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Surprising Cities Around the World for Art Lovers

From colorful street graffiti to sophisticated galleries filled with famous works, art takes on many different forms in different places. All around the world, the very idea of “art” is constantly evolving as makers push the boundaries of creativity. If you’re craving a fresh destination with an underrated art scene for your next trip, look no further than these five surprising art-infused cities.

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Bogota, Colombia

Charming street in old part of Bogota with traditional houses along the narrow alley.
Credit: Ipek Morel/ Shutterstock

Although Colombia has dealt with economic and political strife over the past few decades, its capital of Bogota has quietly made a name for itself as a thriving South American art hub. The San Felipe neighborhood houses Bogota’s Art District, an energetic and colorful barrio dedicated to vibrant creativity.

Wide-windowed warehouses and colonial architecture set an intriguing backdrop for the galleries and workshops, all of which open their doors to welcome visitors with art, food, and music during the annual Open San Felipe. The many surrounding restaurants and bars serve to enhance the experience by hosting visitors and locals with live music and eats well into the wee hours of the night. ARTBO is another reason to put Bogota on your list: The annual international art fair features hundreds of artists and dozens of galleries every October.

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George Town, Malaysia

George Town City view from Penang Hill at dawn.
Credit: KeongDaGreat/ iStock

Street art reigns supreme in George Town, the capital of the Malaysian island of Penang. After earning UNESCO World Heritage recognition for its multi-cultural influences and well-preserved colonial architecture, the Malaysian government decided to launch a city-wide art project to mark the occasion in 2010. The program aimed to share the city’s history and heritage by displaying sculptures and painting murals on buildings throughout George Town.

Visitors should grab a map and set off on bike or foot to discover George Town's impressive and varied works of art. One of the city’s most renowned metalworks, the Jimmy Choo sculpture, is located where the famous designer (and Penang native) first apprenticed. And one of the city’s most photographed spots is the 3-D mural “Boy on Motorcycle,” created by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevicone.

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San Juan, Puerto Rico

Street decorated with colorful umbrellas for summer in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Credit: Yogesh Iyer/ Shutterstock

Up-and-coming contemporary artists have helped fuel a budding art scene in the Puerto Rican capital. Established galleries like Walter Otero Contemporary Art have carved out a space for these talented new artists and given them opportunities to display their work. A particular highlight is Agustina Ferreyra’s worldly gallery, which displays ever-changing exhibitions of budding international artists. The current feature combines the colorful geometric style of Argentinian artist Ad Minoliti and the creative expressions of nature from Korean-Canadian Zadie Xa.

For another perspective on San Juan’s art scene, head to the Trailer Park Project, which focuses on developing and exposing new artists by providing them a work space in a traveling trailer. Find this project’s home base in the stationary trailer in the Barrio Blondet neighborhood and snag yourself a limited-edition print from one of the soon-to-be-discovered artists.

2

Lagos, Nigeria

African art, artifacts, sculpture and souvenirs for sale at a craft market, Lekki, in Lagos, Nigeria.
Credit: JohnnyGreig/ iStock

As the financial hub of Africa and Nigeria’s most cosmopolitan city, it probably shouldn’t come as much surprise that Lagos also boasts a lively, underrated art scene. The Lekki Arts and Crafts Market is not only the largest open-air market in Nigeria, but it also houses an impressive and unpretentious art collection. In the heart of the bustling market lies the Segun Tanlukeke Art Gallery, a favorite space for local Nigerian artists to display their works.

Another must-visit Lagos gallery is the Nike Art Gallery, which showcases roughly 8,000 pieces from local artists and is the largest gallery in West Africa. Dive further into Nigerian culture at the Nigerian National Museum, which hosts a diverse range of ethnographic and archeological art, or visit during Lagos' annual contemporary art fair, ART X Lagos.

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Bangkok, Thailand

The doll souvenir Shop in Chatuchak Weekend Market in Thailand.
Credit: sarintra chimphoolsuk/ Shutterstock

Street food, pop-up markets, sandy beaches, and golden temples are a few of Thailand’s many draws for international tourists, but Bangkok’s prospering art scene is often overlooked. The eye-catching white-and-gold Bangkok Art and Culture Centre boasts the largest collection of art, music, and theater in the city, with rotating exhibits that spotlight local and international artists and place an emphasis on modern Thai culture. The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) displays five floors of modern art creations from top local artists depicting elements of Thai society and spirituality.

Another little-known Bangkok art scene secret lies within Chatuchak Weekend Market, which is the largest street market in Thailand. Section 7 (also known as the Art Zone) offers visitors the chance to admire works and mingle with fledgling artists.

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