Like cities frozen in time, old towns bring us back to another era when life was slower and mystery waited around every cobbled corner. Europe offers some of the world’s best-preserved towns and neighborhoods — the perfect places for Insta-worthy weekends away. If you’re planning your trip and simply can’t decide where to go, we’ve gathered seven of the continent’s most picturesque old towns. It won’t make it easy, but it might help narrow things down.
What are the best old towns in Europe?
- 1. Bruges, Belgium
- 2. Edinburgh, Scotland
- 3. Ronda, Spain
- 4. Tallinn, Estonia
- 5. Riga, Latvia
- 6. Dubrovnik, Croatia
- 7. Krakow, Poland
1. Bruges, Belgium
Few places bring a medieval fantasy to life as well as Bruges’ historic old town. This Belgian gem is known for its market squares, stunning cathedrals, cobbled lanes, and sleepy networks of canals. By day, it’s a hive of activity as day-trippers flock to the city to feel its medieval glow. But Bruges tells its best secrets after dark. As the sun sets, watch white swans float down the canals and lose track of time. And as darkness falls? Something tells us you’ll stumble upon a glowing garden pub for some of Belgium’s finest beers.
2. Edinburgh, Scotland
No city does eerie, ghost-like ambiance as well as Edinburgh, Scotland’s brassy and culture-rich capital. The buildings breathe history here, telling stories of siege, progress, and revolution. Cute boutiques usher you in from Scotland’s famous drizzle, which only adds to the city’s charm. For a step back in time, head to Edinburgh Castle. If it’s a picture-perfect snap of the city’s panorama you’re after, make your way up Arthur’s Seat. After a day filled with ambling around, seek out one of the city’s countless cozy pubs and age-old restaurants for a dram and some local folklore.
3. Ronda, Spain
Perched atop the soaring El Tajo Gorge, Ronda overlooks miles of green pastures and vineyards. The town crosses the canyon it’s built on via the gorgeous Puente Nuevo bridge, which rises spectacularly from the valley floor. This manmade feat is the highlight of the city, especially at night when it’s romantically lit for all to admire.
4. Tallinn, Estonia
It’s easy to see why Tallinn’s old town is protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Located on the Gulf of Finland, this red-roofed wonder is packed with the kind of atmospheric streets and ancient architecture that make it one of Europe’s best-kept secrets. If you have time to explore, we recommend walking to Katariina kaik (St. Catherine’s Passage). This cute alley feels a bit hidden and connects to Müürivahe street — the perfect route for an afternoon stroll. If it’s views you’re after, head to the top of St. Olaf’s Church for sweeping views of the city. With some of the best scenery and lowest prices in Europe, Tallinn is worth seeing before the word gets out.
5. Riga, Latvia
Across the river from the city’s sleek glass office towers, Riga’s old town pops with pastel blues and pinks almost too perfect for real life. Seeing it from a distance, the dreamily painted buildings look like toy houses with neat white windows peeking out from candy-colored facades. But there really are people here, and this town of exquisite Art Nouveau architecture and delicious food (and markets) are waiting for you to discover it. The best way? By foot.
6. Dubrovnik, Croatia
Nestled on the coast of the glittering Adriatic Sea, the walled city of Dubrovnik holds its charm no matter how many times you visit. The city’s terracotta rooftop, sun-soaked stone houses, and view of the sea can be admired from atop Srđ. By sunset, sail past the islands that surround the city aboard a catamaran. And if you’re a Game of Thrones fan, plan for an extended stay. After all, this is where all of the King’s Landing scenes were filmed.
7. Krakow, Poland
Stumble upon Krakow’s old town and you might never want to leave. Perfectly sculpted archways call to you from across stone streets, while towering cathedrals keep a proud watch over the largest market square in Europe. Legend has it that Krakow was founded after a local cobbler saved the people from a bad-tempered dragon, and the feeling of legends still echoes through these narrow alleys. Conveniently, the old town is also where most of the good pubs are.