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  • Writer's pictureDanae Bianco

5 unmissable small towns in Europe

Updated: Mar 3

I love visiting small towns. Walking through cobblestones streets, watching local people go on with their lives, old folks chatting and kids running through the streets while their moms keeping an eye on them from a healthy distance.


Small towns always invite us to stop for a good meal, have a coffee, try a local sweet and have one (or several) ice cream, and enjoy the sunset at main square with a glass of wine (or non-alcoholic drink if that's your thing).


Even if it's for a day, an afternoon or just a few hours, I suggest you always include a small town in your travel itineraty and take the opportunity to slow down, stop, breathe and enjoy the simple life.


Here are some suggestions of places we have gone to and loved. If it works out to include any of them in your travel itinerary I guarantee you won't regret it.


 

👉🏻here they are, 5 unmissable small towns in Europe:

 

Monemvasia, Peloponeso, Grécia
Monemvasia, Peloponeso - Greece

1 - Monemvasia, Greece


Monemvasia was one of - if not the - most charming and pleasant little town we visited on our 15-day road trip through mainland Greece.


Located on an island in the south of Peloponnese, Monemvasia is a beautiful medieval walled town, with cobbled alleys and many cafes, bars, restaurants and arts and crafts shops.


Founded in 583 AD, the island-town is dominated by an imposing medieval fortress, in the so-called "upper town". Over the centuries, it underwent Byzantine, Arab, Norman, Venetian, Turkish and Ottoman domination. It was an important port and fortress, disputed by the various peoples who inhabited the region, which can be seen in the ruins and vestiges found both in the upper and lower towns. The castle town itself was once completely self sufficient and the inhabitants could live for months inside the walls if they were under attack.




Monemvasia’s buildings are truly enchanting, but today the majority is tourism-focused, serving as vacation homes, guesthouses, souvenir shops, cafés or bar-restaurants, with only a handful of year-round residences.


The walls that to this day still surround much of the south and east of the island are beautiful and yield amazing photos.


We went there just to spend the day, but if I had researched better beforehand, I would certainly have planned to sleep at least one night in town as there are several charming hotels and b&b. I recommend staying on the island, Ardamis Guesthouse looks like a dream, as well as Bastione Malvasia Hotel, check it out and if you stay there let me know, it's on my wish list.


Check availability and rates here:



Monemvasia is about a 4-hour drive from Athens (200 miles), and we included it in our 15-day Peloponnese road-trip. If you prefer, there are tours from Athens that cover a good part of the route we took through the Peloponnese, including Monemvasia.


Ronda, Andalucia, Espanha
Ronda, Andalucia, Espanha -View from Puente Nova lookout


2 - Ronda - Spain


Ronda was the first stop on our 10-day trip through Andalusia in southern Spain, which also included Granada, Córdoba, and Seville.


Part of the “white cities” (pueblos blancos) of Andalucia, Ronda is one of the most incredible towns in Spain due to its geographical location. It sits on the edge of the cliffs of the Guadalevín River canyon, which runs through the center of town.


Puente Nueva ("new bridge"), the bridge that crosses the canyon, right in the middle of town (the one in the photo above) is impressive and makes for beautiful photos - despite the name, the bridge was completed in 1793 and represented an impressive architectural feat at the time. There are several viewpoints in the region, and a nice thing to do is to just walk along the streets that follow the edges of the canyon, with strategic stops for photos, coffee and ice cream. This symbiotic integration between town and canyon is incredible and that alone would be enough to justify a trip there.


The old bridge (in the first photo below) was completed in 1616 and allows only pedestrians to pass through.




I could walk for hours through the alleys, enjoying the landscape, whether of the canyon or the valley, the architecture, the countless churches and historic buildings.


Ronda is a great place to get away from the tourist crowds that plague southern Spain at any time of year.


We stayed in a very good Airbnb, in the central area of town but if you prefer to stay in hotels or inns, there are many options. The town is small and you can easily get around on foot - we had rented a car but we didn't use it once, we really did everything on foot.


Take the opportunity to research accommodation options here; there are very charming inns and excellent houses in the town:



We included Ronda in our Andalucia itinerary, we rented a car in Seville and went straight to Ronda (about 80 miles), we stayed 2 nights there and left for Granada (about 125 miles).


If you don't want to spend a night there, you can visit Ronda as a day-tour from Seville or from Granada.




Pier at Naerofjord in Flam, Norway
Flåm, Norway

3 - Flåm - Norway


Fjords that seem out of a fairy tale, amazing waterfalls, the most beautiful train ride in the world, picturesque villages, and on top of that, several options for biking, kayaking, hiking etc.


