When planning a vacation to Europe, some of the first destinations that come to mind will be the teeming cities of Paris, London or Rome.
Each of these metropolises is incredible, but they are far from all that Europe has to offer.
By exploring some of the small towns across the continent, it is possible to see a more authentic, traditional side to Europe.
Here’s a look at the most beautiful medieval towns of Europe:
Number 25. Girona
This elegant, provincial capital features a beautiful walled medieval quarter, with narrow cobbled alleyways, balconied houses and shady little squares.
Clinging to the banks of the river Onyar, as it meanders through the centre of town, is a long row of picturesque pastel-hued houses.
The Roman wall built in the first century BC was rebuilt in the mid-1300s on the foundation of the original structure.
Visitors can still climb the old towers. The Cathedral and the 14th century Gothic church also provide historical interest as does the old Jewish Quarter.
Number 24. Mostar
Mostar, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, is famous for its Old Bridge over the Neretva River; in fact, the name Mostar derives from mostari, meaning ‘bridge keeper.’
The bridge was built in 1556 under the orders of the occupying Ottomans, but was destroyed 427 years later in 1993 by Croatian forces during the Balkan Wars.
Though it’s easily reachable on a day trip from neighboring Croatia, to get the most out of your visit to Mostar, the best thing to do is stay overnight.
The crowds of daytrippers trickle away, and the restaurants high above the river along cobbled streets light up.
Number 23. Delft
A popular day trip destination from Amsterdam, it is easy to see what makes Delft such an attractive option. With its lovely medieval center and picturesque canals crossed by brick bridges and lined with trees, the city is quaint and peaceful.
Its most famous son, the painter Johannes Vermeer, is just one of many who has sung its praises over the ages. Famous for the distinctive blue and white tiles and ceramics that are produced here, visiting the Delftware factories is popular among tourists.
But, despite its wealth of beautiful old buildings, it is the atmosphere rather than any particular attraction that makes it worth visiting.
Number 22. Brasov
With the Carpathian Mountains hemming it in on all sides, Brasov’s beautiful setting is complemented perfectly by its charming medieval center.
It is not without reason that this is one of the most popular destinations in Romania.
Wandering around the fairytale-esque Old Town is a lovely way to spend the day, as you pass fabulous baroque buildings, Gothic churches, and medieval watchtowers.
The main square has loads of cafes and restaurants if you simply want to grab a coffee and watch the world go by.
Number 21. Assisi
A trip from Rome to the lovely hill region of Umbria will bring you to the medieval town of Assisi where you can explore significant religious sites, Roman ruins and artistic beauty.
The town’s main attraction is the Basilica of St. Francis, the eternal resting place of Italy’s patron saint. Most of the cobblestone streets in town lead to this beautiful cathedral where you can admire its exquisite architecture and interior ceilings that are embellished with stunning frescoes.
Surrounding the basilica, you will discover medieval houses and shops that are well worth a look.
Number 20. Bern
Bern is a picturesque medieval city with a history that dates back to the 12th century, though it did not become a part of the Swiss Confederacy until the 16th century. Its most famous attraction is an ancient clock tower with moving puppets, that once served as the western gate of the city.
Other popular sites in Bern include the Munster, a Gothic cathedral that rises from the old town, and its town hall. The bear is the symbol of Bern, with several being kept in an open-air pit.
Shoppers will appreciate the old town that boasts four miles of arcades, making it one of the longest covered shopping areas in Europe.
Number 19. Eze
Èze is a fortified medieval village that sits 1400 feet above sea level, overlooking the beautiful Mediterranean Sea. With its lovely villas covered in bougainvillea and cobblestone streets, Eze is a charming and very photogenic town.
Getting to the top of the village with its narrow cobblestone streets is a bit of a climb, but well worth the effort. When you reach the top, you’ll be rewarded with a pretty cactus garden and stunning views of the Mediterranean.
Take time to visit the old church with its Egyptian cross, said to be a reminder of the Phoenician temple that once stood there.
Number 18. Tallinn
The capital of Estonia, Tallinn entices. With its 14-century old town, built as a defense system, when you walk through the impressive medieval Viru Gates, you can feel the history right away.
Parts of Tallinn’s city wall are still walkable, complete with windows where you can glimpse the charming city below.
