Step out of the urban city centers of Europe and escape the crowds. In every country you will be rewarded with villages and hamlets in places where, as cliche as it may seem, time really does seem to stand still.
Here are some of the best small towns and villages to visit on your next grand European journey:
See it road-tripping Germany’s Romantische Strasse.
It is almost unfair to pick one of the medieval villages along Germany’s Romantische Strasse, or Romantic Road, which winds through the storied Black Forest, but nothing is maybe as romantic as walking the cobblestone streets of Rothenburg ob der Tauber at dusk in the warm glow of the evening lights, laughter echoing out into the night from friends cheering in a local tavern.
After the last tour buses leave for the evening, the fairytale charm of Rothenburg truly comes alive. Take the Nightwatchman Tour, where you stroll with the nightwatchman on patrol as in times of yore. Take this moment to feel transported and try to catch the sunset from Criminal’s Tower on the westside of the city.
See it on a hike through England’s Lake District.
Among the most beautiful areas in all of Europe, England’s Lake District is a nature-lover’s paradise of twisting country lanes, incomparable hikes, and staggering vistas. Well known to the English and countless visitors for generations, it has been home to many great artists, who’ve captured its landscape in poetry, prose, and painting, finding inspiration in its always changing weather and light.
The word quaint does not begin to describe Grasmere, William Wordsworth’s former home in the Lake District. Perhaps that’s why he turned to poetry. You will be forgiven if you start speaking in sonnets.
See it on a day trip from Vilnius.
All it takes is a short 30-minute bus ride from Vilnius to be plunged into the colorful village life of Lithuania in Trakai.
While here, make sure to visit the castle on the lake, historic Trakai Castle, which is about as romantic as it sounds: the restored 14th-century castle was once the home of the Dukes of Lithuania and is situated on a picture-perfect lake. Any time of year, this is a treat, whether in the ice and snow or beneath sunny summer skies.
See it when you visit Tuscany and Umbria.
It is truly hard to pick just one Italian village on your trip to Italy. Though you could pick any of the five villages of Cinque Terre or pretty much anywhere in Tuscany, the pristine Umbrian village of Todi has a special charm to it because it is much less touched by tourism.
Remnants of ancient Etruscan, Roman, and medieval walls surround Todi, with one of the best-preserved historic centers in the region, and the narrow streets leading off the main square are an invitation for travelers to enter old shops that look out onto the surrounding countryside.
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See it road-tripping Iceland’s Ring Road.
An intriguing stop on your Iceland trip, the charming Icelandic village of Fáskrúðsfjörður is one of the most unique in the country for its historical connections to French fishermen.
Nestled on a long fjord of the same name, this small village of fewer than 500 people is the most “French” part of Iceland: The village was originally a base for more than 5,000 French fishermen who came every year to fish, and some settled here in the late 19th century. The history remains in some of the architecture and in the streets themselves, marked in both Icelandic and French.
See it island-hopping The Greek Islands.
The former capital of Santorini, whitewashed Pyrgos is probably the best-preserved medieval settlement on the island—and one of its prettiest villages.
Catch the sunset from the top of the village at Kastelli of Pyrgos Kallistis. The best preserved of the five Venetian castles dotting Santorini, this castle was built in the 13th century. On your visit, keep your eye out for the so-called “murder hole” (fonissa in Greek) above the door, where boiling water or oil was poured over the heads of would-be intruders.
See it on The Bergen Line, a scenic railway journey.
The Norwegian village of Flåm sits at the end of the Aurlandsfjord, an unforgettable Nordic fantasia carved into the Nordic countryside.
Ride the Flåm Railway, a one-hour train trip that serves up natural beauty and engineering marvels, or take a fjord cruise to see this majestic town and surrounding countryside from the water.