Ever since 1985, the European Union started designating an European Capital of Culture for a period of one calendar year, every year. Since 2000, the Union has been naming more than one city every year, usually two. Here’s a list of some of the most interesting cities you can visit that are still of great cultural importance and diversity to this day, even if they were capitals of culture years ago.
1. Florence, Italy – 1986
An amazing city with a fascinating history, Florence remains a great tourist attraction to this day, 30 years after it was designated as an European capital of culture. Florence was always a fantastic city; during medieval times, it was an important centre of European trade and finance and one of the wealthiest cities. It is also considered the birthplace of the Renaissance.
Some of the greatest tourist attractions here are: Baptistery of Saint John (Battistero di San Giovanni), renowned for its 3 sets of bronze doors with relief sculptures, created by Andrea Pisano and Lorenzo Ghiberti; The Florence Cathedral (also known as Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore/ “Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Flowers”/ Il Duomo di Firenze ) is the main church of Florence, one of Italy’s largest churches and the largest brick dome ever constructed, and an amazing work of art that will take your breath away; Piazza della Signoria, Palazzo Vecchio, Gallerie degli Uffizi, Ponte Vecchio and Palazzo Pitti are also well worth a look, along with many other attractions, as Florence is overwhelmed with amazing cultural sites and works of art.
2. Thessaloniki, Greece – 1997
Also known as the co-capital of Greece, the second largest and wealthiest city during the Byzantine Empire times, this city is also considered to be Greece’s cultural capital to this day. It is home to numerous Byzantine monuments, as well as Roman, Ottoman and Sephardic Jewish structures. Thessaloniki is also very popular for its festivals and cultural events.
Visit this amazing city’s theatres, parks, museum, shopping streets, archaeological sites and attend the fascinating festivals (for example Dimitria, a three months long festival that starts in September and includes dance, musical, theatrical and other types of events).
3. Porto, Portugal – 2001
As one of the oldest European centres, Porto is a a city if great cultural importance. Its historical core was proclaimed a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1996.
Some of the most interesting attractions in Porto are the concert halls. They are extremely beautiful and elegant and they captivate so many visitors every year. Visit Coliseu du Porto, a great example of Portuguese decorative arts, the historical São João National Theatre, the Rivoli theatre, the Lello Bookshop (one of the top bookstores in the world), the Bathalma Cinema and Casa da Música (inaugurated in 2005), the National Museum Soares dos Reis and the Museum of Contemporary Art.
4. Sibiu, Romania – 2007
In 2008, Sibiu was ranked by Forbes as Europe’s 8th most idyllic place to live. It is now one of the most culturally important cities in Romania and it attracts many tourists with its medieval charm, beautiful views, many attractions and great food.
Some of the most beautiful places to visit here are the old town, the Citadel of Sibiu, Huet Square, The Brukenthal Museum, the ASTRA Museum of Traditional Folk Civilization, the Balea lake, the beautiful natural parks and the medieval fortified churches.
5. San Sebastian, Spain – 2016
This city has a relatively small size, but despite that, it is one of the most famous tourist destinations in Spain. The picturesque shoreline also makes it a very popular beach resort. A great number of festivals and events take place here, ranging from traditional city festivals to major cinema, music and theatre events. The longest jazz festival in Europe is held here in July every year, while the Musical Fortnight happens in August and the San Sebastián International Film Festival takes place in September. There are many other very interesting film festivals to attend here, such as Street Zinema, the Horror and Fantasy Festival and Surfilm Festibal. Other amazing events take place here all year round, such as San Sebastián Day, Semana Grande, Basque Week, Santa Ageda Bezpera, Caldereros, Santo Tomas, Olentzero.
Visit the beaches, go surfing, hiking, water skiing, hire a kayak, enjoy the Aquarium and the Amusement Park and check out the Miramar Palace, San Telmo Museoa, Plaza de la Constitucion, the City Hall, the amazing Santa Maria del Coro church, the Buen Pastor Cathedral and many other churches, parks, historical sites, and beautiful beaches.
Other honorable mentions: The first European Capital of Culture – Athens, Greece (1985); Amsterdam, The Netherlands (1987); Madrid, Spain (1992); Stockholm, Sweden (1998); Brussels, Belgium; Helsinki, Finland (2000); Liverpool, United Kingdom (2008); Istanbul, Turkey (2010), Marseilles, France (2013); Wrocław, Poland (2016). You can check out future capital of culture too, and all the others from the past that were not mentioned here, because they were definitely designated European Capitals of Culture for a reason and they are worth a visit for sure.
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