We’ve scoured Europe to find cute, colorful, and charming old towns that should be on everyone’s travel radar. But, we’ve skipped the big names. Instead, we’re shining the spotlight on lesser-known gems that sure know how to wow. From mountainside villages to cliff-hugging towns, these are the prettiest small towns in all of Europe. So, are you ready to step back in time?
1. Visit Switzerland’s alpine wonderland
Zermatt is perhaps the cutest alpine town that Switzerland has to offer — and there’s some stiff competition. Nestled in the foothills of the famed Matterhorn, the picture-postcard town will fill your camera in no time. As you wander through the Hinterdorf (the old part of town), you’ll discover a bygone world of centuries-old chalets and cozy, fondue-filled taverns. You’ll smell of cheese for a few days, but we promise it’s worth it.
2. Marvel at Montenegro’s walled city
The world is slowly waking up to the beauty of Montenegro, especially the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kotor. The walled town has barely changed since medieval times, so be prepared to get happily lost in a labyrinth of cobbled alleys. If you can pull yourself away from the delights of the old town, lace up your comfiest shoes and explore the ancient city walls. These fortifications stretch high into the mountains and provide panoramic views of the bay and the terracotta roofs of Kotor.
3. Enter a fairytale in the Czech Republic
Český Krumlov is a real looker. Located three hours south of Prague, this cuter-than-cute old town is the perfect day-trip destination for those staying in the Czech capital. The star of the show is a 12th-century castle that overlooks the town. Just a quick walk around its manicured gardens and pristine interior is enough to transport you into a fairytale. The town’s colorful array of architectural styles, which flank a horseshoe bend in the Vltava river, only adds to the magical vibe.
4. Discover France’s Little Venice
You’ll struggle to believe it’s 2019 when wandering through the medieval town of Colmar. The age-old center is a patchwork of colorful half-timbered houses that line cobbled streets and serene canals. With a photo-op around every corner, it’s best to have your camera to hand, especially in Little Venice. On top of Colmar’s looks, the town’s also a fine place to sample the region’s famous wine. You can even try a glass or two of Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, and Riesling in local vineyards.
5. Explore Italy’s famous five
Sure, they’re not really under the radar anymore, but they’re so pretty we can’t not say something. It’s impossible to pick just one Cinque Terre village to visit. Luckily, it’s pretty easy to hop between the five pastel-colored fishing villages that perch on, cling to, and hug this famous stretch of coastline in northwest Italy. The gravity-defying villages are packed with traditional cafes and seafood restaurants. All of which serve well-deserved treats after a day of exploring the region’s hilly streets and unbeatable coastal paths. While the villages may feel completely off the grid, Cinque Terre is actually easily reachable from Milan and Florence.
6. Wander Austria’s lakeside gem
Located in the heart of Austria on the shores of a mountain-lined lake, Hallstatt offers an idyllic glimpse into alpine life. It’s just an hour from Salzburg, so day-trippers have plenty of time to snap both the old town and the mountain vistas. The fitter among you can hike to the skywalk, while those in true vacation mode can take a funicular. Either way, you’re guaranteed Instagram-worthy views of the Hallstatt-Dachstein-Salzkammergut mountain region from this viewing platform that’s some 1,148 feet (350 meters) above town.
7. Meet Spain’s medieval capital
Toledo impresses before you even set foot in the walled city. Sitting above the Castilla-La Mancha plains and Tajo river, Toledo provides quite the view as you approach from nearby Madrid. But the city doesn’t just stun from afar. Known as the City of Three Cultures, Toledo is as rich in culture and history as it’s in architectural and geographical beauty. Your taste buds are also in for a treat as the ancient city is famous for its marzipan, cheese, and game meat (no, not all in the same dish!). Just follow your nose around the windy streets to find delectable treats.
8. Enjoy some R&R in Slovenia
The tiny Slovenian town of Bled is perfect for those looking to unwind. It’s packed with spas and wellness centers, and, of course, the iconic Lake Bled. This glacial lake’s inviting blue waters, marooned island, and nearby mountains have been wowing visitors for centuries. After a casual stroll around the lake, be sure to head up into the hills. Osojnica, for example, provides epic views of the lake and the surrounding Julian Alps.