Where to experience the best culture in Europe’s most popular cities
Europe is home to world-renowned art, historic heritage, and fascinating cultures. Some of the world’s greatest cultural and historical attractions reside all over Europe, including the Louvre in Paris, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, and the Tate Modern in London.
But when it comes to cultural offerings; theatres, museums, music venues, and libraries, which European cities have the most on offer, and which can be crowned Europe’s cultural capital?
This report reveals the cities that all culture lovers should be adding to their bucket lists.
The top 5 most cultured European cities
1. Venice, Italy - Culture Score - 8.77/10
Museums per 100,000 people: 37.94
Theatres per 100,000 people: 6.97
Libraries per 100,000 people: 12.77
Music venues per 100,000 people: 10.45
Annual 'cultural' searches: 157,640
Ranking as the most cultural European city is Venice. Venice has an astounding 37.94 museums per 100,000 people, the highest on this list. Venice also has the largest number of libraries and music venues with 12.77 and 10.45 per 100,000 people respectively.
The Basilica di San Marco, nicknamed the Church of Gold due to its Egyptian marble walls, gold dome mosaics, and altarpiece adorned with hundreds of gemstones, is world-renowned as one of the finest examples of Byzantine architecture in Italy and is home to the St. Mark’s Museum. Venice also presents Doge's Palace, regarded as a masterpiece of Venetian Gothic architecture. This museum shows off works by Italian renaissance masters such as Titian, Veronese, Tiepolo, and Tintoretto.
2. Edinburgh, United Kingdom - Culture Score - 8.08/10
Museums per 100,000 people: 7.74
Theatres per 100,000 people: 4.73
Libraries per 100,000 people: 1.29
Music venues per 100,000 people: 4.95
Annual 'cultural' searches: 689,700
The runner-up for the most cultured European city on this list is Edinburgh. Cultural attractions in Edinburgh saw a massive 680,000 Google searches last year. The Scottish capital is also home to a vast selection of museums, theatres, and music venues.
One iconic landmark of Scottish heritage is the striking fortress, Edinburgh Castle. Edinburgh Castle dates back to the 12th century and is home to the Scottish crown jewels, three military museums, and exhibits. What makes Edinburgh Castle so exciting is that as you climb Castle Hill, up to Castle Rock, you are following in the footsteps of kings, queens, soldiers, and even pirates. Other attractions include the National Museum of Scotland and Real Mary King's Close, a collection of underground alleyways dating back to the Plague.
2. Amsterdam, Netherlands - Culture Score - 8.00/10
Museums per 100,000 people: 13.75
Theatres per 100,000 people: 7.01
Libraries per 100,000 people: 0.94
Music venues per 100,000 people: 2.56
Annual 'cultural' searches: 887,350
In third place for most cultural European city is Amsterdam. Over 800,000 searches regarding Amsterdam’s cultural offerings are made each year, many of which are linked to the city's expansive and globally popular museums. Amsterdam offers an impressive 13.75 museums per 100,000 people.
The Rijksmuseum, one of Amsterdam’s most popular museums, boasts a diverse collection of Dutch arts dating back more than eight centuries. Visitors can peruse iconic works from Dutch Masters such as Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Van Gogh. Keen to see some one-of-a-kind modern and contemporary art, then why not take a stroll through Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam’s Museum of Modern Art?
3. Florence, Italy - Culture Score - 7.85
Museums per 100,000 people: 22.33
Theatres per 100,000 people: 7.44
Libraries per 100,000 people: 6.58
Music venues per 100,000 people: 1.72
Annual 'cultural' searches: 159,000
Florence comes in fourth place, with a culture score of 7.85/10. There are a brilliant 22.33 museums per 100,000 people alongside 7.44 theatres and 6.58 libraries. As a result, searches for cultural attractions within Florence reached 159,000 over the last year.
Florence is home to one of the most important and most visited museums in Italy. The Uffizi Gallery is a world-renowned art museum located next to the Piazza Della Signoria. The Uffizi Gallery holds a collection of priceless Italian Renaissance artworks, dating back to 1765. Smaller and more specialized than the Uffizi is the Galleria dell'Accademia, home to an exceptional collection of Florentine paintings alongside one of the most famous sculptures in history: Michelangelo's David.
4. Milan, Italy - Culture Score - 6.77
Museums per 100,000 people: 5.58
Theatres per 100,000 people: 4.37
Libraries per 100,000 people: 4.29
Music venues per 100,000 people: 6.39
Annual 'cultural' searches: 106,710
Rounding off the top five most cultural cities in Europe is Milan. Over 100,00 searches are made regarding Milan’s cultural attractions annually, with links to the city's diverse range of music venues (6.39 per 100,000) and museums (5.58 per 100,000).
Many of Italy's greatest operatic artists and some of the finest singers from all over the world have performed at Milan’s La Scala opera house. Coveted performances at La Scala begin on 7 December, Saint Ambrose's Day. Saint Ambrose also lends its name to The Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan’s historic library. Biblioteca Amrosiana houses the famous works of the Iliad and the Ilias Picta.
The study also revealed the best European city for each cultural attraction type, with reference to the total number of attractions per city.
The best European city for museums
London, United Kingdom - Total Museums = 238
London offers the most museums of all cities on this list, at a whopping 238. One of London’s most iconic is the Natural History Museum. This museum exhibits an expansive range of artifacts from various segments of natural history and it is free to visit across the year. One of the most prominent exhibits is that of the 4.5-tonne blue whale skeleton, nicknamed Hope.
The best European cities for theatres
London, United Kingdom - Total Theatres = 208
London offers a tremendous choice of 208 theatres throughout the city, the most of any city on this list. There are 39 theatres in London’s West End theatre district alone, including the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, which opened in May 1663 and is today the oldest theatre in London. West End theatre represents the highest level of theatre in the English-speaking world and catching a show is a popular tourist activity in London.
The best European city for libraries
Rome, Italy - Total Libraries = 79
Rome has a total of 79 libraries open to the public, offering the most extensive choice of any city on this list. Popular Roman libraries include Biblioteca Angelica, located near the Piazza Sant'Agostino square, and the Biblioteca Casanatense, a large historic library holding over 400,000 volumes.
The best European city for music venues
London, United Kingdom - Total Music Venues = 206
London has garnered a reputation for hosting exceptional live music since the swinging sixties. Today, the city is home to 206 different music venues, including Brixton Academy which is a right of passage for music fans and upcoming artists alike, and the Royal Albert Hall, which is known as one of the most prestigious venues to catch live music in the city.
This research focuses on the most visited European cities in 2021 according to the Euromonitor International Annual Index of which there are 35. Cities without available data across all factors were removed, leaving a total of 27 cities for further analysis.
To gather details for each factor, the following sources were used:
- No. of museums (including art galleries) based on the latest WhichMuseum and tourist boards.
- No. of music venues were recorded using Yelp when searching for music venues in each city and filtering by ‘music venues’ within 2 miles.
- No. of libraries and theatres were taken from TripAdvisor.
- All cultural attractions were calculated per 100,000 people using population figures from World Population Review.
- Search volume for terms used were 'CITYNAME + Library' and ‘CITYNAME + Theatre’ etc, and were recorded using Google Ads Keyword Planner. Total search volume covers global searches over the last year.
All factors were combined to give a relative ranking out of 10 for each city.