What are 2024’s European Capitals of Culture?

Estonia’s Tartu, Austria’s Bad Ischl and Norway’s Bodø are 2024’s shining cultural stars…

Jessica Reid
22 December 2023

European Capital of Culture 2024 has once again highlighted the little-known (or even unknown to some) destinations across the continent that are secretly brimming with cultural curiosities. This year will be a year of firsts, with the first rural alpine city and the first city north of the Arctic circle being awarded the sought-after title. So without further ado, it’s time to introduce you to the cultural cities in the spotlight: Estonia’s Tartu, Austria’s Bad Ischl and Norway’s Bodø.

What is a European Capital of Culture?

Every year, the EU’s Directorate-General for Education, Youth, Sport and Culture selects cities from its Member States to take the title of European Cities of Culture. The status not only recognises the local cultural product available in these areas, but aims to increase the city’s appeal for travellers by highlighting its artistic and historic assets in a year-long programme of events. Although claiming the crown for just the year, the initiative is designed to raise the cities’ profiles, and continue to welcome cultural enthusiasts after their tenure is up.

Bad Ischl, Austria

Kaiservilla is an important landmark to Bad Ischl (Shutterstock)

Opening ceremony date: 20-21 January

Sitting in the rural alpine countryside of Salzkammergut is Austria’s new European Capital of Culture for 2024. Bad Ischl also wears its status as an imperial city and a spa city with pride, with the locals being extremely connected to their traditions. Located within a beautiful mountainous region of more than 70 lakes, Bad Ischl made an idyllic summer retreat for emperor Franz Joseph and his wife, Empress Elisabeth (Known as Sisi). They lived in Kaiservilla, one of the city’s best-known landmarks, and their presence can still very much be felt across the region, whether through gardens, paintings or buildings.

More than 20 local municipalities have gathered to celebrate the occasion of Bad Ischl becoming an ECOC, eager to promote their ‘peculiarities, traditions and perspectives’ of the region with others. The programme will focus on four key lines: Power and Tradition, Culture in Motion, Sharing Salzkammergut – the Art of Travelling, and Globalocal – building the New.

The opening weekend celebrations take place on 20-21 January will be full of exhibition launches, installation presentations, and fantastic musical performances – including choirs and operetta.

More information: salzkammergut.at

Tartu, Estonia

The opening ceremony for Tarty will take place on the banks of the river Emajõgi (Alamy)

Opening ceremony date: 26 January

Just a two-hour drive from Tallinn, Estonia’s second largest city is also the oldest city in the Baltic States. So it’s no wonder Tartu has been named one of the European Capital of Cultures for 2024, with centuries of culture and heritage that spills out into surrounding southern Estonia. Speaking of old, Tartu is home to the country’s oldest university, with its main neoclassical building being an iconic landmark in the city centre, along with the eye-catching ‘Kissing Students’ fountain.

The leading theme for Tartu as ECOC will be ‘Arts as Survival’, which will express how art can make an impact in crucial areas of the future – specifically relating to the environment and communities.

The opening ceremony takes place on 26 January on the banks of Emajõgi, where energised dance and music performances will kick off the year of nearly 1,000 events. If you can’t make the grand opening, Tartu2024 Big Summer Celebration is expecting to draw in the crowds, while plenty of smaller cultural events – some of which highlight Estonia’s UNESCO-listed smoke sauna culture – will be taking place throughout the year.

More information: tartu2024.ee

Bodø, Norway

If you’re lucky, you may even see the northern lights over Bodø (Alamy)

Opening ceremony date: 3 February

Some years, non-EU member countries are eligible to have their cities become a Capital of Culture. In 2024, this is the case Bodø in Norway, the first city north of the Arctic Circle to take the prestigious title. Although it’s previously been thought of as just a quick pit-stop during an expedition cruise to the Lofoten Islands, this expanding urban city will finally get to showcase its coastal and Sámi cultural gems to the world during its ECOC reign.

The opening ceremony takes place on 3 February in a spectacular style. More than 20,000 people are expected to attend, with all eyes on a Bodø harbour, where a floating stage will be the focus.

Other key events during the year include the Bodø2024’s spring concert – claiming to be the most sustainable in the world, an outdoor event celebrating midsummer in June, and Nordland’s first ever light festival in the winter months. Sámi culture will be strongly represented throughout, with Bodø City Museum transforming into a Sámi museum with more than 200 artefacts, and the Sámi Theatre hosting performances by Indigenous musicians.

More information: visitbodo.com

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