How would you rate your city’s culture scene? To find out the best cities for art and culture right now, we asked over 21,000 city-dwellers across the globe that exact question – and the results are in.
Each city on this list has earned its place through a meticulous curation process. Locals were quizzed on their city’s best cultural venues and experiences, and were also asked to score their city’s cultural offering based on both its quality and affordability. Of course, affordability is relative here: what’s considered cheap to locals in one city might not be to those in another. But whether it’s because of discounted museum entry for locals or free open-air festivals, these are destinations where art and culture won’t break the bank.
We then narrowed down the selection by excluding cities with lower overall scores, and only including the highest-scoring city for each country. (Better luck next time, London!) Four ‘spotlight’ cities were added to the final ranking – cities that weren’t surveyed but were nominated by Time Out’s clued-up editors and local experts as cultural capitals that deserve a spotlight on this year’s list.
So, ready to get out there? From Mumbai to Melbourne, these are the very best cities for art and culture right now.
The world’s best cities for culture
1. Mexico City
Mexico’s charismatic, cosmopolitan capital nabbed the top spot, with locals scoring their city exceptionally high for both the quality and affordability of its culture scene. And while architecture, theatres and street parades like Dia de Muertos all got the nod in our survey, it was the city’s mighty museum scene that got the biggest shout-out. CDMX’s museums showcase everything from Aztec artifacts and folk art to surrealist paintings, and many of them are housed in showstopping buildings – just check out the grand, neo-baroque Palacio de Bellas Artes or the twisty, shiny and ultra-modern Museo Soumaya. Best of all? Many are either permanently free or offer free entry on Sundays for those with Mexican residency.
‘What captivates me most is the diversity and vitality of the art scene,’ says Mauricio Nava, editor at Time Out Mexico City. ‘One of my favourite places is Kurimanzutto in San Miguel Chapultepec, a scene of contemporary and avant-garde art – but the Frida Kahlo Museum, which offers a unique insight into the life and work of the iconic artist, holds a special place in the city’s cultural fabric. In addition, the Festival del Centro is a renowned event that combines music, theatre and dance from around the world. CDMX is always redefining the boundaries of creativity, and that’s what makes it so vibrant.’
The beauty of Prague’s architecture, with striking Czech Gothic towers, arch bridges looping over the Vltava and over a dozen castles, makes it a veritable outdoor museum – no wonder simply ‘walking around’ was one of the most common responses among locals when asked what they loved about culture in their city. But the City of a Hundred Spires offers more than just good looks: it’s also a hub for performing arts, with locals raving about the city’s opera heritage, classical concerts and venues like the National Theatre. Of all cities surveyed, Prague scored the highest for affordability – it doesn’t cost much to wander around, after all.
‘There’s always something going on in Prague, no matter what season,’ says writer and Prague local Yaren Fadiloglulari. ‘In spring, classical music lovers enjoy the Prague Spring International Music Festival. In summer, the picturesque Letná Park hosts the circus and theatre festival Letní Letná, and the Metronome Festival brings together musicians from all over the world. No matter what time of year, look out for ballets and operas at the National Theatre and contemporary art at MeetFactory.’
3. Cape Town
Not to use the old ‘melting pot’ cliché, but Cape Town’s multiculturalism has lent the city an enviable offering when it comes to art and culture. From the lively annual Kaapse Klopse street parade, to cabaret and comedy at mega-institutions Baxter Theatre and Artscape, every corner of South Africa’s sprawling seaside city has something to offer culture-seekers. ‘Vibey’ and ‘diverse’ were two of the most common terms locals used to describe Cape Town’s culture scene in our survey. Plus, the city ranked highest overall for the quality of its cultural offerings, nudged down a couple of places by their affordability (though on the affordable front, it’s worth noting the city still did pretty well overall).
‘While most visitors gush over Cape Town’s natural beauty, it’s hard not to fall in love with the city’s cultural energy,’ says writer and Cape Town local Richard Holmes. ‘There’s a thriving theatre landscape, but it’s in the visual arts that the city is most remarkable. The Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa is a must for the architecture as much as the art, but I also love the winelands setting of the Norval Foundation. There’s a fantastic street art scene in the city too. Try a guided tour through the suburb of Salt River, or visit during the annual International Festival of Public Art in early March. And for a really immersive experience, seek out the AfrikaBurn event (April 29-May 5 2024); South Africa’s take on Burning Man.’
