13 Small European Towns You Never Thought to Visit (but Should)
They may be relatively under the radar, but they’re certainly captivating and well worth a detour.
Also known as the “Little Venice,” this small town is situated in Alsace, a historical region in northeastern France along the Rhine River on the German border. The picturesque old town dazzles, with cobblestone streets running alongside canals and half-timbered medieval and early Renaissance buildings stacked above. Check out the Unterlinden Museum in a former 13th-century Dominican convent building for local art and history, and enjoy an aperitif of local white wine and cheese at L’Un des Sens wine bar. These are the 13 underrated European cities everyone should visit at least once.
Nature lovers with a yearning for coziness will absolutely thrive in the quaint village of Hallstatt, a charming lakeside town that’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, located in Austria’s mountainous Salzkammergut region. Dotted with 16th-century Alpine houses and snug alleyways with cafés and shops, the town is full of hidden ins and outs that you could spend hours exploring. For more adventurous folk, take the funicular railway that connects to Salzwelten, an ancient salt mine with a subterranean salt lake, to Skywalk Hallstatt viewing platform. Continue on to the trail leading to the Echern Valley Glacier Garden where the Waldbachstrub Waterfall awaits. For a more relaxing experience, chill out at Gasthof Simony, a restaurant that offers delicious regional specialties in its peaceful garden.
The resort town of Bled sits at the foothills of the Julian Alps, with the main attraction certainly the glacial Lake Bled. For a dose of local history, tour the 11th-century Bled Castle, perched on a cliff overlooking the lake. It houses a museum, chapel, and printing press. In the lake’s center, you’ll find the Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Maria, where you can still attend mass. The lake is surrounded by mountains and forests, and crystal clear waters offer swimming, whitewater rafting, and bungee jumping. For a blend of Slovenian, Mediterranean, and international cuisines surrounded by the Alps and under the Bled sky, dine at FineFood Penzion Berc.
A village and civil parish located in Gloucestershire, England, and situated on both banks of the River Coln, Bibury looks like an Old World painting come to life. From the rows of ancient cottages to the picturesque old church and the river leading to the main street, there’s just something entirely fairy tale-like about this small town. Grab a bite at The Swan Hotel, a stunning 17th-century inn, and pop into the Old Silk Mill on Sheep Street, which, today, houses the workshops of local artisans. Get a look at some more real places that look straight out of a fairy tale.
Set high on a hill on the island of Alonissos, Chora offers breathtaking sea views and unequivocal peacefulness—the whitewashed clifftop town is traditional Greece at its best. There are crooked streets winding up to flower-filled squares, with the most popular being Pounta Square. Here, you have an impressive view of the Aegean Sea, various shops and terraces, and a footpath to the monastery of Panagia Prousiotissa. Diners should put The Nest at the top of their list, as most of the dishes are prepared at home by the mother of the brothers who manage the restaurant. Check out these 12 other European islands you never thought to visit.
Located in northwest Belgium, Ghent is a university town and cultural hub that offers medieval architecture, like the 12th-century Gravensteen castle and the Graslei, a row of guildhalls beside the Leie river harbor. Take a small boat along the river to the castle, visit a museum, and, if you come during July, be sure to enjoy the Gentse Feesten, a renowned music and theatre festival.
Located on the Istrian peninsula, Rovinj is an ancient fishing port. The tower of St. Euphemia Church marks the highest point. If its bell tower looks familiar, it’s because it was built in homage to St. Mark’s Campanile in Venice. Colorful houses create a stream of intriguing architecture down to the seafront and the bustling harbor. The steep pedestrian streets are filled with art galleries, restaurants, and lively bars. Try Barba Danilo for creative seafood dishes. Find out the most underrated travel destinations in the world.
Pronounced “cove,” this Irish town offers picturesque painted hillside cottages overlooking a quaint harbor and waterfront promenade. The town is perhaps most famous for being the Titanic‘s final port of call. You can take a boat trip of your own on one of the local tour operators; this is the world’s second-largest natural harbor, after all. Other must-sees are the wildlife reserve at Fota Wildlife Park and the Spike Island prison-fortress, called the “Irish Alcatraz.” Atop the harbor, you can enjoy al fresco dining at Titanic Bar & Grill. Don’t miss these other undiscovered gems of Ireland.
This picturesque Swiss village is tucked amid mountain slopes above the left side of the Schanfigg Valley. Once simply a farming settlement, today it has become a popular “secret spot” for skiers and hikers. In the summer, it’s painted with phenomenal fields of flowers, broad pastures, sunny terraces, and deep woods. The town makes for a quaint and quiet escape, where you’re immersed deeply in the beauty of nature and simple life. Stay at The Alpina Mountain Resort & Spa, which offers 1920s elegance, 27 rooms and suites, two restaurants, a stylish cocktail bar, and an exclusive spa.
Skiers, snowboarders. and cross-country skiers will feel right at home in Lech. Known for its A-list alpine charm, the mountain village is a splendor in summer as well, with plentiful hiking opportunities at the Tannberg trail and in the Zugertal valley. With international events including the Lech Classic Festival, the Lech Jazz Stage, and the 22nd Philosophicum Lech, it’s a draw for cultural travelers from around the world. Be sure to end your day of activity digging into fondue at Rud-Alpe.