Paris, Milan, Stockholm, Berlin, and London are all at the forefront when it comes to European cities that are big on design and a draw for culture aficionados too.
But other destinations on the continent are also worthy of bragging rights on both fronts with attractions that rival the draws offered in their better-known counterparts. Historic and ancient sites aside, we’re fans of the contemporary design and culture scenes in Lisbon, Malaga, Istanbul, Venice, and Athens—their appeal might be unknown, but for us, it’s unmistakable.
Discover our top three picks, some of which are a two-in-one example of art and culture, in each metropolis below:
Museum of Art, Architecture, and Technology: In the city’s Belem neighborhood, the River Tagus-set MAAT hosts exhibitions highlighting the works of contemporary architects and artists from all over the world. The striking curved complex includes a repurposed power station that dates back to the early 20th century, and a new building designed by the celebrated London-based Amanda Levete Architects.
Oriente Station: The Spanish architect and engineer Santiago Calatrava designed this train station for Lisbon’s World Expo in 1998. Divided into three parts, it features cylindrical glass elevators, a metal and glass roof, and a series of arches that are modern but inspired by Gothic cathedrals.
Lisbon Cruise Port: Yes, a cruise terminal can also be a design showpiece. The Portuguese architect João Luís Carrilho da Graça conceived this structure, which is sustainable and built with concrete and cork. The building is raised from the ground, giving it the appearance that it’s floating in the air, and features a rooftop terrace with views of the river and city. A walking path around the terminal encourages visitors to explore the exterior.
The Soho Theater: Actor Antonio Banderas, who hails from Malaga, is behind this theater, built in 1961 and originally home to the Alameda Theater-Cinema. In a bid to support the cultural boom happening in Malaga, Banderas took over and opened it in 2019. With 840 seats, the theater is known for its high-quality acoustics and features works by Malaga artist José Luis Puche.
Muelle Uno: On the city’s port, Muelle Uno is a cultural and shopping center packed with restaurants and stores. It’s also the location for the Centre Pompidou Malaga, the first branch of the Paris museum outside of France. Housed in an unmissable multi-colored glass cube, it features a collection of notable 20th- and 21st-century art. Muelle Uno hosts concerts and cultural events throughout the year.
The new Museum of Malaga: Reopened in 2016 in the old Customs Palace with a more contemporary look, this state museum is filled with art and artifacts from Andalucia’s history including the Paleolithic times and 19th and 20th centuries. It’s an impressive space that spans nearly 200,000 square feet.
Fondaco dei Tedeschi: At the base of the Rialto Bridge, this structure goes back to the early 13th century and has been burned down and rebuilt more than once since then. Rem Koolhaas’s Oma led Fondaco dei Tedeschi’s current iteration as a department store that sells high-end goods and also holds cultural events. The building has numerous public spaces and paths, a courtyard piazza, and a rooftop with a steel and glass floor.
Ponte della Costituzione: Constitution Bridge, as it’s called in English, stretches across the Grand Canal and is almost twice as long as the famous Rialto Bridge. The Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava was tasked with the design—it resembles a whale’s backbone and is made with steel, bronze, glass, and concrete.
Punta della Dogana: The architect Giuseppe Benoni built this former customs house in the late 17th century on the Dorsoduro, at the end of a lagoon. After being abandoned for two decades, and being subjected to a renovation led by architect Tadao Ando and funded by Francois Pinault, it has a new life as a contemporary art space that hosts temporary exhibitions. When paired with a trip to the nearby Palazzo Grassi where visitors can catch works from Pinault’s treasure chest of a collection, it’s an unbeatable culture hit.
Istanbul Modern Museum: Debuting at the end of this year, the Istanbul Modern is in a waterfront location in the city’s Karakoy district and an eye-catching long building designed by Renzo Piano. It features an outdoor café, sculpture garden, and glass-walled lobby. The museum is part of a larger project aimed at revitalizing Istanbul’s waterfront.
Atatürk Cultural Center: Opening in October, AKM—as it’s called—will house an opera hall, theater, exhibition spaces, and restaurants. Istanbul’s original cultural center opened in the 1960s. Designed by Dr. Hayati Tabanlioglu, it was considered to be a significant example of Turkish architecture. His son Murat led the design of the new building which features a glass façade, soaring ceilings, a studded red half dome in the lobby, and an abundance of greenery.
Galataport: In development for several years, this much-anticipated social and culture destination is finally debuting in October and will anchor the waterfront in the Karakoy district. Design sights include the world’s first underground cruise ship terminal, museums, and a collection of restaurants and stores located in former warehouses that have been reimagined into modern spaces.
Benaki Museum: Home to photography, design and architecture exhibitions, Benaki Museum—located at 138 Pireos Street—is in a building that’s as visit-worthy as the museum itself. Set around a large courtyard, it has soaring ceilings, an airy atrium, and a glass and brick front. It encompasses exhibition spaces and an amphitheater that can accommodate 300 people.
Onassis Stegi: Spanning an entire block, the glass cube-shaped Onassis Stegi is a cultural center that hosts dance, theater, and music shows by both Greek and international artists. It’s made of Greek marble and elevated over a glass base. It boasts standout design elements, such as the façades that are either opaque or see-through, depending on where you’re standing. The rooftop restaurant Hytra is one of the hottest reservations in town and the regular stomping ground for in-the-know locals.
Romansto: Originally the headquarters of Romansto magazine, this early to mid 20th-century building in the city’s historical district is now a cultural hub for music performances and art shows. The Athens Some of Nine architectural firm restored the industrial looking structure for its current purpose. The marble staircase is still intact, and new additions include an urban garden in the back and skylights that run the length of the building. Don’t miss the chance to grab a drink in the bar, which features a distinct Bauhaus aesthetic.
Originally Appeared on Architectural Digest