Europe is arguably the art capital of the world, but even within Europe, each country boasts of its own art capitals, from Madrid in Spain to Berlin in Germany, to Rome in Italy and Paris in France. However, while everyone is awash in Western Europe’s art scene, the Central and Eastern European art scenes can sometimes be overlooked. Here are some of Europe’s most underrated art capitals that deserve a second visit in your next travel itinerary.
Many people only know Bratislava as the butt of a joke in the 2004 film Euro Trip, which is unfortunate, considering that the Slovak capital is home to many intriguing and beautiful art galleries in Central Europe. Bratislava is home to the Slovak National Gallery, which houses an impressive collection of art from all over Slovakia and is housed in the beautiful neo-Renaissance Esterhazy Palace.
Bratislava is also me to one of Europe’s best-preserved historic Old Towns, with buildings and houses dating back to the medieval times. A walk through Bratislava’s Old Town works as a free art tour for travellers on a budget.
Istanbul is one of the most overlooked art capitals in Europe because it’s technically located at the border of Europe and Asia, with the beautiful Bosporus waterway bisecting the ancient city into its European and Asian sides.
Perhaps its most well-known landmark is the Ayasofya, or the Hagia Sophia. This cathedral-turned mosque was first built in AD 537 and served as the official cathedral of the Eastern Roman Empire (also known as the Byzantine Empire). It was then later converted into the imperial mosque of the Ottoman Empire and is now one of the crowning jewels of Turkey.
Prague is already well-known as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, but the City of a Hundred Spires actually has even more to offer the discerning traveler. Take a stroll down Prague’s Old Town and you’ll be rewarded with sights of the city’s oldest buildings, from the Estate Theatre where Mozart first unveiled Don Giovani and La clemenza di tito, to Prague’s ancient City Hall and the iconic St. Vitus Cathedral.
But for contemporary art fans, just head on down to Prague’s 7th district, where you’ll find a large concentration of contemporary art galleries, coffee shops, and the Academy of Fine Arts. Here you’ll find some of Czechia’s most talented and up-and-coming artists and students displaying their artwork and elevating the local Prague art scene even higher.
Also known as the “Paris of the East”, Budapest deserves to be known for its own right: from the beautiful architectural marvel of the Széchenyi Chain Bridge to the Gothic Cathedral-like House of Parliament, the Hungarian capital is perhaps one of the most underrated art capitals in Europe. Budapest is home to both medieval architecture and hipster theatres, contemporary art galleries and historic monuments, all set within the backdrop of a city that has retained most of its heritage and culture throughout the ages.
Fun fact: Budapest is home to one of the world’s most beautiful Mcdonald’s, which was built in an old section of the Gustave Eiffel-designed Nyugati Pályaudvar train station. It’s also home to Hungary’s largest indoor market, the Great Market Hall, which was built in 1897.