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The Curbed guide to the world’s best design cities

An aerial view of a highway adjacent to a pedestrian path and a desert area with palm trees.

Our digital age can make it hard to remember, but the world is still vast and still worth getting out into—especially if you love design. What better way to experience the best buildings, plazas, neighborhoods, and cities the world has to offer than to go?

You already know that Curbed wants its readers to love where they live. We want you to love where we live, too. That’s why we’ve asked writers based in some of the world’s most brilliant cities to dish on the best things to do and sights to see in their backyards. Come explore with us. Want to know where—and what—to eat on your travels across the globe? Our friends at Eater have all the intel. —Asad Syrkett

A street and houses in Athens, Greece. There is an ascending path lined by colorful walls. Getty Images/iStockphoto
An aerial view of Athens, Greece. There is a pedestrian plaza surrounded by various buildings. In the distance is a mountain with historic buildings. Getty Images

The 23 best things to do in Athens if you love design

Depending on who you ask, Athens is either a stopover in between island hops or the center of ancient architecture.

Beyond its preeminent collection of Greek and Roman ruins, Athens is teeming with vibrant neighborhoods dotted with colorful graffiti, modern structures, and a crop of significant 21st-century designs.

Few travelers venture beyond the touristy Plaka neighborhood below the Acropolis, which means they’ll miss many of these 23 spots worth the walk or metro ride.

A colorful set of billboards and a tower in Berlin, Germany. Getty Images/EyeEm
An exterior view of the Brandenburg Gate in Germany. The gate has tall columns and a statue on top. Getty Images

The 20 best things to do in Berlin if you love design

Berlin, known for a raucous club culture and cache of world-class museums, theaters, and cultural institutions, is in a class of its own when it comes to global cities.

Divided between East and West until the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, the landscape of the unified German capital is still marked by the turbulence of its complex 20th-century history. The free-spirited city has long attracted artists, musicians, and bohemians of all stripes, ushering in creative possibilities that continue to shape the city despite its rapidly rising rents.

For a city of three million people, Berlin has a laid-back vibe that lacks the frenetic pace of London or New York. While some areas are gritty—part of the city’s appeal—Berlin possesses an abundance of public parks, waterways, and lakes, making it especially ideal when the sun decides to shine.

Architecturally speaking, the city has plenty to offer. Certain areas were completely destroyed during World War II, creating an immediate need for infrastructure and housing. In addition to a variety of new buildings, the former West still features many modernist structures from the ’50s and ’60s, while the former East remains dotted with Soviet-style high-rises in all their drab charm. A host of repurposed pre-war buildings now house museums, galleries, and other cultural institutions, leaving lots to discover in this modern metropolis.

A detail of Big Ben in London. The clock has an elaborately designed clock face with large minute and second hands Getty Images
An aerial view of a pedestrian walkway adjacent to the Thames River in London. Getty Images

The 21 best things to do in London if you love design

Crammed with galleries, museums, studios and design stores, the sprawling, multifaceted city of London offers design-minded visitors an almost endless list of activities. There are the usual suspects, of course, like the British Museum and the Millennium Bridge, but London is also brimming with secret gems you’re not likely to find on a standard guided tour of the city.

To avoid overload, we’ve highlighted 21 of the English capital’s most inspiring spots, from don’t-miss-’em lesser-known landmarks to off-the-beaten-path galleries, parks, and neighborhoods.

An aerial view of a European city. There are many buildings and towers that have statues on top. Getty Images/EyeEm
An aerial view of a pedestrian plaza. The ground has a pattern and there are people walking on the plaza. Getty Images/EyeEm

The 20 best things to do in Milan if you love design

It’s true: Milan is not Rome, Venice, or Florence. You aren’t likely to turn a corner and stumble on the kind of picture-perfect scene for which Italy has become renowned among tourists. And that’s part of the city’s allure.

As the country’s capital of design—not to mention fashion and finance—Milan sets itself apart from the postcard-ready pack with a heady mix of post-industrial buildings-turned-galleries and grand apartment buildings with enviably chic courtyards (each one a visual delight—if you can get inside).

Because so much of what’s good about Milan hides behind the city’s stately facades, we asked a few savvy locals and frequent visitors to list their picks for the best spots to gawk, shop, and dine with design in mind, and mixed them in with our own recommendations gleaned from pounding the pavement terrazzo.

In the foreground are gold statues in the Place du Trocadéro. In the background is the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Getty Images
An aerial view of a Parisian staircase. The steps are marble and there is a patterned floor at the base of the staircase. Getty Images

The 30 best things to do in Paris if you love design

Paris has long been one of the world’s most-visited cities. From its incredible architecture and cobblestone-paved streets to its world-renowned fashion and esteemed cuisine, Paris well deserves its top position in tourists’ hearts.

