Tuesday, October 25th, 2016

Small Towns in Europe That I Love


Let me tell you something: it’s easy to go to Europe and see nothing but cities.  For years, that was my modus operandi — to hit up the major cities and ignore small towns along the way.  It’s the easiest and most convenient option, especially if you’re traveling by train.

But in the past year, I started occasionally renting a car — and was delighted by how easy it can be to see small towns when you’re not tied to a public transportation schedule.  With your own vehicle, it’s easy to hit up three or more small towns in a single day!

Here are some of my favorite small towns in Europe that I’ve discovered recently:

Bevagna, Italy

I originally went to the Umbrian town of Bevagna to check out the local handicrafts — and found a village where time had stopped.  Bevagna is home to artists and artisans still practicing traditional arts from centuries ago.

I joined in a few of the activities, dipping twisted candles in wax and sifting through pureed bits of wood to make paper, plus learning about gold-leaf painting and meeting acclaimed local artists out for their daily stroll.  The medieval town was beautiful enough on its own, but the artistic atmosphere gave it so much life!

What you simply must do: Come for the Festival of Gaite at the end of June.  Everyone wears medieval costumes and shuns modern technology!

If you like this, you’ll also like: Spello, a photogenic town nearby that has a flower festival.

Labin, Croatia

Labin is one of the lesser-known towns of Istria, and I ended up traveling there on a whim, hearing it was nice.  I was thrilled with the results!  This rainbow sherbert-colored town was a fabulous place to spend an afternoon, with cute cafes, bell towers to climb, and beautiful streets to explore.

What you simply must do: Indulge in truffles — they’re fabulously cheap here.  My big plate of pasta covered with black truffle shavings cost about $10, less than half of what a dish like that would cost in the US.

If you like this, you’ll also like: Grožnjan.  This musicians’ town in northern Istria is hard to get to, but worth it for the beautiful views and friendly atmosphere.

Gasadalur, Faroe Islands

With a population of just 17, Gasadalur is definitely the smallest of the small towns on this list.  The natural setting on the island of Vagur is nothing short of astounding, with incredible views of the cliffs, islands, and waterfall.  In Gasadalur and other Faroese towns, you see Audis and Mercedes parked next to traditional grass-roofed cottages, which never hesitated to make me smile.

What you simply must do: Find the lookout where you can photograph the waterfall.  It’s a dirt path leading to the edge of the cliff.  (Don’t drive down that dirt path.  I drove into a ditch and had to be rescued by the townspeople.)

If you like this, you’ll also like: Gjov.  This town, on the island of Eysturoy, is in another beautiful and isolated location, surrounded by cliffs that light up at sunset (or the closest thing to sunset in summer).

Besalú, Spain

You’ll know you’re in Besalú the moment you arrive, when that beautiful bridge rises up in front of you.  In my opinion, it’s one of the most beautiful bridges in the world.  Most people come to Besalú on brief day trips, barely long enough to get a photo of the bridge.  Stay longer and you’ll find a charming Catalonian town with a great arts scene, delicious food, and fantastic views from every angle.

What you simply must do: Go to Restaurant Pont Vell, get an outdoor table with a view of the bridge, and try some Catalan cuisine.  You can’t go wrong with anything on the menu.

If you like this, you’ll also like: Tossa de Mar.  Tossa may be a beach resort, but it has a lot of the medieval charm of Besalú in its old town.

Llangollen, Wales

There’s not a lot to do in Llangollen, but it’s an incredibly pleasant place to spend an afternoon.  Located on the River Dee, Llangollen is famous for its horse-drawn boat trips — a boat in a canal that is actually pulled by a horse on shore!

What you simply must do: Go to the Corn Mill and if it’s a nice day, get an outdoor table overlooking the river.  I had the best pork belly of my LIFE at this restaurant.

If you like this, you’ll also like: Betws-y-Coed.  This is another pretty town in the middle of the countryside in northern Wales, just a short drive away.

Kotor, Montenegro

This town is the largest and probably the least obscure of the bunch, and it ties Gasadalur for the most spectacular natural setting.  Kotor’s walled old town is impossibly charming, orange-roofed, cafe-filled and surrounded by gray-green mountains.  It’s the kind of place where you can happily stay for weeks without ever leaving the city walls — though the Bay of Kotor and its fjords are one of the most stunning natural wonders in southeastern Europe.

What you simply must do: Hike to the top of the fortress.  If you do it at sunrise, you’ll probably be the only one, and you’ll get cool shadows as the sun rises.

If you like this town, you’ll also like: Budva, a short bus ride down the coast.  It’s not quite as charming as Kotor, but the old town is a lovely place to walk around.  And there are proper beaches, too!

What’s your favorite small town in Europe?


49 Responses to “Small Towns in Europe That I Love”
  1. Ahhhhh I LOVED Spello! I went for that flower festival you mentioned and it was an amazing way to have an authentic Italian experience. Bevagna looks fantastic as well – might have to hit that town up on my next Italy trip!

