Four incredibly charming small towns in Europe

Alix M Campbell

Senior Contributor

Paris, Berlin, Rome. There are many big names in Europe (and worldwide) when it comes to cultural gems. Although these big culture hubs are undoubtedly beautiful places to visit, there are many other options when it comes to culturally interesting places in Europe. A less crowded small town could be the ideal place to escape to next. Before booking your trip, please take a look at adjusted opening times as well as updated transportation timetables due to Covid-19.

Giethoorn, the Netherlands. A village without roads

Cities and towns crisscrossed with waterways is not a new concept in the Netherlands, but this place with a population of 2,620 inhabitants is special. Giethoorn is a village entirely without roads. Speaking of idyllic, you have to leave your car parked outside of town and proceed on foot, by bike or by canoe/electric boat (or with ice skates if you’re lucky and the canals are frozen over) when you visit this village about an hour and a half northeast of Amsterdam.

The ‘Venice of the Netherlands’ boasts more than 80 km of boat trails connecting museums, hotels and restaurants in the centre with people’s homes. If you prefer to stay on steady ground, there are over 180 wooden bridges, that arch over the canals, to be strolled over while you snap pictures of the traditional thatched houses.

The ‘Giethoorn walking route’ leads you past the most picturesque spots of this village, after which you can merrily sit down and relax at one of the many terraces by the water.

Rye, England. Terracotta roofs and timber walls

This medieval harbour town with 9,041 inhabitants in East Sussex lies one and a half hours southeast of London. It charms visitors with its array of art galleries, antiques, book and pottery shops, cobble-stone streets and tiled roofs. Rye used to be entirely surrounded by sea in Roman times, where it served as an important shipping centre.

This picturesque place, however, does not only consist of quaint guest houses and tea rooms, it offers some unexpected layers. Back in the days, the Hawkhurst Gang used The Olde Bell Inn and The Mermaid Inn for their notorious smuggling activities, including secret passageway and all.

Before you sit down in one of the historic pubs of Rye to sample a traditional plate of fish and chips, take in the best views from one of the two oldest buildings in town, the Ypres Tower and St. Mary’s Parish Church.

Albarracín in the Spanish mountains. Orange and pink houses

The former capital of the Moorish kingdom Taifa, Albarracín, is surrounded by red sandstone boulders and sits on a river bend in the autonomous Aragon region of Spain, three and a half hours from Madrid. In 1961 it was declared a Monumento Nacional.

With a population of 1,061, it managed to preserve its Islamic details and medieval look, with highlights like its Fortress from the 10th century, the Episcopal Palace and the Diocese Museum with a collection of flamenco tapestries, as well as the Town Hall at the Plaza Mayor offering beautiful views over the Guadalaviar River.

To the south and west the Sierra de Albarracín mountain range frames the collection of pink, red and orange houses of this town, adding to its isolated feel. Whether you’re visiting Albarracín to try yourself at bouldering or just to climb up and down the steep streets to marvel at the surroundings, there’ll be plenty of photo ops during your stay.

Flåm, Norway. Coloured houses and green hills

This tiny village with a total of 350 inhabitants in Vestland county about five hours from Oslo is undoubtedly scenic. Brightly coloured houses surrounded by lush green hills welcome you into the inner end of the Aurlandsfjord. You won’t be the only visitor to this village in the Flåmsdalen valley as Flåm is also a cruise port welcoming around 160 cruise ships per year.

Despite all this, nature is still the main attraction here, next to the 20 km long Flåm Line, which is considered one of the steepest railway tracks in the world. It connects Flåm with the summit of Myrdal Mountain and offers views of snowy peaks and picturesque waterfalls.

After an exciting ride, you can calm your nerves by strolling through the former railway station building, which now houses a museum dedicated to the Flamsbana. Or you opt to sit down somewhere with a cold beer in hand and breathe in the fresh air of this stunning area.

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