life and many of her captivating bronze masterpieces are still in the positions in which she herself placed them. The Nook is just a short walk from Tate St Ives and a 5-minute stroll from the beach.

**These destinations were the most highly-rated in Europe by Booking.com customers for 'modern art'.