The Top Ranked East Coast Cities For Art Lovers To Visit

Full of cities that have unique cultures, the United States is for art lovers. While most of the West Coast shares many traits from top to bottom, the East Coast has several smaller states with more diverse characteristics. From historic New England to the tropical coast of Florida, distinct regions have emerged over time and the local art naturally reflects that.

Creativity often runs rampant where culture is concentrated. So cities like Miami and New York City, which both have established ethnic neighborhoods and emerging communities, are shining stars for art on the East Coast. While the artistic nature of these major U.S. cities may not come as a surprise, some of the smaller, lesser-known cities that share the same coast have more to offer in the way of creative talent than you may believe. Art lovers traveling down the East Coast shouldn't sleep on these vibrant and inspiring cities.

Portland, Maine

The West Coast may have Portland as a major art hub in Oregon, but the East Coast has a thriving art scene throughout its sister city of the same name in Maine. While just a fraction of the size and population, Portland, Maine has set itself apart as a small city that packs a big punch when it comes to creativity — and we're not talking about just a few art galleries here and there.

An incredible amount of galleries and art museums have found a home in Maine. The Portland Museum of Art consistently ranks among the best art museums in the state and contains some major works of art, including a Monet. Alternatively, Cove Street Arts is a haven for art aficionados and artists alike. The space contains multiple galleries and studios that celebrate homegrown, local creativity with rotating exhibitions.

Portland, Maine is home to a surprisingly eclectic art scene, especially for a region known mostly for its natural beauty rather than its human-made wonders. Their Art Walk on the first Friday of every month displays the town's art diversity by opening up all of the galleries and even bringing some unconventional art out to the streets. Live music, art installations, and ongoing exhibits are available for aesthetes to explore downtown Portland through its art scene.

Boston, Massachusetts

Boston is a major city for history buffs, especially those interested in early American history. The city is also, however, quite the destination for those with a penchant for arts, and boasts a full spectrum between classic and new-age styles. From traditional art museums to vibrant street art, creativity shines throughout one of America's most historic cities.

When you really get down to its most basic level, art is another way in which we capture history, and Boston's Museum of Fine Arts has a pretty comprehensive collection of works that showcase the human condition as it was at the time of their creation. With over 100 galleries that showcase art from all over the world and throughout time, there is a whole lot to glean from the canvases and sculptures here. The Museum of Bad Art, on the other hand, bizarrely offers some of the same insights through pieces celebrated for being so bad you can't help but admire them.

Once you look past the red-bricked facade of Boston, you will see modern art around every corner. As you walk the Freedom Trail that routinely takes visitors through the most iconic parts of the city, keep an eye out for some of the street art that gives Boston a bit of color. The murals at Rose Kennedy Greenway are a good place to start, as the public works of art here aim to create a sense of unity among people.

New York City

NYC is one of the leading cities in the world for practically all forms of art. New York's museums are some of the best and most popular around the globe, and the diverse nature of the city combined with how populous it is creates the perfect environment for continuous and unfettered creativity.

The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) are, of course, iconic attractions in NYC. Some of the most famous and recognizable art in the world exists in these two museums, from works by Vincent van Gogh and Picasso to Andy Warhol and Roy Lichenstein. These two shining stars are not the only art museums or galleries worth visiting in the Big Apple, though, as there are countless displays of art throughout the city, including well over a thousand art galleries. Mmuseumm and the Columbia Street Waterfront District Sculpture Garden offer more unconventional, yet just as satisfying, ways to view art in the city.

We'd be remiss to talk about art in New York City without also covering the street art culture found here. The origins of guerilla and graffiti art are varied, but can be at least partially attributed to NYC, where gangs tagged their territory and creative youths later showed expression on boarded-up businesses. Now, the art style is fully embraced with murals peppering the city — the Graffiti Hall of Fame is a great place to start when searching for great street art.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Philly is all about eclectic art, which can come as a shock for those who see the city from purely a historical standpoint. While attractions like the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall are major attractions for a lot of visitors coming to the birthplace of the United States, the art here is electric and the people of Philly pride themselves on creativity that knows no bounds.

