As brooding as a Rembrandt painting and with all the vibrancy of a Van Gogh watercolour, Amsterdam is a colourful city that packs a lot of culture into its compact and walkable centre.
Top of any visitor’s to-see list is the grand Rijksmuseum, a monument to Dutch culture and history, and home to some of the world’s most famous paintings by Dutch artists. The museum was renovated in 2013 and stages its works beautifully. Linger over the imposing “The Night Watch” by Rembrandt, soaking up every detail of this Golden Age masterpiece.
Other essential museums are NEMO, a science museum in the docks where children (and grown-ups) can spend a whole day experiencing technology through play; and of course the Anne Frank House on Prinsengracht, where the teenage diarist’s famed hiding place has been lovingly preserved.
The best bargain in town is the City Card, which not only gives your free entry to most of Amsterdam’s museums and attractions, it also includes free public transport for the duration of your stay.
Rijksmuseum image copyright Erik Smits - 2015, NEMO image copryright gebouw, DigiDaan2015.
Without the obvious charms of its eastern rival Edinburgh, Glasgow is relatively free of tourists, although the city has long been a magnet for artists and culture seekers from far and wide.
Dominated by the former industrial banks of the River Clyde, Glasgow is an architectural wonder, with Rennie MacKintosh’s Modernist influence still felt in Glasgow School of Art, Queen’s Cross Church and the Willow Tea Rooms.
For contemporary art, take a walking tour of the Merchant City cultural quarter, where galleries and art spaces have taken over former warehouses and commercial buildings. Re purposing spaces is something Glasgow specializes in, and nowhere more so than Tramway, a former tram depot and now home to Scotland’s most acclaimed performing arts venue.
Nantes has built a reputation as a serious artistic city. Since 2011 the festival of Le Voyage à Nantes has taken over the city each summer. Running over two months, the event features dozens of performances, participation opportunities and pop-up art installations at 50 different sites across Nantes – mostly free.
One of Nantes’ top year-round attractions are the Machines de l’île. Inspired by the stories of Jules Verne and the inventions of Leonardo da Vinci, this mechanical collection will enthral young and old alike. Don’t miss the giant mechanical elephant or the workshop where these fantastical creatures are brought to life.
Nantes image courtesy of Le Voyage a Nantes, copyright J-D Billaud/Nautilus Nantes.
With 26 museums to visit, and more than 100 galleries specialising in Old Masters to contemporary photography, Dusseldorf has a lively, arty buzz and a rich cultural life. For high culture, head to the Opernhaus, for lavish productions of classic and contemporary ballet and opera throughout the year.
For theatre with a difference, a visit to the Marionette Theatre is a must. Taking the Punch & Judy out of puppetry, the performers tackle all types of plays in the 100-seater theatre with exquisite marionettes made in their on-site workshop.
Even the most rushed visitors to Paris should find time to visit the Louvre, the world’s biggest museum and famed home to the Mona Lisa. After queuing to view Da Vinci’s masterpiece, check out the museum’s other highlights, which include antiquities from Ancient Egypt, Rome and Greece, sculpture halls, and familiar paintings from the world’s most famed artists, including Goya, Holbein, El Greco and Rubens.
Parisians let their hair down to celebrate Bastille Day on 14 July, with festivities centred on a military parade along the Champs-Elysees, followed by feasting and fireworks everywhere. Other festivals include Paris Plage, where the banks of the Seine are turned into artificial beaches complete with parasols, palm trees and deckchairs; and for music fans, the annual St Germain Jazz Festival and Rock en Seine each showcase the best of their genres.
Ireland’s tax emption for artists has led to a cultural boom over the past 20 years and nowhere more so than Dublin. The Temple Bar area is the centre of the city’s thriving culture scene, packed with galleries and studios. After dark it becomes a nightlife hub, with music, both modern and traditional, attracting revellers of all ages.
Ireland’s greatest treasure is the 9th Century Book of Kells, a lavishly illustrated copy of the Gospels, on show daily at Trinity College in the heart of Dublin. Books and theatre play a huge part of Dublin’s cultural scene, with the Dublin Writers’ Museum celebrating Yeats, Wilde and Beckett among the city’s many literary greats, and the nearby James Joyce Centre also a must-see. Regular literary walking tours bring Dublin’s fictional characters to life – there’s even a literary pub crawl where the Guinness and the prose share equal billing.