Do you already know Paris, Rome or London? How about an alternative? Away from the tourist crowds, there are hundreds of small, charming towns across Europe that are worth a trip. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a tiny town on Iceland with a breathtaking landscape, an old coastal settlement with quaint fishing boats or a lively market square with unusual architecture in the south – we’ll show you our ten favorites for your next short trip.
Zell am See, Austria
Forget Vienna or Salzburg – Zell am See in Austria is probably one of the most enchanting small towns in Europe! The little beauty convinces with the Zeller See and nestles against the mighty Schmittenhöhe. Skiers and other winter or hiking enthusiasts may have heard of the mountain giant with its impressive height of 1965 meters on the eastern edge of the Kitzbühel Alps.
But Zell is also worth a visit in summer – here you can swim, explore the area by bike or visit the idyllic city with its charming architecture. Also interesting is the Pinzgauer local train, with which you can drive through the majestic Alpine landscape and even get to the impressive Krimml waterfalls.
Small but mighty: Tucked away at the end of a wild fjord in the far east of Iceland is the small Seydisfjördur. A ferry passes here every week that connects Iceland with Denmark and the Faroe Islands.
The little beauty has fewer than 700 inhabitants, but there are still some charming guest houses as well as breweries and restaurants to be found. On the outskirts, in Tvísöngur, an impressive sound sculpture made of concrete awaits visitors. The scenic backdrop there is particularly beautiful.
Gangi in Sicily, Italy
Here’s Bella Italia with a portion of understatement – or have you ever heard of the impressive city panorama of Gangi in Sicily? It’s especially nice at dusk.
The enchanting small town also convinces with an idyllic castle that sits majestically on a hill, baroque and medieval churches and, last but not least, with the massive Mount Etna, which seems to watch over everything high above Gangi.
Those who like something steeped in history will find what they are looking for in the underground tomb of the Chiesa Madre di Gangi, where mummified priests line the walls of the crypt.
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The small town of Bled in Slovenia has become a real tourist magnet. This is mainly due to the picturesque view of the lake, in the middle of which there is a church from the 17th century on a teardrop-shaped island. Anyone who visits them by boat feels like diving into mystical pasts like from Grimm’s fairy tales.
You can also row or enjoy other outdoor activities on the beautiful lake. A 20-kilometer-long hill hike around the lake is particularly beautiful. You get a panoramic view of the landscape – and the church island at various points. The highlight is the view from Velica Osojnica – which our travel reporter Maike has already enjoyed.
Pure winter wonderland: someone could have thought of that for Zermatt in Switzerland! The beauty of the Matterhorn is impressive, and it is not the only more than 4000 meter high summit that surrounds Zermatt.
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The small town of Zermatt is nestled in the Alps and is well-known among winter sports fans thanks to its ski areas. There are a total of 200 kilometers of slopes to conquer here – if you like. Otherwise you can stroll relaxed through the city center – it is car-free.
Or you enjoy one of the many bodies of water. On the one hand, the Mattervispa flows directly through the town center. On the other hand, the Zermatt mountains with a number of lakes beckon for a hike, including the Grünsee, the Riffelsee, the Schwarzsee or the Stellisee. You can also take a cable car to the Trockener Steg mountain station – the highest station in Europe.
Whitewashed buildings meet small, charming stone streets – welcome to Cadaqués on Spain’s Costa Brava! The former fishing village near the French border still impresses with its charming harbor, in which hundreds of boats sway to and fro.
The small beaches invite you to swim, sunbathe and explore – and with a rented barca, for example, one of the cobalt blue bays is ideal from here. In Cadaqués, everyday life can be easily switched off, and a number of artists have already appreciated the peace and seclusion in the past. Among them were Salvador Dalí, André Breton, Max Ernst and Man Ray.
In summer the place often organizes open-air cinemas and music festivals. In addition to the Gothic church of Santa Maria, the lighthouse at the tip of the Cap de Creus is also worth seeing.
Fussen in Bavaria, Germany
Why wander far away when the good is so close? According to a ranking by the holiday home search engine Holidu from 2020, the small town of Füssen in Bavaria is way ahead in Germany – various searches on the Internet have confirmed this.
What most people want to see? Of course: the fairytale and world-famous Neuschwanstein Castle. Directly opposite is the well-known Hohenschwangau Castle – the parental home of Ludwig II, so to speak.
But Füssen has much more to offer! The Museum of the Bavarian Kings also deserves a detour, after which you can jump into the Alpsee next door or have a picnic on the bank.
In the old town of the highest city in Bavaria you can not only stroll, but also discover Gothic town houses in the medieval streets or have a snack in one of the cozy street cafes before you visit the High Castle and the Benedictine monastery of St. Mang, for example.
The quaint fishing village with half-timbered houses in a picturesque old town – this is what awaits you in Saint-Jean-de-Luz in France. The typical architecture of Basque culture can best be seen on the local beach.
The bay in the Bay of Biscay is the only sheltered port between Arcachon and the Spanish border. Dams protect the city from the waves of the Atlantic, which is why Saint-Jean-de-Luz has become a popular seaside resort on the Côte Basque.
Surfers come to Saint-Jean-de-Luz all year round – not least to visit the classic surf break Plage de Lafitenia and the big wave surf spot Belharra.
Unique architecture with beautiful buildings, arches, balconies and bell towers – that’s Pyrgi on the Greek island of Chios.
The decorations on the walls of the houses are very special: gray and white shapes are still scratched into the walls with a fork – this style is called “Xista” in Greece. Legend has it that the extraordinary technology was brought to Chios by the Genoese in the Middle Ages.
The narrow, cobbled streets that invite you to stroll are also charming. In the middle of Pyrgi is the village square with a few shops and small cafes.
Telč, Czech Republic
The picturesque town of Telč in the Czech Republic appears to have sprung from a folk tale. Surrounded by ponds, the place is located at the foot of the Bohemian-Moravian Highlands on the Telčský potok.
A special eye-catcher are the pastel-colored houses in the Renaissance and Baroque styles on the market square, which, like the entire old town, are part of the Unesco World Heritage Site. The Zacharias-von-Neuhaus-Marktplatz is one of the largest squares in the Czech Republic and forms an elongated triangle.
Travelers in the city can also visit the Telč Castle of the same name, which is a national cultural monument of the Czech Republic.