Of the countless travellers visiting Europe, most are undoubtedly drawn to the grandeur and history of its great cities. These are iconic places that hold the secrets of our past; our successes and our failures as a civilization encapsulated by the great cities of former empires. For that, they will forever be luring travellers from across the globe.
Unfortunately, this means less inhabited yet stunning stretches of European coastline and countryside dotted with beautiful old villages do not make it onto the average itinerary. Though these places may have the opulence of Europe’s great cities, they have a local history, a sense of community and a natural beauty impossible to find in the more populated metropolis. Here are 20 of the best villages in Europe.
Dating back to 1338, Manarola is a small village on the Cinque Terre coastline in Northern Italy characterised by its brightly coloured buildings that lie on a cliff overlooking the Ligurian sea. Known mainly for its fishing and winemaking, tourism has only recently come to Manarola and has yet to impact the local culture. Here the traditions of Northern Italy still thrive making it one of the best villages to visit in Italy.
Located in the Lofoten archipelago within the Arctic Circle, Reine is surrounded by stunning natural beauty. The traditional fishing village has a population of just over 300 and is one of the most remote places you can visit in Europe. Despite this, thousands of travellers visit each year for a glimpse at this isolated yet magnificent place.
Český Krumlov, Czech Republic
Český Krumlov in the South Bohemian region of the Czech Republic is a UNESCO World Heritage site and home to the Český Krumlov castle. Named a national monument in 1982, the small town is one of the best places to get a look at Czech architecture and heritage. Český Krumlov also hosts a number of traditional and non-traditional festivals throughout the year and is a great place to visit during the summer.
The untouched medieval town centre and perfectly intact cultural monuments that lie within are the biggest draw cards for potential visitors to Bardejov. A World Heritage Site since 2000, the town was recognised for its protected core over 60 years ago. Since then, extensive restoration efforts towards the cultural heritage of the town were made and have resulted in Bardejov becoming a great tourist destination.
Perfectly situated on the Greek island of Santorini in the Aegean Sea, the whitewashed walls and ocean views in Oia will impress any traveller. Formerly home to a merchant fleet that provided great affluence to the region, Oia still bears the memory of those productive times in its beautiful architecture and the captains homes that lie in the highest part of town.
This list wouldn’t be complete without including one of the stunning villages that lie within the Cornwall Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and this time Portloe is that village. Known for its fantastic fishing, striking scenery and beautiful nature walks; Portloe is also a great place to learn about England’s long history with its Southern coastline.
Klaksvík, Faroe Islands
Klaksvík is the second largest town on the Faroe Islands located on one of its northernmost islands: Borðoy. These islands are globally renowned for the mountains and lakes that form a spectacular scene and Klaksvík shows off much of that natural beauty. The town is also home to Christianskirkjan, one of just a few churches in the world built in the Old Norse style.
The little-known village of Traunkirchen lies on Lake Traunsee in the state of Upper Austria, Austria. Surrounded by beautiful mountains and green forests that are reflected in the calm waters of the lake, Traunkirchen is a great place to experience outdoor activities like hiking, sailing, diving and water sports.
The picturesque village of Albarracín lies in the mountainous Sierra de Albarracín Comarca. Cushioned between stony hills and a rugged landscape the red roofs of Albarracín make a beautiful contrast to this harsh land. Ancient city walls surround the town and a walk around these walls will provide numerous photo opportunities.
Pučiśća is a small settlement on the island of Brac in Croatia and that has held onto its strong Mediterranean roots. The village lies in the centre of a fertile agricultural area where olives, figs and vines grow with little encouragement. Take a boat trip and discover areas of untouched coastline or head to the packed beaches for a bit of sunbathing.
Best known for producing one of the world’s most famous and delicious cheeses, Gruyères is also an exquisitely beautiful town in the middle of the Swiss Alps. Much of the medieval architecture of the town has been retained meaning there are a number of heritage-listed castles and churches. With snow-capped peaks providing the perfect backdrop, Gruyères is truly one of the best villages Europe has to offer.
Another Alpine town with amazing natural scenery is Bled, which is located next to the glacial Lake Bled in Northern Slovenia. During winter this lake turns to ice and fires glimmer in the windows of houses topped by snow whilst summer brings water sports and an overwhelmingly green landscape. The iconic Bled castle also overlooks this lake.
The small village of Freudenberg has a completely unique look that can be found in other places in Germany. The town centre is built completely of half-timber houses that give it a distinct 17th century appearance and when the snow falls the sight will last with you for a lifetime.
Beynac is famous for being home to one of the best-preserved castles in France, the Chateau de Beynac. The castle is perched on a limestone cliff that overlooks the town and the Dordogne River giving Beynac a lovely Renaissance appearance.
The small village of Undredal is a popular tourist destination in the beautiful river region commonly known as Norway’s “fjord-country”. With a population of approximately 100 people with over 500 goats to accompany them, it’s no surprise Undredal is famous for goat’s cheese that is still produced the traditional way. If the cheese isn’t to your taste, no doubt the scenery will be as Undredal lies in one of Norway’s most lush regions.
About 90km South-East of Brussels lies Dinant, a town with a history as rich as the land it lies on. The name Dinant came from the Celtic Divo-Nanto meaning “Divine Valley”. When one looks across the river and valley to the gorgeous old citadel and town around it it’s easy to see where the name came from.
With a population of just over 5000 the capital of Lichtenstein, Vaduz, is the only capital city on this list and that alone makes it worth a visit. Located in the traditional Roman Catholic state of Liechtenstein, the biggest attraction here is Vaduz castle, home to the reigning Prince and his family. A walk around town reveals magnificent Roman churches and citadels or venture a bit further out into the magical countryside.
Once a film set for the 1980 musical production of ‘Popeye’, the village of Popeye in Malta has grown into a great tourist destination. Though a village by name Popeye now operates as an entertainment complex and open-air museum that provides a great day out for the family. A small group of ramshackle yet colourful buildings against a cliff –face fronts onto gorgeous azure waters to give the place a genuinely rustic look.
If you want to rub shoulders with celebrities and the elite look no further than Portofino on the Italian Riviera. Long known as a humble fishing village Portofino has now exploded into popularity and operates predominantly as an upmarket resort. Take a boat up the coastline to get a look at secluded inlets and famous beaches like Paraggi, Camogli and Lavagna.
Gstaad is a small village in the Berner Oberland of Switzerland that just happens to have one of the largest ski areas in the Swiss Alps. A major ski resort for high society and the international jet set the middle of the village is also home to restaurants, art galleries and churches. If sight-seeing or hitting the slopes isn’t your fancy, then hit the promenade for designer labels like Louis Vuitton, Hermes, Prada and Ralph Lauren.