Read our guide to this year's cultural highlights

From cutting-edge exhibitions to fashion shows and film screenings, this year’s got plenty in store when it comes to cultural offerings. Whisk yourself away to Australia or head to sunny Portugal, with our guide to the top five cultural events you won’t want to miss this year.

London, UK: ‘David Hockney RA: A Bigger Picture’

Top 5 Cultural events 2012 - LondonSee David Hockney's acclaimed works at the Royal Academy
Steve Oliver
The 2012 Olympics may be the biggest event on the London calendar but fear not, there’s plenty to keep you occupied if the sight of lycra and trainers breaks you out in a cold sweat.

Starting things off, this weekend sees the opening of ‘David Hockney RA: A Bigger Picture’ at the Royal Academy (21 January - 9 April), set to be a blockbuster of an exhibition. The works on show span the prolific painter’s career, and will include the colourful Yorkshire landscape paintings Hockney made upon his return to England. Ever a fan of new technologies, the exhibition will also display his iPad drawings.

Helsinki, Finland: World Design Capital 2012

Top 5 Cultural events 2012 - HelsinkiA year of design-led events takes place across the Finnish capital
Hemera / Thinkstock
Scandinavia has always been top of the class when it comes to producing and celebrating modern, beautiful and functional design, so it’s no surprise that Finland’s capital, Helsinki, is playing host this year as World Design Capital. It’s an all-year-long celebration with events taking place throughout.

Highlights include Open Doors Weekend (3-5 February) where visitors to the capital can drop in on studios, go behind the scenes at museums and participate in over 180 events taking place across Espoo, Vantaa, Kauniainen, Lahti as well as Helsinki. There’s also September’s Design Week (6-16 September) which aims to bring together local artists and international designers for 10 days of education, celebration and innovation within design.

New York City, USA: Frieze Art Fair and ‘Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations’

Top 5 Cultural events 2012 - NYCReginald Fellowes in Elsa Schiaparelli ensemble, 1933
Harper’s Bazaar / Hearst Communications, Inc.
There are many reasons to visit New York City, but this summer art- and fashion-lovers only need two. The first is the Frieze Art Fair (4-7 May) which will take place in Manhattan for the first time as well as the Regent’s Park event in London later in the year. Attracting commercial galleries and artists from all over the world, there’ll be plenty of big deals being done but the public is also welcome to come and admire the art on show, all for the price of an admission ticket.

If you prefer your art in sartorial form, then head to the Met’s Costume Institute exhibition ‘Schiaparelli and Prada: Impossible Conversations’ (10 May – 19 August). The exhibition will focus on the connections between these two influential designers, looking at the role of art (in particular Surrealism), technology and contemporary notions of beauty, on their designs.

Guimarães, Portugal: European Capital of Culture 2012

Top 5 Cultural events 2012 - PortugalThis year it’s all about culture in Guimarães, Portugal
Creative Commons / Jsome1
Portugal’s got a reputation as being the place for fun in the sun but this year it’s all about culture, as visitors to Guimarães, the new joint European Capital of Culture (Maribor in Slovenia is the other) will discover. The city’s been on the up in Portugal, with a burgeoning creative scene and major regeneration projects ongoing, but this year visitors will be spoilt for choice.

There’s a mammoth calendar of events, kicking off with the opening ceremony on 21 January (an open-air multimedia show) and followed by events ranging from art exhibitions and film screenings to talks, workshops and concerts, including ‘Mi Casa Es Tu Casa’ where musicians will play concerts in local homes throughout the town.

Sydney, Australia
Museum of Contemporary Art reopens

Top 5 Cultural events 2012 - SydneySydney's Museum of Contemporary Art reopens in March
Creative Commons / TwistieMan
If you’ve been looking to get away for a cultural spring break this March, then head to Sydney where the Museum of Contemporary Art is set to reopen after a £35-million renovation. It’s Australia’s only gallery dedicated to contemporary art, and with the new exhibition spaces, a rooftop café and a Sculpture Terrace, the newly expanded museum is certain to attract the crowds.

The first exhibition to be housed in the new galleries will be ‘Collection Volume 1’. It will feature indigenous and non-indigenous Australian art collected over the past 20 years, grouped around several themes including mythology and movement.

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