Great Small Towns in Europe

Great Small Towns in Europe

When traveling to Europe, the big cities get the hype:  Famous landmarks, world-class museums, and iconic sites.  But the charm and culture of Europe lies in its small towns.  In this article we share some of our favorite small towns near bigger European cities, so easy to do a day trip to or even to stay while.

Ireland

No trip to Ireland is complete without visits to the countryside and its small towns and villages.  These towns make a great base on an Ireland road trip, connecting the east and west coasts.  In these small towns, stop into a pub for a pint of Guinness and live music while reveling in the local culture.

Kilkenny

Kilkenny makes a great base on the way from Dublin to places on the west coast of Ireland, such as the Dingle Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry.  We stayed here for one night and really enjoyed exploring this town.  Kilkenny Castle is a must see and the shops in Kilkenny town are wonderful to explore. 

Lovely Kilkenny | Ireland

Kilkenny Castle | Ireland

OUR RECOMMENDATION:  Drive from Dublin to Kilkenny and spend one night here.  On arrival day, explore Kilkenny Castle and the shops.  The next day head straight to the Rock of Cashel, which is about one hour away.

Castlemaine

Castlemaine is where we based for a couple nights to visit the Dingle Peninsula.  We rented a cozy cottage, with incredible views of the McGillycuddy Reeks in the distance.  Sheep and donkeys also visited us daily.  It was Irish country living at its finest!

Daily donkey visits at our country cottage | Ireland

Driving the Dingle Peninsula is a must when visiting western Ireland.  It has similar sites as the popular and larger Ring of Kerry, but without the big crowds.  Here, we stopped at Inch Beach, visited a sheep farm, explored ancient Beehive Huts, and dined in Dingle Town. 

Surfers at Inch Beach | Ireland

Petting sheep at the sheep farm | Ireland

The Dingle Peninsula | Ireland

The far west of the Dingle Peninsula is a Gaeltacht region, meaning the Irish government works to keep the Gaelic culture and language alive.  It does so by recognizing Irish Gaelic as the first language, with English second.  This was a treat to hear Gaelic spoken and witness this culture first hand as this part of Ireland really felt tied to its Gaelic roots.

The far west of Ireland, the Gaeltacht Region | Ireland

OUR RECOMMENDATION:  Spend a few days in the area, using this as a base for visiting the Dingle Peninsula.  Relish the Irish countryside, which is full of the culture you came to see.  

Bunratty

Located in western Ireland, Bunratty is just about one hour from the famous Cliffs of Moher.  The scenery here is jaw dropping with 700 foot cliffs dramatically rising from the ocean below.

The Cliffs of Moher | Ireland

Bunratty is also home to Bunratty Castle & Folk Park, which is an amazing place to explore.  Bunratty Castle also hosts a medieval banquet, so check the website for reservations – how fun!

Medieval Bunratty Castle | Ireland

On the drive from Castlemaine to Bunratty, you’ll drive through Adare, known for its thatched roof cottages.  It is busy here but if you can find a place to park consider dining at the popular Blue Door Restaurant.

OUR RECOMMENDATION:  Bunratty makes a great base for visiting the Cliffs of Moher and Bunratty Castle & Folk Park.  Located about an hour away, settle in to your lodging and plan on an afternoon visit to the Cliffs of Moher, one of the most stunning places in Ireland.  The next morning, visit Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. 

Italy

Italy’s small towns are worth as much time as you can give them.  Small villages dot the landscape and each one holds a plethora of charm and beauty.  It’s hard to narrow down which ones to visit because they are all so spectacular.  We share where we have visited and what we loved about each place.

Lucca

Lucca is a great place to base when visiting Tuscany and has quite a bit of history of its own.  With a medieval center within high city walls you can find plenty to do to keep busy here.  You can also walk or bike the city walls, which is a lot of fun!

Exploring Lucca | Italy

Walking or biking the wall is a fun activity in Lucca | Italy

OUR RECOMMENDATION:   Use Lucca as a base for visiting Tuscany.  Lucca is located about 30 minutes from Pisa to the west and one hour from Florence to the east.  This way, you get to explore these larger cities while coming back to the peaceful smaller town at the end of the day.

Our little Italian cottage | Italy

San Gimignano

San Giminignano was our favorite small Italian town as it really is the epitome of a quintessential Italian village.  The medieval village is a dream to explore!

