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Three cities in Austria, Estonia and Norway share the spotlight as European Capitals of Culture in 2024

11:41 05/01/2024

The European Capitals of Culture initiative has once again chosen three cities to showcase the continent's diverse and rich cultural heritage.

About to begin their reign as global cultural beacons are Bad Ischl (Austria), Tartu (Estonia) and Bodø (Norway).

All three cities are ready to entice visitors to explore their off-the-radar destinations and enjoy a multitude of artistic events.

The prestigious title also aims to regenerate areas in need, bolstering tourism and local economies. Key principles are engaging youth and all of the regions’ communities to raise their profile and provide an enduring legacy.


Bad Ischl in Austria (opens 20-21 January)

If spa resort Bad Ischl is the banner city, it shares the accolade with alpine region, Salzkammergut, which lies east of Salzburg in Upper Austria.

The popular tourist spot, brimming with summer and winter outdoor sports, is famous for once being the summer residence of Emperor Franz Joseph I and Empress Sissi. They were similarly drawn to its stunning mountain views and crystal-clear lakes, including Attersee, the largest lake in the region that inspired both Gustav Klimt and Gustav Mahler.

More than 300 projects and 90 events area programmed over the year, centred on four themes: Power & tradition, culture in motion, globalocal and the art of travelling.

They are all designed to show there's more to the region than its idyllic landscapes, by exploring challenges such as climate change, over tourism and depopulation.

Blick auf die Esplanade ©Leitner Daniel (3)

Demonstrating that rural spaces are as important as urban ones, the region wants to encourage youngsters to remain in their home area. It will also outline how preserving cultural as well as natural resources are key to nourishing the human spirit and a more sustainable way of life.

The Salt Lake Cities artist-in-residence project transforms 12 disused railway stations into lively pop-up exhibition spaces. Another art action, Reise der Bilder, delves into the importance of remembrance culture. Three venues display artworks looted by the Nazis during WWII and stashed in a local mountain tunnel. Meanwhile, Chinese multidisciplinary political artist Ai Weiwei explores the salt mining tradition.

Other highlights include numerous festivals, from street music and theatre tod experimental music and digital art. Commemorating the 200th birthday of the Austrian composer Anton Bruckner, a concert is staged in the labyrinth Ebensee saltworks.

Kicking off the programme is a concert by local celebrity, the Eurovision song contest winner Tom Neuwirth, aka Conchita Wurst.  He’s joined by rappers, and naturally, a 1,000-strong yodelling choir.

Tartu i

Tartu in Estonia (opens 26 January)

The second largest city in Estonia and the oldest one in the Baltics, Tartu along with the south of the country are ready to step out of the shadows and show off their famed heart and soul.

With a quarter of its 100,000 population consisting of students, Tartu is the Intellectual hub of Estonia and a Unesco city of literature. A major centre for science, education and culture, it is packed with venues for concerts, exhibitions and theatres as well as museums.

The programme’s artistic concept Arts of Survival is inspired by the plight of the people from neighbouring Ukraine; many have sought refuge in the region. Focusing on the knowledge, skills and values needed to lead a good life in the future, the spotlight is on sustainability, co-creation, local uniqueness, science and technology.

Tartu’s youth population is honoured in the opening ceremony with the anthem Young Blood City, composed to celebrate the university. The show All Becomes One on the banks of river Emajögi spotlight connections between people, regions and eras.

Tartu i

With more than 1,000 events designed for all ages and interests, other highlights include mass smooch event Kissing Tartu and opinion festival Naked Truth, intriguingly staged in local saunas.

Summertime offers numerous attractions, from a Car-Free Avenue filled with children’s activities, art workshops and concerts, to Tartu Pride, a celebration of Estonia’s same-sex marriage law that came into force at the beginning of this year.

A solo exhibition by famous Japanese artist Ryoji Ikeda features installations based on research data from the University of Tartu and a collaboration with the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir. Music of all stripes includes electronic music parties and classical concerts featuring Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, among others.

Resolutely all-encompassing, Stand Up for Your Mind tackles mental health issues through the medium of comedy. Elsewhere, the region honours its indigenous people and their culture, an intrinsic element of traditional life in Estonia.


Bodø in Norway (opens 3 February)

As the first city north of the Arctic Circle to be awarded the culture capital title, Bodø also aspires to be the most sustainable. With its unique coastal and island location, many events will be staged outdoors on both land and sea.

Incorporating the vast surrounding Nordland region, Bodø2024 intends to show off its breathtaking untamed Arctic nature and engaging culture. The 1,000-event programme will follow the light over the course of the year, from multi-shaded dark days to northern lights and summer’s midnight sun.

In the opening ceremony (pictured above), all eyes will be on a floating stage in the marina that hosts a spectacular show celebrating the community’s relationship with the fishing industry, the environment and the climate.

A special focus on the Sámi, the region’s indigenous people, includes a trilogy of musical plays, while Bodø City Museum becomes a Sámi museum for the year. Innovative hybrid project ÁRRAN 360°(pictured below) sees Indigenous storytelling entering a new digital realm with panoramic films screened in a specially built giant lávvu.

Bodo-Arran 360

For a concert in a submerged cave, audience members need to be accredited divers, although it will be livestreamed for the less aquatically inclined. In another water-themed event, a new 10-metre-high sculpture of revered Norwegian poet-priest Petter Dass on an islet is best viewed by boat.

Back on land, Midsummer Mischief is an outdoor interactive event celebrating the midnight sun. Parties, concerts, outdoor games, berry-picking, fishing and picnics are among the summer pleasures on offer. Europe’s only land art biennale and Nordland’s first winter light festival are among other highlights.

Compact Bodø is currently undergoing major transition with its city-centre airport being relocated south in an architecturally-challenging project that opens up a new area for development. Running in parallel to the culture capital title, it’s been an opportunity to consult and reflect the opinions of local people, and youngsters in particular.

Photos: Bad Ischl Libertalia SaltLAb ©Edwin Husic Salzkammergut 2024; Blick auf die Esplanade ©Leitner Daniel; Tartu 2024; Tartu 2024; Bodø2024 opening ceremony; Bodø: Arran 360° 

Written by Sarah Crew