4. Buenos Aires
Said to be the bookstore capital of the world, the birthplace of tango, and a hub for every branch of the arts (visual, literary, performance, you name it), culture pulses through Buenos Aires’ veins – and so say the locals. Theatre is a serious pastime here, with opera titan Teatro Colón topping the list of locals’ favourite venues; late-night tango, libraries and the street art-plastered neighbourhood of San Telmo each received several mentions, too. Taking in all that culture won’t cost you much, either, as Buenos Aires boasts the second-most affordable culture scene of all cities surveyed.
‘Plan a night out in Buenos Aires nowadays and you’re just as likely to catch a tango show as you are to witness some of the best trap and hip hop in the region,’ says writer and Buenos Aires local Pedro Camacho. ‘Multifaceted musician Louta perfectly encapsulates this bridge between the city’s old and new. The son of Diqui James, the mastermind behind pioneering theatre company Fuerza Bruta, Louta has amassed quite the following himself by injecting the local music scene with some showstopping visuals and theatrics.’
Athens has been a global centre for the arts since… well, forever. These days, the Greek capital is known as much for its anarchic underground culture as it is for ancient ruins – and exploring Athens’s culture scene means getting to know both sides of this enduringly creative city. Culture is best enjoyed outdoors in Athens, with locals praising their city’s summertime festivals and open-air cinemas. The Benaki Museum and Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center also got the nod – but it was the Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum that locals named their favourite cultural venue, proving just how much the city remains gripped by its own history.
‘Old buildings renovated into modern cultural venues have taken over the city over the last few years,’ says writer and Athens local Demetrios Ioannou. ‘A perfect example is the Municipal Market of Kypseli in the center of the city. This old market is now a creative hub where festivals, DJ sets and workshops – comic sketching, gardening, crochet, woodworking, creative writing, theatre, you name it – take place all year round. Similar initiatives include the Public Tobacco Factory, Bageion Hotel and the former National Opera, now officially called Olympia Municipal Musical Theater Maria Callas.’
All the world’s a stage come August in Edinburgh, when the largest arts festival on the planet takes over almost every street, pub and theatre across the Scottish capital. And while Edinburgh Festival Fringe got its fair share of love in our survey, locals also praised the city’s world-class museums and galleries: namely the National Museum of Scotland and National Galleries of Scotland (of which there are four, no less). ‘Variety’ was overwhelmingly commended as Edinburgh’s biggest asset when it comes to culture – hardly surprising, given the city hosts not just one but a whole blockbuster of summer festivals, from books to jazz to performing arts.
‘Edinburgh’s cultural scene has suffered a series of knocks in the last few years – first with the Modern Two art gallery temporarily closing and then the Filmhouse cinema shutting after going into administration,’ says Chiara Wilkinson, UK features editor at Time Out. ‘But I take comfort knowing that locals have been taking matters into their own hands. There are all sorts of DIY projects keeping culture alive in the city: my go-tos are grassroots radio station EH-FM and hole-in-the-wall venue Sneaky Pete’s, both platforms to discover the best new music coming out of the city. Meanwhile, Hidden Door Festival is a new highlight in the cultural calendar, turning disused spaces into temporary art galleries and spoken word theatres.’
When the likes of Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert have called a city home, you can bet that the culture scene there is pretty good. Well, it’s not just good: culture in Vienna is exceptional, by anyone’s measure. Vienna ranked third for the quality of its culture scene in our survey, with locals raving about opera, art and Donauinselfest – the largest (free!) open-air music festival on the planet. Locals named The Albertina and Albertina Modern as the city’s best venue, which is packed with masterpieces from art titans including Picasso, Chagall, Monet, Kirchner, and (of course) Klimt. If there’s one city with a license to name-drop, it’s Vienna.
