(CNN) – Paris, Rome, Barcelona … European cities are bucket list destinations, and for good reason. But the small cities of the continent are also a dream, with all the beautiful architecture and much of the culture that you will find in the big hitters, only with fewer crowds to share them with.
These are some of the prettiest small towns in Europe, from humble fishing villages to medieval power bases in the hills.
Giethoorn, The Netherlands
Giethoorn is often called the Dutch answer to Venice.
They call it the Dutch answer to Venice, but Giethoorn lacks one crucial thing the Italian city has in abundance: over-tourism. As in Venice, life revolves around water, here there are no cars in the center, so the only way to get around is on foot or in the water.
Take a boat tour of thatched-roof houses located on peat-filled islands. Hungry? Make a stop at the Michelin-star restaurant Hollands-Venetië.
Guimarães is sleepy today, but it was the first capital of Portugal.
Guimarães is crucial to the history of Portugal: it was named the country’s first capital in the 12th century, and its medieval core remains largely intact, filled with convents, great ancient palaces, and a ruined castle, perched on top of a Cliff.
Like everywhere in Portugal, local bakeries make mediocre pastel de nata, but here you must try the local specialty: Guimarães cake – a puff pastry filled with pumpkin and ground almonds.
Roscoff is one of the most beautiful port cities in France.
Port cities can be dirty. However, it is not charming little Roscoff, in the Brittany region of France, who made his fortune from maritime trade, including exporting his famous pink onions to the UK.
Today, it is a thalassotherapy center, using seawater to treat medical conditions, as well as a beautiful Breton town. Small fishing boats bob in the small harbor, with a larger one, where ferries leave for Plymouth in the UK, further afield.
The streets of Anghiari were designed for warriors of the Renaissance era.
Floating on a hillside near the Tuscan-Umbrian border, Anghiari is a delight: a small walled town that curls in on itself as it clings to the landscape.
It is a pedestrian maze of alleys and streets lined with roller coasters, filled with grand palaces that were built by the mysterious mercenary “men-at-arms” who lived here in the Renaissance period.
Learn more about them at the Museo della Battaglia di Anghiari, which tells the story of a momentous medieval battle that took place on the plain outside the city.
Nafplio was the first capital of modern Greece.
Beautiful Nafplio straddles the Aegean Sea in the Peloponnese, with its Venetian-built castle tucked into the water (there are actually three castles to visit here) and a pretty old town that stretches behind the ancient walls.
This was the first capital of modern Greece, so there are things to do in spades. There is a lido, if you want to take a safe dip in the sea, and if history is your thing, the archaeological museum contains elements dating from the Mycenaean period.
Mostar, Bosnia and Herzigovina
The Mostar Bridge attracts visitors from all over the region.
Mostar’s Stari Most, or “Old Bridge”, built by the Ottomans in the 16th century, was long considered one of the finest examples of Balkan Islamic architecture.
With an arch over the Neretva river, it is one of the most famous places in the Balkans, and traditionally the locals dive from the bridge; today is a stop at the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series.
The bridge was destroyed in November 1993 by Croatian forces during the Balkan wars. A rebuilt bridge was built in 2004 and today Mostar is a beloved destination in Bosnia and Herzigovina, and a popular day trip from Dubrovnik, across the Croatian border.
Mazara del Vallo, Sicily
Mazara del Vallo is one of the most beautiful fishing villages in Sicily.
Ulrike Leone / Alamy
Sicily is a melting pot, and Mazara del Vallo typifies that. Founded by the Phoenicians nearly 3,000 years ago, it has seen a myriad of cultures flow throughout the island – its Kasbah area is similar to a North African medina, there is a strong Tunisian community, and you are more likely to find couscous. on the menu that pasta.
Its main attraction is the Satiro Danzante, or dancing satyr, an ancient bronze statue taken from the sea in 1998.
Clovelly, United Kingdom
Donkeys used to be the only way to get around cute Clovelly.
Donkeys used to be the only way to get up and down the steep streets of Clovelly, a pretty fishing village in Devon, south-west England.
Today, they still have not managed to bring in cars, it is located at the bottom of a 400 foot cliff. Instead, goods are transported on male-powered sleds, and if tourists can’t walk back to the parking lot, they can take a ride in a Land Rover.
Dinkelsbühl is on Germany’s “romantic road”.
A beautiful old town, wooden houses and sturdy towers – Dinkelsbühl has it all. It sits on Germany’s “Romantic Road”, a route known for its dazzling cities.
Enveloped by medieval walls with a vast Gothic church, St George’s Minster, was the setting for Werner Herzog’s film “The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser”.
Korčula is located on a peninsula that hangs from the island of the same name.
When an island sitting peacefully in the Adriatic Sea is not enough, there is Korčula, which rises from the island of the same name on a small peninsula.
The locals say that the adventurer Marco Polo was born here; The Venetians dispute it. Either way, it is a world-class city, with gleaming white streets and buildings carved from local stone, water almost everywhere, and beautiful buildings left behind by the Venetians, who ruled here for centuries.
Kenmare is one of Ireland’s great food destinations.
Justin Hannaford / Alamy
In the extreme southwest of Ireland, the land meets the ocean in County Kerry. Kenmare hangs in the bay of the same name, where the Roughty River glides into the sea.
This is in the middle of some of Ireland’s most beloved areas – it’s on the Wild Atlantic Way, between the Ring of Kerry and the Ring of Beara. Kenmare is known for its food and views, with great mountains rising behind the pristine bay.
Piran makes the most of Slovenia’s Adriatic coastline.
Slovenia has only one strip of coastline, located at the top of the wedge-shaped Istrian peninsula, hanging out into the Adriatic Sea.
Reine is Norway at its finest.
You want: a cute Norwegian town, remote, small and by the water You need: Reine, the joy of the Lofoten Islands, whose beautiful red huts are located at the base of the rugged mountain peaks that make this a crossroads between the Dolomites and Ha. Long Bay.
This is one of the most spectacular places in the Lofoten archipelago, with an astonishing viewpoint of the islands and the village, Reinebringen, on the outskirts.
Regencos sits peacefully inland from the beaches of the Costa Brava.
When it comes to Spain’s tourist-packed shores, the Costa Brava in Catalonia is relatively quiet, but it doesn’t compare to the peace of Regencos, just 10 minutes inland. Just south of the “Dali Triangle”, the area where the surrealist artist lived and worked, is an area fringed by mountains of quiet medieval villages.
Slightly larger Regencos has remains of its medieval walls, a pretty church, and traditional stone houses that twist from the center.
Tarnów is a city, but it still has a small town feel to it.
First things first: this is a city. But stroll through the old town and you will find that it still has that small town feel, with pretty medieval buildings that give an idea of how close Krakow was before mass tourism arrived.
The Old Town Square is a glorious mix of architectural styles, there is a beautiful Gothic church and a lot of Jewish heritage, although the community was more or less wiped out during WWII.
Top image: Nauplia, Greece. Credit: Adobe Stock