The European City of Culture project was conceived in 1983 as a way to highlight the arts and culture while cementing friendships between European nations. Now rebranded as the European Capitals of Culture, the cities that are chosen hold the title for a year. During this period, a series of cultural events are held which shines a spotlight on the city and what makes it special. Some recipients have seen positive social and economic impacts as a result. This has led to urban regeneration and thanks to changed perceptions, an improved image across the wider European community.
The 2023 European Capitals of Culture are Timișoara in Romania, Veszprém in Hungary and Eleusis in Greece. But let’s look back at some of the previous post holders with Mundana and find out a little more about them.
Capital of Culture 1985
The Greek capital was first to be designated a City of Culture. Its historic monuments are known the world over, not least the Parthenon temple at the Acropolis. It’s worth visiting Syntagma Square at least once so that you can see the changing of the guard ceremony in front of the Greek parliament. Their outfits are quite unique, right down to the pom poms on their shoes. For a dose of contemporary culture head over to Onassis Stegi, which hosts a wide range of cultural events, including theatre and dance performances, concerts, film screenings, art and digital shows.
Stay: Four Seasons Astir Palace
Eat: Taverna Klimataria
Shop for: natural sea sponge in the Plaka district
Capital of Culture 1990
Come to Scotland’s largest city for its art and architecture. Take a walk along the banks of the River Clyde to see the gleaming Armadillo or check out the House for an Art Lover in Bellahouston Park, built by Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Merchant City is has a great vibe if you’re looking for independent boutiques and eateries. Street art tours explore the stories behind some of the city’s most iconic murals, but you’ll also want to visit the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum which houses an impressive collection including work by Salvador Dali.
Stay: Kimpton Blythswood Square Hotel
Eat: Café Gandolfi
Shop for: Scottish tablet or tartan
Capital of Culture 1995 and 2007
Tiny Luxembourg punches well above its weight so it’s no surprise that it’s been chosen as one of the European Capitals of Culture twice. Check out a slew of excellent museums including the National Museum of History and Art and the Grand Duke Jean Museum of Modern Art. Theatre-goers should grab tickets for a performance at the Grand Théâtre de Luxembourg or the Théâtre des Capucins. Meanwhile classical music aficionados should dress up for the Philharmonie, the city’s dazzling concert hall.
Stay: Sofitel Luxembourg Le Grand Ducal
Eat: Judd mat Gaardebounen
Shop for: Schroeder Timepieces
Capital of Culture 2000
Begin exploring in the UNESCO-listed harbour area of Bryggen. These charming Hanseatic commercial buildings, constructed from logs, line the wharf at the side of the fjord. If it’s raining, duck indoors to the fascinating Leprosy Museum located inside St. Jørgen’s Hospital. Alternatively, visit the entertaining penguins that play around at the city’s Aquarium. Bergen’s often rainy but on a clear day, ride the Fløibanen funicular railway to the top of Fløyen mountain where the views are breathtaking. If you’re up for an excursion, take a trip on the Flåmsbana; this scenic train ride is one of the best in the world.
Stay: Opus XVI
Eat: Bryggeloftet & Stuene
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Shop for: Berle Bryggen knitwear
Capital of Culture 2019
This southern Italian city played a starring role in the Bond film No Time to Die, but you haven’t lived if you haven’t wandered its characterful streets. Matera is known for its sassi. Until recently, some of the city’s residents would have made their home in these caves. They’ve been renovated and now house many of the old town’s boutiques and art galleries which fill the gaps between historic churches. Follow the hiking trail fr0m Porta Pistola to Belvedere Murgia Timone and admire the view over the gorge along the way.
Stay: Palazzo Gattini
Eat: crapiata, the local soup
Shop for: a cucù, a small whistle in the shape of a rooster
Capital of Culture 2010
Istanbul straddles the border between Europe and Asia, enabling it to qualify as one of the European Capitals of Culture. Top sights on the European side of the Bosphorus include the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. You’ll also want to visit Topkapi, a magnificent palace complex that was the residence of the Ottoman sultans for 400 years. Remain in Sultanahmet but duck underground to explore the atmospheric Basilica Cistern. Return to street level to the famous Grand Bazaar and look for a bargain amid its thousands of stalls. Round off your shopping trip in the Egyptian (Spice) Bazaar where you’ll find an array of spices.
Stay: AJWA Sultanahmet
Eat: pistachio baklava at Bilgeoğlu
Shop for: kilims or spices at the Grand Bazaar
San Sebastian sits on Spain’s northern coast looking out over the Bay of Biscay. Its full name, Donostia-San Sebastian, reflects its Basque heritage. The city’s renowned for its love of food and a major reason to visit is to dine in some of its world-class restaurants. Belle Epoque buildings line the River Urumea, including the Maria Cristina. This upscale hotel stands beside the opulent Victoria Eugenia Antzokia theatre. Wander the cobblestone streets of the Parte Vieja (old town) where you’ll find plenty of pintxo bars.
Stay: Hotel Maria Cristina
Shop for: leather goods or gourmet foods
The travel experts at Mundana can help you decide which of these European Capitals of Culture to visit. Maybe you’ll combine a few and make it a longer trip. Get in touch today to discuss your needs.