Kotor, Montenegro.

The Most Beautiful Small Towns In Europe

The small towns of Europe are endlessly, impossibly beautiful. Therefore, no one list could do them justice. A variety of themes or regions could be selected, which would help narrow down the options. So often, the magic of a place comes down to the associations, whether from personal experience, a family tale, a movie, or maybe even a "one-day" desktop background. With that said, here are a variety of handpicked small towns that are hard to argue against. 

Wengen, Switzerland

Wengen, Switzerland
Stunning autumn view of picturesque alpine village Wengen with Jungfrau Mountain and Lauterbrunnen Valley on background.

This scenic mountain village lies at the base of some of the most mesmerizing peaks in the Bernese Alps. Wengen (pronounced ven-gen) is in the Jungfrau region of central Switzerland and can only be reached from Lauterbrunnen via the Wengernalp railway. This delightful mode of transportation continues on to Kleine Scheidegg, at the base of the infamous North Face of the Eiger. Throughout Wengen, visitors can enjoy the relaxed pace of the car-free village while taking in the sites of the quintessential timber houses and chalets and the sounds of the rattling cowbells and distant waterfalls. 

Zermatt, Switzerland

Aerial View on Zermatt Valley and Matterhorn Peak in the Morning, Switzerland
Aerial view of Zermatt.

Zermatt is another Swiss mountain village - this time in the Valais region - that cannot be missed. Zermatt lies at the base of the iconic Matterhorn - easily Europe's most famous mountain and known throughout the world for its striking shape and deadly history, and as a catalyst for the imagination and outlet for the human spirit. Like Wengen, Zermatt is a car-free settlement. Therefore, it is also best reached by train, which for anyone who has not experienced the Swiss system, is a destination event in and of itself. Zermatt is a place for outdoor adventures through the snow-capped mountains and rolling green foothills and for cozying up in old-fashioned pubs and restaurants at the end of the day. 

Cassis, France

View of the town Cassis, Provence, South France
View of the town Cassis, Provence, South France.

Cassis is a small fishing village on the Côte d'Azur (French Riviera) in Southeast France. It is known for its picturesque harbor, painting-esque village, and the natural beauty of the surrounding seaside cliffs and numerous calanques. Its mixed-terrain beaches, adorable alleys, and finer culinary indulgences make it feel like something out of a movie - probably because many French films have been shot on-location in Cassis. It is no wonder why acclaimed author Virginia Woolf called this French town "little paradise." 

Český Krumlov, Czech Republic

Panorama of Vltava river bend and Cesky Krumlov castle, old town and St. Vitus church. Editorial credit: JossK / Shutterstock.com

Český Krumlov (pronounced chusky krumlov) condenses the beauty of Prague into a bite-sized town. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is located in the South Bohemian Region of the Czech Republic. The mix of architecture (Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque) creates an eclectic and charming package that the Vltava River perfectly encompasses. As with many European towns, the best part is slowly walking from end to end. The old town square and Český Krumlov Castle (built in 1240 CE) will especially catch one's eye.

Edam, Netherlands

Edam, Netherlands
A scene from Edam, Netherlands. Image credit: Irina Lipan 

Dutch canals, bicycle tours, good cheese, lake access, and an all round authentic town - what is not to love about Edam? Along with the neighboring fishing village of Volendam, this place forms the municipality of Edam-Volendam, which is in the North Holland Province of the Netherlands. The best part of this quaint and charming region is that it is only a 30-minute drive from Amsterdam. Sometimes the hidden gems require a nightmare itinerary to get to, but Edam is ready to welcome anyone, mere moments after an international flight. 

Dingle, Ireland 

Dingle, Ireland
Dingle, Ireland.

This West Coast, County Kerry town is as cute as its name. The colorful houses and pubs are perfectly contrasted by the verdant Irish countryside and the deep blue waters of Dingle Harbor, which branches off from the North Atlantic Ocean. Dingle is lovely to visit at any time, but for music fans, you will want to cozy up in St. James Church between late October and late November for the annual Other Voices festival. This humble, 200-year-old site has hosted some of the most talented Irish musicians and other big names throughout the world. 

Port Isaac, United Kingdom

Cove and harbour of Port Isaac with arriving ship, Cornwall, England
Cove and harbour of Port Isaac with arriving ship, Cornwall, England.

Beautiful towns are what England does best. Therefore, it is tough to nail down a single highlight for this country. There is the tourist-magnet Lake District, the plentiful gems peppered throughout Devon, but there is also the rugged and stunning county of Cornwall - the UK's Southwest region. Port Isaac is a particularly pleasing fishing village on Cornwall's Atlantic Coast. This tucked-away spot not only has rugged natural beauty and a pretty town, but the enchanting traditional sea shanties of the Fisherman's Friends, a cappella group, helped put Port Isaac on the map. This band of musically inclined fishermen was the subject of the recent film by the same name. The camera loves Port Isaac, which is why the British TV series Doc Martin was also based here. 

Taormina, Italy

Ruins of Ancient Greek theatre in Taormina on background of Etna Volcano
Ruins of Ancient Greek theatre in Taormina on background of Etna Volcano.

By most standards, the island of Sicily is the stuff dreams are made of. Of all the picturesque spots to choose from in this magical Italian region, Taormina makes a great case for the crown. This East Coast hilltop town proudly sits above the Ionian Sea. With the crystalline waters stretching far to the East, and the snow-capped peak of Mount Etna (an active volcano) looming to the Southwest, Taormina is perfectly situated for the eye of any beholder. One of the standout fixtures in town is the ancient Greek Theater, which still operates as a world-class venue today. 

Kotor, Montenegro 

Kotor, Montenegro
Kotor, Montenegro.

The walled Old Town of Kotor jumps out of photos and into your heart. All the better in person, as you can stroll the maze-like, cobblestone alleys inside the historic fortress of varied cultural influences. There is a continued mix of ancient architecture and modern amenities within the town center. At any point, take the stairs to the many lookouts from which one can gaze upon the Bay of Kotor and out to the surrounding gray mountains. And the fun does not stop outside the walls. Here one can walk along the water and stop for a bite or swim. Montenegro tends to be overlooked in favor of the Game of Thrones sites in Croatia - but all the more reason to visit Kotor instead. 

Cheget, Russia

Cheget, Russia
The mountain town of Cheget. Image credit: Andrew Douglas

This cozy settlement is a base of operations for Mount Elbrus - Europe's highest mountain and one of the Seven Summits. Whether you want to hit the slopes or join a summit expedition team, anyone can organize in Cheget and take the Elbrus Gondola to Garabashi station, and/or the silo living quarters of Elbrus basecamp. Interestingly, this is the most elevated cable car, not only in Russia, but in all of Europe. Within Cheget, there are Swiss-style chalets, a cute A-frame coffee shop, and plenty of street vendors to engage with.

Bled, Slovenia

Bled, Slovenia
Lake Bled with St. Marys Church of Assumption on small island in Bled, Slovenia.

Even though the name suggests a different connotation, the town itself is gorgeous. Most notably, Lake Bled is what draws the eye and the visitors from all over. The freshwater, perimeter path, and central islet with one determined church make for a serene afternoon setting. Just behind the lake stands the 12th-century Bled Castle, mysteriously looking down from high on the hill. Beyond that, the Julien Alps radiate proudly. And hidden within it all is the magnificent Vintgar Gorge, a must-see day trip/modest hike. Bled is all about layers. 

From West to East and from mountains to seas, the beauty of small European towns shines brightly. There are no wrong answers, only more options to add to the ever-growing continent-wide itinerary. Where is your next dream destination? 

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