European small towns have such a charm about them. The capital cities often overlook them, but if you ever get a chance, it's worth catching a train journey to some of the smaller, less visited towns.
These places are where you will get a real sense of what life is like in the country. That's not to say there won’t be any tourists; you just get a different feeling we can’t explain until you get there.
All the ones on our list today are of various sizes, some smaller than others, but they are all smaller than the biggest cities and towns in that country.
1. Bled, Slovenia
We have covered Bled in an article on its own, but it holds a special place in our hearts, so Bled is at the top of this list.
The water is beautiful, and the whole town looks like something out of a postcard. Make sure you get on a boat and head to the island in the middle of the lake to visit the church, as it is one of the most scenic places you will see. Around the area, you can go to many outdoor activities, such as kayaking on the lake, biking, or even hiking in the mountains nearby.
2. Cesky Krumlov
Although Prague steals the show in the Czech Republic, it's worth trying to venture out to Cesky Krumlov as it's listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The people here are very friendly, it's cheaper, and you get a real sense of what the proper “Czech Republic” feels like; only about 13,000 people live there. All the buildings here are well preserved as they escaped all the bombings during World War 2.
You may only need one day here, or stay for one night as Cesky Krumlov is small and you can see all the main attractions at that time.
Our top tips are to visit the castle and relax around the square with a coffee. Life here is a slower pace when compared to Prague, so take time to take it all in.
3. Haarlem, Netherlands
Amsterdam is where probably 99% of all tourists head to, but with Haarlem being just a 13-minute train ride away, it would be silly not to take a trip here, even for a few hours.
Here, you will find gorgeous architecture, lots of greenery, and even some windmills, which The Netherlands is famous for.
While you are here, we recommend you check out Grote Markt, which is said to be one of the most beautiful squares in the country. There is always lots going on here, where you will find the city hall, St. Bavokerk church, and many other lovely buildings.
If beer is your thing, head to De Jopenkerk, housed in a former church with some of the best selection of beers in the country.
4. Bruges, Belgium
Have you ever watched the film “In Bruges” with Colin Farrel? If not, we highly recommend it as it shows how lovely this city is. The film inspired a team member to visit a few years ago.
If you haven’t watched it, then just imagine a fairy-tale medieval town that is very well preserved, with cobbled streets, picturesque canals, and some of the best architecture you will ever see.
Visiting here for a day is easy, as Bruges is about an hour's train ride from Brussels. Most people spend their time visiting the museums, drinking beer, and photographing the city.
5. Castle Combe, England
Castle Combe is so quintessentially English.
England is so full of these lovely cottage-filled towns that we could write a whole article on these (hopefully we will do so soon). One that had to make our list is Castle Comb. I mean, look at it.
It is featured in many films that want the perfect village look, such as Dr Dolittle, and most houses here are made from Cotswold stone, giving it that unique look.
There is not much to do here, as it's very small. You only need half a day to take some photographs, pop into a traditional English pub or maybe picnic by the river.
6. Seydisfjordur, Iceland
Have you ever heard of Seydisfjordur? Probably not, as it's not the place people talk about when visiting Iceland, and even harder to pronounce!
This town can be found on the east side of Iceland, right next to a beautiful Fjord. Here, a harbor connects it with Denmark and the Faroe Islands.
There are only about 700 people that live here, but there are plenty of breweries, restaurants, and a sushi place that gets terrific reviews. A team member once said that if he were to run away and want to get away from the world, this is where he would go.
7. Zermatt, Switzerland
This might be a small town, but it can get jam-packed because the location is right in the middle of the Alps, so it is full of tourists during the ski season.
Again, like many towns in this list, it looks like what you picture a fairy tale town to be, with mountains in the background, including the Matterhorn, one of the biggest in the Alps.
One thing we like about this town is that it's car-free in the town centre. If you are just here for a day, get a hot chocolate potter around the shops and just enjoy being there. If you visit for a few days, get up on the slopes!
8. Ambleside, England
We are returning to England to Ambleside in the Lake District. Ambleside is the perfect place to base yourself when exploring further reaches of the Lake District, and there's loads to do here despite being small.
We would recommend spending a weekend here if you can. That way, you could hike up one of the mountains on one day (Skiddaw is our choice), and then the next day you could take a boat ride on the lake and enjoy walking around the town where you will find lots of independent shops and lovely pubs serving up real English ale.
This town was also voted the most dog-friendly in the UK, with dogs being allowed in almost every shop and restaurant.