‘Culture is part of Vienna’s very fabric and highly prized by those who live here,’ says Vienna-raised writer Natalie Marchant. ‘The city renowned as the capital of classical music also hosts contemporary cultural events such as Europe’s largest music festival, the free-to-enter Donauinselfest. A summer evening whiled away in front of City Hall watching music and films with a beer at the Filmfestival is one well spent, while cold winter evenings call for jazz at Porgy & Bess.’
The capital of Spain is also one of Europe’s greatest art capitals. First of all, there’s the gigantic, neo-classical Museo del Prado, overwhelmingly named the city’s best venue by locals in our survey, which houses a vast and spectacular collection of Spanish and European art. Follow that up with the Thyssen and shrine to twentieth-century art the Reina Sofía and you’ll have experienced the city’s Golden Triangle of Art. More into theatre? Madrid won’t disappoint you there, either – Teatro Real was the second-most shouted-about venue in our survey, and is one of Europe’s most esteemed venues for opera and the performing arts.
‘Culture in Madrid is more alive than ever,’ says Marta Bac, editor of Time Out Madrid. ‘The closure of venues due to the pandemic and the capacity restrictions that followed are a thing of the past. Now the theatres are full again, new cultural spaces are opening – such as Cines Embajadores, opening next to Madrid Río – and new festivals are coming to the city, like the arrival of Primavera Sound this past summer. In fact, this year Madrid opened the most important museum project in Europe, the Galleries of the Royal Collections.’
Small but mighty, Florence punches above its weight on the global cultural scene. It’s not just about priceless Renaissance treasures – the Botticellis and Caravaggios crammed into the Uffizi Galleries, Brunelleschi’s vast and majestic Duomo, and the newly revealed ‘secret’ chambers beneath the Medici Chapel housing previously unseen sketches from Michelangelo’s final years. Florence also holds its own on the contemporary art scene, with an excellent Anish Kapoor exhibition currently in Palazzo Strozzi, and cutting-edge menswear show Pitti Uomo taking place twice a year. Day to day, Florentine culture is about strolling around vintage markets and enjoying aperitivo in the birthplace of the negroni.
From graffiti-covered laneways to the artistic hub of Fed Square, culture is alive and well in Melbourne. The city is home to a thriving community of creatives and artists, which – as you’d imagine – makes Melbourne a pretty fun place to be. Take it from the locals: Melburnians praised their city for its vibrancy, variety and sense of community, shouting out annual events like Moomba as well as cultural institutions like the NGV, Australia’s most-visited and longest-running art museum.
‘To say we’re spoiled for choice when it comes to what Melbourne’s dynamic arts scene has to offer is an understatement – this is Australia’s undisputed culture capital we’re talking about, after all,’ says Leah Glynn, editor of Time Out Melbourne. ‘Sure, there are blockbuster exhibitions and musical premieres galore, but I’m constantly surprised by the innovative and exciting concepts that pop up. Now or Never, a new festival of ideas and technology, and Rising, a city-wide celebration of music and art, are just two events that blew me away in 2023. And knowing Melbourne, there’s more where that came from.’
You can’t talk culture without talking Paris. Its cafés and bistros have long been the haunt of writers, artists and intellectuals – and, of course, the French capital boasts the world’s largest and most-visited museum in the Louvre. But what do the locals say? Parisians certainly rate the Louvre, naming it the city’s best cultural venue, but they also gave props to the French capital’s theatre scene, fashion sense and two other art heavyweights: the Centre Pompidou and Palais de Tokyo.
‘Paris stands out for the immense diversity of its culture scene’ says Rémi Morvan, writer at Time Out Paris. ‘I take as much pleasure in going to the Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay for their timeless masterpieces as I do in strolling through the galleries of the Marais and discovering emerging talents. And if I want to immerse myself in the cutting-edge independent music scene, there is only one destination: La Station, a former coal station which now welcomes the cream of the underground.’
It wouldn’t be a stretch to crown Montreal festival capital of the world, so packed is its cultural calendar. Montrealers named ‘festivals’ the city’s best cultural asset, spotlighting winter light festival Montréal en Lumière and summer’s Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, which proudly holds the current world record for the world’s biggest jazz fest. There’s even a year-round dedicated space just for festivals at Place des Festivals, a plaza at the heart of arts district Quartier des Spectacles. Performing arts venue Place des Artes also lives in the enclave and was crowned the city’s top cultural venue by locals in our survey. One thing’s for sure: Montreal knows how to put on a show.
