European Capitals of Culture

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They are not the European capitals that usually spring to mind, but Valletta in Malta and Leeuwarden, in The Netherlands, have been designated European Capitals of Culture for 2018, offering travelers lots to explore. 

The selection of European Capitals of Culture dates to the 1980s, when actress, singer and Greek Minister for Culture Melina Mercouri came up with the idea as a way to recognize the importance of art, culture and creativity. Athens was the first, in 1985, and since then, more than 50 cities have been named. The program helps bring a renewed sense of purpose and community to the regions, and it gives lesser-known areas a chance to shine. 

Valletta, the capital of the Mediterranean island of Malta, is surely among the smallest cities to ever be named a European Capital of Culture, with about 6,000 residents. But what it lacks in population it makes up for in a rich history dating to the 1500s. The city was founded by a Roman Catholic order, the Knights of St. John, and is known for its museums, palaces and churches. 

For 2018, Malta has planned a program of 400 events taking place throughout the year. Some are new for 2018, like a multi-site visual art installation that explores Malta’s island heritage, bringing together artists from 15 countries. Others are annual traditions, like the Valletta Green Festival held in St. George’s Square May 4-6 that promotes environmental awareness. During the festival, one of the city’s largest open spaces is transformed into a giant carpet of potted plants. Visitors can also get a rare glimpse of historical treasures, like the 400-year-old gardens of the Archbishop’s Palace and the Convent of St. Catherine. On June 7, the Pageant of the Seas takes place against the backdrop of the Grand Harbor, with boat races during the day and a fireworks and light display in the evening. From June 29 to July 14, the Malta International Arts Festival will offer music, theater, dance, films and opera. 

Leeuwarden, a city of about 100,000, is the provincial capital of Friesland, in the northern region of the Netherlands, about 90 minutes from Amsterdam. It’s a charming city of canals, which you can tour by boat, and is home to many artisans who display their work in local shops. Attractions include a museum devoted to Dutch ceramics that’s housed in a 17th-century royal palace.

Among the highlights of Leeuwarden’s year as a European Capital of Culture is an appearance by the French street theater company Royal de Luxe, which will bring its gigantic marionettes to the city Aug. 17-19. From Aug. 3-6, the majestic Tall Ships sail into Harlingen, the region’s primary port. At the same time, a literary festival focusing on the sea will draw authors from around the world. In September and October, 100 Friesian horses will be part of an epic theatrical production called “The Storm Rider,” about the region’s battle against the elements.

For help planning a trip to Valletta or Leeuwarden, or another European destination, contact your travel agent. 

Terry DentonvacationsComment