30+ Beautiful Small Cities In Europe

Tired of the big city and looking for some small cities in Europe to put on your bucket list? I’ve got you covered.

rainbow over Salzburg Castle
rainbow over Salzburg Castle

Europe is a tourist magnet. When it comes to European city breaks, we often default to the large well known cities like Paris, London, or Rome. And they are truly amazing places.

But sometimes bigger isn’t always better. Big cities can be busy, overcrowded, and overwhelming. Not to mention extremely expensive.

If you want a less intense experience, try visiting some of Europe’s beautiful small cities. In my experience, I’ve found that the small cities in Europe often make the best getaways.

They’re walkable, intimate, charming, and relaxed. You can often explore in peace, without jostling with selfie sticks. And it’s not a life threatening experience to drive in Europe’s smaller cities.

READ: Tips For renting A Car and Driving in Europe

There are dozens of small cities like this worth mentioning. But for purposes of this blog post, I’m taking you to my 33 favorite smaller cities in Europe.

Some of these beautiful small cities in Europe are tourist hotspots, despite their more compact size. Cities like Dubrovnik, Salzburg, or Venice.

You’ll want to visit off season to enjoy these cities properly. Other cities on my list are underrated gems where you can get off the beaten path in Europe.

These small cities in Europe offer something for every traveler. You can pick and choose which small city to visit depending on what you’re interested in — art, architecture, UNESCO sites, Roman ruins, or just charming medieval old towns.

promenade in Arles France, a wonderful small city in Europe
Arles France

30+ Best Small Cities In Europe

Based on my many years of travel in Europe, here are my picks for the 33 best and most beautiful small cities in Europe. They vary in size, some smaller and some larger. But none of them are small towns or what I would consider a large European city.

I’ve listed them in alphabetical order for ease of reference. Hopefully, this list will give you some destination inspiration to plan the perfect city break in Europe.

1. Arles France

I was very impressed with the small city of Arles in Provence on my last visit. I used it as a base to explore the western part of Provence. Not only was it a great base, but it was a fascinating town.

Arles is filled to the brim with Roman treasures, fantastic art, and colorful pastel facades. Arles is also a stepping stone to the Camargue.

the Roman Arena (right) in Arles
the Roman Arena in Arles

Throw in a huge dollop of art, two smidgeons of Mediterranean influence and a dash of Italian flavor, and you have an ideal cultural European small city break.

In Arles, you can explore UNESCO-listed Roman ruins to your heart’s content. Arles has one of the best preserved colosseums in the world. It was modeled after the Colosseum in Rome. There’s also the ruins of a Roman Theater and an ancient Roman necropolis.

If you’re a fan of Vincent Van Gogh, Arles is the perfect destination. Van Gogh lived and painted in Arles. You can follow the Van Gogh trail and visit several Van Gogh-themed museums.

Arles is also home to a tremendous new art center, Luma Arles, which was designed by Frank Gehry. The architect sites Van Gogh’s Starry Night as an inspiration for the glistening glass and steel building.

READ: 10 Day Itinerary For Southern France

Casco Viejo, Bilbao’s medieval quarter.
Basel

2. Basel Switzerland

Cosmopolitan Basel is a pretty city on the Rhine River. Basel is located at the juncture of the Swiss, German, and French border. So it has a multi-cultural appeal.

Basel has a pretty cobbled medieval old town and bold architecture. Art and architecture fans love Basel.

Basel hosts one of the most well known art fairs in Europe, Art Basel, annually in June. 60,000+ visitors descend on Basel to see 300 galleries showing off the works of thousands of artists.

The fair gives an overview of what’s happening in the modern art around the world. It’s not exactly avant garde, with works pre-dating the 1970s. But it’s definitely worth an art trip to Europe.

READ: 75 Art Masterpieces In Europe

Basel best permanent collection is in the Kuntsmuseum Basel. It houses works from the 15th century to present. The highlight are the Holbeins, if you like old masters, and modern works by Magritte, Dali, Miro, and Mondrian.

the beautiful medieval town of Bergamo in northern Italy
the beautiful medieval town of Bergamo in northern Italy

3. Bergamo Italy

Bergamo is a beautiful small city in Italy’s Lombardy region, located between Milan and Lake Como. Bergamo outshines Italy’s capital in beauty and graceful architecture. The town makes a great base for touring northern Italy.

Bergamo is a fascinating historical city with an upper and lower town. Naturally, the upper city, or Citta Alta, is the older Renaissancey part of town. You can also walk around the 16th century Venetian Walls. 

The vibrant center of Bergamo is Piazza Vecchia. There, you’ll find every manner of shop, cafe, and restaurant.

Contarini fountain on Piazza Vecchia in Bergamo
Contarini fountain on Piazza Vecchia in Bergamo

The other must see square is the Piazza del Duomo. Walk through the archways of the Palazzo della Ragione and you’ll reach it. The square boasts the beautiful Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.

You enter through a portico with Venetian lions into an extravaganza of Baroque gilding and Renaissance tapestries. To the right of the basilica lies the even more impressive Colleoni Chapel.

