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Cultural Hot Spots Inspired by the European Capitals of Culture

Plovdiv, Bulgaria and Matera, Italy share the distinction of being named the two European Capitals of Culture for 2019, giving culture vultures the perfect excuse to plan a trip to one (or both) of these inspiring destinations over the course of the coming year. The European Capitals of Culture are awarded every year by the European Union to recognize a city’s efforts to embrace and celebrate local culture, including everything from food and architecture to art and music. With that in mind, we've rounded up some other top destinations around the world highly endorsed for culture by travelers. So whether you plan on visiting Plovdiv and Matera or have a hankering to venture beyond the borders of Europe to get your culture fix, these five destinations all offer something special to the eager explorer.


Plovdiv, Bulgaria

One of the two official European Capitals of Culture for 2019, Plovdiv is an ancient city in southern Bulgaria - one of the oldest in Europe - and a cultural gem. Whether you fancy tasting world class craft beer in the artisan area of Kapana, walking along the cobblestone streets or exploring the ruined fortress of Nebet Tepe, there are numerous ways to immerse yourself in the unique culture and history of the city. One of its most magnificent sights is the Roman theatre of Plovdiv. Ruins of the structure were rediscovered during an archaeological dig in the late 1960s and date from 90 AD. This incredible piece of history has been lovingly preserved and now serves the contemporary cultural agenda of the city, with performances regularly taking place against the backdrop of its ancient Roman pillars.

Where to Stay: Located right in the center of Plovdiv, Domus Apartments City Center are just a short walk from the Roman Stadium and serve as a perfect homebse for exploring the city's many charming side streets, with their eclectic candy-colored architecture and numerous cozy cafés.


Matera, Italy

The second 2019 European Capital of Culture is Matera, a beautiful town in the remote region of Basilicata, in southern Italy. With a neighborhood that is literally a series of grottos and caves, with some homes carved out of the limestone rocks themselves, Matera has recently undergone an artistic revival. Having once been one of the poorest towns in Western Europe, an increasing number of artisans have moved in and set up workshops, galleries and restaurants, giving it a new lease on life. It is best explored on foot with its winding streets and sweeping views over the countryside. By night the city's patios and office spaces are known to turn into pop-up bars, featuring local food stalls and live bands.

Where to Stay: Le Dimore Dell' Idris is in the popular Sassi area of Matera and offers travelers the chance to sleep within some of the original cave houses of Mount Errone, with most rooms carved right out of the Matera rock. After a day spent exploring the city's enthralling twists and turns, finish up with apperativos on your private terrace watching the sun set over the rooftops.


We believe that no matter where you are in the world, there are some truly amazing cultural hot spots nearby. So if you can’t make it to Europe, why not consider one of the other top locations for culture endorsed by our travelers? While these locations may not be eligible for the European Capital of Culture crown, they are true gems and attract eager explorers in search of art, history and culture all throughout the year.


Kathmandu, Nepal

Kathmandu has long been Nepal's cultural and political capital - a real epicenter of art, history and culture. A buzzing city endorsed by our travelers for its friendly locals, it's filled with rickshaws dashing off in every direction, local art galleries and ornate hidden temples. Just a short walk from one of the city's most popular areas, Thamel, which attracts lots of visitors with its lively nightlife and restaurant scene, Kathmandu’s old town is a bustling quarter full of beautiful temples. You can visit the popular Tibetan pilgrimage site, the Kathesimbhu Stupa and walk just a bit further to the recently restored Garden of the Six Seasons, also known as the Garden of Dreams. In addition to its timeless history and ancient culture, Kathmandu also now boasts some very popular contemporary art galleries.

Where to Stay: A rustic-chic oasis away from the manic energy of the Nepalese capital, The Life Story Guest House is ideal for a little meditative me-time after a day spent discovering all the city has to offer. It's also close to the airport, so extra handy for those flying in and out of Kathmandu.


Beijing, China

As the second most populous city in the world, the capital and one of the six ancient cities of China, Beijing is a must-visit destination for any culture vulture's first trip to the country. From the immensity of the Great Wall to the modern, criss-crossing lines of the National Stadium, Beijing serves up centuries of culture, just in terms of its diverse architecture alone. While the city may be busy, travelers can escape the crowds by visiting some of Beijing's hidden gems, such as the Former Government Building of Duan Qirui and the wooden theatre of Zhengyici. A city of unparalleled beauty and energy, travelers also endorse the amazing local street food scene - from noodles to dumplings to other exotic treats, there is something to dazzle even the most discerning foodies in bustling Beijing.

Where to Stay: A blend of traditional Chinese design and modern sensibility, a stay at The Opposite House offers you the best from Beijing's wide-ranging architectural styles. The clean lines and minimalisti interiors of the studios stand in contrast to the sweeping gestures and splashes of color used throughout the rest of the property. After a day spent jostling with the masses, you can unwind in your very own wooden tub and get ready to do it all over again.


Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka

Anuradhapura is one of the ancient capitals of Sri Lanka and is famous for its amazingly preserved architectural wonders. Founded in 377 BC and later abandoned, the city was enveloped by jungle until being rediscovered by British explorers in the 19th century. Travel to Anuradhapura today and you are still able to see one of the oldest trees in the world, the Sri Maha Bodhi, a sacred fig tree said to be the southern branch of the one under which it is believed that the Buddha attained enlightenment.

Where to Stay: Surrounded by lush tropical foliage, Rajarata Lodge is a relaxing home base for your cultural explorations of this stunning region. After a day spent capturing photos of the amazing ancient architecture, you can enjoy some local tea in the private garden and bask in the beauty of the surroundings.