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.

The housing market has also been very robust for the past four years, in part because of low interest rates and the large number of foreigners relocating to the city. “The market is a seller’s market and demand is much higher than supply,” Hess explained. The most popular districts include the residential St Alban quarter near the Old Town and the leafy Gellertquartier near the Rhine River. “These areas are the most charming areas in Basel, with townhouses and villas from the early 1900s,” Hess said. Farther out, desirable areas include the districts of Bruderholz and Binningen, located south of the Old Town; the municipality of Riehen across the Rhine; as well as the village of Arlesheim, south of the city. Apartment prices across Basel range from 4,000 Swiss francs per square metre for an average property to 12,000 Swiss francs per square metre for a prime location such as St Alban. House prices across the city range from 800,000 Swiss francs per square metre to 3.4 million Swiss francs per square metre. A two-bedroom flat in the Gellertquartier rents around 1,500 to 2,500 Swiss francs a month.

Hong Kong, China
Hong Kong’s flowering art scene and the recent boom of the Chinese and Asian art market has attracted major international galleries to the city, such as Gagosian, Pearl Lam, White Cube and soon Lehmann Maupin, all in the Central neighbourhood. Art Basel is also holding its first Asian fair here from 23 to 26 May, taking over for the local ART HK fair. And across the harbour, construction of the West Kowloon Cultural District is set to begin this year with the first phase completed by 2020. The district will cover an area of 100 acres (the master plan was designed by Foster + Partners) and contain 17 cultural and performing arts venues, including the Xiqu Centre, designed specifically for Chinese opera, and M+, a museum of visual culture. In addition, a high-speed rail to Shanghai and Beijing will depart from the district.

Neighbourhoods such as hip Sheung Wan and Sai Ying Pun, west of Central, and industrial Wong Chuk Hang on the south side of Hong Kong Island have seen an influx of gallerists, artists and chefs. “These areas have been attractive because of improvements in public transport, such as the extension of the MTR,” said Chris Liem, owner of Engel & Völkers Hong Kong. New buildings, such as Centre Stage in Sheung Wan and Island Crest in Sai Ying Pun, have proved extremely popular with residents who want to be near the new restaurants, cafes and shops in these areas, but still have easy access to Central.

 “Rental prices are dependent on the location, age and quality of the building,” Liem said. “But generally rent on a 750sqft apartment on Hong Kong Island is around 35 Hong Kong dollars per square foot.” Buyers can expect to pay around 12,000 Hong Kong dollars per square foot for a similar flat.

Santa Fe, New Mexico
This city in the southwestern United States has been closely associated with artists since the early 20th Century, when painters began to move here, drawn by the area’s vivid desert beauty and indigenous and Hispanic cultures. A Unesco Creative City since 2005, Santa Fe has more than 250 art galleries and numerous museums, nearly half of which are clustered along Canyon Road. The most visited and high profile museum is the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, which contains more than 3,000 pieces of the avant-garde artist’s work. O’Keeffe is closely associated with the landscapes and colours around Santa Fe, a place where she spent much of her adult life.

About 70 miles north, the city of Taos also has a long history as an art colony, and 60 miles to the south Albuquerque is home to a number of galleries near Old Town Plaza and Nob Hill.

The real estate market has slowed slightly, but Santa Fe’s built-in reputation as a holiday spot has been a buffer. “Since we are considered a resort destination, we still have a market for investors, second-home buyers and retirees,” said Victoria Murphy, president of the Santa Fe Association of Realtors.

The city has a homogenous look, with many houses made from adobe and built in the traditional Pueblo, Territorial and Spanish styles. Areas near downtown and Santa Fe Plaza, a National Historic Landmark, are popular, including the Historic Eastside and South Capitol neighbourhoods, east and south of the plaza. The median two-bedroom house price in these areas is $425,000 and the average house rental is around $1,200 to $1,500 a month.

Art is even part of the real estate game, in an annual February event called Art Feast, where galleries stage selected houses on the market with works from artists they represent. “The galleries re-hang paintings and provide sculptures for the homes,” said Murphy. “And on Saturday and Sunday they are open to the public.”

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico
San Miguel, located about 300km north of Mexico City, attracts US retirees, hippies, snowbirds, artists, painters and sculptors to its spicy-coloured, 17th- and 18th-century Colonial architecture and temperate climate. The city is a Unesco World Heritage Site; has a number of art schools, including the Instituto Allende which was founded by American Stirling Dickinson in the 1940s; and numerous galleries clustered along the historic town centre’s cobblestone streets showcase everything from traditional Mexican folk art to contemporary photography and sculpture.

“We have a lively arts scene, plus film and music festivals and a vital international community,” said Joanie Barcal, owner of Allende Properties estate agents. The market has rebounded in the past six months after the US and Mexico national elections and increased Mexican investment. The Historic Centro, with its colonial houses, is the most desirable area to be in, but also the most expensive, so nearby neighbourhoods such as popular Guadiana, neighbouring Ojo de Agua, colonial San Antonio and quiet Guadalupe are also very sought after. “The range of prices is quite broad in these neighbourhoods and can go from $150,000 to $1 million or higher,” explained Barcal. A one-bedroom apartment rents for around $500 a month.