Sporting a pink and white marble facade, the chapel stands out with a combination of Renaissance, Mannerist, and Baroque architectural elements.

The Ribera market perched on the Nervion River in Bilbao, an underrated small city ini Europe
the Ribera market perched on the Nervion River in Bilbao

4. Bilbao Spain

Bilbao is a small city beautifully situated amid rolling green hills and mountain ranges. The city is an urban landscape in a country setting in Basque Spain.

Glimmering on the Nervion River, Bilbao is chock full of historic landmarks, modern starchitecture, Michelin restaurants, and world class museums.

Underrated Bilbao is a bit of a hidden gem in Spain. Many people still believe it’s just an “industrial” city. But Bilbao long ago left its industrial past in the rear view mirror and reinvented itself as an exciting and artistic city.

Bilbao’s has a beautiful medieval quarter, Casco Viejo. Its riverbank is now lined with iconic architecture.

view of the Guggenheim on the Nervion River
view of the Guggenheim on the Nervion River

There’s almost no building in Bilbao without a big name architect attached to it. The elegant Art Deco facades of the old town were also renovated. Design and architecture lovers will be in seventh heaven in Bilbao.

Foodie travelers will also be blissed out. Bilbao is an haute cuisine culinary paradise, with an intense dedication to the table.

The city boasts 19 Michelin-starred eateries with 28 stars. This is a super concentrated number, eclipsing most other cities in the world per capita.

Inaugurated in 1997, the star of Bilbao is the Guggenheim Museum designed by Frank Gehry. The museum exterior courtyards are scattered with world renowned outdoor sculptures. Inside lies a modern art collection on par with Europe’s best modern art museums.

READ: 2 Days In Bilbao Itinerary

view from the Asinelli Tower in Bologna
view from the Asinelli Tower in Bologna

5. Bologna Italy

Nicknamed La Grassa, or the Big Fat, for its delicious food, Bologna just oozes medieval charm. Bologna is a bit of a hidden gem in Italy.

But it shouldn’t be. It’s one of the best small cities in Europe.

Bologna is a historic city filled with striking architecture, beautiful piazzas, a swathe of palaces and towers, and gourmet restaurants.

Bologna’s must see attractions are found in the city’s main square, Piazza Maggiore. On one end of the piazza is the massive Basilica of San Petronio, honoring Bologna’s patron saint. On the other is the swishy Palazzo dei Rei Enzo.

the terra cotta arcaded portico in Bologna
terra cotta arcaded portico in Bologna

Bologna’s most famous site and most beautiful church is the Santo Stefano Church. It’s a complex of seven churches, founded by Petronio atop a Roman temple. Legend holds that, when Dante was expelled from Florence for his politics, he wiled away time in the Romanesque cloisters.

Piazza della Mercanzia is home to Bologna’s own leaning tower, Asinelli Tower. You can climb 500 steps to the top for panoramic views. Have a gelato or meal in the pretty piazza.

READ: The Leaning Tower of Pisa

Then, head to Bologna’s medieval Quadrilatero and meander through the medieval lanes filled with shops. Be sure to walk under the famous 666 Portico, the beautiful terra cotta arcades.

Historic town of Bremen Germany with old sailing ship on Weser River in Germany
historic town of Bremen Germany

6. Bremen Germany

Bremen in one of the prettiest towns in Germany. It’s aptly the setting for a Grimm fairytale.

Bremen it has something for everyone — a beautifully preserved Old Town, museums, parks, and hipster cafes. Bremen has three UNESCO listed sites — the Rathaus, the Markplatz, and the Roland Statue.

The center of charming Bremen is the Markplatz, the town’s central square. It’s an architectural wonderland filled with sculptures and fountains.

the quaint Schnoor district of Bremen Germany
the quaint Schnoor district of Bremen Germany

This is where you’ll find the picturesque Rathaus and Bremen Cathedral. The Rathaus, or City Hall, has an impressive “Golden Chamber” and you can book tours to see the interior.

Bremen Cathedral, or St. Peter’s Cathedral, has imposing twin towers. It originally dates from 789. It’s a survivor, having been ravaged by fire and bombed. You can go up the tower for views.

If you want to zoom back to the middle ages, head to the Schnoor district of Bremen called Schnoorviertel. It’s home to irresistible winding cobbled lanes, half timbered houses from the 17th and 18th century, and iron signs. Schnoor largely escaped WWII bombing, so its pristinely authentic.

Medieval town of Bruges
medieval town of Bruges

7. Bruges Belgium

The medieval city of Bruges is an immensely popular small city in Europe. There’s a reason. It’s a feast for the eyes, full of half timbered homes, dreamy canals, and medieval buildings.

Like so many of Europe’s small town wonders, the best thing to do in Bruges is stroll through the Old Town. Check out the market square and the bell tower.

Bruges has plenty of must visit attractions as well. The Basilica of the Holy Blood is famous for its relic of the blood of Christ. The City Hall has the oldest and most sumptuous Gothic hall in this part of Europe.

medieval buildings and the bell tower along a canal in Bruges
medieval buildings and the bell tower along a canal in Bruges

The Church of Our Lady stands as a memorial to Bruges’ heyday. It houses a delicate Madonna and Child by Michelangelo. This was the only Michelangelo sculpture to leave Italy in his lifetime.