But when it comes to exploring each of Paris’s 20 diverse arrondissements, there’s more—so much more—to Paris than the Eiffel Tower, Montmartre, and the Louvre. There are, too, the city’s hidden havens, tiny treasures, and secret rooftops, each of which is far less known to the world than the Musée d’Orsay or Notre-Dame Cathedral.

We’ve gathered a list of 30 of the best off-the-beaten-path museums, galleries, parks, design hotspots, and perches with wonderful views—organized by neighborhood, from the center of Paris outward. Each is an absolute must-visit on your next trip to the French capital. Trust us: We’ve asked a born-and-raised Parisian.

An aerial view of a city. There are many buildings and gardens. Getty Images
A stairway in Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. The stairway has colorful mosaic tiles that spell out different words. The sides of the staircase are covered with a red pattern. There is a tree at the top of the staircase. Getty Images/iStockphoto

The 25 best things to do in Rio de Janeiro if you love design

While Rio is famous for its unparalleled natural beauty, what’s less known is the passion with which locals and tourists celebrate the city year round—not just at Carnival and for global events like the 2016 Summer Olympics. “Carioca” is the term for Rio’s residents and way of life: enjoyment of sun and sand, samba dancing, and traditional meals of feijoada and barbecue.

Beyond the beach, the city is the site of important modernist architecture, old colonial history, nature preserves, and world-class landmarks. As any Carioca will tell you, “you must go to Rio.” And when you’re in Rio, these are the key sites, views, and activities to enjoy.

A street in Singapore. There are various attached colorful houses. Trees and shrubbery line one side of the street. In the distance are tall city buildings and skyscrapers. Getty Images
An art area in Singapore with tall tree like structures that have elaborate colorful tops. Getty Images/EyeEm

The 25 best things to do in Singapore if you love design

Once ruled by Malaysian royalty, then a subject of British colonial rule for more than a century, the city-state of Singapore has become a center of global finance since it gained its independence in 1965.

Beyond the glitz and glamour of the city’s Michelin-starred restaurants and starchitect-designed megaprojects, Singapore is home to a unique blend of Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Arab cultures, allowing visitors to feel as though they’ve traveled across Asia without leaving the island. The fusion can be experienced at every turn—whether walking along the bustling streets of Little India or sipping a cocktail in a speakeasy-style bar in Chinatown.

From 150-year-old gardens to award-winning new buildings, here are the 26 best things to do and see in Singapore.

A beach in Tel Aviv with multiple beach chairs, umbrellas, and sand. The beach is overlooking a large body of water. Getty Images
A street in Tel Aviv. The ground is cobblestone, the buildings are stone and there are multiple plants lining the street. A person leans against one of the walls. Getty Images/EyeEm

The 25 best things to do in Tel Aviv if you love design

Tel Aviv, with its rambling, spice-laden markets, cache of Bauhaus-style architecture (the largest such concentration in the world), thriving culinary scene, and eight-plus miles of beachfront, is a unique destination. Though its relatively small population may suggest otherwise, this gateway to the Middle East is on par with any large modern city.

Envisioned as an English-style “Garden City” with an abundance of parks and public spaces, the tropical metropolis became a testing ground for Bauhaus-trained architects fleeing Nazi Germany, design bona fides that lend Tel Aviv its nickname, “The White City,” and have earned it a UNESCO World Heritage designation. It’s well worth a visit.

Getty Images/iStockphoto
A street in Vienna with a building that has a green domed roof and arched doorways. There are many hanging lights suspended across the street. Getty Images

The 19 best things to do in Vienna if you love design

Undeniably one of Europe’s most enticing—and sorely underrated—capitals, Vienna has something to offer visitors of all stripes.

A destination for those seeking stately Baroque or contemporary architecture, or cutting-edge culinary and modern art scenes, Vienna (population 1.8 million) prides itself on being a thoroughly modern metropolis that embraces its storied past.

While a walk through the city’s historic 1st district, home to many museums and notable points of interest, can feel like taking a stroll back in time, Vienna is also rich in icons of the 20th-century Art Nouveau (Jugendstil) movement—not to mention modern landmarks by contemporary starchitects like Zaha Hadid and Dominique Perrault.

Much of what makes the city buzz is outside its historic core, and each of the city’s 23 districts has something to offer, so we’ve cast a wide net to compile the 20 spots design and architecture lovers are sure to enjoy.