When you mention Europe to people, I’m sure cities like London, Paris, and Rome pop into their heads. While these are all amazing places, and I loved visiting each of them, I also dream of small-town adventures like exploring Alsace without a car, roaming through the fairytale town of Bacharach or taking a day trip from Rome to Tivoli. So, with that in mind, I teamed up with some experts- fellow travel bloggers, to give you the Best Small Towns in Europe.
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Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
Written by: Mel from BRB Travel Blog
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, the red fort over the Tauber river, is the medieval gem of Germany. The charming little town is in the heart of the Franconia region of Bavaria.
Lose yourself in the fortified town where ubiquitous cobbled lanes and colorful buildings ranging between yellow and red will make you think you are in a fairytale. At the crossing of the Romantic Route and the Route of Castles, the town is perfect for stops along these itineraries or for day trips. For those who like road trips or enjoy traveling by train, Rothenburg is not far from Nuremberg (two and a half hours away) or Munich (three hours away).
This medieval town has numerous museums allowing you to better understand the daily life of the middle ages and the Renaissance. The best attraction is the viewpoint at the top of the Rathausturm, the city hall. The 360-degree view is at 52-meters high and offers a panoramic view of the complete town at its environs. To get to the viewpoint, there might be a line, but the breathtaking view is worth the wait.
Written by: Greta from Greta’s Travels
If you’re looking for the best small towns in Europe, Hvar in Croatia needs to be featured on your list. Hvar is a small town with just over 4,000 inhabitants located on the island of Hvar, off the coast of Southern Croatia. The easiest way to get to Hvar is by ferry from Split, which takes approximately one hour.
Hvar is a popular summer destination, famous for its beaches and nightlife. Hvar combines the beaches and nightlife to bring to you some of the best beach bars and beach clubs in Europe. The famous Hula Hula Beach Bar, a short walk away from the harbor of Hvar, has even been nominated by Lonely Planet as the best sunset spot in Croatia.
Just walking around the streets of Hvar is a magical experience. Hvar has a medieval old town center, with cobbled roads and white brick houses. Getting lost in the streets of Hvar feels like stepping back in time. From the town center, you can see Fortica, the Hvar fortress, located on top of a hill which overlooks the town and harbor You can easily walk up to the fortress, there is a walkable path that will take you approximately 20 minutes by foot. You need to pay a small entrance fee to enter the fort, but the view once you’re there is well worth it.
Written by: Cris from LooknWalk
Eger is a small town (57,000 inhabitants) in Hungary, located within easy reach from Budapest. It is very famous for being the main wine region in the country. It is also home to the last castle to fall to the Turks and where you’ll find the northernmost Turkish minaret. While it may be tempting to include it in a day trip from Budapest, I strongly recommend at least a weekend in the city.
Of course, make sure and try the wines. Whether you go for a wine tasting experience, check out the Valley of the Beautiful Women for even more wine tasting, or just try the wine with your meals, you will have a lovely experience. And while we are talking about wine, take the “Town under the Town” tour which explores the old church cellars.
If you’re fine with tight spaces, climb the steps inside the Minaret. Else, spend time in the gorgeous Eger Castle. There are a lot of exhibits to see and you can easily spend 3-4 hours here.
Those who like horseback riding can experience this in Eger, as well. And if you prefer to spend time at the baths, you won’t be disappointed either. Traveling with kids? Take them to the Firefighters Museum. It features a small exhibit with quite interesting information.
Written by: Jenn from The Solivagant Soul
One of the nicest towns in Europe is Cochem an der Mosel. This tiny town is in the west of Germany, not far from Belgium and France. Even though it is barely known outside the country, it is a usual stop for cruises along the Mosel and a well-known nationwide tourist destination. Located in the valley of never-ending wineries, this town looks like something out of a fairytale. Moreover, because the river Mosel goes through this town, they have made of the fluvial promenade the nicest place to relax and take in the landscape.
Cobblestone streets and flowers are everywhere, and to top that, there is a beautiful castle. The Cochem Castle is about a thousand years old and even though it has been renovated, it is the town’s property. Both the inside and the gardens surrounding the castle are beautiful, but one of the nicest things about it is its location: on top of a small hill with amazing views of the Mosel river. Even though initially this castle was meant to be a lookout, today is just the perfect place to visit and have a glass of one of the many local wines.
If you are planning to go there during the summer, visit the first Sunday of August, there is a medieval fair and the whole town participates in its organizations.
