Where To Go in 2020 for the Cultural Traveller

Do you dream of seeing the world? Well, there’s only so many days in a year, so some focus is needed.

Did you visit any of the destinations, I recommended in 2019? I did! I went to the European Capital of Culture 2019: Plovdiv, Bulgaria. It wasn’t really ready for party, but the oldest city in Europe is a great place to go for roman ruins and great wine. 

Here you find a carefully researched and selected 9 destinations I recommend for 2020, if you want more than sunshine and cocktails. (Not that that’s bad).

Where to go in 2020 for the cultural explorer:

UZBEKISTAN

The Central Asian Silk Road is selected by Lonely Planet to be Best In Travel as the top region to visit in 2020. I’m usually not a front-runner, but I travelled to Uzbekistan last year.
Registan in Samarkand

WHY GO NOW?

I have no doubt this is going to be a popular destination very soon. As of 2019, Uzbekistan made it a lot easier to visit with visa-free entry for many travellers. Before they had a the old Russian communist-style-invitation-needed-regulations. 

Also, the major cities are now linked by new high-speed trains. Sure, they might be built by China as a strategic move, but who cares. It’s efficient, fast and more environmentally friendly. And no country should underestimate the visa process and transportation! 

Do you need more reasons? This year, it’s 100 years ago that Bukhara fell as the last capital to the Red Army of Russia and became part of the Soviet. You can still see the damages the Red Army did to the large fortification walls. Even more, it’s 800 years ago the Mongols lead by famous Genghis Khan invaded. 

Samarkand

WHAT TO SEE!

Well, that’s easy to say: The silk road cities of Samarkand and Bukhara. They are on the World Heritage List and the mausoleums and mosques have inspired monuments like the Taj Mahal. It’s absolutely the most beautiful architecture I’ve ever seen. Will write about it as soon as possible. And the desert. 

Now, I could just stop the entire list of 2020 detinations here, since Uzbekistan is GO GO GO! But you can have a few more options…

Wanderlust Magazine recommend Kyrgyzstan instead on their travel hot list 2020.

GALWAY, IRELAND

Have you heard of this city before? I hadn’t. It’s also named Gaillimh. Does this help?

From Wikipedia

WHY GO NOW?

The small town of Galway in has not been on my travel radar. But maybe that’s the point by appointing it European Capital of Culture in 2020. Another less happy occasion, is the 100th anniversary for Bloody Sunday.

WHAT TO SEE!

Discover old Galway in the medieval St. Nicholas church or in the 16th century Spanish arch. All the pictures I find online are of the waterfront, so this is probably the prettiest spot. And it is located near the Atlantic Ocean, which you can enjoy from a 2-km long walkway. The water seems important since you also find a large aquarium. If nothing else seems interesting, at least you’ll have no trouble finding a pub.

But it’s obvious to combine a stop here with other places in Ireland. Unfortunately, you can’t really get around by train, so it’s car or bus.

For a Dublin experience Guinness & Joyce! A literary guide to Dublin. Another major sight in Ireland are the 2 World Heritage Sites of Skellig Island (Star Wars yes) and Brú na Bóinne. For nature lovers find the Giant’s Causeway which even I am drawn to.

RIJEKA, CROATIA

You might also have come across this destination on other lists. That’s because it’s one of the 2 European Capitals of Culture this year. Apparently, no one thought Rijeka would get the nomination for 2020, so this is a city that surprises.

Rijeka Bay. From Wikipedia

WHY GO NOW?

Rijeka (or Fiume) is also European Capital of Culture in 2020. Find the programme for inspiration here, including a large Carnival Parade at the end of February and a music festival in the beginning of May. 

Another reason to go (as they say in the tourism industry), is that Croatia is only becoming more and more crowded and expensive. So no reason to wait. 

WHAT TO SEE

 Besides the activities and events especially scheduled for this year, the city has some fine sights. St. Vitus Cathedral. The theatre has works by the great artists Gutsav Klimt. 

The city is located close to other countries and other cultures have left their marks. Enjoy a skyline made up by old red rooftops and Renaissance, Baroque and Art Nouveau buildings, empty warehouses and the well known grey Communist-era building blocks.  

Rijeka lies in Kvarner Bay – a tourist magnet. Here the beaches will keep you from the sights. I’ll take the Adriatic over the Mediterranean any day. After a long day, have a cold glass of local white wine and some fresh seafood

I admit the event calendar seems a bit unimpressive, but I have no doubt that this is a nice place.  I would go, European Capital or not. It’s very popular with good reason. I’ve travelled to many Balkan countries, but Croatia is still my favourite despite the many tourists. Interesting history, beautiful coastline and beaches and great food. Go in spring or fall. 

