Gone are the days when London and Paris dominated the discussion about design in Europe: Now, it's places like Bilbao and Zagreb that are stealing the most buzz. From the classics to the up-and-comers, here are six of Europe's most design-obsessed cities.
1. HelsinkiHelsinki earned the coveted bragging right of "World Design Capital" from the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design back in 2012 — and the city's creative geniuses have upped their game even more since then. To be fair, design is incorporated into every aspect of Helsinki life — from food presentation to hemlines. That said, the Design District is where creations really pop: Spread across 25 streets and four different neighborhoods, it's a one-stop-shop for…well, shopping! Also worth visiting are the city's design museums like the Museum of Finnish Architecture.
This Austrian city is a design lover's dream come true. For one, Graz is a UNESCO "City of Design," along with only 16 other international places. There are also lots of students in Graz, many of whom tout their urban artwork downtown. Then there’s the Murinsel (Mur island), an artificial platform that looks like a seashell and floats on the river. Another must-see — not that you could miss it if you tried — is The Kunsthaus Graz. It’s the city's best example of contemporary art... and possibly your first introduction to blob architecture.
Frank Gehry ring a bell? If Bilbao isn't on your travel bucket list, then you better remedy that stat. Since first opening in 1997, the iconic Guggenheim Museum has been the city's most frequented tourist attraction — and after one glance, it’s easy to see why. Guggenheim aside, Bilbao has done a great job of incorporating design into people's everyday commute. There's the Zubizuri footbridge, the award-winning metro system design and the Alhóndiga Cultural and Leisure Centre, which began as a wine cellar pre-transformation.
Torino is another "World Design Capital," so named in 2008. It was also the first city to earn that award, so let's give credit when credit's due. In addition to top-notch design schools like Istituto Europeo di Design and the Istituto d’Arte Applicata, there are a ton of avant-garde art galleries. Similar to the Design District in Helsinki, Torino's oldest neighborhood, the Quadrilatero Romano has evolved into a design hub. While fine dining, outdoor cafes, and lively bars are also major draws for tourists, design stays front and center.
Sure, Berlin is pretty innovative but Hamburg is not to be overlooked. In fact, it's considered to be one of Europe's most ambitious cities right now in terms of urban design. One of the city's biggest projects to date is HafenCity. Before transforming into an upscale, residential area with fancy offices for startups, posh hotels, shops, and cultural museums, the neighborhood was basically a series of abandoned warehouses. Karolinenviertel is another rags-to-riches neighborhood where boutiques, cafes, and bars line the street.
This one might seem like a wild card, but hear us out: Thanks to Zagreb’s unique location in the Mediterranean, the city has become a melting pot of sorts. There's also a thriving street art scene, especially along Branimirova Street where street artists paint murals along the public wall. Then there are the museums to consider — for instance the Museum of Broken Relationships. Yes, that's right; there's an entire museum dedicated to failed relationships. That may not sound very festive — depending on your current relationship state — but it's definitely one of the city's most creative displays.
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