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02 December 2013

Europe's Nordic Cultural Hotspots 

Lovely Riga, on Estonia’s Baltic coast, and scholarly Umeå, just 400 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle in Sweden, have been chosen to showcase the arts and culture that make the continent unique as Europe’s twin Capitals of Culture for 2014.

What do they offer?

Recently voted the prettiest city in Europe, Riga is Latvia’s capital and largest city – and unquestionably the cultural hub of the Baltic states.

With a booming economy and a vibrant mix of old-world elegance and 21st century sophistication, Riga revels in a reputation as the Paris of the East.

The Capital of Culture 2014 events include “Born in Riga,” a series of concerts by celebrated musicians native to the city, including an outdoor concert in high summer.

In July, 20,000 singers from around the globe will gather for the World Choir Games, a celebration of the city’s choral tradition.

In November, the Nordic winter will be illuminated by the Staro Riga Light Festival. The region’s largest light festival lasts a week and features creations by European and Latvian light artists.

Scandinavian center of learning Umeå is an urban oasis amid the subarctic tundra. One of Sweden’s fastest-growing cities, it hosts several major universities and about 37,000 students.

The city lies far enough north to experience the midnight sun during the short summer, though the long dark winter nights pose a more adventurous challenge.

Its cultural highlights next year include Midwinter Jazz, a mini-festival at the end of January featuring a capella and big band performances; Shakespeare in Park’n (an improvised take on Shakespeare in the first week of July in a city park) and local operatic group NorrLands Operan, performing Richard Strauss’s Elektra in an outdoor venue in August.