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As any observer of urban renewal knows, artists have a long track record of cultivating an energy that often evolves a place into a true experience, generating creative spaces and an innovative atmosphere that locals and visitors can enjoy. These cities, taken from “world’s best” lists in publications such as Sherman’s Travel and American Style, have benefited from such a thriving eco-system and are teeming with art and cultural ambience.

Berlin, Germany
After the Cold War ended in 1989, artists colonised neighbourhoods such as Mitte and Prenzlauer Berg in eastern Berlin, drawn by the inexpensive rent and enormous, high-ceilinged apartments found in 19th-century buildings and unused department stores. Galleries soon followed and then so did the collectors. Now Berlin bohemians – who would have sneered at a velvet rope – crowd hotspots such as Mitte’s Soho House Berlin, where emerging artists may not be able to afford apartments near contemporary art galleries such as Kunst-Werke anymore. In the past five or six years, many galleries have migrated to open on Potsdamer Strasse in western Berlin, a street lined with antiques and art dealers before World War II.

But across the city, there is still room for renovation. The Johann Konig Gallery, for example, will move in April to St Agnes, a Brutalist-style church built in the 1960s in the trendy Kreuzberg neighbourhood, not far from the Berlinische Galerie. In Mitte, a former Jewish girls school and deportation centre during WWII is now a complex of galleries and cafes ­– including the Michael Fuchs Galerie and EIGEN + ART – that fully encompasses its history while creating the present. As the third most-visited European capital after London and Paris, Berlin is still a place where artists come to create their dreams.

The majority of residents in Berlin – nearly 85% – rent, and housing costs have risen more quickly than in other German cities. However, prices are still far lower than in other major Western European cities, including Hamburg, Brussels and Vienna. “There are many advantages to renting,” said Alexander Korte, founder of, an estate agency specialising in foreign buyers. “The laws are pro-renter and the landlords can’t raise the rent just as they wish.” A 70sqm flat can rent for around 600 euros a month in neighbourhoods such as Kreuzberg or the gentrifying Friedrichschain, while Mitte is seeing rents reach 2,000 euros a month.

But buyers are also flocking to Berlin since apartments and houses are cheap for a major European capital. The property market has seen an increase in residential prices of more than 32% since 2007 and luxury developments and conversions are in demand. The rise in price is fuelled by Spanish, Italian Russian, British and French investors, as well as Germans, who consider Berlin a bargain and want a safe and inexpensive place for their euros. Currently, the average housing price in Berlin is 2,000 euros per square metre.

Basel, Switzerland
Home to Art Basel, the most important contemporary art fair in the world, this northern Switzerland city on the border with France and Germany has a cultural impact that far outweighs Basel’s actual size. The Kunstmuseum Basel, the oldest museum in Switzerland, houses European masterworks that span from Holbein to Picasso, and Schauleger, a museum and institute designed by hometown duo Herzog & de Meuron, contains the stupendous Emmanuel Hoffman Foundation collection of more than 400 modern masterpieces from the likes of Cindy Sherman and Richard Tuttle. In the St Johann neighbourhood, the pharmaceutical giant Novartis has a campus with 17 buildings either built or under construction from a star lineup of the most famous architects in the world, such as Frank Gehry, Tadao Ando, Rem Koolhaas and of course, Herzog & de Meuron. “For a relatively small town, Basel has an incomparably high amount of quality cultural events,” said Davy Hess, managing director at Engel & Völkers Basel.

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