Lonely Planet Writer

Valletta and Leeuwarden ready to celebrate as 2018 European capitals of culture

Travellers looking to get off-the-beaten path in Europe this year should look no further than the cities of Valletta and Leeuwarden, which are both celebrating their role as a 2018 European Capital of Culture.

Valletta city buildings with birds flying over them, Malta. Image by ©Anton Zelenov/Getty Images

The Maltese capital and the Dutch city will hold the title for 2018, celebrating with cultural programmes that are sure to show visitors a new side of the lesser-visited cities.

Night view of Valletta, Malta. Image by kelvinjay/Getty Images

The city of Valletta is a Unesco World Heritage Site, containing a staggering number of historic sites on a tiny peninsula. The entire Mediterranean country covers just over 300 sq km – but there is plenty for visitors to see and do while they explore the archipelago. Malta is currently holding a week-long celebration to kick-off its cultural programme, with huge crowds expecting to celebrate on Saturday. The Times of Malta reports that 100,000 people are expected to take part in celebrations in Triton Square, St George’s Square, Castille Square and St John’s Square.

But if you can’t make it there in time for this weekend, throughout the year there will be festivals like the Valletta International Baroque Festival, art exhibitions, film exhibitions and much more. In addition to a year’s worth of events, travellers can see the sights of Malta, like the imposing Grand Master’s Palace, the National Museum of Archaeology and the Renzo Piano-designed City Gate.

Bridge with bike in Leeuwarden, a small Dutch city on the North East of Netherlands. Image by Camelot Films UK/Getty Images

Leeuwarden, the capital of the Friesland region, may not be as well-known as Valletta, but it will still pack a cultural punch in 2018. The city has all the hallmarks of the Netherlands in its canal-lined streets and a number of museums. The city’s opening week begins on 26 January with a theme of “Lepen Mienskip”, of an open sense of community. The city’s events will focus on themes like diversity and social justice, reports Deutsche Welle English. Throughout the year there will be events like a Mata Hari Expo, tall ship races, artistic performances and much more.