Written by: Anisa of Two Traveling Texans
Sintra may be a smaller city but its filled with so much history and things to see. The Portuguese Royal Family loved to spend time in Sintra and escape the heat in Lisbon so you will find several palaces and beautiful gardens. It has been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The oldest castle in Sintra is the Castle of the Moors dating back to the 8th or 9th century. It is now just ruins but is definitely worth a visit. You get amazing views of the area doing the castle wall walk, plus you can visit the cistern that was built in the 12th century to catch and store rainwater.
The most famous palace in Sintra is probably Pena Palace. The bright colors make it look like its part of a fairytale. The palace has been transformed from ruins of a monastery. The surrounding park includes a statue of King Fernando II overlooking his palace, lush fern gardens, and amazing views of the palace.
The National Palace is located in Sintra’s historical center and was the summer residence of monarchs from the 15th to the 19th century. You can easily spot Sintra National Palace by its two conical chimneys which can be seen for miles. Step inside and you will see some impressive tile work and period pieces.
In addition to the three spots I already mentioned, other popular Sintra attractions are Quinta de Regaleira, Monserrate Palace, Chalet and Gardens of the Countess of Edla, Palace of Seteais, Capuchos Convent, and the Sintra Museum of Modern Art.
Sintra makes for an easy day trip from Lisbon, Portugal, since it is less than an hour away by train. However, with everything there is to see, you will want to stay longer.
Written by: Carly from Fearless Females Travels
Despite being tiny, Suzdal was the highlight of my trip to Russia. This small town is located about 200 kilometers northeast of Moscow, and it’s the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the big city. There are almost 20 churches and monasteries here, along with a tenth-century market and traditional trading arcade (which now houses a mead tasting room).
The town is divided by an actual babbling brook, and it’s absolutely dreamy to spend your days wandering over hand-built bridges, through farmer’s fields and into hidden corners of some of Russia’s oldest and best-preserved buildings. If you’re in Russia in July, try to time your trip to Suzdal to coincide with the town’s annual Cucumber Festival!
Saint-Malo, Brittany, France
Written by: Eloise from My Favorite Escapes
Once upon a time, Saint-Malo was the home of French Corsairs. The Corsairs are gone, but it remained a charming, busy port on the English Channel. And there are a few reasons why Saint-Malo deserves a spot on the list of the best small towns in Europe.
Stepping into the old town of Saint-Malo feels like time travel. The walk along the fortified walls of the ancient city offers the best views of the ocean, the beach, the forts and the town. The first defenses were built in the 12th century and, in the 17th century, the famous architect Vauban-sent by the King of France, Louis XIV- created additional designs that are still standing nowadays.
The old town also kept an authentic look and feel. You will have a great time walking along the cobbled pedestrian streets looking for the best fresh seafood platter or a great local creperie. Try the local galette, a crepe from Brittany made with different flour and usually filled with savory ingredients for lunch or dinner.
You’ll witness Saint-Malo’s special relationship with the sea with your own eyes as the landscape evolves with the tides. It is known to offer the most extensive tides in Europe, and you can get a fantastic show with spectacular waves crashing on the walls if you visit at the right time during a high coefficient.
Just 50 kilometers away from France’s second most visited places, the Mont Saint Michel, Saint-Malo only gets busy during the summer peak season, so it’s a perfect bundle if you’re looking for an authentic escape. It’s easy to reach by train from Paris as a direct train takes you from the heart of Paris to Saint-Malo in less than three hours and 50 euros.
Written by: Ridima from Little Joys and More
Annecy in France is one picturesque town that boasts of enchanting narrow lanes, enduring medieval architecture and fascinating cafes around the lake. Easily connected via Geneva, I planned a day trip to Annecy on a fine warm November day.
The charming Lake Annecy defines the beauty of this small town where ruins come to life. Palais de I’Isle, today a museum exhibiting the rich heritage of art, culture, and architecture of Annecy, was once a prison. The most Instagrammed spot in Annecy, this palace built on canal Thiou, is a pure delight to include in your photo album.
The stroll around the old town is full of surprises as this small town unfolds the stories of the French legacy and bequest. Also to include in the itinerary is Annecy Cathedral that also has an option to climb up to have a birds-eye view of the town. Catholic Basilica is another appealing spot worth visiting. With best of cafes, restaurants, and ice cream parlors, Annecy is a pure pleasure to eyes and soul.
Written by: Bruna of Maps ‘N Bags
Can you imagine a fairytale village almost without any streets? That’s right! Giethoorn is a car-free village where the main transportation is electric boats or bikes. Afterall, this little town is located in the Netherlands, the most bike-friendly country in the world.
In Giethoorn, you can rent a little boat yourself and navigate through whatever route you choose in the village. You will see many gorgeous farmhouses, cows in the meadows, and several restaurants by the water’s edge. Take the opportunity to have lunch in one of those restaurants as you appreciate the view. If the weather is good, I bet you won’t want to leave the town.
