20 of the most beautiful small towns in Europe

  • 13.12.2023 14:08
  • Bruno Arcos

From Germany to Poland, passing through Georgia, Romania, or France, join us on this vibrant adventure across 20 of Europe’s finest and most beautiful historic villages.

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When we decide to hop into a metal bird and cruise through the skies for hours, chances are our destination – especially when traveling in Europe – tends to be one of its bustling big cities. Place that are famous for their incredible cultural scene, lively atmosphere or stunning architecture.

However, in our quest for “the biggest”, “the best” or “the most visited”, we often overlook the smaller settlements, like historic small towns or quaint villages, where (more often than not) it’s easier get a taste of a more authentic and equally charming side of the country that is welcoming us.

Well, that’s precisely what we’re trying to prevent with this article, rounding up 20 of the most beautiful historic villages in Europe! Join us on this journey and, who knows, you might just gather some inspiration for your next adventure abroad!

Note: As always, we’re sticking to one entry per country 😊

20 historic villages in Europe you really have to visit

Hallstatt, Austria

Although you’ll come across many obscure and lesser-known destinations, we’ll kick things off with a true classic, and definitely one of the most popular places on this list: Hallstatt!

Nestled right in the heart of the Austrian Alps, along the shores of its namesake lake, Hallstatt stands out as one of the most picturesque villages in the entire country, drawing in a whopping 3.5 million tourists every year (so, definitely not a well-kept secret). Naturally, such an absurd number of visitors for such a small space has created significant challenges for the locals, which is why the authorities in Hallstatt had to get creative and approve several unusual measures to facilitate the coexistence of tourism and everyday life. Be that as it may, and regardless of overtourism, the beauty of this place is undeniable, making it easy to understand why it has become such a hit.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany

Moving on to the upstairs neighbor, Germany is filled to the brim with the kind of small towns that could easily fill out a list like this. From Bamberg to Lubeck, passing through Bad Wimpfen, Quedlinburg or Fussen, the options are plenty for anyone considering an overland adventure through German soil.

Yet, if we had to pick just one alternative, we would have to go with Rothenburg ob der Tauber, a walled village located in the Federal State of Bavaria. Regarded as the highlight of the famous “Romantic Road”, Germany’s most popular road trip, Rothenburg boasts a spectacular historic center, with its intact city walls offering some killer views of the village, the River Tauber and the entire valley around it.

Bibury, United Kingdom

As expected, the quest for the best historic village to visit in the United Kingdom could only lead us to the Cotswolds, the cutest and most photogenic region of Great Britain. Known for its lush hills and countless villages with charming little bridges and stone houses, the only challenge is choosing which town one to visit.

It’s a tough job – but someone has to do it – so for now we’ll go with Bibury, whose official and admittedly immodest motto declares this is “the most beautiful village in England”. Pretty bold statement, but glancing at the rows of historic houses in its Arlington Row, who dares to disagree? Certainly not us!

Sremski Karlovci, Serbia

Time to head to the Balkans, a region that’s going to make quite a few appearances on our list. However, out debutant – Serbia – isn’t exactly famous for its touristy villages and small towns. In fact, and aside from the bohemian-gritty Belgrade and the charming Novi Sad, not many travelers venture beyond these two destinations.

Big mistake, because just a short 20-minute ride from the latter, you can find one of the loveliest villages in Europe! Welcome to Sremski Karlovci, a tiny village with a surprisingly rich history. Despite changing hands between Serbs, Hungarians and Ottomans (and even being part of the Habsburg Empire), Sremski Karlovci has always remained a significant Serbian ethnic stronghold, which helps explain all the classical buildings, ancient cathedrals and even the very first lyceum in the former Yugoslavia.

Cesky Krumlov, Czechia

Back to the classics, we’ll now hop over to the Czech Republic (or Czechia) and explore the insanely famous Cesky Krumlov. In fact, if it weren’t for the awe-inspiring Prague, this little town could have easily become the most popular and most visited destination in the entire country, with raucous hordes of tourists crowding its historic center day in and day out.

With the local castle perched on a hill and the old town slashed by the Vltava River, Cesky Krumlov is hands-down one of the most beautiful places on our list, boasting that stereotypical fairy-tale scenery and architecture. For the ultimate view over the town, head up to the castle tower or check out the viewpoint at Seminární zahrada Park (for free).

Ronda, Spain

Similar to Germany and other countries that will appear later on this list, Spain also has a diverse and extremely rich lineup of small towns and villages. In Andalusia alone, probably the country’s best region from a tourist and cultural perspective, you can find places like Mijas, Nerja or Arcos de la Frontera, which would be highlights in most countries.

Still, and for both Andalusia and the entire Spanish territory, it’s almost mandatory to highlight Ronda! Perched dramatically on the edges of the El Tajo Gorge, this village is famous for the legendary Puente Nuevo, a place that is consistently featured on all lists of the world’s most beautiful bridges. Alongside Seville, Cordoba and Granada, Ronda is a can’t-miss on any cultural journey through Andalusia.

