European art in two weeks

A two-week tour of Europe for lovers of fine art

For this trip, you can work out the daily sightseeing schedules on your own, depending on what most floats your artistic boat. Most cities have 2.5 full days of sightseeing time budgeted, which should be enough to give the major museums a good once-over.

Days 1 through 3: London: Your first order of business should definitely be the medieval, Renaissance, and baroque masterpieces of the National Gallery. The other great art collection is the Tate Gallery, which covers the British greats as well as international art of the 19th and 20th centuries from impressionism to contemporary works. You may also want to stop by the National Portrait Gallery; it exists more for the historical interest of the subjects, but it has some artistically fine portraits as well (especially by Holbein, Reynolds, and Warhol).
No museum buff should miss the Victoria & Albert Museum, which has London's best sculpture collection (Donatello, Giambologna, Bernini) and a fascinating exhibit on artistic fakes and forgeries, in addition to miles of decorative arts. If you're into Christopher Wren's brand of Renaissance architecture, the city's full of it; his greatest hit is St. Paul's. I can't imagine a trip to London without calling on the British Museum, at least briefly, where you can get the best overview of the ancient world's art forms (Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Assyrian, Asian, Indian, and Islamic). On the morning of Day 4, catch an early Eurostar train to Paris.

Days 4 through 6: Paris: You'll want to explore the treasures of the Louvre over a full day at least. Fans of impressionism and French art in general should devote at least two-thirds of a day to the Musée d'Orsay. Paris has so many smaller art museums it's hard to choose from among them and nearly impossible to squeeze them all in. Whole museums are devoted to single artists (Rodin, Picasso, Delacroix, Le Corbusier, Dalí), and others are devoted to eras—the medieval at Thermes de Cluny, the modern in the Pompidou. Two of my favorite, slightly lesser-known art treasures are the Delacroix murals in the church of St-Suplice and Monet's 360° Waterlilies in specially built basement rooms of the Orangerie, off Place de la Concorde. At the end of Day 6, hop on the overnight train to Florence.

Days 7 through 9: Florence: Reserve one entire day for the Uffizi galleries, a living textbook of Renaissance development. The Pitti Palace's Galleria Palantina covers the High Renaissance and baroque eras thoroughly. Michelangelo's David and his unfinished Slaves in the Accademia are a must, and Donatello reigns supreme at the Bargello sculpture museum. Fra' Angelico frescoed his brothers' cells at his monastery of San Marco, and they've set up a fine museum to him there. Florence's churches are so richly decorated I scarcely know where to begin: Giotto in Santa Croce; Ghirlandaio and Masaccio in Santa Maria Novella; Donatello and Michelangelo at San Lorenzo and again in the Museo dell'Opera dell Duomo. Then there's Brunelleschi's architecture from the Duomo to Santo Spirito to the Pazzi chapel at Santa Croce. Florence is one place where you'll run out of time before you run out of art.

Days 10 through 12: Rome: Take the morning train here from Florence on Day 10 and start in on the baroque period with Bernini's sculpture in Piazza Navona, Piazza Barberini, and the Galleria Borghese. The Vatican Museums (home to the Raphael Rooms, the Pinacoteca, and Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel) will take two-thirds of a day. The Capitoline Museums split their collections between ancient sculpture and mosaics and Renaissance and baroque painting. Some smaller museums include the Doria Pamphilij collections and the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica at Palazzo Barberini.
Rome's churches are blanketed with art, from Filippino Lippi's frescoes in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva (where you'll also find Michelangelo's Risen Christ) to the Caravaggios in Santa Maria del Popolo and Michelangelo's Moses in San Pietro in Vincoli. Again, you're unlikely to run out of art to ogle in just three days here. On the evening of Day 12, get on the overnight train for the long haul to Barcelona.

Day 13: Barcelona: You should definitely take in the early works at the Picasso museum and make a survey of Gaudí's whimsical architecture in this Catalonian capital. On this tour, however, Barcelona's more of a way station and a one-day breather before we press on. At the end of the day, hop the overnight train to Madrid, where we'll plunge into its myriad museums.

Days 14 through 16: Madrid: Spain is the land of Picasso, Velàzquez, Goya, El Greco (by adoption), Murillo, and Ribera. You have a day to devote to the Prado and another day to split between the Reina Sofía museum (home of Picasso's Guernica), the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum, and—if you can stand any more art at this point—the Museo Làzaro Galdiano. Day 16 is spent getting back home.

Tours Under $995 G Adventures

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This article was by Reid Bramblett and last updated in August 2011.
All information was accurate at the time.

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Copyright © 1998–2013 by Reid Bramblett. Author: Reid Bramblett.