A villa in Bad Ischl - Photo: wikipedia

European Capitals of Culture 2024

A first for Austrian inner-Alpine region

Veszprém-Balaton in Hungary, Elefsina in Greece and Timișoara in Romania are ending their stints as European Capitals of Culture 2023, and Tartu in Estonia, Bodø in Norway and Bad Ischl in Austria are about to take over throughout 2024. With 27 member states in the European Union, of which only two or three a year host a Capital of Culture program (plus competition within the countries to participate), it’s an opportunity that doesn’t come often.
30. December 2023 5:42

The closest to Hungary in 2024 will be Bad Ischl, a spa town east of Salzburg. It’s known as a gateway to the Alpine lakes and mountains of the Salzkammergut region. Salzkammergut will carry the title of European Capital of Culture with Bad Ischl as its banner city. For the first time in the history of the event that began in Athens in 1985, it will take place in the inner-Alpine region. Previous Austrian hosts have been Graz in 2003 and Linz in 2009.

Bad Ischl Mayor Ines Schiller says: “This offers Bad Ischl and the Salzkammergut the chance for our town/region to become the equivalent of a major city. The already lively cultural scene and high quality of life are to be increased. It’s about mobility and digitalisation and, above all, revitalising existing properties.”

Bad Ischl has a population of some 14,000 and is known for its numerous parks and flower gardens. This feature was helped along in 2015 when the Upper Austrian Garden Show was held there and much money was invested in garden maintenance. The commitment paid off, and Bad Ischl won first prize in the Entente Florale 2016, a European competition to enhance the quality of life and living.

What’s more, Bad Ischl received the best rating ever awarded to a participant, making the townsfolk justifiably proud of their attractive parks. One highlight is the Sisipark, which was completely redesigned as part of the show and offers families the opportunity to spend time and play with their children.

In fact, the town has been certified several times by UNICEF, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, and the Federal Chancellery of Austria as a family- and child-friendly community. Due to the large number and range of childcare facilities, the compatibility of family and work is continually evaluated there.

The range of playgrounds has steadily grown in recent years, and Bad Ischl has done even more to expand the choice of exercise for all the population, whether skate park, beach volleyball court, climbing gyms, tennis courts or park pool. For reading and playing fun, the libraries offer books and games to borrow for a small fee.

In summary, Bad Ischl likes to say it is many things: imperial town, European Cultural Capital 2024, congress, spa and shopping town, in the heart of the Salzkammergut. As a summer resort, visitors and guests find a beautiful area for hikes and bike tours in the mountain and lake region.

This is said to be following in the footsteps of Sisi and Lehár. “Sisi” is well known to Hungarians, of course, and was the nickname of Elisabeth, Empress of Austria and Queen of Hungary from her marriage to Emperor Franz Joseph I in 1854 until her assassination in 1898. The Kaiservilla in Bad Ischl was the imperial couple’s summer residence. The latest information is that today the mansion is home to the Archduke Markus, but also offers tours of the grounds to the public.

The Kaiservilla in Bad Ischl

Franz Lehár, or Lehár Ferenc to Hungarians, was an Austro-Hungarian composer (1870-1948) mainly known for his operettas, of which the most successful and best known is “The Merry Widow” (Die lustige Witwe). He died aged 78 in 1948 in Bad Ischl and was buried there. Lehár Villa was his summer residence in the town on the bank of the River Traun, and is now a museum dedicated to the composer.

Mayor Schiller says Bad Ischl has been preparing for 2024 with full zeal and commitment. The whole town will be a stage, with the opening ceremony on January 20 and a “Hangover breakfast” the following day. Twenty-three municipalities in rural areas will actually be involved in the year. The Budapest Times will publish details of the program.

Leave a Reply