When it comes to charming small towns, Europe has more to offer than most. Explore the colours of Europe, from vibrant pastels to the traditional blue and white of Greece, learn the history behind the towns, and try the local delicacies. Leave the main cities and tourist destinations behind and discover a different side to Europe with our top 18 most charming small towns.
Known as the “Venice of the Netherlands”, this stunning village is the perfect city break. With no roads, you’ll enjoy the serenity of nature in Giethoorn. Explore by foot, bike or boat. Walk the over the canal bridges, take a bike ride along the many flower-lined paths, and float past the thatched-roof cottages. Picnic lovers will be in heaven with plenty of vibrant grassy patches to lay a picnic blanket down with some delicious food and bottle of bubbles. Although summer is stunning, if you fancy a winter break to Giethoorn – pack your skates. The canals freeze over in winter and provide the perfect opportunity for some outdoor ice skating.
Austria is one of the most picturesque places in Europe, and the Austrian town of Hallstatt is like something out of a fairytale. The UNESCO World Heritage town is set between a pristine lake and breath taking mountain. Hallstatt is just a one hour drive from Salzburg and three hours from Vienna. Take a day trip of spend a few days relaxing here. Explore the towns churches which date back to the 12th century, the cozy restaurants and the charming market square. Be sure to head out on the lake ferry to take in the dramatic views of the town in full.
Lech might be better known as a fashionable ski resort, but summer here is sublime. This old farming village set high in a valley, with rolling hills, blooming pastures and a glistening mountain lakes. There are plenty of biking or hiking options, including the hike known as the Green Ring. The Green Ring is a three-day hike taking you from Lech to Zürs and Zug. The journey will see you pass geological sites, forests, and carved sculptures. One of the most scenic biking trails is around Spullersee Lake on the top of a mountain. The 25km ride is long but well worth the views and experience. It’s not all bike riding and hikes, there are waterfalls and wellness retreats in the area for relaxation as well.
Hvar is well-known in Croatia for its beauty, elegant restaurants and chic hotels. Explore the towns Gothic palaces and marble stone streets, visit the lavender fields and lush vineyards, and relax on the sunny beaches. If the charm alone isn’t enough to tempt you, take it from Prince Harry, George Clooney and Beyoncé, this is the place to holiday. For those with a personal or hired private yacht, Hvar is an excellent base for exploring some of the nearby islands.
North of the stunning Myrtos beach lays the tiny and secluded village of Assos. This peaceful village is a holiday retreat like no other. The horseshoe-shaped bay is surrounded by the striking, azure Ionian Sea on three sides, luscious green scenery and verdant forests. Assos is a town lost in time. With its old-school Greek charm explore the traditional Ionian architecture, the pebble beach and the marina restaurants of Assos. The Venetian army built a castle stronghold in Assos in the late 15th century. Although today there are only remnants of the castle left, it is still a spectacular site to explore.
Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic
The capital city of Czech Republic is well known for its beautiful old town centre. But if you’re wanting to escape the capital, head to Cesky Krumlov. Wander the cobblestone roads of this storybook town in Bohemia’s deep south. The old town square, renaissance and baroque architecture, and a magnificent castle are waiting to be explored. It’s not all old-world charm, there are a number of bars and restaurants to be enjoyed.
Although most of Slovenia is landlocked, there is tiny sliver of land that stretches out to the Adriatic Sea known as the Slovenian Istria. There are three small coastal towns, one of which is Piran. The colourful main square, medieval walls, bustling harbour, and exceptional seaside restaurants make for a great holiday destination. Climb the 146 steps of the bell tower to a 360-degree view over Piran, Slovenian Istria, Italy, and Croatia.
This small Alpine town is found in the north west of Slovenia. The biggest draw card is of course, the Lake Bled. Arguably one of the most romantic lakes in Europe, the pristine glacial blue waters of Lake Bled surround a tiny island which houses a small Baroque church. You can stroll around the lake (it’ll take two hours but the serenity is worth it) and take a boat ride to enjoy the panoramic views. Hike to the medieval hilltop castle and breath the freshest air.
