European Destinations for Design Lovers

Alix M Campbell

Senior Contributor

A European city trip offers something for everyone, whether you’re a culture buff, a foodie, a fan of architecture, or a passionate bar-hopper. Maybe you appreciate urban art or you’re on a mission to try every single specialty of the local cuisine during your stay. If you’re an art and design lover, a trip to one of these vibrant cities will provide you with interesting photo opps on every corner thanks to their impressive cultural landscapes.

Turin, Italy

If the city of Milan is synonymous with fashion, then Turin is Italy’s design haven as it was the first to receive the title of UNESCO ‘World Design Capital’ in 2008. This northern Italian gem is home to renowned design schools like the Instituto Europeo di Design, contemporary art galleries like the Galleria Civica di Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, as well as the FIAT automobile company.

After enjoying your morning cappuccino and a delicious brioche, take a stroll through the historical Quadrilatero Romano neighbourhood, which also houses a plethora of trendy designer shops, bars, restaurants, and cafés like Torrefazione Moderna or Caffetteria Buffet. No doubt you’ll return home with a full belly and a head filled with new impressions and ideas inspired by this thriving design capital.  

Bergen, Norway

Design lovers have quite some places to discover in Scandinavia. One of those cities is Bergen, Norway’s second-largest city and a design powerhouse. You could start your day at Bryggen, the historic harbour neighbourhood and the old wharf of Bergen. The beautifully preserved wooden houses are a reminder of the country’s flourishing trade empire between the 12th and the 16th century. They make for a stunning backdrop in your photos.

After that, head on over to KODE, one of the largest museums in the Nordic region for music, design, arts, and crafts. Soak up the creative vibes in this museum cluster that boasts a unique and interesting architecture. Another building to add to your list of design gems in Bergen is Hotel Park, an historic hotel from 1890. By then, you’re probably ready to sit down and relax at one of the cosy cafés in town like Blom or Klosteret Kaffebar. Café Opera across from the National Theatre even turns into a club when the sun goes down hosting live bands and serving tasty cocktails.

Graz, Austria

The second largest city in Austria is home to several examples of stunning modern architecture. Start your day with some contemporary art at the Kunsthaus aka ‘the friendly alien’. Grab a coffee and a delicious pastry at its very own café, which is also a prime location to watch the hustle and bustle in the street. The friendly alien was designed by Peter Cook and Colin Fournier and received its name thanks to its odd shape. It was built in 2003 when Graz was named European Capital of Culture.

Another iconic landmark was built in the same year: the Murinsel or Mur Island, a giant seashell floating in the middle of the Mur River. New York City artist Vito Acconci designed this interesting structure, which hosts an amphitheatre, a café, and a playground. From there, head towards the centre of town strolling along Herrengasse, which is the main shopping street and a pedestrian area boasting richly decorated historical buildings like the Town Hall, the Painted House, or the Styrian Armoury.

Bilbao, Spain

Bilbao is the largest city in Northern Spain and home to the world-famous Bilbao Guggenheim Museum designed by Frank Gehry. This popular tourist attraction, which opened its doors in 1997, is also one of the most famous examples of contemporary architecture and a great reason to visit this UNESCO ‘City of Design’. After an extensive stroll through the Guggenheim, you’ll probably want to sit down in one of the many pinxtos bars like Irrintzi, Bar Charly or Zera and recharge with various delicious bites of local dishes.

Rested and ready for more design gems, you could stroll over the modern Zubizuri footbridge that connects the left and right bank of the Nervion River. Resembling a sailboat, this interesting structure was designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. The cultural and leisure centre Azkuna Zentroa, transformed from a former wine cellar by French architect Philippe Stark, is certainly worth a visit. And so is the Plaza de Indautxu square nearby with its plethora of shops, bars, and restaurants.

When it comes to a choice of where to stay, you’d be hard-pressed to find better-situated digs than the Gran Hotel Domine which is literally situated right next door to the Guggenheim.

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