Inside the culturally rich cities of Iberia and the Mediterranean

Paris, Milan, Stockholm, Berlin and London are all at the forefront when it comes to European cities that are at the forefront of design and which also attract culture enthusiasts.

But other destinations on the continent are also worthy of boasting on both fronts with attractions that rival the raffles offered at their more well-known counterparts. Historic and ancient sites aside, we’re fans of the contemporary design and cultural scenes of Lisbon, Malaga, Istanbul, Venice and Athens – their appeal may be unknown, but for us it’s undeniable.

Check out our top three picks, some of which are a two-in-one example of art and culture, in each metropolis below:

Lisbon, Portugal

Museum of Art, Architecture and Technology: In the Belem district of the city, the MAAT, located on the Tagus River, hosts exhibitions highlighting the works of architects and contemporary artists from around the world. The striking curved complex includes a redeveloped power station that dates back to the early 20th century and a new building designed by famed London-based Amanda Levete Architects.

Gare Oriente in Lisbon — designed by Spanish master architect Santiago Calatrava.

Sylvain Sonnet

Oriente Station: The Spanish architect and engineer Santiago Calatrava designed this station for the Lisbon World’s Fair in 1998. Divided into three parts, it includes cylindrical glass elevators, a metal and glass roof and a series of modern arches but inspired by Gothic cathedrals.

Lisbon cruise port: Yes, a cruise terminal can also be a design centerpiece. Portuguese architect João Luís Carrilho da Graça designed this structure, which is durable and built with concrete and cork. The building is raised off the ground, giving it the impression that it is floating in the air, and has a rooftop terrace with views of the river and the city. A walking path around the terminal encourages visitors to explore the outdoors.

Malaga, Spain

Soho theater: The actor Antonio Banderas, originally from Malaga, is at the origin of this theater, built in 1961 and originally housing the Alameda Theater-Cinema. With the aim of supporting the cultural development of 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 port of the city, Muelle Uno is a cultural and commercial center full of restaurants and shops. It is also the seat of the Center Pompidou Malaga, the first branch of the Parisian museum outside France. Housed in a must-have multicolored glass cube, it presents a remarkable collection of art from the 20th and 21st centuries. Muelle Uno hosts concerts and cultural events throughout the year.

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