Aarhus (Denmark) and Pafos (Cyprus) are the new European Capitals of Culture for 2017. Each year on January 1, two or more nominated cities on the continent take over the prestigious title, which encompasses a strong Europe-oriented cultural program, active participation of citizens, and the city’s overall development. The program, which was founded in 1985, has proved immensely beneficial to tourism as well as for social and economic enhancement.
The cultural program will begin in Aarhus on January 21 with children at its center, with the opening ceremony featuring “a spectacular show filled with pageantry, Viking spirits and gods in the sky.” The city, which has chosen “Rethink” as its theme, will demonstrate the role of arts and creative industries in reconsidering social life and behavior, through, among others, a city-wide art exhibition, a forum, and a literary festival for children.
Meanwhile, Pafos — the first city in Cyprus to hold the title — emphasizes its proximity not only to Europe but also to the Middle East and North Africa through its cultural program on the theme “Linking Continents, Bridging Cultures.” The city will transform into an “Open Air Factory” celebrating the tradition of cultural life in open spaces, with an opening ceremony on myth and religion on January 28.
Apart from these exciting cultural programs marking the achievements of the two cities, there are reasons aplenty for you to put Aarhus and Pafos on your 2017 travel list. BLOUIN Culture+Travel investigates.
Denmark’s second largest city is located on the Jutland peninsula, and renowned for its university and high student population, waterfront, unique architecture, and other cultural attractions. It also holds the title of Denmark’s happiest city or the City of Smiles.
Art and architecture
The ARoS Museum dates back to 1859 and is the oldest public gallery in the country outside Copenhagen. It boasts a vast, diverse collection spanning the historic and contemporary, with a strong program of exhibitions. Den Gamle By is a collection of 75 Danish buildings creating an open air museum. Other must-visit museums are the Moesgaard Museum, an ethnographic and archaeological museum with beautiful architecture and surroundings that is ideal for a day trip; Kunsthal Aarhus for contemporary art; and the small, free Viking Museum.
Striking modern architecture in the city includes the rainbow walkway built in 2011 on top of the ARoS Museum by Olafur Eliasson, as well as the Isbjerget (Iceberg) apartment complex built in 2013. There is also plenty of quaint historical Danish architecture in the form of cathedrals, cobbled streets, and the Latin Quarter’s buildings and cafes. The beautiful Aarhus Theatre is known for its art nouveau design.
The city earned the title of European Region of Gastronomy 2016 for new Nordic cuisine. Three restaurants in Aarhus were awarded the first Michelin stars in Denmark outside Copenhagen: Frederikshøj, the restaurant known for its high quality Nordic food courtesy of chef Wassim Hallal; Gastrome, and Substans. The trio is joined by other local and promising restaurants, cafes, and bars.
The annual 3-day music festival NorthSide’s gaining popularity is fast cementing the city’s status in the European music scene. The 2016 lineup included some exciting names. But even bigger than that is the 10-day Aarhus Festival that takes place in August, when the entire city comes together to showcase its impressive arts and culture.
Aarhus offers parks, botanical gardens, and beaches. One of Denmark’s three national parks, Mols Bjerge, is a short drive from the city. The harbor of Aarhus is also worth visiting for an authentic experience of this port city.
Pafos (or Paphos) is a city in the southwest of Cyprus, associated with the goddess Aphrodite, who is said to have been born in the now uninhabited old city. Today the name Pafos is synonymous with “New” Pafos, which lies on the Mediterranean coast, is included in the UNESCO list of cultural and natural treasures.
Art and architecture
For history and mythology lovers, the town offers sites with important ruins. The Paphos Archaeological Park comprises the House of Dionysius and the House of Theseus, known for their beautiful mosaic work depicting scenes from Greek mythology, as well as the Odeon amphitheater which is active and hosts regular performances.
Open Studios Cyprus and Palia Ilektriki are two important arts sites in the town, in addition to many private galleries and spaces.
Pafos offers a wealth of cuisines, but the local food to try is the Cypriot meze. A trip to neighboring villages is recommended for authentic food and taverna culture. Pafos and its neighboring regions are also known for their vineyards and wine tasting.
A number of festivals take place throughout the year, including the Anthestiria Flower Festival (May) to celebrate spring; the classical guitar festival (May); an international choir festival (June) and one of ancient Greek Drama (July, August), both at the Ancient Odeion; two local wine festivals, Koumandaria (July) and the Dionysia Festival (August); and the Aphrodite Opera Festival in early September.