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2017 brims with events and anniversaries in Europe

By KAREN BRADBURY | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 29, 2016

2017 in Europe: What’s in it for you? Plenty, according to a survey of travel magazines, tourism board calendars, museums, railways and bargain-flight providers. In addition, the U.S. dollar-to-euro exchange rate is the most favorable it has been  in years.

Lonely Planet’s “Best in Travel” is a compilation of must-see destinations for the year ahead. In 2017, European destinations they recommend include Finland (celebrations marking a centennial of independence; the opening in June of a new national park incorporating old-growth forest and a unique canyon lake in June; and two major sporting events: the Nordic World Ski Championships in Lahti Feb. 22-March 3 and the World Figure Skating Championships in Helsinki March 29-April 2); The Azores (described as the “next Iceland” for stunning natural assets, including volcanoes, hot springs and rugged craters); Northern Wales (offering a surfing lagoon with mechanical wave-making, the world’s fastest zip line, and gigantic trampolines in former slate mines); Ireland’s Skellig Ring (filming location for the sequel to "The Force Awakens"); Porto, Portugal (a good-value destination with cheap eats and lodging well-connected by budget airlines), Venice, Italy (an old favorite more affordable than ever as more locals rent out rooms through Airbnb and other platforms) Debrecen, Hungary, (traditional Hungary with contemporary influences, including a bustling modern art scene and a vivid summer festival calendar). Learn more at www.lonelyplanet.com/best-in-travel.

The Chicago Tribune’s annual calendar of things to see in the coming year includes anniversaries, sporting competitions and other notable events. Among its European picks: the opening of the Elbphilharmonie concert hall in Hamburg, Germany, in mid-January; the Tall Ships Regatta’s kick-off race from Royal Greenwich, United Kingdom, to Sines, Portugal, in late April; the 100th edition of the Giro d’Italia’s start from Sardinia in early May, and the 75th edition of the Monaco Grand Prix in late May. Get details at www.tinyurl.com/jhswm6b.

European Capitals of Culture is a European Union program in which two cities are designated as showcases of culture for the year. The 2017 Culture Capitals are Aarhus, Denmark, and Pafos, Cyprus. Highlights on Aarhus’ program include opening ceremonies Jan. 20-21; performances of a Viking saga titled Rode Orm by the Royal Danish Theatre from May through July; and The Garden, an exhibition including outdoor installations across the city and along the coast from April through September. Pafos sets out to transform itself into an “Open-Air Factory,” where spaces from urban corners to beaches will host artistic endeavours from exhibitions to performances. Learn more at www.aarhus2017.dk/en and www.pafos2017.eu.

Many countries’ official tourist boards use the onset of a new year to highlight upgrades in infrastructure and new openings. In Austria, major financial investment will make the Arlberg Arena the country’s largest interconnected ski area, Isghl’s Flimjoch will get an eight-seat lift with heated seats, and Soelden’s new Giggijoch mountain gondola, which can move 4,500 skiers per hour, will offer the highest capacity of any lift in the world. See www.tinyurl.com/j7gc4a3.

Other ways tourist boards seek to generate buzz and enthusiasm is by giving a theme to a year. Scotland has named 2017 its year of history, heritage and archaeology. “Dig It” is a countrywide initiative in which the public is invited to get hands-on in archaeological excavations; “Crafting the Past” allows gamers from throughout the world to explore thousands of years of history on a topographically accurate, interactive map. Learn more at www.tinyurl.com/jlemlzk.

Anniversaries often provide a theme around which countries or regions hold a range of events. Although there’s no historical proof that Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany, the ramifications of the Protest Reformation were real enough; this year Germany celebrates half a millennium since Luther condemned the corrupt practice of indulgences and set forth a revolution. Eight routes across the country feature 36 Luther-related sites and give perspectives to his life and legacy. Download the pdf brochure at www.tinyurl.com/zydglbn.

The Netherlands marks the anniversary of the avant-garde art movement known as De Stijl with several exhibitions featuring works of artists associated with it. The Hague’s Gemeentemuseum will mount three exhibitions: Piet Mondrian and Bart van der Leck, an exhibition about De Stijl architecture and interior design, and the biggest retrospective ever of Piet Mondrian, with 300 of his works. The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam presents the breadth of its collection of De Stijl and explores relationships between the movement and the work of other artists in the museum’s collection.Get details at www.tinyurl.com/jt4gw6t.

New museums are inevitably cause for celebration. On Jan. 23, the Museum Barberini in Potsdam, Germany, will open its doors. The Hasso Plattner collection forms the backbone of the exhibitions, which range from Old Masters to contemporary art with a focus on impressionism. Impressionism: The Art of Landscape is a temporary exhibit showing works by artists including Claude Monet and Gustave Caillebotte; it runs through May 28. www.museum-barberini.com/en/exhibitions

For a country with celebrations covering nearly all the above-mentioned bases, look no farther than England. The 200th anniversary of the death of Jane Austen will be marked with a program of events at the house where she spent the last eight years of her life in Chawton, near Alton in Hampshire, southern England (www.janeausten200.co.uk). Twenty years have already passed since the release of “The Philosopher’s Stone,” the first book in the Harry Potter series; the British Library in London will celebrate the milestone with an autumn opening of an exhibit featuring wizarding books, manuscripts and other treasures. (www.bl.uk/harry-potter/articles/harry-potter-exhibition-at-the-british-library-announcement). Dippy the Diplodocus, the central display of London’s Natural History Museum, will be replaced after 35 years of faithful service by the skeleton of a blue whale. From April through September, the Hadrian’s Cavalry exhibition will enliven 10 points across the 150-mile length of Hadrian’s wall and from July 1-2, the largest Roman cavalry re-enactments ever seen in Britain will take place throughout the day at Bitts Park in Carlisle. www.hadrianswallcountry.co.uk/events/hadrians-cavalry-2017.

The Legoland theme park in Berkshire will give its guests a place to spend the night in the form of the new Legoland Castle Hotel, a 61-room extravanganza with themed rooms, Lego touches and indoor and outdoor playgrounds. www.legoland.co.uk/legoland-hotel/castle-hotel

Those on the eternal search for bargain flights to and around Europe should find reason to rejoice this year. The low-cost carrier Scoot, a subsidiary of Singapore Airlines, launches an Athens to Singapore route in June. Several travel trade magazines make mention of British Airways-owner IAG’s plans to initiate long-haul flights from Barcelona to U.S. destinations as of June; Norwegian Air Shuttle has plans in the works for flights from Barcelona to Los Angeles and San Francisco. An as-yet-unnamed low-cost carrier, a collaboration between Etihad and the TUI Group, will be based at airports in Austria, Switzerland and Germany.

Those who prefer riding the rails might be pleased to learn of ever-expanding high-speed train links. According to railway trade mags, Eurostar plans to open a route between Amsterdam and London in late 2017 and is also looking at expanding services to Bordeaux by building upon the LGV Sud Europe Atlantique, which will bring high-speed rail service to southern France. www.eurostar.com/us-en.

People hold firecrackers in St. Peter's square at the Vatican at midnight on a past New Year's Eve. (AP Photo/Pier Paolo Cito)

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