‘If you’re the kind of person that gets itchy feet on a random Tuesday night you’ll love Montreal,’ says writer and Montreal local Isa Tousignant. ‘There’s literally always something going on. Queer line dancing at Champs sports bar, live post-punk at Sala Rossa by great local bands like CRABE, a life-changing whole-body immersive EDM art night at the dome-shaped Satosphere… dream it up and you’ll find it here.’
Arts aren’t a specialised, lofty pursuit in Marrakech; they’re a bright thread that runs through the fabric of life. It’s why Yves St Laurent was so inspired here, his fabulous designs now showcased in his namesake museum. The city continues to inspire contemporary designers such as LRNCE, who has just opened a most artful riad, Rosemary. The excellence of Marrakech’s master craftsmen is splendidly displayed at Medersa Ben Youssef or just take tea in the courtyard of the Royal Mansour, the King’s hotel. For the best contemporary art, check out Galerie Siniya 28 and MACAAL – and book now for the 1-54 Art Fair in February 2024.
14. São Paulo
As you’d expect, Brazil’s enormous metropolis plays host to a dizzying line-up of cultural heavyweights. Take a walk along Paulista Avenue and you’ll see what we mean – between the banks and skyscrapers are behemoths including the huge Livraria Cultura bookstore and the São Paulo Museum of Art, Latin America’s largest art museum (more widely known as MASP). And while locals rated MASP the city’s best venue, they also gave props to São Paulo’s theatres, independent cinemas and sprawling parks – many of which, like Parque Independência, are themselves home to some of the city’s major museums.
‘No area in the city concentrates as many cultural hotspots as the surroundings of square Praça da República,’ says Patricia Figueiredo, writer and São Paulo local. ‘Even more so during the free 24-hour festival Virada Cultural, when several stages are set up in Downtown São Paulo. But even on a normal day you’re spoiled for choice. One of my favourite places is Sesc 24 de Maio, a cultural centre spread over 13 floors of a building renovated by Pritzker-winning architect Paulo Mendes da Rocha. For a smaller alternative, try independent movie theatre Cortina Cineclube, which opened in 2022 in a former parking lot right across Praça da República.’
15. New York City
Broadway, Off-Broadway, MOMA, The Met… when it comes to art and theatre, New York City is second to none. Locals agree: ‘Museums’ and ‘Broadway’ each got the highest number of shout-outs in our survey, followed by the Lincoln Center, Central Park and the Brooklyn Museum. New Yorkers also praised the openness, diversity and variety of their city’s culture scene. There really is something for everyone in the city that never sleeps.
‘New York City has always been a wellspring of culture in every respect, full of diverse and niche events that drive the scene,’ says Shaye Weaver, editor of Time Out New York. This year alone, I’ve attended Catbaret, a variety show for cat lovers at Q.E.D. Astoria and enjoyed a night with comedian Amy Sedaris at Union Square Travel Agency, a newly licensed recreational cannabis dispensary. We’ve written about a sex-free sex party, a gathering just for people named Ryan and a comedy show for only lonely people. Most excitingly, NYC is also home to the brand-new Perelman Performing Arts Center and will soon see the return of the Upright Citizens Brigade and a new comedy outpost for The Second City this month. I’ve been excited about The Shed, too, the fairly new performing arts center at Hudson Yards. Right now, it’s showing ‘Here We Are’, the last musical that Stephen Sondheim worked on before he died. In the few years it’s been open, I’ve seen some of the most experimental and immersive shows I’ve ever witnessed.’
It’s hard to pin down ‘culture’ in Tokyo. In this 24-hour city, culture encompasses high-tech digital art and historical shrines, sumo shows and sakura festivals, cutting-edge fashion and architectural marvels, traditional performing arts from Kabuki to Noh – and so, so much more. The city’s implausibly endless variety of cultural offerings was reflected in survey responses, too: asked what Tokyo’s best cultural venue is, locals named everything from mini theatres to the Mori Art Museum and Blue Note jazz club, but no two answers were the same.