Art lovers will enjoy the the Groeninge Museum. It houses one of the world’s best collection of Flemish paintings.

Bruges isn’t just pretty either. The city is filled with restaurants serving up some of the world’s best mussels, frites, and waffles. You can search out your favorite chocolatier for dessert.

half-timbered houses in the Old Town of Colmar
half-timbered houses in the Old Town of Colmar

8. Colmar France

Colorful Colmar lies in the Alsace region of eastern France. While not as well known as the capital of Strasbourgh, I personally prefer it.

Colmar is one of Europe’s most enchanting small cities. It’s a striking and well preserved combination of German and French influences. The fairytale city is tailor made for wonder-struck tourists looking for a beautiful stroll.

The city is mostly pedestrianized. It’s a fantasy of steep pitched roofs, French shutters, pastel stucco, and aged timbers. Colmar’s Gothic cathedral dates from the 13th to 14th centuries.

colorful houses on a canal in Colmar
colorful houses on a canal in Colmar

Art lovers will like Colmar. The Unterlinden Museum is housed in a 13th century convent.

It’s home to Matthias Grünewald’s famous Isenheim Altarpiece, paintings by Hans Holbein, and engravings by Albrecht Durer.

From Colmar, you can drive Alsace’s Route du Vin (wine road). The route is blanketed with lush vineyards and dotted with postcard perfect Alsatian villages like Kayserberg and Eguisheim.

white homes in Cadaques
white homes in Cadaques

9. Cadaques Spain

Cadaques is a dashing sugar cube city on the Costa Brava in Spain. It makes a great base for exploring this area of northern Spain. Cadaques has a reputation as one of the most painted villages in the world.

The once isolated sleepy fishing village attracted artists and writers such as Pablo Picasso, Joan Miro, Salvator Dali, and Marcel Duchamp. They came for its whitewashed buildings, vivid colors, and rugged beauty.

In Cadaques, you can explore the cobbled streets of the Old Town, the large Church of Santa Maria (beautiful altar and great views from the terrace), and the Cala Nans Lighthouse. 

You can also walk from Cadaques to the Dali House in Portlligat (you need reservations). This is where Dali created his finest works.

35 minutes away is Figueres. The town is home to the stunning Dali Theater-Museum and the nearby fantasy castle Castle de Pol. The museum is the essential Dali site in Spain.

the pretty city of Cesky Krumlov
the pretty city of Cesky Krumlov

10. Cesky Krumlov Czech Republic

Surrounded by mountains, Český Krumlov is truly a dream come true. This fairytale small city in Europe is prefect for architecture lovers. Nearly every street inside the city walls is postcard perfect.

The best way to admire Cesky Krumlov is to simply stroll around. It’s a town made for wandering and head swiveling. There’s also a free walking tour that begins at 10:30 am and 2:00 pm daily, given by Wiseman Free Walking Tour.

The Cesky Krumlov Castle is the town’s impressive main landmark. There are opulent rooms inside, including a beautiful preserved Baroque theater.

You can also climb the tower (162 steps) for some stunning views. Or wander in the castle gardens.

Cesky Krumlov Castle
Cesky Krumlov Castle

Across the river from the castle is the pedestrianized Old Town. Gothic buildings curve with the winding streets. The heart of Old Town is the main square. It’s lined with a mix of Renaissance and Baroque homes of burghers, dating from the 12th century.

The Church of St. Vitus is also quite lovely. Built in the 15th century, the Gothic church is one of the oldest surviving buildings in the town. It often hosts classical music concerts.

Once you see Český Krumlov, it’s not hard to see why the town is the Czech Republic’s second biggest tourist magnet. With its simple beauty and wonderfully medieval feel, Český Krumlov is the ultimate quaint small city in Europe that people dream of experiencing.

cobbled street in Delft
cobbled street in Delft

11. Delft Netherlands

Delft is adorable small city in Europe. It’s tucked away enough so that not too many tourists descend.

Delft is an easy day trip from The Hague, Rotterdam, or Amsterdam. And it’s home to iconic Delftware blue pottery, which you’d probably recognize upon sight.

Delft is a pretty university town with a small town vibe and old fashioned charm. It’s ringed by eye catching canals. The best thing to do in Delft is wander aimlessly. You can also explore the entirety of Delft via bicycle.

The center of Delft is the Markt. There, you’ll find the Deft City Hall and the New Church. If you’re feeling ambitious, climb the narrow winding staircase up the tower of the New Church for stunning views.

the stunning harbor of Dubrovnik, one fo the best small cities in Europe
the stunning harbor of Dubrovnik

12. Dubrovnik Croatia

The walled city of Dubrovnik is dubbed the “Pearl of the Adriatic.” It’s dazzling and divine. With its scenic setting, the Venetian-Gothic town is fairytale pretty.

Dubrovnik is the perfect stage set version of what you would imagine a small medieval European city would look like. 

