Since starting this series of the best cultural tourism destinations in 2017, this start-of-the-year blog post has become one of my most favorite ones to research, write, and share.
Just think of the possibilities of new places to explore the local culture, all the cities and countries that are celebrating their cultural diversity, and the power of shedding light on sustainable cultural tourism destinations all over the world.
Ready to grow your cultural tourism list for the New Year? Let’s go!
Table of contents (click to skip to a section)
- Ahmedabad, India
- Cape Town, South Africa
- Clonakilty, Ireland
- Drnis, Croatia
- Jackson Hole, WY, USA
- Kromeriz, Czech Republic
- Lake Tota, Colombia
- Leeuwarden, Netherlands
- Maia, Portugal
- Nanliao Village, Taiwan
- Podcetrtek, Slovenia
- Skyros, Greece
- South Limburg (Zuid-Limburg), Netherlands
- Tennant Creek, Australia
- Terres de L’Ebre, Spain
- Torres Vedras, Portugal
- Valletta, Malta
- Yixian County, China
Ahmedabad might not be the most famous destination in India for cultural tourism but, since becoming the country’s first UNESCO World Heritage city in 2017, the largest city in the state of Gujarat has gained more attention and has shapen itself up in the process.
The attraction is not so much the world-wonder-type monuments, but the different cultural influences of its over 600 years of existence (Muslim, Hindu, European). It’s also one of the cities in India with four buildings designed by Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier, whose work is also listed as UNESCO heritage – Villa Sarahbhai (1951-1955), Villa Shodhan (1951-1956), Sanskar Kendra City Museum (1954), and the Mill Owner’s Association Building (1954).
Best time to visit Ahmedabad: between November and February for the mild weather and monsoon season (July to September) for the Hindu festivals.
Cape Town, South Africa
In 2017, the African city made the rounds on a lot of big travel publications’ best destinations lists, and not only because it’s one of the world’s top spots for vacations on the beach.
The title gourmet capital of Africa may sound slightly over-the-top until you think about the bustling wine culture of Cape Town and the food and events that come with it.
Best time to visit Cape Town: between March and May for the mild temperatures of Fall and the wine harvesting season, and the cultural events like the Carnival and the Biennale public arts festival Infecting the City (next event happens in 2019).
To prove that sustainable destinations come in all shapes and sizes, the West Cork town of Clonakilty became one of the Top 100 Sustainable Destinations in the world alongside heavyweights like Jackson Hole in the US and Cape Town in South Africa.
If you love music and music legends, you’re in for a treat at this Irish town where close to 5,000 people live. Noel Redding, the bass player for the Jimi Hendrix Experience, moved to Clonakilty in the early 1970s and left a mark in the city’s musical culture.
The picture-perfect architecture is a very welcomed bonus.
Best time to visit Clonakilty: late September for the Clonakilty International Guitar Festival.
Croatia is much more than Game of Thrones filming locations and, to be honest, it’s about time tourists gave Zadar, Split, and Dubrovnik a break. If you have a soft spot for small European towns that are jampacked with lively local culture and astonishing architectural heritage, put Drnis on your travel map for 2018 immediately.
Best time to visit Drnis: September, for the International Pršut Festival (a food festival entirely dedicated to pršut , local dried-smoked cured ham).
Jackson Hole, WY, USA
The beauty of cultural tourism is that it can be found in every destination around the world, even in places like Jackson Hole that are known for outdoor activities. It’s all about preserving the local cultural identity.
Visit Jackson Hole for the natural landscapes, the Grand Teton Music Festival Summer Season, and a year-round of events at the Jackson Hole Center for the Arts.
Best time to visit Jackson Hole, WY: April to May for the wildlife enthusiasts and September for the Jackson Hole Fall Arts Festival.
Kromeriz, Czech Republic
The whole Czech Republic is in a celebratory mode in 2018, as the country commemorates the 100th anniversary of their independence. And why not take this opportunity to visit some lesser-known Czech destinations?
Kromeriz, the birthplace of modernist painter and founder of Czech modern art Max Švabinský, is best known for the Baroque Kromeriz Bishop’s Palace, a UNESCO World Heritage Site used as one of the filming locations for the 1984 Milos Forman’s award-winning movie Amadeus.
Best time to visit Kromeriz: considering the festive season, any time of the year will be perfect to visit. If you want to beat the cold weather, summer months are always the best option (June to September).
Lake Tota, Colombia
In September 2017, I attended my first Global Green Destinations Event here in Portugal and was impressed by the story behind the Reserva Natural Pueblito Antiguo project told in the first person by founder Oscar Rojas. You can’t fake that level of connection to your own roots, especially when you go through a phase of disconnect (I felt the same about the Azores at one point).
A lot of fear-mongering stories surround South America so I think it’s time we look at some of the bright sides and inspirational tales, like the one of Pueblito Antiguo at Lake Tota.
For the time being, it’s still a pretty low-key destination (the lack of tourist crowds also means a shortage of tourist facilities).
Best time to visit Lake Tota: Lake Tota is a 3-hour bus ride from Bogotá so time your trip according to cultural events happening in the Colombian capital. You’ll probably want to skip the busiest months (July and August), although you’ll also be missing the chance to attend the Bogotá Carnival.
Every year, two cities are selected to be the cultural capital of Europe. In last year’s post, I made sure to include Aarhus in Denmark and Pafos in Cyprus, so obviously, this year wouldn’t be any different.
Leeuwarden, in the North of Holland, is one of 2018’s European Capitals of Culture, so the excuses to visit this town as a cultural tourist are pretty much laid out for you. All you have to do is pick your favorite event from the calendar or narrow down the list of over 600 monuments to visit and book your trip. Easy, right? Worst case scenario, you’ll want to go back again and again. Not bad.
