Its not just major European cities that benefit from the award, many other destinations have received a cultural boost over the 35 years of the project
In 1983, Melina Mercouri, the then Greek minister of culture, proposed a scheme to celebrate art, history and heritage across Europe. By putting a different city in the spotlight each year, Mercouri hoped to showcase the continents cultural diversity, while highlighting shared values. The European Capital of Culture programme, which was established in 1985, has been a huge success, with more than 60 cities receiving a profile boost (two or more cities now often share the annual honour).
The scheme shows off cultural life and helps to attract visitors but has also helped regenerate deprived areas, particularly in former industrial cities, such as Glasgow, the UKs first capital of culture, in 1990, Lille (2004) and Essen (2010). In 2013, it helped Koice in Slovakia make the transition from a manufacturing centre to the tourism hub for the Carpathian region. That years co-capital, Marseille, benefited from an investment project of more than 600m and major new attractions including the award-winning Mucem. More recently, a record 5.8 million tourists visited Leeuwarden in the Netherlands during its 2018 tenure, generating 300m.
For Turku, in Finland, its year (2011) was a gamechanger, according to Olga Henriksson from Visit Turku. New bars and restaurants have opened in what is now considered the countrys food capital; new arts venues, walking routes and bridges have been built, and there are plans for a history museum and concert hall. The city also teamed up with the university to research the benefits of culture on wellbeing, with doctors giving cultural prescriptions to patients (such as free tickets to plays) and events taking place in schools and care homes. Combining culture with wellbeing remains part of the city strategy.
This years capitals, Galway City in Ireland and Rijeka in Croatia, will hope to reap similar benefits. But as this is an EU scheme, the UK is no longer able to participate. British cities including Dundee, Nottingham and Leeds were preparing bids for 2023, but are ineligible after Brexit. That means Liverpool, the UKs second European Capital of Culture in 2008, is also its last.
Many major cities have held the title, including Berlin, Paris and Madrid, but plenty of smaller, lesser-known gems have made the cut, too. Here are 10 under-the-radar cultural capitals that are well worth a visit.
Bergen, Norway (Capital of Culture 2000)
Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2020/mar/05/10-smaller-european-capitals-of-culture-you-may-not-have-heard-of