Dubrovnik has a perfect setting on the turquoise blue Adriatic sea, an impressive mountain backdrop, and some magnificent historic landmarks.

the stunning walled city of Dubrovnik Croatia
city walls of Dubrovnik

Its walls are one of the greatest fortifications of the middle ages. Dubrovnik has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1979.

Dubrovnik has glamorous palazzi, orange terra cotta rooftops, stunning views of the shimmering Adriatic Sea, and fame as a Game of Thrones filming location.

Dubrovnik is incredibly popular and can be overcrowded during high season. But if you go off season, you may have this adorable and walkable small city in Europe to yourself.

READ: 2 Days in Dubrovnik Itinerary

cityscape of Florence
cityscape of Florence

13. Florence Italy

Florence might be my favorite of the many wonderful small cities in Europe. Dubbed the “Cradle of the Renaissance,” Florence is a paradise for art lovers.

You’ll find the best Medieval and Renaissance art in Europe at the Uffizi Gallery, the Accademia Gallery, and the Bargello Museum. Even the hidden gems in Florence house artistic masterpieces.

READ: Florence Art Bucket List

The symbol of Florence is its magnificent Duomo complex. You can climb Brunelleschi’s dome or the Giotto bell tower, admire mosaics in the Baptistery, and study art in the Duomo Museum.

Florence is also just drop dead beautiful. There are historic medieval landmarks, monuments, and palaces everywhere you turn. The architecture and colorful ochre and orange houses are sublime.

The historic center is compact, walkable, and filled with sculpture, especially in the Piazza della Signoria. There are plenty of cute cafes, artisan shops, museums, and galleries to keep you busy.

If you venture across the Ponte Vecchio, you can explore the trendy Oltrarno neighborhood. The Oltrarno is full of cobbled streets and pretty churches and piazzas. You can also find world class art at the Brancacci Chapel and Pitti Palace.

I’ve written dozens of articles on Florence, I love it so. You can check out my Florence page for more information.

Schwabentor – historic city gate in Freiburg, built in 1250
Schwabentor – historic city gate in Freiburg, built in 1250

14. Freiburg Germany

Freiburg is the quintessential German small city. It’s located in the Black Forest region of southwest Germany. Freiburg is flexible — an easy day trip from France’s Alsace region or Basel Switzerland.

The town was founded in 1120 as the “Fortified Town of Free Citizens.” Freiburg boasts an authentic old town and a towering Minster Cathedral. Freiburg is known for sustainable practices, sometimes called the “Green City.”

The biggest pleasure in Freiburg is aimless wandering. You’ll naturally just bump into Freiburg’s key attractions as you stroll along the cobbled lanes.

READ: Prettiest Towns In Germany

view of Freiburg Cathedral
view of Freiburg Cathedral

Freiburg’s vibrant center is the Munsterplatz or Cathedral Square. There’s a daily farmer’s market where you can get your bratwurst or fresh flowers.

Munsterplatz is also home to Freiburg Cathedral, an ornate red sandstone Gothic edifice built between 1200-1530. It largely escaped WWII bombing.

On the south side of the square, you’ll find the beautiful bright red Historical Merchant’s Hall, which is decorated with sculptures and the coats of arms of four Hapsburg emperors.

Heidelberg Old Town and the Karl Theodor Bridge
Heidelberg Old Town and the Karl Theodor Bridge

15. Heidelberg Germany

Heidelberg is a romantic university town with a picturesque river setting. It’s quaint, historic, and filled with personality, surely making it one of the prettiest small cities in Europe.

Heidelberg has a pretty Baroque Old Town. It was destroyed by the French king Louis XIV. But it was restored in the 18th and 19th centuries and survived WWII.

The cobbled Old Town is lined with half timbered homes, boutiques, and cute eateries. Start exploring at the Haupstrasse. From this tiny street, you’ll find even more quaint allies to explore.

ruins of Heidelberg Castle
ruins of Heidelberg Castle

Visit the Church of the Holy Spirit, whose towering spire is a town landmark.

Perched on the Neckar River, the pink sandstone of Schloss Heidelberg is the crown jewel of Heidelberg. It’s one of Europe’s most evocative ruins. You can get ascend via the funicular tram for views of the city and the Neckar River.

The Gothic castle was once the palace of the Palatine prince electors. It was built, rebuilt, and plundered over 700 years. It’s only partially restored.

In Heidelberg, you can also stroll down the Philosophers’ Way. It’s a well-marked pathway across the bridge, giving you beautiful views of the Old Town.

Ljubljana Old Town
Ljubljana Old Town

16. Ljubljana Slovenia

Ljubljana is one of my favorite small cities in Europe. It has everything a visitor could want — good looks, good food, and a certain serenity.

Ljubljana has a cozy pedestrianized center clustered around a castle-topped hill. The laid back city is filled with playful architecture, bridges, dragons, and specialty cafes and boutiques.

With this unique ambience, Ljubljana is easy to fall for. The city has fairytale vibe that’s sometimes compared to Salzburg. 

Yet, Ljubljana is still an underrated hidden gem in Europe. The news is getting out about how cool the city is though. So plan a trip soon, before it’s “discovered.” Ljubljana makes a great base for exploring Slovenia.