Rovinj, Croatia

With its treasure trove of villages, small towns and walled cities located by the shores of the Adriatic Sea, Croatia definitely has plenty of options to consider. And while the medieval Trogir or better-known spots like Korcula or Hvar could have easily made the cut, we’ve decided to stick to the coastal vibes of the Istrian Peninsula, where you can find the lovely town of Rovinj.

Unlike its counterparts though, Rovinj isn’t surrounded by any walls, with the buildings along the waterfront literally opening their doors to the sea (a bit like the canals of Venice). As for the rest, it suits the classical charm of the region, from the stone walls and pastel façades, to the sight of the Adriatic peeking around every corner. Pure delight!

Piran, Slovenia

Sticking to the Istrian Peninsula, a short 80 km north of Rovinj, we’re hopping across the Slovenian border to pay a visit to Piran, an ancient medieval town able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the more famous coastal villages of Croatia and Montenegro. Strolling through its streets, you’ll get a vibe that’s almost Italian… not surprising, since Piran was part of Italy until the 1950s, when it forcibly became part of Yugoslavia.

Curiously, Slovenia is far from being known for its beaches or coastal scenes, since it’s far more famous for its trails and national parks. Yet, Piran is a pleasant surprise that absolutely deserves a visit!

Sighisoara, Romania

Despite the strong modernization Romania has gone through over the last couple of decades, which culminated with the country’s admission into the EU, it’s surprising how so many still raise an eyebrow at the idea of traveling in this country. It’s a pity, since the whole country, and especially the region of Transylvania, is filled to the brim with charming villages that would be Instagram gold anywhere else.

We could highlight places like Brasov, Alba Iulia, Rasnov, Targu Mures, Sibiu or Biertan, all of which would probably be a lot more popular if located in any other European country. However, the obvious pick (for those who visited) has to be Sighisoara, home to some of the prettiest and most colorful streets you’ll ever see.

Dhermi, Albania

Although places such as Berat, Gjirokaster or Shkoder might look like little more than villages, the truth is, in the Albanian scheme of things (population of less than 3 million), these three are seen as cities. That being said, when seeking something smaller, the most charming villages in the country can be found along the jaw-dropping Albanian Riviera, with the honorable exceptions of Kruje and the settlements of Valbona and Theth, in the Albanian Alps.

As such, when driving through this extraordinary region, make sure not to skip over tiny places like Vuno, Himare, Porto Palermo, Borsh and Upper Qeparo – all of them deserving of a special shoutout. However, our absolute favorite village on the Riviera has got to be Dhermi, boasting whitewashed houses, blue domes and unobstructed views stretching over the immense Adriatic.

Zamość, Poland

Much like its Slavic and Germanic neighbors, Poland is also filled with small towns and villages clearly punching above their weight when it comes to looks and architectural might. I’m talking about places like Kazimierz Dolny, Sandomierz or Tarnów, with their classical buildings; Malbork and its fantastic castle; Zakopane, at the foot of the Tatra Mountains; or even the surprising artsy village of Zalipi.

However, none of these spots is as impressive as Zamość, just a stone’s throw away from the Ukrainian border. After all, this town was purposely built in line with the Renaissance ideals, making it, at least on paper, “the perfect city”. Beyond the arcades and colorful façades, Zamość’s biggest highlight is undoubtedly the Great Market Square. I even dare say this is one of the most stunning squares you’ll find in all of Europe!

Kotor, Montenegro

Considered the main tourist destination in Montenegro despite its tiny size, the walled town of Kotor is actually one of the most popular spots in the Balkans, and probably the most visited site in the former Yugoslavia outside of Croatia. Shocking? Well, not really, since there aren’t that many places where the ingenuity of Man and the prowess of Nature mix up so well!

With the breathtaking Bay of Kotor forming between the valleys and the ancient stone architecture decorating the landscape – you can’t miss the epic climb to St. John’s Fortress – Kotor is a must-visit kind of place. While you’re visiting the bay, we also recommend dodging the hordes of tourists arriving by cruise ships and exploring nearby Perast, Herceg Novi or Tivat.

Koprivshtitsa, Bulgaria

Another destination that, much like Romania, is part of the European Union but still hasn’t caught on with the tourist masses, Bulgaria is a pretty cool (and affordable) off-the-beaten-path alternative. Although most travelers flock to the coast of the Black Sea, where one can find historic villages like Nessebar and Sozopol, we chose to shy away from the sandy shores and highlight Koprivshtitsa.

Located about 100 kilometers from the capital of Sofia, this quaint village was once home to some of Bulgaria’s most important revolutionaries, playing a pivotal role in the uprising against Ottoman occupation. Maybe that sense of nationalism helps explain why, even at the start of the 20th century, all new constructions were still built in the traditional Bulgarian architectural style, giving Koprivshtitsa its current beautiful looks.

Sighnaghi, Georgia

Keeping up with off-the-beaten-path destinations, the nation of Georgia is a must in this lineup. After all, and aside from the capital Tbilisi and the whimsically bizarre resort of Batumi, the entire country seems to be made up of small towns and sleepy villages, even if some are still officially designated as cities. Among these, we could easily highlight the likes of Kazbegi, Ushguli, Akhaltsikhe or Mtskheta, which are all nothing short of fantastic!

