Swap beach breaks for the city and visit these must-see shows, says Sarah Marshall.

While most people on the continent head to coastal destinations during the summer, culture lovers will have their focus set on major cities. From blockbuster exhibitions to under-the-radar gems, galleries across Europe will be hosting some fabulous shows this season. Plan a trip to coincide with these top picks.

1. Frida Kahlo: Making Herself Up

Where: V&A, London

When: June 16 to Nov 4

As much a fashion icon as an artist, Frida Kahlo has been hailed a feminist hero in her native Mexico. She loved to wear traditional dresses from Oaxaca, and many of her outfits - locked away for 50 years after her death - are on show for the first time outside Mexico. Other personal artefacts displayed include her red-leather-booted prosthetic leg and the eyebrow pencils used to define her famous monobrow.

How: Tickets cost £15. Visit vam.ac.uk

2. Stairway to Klimt

Where: Kunsthistorisches, Vienna

When: Until September 2

Famous for his erotic paintings of women - often in gold - Gustav Klimt was a key figure in the Vienna Secession art movement. This year marks the centenary of his death, with numerous exhibitions created to commemorate the occasion. Several of his works decorate the Main Staircase of the grand Kunsthistorisches museum, where curators have erected a bridge to allow visitors a closer look at the works.

How: Kirker Holidays offers a four-night B&B stay at the Konig von Ungarn hotel from £794pp, including museum entrance and flights. Tickets alone cost E15. Visit khm.at/en

3. Van Gogh and Japan

Where: Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

When: Until June 24

Although he never visited Japan, one of the world's most famous artists drew his own impressions of the country from a collection of prints which greatly shaped his work. Around 100 prints from his 600-strong personal collection are on display alongside several of the pieces he was subsequently inspired to paint.

How: Eurostar's new direct train service from London St Pancras to Amsterdam starts from £35 each way. Entry to the exhibition costs E18.

4. The Rose Empire: Masterpieces of 19th-century Persian Art

Where: Louvre-Lens Museum, Lens, Nord-Pas-de-Calais

When: Until July 23

The Qajar dynasty ruled Iran from 1786 to 1925, a period of great modernism in the country, and employed a number of talented court artists. Their work, borrowed from private collections and major Iranian museums, forms the basis of this show at the satellite branch of French national treasure, The Louvre. Fashion designer Christian Lacroix has created elaborate and colourful gallery backdrops for the pieces.

How: Lens is an hour's drive from Calais, or can be reached by Eurostar to Lille (from £29 one way) and 30 minutes on a local train. Tickets for the exhibition are E10. Visit louvrelens.fr

5. Gala Salvador Dali: A Room of One's Own in Pubol

Where: Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, Barcelona

When: July 6 to October 14

Surrealist painter Salvador Dali was heavily influenced by his wife and muse, Gala - but who was the woman who inspired so many artists and intellectuals? Her personality is explored for the first time in this major exhibition, which features 60 of her husband's works, along with portrait photographs by Man Ray and Cecil Beaton.

How: Booking.com offers rooms at the Motel One Barcelona-Ciutadella from £100 per night with breakfast in July. Admission to the museum is E12. Visit museunacional.cat

6. Monet: Child of the Sea

Where: Musee Mer Marine, Bordeaux

When: June 15 to August 26

This summer, the ambitious Museum of the Sea will open in Bordeaux's historic port area, with a temporary showcase of paintings by Impressionist artist Monet. The 41 pieces on loan from the Marmottan Monet Museum in Paris, explore his relationship with the ocean.

How: Jacada Travel offers stays at the Le Boutique Hotel Bordeaux hotel in the city centre, from £320 per night with breakfast. For the exhibition, visit museedelamerbordeaux.fr