    • Jessica says:

      oh I have heard about that flower festival in Spello, sounds like such an amazing experience! We will be in Italy in June, so might have to make sure we go there 🙂

  2. I have barely been to Europe and definitely to no small towns. But now I’ve added several to my list! I cannot get over how adorable Labin looks in your photographs – especially on a cold winter day like today. 🙂

  3. Jennifer says:

    My first year living in Italy was filled with checking off all the big European cities: Vienna, Prague, Budapest, Venice…but discovering all the small towns has become one of my favorite things to do. These are the real Europe. The places you discover time standing still.

  4. Ahhh Llangollen/Betws y Coed! So nice/weird to see places I’ve grown up with since a child on a travel list! The Corn Mill is amazing though.

  5. Katherina says:

    Ohhh I’ve got many favorite small towns… In Spain, I’d say Castellar de la Frontera and Arcos de la Frontera. In Germany, Tübingen and Heidelberg. In Switzerland, Stein am Rhein and Cully… I love traveling to villages and towns (I think I’m more of a townie anyway) – and still have so many to visit!

  6. Tony says:

    So true about cruising around in a car! Although it definitely pays to be able to drive stick when you are looking to rent a car overseas… sometimes automatic isn’t an option.

    Every small town on the Croatian coast seemed to be amazing… Never made it to Labin though. YOU HAD ME AT CHEAP TRUFFLES!!!!

  7. Megan says:

    You’re so right Kate. There are so many cities to see in Europe, and all of them so different, that it’s hard to find time and motivation to venture further afield, although I’m making more of an effort to do it.
    I loved Nerac in France. We were on a canal boat and stopped to visit the weekly market for supplies. Also loved La Fresneda in Spain. No tourists, 1 restaurant, no English menus, but a gorgeous village!
    In the UK there’s so many to choose from but I’m pretty partial to where I’m calling home at the moment: Coniston! That will change in summer when the tourists arrive though.

  8. kle says:

    ah you got me here…i love small quiet villages!they have some peace, relaxation and most importantly, genuine people. Amazing!
    My favourute is a small medieval village in Tuscany, called “San Giminiano”. I went there by accident really,but it was one of the best places i’ve ever visited! It felt like i was back in time, all the towers, the ancient castle and small streets with walls made of old stones. So fascinated, Not to mention the food! we ate at this semi empty restaurant with an amazing view of the valley, and they cooked some delicious linguine with sea food. I’m still drooling over them.
    It is a totally magical place!!

  9. Ed Graham says:

    Totally agree – Europe’s small towns are where it’s at! Big cities were always the draw to me; now that I’ve been to a lot of em I’d MUCH rather see the smaller towns, and more off the beaten path type places that nobody’s heard of.

  10. Ever since we left on our own Big Trip back in August, we have tried to make it a priority to visit at least one city/town/village in each country we visit that might not find its way into the guidebooks. They may not have the obvious attractions that the more popular places do, but I think they give you insight into the country that can be far more authentic than what gets portrayed in the big cities. They’re a nice change of pace, and often for us budget travelers, they’re cheaper too!

    Great photos of all these places – I’ve not hear of most of them, but now I’d love to see them all when we make it to Europe!

  11. Amanda says:

    Ooo, some of these look great!!

    I haven’t been to any that you’ve listed, but some of MY favorite small towns in Europe include: Eger, Hungary; Sighisoara, Romania; Parga, Greece; and Bled, Slovenia.

  12. Julika says:

    All these places look beautiful and absolutely worth visiting! I love the idea of getting to know the local culture in small towns with less tourists and more local authenticities!
    I’m convinced that especially the Mediterranean coasts are full of adorable towns like the ones you fell in love with! Can’t wait to explore them someday!

  13. Truth be told, I visited Besalu after hearing so much about it with the blog house. It was a day with piercing wind, overcast and not many people in the streets, but it reminded me a lot of the towns in Santander, Spain.

    I’m heading to Croatia and Montenegro in late March and can’t wait to see these small towns. I’ve always loved having so many so close to me in Southern Spain!

  14. Love this post! I was thinking of doing the same thing with France, i.e. a roundup of my favorite small towns. I particularly loved Besalu on your list!

  15. Sofie says:

    Really like the way you composed the pictures and the “What you simply must do and “If you like this town, you’ll also like”.
    A great way to introduce these smaller places!
    Now all you need to do is get to Belgium. Everything is small here:)

  16. I’ve only been to a few of these – great choices though!

  17. Oooh these all look so lovely!!!!!!

  18. I haven’t been to any you listed but one of my fave is St. Malo and Dinan in France. 🙂

  19. Absolutely stunning photo! I’ve definitely added a few of these locations to my must-see list!

    Kate xo petite-adventures.blogspot.ca

  20. Michelle says:

    I am a small town girl at heart so it’s no surprise to me that whenever I travel I gravitate towards small towns. Betws-y-Coed, and a few more in North Wales, were some of my first stops during my first international trip–so I always have a soft spot for these. Kotor and Budva, Montenegro were also amazing.

