Germany celebrates its beer, Britain honors Shakespeare and France hosts the UEFA Euro 2016. An overview of what people traveling to Europe will get to see in the new year.
Europe is the top destination among the world's continents, according to the latest of the annual statistics published by the United Nations World Tourism Organization. According to estimates, Europe has greeted over 600 million travelers for the first time in 2015.
The old continent does offer a lot to see. But which places and events should not be missed? What special anniversaries and festivals would be worth an extra trip or detour? Let's start with the upcoming year's highlights.
Germany celebrates its beer and gardens
In 2016, Germany will be celebrating a special anniversary: the proclamation of the purity law in Munich 500 years ago in 1516. It decreed that beer could only be brewed from barley, hops and water. Later, yeast was added to the list. The purity law is, in fact, the world's oldest food law still in force.
The quincentenary year is to be officially inaugurated on April 22, where the purity law was first proclaimed. In late July, the city of Munich will be holding a three-day beer festival. Some 100 Bavarian breweries will be taking part and 100,000 visitors from the world over are expected. If that wasn't suds enough, the traditional Oktoberfest will be serving up tankards from September 17 to October 3. This is the world's biggest Volksfest, or "people's fair."
Berlin will be honoring landscape architect Peter Joseph Lenné on the 150th anniversary of his death. He designed spacious parks in the style of the English garden, among them Sanssouci Park in Potsdam, Peacock Island and the Glienicke Hunting Lodge Park in Berlin. All three are now on UNESCO's World Heritage list. Afterward, Lenné was put in charge of Berlin's city planning under socially beneficial criteria. He included many green spaces for rest and recreation.
UEFA European Championship in France
Among the major events in 2016 is beyond all doubt the Soccer European Championship, to be held from June 10 to July 10 in France. Its 10 venues will be in the spotlight, among them Lyon, with the narrow streets of its old town, and the wine town of Bordeaux, a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2007.
The opening and the final matches are to be held at the Stade de France in Paris. The French capital is expecting an extra three million visitors for those games. A colossal screen is to be set up at the base of the Eiffel Tower to show all the tournament matches. With security a prime consideration in the wake of the terrorist attacks of November 13, the Champ de Mars, with space for 120,000 people, is to be blocked off and the entrances closely monitored. National dishes of the 24 participating countries are to be served along the banks of the Seine during those weeks.
400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death
No other dramatist in history has composed such enduring world-class stage plays as William Shakespeare. Britain is taking the 400th anniversary of his death as an occasion to commemorate the playwright with, among other things, theater, cinema and symphonic productions throughout the United Kingdom.
A new permanent exhibition will be opening in Shakespeare's birthplace and childhood home in Stratford-upon-Avon,examining his social milieu: family, friends and neighbors, drinking companions and co-workers. Following thorough renovations, Shakespeare'sold schoolhouse not far away from his home is to be re-opened to the public.
Capitals of culture and checkered histories
Wroclaw in Poland and San Sebastián in Spain are the European Capitals of Culture for 2016. Wroclaw is presenting itself as a young and creative city, a student center with a lovingly restored old town, well stocked with museums, galleries and restaurants. Yet large parts of the city center were destroyed in 1945 and the original German population expelled. Thousands of Poles have settled here since.
This kind of complex identity embodies the concept behind the European Capitals of Culture. The year is to be filled with concerts, whether in the rebuilt National Forum of Music, on the street, in train stations or in hospitals. Wroclaw will be graced with exhibitions and installations and the cultural year rounded off with the presentation of the European Film Awards on December 10.
In many ways, the program of San Sebastián in northern Spain is designed to help overcome deep past divisions, which persist among its population to this day. For decades, the ETA underground terrorist organization tried to force the issue of an independent Basque Country with deadly attacks. "The people should have something that gives them some faith in the city's future," says the director of the 2016 Capital of Culture project, Pablo Berástegui.
The program takes up current issues such as the ongoing European refugee crisis. Coming up in March is an anti-war festival with concerts, films and theater. And opening in June is a special exhibition of 300 works by Goya, Rubens and Picasso on the subject violence and peace.
Major European art exhibitions
Any European tour must include a visit to at least one of the many art museums. In 2016, the spotlight will be on the Dutch Renaissance painter Hieronymus Bosch on the 500th anniversary of his death. Many of his works will be sent to his birthplace in Hertogenbosch for the occasion, where they'll be on display from February 13 to May 8 during the exhibition "Hieronymus Bosch - Visions of a Genius."
Hieronymus Bosch's perhaps best known work, "The Garden of Earthly Delights," is to remain in Madrid's Museo del Prado. It has been under Spanish ownership since the 16th century and is never loaned out. The Prado will be holding a special showing of more than 60 of Bosch's paintings starting on May 31.
From January 30 to April 20, London's Royal Academy of Arts will be presenting the exhibition "Painting the Modern Garden: Monet to Matisse," with 120 works by such great masters as Cezanne, Renoir, Manet, Van Gogh, Kandinsky, Klimt and Klee.
In northern Italy, fans of Christo will walk on water thanks to his "Floating Piers" project on Lake Iseo in Lombardy, June 18-July 3, weather permitting. The 3-kilometer (2-mile) walkway will consist of floating cubes covered in shimmering yellow fabric. Lakeside mountains will offer a bird's-eye view.
A date to look forward to every year on Europe's calendar of events is the Carnival. In Venice, it will take place this year from January 23 to February 9. For what may well be the world's best known masquerade, the Queen of the Adriatic becomes one big party town.
Many German cities and towns celebrate Carnival, as well. The Shrove Monday parades will be taking place on February 8 this year in Cologne, Düsseldorf and Mainz. The floats are peopled by Carnival fools who pelt their audiences with sweets.
Also world-famous is the Carnival in Nice, France, taking place this year from February 12 through 28. Providing a picturesque backdrop to the revelry is the renowned Promenade des Anglais right on the Côte d'Azur. In this parade, Carnival fools in extravagant costumes shower the spectators with flowers.
Midsummer and Eurovision Song Contest in Sweden
Summer nights are even shorter in northern Europe. Close to and above the Arctic Circle, the sun doesn't set at all in late June. The Swedes use the white nights to celebrate Midsummer. This year, the summer solstice falls on June 24. Many do traditional dress, and along with others who don't, they dance and sing the night through. The largest and most traditional Midsummer festival takes place in the town of Leksandon Siljan Lake. Foreign guests are more than welcome.
Travelers watching stars of another kind might want to head to Sweden a bit earlier in 2016 for another major event - this year only. May 14 is the date for the finals of the 61st Eurovision Song Contest (ESC). The extravaganza will be broadcast live on television, and audiences will be voting for their favorite acts by phone.
Countless outdoor music festivals are also major cultural events in Europe. One of the best known is the Fête de la Musique, which always rings in the summer on June 21. In cities across Europe, amateur and professional musicians give concerts free of charge on the street and in bars.
One of the world's largest open air music festivals is the Glastonbury Festival in southwestern England. It will take place this year from June 22-26, offering a wealth of contemporary music from rock to hip hop. Also on the lineup: theater, dance and circus performances.
Another crowd-pleaser every year is Wacken Open Air heavy metal festival in northern Germany. On the first August weekend of the year, tens of thousands of fans throng to the small town for what is the world's largest heavy metal festival.
For fans of classical music, there's the international Festival d'Aix en Provence in southern France. The festival features many concerts and opera performances, performed with the historic city as a backdrop. The most magical stage is the courtyard of the archbishop's palace, where performances are held under the open sky.