10 culture breaks you need to take this year
Arabian Business looks at 10 world cities offering visitors art, culture and tradition on their holiday
\nWhat to do: 721 art galleries, 420 theatres, 220 public libraries, 100 markets, 62 Michelin star restaurants, 48 comedy clubs and five national museums. New York crams a lot of culture into a relatively small, yet skyscraper-filled, space. It can claim prominence in many of these fields but it is in the theatre where New York most dominates global culture. A visit to Broadway is considered among the great American experiences and visitors can choose from experimental avant-garde theatre and major multi-million dollar productions.
\nMust see: Manhattan’s ‘Museum Mile’ is the name given to a section of the world famous Fifth Avenue which contains one of the densest concentrations of culture anywhere in the world. From the soon-to-be-opened Museum for African Art to the well-established Guggenheim Museum and Goethe Institute it is a cultural explorer’s paradise. The pinnacle is the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art (known to New Yorkers as The Met) which reportedly houses more than 2 million separate works in 19 different sections.
\nWhere to stay: You’re never far away from culture of some sort in New York. But setting up base in Manhattan gives visitors excellent opportunities for exploration. The Ritz-Carlton, Battery Park has views across the Hudson to the Statue of Liberty and is walking distance from a great number of the city’s premier attractions. The Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian is only a couple of blocks away, as is an impressive Skyscraper Museum. The fascinating Ellis Island Museum is just a two-minute ferry-journey from the hotel entrance and Broadway should take just 15 minute by iconic yellow cab.
\n\nThe Ritz-Carlton, Battery Park
\nWhat to do: For centuries the French capital has also been considered one of the world’s great culture capitals as well. Famed for its chic fashion houses and the Michelin star restaurants that make it one of the globe’s most important gastronomy hotspots it is also a centre of the art world. With more than 1,000 art galleries, 195 film festivals, 36o theatres and four UNESCO world heritage sites it is deserving of its reputation.
\nMust see: The Louvre is the most visited art museum in the world and is home to more than 35,000 works of art. The most famous of which, the Mona Lisa, is one of the most recognisable portraits ever painted.
\nWhere to stay: Ostentatious in a way only a Parisian hotel can manage Hotel Le Meurice was recently given further splendour in the shape of a Phillippe Starck redesign. That means adding frosted mirrors, fancy shoes for the table legs and hundreds of yards of Rubelli and Branquenie fabrics for each room. The Louvre is just two minutes walk away and the majority of Paris’s most notable attractions are easy walking distance.
\nHotel Le Meurice\n
\nWhat to do: There has been a city in the area now known as Beijing for centuries and the Chinese capital and surrounding districts have done a particularly good job of protecting its traditions and treasures. Visitors with an interest in cultural sightseeing, therefore, are able to see hundreds of temples and shrines as well as tens of thousands of ancient Chinese artifacts in the numerous museums and galleries. Explore the city limits to find one of China, and the World’s, most impressive displays. The Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty. It is located in the middle of Beijing, China, and now houses the Palace Museum. For almost 500 years, it served as the home of emperors and their households, as well as the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government.
\nMust see: The extravagant opening ceremony of the 2008 Olympic games in Beijing gave the world a mere taste for the scale of imagination behind much of Chinese musical performance. Interested tourists should explore further and sample the Beijing Opera. This combination of song, spoken dialogue, and codified action sequences involving gestures, movement, fighting and acrobatics is an experience unlikely to be forgotten easily.
\nWhere to stay: In a city of almost 20 million people it is essential to give yourself a sensible base. The Ritz-Carlton Beijing, Financial Street is close enough to the main attractions (The Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, White Pagoda Temple) but also provides transport to further afield essentials such as The Great Wall and the Temple of Heaven. Even in skyscraper-packed Beijing the hotel’s sparkling modern glass and chrome exterior never fails to impress.