The region is a paradise for nature lovers, and I dare say that even those who are more into urban life will be dazzled by Flåm. We visited the town during our 12-day Norway itinerary.


Scenes from Flåm


We stayed there for three days, at an Airbnb a bit far away (in Voss, as we booked in short notice and this was the best value for money accommodation in the region).


In Flåm there are a few options for hotels/hostels, but not many, so I recommend booking as far in advance as possible.


We had a rental car and, unless you are on one of those all-inclusive tours (which usually depart from Bergen), I recommend renting one to have more flexibility and be able to make the most of your days there.


In addition to drinking several hot chocolates, some ice cream, a few local craft beers (at Aegir Brew Pub) and eating lots of smoked salmon, we managed to do all this:

- Boat tour of the Aurlandsfjord and Naerofjord

- Train from Flåm to Myrdal (Flamsbana) & Flam Railway Museum

- Bike from Myrdal to Flåm (Café Rallaren)

- Kayak tour on the Aurlandsfjord

- Viewpoint of the Stalheim Hotel

- Aurland Shoe Shop

- Viking Valley (in Gudvangen, tour recommended for children)

- Village of Undredal

- Stegastein viewpoint




Abadia de Malmesbury, Wiltshire, England, United Kingdom
Malmesbury Abbey

4 - Malmesbury, England, United Kingdom


Malmesbury, one of the oldest boroughs in the UK, is a charming little town that invites you to slow down, sit down for a coffee (or tea) and enjoy the local life.


The main attraction in the village is the gorgeous 12th-century abbey, founded as a Benedictine monastery in 676 AD. and which, in the 11th century, housed the second largest library in Europe, being considered a great cultural and learning center. Completed in 1180 AD, its tower collapsed, taking most of the construction with it, in a storm around 1500 AD. A few decades later there was another collapse, so what we see today is less than half of the original building.


Scenes of Malmesbury


Malmesbury is located in Wiltshire, about 93 miles west of London. You can visit it on a day trip from London, that's what we did, with a rental car, but it's also possible to go by train. The town is close to Bristol and Bath, this one also a charming little town that you can include in your "small british towns itinerary" (the ruins of the Roman baths in Bath are amazin, and I suggest you take a guided walking tour of the place.


If you want to travel slowly and stay a night there, to really enjoy and relax, one great option is Old Bell Hotel, housed in a 13th century building, right next to the Abbey, check rates and availability here:



Praça do Giraldo, Évora, Portugal.
Praça do Giraldo, Évora, Portugal.

5 - Evora, Portugal


Okay, Évora is not as a small town as the others, and it is already well known in tourist itineraries, but still worthy of a stop on your next trip to Portugal.


Évora is surrounded by medieval walls, really well preserved. A great area to explore the wall is around Água de Prata Aqueduct which, from 1537 to the present day, takes water from springs located 12 miles away in Graça do Divor to the town. Not to be missed are the Roman ruins of the Temple of Diana, the Capela dos Ossos (Chapel of Bones, next to the Church of São Francisco), not to mention the several historic churches in town, as well a some of its museums and parks (it is worth strolling through the Jardim Público and the Ruínas Fingidas) and squares (the Praça do Giraldo area - pictured above - is a great place to stop for a coffee and ice cream).


Close to the city there is also the Cromeleque dos Almendres, a complex of monolithic ruins dating from the 6th century BC.


Scenes of Évora: (1) Rua 5 de outubro, (2) Templo de Diana, (3) Capela dos Ossos; (4) Cromeleque dos Almendres


I would have liked to have stayed in Evora at least one night (as I did when I was there in the 90s, backpacking through Europe), but this last time I was there, with kids and friends, we ended up opting for a day trip from Lisbon (about 80 miles away).


There is no shortage of accommodation options there, check here for rates and availability:



I recommend staying in the historic part of the town, within the walls, so you can walk around town easily and visit all the sites and attractions on foot. Walking is, in my opinion, the best way to get around small towns and an excellent way to interect and imerse yourself in local culture and way of life.


It is really interesting to take a guided walking tour of Evora, whenever possible we try to include walking tours in our activities, because nothing like getting to know the city and its stories with a local guide, it gets much more interesting and enriching.


Considering an extended journey through Portugal? Explore this two-week Portugal itinerary.


Go further


There are many other small towns worth visiting. These are just some of the ones we've been to and like - and I 'd challenged myself to select only 5, it wasn't easy, but I had to hold myself back because otherwise this post would have gotten really huge...



Other posts about travels in Europe:


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