When deciding on which European city to visit, most travellers will flee to Paris, Rome or Barcelona—but some of the continent’s most fascinating travel destinations are little-known towns and villages off the beaten path. From quaint sleepy towns in the French countryside to bustling German villages serving authentic German beer, we’ve rounded up 6 lesser known towns that offer travellers a taste of life in the furthest corners of Europe.
Tucked between the surrounding hills, this sleepy medieval town was the birthplace of patron Saint Francis. The impressive Basilica di San Francesco in his name stands at the centre of town, surrounded by quaint stone buildings, equally marvellous and humble. Since St Francis’ death in 1225, Assisi has become a popular spot for pilgrims wanting to visit the saint’s hometown. While you may stop to visit the church, it’s well worth a stroll around the town. Walk along the Piazza del Comune and admire the first century architecture of Tempio di Minerva. Assisi is best experienced at a slower pace, take your time strolling the narrow cobbled streets. Enjoy the splashing fountains in the sunny piazzas with the basilica’s church bells clanging in the distance.
This charming little town could be straight out of a fairytale—you can almost expect to see Belle from Beauty and the Beast emerging from her provincial house by the prairie. Mostly spared from the wreckage of the World Wars and the French Revolution, many of its 13th century buildings still remain and are best explored on foot. Like taking a step back in time, the architecture reflects the German influence with its raised half-timbered houses. Venture into Little Venice where you can explore the quaint cobbled streets lined with colourful houses and enjoy a meal at one of the delightful canal-side restaurants. A small boat can take you down the canal to enjoy the sights, sounds, smells and overall ambience of this cosy little village. The town is home to a few museums that detail its rich history, but most impressive perhaps is the architecture, from the Old Custom House to the 14th century Maison Adolph, the oldest private house. Colmar gives you an authentic taste of life in the French countryside, with very few tourists throughout the year.
With its picturesque scenes, cobbled lanes, colourful doorways and medieval architecture, you may find it hard to put down your camera as you stroll the streets of Obidos. It’s definitely a photographer’s paradise! Exuding charm from every corner, between the alleys and through the courtyards this walled city is home to four churches including St John the Baptist Church, a 14th century church that still stands today. To get a good view over town, take the walk around the city along the wall that surrounds it. Take the time to see the Castelo de Óbidos which once served as a Royal Palace, but is now Portugal’s first inn. You can explore the castle grounds and learn more about its history. If you have a sweet tooth, be sure to try some of the delicious treats that Portugal is famous for, like custard tarts, bola de Berlim and sweet rice pudding. Yum!
You might not immediately think of Estonia when planning your European holiday, but this country has plenty to offer travellers looking for something a little special. Tucked away in northeast Europe, Estonia has a rich history and culture, which it has held onto over centuries. This appreciation of tradition is evident in its glorious architecture. One of the main points of interest in the old town of Tallinn is the Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. This impressive church was built when Tallinn was part of the Russian Empire, at the end of the 19th century.
In the city centre, you’ll find the Town Hall, the oldest Gothic hall in Northern Europe. Surrounded by pastel houses, the town square (called Raekoja Plats) is the centre of Tallinn where people can drink, dine and enjoy events throughout the year, from the Christmas Markets, to the Old Town Days festival during spring.
Lithuania itself may not be a tourist hot spot, and this makes it perfect for travellers looking for a unique but affordable travel destination. Its capital city, Vilnius has a lot to offer lucky visitors. Explore Vilnius’ charming UNESCO World Heritage Old Town, its winding streets, picturesque courtyards and impressive baroque and gothic architecture. If you are energetic enough to climb the Gediminas Hill, you’ll be treated to sweeping views of the city (you can also take the funicular to the top). It’s best to go in the evening so you can enjoy the magnificent sunset over the city. There are also a number of cafes dotting the town where you can relax and soak in the atmosphere.
This town usually flies under the radars of most travellers, which makes it the perfect adventure off the beaten track. Not quite cut off from the real world, Bamberg is a university town and a centre for arts and culture. The student population adds noticeable energy, creating a fun, youthful vibe. Be sure to visit the picturesque Old Town, which features a range of impressive medieval buildings. You’ll quickly become enchanted with Bamberg’s architectural masterpieces and charming old world aura. After all that walking, you’ll need to rest your legs—stop by a pub to try an authentic German beer, brewed to absolute perfection.
Remember, novelty is the essence of travel, so if you’re heading to Europe this year why not add one of these gems to your list? You never know, you may end up falling in love with a town that none of your friends have even heard of!