\nThe Ritz-Carlton Beijing, Financial Street\n\n\n\n\n\n
\nWhat to do: Don’t visit Mumbai to relax and don’t expect to get away from the hectic busyness of day-to-day life here. Do, however, marvel at the vibrancy of a religious festival, see the new wave of emerging modern artists, dance to a Bollywood soundtrack, sample street food and look in at the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum for an experience steeped in Indian history and culture. There really is too much to see on a single visit to Mumbai and with the city being a cultural attraction in itself consider ditching the guidebook and just following a sense of adventure.
Must see: Bollywood cinema has played a defining role in the spread of Indian culture. Many movies are filmed every year in Mumbai and visitors should make an effort to witness the action as it is happens. If you can’t track down a film in progress then a visit to one of the city’s most famous art deco movie theatres is a must. The Regal Cinema was built during India’s cinema boom of the 1930s and the impressive design has been used for many award ceremonies and events as well as showing the latest Bollywood hits, of course.
\nWhere to stay: If ever a single building could capture the imagination and buzz of modern Mumbai it is the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower. The hotel is Mumbai's first harbour landmark (built 21 years before the Gateway of India) and the design is a mix of Edwardian influences and Indian flourishes. The Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum and many of Mumbai’s finest attractions is just a short taxi journey away. A cultural experience in itself.
\n\n\n\nTaj Mahal Palace and Tower\n\n
\nWhat to do: The artistic energy can almost be felt like an electric undercurrent humming through Barcelona. The architecture alone, particularly the infamous work of legendary designer Antoni Gaudi, is enough to keep visitors enraptured for hours. The one-man cultural phenomena has had seven of his buildings given World Heritage site status but it is the breathtaking Sagrada Familia Gothic cathedral and the Catalan Park Guell which most stand out. Visitors should not stay too long merely taking in the architectural splendour but are encouraged to explore the colourful La Rambla boulevard. A gateway to rural Catalonia, the mile-long road bustles with artists, human statues, dancers and musicians. Vibrant flower stalls, a cultural and exhibition centre, the superb La Boqueria market, a Joan Miró mosaic and numerous cafés line the street.
Must see: Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia and as such is home to a number of museums and cultural centres dedicated to the development and wider recognition of the region. While these must be visited for anybody wanting to earn more of the city’s passionate history it should come after an investigation of one of its favourite sons. Pablo Picasso spent much of his early life in the city and the Museu Picasso is dedicated to his formative years in the city and is home to many of his most famous artworks.
\nWhere to stay: Hotel Arts Barcelona rises 44 stories above the city’s Olympic Port and is firmly of the new school of megalithic boutique hotels. Public spaces in the hotel are decorated with dramatic murals, paintings and sculptures by renowned Spanish artists and much of Barcelona’s most recognisable architecture can be spotted from the panoramic viewing spots. The Picasso Museum, Sagrada Familia and Gothic Quarter are a short walk away.
\nHotel Arts Barcelona
\nWhat to do: Culturefestivals and shows are big business in Sydney. From the record-breaking Chinese New Year events right through to the Sydney Festival (Australia’s largest annual art exhibition), world famous film and comedy festivals and the Bienalle of Sydney the program rarely lets up. Most events attract international attention and a growing interest in Aboriginal art and craftsmanship is giving more depth to the culture on show in Sydney.
\nMust see: Whether you are a fan of the music or not a visit to the Sydney Opera House is essential. The iconic landmark is The UNESCO world heritage site is one of the world’s most recognisable buildings and regularly used for classical music, theatre and ballet as well as opera.
\nWhere to stay: Finding a hotel with views of the amazing opera house should be a priority and on that criterion it is hard to look beyond the InterContinental, Sydney. The former Australia Treasury Building has uninterrupted views directly down on Sydney’s most famous building and is just a 10-minute walk (through the Royal Botanic Gardens) away.
\nWhat to do: In every sense of the word Moscow is one of the great world cities. As it continues to shake off the former Soviet rule edgy art galleries and intriguing design schools are taking over buildings once dominated by factories and empty warehouses. New choreographers, playwrights and composers are emerging to challenge the dominance of Tolstoy, Tchaikovsky and Chekhov on theatre stages. Ballet and the theatre are hugely popular in the city but may not be instantly accessible to first time visitors. The military might on display at the Kremlin Armoury, Great patriotic War Museum and Central Air Force Museum make for an interesting alternative. As does a simple visit to see the sights of the city’s famous Red Square.
