The European Capital Of Culture

February 10, 2020

Each year a European city is awarded the European Capital of Culture. Throughout the year the selected city organises a series of cultural events to celebrate their history, heritage and culture and to bring nations closer together. Visiting a European City of Culture makes for an excellent holiday and as cities have been awarded the accolade since 1985, you have plenty to choose from. Take a look at our list of some of the best European cities of culture to visit in 2020.

2020 – Rijeka in Croatia and Galway in Ireland

The medieval port city of Rijeka in Croatia has a rich history after being under Austro-Hungarian, Italian and Yugoslavian rule throughout the 20th century. Visit Rijeka to find medieval fortresses, Italian piazzas and art nouveau market halls as well as a strong industrial heritage. It is also a tolerant and multi-cultural city, known as ‘the port of diversity’ it attracts creatives and has a range of festivals throughout the year.

On the west coast of Ireland sits the small town of Galway which is a font of Irish music, literature, dance and poetry. To immerse yourself in Irish culture a visit to Galway is a must but remember to bring your raincoat as it rains here 240 days of the year. Don’t fret though, if the rain pours you can find solace in one of the many traditional Irish pubs in the town where you may hear local bands play and hear the Gaelic language being spoken.

1987 – Amsterdam

Just two years after the launch of the European Capital of Culture programme, Amsterdam was awarded the title. The capital of the Netherlands is known for its canals, museums and tolerant attitude. Its Pride festival is one of the best in the world and over the spring and summer music, food and cultural festivals take over the city. The centre of the city has tall merchant houses and cobbled streets, while on the outskirts, parks such as Vondelpark offer oases of peace. Areas such as Negen Straatjes and the Jordaan attract creative types, and have unique boutiques, cafes and arts venues to discover.


1989 – Paris

Two years later it was the turn of the French capital. World famous art can be found in the Louvre, iconic structures can be climbed at the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe and gothic architecture can be discovered the Notre Dame and the Sacré-Cœur cathedrals. Paris has long been the centre of French literature, with famous writers such as Jules Verne and Victor Hugo penning their tales here. The Hunchback of Notre Dame was even set in the famous cathedral which overlooks the city. Its literary legacy can be felt in the plethora of bookstores across Paris, including the famous Shakespeare and Company where writers can stay for free.


1993 – Antwerp

The nineties saw the Belgian city of Antwerp claim the title of European Capital of Culture. Famous for its diamond district and artistic protégée, Pieter Paul Rubens, you can browse the sparkling jewels in the diamond district and see some of Rubens’ famous artwork at museums around the city. The port city boasts a riverside fortress, a stunning cathedral and a grand medieval town square. You can see the world’s oldest printing press at the Museum Plantin-Moretus, sample some authentic Belgian beer at De Koninck brewery and take in some world-class photography at the FOMU museum.


2000 – Avignon

At the start of a new millennium, nine European states were chosen as capitals of culture, including the French town of Avignon in the heart of Provence. Once the centre of the Roman Catholic faith and the home of the pope, there is a legacy of ecclesiastical architecture including the grand Palais des Papes. Its medieval old town is filled with old buildings full of character and the town’s museums hold paintings from Picasso to Botticelli, Van Gogh to Cézanne. Each July an arts festival takes over the city with music, dancing, theatre and more. Its leafy squares and charming restaurants offer a perfect place to relax after a day of sight seeing too.


2002 – Bruges

With its medieval buildings towering over cobbled streets and curving canals, the towering belfry and the grand market square, Bruges is quintessentially Belgian. An abundance of chocolateries fill the lanes and you can find Flemish fries on most streets. The tranquil Begijnhof is a peaceful garden home to nuns of the order of St Benedict and the Basilica of the Holy Blood draws thousands of pilgrims each year to see a vial containing what is thought to be Christ’s blood. See the city via the canal on a boat tour or hop onto a horse and cart to see the city through the cobbled streets – there are plenty of blankets to keep you wrapped up in the winter too.


2004 – Lille

In recent years, Lille has transformed from an industrial city to a cultural and commercial hub and this year it will become World Design Capital. The first French city to win this accolade, it will allow design and creative agencies to open their doors to the public and deliver exhibitions and events.

Highlights of Lille include the blend of Flemish and French architecture, fantastic art museums and the charming old town.

Climb the belfry attached to the town hall, visit Le Tripostal, a thriving arts centre, and drop into a range of galleries, including the unusual La Piscine Musée d’Art et d’Industrie, an art deco municipal swimming pool which has been transformed into an exhibition space.


Photo Credit: Camster2

2010 – Essen

Over several decades Essen has transformed from an industrial powerhouse to a thriving creative hub. These days it effectively blends its creative present and industrial past through the Industrial Heritage Trail and Zeche Zollverein, a former coal mine which is now a cultural centre with museums, performance spaces, artist studios, cafes and playgrounds.

Essen’s medieval cathedral sits in the heart of the busy shopping district, offering a pocket of peace in the midst of the busy city. Inside you can see the Golden Madonna, set in her own midnight blue chapel, a crown worn by Holy Roman Emperor Otto III and a collection of art and sculptures over 1,000 years old.

2011 – Tallinn

The Estonian capital city, Tallinn became European Capital of Culture back in 2011 and with its blend of influences, striking architecture and vibrant culture, it’s easy to see why.

Stroll the narrow lanes of the old town to see 15th century merchants’ houses, medieval courtyards and hidden stone stairways which lead to the hilltop citadel of Toompea.

Head east to discover Kadriorg Park, within which sits the baroque Kadriorg Palace. The leafy lanes are ideal for a picnic, playing with the kids or just relaxing after an afternoon of sight-seeing.

Back in the centre, Tallinn Town Hall is the only surviving gothic town hall in Northern Europe and St Olaf’s Church was once one of the tallest buildings in the world. Its spire was a signpost for approaching ships and the 124 metres can now be climbed by tourists to see dizzying views of the city.

DFDS run several ferry routes across Europe including ferries from Dover – France and Newcastle to Amsterdam. Find out more here.

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