Try to Live like an emperor in a Roman palace in Split! Or head to Poreč 1, 5 hours from Rijeka for a less visited World Heritage Site.

BEIJING, CHINA

WHY GO NOW?

This year, it’s 600 years ago Beijing became the capital in China. And any capital needs a spectacular seat of power. So the forbidden city was built. We thank the architect. And China wants you to visit. They made new easier visa-regulations. If you are from one of 53 lucky countries, you get a 6 days visa free entry. Perfect for long layovers.

WHAT TO SEE!

Of course, you have to see the Forbidden Palace. Did you know it’s placed right in the center of the world? If you (like me) are into embalmed leaders, get in line for the mausoleum of Mao, but remeber not be indecent or have big bags. 

Also find time to just sit and sip tea in one of the gardens watching old ladies doing tai chi. One of the finest temples ever is the Younghe or Lama Temple. I haven’t visited the Beijing Capital Museum, but if it’s just half as good as the one in Shanghai – I’m in. Calligraphy is art!

China has so many sights its impossible to list them. It’s in fact the country with the most World Heritage Sites. I will highlight the site of the giant Buddha in Leshan. Unfortunately, its in danger of being destroyed by acid rain. 

Take the train to China for less impact on the enviroment. Real Adventure: the Trans-Mongolian Train 1999

BORDER COUNTRY, DENMARK/GERMANY

We do actually call it border country/Grænselandet. But not in a hostile way. In a sharing-is-caring way. (I’m so lucky to be born in Scandinavia)

Flensborg. Taken by my mom.

WHY GO NOW?

100 years ago a new border was drawn between Denmark and Germany. It’s a long history lesson on why and how, but with today’s disputes over borders, you can easily imagine that this was a big deal. We call it a reunion! And a big celebration has begun.

The area applied for European Culture Capital in ’17 and should have won over Aarhus – in my opinion. Because this is a peaceful border country. For anyone else than Danes and people living in Northern Germany, this might not be very important. But to us, it is! So naturally, i had to include it.

The Wadden Sea. From the website Nationalpark Wadden Sea. Can't find my own pictures.

WHAT TO SEE!

My recommendations is to stay in the area around Flensborg Fjord. It’s very pretty and the city Flensborg will have a lot of events during the year. See if you can find a  a Southern Jutland Cake Feats. I haven’t tried it, but in the rest of Denmark it’s a mythical thing.

For some space, rent a car and drive to the Wadden Sea – also a World Heritage and shared by Denmark and Germany and also the Netherlands. Sharing is caring – you know. The spectacular natural phenomenon is a unique salt marsh and tidal flat area. Try to match your arrival with the famous Black sun, when huge flocks of starlings flying in amazing formations against the evening sky turning the sky dark.

Conde Nast Traveler has the capital Copenhagen on their 2020 list, but I live here, so….

AZERBAIJAN

I flew over Azerbaijan when leaving Uzbekistan, and I saw the beautiful Caucasus Mountains. You might also know it from the Eurovision Song Contest. I voted for them in 2011. So in the last 10 years, this country has been on the rise for me.

Baku in Azerbaijan. Free image

WHY GO NOW?

Last year, they had a new World Heritage Site and in Lonely Planet Best in Travel 2020 the country features as best value. 2020 is also the centennial for the country  becoming part of the Soviet. 

WHAT TO SEE!

The new site of course: Historic Centre of Sheki with the Khan’s Palace. During the Middle Ages, this was home to the ruling dynasty. And power means money means top of the pop in architecture and design. Nature is close by as the capital Baku is located by the Caspian Sea or head up to the awe-inspiring Caucasus mountains on a mountain bike. I would see the Gobustan Rock Art. It’s so fascinating to see art made thousands and thousands of years ago by human very different and yet not so different from us. You can’t see all 6,000 rock engravings, but juts a few as well as inhabited caves, settlements and burials.
From UNESCO
A car seems to be the best options for more off-the-grid places, but train exist and works. If you get hungry, expect central Asian cuisine with grilled meat, mutton,  rice pilaf sauces and vegetables. And also like in Uzbekistan: lots of bread.