\nMust see: The Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts is an excellent starting point to explore the cultural delights of Moscow. Not only does it have important exhibitions from Muscovite history but there is also a selection of great European paintings including works by Monet, Cezanne and Picasso.
\nWhere to stay: The Ritz-Carlton, Moscow lies at the edge of the famed Red Square – the site of countless coronations and celebrations. Today, this symbolic space serves as a cultural epicenter of the city and a good platform for exploration. The Bolshoi Theatre is mere minutes away and a visit to a live classical music performance would be the highlight of any culture vulture’s trip.
\n\nThe Ritz-Carlton, Moscow
\nWhat to do: From the obsessive rise of ‘Manga’ animation to the phenomenal popularity of karaoke there is an emphasis on participation for culture hunters in Tokyo. Pop culture and high culture stand side-by-side and visitors are as likely to find bunraku (traditional Japanese puppet shows) in parks and markets as they are on stages. Although not multi-cultural in the Western sense Tokyo plays home to hundreds of Japanese subcultures. For first time visitors merely walking the streets will be a culture shock and permanent photo opportunity but special effort should be made to take in at least a tea ceremony, the Meiji shrine and gardens and the lively Harajuku shopping district.
Must see: To get a taste for traditional Japanese art, first time visitors should check out the Tokyo National Museum in Taito. Artifacts from across Asia are included in the 110,000 display objects but the 87 officially recognised national treasures of Japan are of most worth and importance. These include ancient documents, paintings and sculptures from Japanese history.
\nWhere to stay: The Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo’s Roppongi district location means it is well located for city visitors looking to take in as many sights as possible. The 45th floor lobby boasts one of the world’s great hotel views including glimpses of the famous Tokyo Tower and Mount Fuji. Tokyo’s National Art Center is just a 5 minute walk away meaning visitors don’t have to stray far to get their first cultural fix.
\n\nThe Ritz-Carlton, Tokyo
\nWhat to do: The largest city in the southern hemisphere is home to 11 million people and is a melting pot of world cultures. The vibrant mix of peoples gives a diversity to the dozens of theatres, museums and art galleries that is not often found in a major city. Live music and performance are popular and although Rio’s annual carnival attracts more worldwide attention many Brazilians regard Sao Paolo to be the more complete cultural experience.
\nMust see: The Museu de Arte de Sao Paulo is home to one of the world’s most important collections of European art. works from Degas and Renoir are among the estimated 9,000 masterpieces on display. For a glimpse of Brazilian history a trip to the Ipiranga Museum is also strongly recommended.
\nWhere to stay: Right in the heart of downtown Sao Paulo the Tivoli Sao Paulo is just seconds away from the Museu de Arte and is a cultural landmark in its own right.
\n\n\nTivoli Sao Paulo
\nWhat to do: Although it doesn’t have the museums of London, the art galleries of Paris or the theatre of New York this North African city has been attracting culture-hungry tourists for decades. The artistic nature of the city (which has inspired visiting novelists and painters) has deep roots dating back centuries. Arab, Berber and Mediterranean influence is evident in the architecture and art running through the new and old parts of the city. Museums of Islamic art as well as traditional North African artifacts give a new perspective on the city so well known for its souks, cafes and street culture.
The Dar Si Said Museum showcases the very best of traditional Moroccan craftsmanship. Incredibly intricate murals, painted woodworks, domed chambers and pretty outdoor courtyards make it the quintessential Marrakech museum.
\nWhere to stay: The highly-decorated French architect and designer Jacques Garcia is most well-known for his Parisian hotel designs. His signature flair and love of French antiquities, however, was called to breathe new life into this Moroccan palace. The highly-praised design loses none of the distinct North African vibe. Permanent exhibitions from some of the region’s most renowned artists and photographers make La Mamounia a must-see cultural centre in its own right.
\n\nHotel La Mamounia, Marrakech\n\n\n\n\n