Here’s a look at Galway in Ireland and Rijeka in Croatia, the two designated European Capitals of Culture for 2020.
As is common with the European Capital of Culture award, two lesser-known locations have been chosen for 2020. Last year we pitted the Italian city of Matera against Plovdiv in Bulgaria, and this year we take a look at Galway, a vibrant city on Ireland’s West Coast and Rijeka, a port city in Croatia on the Adriatic Sea.
Cities that have previously held the title have benefited greatly from their status. In Liverpool, which was named a European Culture Capital in 2008, locals were asked if “over the last decade, Liverpool has become a more creative city”. A staggering 90% of those surveyed said yes.
Galway and Rijeka will no doubt welcome plenty of new visitors after being awarded the accolade, but it will take time before we discover whether they’ll benefit like Liverpool in the long term. We weigh up what the two destinations have to offer in 2020 and make an effort to decide where we would like to visit first.
Rijeka is gearing up to be a cultural hub
The tagline ‘port of diversity’ is how Rijeka has chosen to market themselves for 2020. As a way of showcasing this diversity, new art spaces and museums will be opening up across the city. Perhaps the most striking is the Galeb, which once served as the private boat for former Yugoslav leader Tito. Now it is being transformed into a museum, which has left some feeling anxious about how Tito is remembered in Croatia.
Galway has always been a cultural hub, at least for poets
Thoor Ballylee, which Seamus Heaney described as “the most important public building in Ireland,” sits deep within County Galway. Often referred to as “Yeats’ Tower” the Irish poet bought the site for £35 when it was a ruin. Now it is an important site of pilgrimage for readers of his poetry, and takes just 45 minutes to reach from Galway.
Drink rakia at Rijeka Carnival
Rijeka Carnival welcomes 100,000 visitors to the city, all there to celebrate what was once a pagan festival in the run-up to Ash Wednesday. Rakia or Rakija is a fruit brandy popular throughout the Balkans. The two go hand in hand, and celebrations run late into the night and in the cities many little bars and nooks.
Have a Guinness in one of Galway’s many pubs
Or if you prefer your drinks stronger, why not follow Galway’s whiskey trail. Begin at the historic O’Connell’s for a pint of Guinness, to line your stomach and take in the ambiance, and then follow the route which has been mapped out for you already. Do print out the map, as it’s not going to be a sober journey back.
Get into some history at Trsat Castle
On the site of an ancient Illyrian and Roman fortress lies Trsat Castle, Rijeka’s most popular historic attraction. Visitors to the castle often check out the grave of Croatian noble Vuk Krsto Frankopan, and consider the troubled history of the Balkan region. In fact, the city has been heavily fortified throughout history. The Rijeka tunnel is a more recent addition and forms a network of tunnels and defenses that began in 1931.
Or why not forget history, and go surfing?
Some of the largest waves ever surfed have been on the West coast of Ireland. Galway is famous for big wave surfing, but also boasts some gorgeous beaches for intermediate and beginner surfers. Lahinch Beach is a top choice for surf schools. Andrew Cotton is one of the world’s best big wave surfers and has been scouting out the area for the past years in search of world record waves.
Galway and Rijeka are two very different cities, both offering exciting opportunities for travel and tourism. We can’t choose one over the other, but will for sure be googling cheap flights over the winter.