I’m making it my mission to travel to each of these charming towns in Europe. The big cities are always a treat, but getting away from the crowds to discover small European treasures is where the real culture resides. Most of them remain unspoiled by tourism and frozen in time, which makes them all the more magical.
1. Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic
The southwestern castle city of Cesky Krumlov is one of the Czech Republic’s finest mediaeval sites. Its Old Town is a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site, a maze of twisting alleys built around the extensive Cesky Krumlov castle.
2. Colmar, France
Colmar is the third-largest commune of the Alsace region in north-eastern France. Wonderfully preserved from the ravages of time, its homogenous historical centre is classed as a ‘protected area’ and has benefited from careful restoration and ongoing improvements for more than 20 years. Colmar retains a country town atmosphere which contributes to its charm.
3. Kotor, Montenegro
Located on a beautiful bay on the coast of Montenegro, Kotor is a city steeped in tradition and history, with remarkable scenic views. A UNESCO World Heritage site, the old city was built between the 12th and 14th centuries and is filled with medieval architecture and historic monuments.
4. Hallstatt, Austria
Nestled between the edge of Hallstätter See and the towering Dachstein mountains, Hallstatt is Austria’s oldest and possibly most photographed village. With pastel-coloured houses that cast shimmering reflections onto the glassy waters of the lake and with towering mountains on all sides, Hallstatt’s beauty alone would be enough to guarantee it fame.
5. Staufen im Breisgau, Germany
This enclave on the edge of the Black Forest, in southern Germany, is the ideal destination for a wine weekend. Think hills covered with terraced vineyards, pastel houses, and a Town Hall with gothic inscriptions leading back to 770.
6. Giornico, Switzerland
Giornico is an Italian-speaking municipality in the district of Leventina in the canton of Ticino in Switzerland. Descend into the valley and arrive at a trickling little river crossed by two arching stone bridges, and the most charming family-run restaurants.
7. Dinant, Belgium
Dinant is a historic town spectacularly sited along impressive stone cliffs near the confluence of the Meuse and Lesse Rivers. The region of Dinant is the tourist heart of Wallonia, with Dinant serving as its main hub.
8. Mostar, Bosnia and Hervezoga
Mostar is a city and municipality in southern Bosnia and Herzegovina. Inhabited by 113,169 people, it is the most important city in the Herzegovina region, its cultural capital, and the center of the Herzegovina-Neretva Canton of the Federation.
9. Giethoorn, Netherlands
Giethoorn is in the province of Overijssel in the east of the Netherlands, a few hours out of Amsterdam. It’s nicknamed “Dutch Venice” because there are no roads in this magical little village. Related: Guide to Giethoorn.
10. Gruyeres, Switzerland
Gruyères is a town in the district of Gruyère in the canton of Fribourg in Switzerland. The historical town of Gruyères, Greyerz in German, has preserved its Medieval character up until today. The old comital residence lies on a hill above the river Saane with a castle that dates back to the 13th century.
11. Marsaxlokk, Malta
Marsaxlokk in Malta is a traditional fishing village in the Southpart famous for its fish market, colourful boats and fish restaurants.
12. Pucisca, Croatia
Pučišća is a municipality in Croatia on the island of Brač in the Split-Dalmatia County. It’s filled with red-roof, old-stone houses that sit prettily on the water front.
13. Manarola, Italy
Manarola is a small town, a frazione of the comune of Riomaggiore, in the province of La Spezia, Liguria, northern Italy. Like all Cinque Terre towns it sits cliff-side with a gorgeous array of rainbow coloured houses.
14. Bled, Slovenia
Bled, a Slovenian resort town in the foothills of the Julian Alps, is set along the glacial Lake Bled, one of Europe’s most beautiful and celebrated lakes.
15. Annecy, France
Annecy is an alpine town in southeastern France, where the River Thiou meets Lac d’Annecy. It’s known for its Vieille Ville (old town), with cobbled streets, winding canals and pastel-colored houses.
16. Albarracin, Spain
Albarracín is a beautifully preserved medieval village in Northern Spain. Down Albarracín’s narrow alleys and winding lanes await ancient stone towers and ocher-hued castles and chapels.
17. Rothenburg, Germany
Take a trip back in time and explore one of the best preserved medieval towns in Germany. Rothenburg is also the very place that inspired Walt Disney to create Pinocchio.
18. Lošinj, Croatia
Another Adriatic island to add to your bucket list is Lošinj. It’s a natural harbour ringed by graceful, gently weathered Mediterranean town houses and green surrounding hills. A real Croatian beauty.
19. Qaqortoq, Greenland
Qaqortoq, formerly Julianehåb, is a town in the Kujalleq municipality in southern Greenland where you’ll be greeted by a wealth of visual impressions: colourful houses, rock sculptures and church ruins.
20. Amiens, France
Amiens is a city and commune in northern France, 120 km north of Paris. The mostly pedestrianised city centre, rebuilt after WWII, is complemented by lovely green spaces along the Somme river. A lovely weekend getaway!
21. Ostuni, Italy
Nicknamed the White City, Ostuni extends across three hills with the magnificent gem of a cathedral as its sparkling centrepiece.
22. Luxembourg City, Luxembourg
Built amid deep gorges cut by the Alzette and Pétrusse rivers, Luxembourg is famed for its ruins of medieval fortifications. Half the population of this capital city are foreigners, which gives it a distinctly cosmopolitan feel.
23. Bibury, England
Bibury, nestled in the eastern hills of the Cotswolds, first earned its title of “the most beautiful village in England” from the artist and craftsman, William Morris, and for good reason.