Cultural tourism destinations: where to go in 2019

Cultural tourism destinations: where to go in 2019

I may have mentioned this before in the 2017 and the 2018 posts, but writing the first blog post of the year about the best cultural tourism destinations to visit is one of my favorites.

I am aware that listicle-type articles of “best” or “top” destinations may cause the undesired effect of mass tourism, especially to places that aren’t quite ready to deal with an increased influx of inbound tourists.

However, this list is always built around specific events happening in the current year (like a special celebration or anniversary or a recent historical finding). Some destinations are a repeat from previous years.

Catalonia Region (Spain)

The city of Tarragona is one of the places to visit in the Catalonia region of Spain
The city of Tarragona is one of the places to visit in the Catalonia region of Spain

Barcelona has suffered its fair share of overtourism-related problems in recent years, so why not explore the rest of the culturally rich region? In a stroke of genius, the tourism board declared 2018 and 2019 as the years of cultural tourism in the area prompting visitors to explore more beyond the typical, overpublicized destinations.

They designed six different routes to experience Catalonia, highlighting that there’s a route for each type of traveler and that cultural tourism is no longer an underground niche in the industry.

Gujarat state (India)

People gather around a tea stall in the streets of Ahmedabad to drink chai
People gather around a tea stall in the streets of Ahmedabad to drink chai

I lived in the largest city in Gujarat state, Ahmedabad, for a few months in 2014 and took a road trip from Ahmedabad to Diu that summer. I can tell you this: I only wish I had had time to explore more of the state. At the time, people didn’t see much more to visit besides Gandhi’s Sabarmati Ashram, but I saw loads of tourism potential if things were planned right. 

In 2017, Ahmedabad became India’s first UNESCO World Heritage City, and in 2019 the state of Gujarat became one of the Lonely Planet’s “Best In Travel” regions.

The sweet spot to visit off the dry heat and the monsoon season is between November and February. However, if you want to visit during a special occasion, October 2, 2019, marks the 150th anniversary of Gandhi’s birth (a Gujarat state native), and major celebrations are planned.

Helsinki (Finland)

Old Market Hall in Helsinki on a rainy day

After spending just three days in Helsinki, finding out that the Finnish capital had become one of the 2019 European Capitals of Smart Tourism didn’t come as a surprise.

They approach cultural tourism from the inside out, showing personalized recommendations by locals to visitors based on interests. Most of my planning was done in the morning after breakfast. I would open the MyHelsinki website and bookmark all recommendations from local guides that had something in common with my interests. It can quickly cause a “rabbit hole” effect, which should be fine if you’re staying for longer than three days. In my case, I had to narrow down my options, but it also made me want to go back for a second visit.

Linz (Austria)

A piece of street art at the Mural Harbor, an open air gallery in Linz
A piece of street art at the Mural Harbor, an open air gallery in Linz

When I read why Linz had also won one of the 2019 European Smart Tourism Awards, I jumped with joy. Quite literally. I’m always touched to see destinations doing it right when it comes to sustainable cultural tourism and getting the recognition they deserve.

Linz won the award for Cultural Heritage & Creativity for “celebrating heritage as a 21st-century tourism destination” and proving to the world that “industry, art, and culture can come together under the banner of heritage.” This! A million times this! I still have goosebumps every time I read it!

Lisbon (Portugal)

It seems Lisbon is either having some sort of “renaissance moment” or winning a tourism award every year. In 2018, the Portuguese capital won several distinctions, including the Leading Culture Destinations’ award for emerging culture city of the year and World Travel Awards for World’s Leading City Destination, World’s Leading City Break Destination, and Europe’s Leading City Destination.

But, awards aside, Lisbon’s hidden cultural layers are worth the trip any time of the year. Make it a sustainable cultural tourism experience by going where the listicle-type blog posts and online articles don’t tell you to go. Keep secret places a secret by skipping a geotag or two on Instagram.

Lyon (France)

Lyon, one of the best cultural tourism destinations for 2019

I confess I know very little of Lyon, the other 2019 European Capital of Smart Tourism. But considering that I agree with the reasons why Helsinki won, I have to trust their criteria. Having one of the 25 carbon neutral airports and being known as France’s gastronomy capital sounds good enough as a calling card.

Lyon in (impressive) numbers, in case you need extra convincing: 4,000 restaurants, 15 restaurants with Michelin stars, first France’s city for culture outside of Paris, and the second city of the arts in France.

Matera (Italy)

Matera in Italy is one of the best cultural tourism destinations for 2019

The competition to become the next European Capital of Culture is always fierce. Therefore the two cities that get it every year have great reasons to celebrate, and that’s why I always include both of them on these lists. In 2019, Matera in Italy is one of them.

Attracting a diverse range of tourists and cultural enthusiasts is always challenging, especially when tourism boards can’t afford to label a place as “too specific” as a destination. But according to the official website of Matera as a European Capital of Culture, they seem to have everything under control. Expect a busy calendar full of upcoming cultural events in Matera, and plan your trip around those that catch your attention.

Plovdiv (Bulgaria)

Plovdiv in Bulgaria is also a European Capital of Culture in 2019
Plovdiv in Bulgaria is also a European Capital of Culture in 2019

Plovdiv, in Bulgaria, is the second 2019 European Capital of Culture and the first Bulgarian city to be chosen. I am both impressed and excited about the organization’s vision, mission, and values. They see the title as not just another distinction but as “an instrument to place culture and arts as a local and national priority.” They see culture as an “effective tool for environmental improvement and human relationships development.” 

In case the world is still wondering about the importance (or relevance) of cultural tourism, take a close look at Plovdiv’s example.

Thimlich Ohinga Historic Site (Kenya)

I always celebrate new additions to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites’ list because, despite the controversy around this list being one of the causes for overtourism, I still believe including such sites is one way to help preserve cultural heritage.

It’s also an opportunity to show a different side of a country or a region, one that wouldn’t probably come to mind. The recently added Thimlich Ohinga Archaeological Site in Kenya sounds like a great excuse to visit the Lake Victoria region in 2019. According to UNESCO, “Thimlich Ohinga is the largest and best-preserved of these traditional enclosures. It is an exceptional example of the tradition of massive dry-stone walled enclosures, typical of the first pastoral communities in the Lake Victoria Basin, which persisted from the 16th to the mid-20th century.”

Weimar (Germany)

Bauhaus-Archiv Museum in Berlin, Germany
Bauhaus-Archiv Museum in Berlin, Germany

One hundred years ago, in 1919, Germany (and the world) saw the birth of one of the most famous esthetic movements: Bauhaus. Weimar is the city where it all started.

The country will celebrate Bauhaus’s 100th anniversary across different cities, so finding an anniversary-related special event won’t be difficult. However, if you have the opportunity, start your Bauhaus-themed itinerary in Weimar, where most events will happen and where the new Bauhaus Museum is to open in 2019.


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