9. Zell am See, Austria
We are a big fan of Austria here at the Frugal Expat (read the other articles here), but one place we haven’t covered until now is Zell am See. Like many of these towns, a big lake and mountains always create the perfect backdrop for photographs.
When staying here, there are loads to do, such as hiking, biking, snowboarding and skiing. If you are here for a few days, head to the nearby Krimml Waterfalls.
10. Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
Rothenburg ob der Tauber can be found in the south of Germany in the middle of Bavarian, and it's one of the best small towns in the county.
Here, you will find many timber-framed buildings, old-worldly taverns, clock towers, and many other unique pieces of architecture.
This town has been used for a few films over the years, and it's easy to see why. The most famous films are Harry Potter and Pinocchio.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber is only a small town, so you only need one full day here – the perfect place for a stopover while doing a road trip to Germany.
11. Eguisheim, France
Most people visit Paris when they are in France, but Paris has lost its charm over the years, and we are sure most French people will agree that it's not “real France” anymore.
If you want to go back in time and experience real France, Eguisheim should be on your list. Wooden buildings, cobbled streets, and old churches give this place its charm. Eguisheim is the sort of place where the locals head into the village each day to get their bread fresh from the bakery!
12. Mdina, Malta
We are big fans of Malta. The whole island is just amazing, and because of its size, it's pretty affordable and easy to get around.
Chances are you will be staying near the capital, Valletta, which is impressive, but you should take the time to head over to Mdina, which used to be the capital. There's lots of Medieval and Baroque architecture for you to explore. Game of Thrones fans will love it here, as well as it was used as a filming location for Kings Landing in Games of Thrones.
13. Ribe, Denmark
Have you ever heard of Ribe? The chances are you probably haven’t. However, it's classed as the oldest town in Denmark, dating back to 710 AD, and it's for that reason that you should visit here.
Ribe is famous for Vikings, as many of their ships set sail from all those years ago. There's a lot of Viking history here, which is excellent for tourists. We recommend you visit Ribe Catherdral while you are here, as you can go to the top for some incredible city views. After that, wander the cobbled streets where you can find plenty of local restaurants to enjoy lovely food and drink.
14. Portree, Scotland
Portree can be found on The Isle Of Sky, which has become a hot spot for tourists over recent years. The town only has a population of about 2500 people, but expect it to be hectic in the summer months. Our tip is to visit during the autumn or winter when it's easier to move about.
This town is known for the rows of colored cottages, which you will have likely seen on other travel blogs and people's Instagram accounts. We recommend you take your picture by the houses, walk around the loch, and then head back to the town to a pub with a lovely warm fire to enjoy a beer.
15. Praiano, Italy
We couldn’t write an article about the beautiful small towns in Europe without including somewhere in Italy. Our choice is the town of Praiano, which is on the fantastic Amalfi coast. Here you will find some lovely old churches, with San Gennaro Church being the most famous one.
If you get up before the crowds, we recommend heading to Marina di Praia beach. It's only tiny, but it has vast cliffs on each side, which are impressive.
After that, head back into the town to enjoy some fresh seafood in one of the coastal restaurants.
16. Flåm, Norway
Flåm is very small, but it's on the list as a member of the team visited here while on a cruise last year. After traveling overnight, they woke to see they were in this lovely village.
There isn’t much to do here, so your best bet is to head jump on the Flamsbana, the world's steepest railway. It's an incredible journey with plenty of scenery. There's a stop-off at a beautiful waterfall.
Once you are back at the bottom, there are a few lovely tourist shops and decent food places to try.
17. Dinant, Belgium
Dinant can be found not far from Luxembourg's border, so it is an excellent location to stop at if you are traveling to Belgium from there.
What’s it famous for, you might ask? Dinant is where the saxophone was invented, and you will find reminders throughout the town. There's even a museum dedicated to it.
This town is charming, with lovely old buildings and a river running through the middle. It's a place where time slows down, and you should also take things at a leisurely pace and just enjoy being there.
Come and Visit These Small Towns
We hope this guide to the most beautiful small towns in Europe has been helpful. There are so many other towns like this that many tourists just don’t get the chance to visit.
Have you visited a place you think deserves to be on this list?
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I’m Steve. I’m an English Teacher, traveler, and an avid outdoorsman. If you’d like to comment, ask a question, or simply say hi, leave me a message here, on Twitter (@thefrugalexpat1). Many of my posts have been written to help those in their journey to financial independence. I am on my journey, and as I learn more I hope to share more. And as always, thanks for reading The Frugal Expat.