Introduction

Europe is a continent full of diverse cultures, languages, food, and architecture all compacted in a relatively small area.  Within a five hour drive you can travel across five different countries that speak different languages and eat different foods.  After living and traveling all over Europe the last four years and visiting 28 European countries, I find myself enjoying the small towns in Europe much more than the mega cities like Paris and London.

Many of the small towns in Europe were spared destruction in the wars and still have impressive historical buildings without the modern skyscrapers in the background.  If traveling to Europe, its well worth it to venture out of the popular large cities and explore the small towns to get a more authentic feel of the country.

The below destinations are my top 10 small towns in Europe that I have visited.  If I missed any, let me know in the comments below since I’m always interested in learning about more small towns to visit!

10) Braşov, Romania

Braşov, Romania is located in Transylvania surrounded by rolling hills and mountains.  The architecture of the buildings has medieval and German influences and the best part is the inexpensive delicious food.  Also nearby is the Bran Castle (Dracula’s Castle).

Braşov, Romania Town Square

Bran Castle in the immediate vicinity of Brașov

9) Bruges, Belgium

Bruges is located in the northern part of Belgium and is one of the best preserved medieval towns in Europe.  As a result, the historic center of Bruges is UNESCO World Heritage site.  Compared to the larger cities in Belgium, Bruges still holds onto its old time charm with its historical canals, medieval walls, and architecture.

Bruges, Belgium

8) Rothenburg, Germany

Rothernburg has some of the best preserved medieval architecture in Germany with much of its 14th-century walls still intact.  Surrounded by walls with cobblestone streets and half timbered houses, this town feels like a German fairy tale movie set.  To avoid the crowds, book an overnight stay and you will have the town to yourself since the majority of visitors are day trippers.

Rothenburg, Germany

Rothenburg, Germany

7) Colmar, France

Colmar is located in the Alsace wine region in northeast of France bordering Germany.   The town has switched back and forth between French and German control several times before finally becoming part of France.  However, much of the town is constructed of half timbered houses more commonly found in Germany.

Colmar is an excellent launch point to tour the Alsace wine region that has dozens of picturesque villages and wine tasting opportunities.  This wine region has some of the best Riesling and Gewürztraminer wines I’ve ever had and the 5 to 10 Euro a bottle price tag can’t be beat.

Colmar, France

Colmar, France

6) Dubrovnik, Croatia

Made popular by the HBO TV series Game of Thrones, Dubrovnik provided the background for much of the Kings Landing scenes. Dubrovnik is located in southern Croatia on the coast of the Adriatic Sea.  The city is encircled by 2km of stone walls with much of the buildings and streets constructed of large limestone blocks.  During the 15th and 16 century, this trade port became notable for its wealth and skilled diplomacy.

The summers are extremely hot and when I visited in August I was sweating like Evander Holyfield after 12 rounds of boxing.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Dubrovnik, Croatia

5) Ronda, Spain

Andalusia is one of my favorite regions in Europe and Ronda is a town that can’t be missed.   The town is separated in half by a steep gorge with picturesque mountains in the background.  Ronda has a long history first being settled by the Celts, then the Romans, Visigoths, and Berbers until it was reconquered in 1485.  This region of Spain provides excellent road trip opportunities where many beautiful hill top towns can be visited.

Ronda, Spain

Ronda, Spain

4) Alberobello, Italy

Alberobello is located in Southern Italy and is an ancient town famous for its enchanting Trulli buildings. The Trulli buildings in Alberobello have been designated a UNESCO world heritage site. The Trulli were historically built using stones without mortar in a circular shape with domed self supporting roofs. There are over 1,500 of these structures in Alberobello, some of them dating back to the mid 1400s.

The best part is the lack of crowds since this place seems to not get much attention and isn’t even mentioned in Rick Steves Italy guide book. When I woke up at sunrise, I was the only one strolling around these beautiful streets!

Alberobello, Italy

Alberobello, Italy

3) Cochem, Germany

Cochem is a traditional German town with half timbered houses located along the Mosel River.  The area is a hiking paradise with many beautiful hiking trails situated in the outstanding natural beauty in the Mosel Valley.

The impressive Reichsburg Castle looms over the town perched high on the hilltop above.  White wine lovers will love visiting the nearby vineyards that are some of the most beautiful in Europe.  Taking a boat tour along the Mosel river and sipping some local Riesling wine is a must.

Cochem, Germany

Cochem, Germany

2) Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

Lauterbrunnen is so wonderfully beautiful is almost doesn’t seem real.  Its as if Yosemite Valley has been transplanted here with quaint Swiss villages.  There is no shortage of awe inspiring hiking trails available with many cable cars that take you to the top of the valley for even more hikes.   The camping facilities are great in the area and have wonderful views.

Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland

1) Cinque Terre, Italy

Settled around the 11th century, Cinque Terra is a string of five villages along the northwest coast of Italy and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  Terraces and houses were built on steep cliffs that overlook the sea with excellent views and almost no commercialized buildings.

To get between the villages, hiking trails are available or a short train ride can be taken at a minimal cost.  The local cuisine is full of delicious seafood options and amazing pesto.

Cinque Terre, Italy

Cinque Terre, Italy

Honorable Mention

  • Montepulciano, Italy
  • Cordoba, Spain
  • Kaysersberg, France
  • Matera, Italy
  • Tallinn, Estonia
  • Bacharach, Germany

Conclusion

In conclusion, the small towns of Europe often get second fiddle as tourist destinations compared to the mega cities like Paris and Barcelona.  However, the smaller towns are arguably a better destination to see and feel the cultural history of a nation.  With the many wars and modernization the big cities experienced, the small towns offer opportunities to see intact historical structures and architecture.

Furthermore, these towns can be explored without the hustle and bustle of noisy big cities and complicated mass transit.  There is nothing like taking an early morning walk out of a historical Airbnb accommodation onto a quiet cobblestone street all while being surrounded by buildings hundreds of year old.  Its like stepping back in time without the DeLorean.