‘Tokyo always prides itself on being the city where old meets new, and that’s particularly evident in its culture scene,’ says Lim Chee Wah, editor of Time Out Tokyo. ‘While historical shrines host traditional festivals, you also have cutting-edge exhibitions on niche topics like parasites and love dolls alongside big names from today’s contemporary art scene. Recently, avant garde artist collective Chim-Pom from Smappa!Group, known for their experimental performance art laced with social commentary, put on a memorable project-based exhibition in Shinjuku. Meanwhile, teamLab Borderless – arguably the most popular museum in Tokyo – is making a highly anticipated comeback in a new location in central Tokyo come January 2024, promising to unveil a number of never-before-seen immersive installations.’
17. Abu Dhabi
United Arab Emirates
The cultural (and literal) capital of the UAE, Abu Dhabi is home to some of the world’s most iconic sites, with the city’s cultural scene centred on Saadiyat Island. From architectural marvels like Louvre Abu Dhabi to the striking Abrahamic Family House, the buildings hosting these wonders are just as impressive as what’s inside. For a glimpse of old-world Abu Dhabi, Qasr Al Hosn, the city’s oldest stone building, is a must-see – as is the Cultural Foundation next door, with free exhibitions year-round. Abu Dhabi might not have the extensive history of some cities, but with the number of art galleries and museums on the horizon, it’s history in the making.
Mumbai has a lot to show off about. It’s not only India’s largest city but also the country’s cultural capital, home to Bollywood and mammoth institutions including the National Centre for the Performing Arts – named by locals as the city’s best cultural venue. The small but spectacular Prithvi Theatre also got the nod in our survey, alongside the annual Kala Ghoda Arts Festival, which sees artists, performers and craftspeople take over the creative enclave of Kala Ghoda. Mumbaikars praised their city’s culture scene as inclusive and diverse – it’s not hard to see why.
‘Mumbai has timeless cultural institutions, such as the NCPA and the Kala Ghoda Festival, that have been celebrating India’s art, dance and music for decades,’ says writer and Mumbai local Soumya Gayatri. ‘At the same time, the city is also home to grassroots organizations like the Marol Art Village, which champions indigenous Indian art forms like Warli and Gond. I find this beautiful blend of the classic and the unconventional is what makes Mumbai’s culture scene truly unique.’
A city break in Amsterdam offers the best of all worlds: days spent mooching around world-class museums and strolling along pretty canals; nights spent sweating it out in an intimate bar or a warehouse club in one of Europe’s best cities for nightlife. You’ll find masterpieces from the likes of Rembrandt and Vermeer at the Rijksmuseum, while the Stedelijk serves up the cream of the modern art crop. But it was the city’s music scene that got the most love from locals in our survey, with Paradiso – a live music venue in a former church – named the Dutch capital’s greatest cultural venue. See you on the dance floor!
‘Doe normaal is a Dutch phrase that literally translates to ‘act normal.’ This idea of blending in is a key part of the national psyche — but it’s those bucking against this trend that makes Amsterdam a cultural force,’ says writer and Amsterdam local Callum Booth. ‘Underground collectives and venues are the lifeblood of the Dutch capital, whether it’s comedy and eclectic DJ sets at De Nieuwe Anita, chess clubs and punk bands at Vondelbunker, or the people’s kitchen and collective public space De Sering, Amsterdam overflows with people and groups unafraid to stand out.’
For me, the best thing about Seoul’s culture scene is its marriage of past and present. Summertime calls for hip-hop with a twist at the Waterbomb Festival, where artists like Jay Park and Jessi have previously beckoned huge crowds to dance the heat away. Unlike your typical music festival, the dress code here is swimwear: with everyone from the audience to the performers armed with a water gun, you can expect to leave completely soaked – just the ticket for Seoul’s scorching summer heat. Pumping music aside, I also love just wandering around many of the palaces located in the city. Gyeongbokgung, the main royal palace of the Joseon dynasty, is an iconic place to experience the country’s history first-hand while dressed in a Hanbok, a type of traditional Korean clothing.