Art without the queues


By Elle Blakeman for High Life magazine

The Mona Lisa at the Louvre, Paris © Matej Kastelic / Alamy

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September 2016

Visiting Europe’s most popular museums and art galleries can often mean battling tourist traffic before a swift selfie with a masterpiece. Elle Blakeman unveils six art destinations where you can avoid the queues and escape the crowds, from Zurich to Munich.

Prague for fine art

The lowdown

Among its historic architecture, Prague boasts more than 20 major museums, yet queues are rare. It has one of the most interesting Jewish Quarters in Europe, and the mix of cultures over the years has produced a rich spectrum of artistic expression. “Prague’s fine arts are often outshone by its outdoor brilliance,” says McDonaugh, “But the right guide will take you to truly epic canvases, evocative expressionism, and slices of the best of everything – it’s European civilisation at its most fertile.”

Ones to see

St Vitus Cathedral features exuberantly colourful stained glass from the early 20th century, including panels by Alfons Mucha, one of the city’s greatest artist sons. The stunning Sternberg Palace also has a superb range of works by Old Masters.

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  • Neue Pinakothek Museum, Munich © Alamy

    Art attack

    Together, the Alte and Neue Pinakothek make up part of Munich’s Kunstareal or ‘art area’.

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  • Stained glass window in St Vitus Cathedral, Prague © Anna Stowe / Alamy

    Colourful rays

    Opening hours for visiting St Vitus Cathedral are Monday to Saturday 9:00 – 16:40 and Sunday 12:00 – 16:40

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  • Centre of Zurich © Marco Saracco / Getty Images

    Did you know…

    Zurich boasts over 1000 fountains, perfect for an arty Instagram backdrop. Fly from London to Zurich from:£39 each-way

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Munich for old masters

The lowdown

“With a smart, walkable city centre, and the Alps visible over its church spires, Munich is truly beautiful,” says McDonaugh. Munich’s collections range from fine Flemish and Italian Old Masters to German Expressionists of the city’s ‘Blue Rider’ group. But crowds are thin, exploring on foot is easy and there’s a collection to suit every taste. McDonaugh also notes that the city’s “civilised wining and dining alongside the wealth of art and architecture makes it the perfect weekend destination for art lovers.”

Ones to see

The Alte and Neue Pinakothek Museums – the former built in the style of an Italianate palace – contain rich collections of European paintings. Highlights include works by Memling, van der Weyden, Botticelli and Rubens.

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Zurich for new talent

The lowdown

Bankers have long flocked to the elegant streets of Zurich, but the city has been less troubled by those seeking boundary-busting culture. But with the advent of the University of the Arts in 2007, the Zurich-West district has become a thriving art hub. It’s home to the Löwenbräu building, which houses several leading galleries, and the thought-provoking Kunsthalle.

For those looking for something more historical, the city centre is where the art club Cabaret Voltaire was founded in 1916 by the artist and poet Hugo Ball, and where the avant-garde Dada movement was born.

Ones to see

Look out for art installations including The Philosopher’s Egg by Mario Merz at the city’s main station, Zürich Hauptbahnhof.

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Milan for renaissance art

The lowdown

While Florence has always been the go-to for Renaissance art, Milan has a long-established reputation for fashion and design, with biannual Fashion Weeks, the annual Furniture Fair and the Fondazione Prada contemporary art institution.

However, far away from the catwalk, the city of Da Vinci is also home to one of the world’s finest collections of Renaissance art, including the brilliant Brera Art Gallery which, according to its director general James Bradburne, is not only “the best museum you’ve probably never heard of,” but if you time it right, you can get it all to yourself.’

Ones to see

In the Pinacoteca di Brera are wonderful Italian Renaissance paintings, including Raphael’s The Marriage of the Virgin. Look out for Brera’s botanical garden of the Jesuits, one of Milan’s best kept and most magical secrets too.

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  • The Ishtar Gate at the Pergamon Museum, Berlin © Don McKinnell / Alamy

    Arch admiration

    The Ishtar Gate was built in dedication to Ishtar, the Babylonian goddess of fertility and love. Book flights from London to Berlin, plus a three-night hotel stay from:£143 pp

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Berlin for contemporary art

The lowdown

Berlin boasts a thrilling mix of museums, art and architecture. “The city juxtaposes stately architecture and memorials to the devastating events of the 20th century with hip neighbourhoods, street art and independent galleries,” says James McDounagh, founder and CEO of Art Tours.

The contemporary art scene is particularly strong, thanks to an influx of artists after reunification, while galleries in Neukölln, Kreuzberg, Schöneberg and Mitte vie to outdo each other.

Ones to see

Contemporary collections in a one-time war bunker at the Boros Collection and a former train station at the Hamburger Bahnhof are quintessential experiences in a city that thrives on reinvention and reconstruction.

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Lanzarote for surrealism

The lowdown

Lanzarote is one of my favourite places for going completely off the beaten art track”, says Nazy Vassegh, chief executive of the Masterpiece art fair. And it’s little surprise, as the Canary Island is better known for sun-worshippers than art-lovers. “You can discover hidden gems, especially as the island is not conventionally linked to art and culture,” continues Vassegh.

Stray from the beach and you can discover the works of artist and architect César Manrique, who spent time in Madrid and New York before returning to his native Lanzarote. Manrique had a major influence on the island’s planning regulations, which is why you find few high-rise hotels here.

Ones to see

The secluded César Manrique Foundation hosts his artworks amid gardens and buildings designed by the man himself, alongside pieces by Picasso and Miró from his personal collection.

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