The medieval village of San Gimignano | Italy

Our favorite day in Italy was when we spent the day in San Gimignano.  We were with my sister’s family, my mom, as well as friends, so we were a big group.  We stopped at a little restaurant for lunch and the owner was thrilled we were there!  He wasted no time setting up a table big enough for all of us right outside the restaurant.  We had the best, freshly made meal in a little cobblestoned lane in this picturesque Italian village.  This is what vacation dreams are made of!

OUR RECOMMENDATION:  We visited San Gimignano while based in Lucca.  It worked best for us to stay in one place while taking day trips to Florence, Pisa, and then San Gimignano.  Family stayed in nearby San Gusme, which is another great option, especially if wanting to visit nearby Siena.  Definitely plan to have no plans here.  Wander the little lanes, take photos of the Tuscan countryside, and enjoy a convivial lunch at a local restaurant like we did!  

Norway

Balestrand

I highly recommend a stayover in Balestrand while doing Norway in a Nutshell.  For more information on how to do Norway in a Nutshell and what it entails, check out our post on Ten Days in Scandinavia:  Denmark, Sweden, and Norway.

Balestrand is a small village in fjord country that is absolutely worth time spent here.  While here, we hiked, swam, and watched little town life go by.  The backdrop to this town is picture postcard perfect. 

Beautiful Balestrand | Norway

Getting to experience a few days of fjord village life was the highlight of our trip to Norway.

OUR RECOMMENDATION:   Take the Norled boat from Flåm to Balestrand, which you can do if doing the Norway in a Nutshell.  Flåm is one of the stops on Norway in a Nutshell so easy to head out to Balestrand for a few days.  Balestrand has a couple of hotels, although we rented an Airbnb and enjoyed living like a local in the heart of fjord country during our time there.  

Our rental with views from the window | Norway

England

Windsor 

Windsor, home to Windsor Castle, isn’t a small village, but rather a small town compared to London and it absolutely warrants a visit.  Besides Windsor Castle, you can spend your days visiting LegoLand, taking a cruise on the River Thames, walking the footbridge to Eton, or strolling the pedestrian Peascod Street.   We have based here on our visits to London and absolutely relish coming back to the quiet of Windsor after a day of busy sightseeing in London. 

Our favorite small town, Windsor | England

For a full article on what to do in Windsor, check out Great Things to do in Windsor, England.

OUR RECOMMENDATION:  We have always stayed in Windsor during our visits to London and love it here.  Coming back to the peaceful town is a respite after busy days of sightseeing in London.  You have your pick from hotels or a plethora of Airbnbs.  On our last visit, we stayed in a flat with views of Windsor Castle from our balcony! 

View of Windsor Castle from our balcony | England

Taking the train into London is very easy.  From Windsor Station, it is a quick train ride to Slough where you transfer to the Underground into London Paddington Station.  From here, you can venture anywhere in London!

Spain

Nerja

Spain, like Italy, has many wonderful small towns dotting its landscape, with many in close proximity to larger cities.  We based in Nerja, on Spain’s Costa del Sol.  

Lovely Nerja | Spain

Nerja has it all:  the sea, mountains, and a lively old town.  While based in Nerja, we visited the nearby cities of Malaga and Grenada, and even took a day trip to England’s sunny outpost in Spain,  Gibraltar.  We fell in love with the charms of Nerja and cannot wait to return in the near future!

OUR RECOMMENDATION:  Fly in and out of Malaga when visiting the Costa Del Sol.  Nerja is located about 45 minutes to the east of Malaga, an easy drive.  There are a couple options for hotels here, but we recommend staying in an Airbnb.  There are many rental options and you can then live like a local while here.  

Frigiliana

Frigiliana is such a dreamy village.  In fact, it’s known to be Spain’s Prettiest White Village, having been awarded this title several times.  We were just a few miles away while staying in Nerja on Spain’s Costa Del Sol.  

Spain’s prettiest white village | Spain

Frigiliana is the quintessential Spanish white village perched in the hills.  We enjoyed just meandering this labyrinth of buildings and traipsing its cobblestoned lanes. 

Getting lost in Frigiliana is wonderful! | Spain

We had an incredible lunch with a lively owner.  Connecting with locals in small villages is always the best part of traveling.  We loved Frigiliana so much that we wrote an entire article on our visit, One Dreamy Day in Spain’s Prettiest White Village.

What are your favorite small European towns?  Let us know in the comments!

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