READ: 1 Day Itinerary For Ljubljana

Old Town of Lucerne on the Reuss River
Old Town of Lucerne on the Reuss River

17. Lucerne Switzerland

Situated on the edge of a lake, Lucerne is a stunning alpine city in the alps of Switzerland. It was deservedly a regular stop on the “Grand Tour” route of Europe during the Romantic era.

Lucerne has a cobbled center, medieval fountains, bright facades, and of course its famous wooden bridges. All you need to do to get a sense of the city is to stroll the Old Town and cruise the cobalt blue Lake Lucerne.

The most iconic site in Lucerne is Chapel Bridge. Dating from the 14th century, it’s a fixture of Lucerne’s waterfront scenery.

Lucerne's city walls, which date from the 13th century
Lucerne’s city walls, which date from the 13th century

Another eye catching attraction on the waterfront is the pretty Jesuit Church, with its onion shaped domes. If you climb what’s left of the medieval city walls, you’ll have stunning views over the city.

There are several good museums pin Lucerne for culture vultures. The Rosengart Collection is especially good, with a cache of Picasso paintings.

READ: Guide To Picasso Museums In Europe

Lucerne is relaxing. It offers an enticing, “I could live here” glimpse of the the ideal small city in Europe. 

beautiful colorful houses on the river embankment in Lyon
beautiful colorful houses on the river embankment in Lyon

18. Lyon France

Lyon is a cool and underrated small city in Europe. Dating from Roman times, Lyon is France’s most historic and culturally important city after Paris.

Lyon is the country’s gastronomical capital and home to several UNESCO sites. Though Lyon is larger than some other small cities on this list, it still feels relaxed and isn’t at all touristy.

Lyon’s sights are concentrated in three areas: the historic old town on the bank of the Saône River; the Presqu’île peninsula; and Fourvière Hill.

You can take the funicular up the hill to explore Lyon’s Notre-Dame Basilica, glimmering above the city.

Vieux Lyon
Vieux Lyon

The top Roman ruins in Lyon can be found on Fourvière Hill as well. The Ancient Theatre of Fourvière is free to visit and is a UNESCO site.

Back down the hill, Lyon’s Old Town offers an intense concentration of well-preserved Renaissance buildings with pastel facades. You can stroll picturesque lanes, squares, and the covered passageways. Lyon also has loads of street art murals to admire on your stroll.

The most famous foodie experience in Lyon is dining in a traditional “Bouchon,” or small bistro, in Old Town. The Bouchon began as small inns that catered to the silk merchants passing through the city. The focus in on quality food, not fine dining.

Stari Most in Mostar
Stari Most in Mostar

19. Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina

 Located in southern Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mostar is one of the best small cities in Central Europe. It’s best known for its rich culture, intriguing history, and scenic riverside setting.

READ: 10 Day itinerary For Central Europe

Mostar can be visited on a day trip from Dubrovnik, Split, or Sarajevo. Or you can base in Mostar to visit these other Balkan cities.

Mostar’s most famous attraction is its adorable humped back bridge, Stari Most. It was originally built in the 16th century, but was a casualty in the Bosnian War. 

The bridge was rebuilt in 2004. At both ends of the bridge, you’ll find fortified towers.

Stari Most in Bosnia, a lovely small city in Europe
Stari Most in Bosnia

Mostar’s stony Old Town sprawls out in either direction from the bridge. The town seems entirely made of limestone. Tucked away on a little side street is another fetching bridge, the little Crooked Bridge. It’s a miniaturized version of Stari Most.

You should also visit Mostar’s bazaar, which has the look and feel of an Ottoman enclave. And see its grandest mosque, the Koski Mehmed Pasha Mosque.

The mosque dates from the 16th century, but was also rebuilt. If you climb the mosque’s tower, you’ll have a sweet view of Stari Most.

colorful Weibgerbergasse Street near Nuremberg Castle
colorful Weibgerbergasse Street near Nuremberg Castle

20. Nuremberg Germany

It was love at first sight for beautiful Nuremberg and me. Nuremberg is a magical stunner of a city, with munchable gingerbread and tasty bratwurst. 

If you need a dash of fairytale charm in a small European city, Nuremberg will suit. It’s a nice mix of quaint and cosmopolitan.

Nuremberg Castle dates from the 13th century. Inside, you’ll get historical tutorial on Nuremberg. Stroll down the stunning Weissgerbergasse Street, the most quaint half-timbered street in Nuremberg.

one of the many bridges in the old town of Nuremberg
one of the many bridges in the old town of Nuremberg

The lively Hauptmarkt Square is home to the ornate Beautiful Fountain. There, you can indulge in Nuremberg’s specialty, “Drei im Weckla,” a triple helping of bratwurst links.

The beautiful Gothic St. Sebaldus and St. Lorenz churches are also well worth a visit.

READ: Top attractions in Nuremberg

Nuremberg isn’t just a pretty face either. It’s multi-faceted, with a tumultuous past. As a former imperial city and medieval stronghold, it’s got layers of history, some of it a dark and brooding Nazi-infused variety. That duality is part of Nuremberg’s allure.