  21. Kelvin says:

    Kate, I hope you managed to check out small uni town Delft in the Netherlands. Beautiful and quiet. Simply awesome. 😀

  22. Kuce says:

    Great pick of spots, I would add my favourites: Herceg Novi and Sveti Stefan in Montenegro. You have a great blog and I am impressed of your courage to follow your travel dreams. Where is your next big trip?

    Ps: I like your blog more than travel channel

  23. Team Traterra says:

    What a great choice of small towns! It’s so common for travelers to knock big cities off of their lists and then realize they want a more cultural experience and want less of the “tourist” experience. We love being involved in that planning process!

  24. Craig says:

    A great post Kate. Europe really is full of charming small towns. Hiring a car and taking off is a great way of finding them. Over the holidays I came across Moustiers-sainte-marie in the south of France and Matera (although not really a town) in Basilicata,Italy. Both were amazing and I recommend a visit. Its in the small towns where I really feel like i’m experiencing Europe.


  25. Ed Rex says:

    I recommend Hull in East Yorkshire, UK for a good day out 🙂 I should know, I’m from there 😛 nyah nyah!

  26. Mike says:

    I really enjoyed this post! All of these cities look beautiful! A city I really like is Zarautz in the Basque Country in northern Spain. I’ll be keeping these cities in mind as I continue on with my own travels as well as hoping to discover some new undiscovered gems.

  27. serina says:

    heading to Kotor this summer! excited!

  28. Besalú, Spain is love. Try Barcelona too. It has become the city that captures the imagination of most visitors to Spain. If you have only a brief time in the city, you cannot fail to be impressed by Barcelona.

  29. Jim says:

    Hi Kate,

    I’m enjoying reading about all of your experiences.

    What is the best way to get to the Faroe Islands?
    And did you have any trouble renting a vehicle? Is there an age minimum?

  30. Lynne Nieman says:

    I loved Bevagna! I went on the recommendation of my hostess at the agriturismo I was staying near Todi. I simply fell in love with it. Todi is nice too as is Montefalco (2 other Umbrian towns). The other places on your list have to go on mine now. I am such a fan of the small towns and spend far more time there than the cities. Thanks for this, Kate!

  31. chelsea says:

    I would really like to go to the Faroe Islands, however my search has only led me to one airline that flies there. It´s fairly expensive but it would be worth it. I was just wondering if you knew of other options? Also where did you stay? In a hostel, a guesthouse?
    will I need an international drivers license to rent a car there?
    thats a lot of questions sorry!

    • Hi, Chelsea —

      Yes, there is only one airline that flies there. You can also take a ferry from Denmark. There used to be a ferry from Aberdeen, Scotland, but not anymore. I stayed in the Foroyar Hotel (4*) and you do not need an international driver’s license to rent a car.

  32. Jennifer Pellegrino says:

    I’m currently planning a big Euro trip hopefully to take place on July 1, 2013. That’s my goal, at least!! I don’t want to feel trapped by the big cities. My main desire is to discover these small town gems, and beautiful unadulterated landscapes, and to be able to mingle with locals and experience a sliver of their lifestyle. How is it that you travel to small towns like that? I’ve researched the Eurail and it sounds great for getting from country to country. I’m assuming the train doesn’t exactly roll into these little towns, though! How did you do it, Kate? And how can I plan for the additional expense to reach these destinations? Or, rather, how MUCH do you think I should allocate for say a two month Euro trip hitting some small towns? Thanks so much for your blog! It’s fueling and gearing me towards my “launching date”. I love knowing I can have this to read and learn from even once Im traveling!

  33. Rose says:

    Sibiu, Romania and Segovia, Spain are both beautiful, smaller, and often overlooked towns in Europe, but I find them to be a couple of my favorite places in the world!

  34. Anita says:

    Interesting selection – I’ve never been to any of these cities… (need to change that!) However, my favourite small town is Thun in Switzerland. A Lake, a river, mountain view, two castles and relaxed people – is there more to ask for? 😉

  35. Lindsay says:

    We loved our stay from Potes to Leketio along the northern coast of Spain. We truly felt off the grid there as folks only spoke Spanish and the towns were not built up. Heck they still used the village ‘road’ to herd livestock to fields. So peaceful and simple. One of those places that you needed to have a car though!

  36. georgiakb says:

    Some of these places look great! I agree it is easy to explore the major cities but it’s the little charms you discover along the way that are precious. My two favourite small towns in Europe include Vela Luka, a small town within Croatia and Salzburg in Austria. I will definitely be keeping these towns in mind on my next European adventure.

  37. Trogir says:

    I would also suggest Trogir and Primošten in Croatia

  38. I’m heading to Montenegro in September, and looking forward to really exploring the whole place. I’ve got a car hired so will be going everywhere. I love the idea of hiking to the top of the fortress, do you know how long it takes to hike to see the sunrise?


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  1. […] è innamorata si trovi in Umbria ha contributo a destare la mia attenzione. Ma dato che i consigli di Kate vanno ben oltre i miei confini regionali vi sottopongo questa piccola rassegna, che mi pare valida […]

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