As one of the most affordable major cities in the United States, a lot of the art in Philadelphia is accessible. Even the most elaborate and all-consuming works come with a reasonable price tag, with a lot of art museums offering free admission. The Fabric Workshop and Museum as well as the Institute of Contemporary Art are always free for all — a bone thrown to all the starving artists out there looking for inspiration.

One of the most awe-inspiring collections of art in Philly isn't found in a museum, but rather a maze of mosaics that take up three city blocks. Philadelphia's Magic Gardens is not only impressive, but almost inconceivable as a work of art, as the tedious installation of tiny mirrors, bottles, and tiles was largely done by one artist alone. The name says it all, as walking through the complicated gallery is nothing short of magical.

Baltimore, Maryland

Baltimore is a major East Coast city that has been heavily influenced by Black culture, and its art scene clearly reflects that. Paintings and sculptures created by Black artists here take inspiration both from African heritage and the current political climate in America. As one of the leaders of Activism, Baltimore's art scene contributes to its strong voice in the face of social injustices.

One of the best and most obvious places to find Black-created art and works that reflect the Black experience is the Black Arts District. The artists in the area aim to revitalize Baltimore and make it a place to safely grow their art creative prowess and community.

Highlandtown is a Baltimore neighborhood that boasts a different cultural art scene. With a large Hispanic community present here, the art district of Highlandtown is highly influenced by Latin culture. The public art scene is dense here, with murals, art installations, and sculptures that are complemented by live Mariachi music, parades, and festivals.

Washington, D.C.

While not quite rivaling New York City, the capital of the U.S. is quite rich in museums. Art plays a big role in Washington, D.C. from world-famous paintings and sculptures to live performances and street art.

The National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum are both big players in Washington, D.C.'s museum scene with works important to the country's art history and culture. Lovers of performance art have plenty of venues to patronize as well, including the Kennedy Center, which hosts a range of performances from traditional theater and orchestras to immersive exhibits. For those art aficionados who like large-scale pieces, murals dress the city in color and make exploring the streets of D.C., a treat — U Street is a great place to find culturally significant street art.

While you may think of them solely as important historical landmarks, it's important to remember that the iconic monuments found around Washington, D.C. are works of art in their own right. The Lincoln Memorial, Washington Monument, and yes, even the White House itself, are all structural marvels and deserve to be seen for their artistic value in addition to the political relevance they have in American culture. The grandiose monuments certainly give the capital a unique appearance, turning the city itself into something of a work of art.

Richmond, Virginia

With murals from artists all around the world, a number of live performance venues, and a large tattoo culture, Richmond is one of the most art-rich cities on the East Coast. Though the city is usually overlooked by the socially similar cities of Denver and Portland, the River City is home to one of the top-ranked public art schools in the country, and is an interesting place for creativity to bloom from young artists.

Richmonders take their tattoos seriously and with one of the highest rates of tattoo shops per capita, the city has plenty of artists willing to create something special for their human canvases. For those looking to come here for ink, the annual tattoo convention could be a good time to find the perfect artist to fit your project.

As cool as travel tattoos are, you don't have to permanently ink your body to experience Richmond's art scene. The Virginia Museum of Fine Art holds collections fit for any art lover, from artifacts from times gone by to modern mixed media and fiber art. The museum's sculpture garden, which includes a large optical illusion head and some pretty elaborate water features, alone is worth a visit.

Norfolk, Virginia

Most visit Norfolk either for its beaches or its massive naval base, but the coastal town is also a haven for artists and art lovers. Public art is big here, and it's rare to walk through the city streets without catching a few unique mural sightings.

Though colorful murals can be spotted throughout the city, the Neon District sees a higher concentration as the central art scene hub of the city. These central large-scale pieces include an "Animal Farm"-inspired painting that uses an old barn shed as a canvas, a fanged smile amongst roses, and a simple, yet powerful labor of love.