READ: Guide To Nuremberg’s WWII and Nazi Sites

Alfonso II square and Oviedo Cathedral
Alfonso II square and Oviedo Cathedral

21. Oviedo Spain

I just loved storybook Oviedo. The sparkling clean capitol of the Asturias region of Spain is a vibrant and enchanting place. 

Like a giant museum, it’s filled with beautiful architecture and dotted with whimsical sculptures. It’s surely one of the most beautiful and historic places in northern Spain.

Woody Allen famously loves Oviedo, which he describes as “a delicious, exotic, beautiful, clean, pleasant, tranquil and pedestrianised city, like it didn’t belong to this world, like it didn’t exist…Oviedo is like a fairy tale.”

the UNESCO-listed San Miguel de Lillo chapel in Oviedo
the UNESCO-listed San Miguel de Lillo chapel in Oviedo

Founded in the 8th century, Oviedo is also an ancient place. It’s delightful Old Town makes you want to stroll endlessly through its parks and plazas, gazing in admiration at its colorful terraces and balconies.

During your walkabout, be sure to take in Oviedo’s must see sites — the flamboyant San Salvador Cathedral, the Romanesque churches, the stately Plaza Alfonso II, and the university.

Of special note is the San Miguel de Lillo chapel, just outside Oviedo. It’s a pre-Romanesque royal chapel from the 9th century used by King Ramiro I.

It was designated a UNESCO heritage site in 1985. It’s a 30-40 minute uphill walk or 10 minute drive from the Oviedo city center.

Porto, one of the best small cities in Europe
the Cais de Ribeira in Porto

22. Porto Portugal

Porto is the second largest city in Portugal. But it’s small, gorgeous, and completely walkable. The city is dressed in pastels and has a vintage-y feel.

Porto is full of Baroque churches, azulejo tiles, and dreamy cobblestone streets. And hills. While those hills may make your quads burn, they provide amazing vistas to view some of Porto’s visual treats.

Porto seems to specialize in dramatically decorated churches. There’s the tiny but gorgeous Capela das Almas and the instagram famous Igreja do Carmo, both clad in blue azulejos.

READ: Where To Find Azulejos in Porto

the tile wrapped Capela das Almas
the tile wrapped Capela das Almas

The Cais de Ribeira is the ancient riverside quarter of Porto. It’s a medieval warren of narrow winding streets and pastel painted facades in faded glory. 

Tall and colorful row houses are crammed along the river bank. And there are plenty of trendy bars, cafes, shops, street artists, and entertainers.

If you walk across the top of the twin level Luís I bridge, you’ll have stunning views of Porto. This bridge also connects the city of Porto with Vila Nova de Gaia. Porto’s next door neighbor is famous for its port wine warehouses.

cityscape of Salamanca
Salamanca

23. Salamanca Spain

Salamanca is a historic sandstone city in western Spain. It’s brimming with charm and beautiful architecture. It’s a less touristy version of Toledo.

Salamanca’s centerpiece is the stunning Plaza Mayor. It’s Spain’s grandest plaza, one of the most beautiful squares in Europe. It’s connected to Salamanca Cathedral by the Rua Mayor.

The gold-toned plaza is lined with symmetrical Spanish-Baroque architecture. The Town Hall overlooks the proceedings. The Arco del Toro leads to a covered market.

Plaza Mayor in Salamanca

The plaza honors cultural and heroes and conquistadors — Cervantes, Christopher Columbus, as well as kings and rulers.Then head to Salamanca’s Old Cathedral (12th century) and New Cathedral (16th to 17th century).

For a bird’s eye view of the city, climb the Clerecia Towers of the Ministry of San Marcos. If you’re a fan of the Art Nouveau era, Salamanca’s Art Nouveau Museum will delight — with stained glass, sculptures, and pieces by Rene Lalique.

cityscape of Salzburg, one of the best small cities in Europe
cityscape of Salzburg, with Hohensalzburg Fortress at the top

24. Salzburg

Who doesn’t love Salzburg? Well, possibly those who are allergic to tourists. But Salzburg is a dream worth dreaming, set on the fast flowing Salzach River.

Salzburg is studded with elegant domes and spires and crowned with a doughty clifftop fortress. It’s fairytale swoonful, and one of my favorite small cities in Europe.

Salzburg is synonymous with both Mozart and the Sound of Music. Personally, I’m only a fan of the former; Mozart is life. There’s so much to do in Salzburg, you could be busy for days.

the Mirabell Palace gardens in Salzburg
the Mirabell Palace gardens in Salzburg

Take in the regal Residenz and the Salzburg Cathedral in the Domplatz. Make the steep (but short) hike up to the well-preserved 900 year fortress, Festung Hohensalzburg. Or, take a riverside stroll along Elisabethkai.

No visit to Salzburg is complete without seeing Mirabell Palace and its lovely gardens. The Renaissance palace was the setting for many of Mozart’s early concerts.

Its Orangerie houses painting by Rubens and Bernini and its balustrades are topped with statues of Roman gods.

Seville cityscape with Plaza de Espana buildings
Seville cityscape with Plaza de Espana buildings

25. Seville Spain

Seville is my favorite city in southern Spain. This small city in Europe is a happy wonderful-to-be-alive place, teeming with people, scented orange blossoms, and flamenco music.

