European Capitals of Culture

An initiative putting culture at the heart of European cities with EU support for yearlong festivals of art and culture.

In 2015, the European Capitals of Culture celebrated their 30th anniversary.

Discover the brochure illustrating successful projects in recent European Capitals of Culture (ECOC) and the factsheet on the history and highlights of the initiative over the years.

What is it?

The European Capitals of Culture initiative is designed to:

  • Highlight the richness and diversity of cultures in Europe
  • Celebrate the cultural features Europeans share
  • Increase European citizens' sense of belonging to a common cultural area
  • Foster the contribution of culture to the development of cities

In addition to this, experience has shown that the event is an excellent opportunity for:

  • Regenerating cities
  • Raising the international profile of cities;
  • Enhancing the image of cities in the eyes of their own inhabitants
  • Breathing new life into a city's culture
  • Boosting tourism

How does it work?

Designation of European Capitals of Culture in EU member states

Six years before the title-year the selected host member states publish a call for applications, usually through their Ministry for Culture. Cities interested in participating in the competition must submit a proposal for consideration.

The submitted applications are reviewed against a set of established criteria during a pre-selection phase by a panel of independent experts in the field of culture. The panel agrees on a short-list of cities, which are then asked to submit more detailed applications.

The panel then reconvenes to assess the final applications and recommends one city per host country for the title. The recommended city will then be formally designated as European Capital of Culture.

The role of the European Commission is to ensure that the rules established at EU level are respected all along the way.

From designation to implementation…

European Capitals of Culture are formally designated four years before the actual year. This long period of time is necessary for the planning and preparation of such a complex event. The panel, supported by the European Commission, has a continuing role during these four years in supporting European Capitals of Culture with advice and guidance and taking stock of their preparations.

At the end of this monitoring period, the panel will consider whether to recommend or not that the European Commission pays the Melina Mercouri Prize (currently €1.5m funded from the EU Creative Europe programme).

… to evaluation of the outcomes

Each year the European Commission publishes an evaluation report on the outcomes of the European Capitals of Culture of the previous year. For the Capitals post 2019, the cities themselves will carry out their own evaluation and send it to the Commission by the end of the year following that of the title.

What has been done so far?

The initiative was developed in 1985 and has, to date, been awarded to more than 50 cities across the European Union. The 2019 European Capitals of Culture are:




  • 2020 - Rijeka (Croatia) and Galway (Ireland)
  • 2021 - Timișoara (Romania), Elefsina (Greece) and Novi Sad (Serbia, candidate country)
  • 2022 – Kaunas (Lithuania) and Esch (Luxembourg)
  • 2023 – Veszprém (Hungary)

The chronological list of Member States that can host the ECOC title from 2020 until 2033 is available. It is indicated in the Annex to the Decision adopted by the European Parliament and the Council in April 2014. Competitions are organized at national level with the publication of a call for submission of applications by the responsible authority (usually the national Ministry of Culture).

This new framework was amended in September 2017 by another decision of the European Parliament and the Council. This decision makes it possible for cities in EU candidate countries, potential candidates  or members of the European Free Trade Association party to the Agreement on the European Economic Area (so-called EFTA/EEA countries) to hold the title in 2021, 2024, 2028, 2030 and 2033. These cities are selected through an “open competition”, meaning that cities from various countries may compete with each other.

Cities wishing to hold the ECOC title should await the announcement of a competition in their own country, and then complete and submit a bid in response to the call for applications published..

The competitions for the ECOC 2024 titles are currently ongoing. Estonia and Austria published their calls for applications in 2017. The pre-selection meetings took place in Tallinn and Vienna respectively in late 2018 and early 2019. Narva and Tartu were pre-selected in Estonia while Bad Ischl, Dornbirn and St-Pölten were short-listed in Austria.

The final selection meetings will take place in late August (Estonia) and mid-November 2019 (Austria). The European Commission is currently managing a third competition for 2024 between cities in candidate countries, potential candidates and EFTA/EEA countries. This competition started with the publication of a call for applications in September 2017. The pre-selection took place in November 2018, with Banja Luka, Bodo and Mostar being short-listed. The final selection meeting is planned for September 2019.

The competitions for the ECOC 2025 titles have also been launched, with Germany publishing its call for submission of applications in September 2018 (deadline 30/9/2019) and Slovenia following suit in February 2019 (deadline 31/12/2019).

Finally, Finland, which will host a European Capital of Culture in 2026 together with Slovakia, published its call in April 2019 (deadline for submitting applications 5/5/2020). Slovakia will start its competition before the end of 2019.

The ex-post evaluation of the two ECOC 2017 (Aarhus and Pafos) was finalised in December 2018. See the Open Public Consultation of the evaluation of the ECOC 2017, its annex and the Evaluation Synopsis report gathering all types of consultations. The ex-post evaluation of the two ECOC 2018 (Leeuwarden and Valletta) is currently ongoing.

The Capitals from 2011 onwards

Austria Estonia EFTA/EEA country, Candidate country, Potential candidate
Kaunas Esch 

Photo: © Leeuwarden-Fryslân 2018  © Chris Mangion