Living in Europe, with different cultures and languages a short flight away from one another (or a train ride, for the romantics and slow travelers like me), is one of my favorite things. I do think that the majority of Europeans are privileged in this way (and probably most of us don’t think about it often).
Diversity and culture are the first things on my mind whenever I plan a European trip because it’s impossible not to include it in your itinerary. Check out some of my favorite cultural places to visit in Europe in the spring and tell me what you think in the comments.
When it comes to cultural places to visit in Europe, Lisbon is slowly picking up the pace with its old continent counterparts.
The birth city of Fado, Portugal’s urban song classified as heritage by UNESCO, is honored with spectacular mild temperatures in the spring and a jam-packed calendar of cultural events and activities (like the two-week book fair happening every year at Parque Eduardo VII).
For museum enthusiasts, the options are diverse and the connection between the visitors and the collections is as intimate as it can be in must-see places like the Fundação Arpàd Szenes–Vieira da Silva, the Museu Nacional de Arte Contemporânea do Chiado, the Centro de Arte Moderna (CAM), and the Atelier-Museu Júlio Pomar.
I have written a lot about Porto’s no BS personality because I believe that’s the trait that best describes the city. The first time I saw this northern city by the river Douro, I felt a remarkable sense of sureness and confidence, one that stems from a rich and unique heritage.
I also think that the, (once again) European Best Destination concentrates most of the creative, artistic energy of the whole country. Just take a look at places like Fundação de Serralves and Casa da Música to garner your first impressions.
Burning of Las Fallas in Valencia (Photo by Joe Calhoun on Flickr)
When you think about cultural places to visit in Spain, you probably think of Madrid or Barcelona immediately. I know I did for a long time, especially having been to Barcelona two times already and having fallen in love with Gaudì’s work.
Recently I came across Las Fallas, part of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list, that piqued my curiosity about Valencia (known as the City of Arts and Science). This festivity, that happens every year between March 14th and 19th, it’s all about celebrating the coming of spring, purification, rebirth, rejuvenation. But it’s also the time for some serious socio-political critique in the form of a monument made from caricature pieces (the ninots) that are later set on fire in the middle of the city’s main square.
(Any other customs and folklore geeks out there as excited about this as I am?)
Although Aarhus probably didn’t need the European Capital of Culture title to be put on the map, that’s how it came up on my radar. Well, you know what they say, better late than never, right? And this probably comes from my recent semi-obsession with researching European cities not exactly off the beaten path, but with a strong enough personality that allows them to stand alone, differentiated from their country’s capital cities.
Once the dust settles after the year-long events, I definitely have my eye on this Danish city for a future trip. By keeping an eye on this year’s program is a great way to learn what one can expect to find here in the future.
Agia Paraskevi in Pafos, Cyprus (Photo by Amanderson2 via Flickr)
Well, I couldn’t mention Aarhus without mentioning the other European Capital of Culture for 2017, Pafos. I confess that before writing Best Destinations for Cultural Tourism in 2017 I would never consider visiting Cyprus, not because I loathe the place but because I always pictured it as a destination ideal for beach-goers (something that I am clearly not).
But then, along comes Pafos and I fell in love with the community spirit that’s building and supporting the 2017 events. This represents exactly what this blog is about and I am very curious to know more about this city.
Global Pop Toad at Hull University (Photo by Chris Jobling via Flickr)
Hull (United Kingdom)
Once more, here is an entry on this list that is meant to shatter some preconceptions about what is a cultural place. It’s, obviously, impossible to dismiss London as a cultural city, given the amount of museums and galleries you can visit (most of them for free), the ongoing theater plays, and the different communities living there (seriously, there were times in London when I heard more people speaking other languages than English).
Hull, a city of a little over three hundred thousand people in the West of England, was designated as UK City of Culture 2017 and they are embracing the transformational power of culture. They are not just showing off the best events and activities they can produce, they are building it and nurturing it as a community with bright eyes in the future. This is the foolproof formula for a successful, sustainable cultural event.
Street Art by Francis Quinn: The BetaProject Dublin (Photo by William Murphy via Flickr)
Since one of the biggest celebrations in Ireland, St. Patrick’s, happens close to spring (technically, it’s a few days before the calendar marks it as the beginning of the season), it seemed logical to include the country on this list.
But it’s not the green-painted frenzy of booze and mythical creatures that put Dublin on the map of cultural places to visit in Europe in the spring. Dublin is one of UNESCO’s city of literature and if you’re a literary geek like me (or at least you love books), you know you must pay a visit.
The birth city of four Nobel prize winners has plenty of book festivals to choose from.
Aveiro (Photo by Gabriel Gonzalez via Flickr)
There is a reason why three of my suggestions on this list are based in Portugal.
Despite the country being small and, seemingly, stuck between Spain on the right and the Atlantic Ocean on the left, people are constantly baffled by how culturally diverse it really is. You could take a cross-country trip for one year and still not attend every single cultural or local folklore event here.
One of my most recent top places to visit next is (and I can’t believe I have never been here before!) Aveiro, and the reason is ridiculously simple: Art Nouveau. This is, by far, one of my favorite architectural styles in Europe and, until recently, I had no idea there were magnificent examples of this period right in my backyard (as they say).
What just made this city climb a few spots higher on my list? The dedicated Art Nouveau Walking Tour.
What are your top cultural places to visit in Europe in the spring?