17 Medieval Towns in Europe That You Must See

Steve Cummings

Siena, Italy

People of the Middle Ages/ Medieval period lived in a very turbulent and dramatic period of history throughout Europe. It is also one of the critical times in history that shaped what life was like for European citizens and others. Although times have moved on and much of that world is relegated to history books, many places throughout Europe have retained some of their medieval charm.

If you want to visit Europe's best-preserved and fascinating medieval towns but don’t know where to start your itinerary, you’ve come to the right place. In the following post, we will look at the best medieval towns in Europe that will help you get a bit of a taste of the past, learn something, and take lots of dramatic and breathtaking photographs.

1. Rothenburg, Germany

Rothenburg ob der Tauber
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We will start our guide by looking at one of Germany's most beautiful medieval towns—Rothenburg. This quaint and pretty little village feels frozen in a time loop. Rothenburg ob der Tauber may be the most authentic step back to the Middle Ages in Europe. It was built around the royal castle of King Conrad III of Germany. It was a powerful spot during the Middle Ages, thanks to being central to various crucial trade routes across the continent.

By 1400, it was the second-biggest city in the country, but the poverty it experienced after the terrible Thirty Years War during the 1600s caused it to almost disappear from the world scene. The city's original city walls are still, for the most part, standing. Many narrow passageways, cobblestone streets and decorated half-timber dwellings make it feel like a fairytale.

2. Mont Saint Michel, France

Mont Saint Michel
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Next, we move to western Europe and one of the best medieval towns in France—Mont Saint Michel. Something is impressive about this tiny town, which is home to just 44 people, give or take a few. Sitting atop a large natural rock formation that juts out the country's northern coast, this village has a stunning cathedral that looks like it stands on the shoulders of the shops and homes beneath it along the sides of the rock formation.

Famous for its unspoiled beauty and well-preserved structures, it has mostly stayed the same over the last few centuries. This is connected to the relatively small footprint of the village and because visitors could only go to the town at low tide by getting across the tidal basin. This crossing was often dangerous because it was at least half an hour’s walk from the coast. However, in 2013, work had been completed on a more elevated road that made the town accessible 24/7.

3. Siena, Italy

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Among the best medieval towns in Italy, we wanted to highlight Siena, which is often left off many people’s itineraries. It has a rustic, old-world charm that must be experienced to be believed. Found in Tuscany, it feels like a fusion of early Renaissance and medieval styling and is a great place to enjoy many tasty food and indulgent drinks.

Central to this pretty little village is the stunning Piazza del Campo, which was first designed and established in the 1300s. It is thought to be one of the best medieval squares not just in Italy but also in continental Europe. Its design is similar to an inverted clamshell, which is still the main focal point for tourists who want to relax and people-watch.

4. Tallinn, Estonia

St. Olaf Baptist Church and Tallinn City Wall in the morning, Tallinn, Estonia
Image Credit: Shutterstock.

When people think of the most beautiful medieval towns in Europe, they sadly overlook or don’t know about Tallinn. During the Middle Ages, Tallinn was known as Reval and is one of the few towns in the east of the continent that retained its authentic medieval charm.

The town has many of the critical features of a medieval village that you’d expect to find – large and beautifully constructed walls with a princess tower joining them together; a small but centrally based castle; vibrantly colored residences; cobblestone streets; and the historic Town Hall Square at the center of the town.

5. Rhodes, Greece

Rhodes, Greece
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If you are interested in visiting the oldest medieval town in Europe, you will have to make your way to Greece. Rhodes, an island off the mainland, is one of the oldest and most intriguing towns. It is fascinating because it is the sum of its parts and is influenced by the different forces that occupied the island. For instance, it became part of the Roman Empire in 164 BC, and when Rome fell, it continued to be part of the Eastern Roman Empire for a few hundred years until the start of the Middle Ages. The walls surrounding much of the island are a noticeable reminder of Rome’s impact on the town.

Only when the island was sold in 1309 to the Order of the Knights Hospitallers of Saint John of Jerusalem did it start to have its authentic medieval charm. The Order built new cathedrals, enhanced the city walls, and created archways, narrow streets, and baths for the residents.

6. Krakow, Poland

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You must head to this Polish city if you want to experience the awe-inspiring delight of the largest medieval town square in Europe. There, you will find Main Market Square, which covers 40,000 square meters and was designed in 1257. It is considered the city's central point and is essential from a social, cultural, and historical standpoint.

7. Lavenham, England

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The response to subjects like the best preserved medieval European towns is almost always subjective. 

Many consider Lavenham one of England's best preserved medieval towns. It is famous for its 15th-century wooden church, half-timber dwellings, Tudor houses, and cobblestone streets. It is one of Suffolk's most important wool towns, and there is so much to see and do here that you could spend many hours just wandering and exploring.

