You never know what you might find, pondering and wandering the walls of a museum. In Europe, it could be anything from a Renaissance masterpiece to the oldest postcard with a cat on it. From grand museums doubling-up as art collections and royal palaces, to two-room wonders crammed with quirky artefacts, the sheer wealth of discoveries to be made is astonishing. We urge you to find a window in your diary for this bunch:
1. Belvedere: Vienna, Austria
Two words: Gustav Klimt. Belvedere is an essential part of his story – the Vienna-born artist, alongside others, founded the museum in 1903 and helped mould it into the greatest collection of Austrian art it is today. Two of his Golden Period masterpieces are on permanent display, including the gold-flaked Kiss (Lovers) and Judith. Contemporary exhibitions rolling into 2019 include six funky floor installations from American artist Polly Apfelbaum and tentacle-themed ceramic works by David Zink Yi.
Where to stay: Speckled with antiques and doused in comfort, Hotel Stefanie has been delighting guests since the year 1600 – making it the oldest hotel in Vienna. With just a three-minute walk to the city centre, the historic hideaway should be top of your to-stay list.
2. Groeningemuseum: Bruges, Belgium
Bruges’ lace-makers aren’t the only creative geniuses to grace the city – its artists have wowed for centuries. Groeningemuseum, located in the Groeninge district, is home to world-famous Flemish Primitive paintings. Art buffs will love masterpieces by Jan van Eyck, Hans Memling and Hugo van der Goes, alongwith neoclassical paintings by Duvivier, Ducq and Kinsoen.
Where to stay: Slick city living meets nostalgic charm at Flanders Hotel. A splendid boutique base, the Bruges-based gem is within walking distance of the UNESCO-certified city and its museums (including Groeningemuseum). Expect a glorious indoor pool, summery gardens and 50 elegantly comfortable rooms.
3. National Museum of Ancient Art: Lisbon, Portugal
Source: Wikimedia, author: Fulviusbsas
Pace the walls of a former palace in this Lisbon-located art haven. The National Museum of Ancient Art is a jaw-dropping space, dedicated to a smorsmagord of culture. Iconic Portuguese and European paintings line the galleries, alongside sculptures, ceramics, furniture, gold, silver, textiles and drawings. Over 100 paintings by extraordinary Spanish artist Joaquín Sorolla will be on show in the museum in 2019.
Where to stay: Solar Do Castelo is a pocket of old-world charm among fast-paced Lisbon life. It sits the walls of São Jorge Castle, where the old kitchens of Alcaçova Palace once stood. Expect 18th-century elegance blended into 21st-century luxe… and the odd peacock.
4. Cats Museum: Kotor, Montenegro
From tabbies to tortoiseshells, the curious Cats Museum is dedicated to the furry residents of Kotor’s Old Town. Back in 168 BC, felines flooded the town after being left behind by trading ships. The museum itself it small, but it’s stuffed with everything from cat coins to cat writings to cat postcards from WW1. Art-wise, you’ll see cats rescuing humans, cats selling Rolex watches… even cats breaking the sound barrier. Added bonus – your entry fee (one euro) will go towards the lovely feline locals themselves.
Where to stay: You’ll have the Bay of Kotor as your backdrop at Hotel Cattaro – a perfectly genteel retreat that makes the ideal base for the city’s plentiful sightseeing spots and museums.
5. Frauenmuseum: South Tyrol, Italy
Something a little different. Based in Merano, the Women’s Museum is a round-the-clock look at culture and history from a female viewpoint. Exhibits showcase everything from the representation of female ideals (from the 19th century until now) to fashion and books.
Where to stay: Dating back to 1152, Hotel Castel Rundegg is like stepping back in time to an old-age Mediterranean holiday. Only, today you’ll get all that historic glamour with the added bonus of cosmopolitan luxury – saunas, steam baths, beauty treatments and lip-smacking South Tyrolean cuisine.
6. Müritzeum: Mueritz, Germany
One for outdoor lovers. Müritzeum is a mesmerising jumble of nature and multimedia, providing the best introduction to Mueritz’s wind-in-your-air countryside. At the heart of it all, of course, is Lake Müritz: the second-largest lake in Germany. Children and adults alike will have fun exploring the exhibitions, which focus on the fascinating local flora and fauna.
Where to stay: Another Müritz local, Schlosshotel Klink sits right on the edge of Germany’s sparkling beauty. With a sprawling park area, impossibly white beach and adjoining yachting harbour (with boat rental), there’s no grander castle to stay in while visiting the area.