2 European Cities to Visit This Year

  • The city of Pilsen.

    The city of Pilsen.

  • The Belfry in Mons, built in the 17th century, alight at night.

    The Belfry in Mons, built in the 17th century, alight at night.

  • A circus performer from Pilsen's Le Cirque Nouveau program.

    A circus performer from Pilsen's Le Cirque Nouveau program.

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This year, two small cities share the title of European Capital of Culture. Read on to see how they’ll show off their artsy sides.

By Gabrielle Lipton

MONS

In Brief
Once a mining town, the southern Belgium city of Mons—site of the first battle of World War I—is today a dichotomy of old UNESCO-listed sites and a new Silicon Valley–esque identity, full of start-ups and with a Google data center nearby.

What to Do
Watch an eclectic array of performance art ranging from karaoke to séances when the hip British Working Men’s Club from London installs itself in an old school building for four days (February 19–22). See two world-class exhibits at the Beaux-Arts Mons museum: “Van Gogh au Borinage,” displaying works from the start of the artist’s career (through May 17); and “Verlaine, cellule 252,” about the master of French poetry and his vice-ridden time in Belgium (October 17–January 24, 2016). Go get lost in Sun City, a maze of 8,000 sunflowers in the Grand-Place (July 17–26). Hear auditory exhibitions and installations—the Chapel of Silence, the Room of Sound and Wonder—at the Arsonic theater (April 3–5).

While You’re There
Visit the Mundaneum, a massive archive created by two lawyers attempting to document all the world’s knowledge on index cards, often regarded as the first iteration of the Internet. And for a photo op, climb to the top of the Belfry, a World Heritage–listed Baroque bell tower that is the tallest structure in town.

PILSEN

In Brief
The birthplace of Skoda automobiles and Pilsner beer, Pilsen is the Czech Republic’s fourth-largest city, known for its art spaces, brews, and core of old architectural gems, including the world’s third-largest synagogue.

What to Do
Watch a performance of contemporary circus arts, with Pilsen’s annual Le Cirque Nouveau program bringing 60 performances from nine international circus ensembles (through December 15). See niche exhibitions at the West Bohemian Gallery, one from Munich’s golden age of art—think Kandinski and Klee—at “Munich: Shining Metropolis of Art” (through April 6), the other a collection of Maori portraits by native Gottfried Lindauer, on loan from the National Gallery in Auckland (May 6–September 20). Go on a stroll through otherwise private green areas during the Weekend of Opened Gardens (June 13–14). Hear spectacular jazz at the Bohemia Jazz Fest (July 1–31), an annual highlight of Europe’s summer music circuit.

While You’re There
Take a tour of the Pilsen Historical Underground, a 20-kilometer-long maze of subterranean tunnels that date back to the 14th century. Relax after with a beer at Pilsner Urquell Brewery, where the first pilsner-style ale was brewed in 1842.

For more information and full schedules, visit Plzen 2015 and Mons 2015.

This article originally appeared in the February/March print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Fair Share”)

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