If inventiveness runs through the veins of the city, Norfolk's central Neon District is where its heart starts pumping. Not only is the area packed with murals, but it's also where visitors can find live music, art installations, art studios, and boutique businesses. The Chrysler Museum Of Art and D'Art Center are both located here as well, strengthening that art anchor and fuelling more creativity among locals.

Raleigh, North Carolina

Sometimes referred to as the "Smithsonian of the South," Raleigh is a city that packs a punch when it comes to its art world. Where some of the other top creative cities are known for their eclectic and edgy creation collections, the capital of North Carolina has a more sophisticated scene.

Performance art is the pride of this city, and dancers, classical musicians, and theater actors have all found their stage here at venues ranging in size. Operas, ballets, musicals, and concertos are all regular events in Raleigh, and with a large rotating schedule, theater lovers won't have a hard time finding a show. In fact, the real trouble may be finding the time to see all your top picks before they leave the stage. 

Playhouses like Raleigh Little Theater and Lincoln Theater put on small, intimate productions while the Martin Marietta Center for the Performing Arts is popular for larger-scale performances. For example, the Martin Marietta Center is where music lovers can go to see the North Carolina Symphony and a number of regular and holiday productions.

Atlanta, Georgia

As the capital for Black American culture in the United States, the art scene in Atlanta very much aligns with Black culture, reflecting both the city's heritage and current political landscape. Artists in this southern city are not afraid to insert powerful statements into their art, and the result is a city that has a long and continuous history of activism.

Street art is widely used in Atlanta to commemorate the civil rights movement and to comment on more recent social and political events. Tributes to figures like John Lewis and Martin Luther King Jr. can be seen painted larger than life on the side of buildings. Positive affirmations and diverse representation are common as well, like the many contributions to the city from the Living Walls organization.

While many consider Nashville the music capital of the South, Atlanta remains a giant in the music industry. Rap, Hip Hop, and R&B have major markets in the city, but other genres like gospel, indie, and country have their place here as well. Whether you're into making music or just listening to it, one of Atlanta's live music venues — like Eddie's Attic — would be a great place to spend an evening.

Jacksonville, Florida

Art may not be the first thing you look for when visiting Jacksonville, as its sandy beaches and crystal-clear water overpowers much of what the city truly has to offer. However, once you start seeing and feeling the spirit of Jacksonville, the vibrant and edgy art scene can't be missed.

Jacksonville is not lacking in galleries and museums, you could visit a different gallery every day for weeks before seeing them all. However, it's the city's outdoor art scene that sets it apart. The truly amazing thing about art is that no two pieces are ever the same, and art lovers will marvel at the unique pieces that await them in James Weldon Johnson Park and at the Riverside Arts Market.

James Weldon Johnson Park showcases bizarre and large art installations in its sculpture garden. This includes a giant mouth that parkgoers pass through when visiting. As for the Riverside Arts Market, it's exactly what it sounds like. Except, of course, vendors are set up under an overpass, and events can include live solo performers or themed festivals. The market takes place every Saturday and is a must if you're visiting the city over the weekend.

Miami, Florida

Although they share the East Coast, that's practically the only thing tropical Miami, Florida and a place like Portland, Maine have in common. The two starkly different cities are the perfect example of how culturally and biologically distinct the United States can be. There are creative cities throughout the East Coast, but there's no place doing things quite like Miami.

The city's many micro-ethnic neighborhoods flourish, keeping traditions and customs intact while also promoting creativity, innovation, and the creation of authentic art. Head to downtown Miami to see the meshing of cultures in a live performance taking place in a cargo container. Though MicroTheater is mostly Spanish-speaking, you don't need to understand the language to have an enlightened experience here.

Probably the most iconic of the coastal city's art scene, it's nearly impossible to ignore the Art Deco architecture along Miami Beach. The district of pastel-colored and geometrical buildings is one of the most extensive collections of this historic style and driving down the strip of timeless buildings is like being transported to the early 1900s.