I mean, it’s sunny 300 days a year. Wouldn’t that make anyone happy?

Seville is known for its Moorish architectural flourishes and charming neighborhoods. The city is guarded by one of the world’s most colossal Gothic cathedral and is home to the spectacular UNESCO-listed Royal Alcazar.

READ: Guide To The Royal Alcazar

Seville is a seductive mix of Mudéjar palaces, ornate baroque churches, colorful azulejo tiles, and shady cobblestone lanes. You can feast on inventive tapas, ice cold beer, and sweet sherry. At any hour of the day, no less.

There’s a romance to soulful Seville. The locals live on streets. Seville’s a perfect spot for a long weekend or city break. And it makes a good base for day tripping in Andalusia.

READ: 3 Days in Seville Itinerary

aerial view of Il campo and Palazzo Pubblico
aerial view of Il Campo and Palazzo Pubblico

26. Siena Italy

Siena is one of the best small cities to visit in Tuscany for its rustic medieval beauty, tasty food, and luscious chianti.

If you want to bask in medieval times, there’s no better place. Spend at least one day in Siena. I guarantee you’ll fall in love.

You’ll want to spend ample time strolling through the pedestrianized historic center. It’s a well-preserved burnt orange dream littered with cute cafes and shops.

the Siena Cathedral complex in Siena
the Siena Cathedral complex

Siena’s most famous site is its Duomo, Siena Cathedral. It’s one of Europe’s most beautiful churches, especially for lovers of all things Gothic.

The cathedral is the symbol of Siena. It’s clad all over in Siena’s trademark white and dark green marble. Consistent with the Gothic ethos that “more is always better,” every inch is decorated with marble, mosaics, sculptures, and frescos.

Palazzo Pubblico is the political and cultural center of Siena. The magnificent palace sits proudly in one of Europe’s most beautiful medieval squares, the Piazza del Campo.

Palazzo Pubblico houses Siena’s Civic Museum. That museum holds one of the most important secular fresco cycles from the middle ages, Ambrogio Lorenzetti’s Allegory of Good and Bad Government.

Pena Palace in Sintra
Pena Palace in Sintra

27. Sintra Portugal

Beautiful Sintra Portugal is one of Europe’s small cities that’s chock full of top tier attractions.

Sintra is rock star glamorous small city in Europe. It’s home to UNESCO-listed palaces and castles. They’re some of the most famous landmarks in Portugal.

Sintra is also the most popular day trip from Lisbon. As a result, in high season, the town is pure chaos. You need a clear strategy and plan of attack to make the most of your time in Sintra.

the Moorish Castle in Sintra Portugal
the Moorish Castle in Sintra Portugal

READ: Tips For Visiting Sintra

On a visit, you can gaze in awe at Pena Palace, Quinta da Regaleria Palace, the Moorish Castle, Sintra National Palace, and Monserrate Palace. Sintra is also close to some gorgeous beaches like Praia das Maçãs and Azenhas do Mar.

Even the town itself is quaint. It’s filled with artisan shops and well worth exploring.

Sintra packs a punch and delivers on its hype. It’s really best to stay in the area overnight, there’s so much to do and see.

Tallinn, Estonia at the old city

28. Tallinn Estonia

When I first clapped eyes on Tallinn, the city was so pretty it almost didn’t seem real. Located about an equal distance from Stockholm and St. Petersburg, Tallinn’s culture is both Nordic and Russian influenced.

UNESCO-listed Tallinn is one of the best preserved medieval small cities in Europe. It’s lively, absurdly photogenic, and just bursting with magnificent sights.

Since independence in 1991, its Old Town has been scrubbed into a pristine Old World playground. You’ll find ancient churches, medieval streetscapes, 26 watch towers with pointy red peaks, and noble merchants’ houses.  

Old Town of Tallinn
Old Town of Tallinn

Throw in delightful food and vibrant modern culture and it’s no wonder Tallinn seems in danger of being loved to death. The Old Town is crammed with inviting shops and restaurants. 

I visited Tallinn on a Baltic cruise. But it’s best to spend the night to really enjoy Tallinn’s charms. Then you have the option of touring the remarkable Old Town early or late, when it’s much less crowded.

Toledo Alcazar
Toledo Alcazar

29. Toledo Spain

Just south of Madrid is another of Europe’s best small cities. Situated atop a gorge, medieval Toledo is one of Spain’s best loved destinations.

Toledo is an incredibly well preserved town, with a concentrated mix of art and history stashed within its medieval walls. The entire city is a national monument and living museum.

Toledo was once the home of Europe’s most powerful king, Charles V. The city is papered with spiritual paintings of Toledo’s most famous artist, El Greco.

The best sites in Toledo stretch out from the lively main square, Plaza de Zocodover. At the town’s center is perhaps Spain’s best and most beautiful cathedral.

cityscape of Toledo

The primarily Gothic Cathedral is one of Europe’s best cathedrals. It has a richly decorated and jaw dropping interior.