Although Giethoorn is not as famous as other Dutch cities, it can get a bit crowded because the place is small, but it is still totally worth the visit! I haven’t seen a prettier little town in the country where you can experience the Dutch culture like here. The colorful houses, neatly organized gardens, and adorable canals are absolutely enchanting!
So, if you’re planning to visit Amsterdam, reserve a whole day on your agenda for this day trip to Giethoorn. This is a great getaway from the hustle and bustle of big cities, and you will certainly have an amazing time here. And amazing photos as well! Go see it for yourself, Giethoorn won’t disappoint you.
St. Ives, Cornwall
Written by: Stella Jane of Around the World in 24 Hours
For an English town with a population of approximately 11,000 people, St. Ives in Cornwall has an extraordinary number of attractions to appeal to any type of tourist. For a history buff, you can go on a walking tour and learn about the evolution of the Cornish language and the mysterious tales of smugglers and pirates in the region. Foodies can chow down on the famous Cornish pasty, enjoy a local candy called the Cornish butter tablet, and stuff themselves on luxurious Moomaid of Zennor ice cream. Shopping fanatics can explore the local arts and crafts scene which includes everything from jewelry to clocks made out of old CDs.
But it is the fine arts fan for whom St. Ives will have the most charms. The illustrious Tate Museum has a branch in St. Ives right on the beach. You can take some time out from relaxing on the sand to explore their fascinating modern art collection. But the one thing you can’t leave St. Ives without doing is visiting the Barbara Hepworth Sculpture Garden. You can explore her pieces that were inspired by nature in the serene setting of the backyard of her former studio.
One final word to the wise. When visiting St. Ives, never eat in front of a seagull. I made the mistake of snacking on a pastry on the beach and a vicious gull repeatedly hit me in the head until I dropped a piece of my lunch. Keep the food indoors and you’ll be safe…
Written by: Bernadette of A Packed Life
In the very west of England, just before it bumps into Wales, you’ll find the small and perfectly formed town of Ludlow. Described by the poet Betjeman as “probably the loveliest town in England”, it’s a foodie haven, a lively home for festivities and host to nearly five hundred beautiful listed buildings. Ludlow’s skyline is dominated by its fine castle, built after the Norman conquest. The Princes in the Tower? They grew up here. You can tour the castle, eat in its tearooms and enjoy a number of festivals in its grounds.
Then there’s the food. Ludlow prides itself on local produce, and there’s plenty of it to enjoy. Whether you’re provisioning for a summer meal (including cheese from the wonderfully named Mousetrap) or eating at the town’s lovely restaurants, there’s a veritable cornucopia to enjoy. There are markets pretty much every day with lots of seasonal produce. Alongside the food, there are plenty of other shops selling everything from gifts to pottery to books.
Around Ludlow is a delight too. The town nestles between the cathedral city of Hereford, home to Mappa Mundi, and the road through the Shropshire Hills to Shrewsbury. There’s a lot of fine walking to be had, along with other outdoor activities such as gliding, paragliding, and ballooning. Acton Scott Historic Working Farm was the setting for the BBC’s Victorian Farm and is full of interesting insights into life as we once lived.
Imagine yourself among Ludlow’s beautiful black and white historic houses, hot chocolate in hand, as you explore the Victorian Christmas Fair. Or tucking into a delicious and well-deserved picnic after a gliding adventure or a walk in the hills when the air is fragrant with summer blooms. Ludlow’s an atmospheric and very special place.
Written by: Jacky from Nomad Epicureans
One of my favorite small towns in Europe would have to be Porvoo. Located in Southern Finland, only 50 kilometers or a short one-hour bus ride from Helsinki, Porvoo is the perfect day trip destination. The town dates back to the 14th century which makes it one of the oldest towns in Finland and it’s just brimming with historic charm. Red wooden houses dot the Porvoo River and cobblestone streets remind us of horse-drawn carriages which once populated the city.
Some of the town’s main sights include Porvoo Cathedral, Porvoo City Museum, as well as a Doll and Toy Museum. However, one of the best things to do is just grab a cup of coffee or tea and enjoy the scenery. Porvoo even has its own coffee roastery with a terrace floating on the river! And if this is not close enough to the water for you, why not go kayaking or canoeing through the historic center?
While you’re having your cup of coffee, make sure to order a piece of Runeberg Torte, a traditional Finnish pastry named after the Finnish national poet Johan Ludvig Runeberg. Flavored with almonds and rum, it’s the perfect treat to enjoy in this poet’s hometown of Porvoo.