8. Heiligenbrunn, Austria

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Our list of the most beautiful medieval towns in Europe would be incomplete if we failed to include Heiligenbrunn in Austria. This is a hidden gem that many people don’t seem to know about. But if you want to explore a carefully preserved site of early Middle Ages life, this is the place to go. The village has only 1,000 residents and is like a living museum.

There are no castles or other protective fortifications and only two hotels, but it has a lot of character. It is famous, to anyone who knows, for the hobbit-style homes with thatched roofs. The wine made here, as it has been done since 1225 AD, was banned at one point due to its strength, but the modern version is delicious.

9. York, England

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Another of the best medieval towns in Europe is York, England. It is one of the few places in the country where you can walk along its ancient walls. Constantius Chlorus, the Roman Emperor, first built the protective walls of York in 300 AD. The wall remained unchanged until the Middle Ages, when it was reinforced.

Brace yourselves if you intend to walk along it, though, as it is 3 miles long. As well as the wall, you should also check out the various city gates, which are large and opulent. There is also a strange naming system in the town to be aware of – city gates are referred to as bars, and streets are called gates. Perhaps the best thing about the town is Snickelways, the center of 60 alley-sized, traffic-free streets. A distinctive Viking influence is felt throughout the town, which you can learn more about at the Jorvik History Center.

10. Eze, France

Eze, France
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Another of the must-visit medieval towns of Europe in France is Eze. Although relatively small compared to others we have featured thus far, it is the only medieval town in the Alps. It is located on the mountainside, leads the way to Centernaire Palace, and has narrow old streets that can only be explored on foot. It may not be the flashiest of towns, but it has a strong Medieval and old-world charm that is hard to resist.

The residents are proud of their background, so they have named the town “Cite Medievale” on all local directories and maps.

11. Cinque Terre, Italy

Okay, so rather than focus on one individual town, we have chosen to highlight the connected towns of Cinque Terre, which are among the most beautiful medieval towns. These five towns are Monterosso, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Rio Maggiore. All are worth visiting, and there are often tours available that can cover them all in one or two days, depending on how long you wish to spend in each.

12. Sighișoara, Romania

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Horror and gothic literature fans will want to explore one of the strangest medieval towns in Europe. This is home to Ban Castle and Peles Castle, the folklore for the vampire that Irish writer Bram Stoker brought to life in the novel Dracula.  Although Vlad the Impaler has no real connections to Bran Castle, there is still a mystical feel around this town. He was born in a home his family had lived in for four years in the Citadel Square of the city before they moved to a castle they owned in Târgoviște.

While he may not have been a vampire, he was feared and infamous for his brutality, which included impaling people on stakes.

13. San Gimignano, Italy

San Gimignano, Italy
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Another of the best medieval towns in Italy is San Gimignano, which is smaller than Siena mentioned above. However, it has a similar look and feel. What you will find different about this town compared to others is that it is filled with several different medieval watchtowers. This gives it an almost Manhattan for the Middle Ages feel.

Around the town, there are 15 well-preserved tower houses, which may seem like a lot—until you consider that the city had 72 at one point. All the most powerful families in the village had a tower, and its height indicated how much influence that family had.

14. Carcassonne, France

Carcassonne, France
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We are back to one of Italy’s western European neighbors and looking at one of the best medieval towns in France – Carcassonne. This town stands out because as you head towards it, you feel like you are about to enter a vast fairytale castle – until it becomes clear that it is the entire village. Massive, imposing walls protect it. Found in the Provence region of the country, it is one of the best places to visit in the south of France for its old-world charm and stunning architecture.

15. Hallstatt, Austria

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We have covered Hallstatt on the Frugal Expat blog before. With its lakeside location, checkered and fascinating history, and compact design, you can explore the whole village in a day. Things worth seeing here are the market square, the Bone Chapel with its sinister and oddly alluring painted skulls, and the many creative headstones in the cemetery. If time allows, while you are there, make sure you visit the oldest salt mine in the world, Salzwelten, which is believed to be more than 7,000 years old.

16. Vitre, France

Vitre, France
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If you want to visit something left of the field and are interested in unheard-of medieval towns of Europe, you should stop at Vitre in France. This has a stunning fairytale-esque village wall and a picturesque chateau with a tower that you could easily imagine Rapunzel sitting in, waiting to be released.

17. Giethoorn, The Netherlands 

‎Giethoorn, Netherlands
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Another of the best medieval towns in Europe that you’ve probably never heard of is Giethoorn in The Netherlands. It is found outside Amsterdam and consists of 180 footbridges and many interconnected canals. There are no roads here, and the canals were created during Medieval times by the locals harvesting peat moss because they needed a way to transport produce and goods. It has remained virtually unchanged since 1230 AD, when it was established, and is excellent for boat exploration.

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Hallstatt Austria
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