With its neat canals overlooked by handsome merchants’ houses, Amsterdam is one of the most beautifully proportioned cities in the world. It is also a laboratory of post-industrial living, thanks to projects such as the NDSM-Werf, a former shipyard now containing workspaces, cafés and a strong community spirit. The Westergasfabriek, where red-brick factory buildings have been adapted to house an arts and entertainment zone, is also fantastic creative fodder. Meanwhile Borneo, a former dockland area, has been rebuilt as a residential district of cool, contemporary dwellings.
The city offers old-school artistic inspiration by the bucket load, too. Rembrandt’s House, the Van Gogh Museum and the modernist masterpieces of the Stedelijk are among the highlights.
NDSM-students housing in containers © misign/Shutterstock
Gruff, gritty and overwhelming, Sao Paulo is an altogether more abrasive prospect than Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s more popular tourist city. But, in many ways, it’s also more culturally potent.
The Sao Paolo Biennial and the MASP contemporary art museum are the flagships of South America’s most diverse cultural scene, and the nightlife has a famously uninhibited, anything-goes reputation.
The sprawling city also has scores of bustling neighbourhoods suited to endless urban roving. Whichever part of the megalopolis you find yourself in, the music blasting out of bars, cars and private flats is a revelation.
MASP © Thiago Leite/Shutterstock
It’s smart to aim for a city yet to establish itself as a tourist hub – that way you'll avoid too many preconceptions. One such outlier is Indonesia’s textile and fashion industry capital Bandung. It’s a raucous, chaotic, scooter-clogged metropolis that's yet to find its way into much film or literature.
More than just a place to buy cheap denims, it’s the undoubted centre of Indonesia’s art, design and indie music scenes, and has the teeming café life to match. It can also boast some truly inspirational one-offs: the Regia inner-city forest comes complete with treetop walkway and alfresco cultural events. The perforated cube that is the Al-Irsyad Mosque is one of the most beautiful contemporary sacral buildings in Southeast Asia.
© Sony Herdiana/Shutterstock
If you want to absorb the entire span of world history in a single destination, with art, architecture and design from every imaginable epoch lined up for leisurely viewing, then head to Istanbul. This Turkish city is one of the most visually intoxicating places on Earth. It offers Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman architecture on a monumental scale. It also boasts a never-ending parade of evocative alleys, bazaar quarters, tea gardens, markets, trams and bustling shoreline ferry stations.
Istanbul is also the contemporary art capital of southeastern Europe, with a spread of cutting-edge galleries including Istanbul Modern. The Istanbul Biennale kicks off on September 16, 2017.
© Boris Stroujko/Shutterstock
Top image: Museumsinsel (Museum Island) with excursion boat on Spree river and famous TV tower, Berlin © canadastock/Shutterstock