Drumroll, please! (Or should we say in the Irish, le do thoil?)….The 2020 European Capitals of Culture are Galway, Ireland and Rijeka, Croatia. Let’s celebrate by taking a wee look at these two European gems.
What are the European Capitals of Culture?
Overseen by the European Commission, these designations are meant to highlight the rich diversity of cultures in Europe and raise the international profile of cities. The first cities were named in 1985 and since then, more than 50 cities across the European Union have earned the designation.
A medieval harbour city on Ireland’s spectacular West Coast, Galway sits where the River Corrib meets the Atlantic Ocean. Walkable and charming, the city’s centre is 18th-century Eyre Square, a welcoming space surrounded by shops and pubs offering live traditional music. Cosy cafes, boutiques and art galleries line the ancient lanes of the Latin Quarter, where portions of the medieval city walls remain.
Galway is a favourite stop along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way drive, which winds along the ocean from County Donegal in the north to County Cork in the south. Like much of western Ireland, Galway retains Celtic roots, and it’s not uncommon to hear the Irish language in the streets. Irish tunes nearly always fill the air — whether they’re coming from buskers or the windows of old stone bars.
Croatia’s third largest city, Rijeka is a low-key town that fewer tourists discover — and that makes it a perfect place to experience authentic Croatia. Korzo, the city’s busy promenade, makes for a fantastic evening out, and the bustling central market is a popular meeting spot. While it sits along the sparkling waters of the Adriatic Sea, the palaces, theatres and Baroque City Tower of Rijeka evoke the Central European feel of cities like Budapest or Prague.
THE TOP EXPERIENCES.
Sample the pub culture. Taste locally made beers — Ireland boasts so much more than its beloved Guinness these days — and spirits served in cosy surrounds all over town. Even if you’re not a drinker, pubs are a perfect spot for people watching and catching some live traditional music. Good luck not jumping up and dancing — sure, that’s the craic (fun)! We like Tig Cóili, An Púcán and The King’s Head Tavern.
Walk the Salthill Promenade. The little seaside suburb of Salthill offers a beautiful 2km stroll along the ocean. We recommend grabbing some fish and chips for a beach picnic or pulling up for a pint in O’Connor’s.
Explore medieval Galway. There are remnants of the city’s ancient history in the strangest of places — like the modern shopping centre at Eyre Square! Walking Kirwan’s Lane will transport you back in time (and improve your Instagram). And don’t miss a visit to St. Nicholas’s Church, completed in 1320, where Christopher Columbus is claimed to have worshipped during a visit.
Stroll Korzo. This long, broad promenade is lined with upscale stores and cafés — the perfect spot for people-watching with a coffee by day and letting the bars turn to nightclubs in the evening. Many of the grandest buildings date from the 19th century. Don’t miss a look at the old Roman arch nearby, what was once part of the Roman military fortifications on which Rijeka was later founded.
Soak up the beaches. There are 11 predictably beautiful beaches on this stretch of the Croatian coast — and two of them, Ploce and Kostanj, fly the Blue Flag, a European award for beaches with outstanding cleanliness and services. In other words, you’re spoiled for choice. Everywhere the water is warm, smooth and crystal-clear. Croatians love their sports, too, and you’ll notice plenty of volleyball courts.
Explore Trsat Castle. Sitting on top of a steep hill, it’s the perfect vantage point. There’s been a watchtower or fortified battement here since the pre-Roman Ilyrians ruled the land, and while the castle has repeatedly changed hands since, it’s remarkably well preserved.
Ireland may be best known for hearty comfort foods and rich, creamy pints of Guinness, but as anyone who’s visited will tell you, you’ll find incredible variety and beautifully fresh local ingredients. We love Il Vicolo, rustic Italian cuisine served in a charming stone building on the river. For a cheap and cheerful lunch, look no further than Boojum’s fresh, Mexican-inspired fare. And for warming and deliciously done pub grub, head to the King’s Head Bistro in the heart of the Latin Quarter — bonus points for the 800-year-old building (check out the fireplace dating from 1612).
Fresh seafood takes the spotlight here, along with homemade pastas and hearty stews. You’ll find plenty of comfort food, especially during the chilly winter months. A meat-and-potatoes diet is traditional, but with Croatia's history of foreign influences, dishes are far from boring. Visit the Rijeka Market to learn how the country's most famous cheese, paški sir, is prepared. And for authentic local cuisine, we love Konoba Tarsa in Rijeka’s historic Trsat neighbourhood. For hearty homemade fuži pasta with Istrian sausages, head to Konoba Nebuloza, which offers seasonal cuisine in a rustic space with beautiful riverside views.