Europe loves to throw a party. The calendar is full of events that bring out millions to share in the fun of festivals, sporting events and concerts.

On top of the annual attractions that help define a destination — think of Holland’s tulips, Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival and Prague’s busy music season — special events also come along that ramp up the excitement when destinations go all out.
If you’re heading to Europe this year but can’t decide where to go, here’s a list of one-of-a-kind events that will be big draws.

City of culture
The European Cultural Capital program shines the spotlight on a particular city (or two) and provides an opportunity for the locals to show us what they’ve got going on. Some years are duds and quickly forgotten while others elevate a burg to newfound respect, as was the case with Glasgow some years ago. For 2008, another once grim U.K. city takes its star turn: Liverpool.

The city will showcase international talent, from Turner Prize-winning artists to blockbuster exhibits, and explore its rich musical heritage, including, of course, the Beatles. The Liverpool Sound concert at Anfield Stadium on June 1 with Paul McCartney will be a highlight. The World Museum hosts The Beat Goes On (July 12-Nov. 1), paying tribute to bands right up to today’s the Coral and the Zutons that have played a major part in creating the Merseyside sound.

The Tate Liverpool, Britain’s largest modern art gallery outside London, exhibits the flamboyant work of Niki de Saint Phalle through May and a retrospective of Gustav Klimt (May 31-Aug. 31).

City of culture Part 2
Little-known Stavanger, Norway, shares the Capital of Culture title this year. The lineup of 200 events may not compare in star power to Liverpool but instead celebrates all that is local with some inventive and curious attractions, many of which will take place in the dramatic setting of Norway’s famous fiords.

One performance piece on a submersed platform will give the impression that actors are walking on water. The San Francisco-based aerial gymnastic team Project Bandaloop, known for dancing down the sides of skyscrapers, will perform July 4 by bounding off the boulders and sheer cliffs of nearby Gloppedalsura.

Soccer mania
Alpine neighbours Switzerland and Austria join forces in June to host the biggest sporting event on the continent for the month-long mayhem that is the UEFA Euro 2008, the European Cup of soccer. The games kick off in Basel on June 7 and the tension builds through 31 matches to the championship in Vienna on June 29. Tickets are scarce but host cities are well-prepared to welcome the overflow. Sixteen Swiss towns and cities will have a giant video wall where people can watch the games. Austria will also have video feeds to main city squares.

And it’s not all soccer in June. There are festivals to coincide with the footie. Vienna’s Schoenbrunn Palace will host concerts by the Vienna Philharmonic on June 27-28. The Greenfield Festival takes over the Interlaken airfield (June 13-15) with rock, hip-hop and alt music acts and free camping under the Alpine sky.

Water everywhere
Feeling thirsty? Spain will quench it, provided it’s water you’re after. Water and sustainable development is the theme of the 2008 World Expo in Saragossa (June 14-Sept 14). The Spanish are proving adept at hosting world fairs: Building on the success of Expo 92 in Seville, this northern city will be transformed with 140 pavilions dedicated to different waterscapes including rainforests, an aquarium and aquatic inspirations.

The Bridge Pavilion across the River Ebro by the Iraqi starchitect Zaha Hadid will serve as an undulating transition from the city to the expo site and will double as the main entrance as well as a pavilion in its own right. The Aragon Pavilion, resembling a giant basket to symbolize the local craft of basket weaving, will become the regional parliament after the show packs up.

Bavarian bash
Germany is revving up for a birthday bash in Munich. Turning 850, the Bavarian capital with its Wi-Fi beer gardens and lederhosen-wearing hipsters will be in a celebrating mood.

The Long Night of Music on May 31 does for music venues what Nuit Blanche does for all-night art. The Old Town Ring Road Festival (July 19-20) turns the car-loving centre into a pedestrian party, and the Isar Bridge Festival (Aug. 1-3) will feature art installations, light shows and music centred on this historic bridge where the city first grew.

There’s a new Jewish Museum opening this year and BMW unveils its refurbished museum this summer next to the new auto showcase, BMW Welt. Car lovers will want to get to Stuttgart for the opening of the Porsche Museum, slated to open this fall.

Half-century Smurfs
Belgians love their comic strips and the country has produced some of the best-known illustrated characters of all time, including Tintin, created by the artist known as Herge. With such a passion, it’s no surprise Brussels is home to a comic book museum set in a marvellous art nouveau structure, that lends an amusing respectability to what’s been called the “ninth art.”

This year, the Belgian Centre of Comic Strip Art has something to celebrate: The 50th anniversary of the Smurfs. The blue and white characters that stand “three apples tall,” created by Peyo, will be featured in a major retrospective from June 10 to Nov. 16.

Latest From ...