Found in Alsace, Colmar blends the very best of French and German culture and charm. The colourful German Gothic and French Neo-Baroque architecture exudes medieval charm, and definitely looks great on camera. Wine lovers are in for a treat here. The Alsace region is well-known for its crisp white wines. Be sure to leave room in your suitcase to take a bottle or two of local wine back home with you. When you’re not drinking wine or taking photos of the colourful buildings, explore the old town, wander the cobblestone lanes and bridged canals, and visit the magnificent churches and museums.
The town that inspired one of the world’s greatest artists, Vincent Van Gogh is Arles. Found in the south of France, it’s easy to see why Van Gogh was so inspired by this town. But it’s not just Van Gogh that has shaped this towns history. In Roman times, Arles was home to more than 30,000 people and the remnants of the roman influence can still be seen today. Arles even has its own Amphitheatre modelled after the Colosseum. The weekly Saturday market is a must. And for those keen to explore the Camargue and its local wildlife, including the famous Camargue horses and flamingos, Arles is a great base.
Leave the city behind and head for Sintra. The green mountainscape of palaces, country estates, parks and a medieval castle will have you feeling like you’ve stepped into another world. Situated within the hills of the Serra de Sintra, this UNESCO World Heritage site is all charm. Even Lord Byron thought so. Sintra inspired his epic poem Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, ‘Lo! Cintra’s glorious Eden intervenes, in variegated maze of mount and glen’. Visiting Sintra can easily be done as a day trip. But with Quinta da Regaleira, Pena Palace and all the other treasures of the area to explore, you could easily spend several days there.
Time means nothing in Óbidos. The moment you enter this town, everything stops. This slice of medieval Iberia has been preserved within the crenelated walls of Óbidos. It enchanted Queen Isabel so much in the 13th century that her husband, King Dinis gave the town to her as a gift. The town is adorned with bougainvillea, and the cobblestones walkways and vivid yellow and blue painted houses are sensational. Try the ginjinha, a local liquor made with sour cherries at one of the bars.
While many people immediately think of France, Italy or Greece when they think Europe, Romania is a country not to be overlooked. And when it comes to which Romanian town to explore, look no further than the magical Brasov. This quaint town is charming, with bohemian cafes, and baroque buildings and churches, Brasov is pure charm. Brasov is the gateway to Transylvania’s castle region.
Probably the best kept secret and one of the oldest cities in Belgium, Ghent is a must. Small, cozy, and vibrant, the town offers medieval architecture and cultural charm. Surprisingly this quiet city is actually the largest of the Flanders’ region. Ghent offers a fairytale setting, great food, and a long history dating back to the 7th century. Explore the museums, music scene and architecture of the city and be sure to take a boat ride down the canal.
Positano. The name alone inspires beauty, colour and the very best of Italian culture. Positano is certainly not a secret, but this coastal town is everything one could want in a stylish small town getaway. Carved into the craggy shoreline, the town comprises of narrow alleyways, colourful brick houses and mosaic-tiled domes. Browse the boutiques and museums, take a yacht ride or relax on the beach, whatever you do in Positano is sure to be divine.
Considered one of Italy’s loveliest towns, Tellaro is the definition of ‘good things coming in small packages’. It’s impossible to get lost, but it’s fun to try. This medley of pastel coloured buildings occupy the easternmost tip of the Golfo dei Poeti, which is named for poets and literary icons like Lord Byron and D. H. Lawrence who have sought inspiration in this stunning Mediterranean setting.
Take the winding mountain road leading to the remote Alpine village of Guarda in the rugged region in eastern Switzerland, and you will find paradise. In winter the surrounding region is known for its exclusive ski resort St. Moritz. But in summer, hiking is a-foot. With mountain peaks, meadows, picture perfect houses and quiet lanes, this scenic landscape offers tranquil beauty.
Visby is Scandinavia’s best-preserved medieval town. And a photogenic one at that. Get lost in the wildflowers, pastel architecture and winding cobbled lanes. The town is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and radiates beauty. The Gothic churches and 12th-century ramparts are telling of the history of the area. If you time it right, you can enjoy Medieval Week with people parading around as knights, queens, and peasants, dining, drinking and dancing.
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