CAIRO, EGYPT

Finally! 2020 is finally the year the long awaited new Grand Egyptian Museum opens. Or GEM for us in the know. Oh yeah, and there are pyramids!

Free image

WHY GO NOW?

After 8 years of delays, the long awaited GEM is opening in 2020. At least partly. All the gold from the tomb of Tutankhamen has been shined up for you, and a new airport and metro line will make it super easy to get there. And when it does I’m there!

WHAT TO SEE!

The Museum! Historic Cairo is in itself a World Heritage Site, so you’ll be cultural just by walking around taking in the smell and drinking tea – in the City of the Dead for instance. I would choose to see the fortress built by Saladin, the famous Muslim sultan of the Middle East. He is the founder of the Ayyūbid dynasty, and fought against the Christian Crusaders, and is most famous for capturing of Jerusalem. And did I mention pyramids?

After a few days, when you had enough of the chaotic traffiic, jump on a train to Alexandria as well. For the library, you know.

Sailing the Nile

Tourists have been avoiding Egypt because of the many terrorist attacks. And I get it. But then again – I don’t. You are more likely to be hit by a car. The lack of tourists is taking its toll as I experienced in 2018 in Luxor. The locals I spoke to were desperate for some business. They have been a tourists destination for several thousand years and can’t just do something else during some bad times. So go and support the locals. We took a different taxi driver each day to spread out the cash…

If you find ancient Egypt as fascinating as me, head to Luxor or ancient Thebes: Must-See Temples & Tombs In Valley of the Kings!

PLYMOUTH, UK

There’s no ignoring the 400th year anniversary for the Mayflower. On September 16 iry fir the departure of the ship Mayflower.

From Visit Plymouth

WHY GO NOW?

400 years ago a ship called the Mayflower packed with immigrants took off for the New World. And the story of America changed. Over 30 million people can trace their ancestry to the 132 passengers and crew members. Thank god the immigration department didn’t stop them. 

WHAT TO SEE!

Under the slogan: “Steering our future/inspired by the past” 2020 will be full of events. The city promises “breathtaking, once-in-a-lifetime festivals to grand, thought-provoking artistic installations and a vast network of community events.” That does sound better than Galway. Find the programme here. You can of course learn more about the immigrant ship at the Mayflower Museum.
From Mayflower400uk.org
When you are too seasick to stay, and if it’s a sunny day, head to neighbouring Torqay, the English Riviera. Agathe Christie was borne here, so somebody is bound to die.

BONN, GERMANY

I know, Germany is often on my lists, but it’s underestimated as a tourist destination. Even by Danes and we are neighbours. Bonn use to be the capital of Germany, so you might give it a chance.

From Wikipedia

WHO GO NOW?

Bonn is where the famous composer Ludwig van Beethoven was born. In 2020, it’ 250 years ago. But he’s still looking good. Just listen to “Moonlight Sonata” or “Ode to Joy“. It makes me wanna cry. The last one is the base for the European Union anthem.  His original handwritten composition is World Heritage. See events here. Events also take place in other cities such as Vienna, so you can without coming to Bonn. But why would you.

Lonely Planet has the city #5 on its top cities for best in Travel 2020.

WHAT TO SEE!

What to hear you mean. Beethoven of course! For instance at Beethoven Haus, where he lived. But Bonn is also and old Roman settlement. And you know I love Roman settlements. A military fort was called Castro Bonnnensis so the names dates way back. Romans also left winemaking and Germany is one of my personal favourite wine countries. But more is left from medieval times like remnants of a city wall and an impressive minster from 11th century .  Take the Museum Mile for the full experience. (like the Museum Island in Berlin – the Germans are so organized. I love it!) Pass by the university and hope some intelligence will come to you through  osmosis, since it has hatched several Nobel prize winners, Karl Marx, Nietzsche, Pope Benedict XVI and many more. End the day with gummy bears, since the candy company Haribo is from here.
From Wikipedia
 Arrive in spring for a wealth of blooming cherry trees. The city is close to the river Rhine and nearby national parks, so outdoorsy people have something to do as well. For other German cities, try Eat marzipan in Lübeck with the family Buddenbrooks! or enjoy a Top 3 Christmas Markets in Hamburg.
Did you find something interesting? I hope you been inspired. I wanted to include Lebanon and Ethiopia, but due to some political uprising, they have to wait. Personally, I’m just sad, I can’t go to all of the interesting destinations on the list. I will definitely do everything I can to hit at least one of them for 2020. Happy travels!