Now, we don’t usually judge a book by its cover, but when it comes to museums, it’s not just what’s inside that makes us gasp in wonder it’s also what’s on the outside.
Beauty may come from within, but these five artfully designed buildings have all become stylish attractions in their own right, boasting facades every inch as spectacular as the art exhibited inside. So, sit back, relax, and take a tour through Europe’s chicest art museums.
Disclaimer: Due to COVID-19 restrictions, some museums may not be open currently or opening times may vary day by day. Make sure to consult the museum’s website and check the latest safety guidelines before getting your culture fix.
Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, Germany
Let’s kick off our arty tour in the small German town of Weil am Rhein, at the geometric Vitra Design Museum. American architect Frank Gehry created this eye-catching work of deconstructivism in 1989. The dynamic, white plaster facade boasts an expressive mix of cubic volume, towers, and ramps that mirror indoor functionality. Inside, you’ll find four large exhibition galleries dedicated to design and architecture and how it relates to art and everyday culture as well as themed exhibitions. The internationally renowned museum boasts works by an impressive array of contemporary architectural icons including the late Zaha Hadid and Herzog & de Meuron.
Enthusiasts can book an insightful two-hour architecture tour around the museum as well as the Vitra Campus and its surroundings. This includes a petrol station by Jean Prouvé and the Vitra Slide Tower by artist Carsten Höller. The latter affords visitors a spectacular view complete with a 124-foot-long corkscrew tube that you can slide down to make your grand exit.
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, Denmark
At the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebaek, Denmark, located on the coast near Copenhagen, architecture, and nature go hand in hand. Thanks to architects Jørgen Bo and Vilhelm Wohlert, the museum’s discreet Danish modernist design harmoniously melds with the landscape. Wohlert took inspiration from his time studying in Berkeley, California, and the buildings around San Francisco Bay while Bo applied the simplicity of Japanese architecture. The duo also implemented spacious glass panels that enhance the light and environment. Look out from the North Wing on a clear day and you can see all the way to Sweden!
The museum, which opened its doors in 1958, was originally home to only Danish art but today boasts seven extensions and has housed exhibitions by Jackson Pollock, Henry Moore, and Arne Jacobsen, to name a few, making it an international museum of modern and contemporary art.
Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, Spain
Guggenheim Bilbao’s expressionist, sculpture-like structure both redefined the urban landscape and revitalized its riverfront at its 1997 opening, effectively kickstarting a renaissance for the Basque city. Frank Gehry’s behemoth masterpiece (260,000 square feet) has been called one of the most influential and groundbreaking pieces of 20th-century architecture thanks to its futuristic titanium exterior and fluid forms.
Large glass curtains connect the interior and exterior, masterfully playing with the daylight on the curvilinear building that seems to twist up towards the sky. The museum boasts 20 gallery halls interconnected by three levels, where modern and contemporary art abounds. You’ll find impressive permanent fixtures by Jeff Koons and Richard Serra as well as paintings by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Andy Warhol, and local artists.
Fondazione Prada, Milan, Italy
Built as a gin distillery in the early 1900s, Fondazione Prada opened in 1993 as a complex for contemporary art, architecture, and cinema in south Milan. The project was led by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas of OMA. Modern sections were added to the historic complex, which now consists of seven structures with a total surface of more than 200,000 square feet.
The foundation should be viewed as a stabilized industrial ruin rather than as a classic museum, a place where contemporary art and architecture interact dynamically. You can visit filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard’s studio or head to Torre for five exhibition levels of art. Ever dreamt of stepping into the magical world of Wes Anderson? Then check out Bar Luce, a stylish, retro Milanese café decked in vintage green, which was designed by the auteur in 2015.
Centre Pompidou-Metz, France
The Centre Pompidou-Metz in France was designed by Japanese architect Shigeru Ban in 2010. This innovative annex is an extension of the Pompidou museum in Paris and boasts three spacious galleries in the main nave as well as a 252-feet tall central spire. Ban pays tribute to the neo-Romanesque style of the once German-occupied city and uses a hexagon shape on the timber roof structure to symbolize France while also taking inspiration from cane work patterns of Chinese baskets. From the windows, you can admire framed postcard images of the city cathedral and Seille park.