Best time to visit Leeuwarden: you (literally) have one whole year to discover the cultural highlights of Leeuwarden, 2018 European Capital of Culture.
I had never considered Maia as a cultural tourism destination, nor even a day trip from Porto for that matter. I had this vision of an industrial city, with lots of sports events, and that was it. Nothing else came to mind when I thought of Maia.
But the best things in life are the little surprises, right? And I was surprised when I found out that Maia could very well be the next hot destination for sustainable cultural tourism in Portugal. Don’t take my word for it. Next time you’re in Porto, hop on the Metro and take the 30-minute trip to Maia to see it for yourself.
Best time to visit Maia: October for the International Festival of Comedy Theater.
Nanliao Village, Taiwan
Talking to FangFang Shih last year at the Global Green Destinations event, I was amazed how even the smallest of communities have the strongest cultural identity and, to me, that always means full potential (I see cultural tourism destination potential in any place that has passionate supporters behind it).
The struggle for the tiny local community of Nanliao is to attract tourists who are not just looking for summers at the beach and, let’s face it, tourism competition in Asia is fierce. If anyone is looking for the-bigger-the-better attractions, they would probably skip Nanliao Village for a bunch of other places in Taiwan. But this a destination for the intrigued, the inquisitive, and the cultural adventurer.
Few places can claim ownership of working to get the attention of tourists like the local community of Nanliao Village can.
Best time to visit Nanliao Village: summers, when the tourists are flocking elsewhere in the county of Penghu.
Podcetrtek is that kind of place you think you’d only see in fairytale movies, except you don’t have to pinch yourself to make sure it’s real.
This small town in eastern Slovenia, with roughly 3,500 inhabitants, combines epic landscapes with local heritage of equal proportions and, however, it doesn’t seem like it’s too much. If you’re looking for a slightly undiscovered place in Europe to just breathe, this should definitely go on your list.
Best time to visit Podcetrtek: summers for the full potential of outdoor activities.
As an islander who spent 18 years of her life on a small island, I understand the (usually undeserved) task of balancing the quality of life of locals with the necessary economic boost of tourism.
Hopefully, Skyros will dodge the dreadful fate of other Greek islands like Santorini and Mikonos and become that place where visitors go for the food, the local culture, and the laid-back islander life.
Best time to visit Skyros: February/March for the typical Skyros Carnival.
South Limburg (Zuid-Limburg), Netherlands
The region of South Limburg in the Netherlands is high on my list for only one reason: it dares to market its cultural identity to tourists instead of letting tourists define what the region should be known for. That’s how you build a successful sustainable cultural tourism strategy and I hope the rest of the world begins to pick up on that soon.
If round, yellow cheeses, tulips, and windmills come to mind when you think of Holland, that is not the case with the South Limburg region at all. The fact that it stands out from what you expect to see is exactly what attracts visitors the most.
Best time to visit South Limburg (Zuid-Limburg): May/June for the Pinkpop festival (Europe’s oldest open-air festival) and December for the unusual underground Christmas Markets.
Tennant Creek, Australia
If you want to learn more about Aboriginal culture in Australia, Tennant Creek is the place to visit (particularly to know more about the culture of the aboriginal Warumungu people).
We tend to see Australia as a big outdoorsy tourism destination and culture probably doesn’t come to mind immediately (unless you’re thinking about famous landmarks like the Sydney Opera House), but there’s been a tremendous effort to reignite the interest of tourists around the aboriginal culture.
When in Tennant Creek, one of the places you absolutely must visit is the Nyinkka Nyunyu Art & Culture Centre where local Aboriginal people teach you about the Warumungu culture.
Best time to visit Tennant Creek: May to August for the cool season.
Terres de l’Ebre, Spain
The Spanish region of Catalonia might be in the news for other reasons at the moment, but I still think it’s one of the most interesting areas to visit in Spain (and I do have a soft spot for Barcelona).
Dreamy landscapes and impressive wildlife might be the most famous calling card of Terres de l’Ebre but for the cultural tourist it’s all about local heritage and great food, and this town has plenty of both.
Best time to visit Terres de l’Ebre: May, during the International Eco & Travel Film Festival.
Torres Vedras, Portugal
Less than one hour from Lisbon, Torres Vedras should be on all lists of day trips from the Portuguese capital. Unfortunately, it isn’t and it won’t be while travelers focus more on picturesque towns like Sintra and Mafra. Well, it’s about time we turn this around.
It has all the same points of interest as its “rivals” – a hill-top castle, vibrant local culture, an important historical role during the Napolean invasions, and equally-mouthwatering pastries – and, yet, it goes unnoticed. Surprised? Well, be the one to first discover it and report back to friends and family back home.
Best time to visit Torres Vedras: February/March for the Carnival (known as the most Portuguese of Portuguese carnivals).
Valletta is not exactly a lesser-known European destination but this year it takes on the special role of European Capital of Culture, alongside the Dutch city of Leeuwarden.
There is no shortage of attractions in Malta’s capital city so the real question here is not what do you want to see but how much time do you have on the island?
A good strategy would be to keep an eye on the special cultural events for the year and work your ideal itinerary around it.
Best time to visit Valletta: all year-round for the European Capital of Culture Events but I’d avoid high season.
Yixian County, China
Can natural landscapes and man-made ones coexist in harmony? The answer is yes and the historical villages at Yixian County have been pulling that off for thousands of years.
The Ancient Villages of Xidi and Hongcun, both UNESCO World Heritage Sites since 2000, are the indisputable main attractions of the Yixian County of Huangshan City.
Best time to visit Yixian County: Fall (September to November) and Spring (May to June).