All Policies Include Coronavirus Cover

What is the European Capital of Culture and why does it matter?

28 January 2020 09:08

How does the continent celebrate culture?

How does the continent celebrate culture?

Galway and Rejika start the new year as European Capitals of Culture, but what does the title actually mean? How will the cities benefit? We investigate further...

What is a European Capital of Culture?

A European Capital of Culture is a city chosen by the European Union to host events that celebrate the richness and diversity of cultures across the continent. Former ministers of culture for Greece and France started the initiative in 1985 to raise awareness of citizens' shared histories and common values. The title can be shared by multiple cities in a given year.

How are they awarded?

A panel of culture experts ask candidate cities to submit a proposal six years before the title-year. Bid books are submitted and judged according to a range of criteria that cover the cultural content, outreach and capacity to deliver outlined plans. After a Q&A session with potential culture capitals and a possible visit from European Commission members, the winning city or cities are announced.

What are the European Capitals of Culture 2020?

Galway in Ireland has been awarded European Capital of Culture status with the motto "Let the Magic In". The programme of events will explore language, landscape and migration. Events include 2,020 hours of tightrope river crossings and performed readings of Homer's epic poem, 'Odyssey'.

The Croatian town of Rijeka is the second European Capital of Culture for 2020. The "Port of Diversity" theme sees the coastal city host Croatia's largest carnival and a 2km long zipwire from the Trsat castle to Kvarner Bay. There's even an opportunity to learn about the endangered Kastav Chavian dialect.

How do cities benefit from Capital of Culture status?

European Capitals of Culture tend to benefit notably from the emergence of a stronger sense of community. Donostia-San Sebastián in Spain, for example, saw 60% of 2016's projects involve local people. Marseille's stint as Capital of Culture in 2013 was part of a wider plan to regenerate the city; the purpose-built Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations has left a lasting legacy.

Cities have also seen relationships with other nations strengthen – Aarhus in Denmark collaborated with 1,200 artists across 80% of 2017's projects. The economic impact has also been huge for some cities – Mons in Belgium, is estimated to have generated up to 6 euros for every euro spent across its 2015 celebrations.

Which previous European Capitals of Culture should you visit?

Here are a few of our recommendations for past Capitals of Culture that are well worth a visit.


The Portuguese hub of 2012 is as charming as a city can get. Expect winding and cobbled streets filled with cosy bars and cute cafes.


The capital of the Netherlands' Friesland province held the title in 2018. The historic city is the start and finish to a 120-mile skating contest winding its way through 11 towns in the region via frozen canals.


The Hungarian city went all out for 2010, adding a concert hall, library and cultural quarter. If that didn't prove enough of a draw, the region enjoys warm climates and is famed for its wines.

Consider yourself a culture vulture? Make sure you're covered before you fly.

At World First we offer Europe travel insurance that'll give you peace of mind while you immerse yourself in world-beating arts and culture.