Nonetheless, nothing beats the experience of renting a car, driving through the gorgeous Kakheti wine region (where wine was first produced in the whole world), and making a pitstop in beautiful Sighnaghi, promoted as Georgia’s most romantic town. As you wander through its historic heart, it’s impossible not to notice the typical balconies, cobblestone streets and steep, undulating streets. After all, Sighnaghi was built atop a plateau, so it’s always a good idea to keep walking up and enjoying panoramic views over the town and the sprawling Kakheti valley.

Giethoorn, the Netherlands

In a country where the eternal struggle against rising sea levels became a fundamental element of the culture, history and architecture, folks in Giethoorn take this challenge to a whole new level, entirely banning motorized traffic. As a result, the most common way to navigate the streets and canals often involves relying on a motorboat!

Nothing that bothers visitors too much (or at all), since Giethoorn is better appreciated from the water. While riding the boat, tourists can snap a few idyllic images of the village’s thatched-roof houses and capture the rural atmosphere that will have you feeling like a world-away from bustling Amsterdam. However, the capital is just 120 kilometers away, making Giethoorn a perfectly doable day trip!

Riquewihr, France

Where do we even start with France? Not only is this the most visited country in the world, but alongside the bella Italia, it stands out as the most beautiful in all of Europe. In fact, all it takes is a quick Google search and you can quickly find well over two dozen places worth seeing – and I’m just talking about the big cities!

As for the villages and small towns, and though the pool of options couldn’t be bigger or more diverse, we’re going to stick to the Alsace region, which is precisely famous for its lovely small towns and their half-timbered architecture. Truth be told, we could have easily gone with Kaysersberg, Eguisheim, Obernai or Ribeauvillé. If we were willing to bend the rules a bit, we could have even included Colmar (which is more of a small city than a town/village). However, we ended up settling with Riquewihr… and trust me, it’s just perfect!

Xinaliq, Azerbaijan

Besides being the most impressive village in Azerbaijan, Xinaliq is also the highest-altitude settlement across all of Europe, nestled in the majestic peaks of the Grand Caucasus Mountains. As one might assume, getting there is no easy task, involving a 2h30 marshrutka ride from Baku to Quba, followed by a 1h30 taxi journey to cover the remaining 50 km to reach your final destination. Believe it or not, this is already quite the upgrade from a couple of years back, when the road to Xinaliq wasn’t even paved.

In fact, this place is so remote and isolated that the locals even have their own language and ethnic features, developed over generations of minimal to no contact with the outside world. Yet, the reward more than makes up for all the effort, as the landscape and natural scenery is absolutely mind-blowing!

San Gimignano, Italy

To the immense surprise of precisely 0 people, of course Italy had to be included on our list of the most beautiful small towns in Europe! Alongside France, Spain and Germany, there was certainly no shortage of alternatives, as we could easily have chosen any of the Cinque Terre, one of the charming towns lining the Amalfi Coast, Matera or the quirky architecture of Alberobello.

Still, we decided to be pragmatic for this one and included a village you can easily visit while road tripping through Tuscany, one of the most popular regions in Italy. That being said, and located halfway through between Florence and Siena, we definitely recommend checking out fabulous San Gimignano and its 14 imposing medieval towers. All the magic of Italy, in a pocket-sized version!

Ohrid, North Macedonia

Even though tourism is definitely on the rise in the lesser-known countries of the Balkans, North Macedonia still remains a giant mystery for most. However, if there is one place everyone who heads to this country makes sure to visit, that place has got to be Lake Ohrid! This expansive body of water may bathe many different small settlements, but it’s the village that shares its name that steals the spotlight, serving as the main tourist hub for the region.

Yes, the lake may be the undeniable star of the show, with some of Ohrid’s trails offering breathtaking views, but that doesn’t mean you should miss out on exploring other local highlights, like the Old Town, the Old Bazaar or the Church of St. John at Kaneo. If you’d like to visit other small towns in Macedonia, we equally recommend checking out Kratovo, Tetovo (one of the most beautiful mosques in the world) or Prilep.

Oia, Greece

For the end of our compilation of the most beautiful small towns in Europe, it only makes sense to cap things off in the same way as we began (with Hallstatt) – highlighting a place that, despite its tiny size, could hardly be any more popular or crowded. Enter Oia, a world-famous village and the main destination on the touristy Greek island of Santorini, welcoming a staggering 2 million visitors each year.

Sure, the prices may have soared, there will be a constant state of chaos and you’ll definitely have to elbow your way through the crowds…  but that sunset (yeah, THAT sunset) will make you forget about all the challenges in the blink of an eye. On the other hand, if you’re looking out for a quainter alternative without sacrificing the “Greek island experience”, keep an eye out for places like Lindos (Rhodes), Parikia (Paros), Fiskardo (Kefalonia), Pyrgi (Chios) or Agios Nikolaos (Crete).

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