The sacristy is a mini-Prado, with an impressive collection of works by the likes of El Greco, Velazquez, Goya, and Caravaggio. Circling the interior are ornate chapels.

If you need even more art, Toledo is also home to the Santa Cruz Museum and the small El Greco Museum.

The Toledo Alcazar is the former imperial residence that dominates Toledo’s skyline. History and military buffs will want to visit the Army Museum housed inside.

cityscape of beautiful Toulouse, sun underrated small city in Europe
cityscape of beautiful Toulouse

30. Toulouse France

Though Toulouse is the fourth largest city in France, you’d never know it. Toulouse is small and walkable compared to Paris. And much more bucolic and laid back.

Toulouse is nicknamed the “Pink City.” It deserves the moniker.

The city’s architecture is set ablaze in pink, orange, and reds and nestled on the Garonne River.

the Carmes neighborhood of Toulouse
the Carmes neighborhood of Toulouse

Toulouse is a lovely, relaxing city with infinite restaurants, blushing churches, fascinating architecture, and a delicious regional cuisine. Definitely not your Haussman Paris. And definitely not the overwhelming crowds of Paris.

Toulouse also has cute neighborhoods, some wonderful museums, and even a UNESCO-listed site.

Be sure to see the Basilica of St. Sernin, the Place du Capitole, the Covent of the Jacobins, and the wonderful Musee des Augustins.

Toulouse makes a great base for touring the Occitanie region of France and is a nice stop before you head east into Provence.

READ: Top Attractions in Toulouse

the Grand Canal seen from Rialto Bridge
the Grand Canal seen from Rialto Bridge

31. Venice Italy

You might be surprised to see Venice on a list of the best small cities in Europe. And yet Venice is quite tiny. You can easily visit Venice in one day, though it deserves longer.

The floating city of Venice is one of the world’s most unique cities. Venice is one of the world’s most beautiful and captivating cities. It’s a natural movie set.

No other place looks quite like it. Venice is an elegantly decaying medieval city built on water. It shouldn’t exist in real life. Venice is a mind boggling maze of canals, lacy palaces, and artistic treasures.

colorful homes on a canal in Venice
colorful homes on a canal in Venice

There’s a plethora of amazing things to see and do, for every type of traveler. You can visit world class museums with precious treasures of Renaissance or Modern art, like the Accademia Gallery or the Guggenheim Museum.

Or, you can take a gondola ride, cruise down the Grand Canal, and dine canal-side on cicchetti (tasty tapas-like snacks).

READ: 2 Days In Venice Itinerary

the beautiful town of Verona
the beautiful town of Verona

32. Verona

Verona is a gorgeous small city in Europe near Venice. In fact, Verona is so enticing, you might consider basing there instead of Venice to explore the Veneto area.

READ: Guide To The Mosaics Of Ravenna

Plus, is there any city more associated with romance? This pretty Italian town was made famous by Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet. And it’s a fitting site for a high octane infusion of romance.

Juliet’s House, or Casa de Giulietta, is a gorgeous 14th Gothic building in Verona. But, like the fictional love story, Juliet’s House is itself a fiction, however cute. But the kids will want to stand on the famous balcony.

the Colosseum in Verona
the Colosseum in Verona

Once you’ve made the obligatory Juliet pilgrimmage, you’ll also want to tour the doughty Roman Arena, the Arena di Verona, in the Piazza Bra. It’s the third largest classical arena in Italy, after Rome’s Colosseum and Capua’s Colosseum.

You should also stroll through Verona’s picturesque piazzas, the Piazza dei Signori (with a statue of Dante) and the Piazza dell Erbe (with a statue of another poet, Barbarani). 

Visit the Church San Zeno Maggiore, where Romeo and Juliet were fictionally married. And cross the absolutely stunning Ponte Pietra stone bridge.

view of Vicenza from Mount Berico
view of Vicenza from Mount Berico

33. Vicenza Italy

Here’s a hidden gem and beautiful small city in Italy for your Italy bucket list — Vicenza. Vicenza is an underrated UNESCO-listed city in Europe where you can take a Palladian journey.

Vicenza is midway between the travel magnets of Venice and Verona. It’s an easy day trip from either city. If you’re on the UNESCO trail in Europe, Vicenza is one of Italy’s lesser known UNESCO sites.

Vicenza has serious architectural credentials. While other Italian cities, are known for their Renaissance art, Vicenza is synonymous with its Renaissance architecture. 

the stunning colonnade and balustrade of the Olympic Theater
the Olympic Theater designed by Palladio

The city is variously known as the “Pearl of the Renaissance,” the “Gold City,” and the “City of Palladio.” Vicenza is especially renowned as the crucible for the celebrated architect Andrea Palladio.

You could easily spend a day or two strolling Vicenza’s pretty piazzas and admiring the Palladian architecture. Vicenza’s streets are a veritable open air museum.

Among the top attractions in Vicenza, be sure to see the Basilica Palladiana, the Olympic Theater, and Palazzo Chiericati.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my guide to the best and most beautiful small cities in Europe. You may enjoy these other Europe 7-14 day travel itineraries:

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guide to the best small cities in Europe
guide to the best small cities in Europe

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