Written by: Lindsay of Live Easy, Go Well
Vernazza of Cinque Terre has to be one of my favorite places in the world. Although it has been a tourist hot spot for years, it still manages to hold that small town charm that I love so much! Everything in this tiny village is magical- lined with rainbow buildings, some of the best gelato in Italy, and crystal clear water. You will feel like you are waking up in a dreamland.
We spent our days going up to the little church on top of the hill and listening to the opera, and finding a secluded beach and floating the day away with a blow up floaty! It truly is one of the most relaxing and serene little places you will ever come across. The locals will tell you their stories over the years while filling your bellies with the most delicious pasta and wine you have ever tasted.
Don’t get me wrong, you don’t have to just sit back and eat during your visit (however if that’s your style, then more power to you!) You also have the ability to hike between the five villages of Cinque Terre as well. It is something I highly recommend everyone do if they enjoy the outdoors and being active. Each village is stunning and different in their own way but Vernazza will always manage to be the stand out for me!
Ermoupoli, Syros- Greece
Written by: Teresa from Brogan Abroad
Located on the island of Syros and one of the most beautiful Greek towns, Ermoupoli was named after the ancient Greek god Hermes. It is the administrative capital of the Cyclades, the same group of islands that includes the most famous Mykonos and Santorini.
As you approach the island on the ferry, you can see the town sprawling up the hill, with its pastel-colored houses and its blue-domed churches. Its narrow streets and lanes are just what you imagine when you think of idyllic Greece.
The island of Syros was once an important commercial and manufacturing center and one of the most visited islands of the Aegean. The effects of the financial boom of the time are still visible in the beautiful neoclassical architecture of the town. Don’t miss the Vaporia district in the eastern part of town, its impressive neoclassical mansions used to be wealthy ship owners’ homes and some of them have now been turned into boutique hotels.
Other buildings such as Town Hall, one of the largest in Greece, the Apollon Municipal Theatre, and Agios Nikolaus are a testament to the importance of Ermoupoli.
Written by: Karen of Motoroamers
There still lingers an air of mystery in Eastern Europe as it frees itself from the oppression of its historical past. Countries steeped in tyranny are reborn, thriving in the creation of their new identities. Romania was only liberated from its Communistic rule in 1989 and yet as you travel through this stunning land- its recent history is trumped by natural beauty and legend as Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula looms large.
Deep in the heart of Transylvania, you will find Sighasoara, one of Romania’s many gems. Whilst officially classed as a city, the old town is where the delights truly unfold. As you climb the steep cobbled alleyways towards the town’s impressive gateway, it feels like you are being transported into a Brothers Grimm Fairytale. With colorful facades, the chocolate-box houses look good enough to eat and with music pouring through their windows, you wander through these maze-like streets with an air of awe.
This medieval citadel offers the visitor a magical mix of ancient wooden stairways, vibrant square with restaurants that lure towards their local fare and clock towers and turrets. In the shadow of the birthplace of Vlad Dracul, the inspiration for Stoker’s novel, Sighasoara will effortlessly charm you into touristic submission and you will long to stay just another day.
Tradition and authenticity will warm your heart when you visit Sighasoara and I challenge you not to be affected by its enchanting spell.
Written by: Abigail from The Italianized Blonde
Located in Italy’s northwest region of Piedmont, you can find the fantastic wine region called Langhe. This region produces famous wines such as Nebbiolo, Arneis, Moscato, and the king and queen of red wine: Barolo and Barbaresco. Barbaresco is not only a superb wine, it is also a quaint village nestled between rolling vineyards, filled with artisan shops and restaurants.
From the 1700s until the late 19th century the town of Barbaresco was home only to vintners who would sell their Nebbiolo grapes to make Barolo wine. Barbaresco gained its fame when in 1894, a man who had studied agriculture understood the difference between Nebbiolo grapes grown on Barbaresco soil versus those grown on neighboring Barolo soil. He decided to start a cooperative of winemakers from the village who produced wine labels as Barbaresco. Since then the wine has gained international fame and the town has turned into a cultural hub for winos and foodies alike
Barbaresco is a small town that can easily be explored by foot. Often (in the spring, summer, and fall- weather permitting) there are street markets, where artisans will sell typical products such as wine, truffels, hazelnuts, and many other local goodies. You can spend your time snacking on samples and enjoying the sun and cool breeze from the surrounding vineyards. Of course, while in Barbaresco you must taste the wine, a great winery with a shop and tasting room in the city center (next to the historical church and clock tower) is Produttori del Barbaresco, it offers free tastings, and sells bottles and cases on sight. Lastly, don’t miss the opportunity to go to the top of the medieval clock tower (dating back to the 1300s) and enjoy the views of the Tanaro Valley!
There you have it, our list of the Best Small Towns in Europe. What towns would you add to the list?
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