There are also historic churches such as Saint Olaf’s Church, dating back to the 1200s. Tallinn has a hipster side too, which can be found at a reclaimed factory area where former warehouses now contain trendy restaurants, bars, and shops.
Number 17. Heidelberg
With historic treasures like the medieval Old Bridge, the Heidelberg Castle, the Church of the Holy Spirit and the Knight St. George House, it is no wonder that Heidelberg is a popular tourist attraction.
The city center’s main street is packed with pubs, restaurants, museums, art galleries, shops and markets selling the likes of beer steins, cuckoo clocks and German sausages.
Home to Germany’s oldest university, Heidelberg’s long academic history can be retraced along the Philosopher’s Walk, a scenic footpath often walked by many earlier philosophers and professors.
Number 16. Cesky Krumlov
In the South Bohemia region in the Czech Republic lies Cesky Krumlov.
This historic city is a supremely picturesque place to visit; think orange-tiled rooftops and the pretty riverside of the Vltava River, all flanked by green, rolling hills.
Made up of Renaissance and Baroque architecture, the town is overlooked by an impressive 13th-century castle. It’s a town that should not be missed because of its sheer charm and beauty.
Come in summer and stay till the sun goes down to watch the energetic city come alive with bars and restaurants.
Number 15. Rovinj
On the west coast of the Istrian peninsula juts Rovinj into the Adriatic Sea. More than 15,000 residents cram into this tiny town wedged into the edge of the peninsula.
Unlike many other ancient Croatian cities, Rovinj has no fortified walls; the outer ring houses feature front doors that open right up to the sea. A popular tourist destination, the old town is sprinkled with four-star hotels and restaurants where you’ll find great sea food.
Rovinj is still an authentic fishing port. Take a boat trip to the nearby Rovinj archipelago to escape the crowds for a day.
Number 14. York
The city of York is a truly ancient destination, and it boasts an impressive collection of architectural remains that date to Roman, medieval and even viking times.
Plenty of exciting sights compete for visitors’ attention as they stroll along the city’s cobblestone streets. One of the city’s landmarks is York Minster. This commanding stone cathedral is filled with remarkable works of art.
The medieval Clifford’s Tower, which was built by William the Conqueror and rebuilt by Henry III in the 13th century, is a great vantage point for panoramic views around the city.
Number 13. Carcassonne
Cite de Carcassonne is an historic fortified city in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. The city dates back about 2,500 years and became part of France in the mid-13th century. At one time it was the center of the French woolen textile industry.
A 19th-century restoration project of the Cité turned Carcassonne into the popular tourist destination it is today.
Number 12. Ronda
Located in and around a deep gorge, Ronda is one of the oldest cities in Spain. It’s nearly impregnable position made it a stronghold against Catholic troops in the 1400s.
Completed in 1793, the Puente Nuevo bridge spanning the 30 story high gorge is one of the city’s most impressive features.
The city’s architecture received its influence from the Romans and Moors who once ruled the area. The bridges spanning the gorge and the river are a big part of the town.
While there are three distinct bridges, the most interesting is the Puente Nuevo, or new bridge, which is made from stone and even features a small museum.
Number 11. Colmar
Situated in the Alsace region, Colmar´s proximity to Germany has meant that it has changed hands numerous times between the two nations over the course of its history.
Tourists flock to the city for its stunning old town that so perfectly combines weaving cobblestone alleys with delightful canals, and the distinctive houses that line its streets. Churches and museums are dotted around the place, and the Isenheim Altarpiece is particularly impressive to behold. As it is in the wine region, take the time to sample some of the best wines that Colmar has to offer.
Number 10. Obidos
Located on a hilltop in western Portugal, Obidos is encircled by an old fortified wall. Besides the wall, the magnificent medieval castle and historic center of Obidos make up the city’s main attraction and can easily be walked.
A labyrinth of narrow, cobbled streets leads visitors along busy squares, inviting cafes, quaint shops and whitewashed houses spruced with colorful flowers.
The castle with its commanding edifice, huge gates, towers and battlements, is now a luxurious hotel but a marvel to behold nevertheless.
Number 9. Dubrovnik
Set in the south of Croatia on the Adriatic Sea, Dubrovnik is famous for its old town. This walled, medieval part of town was shelled in 1991 during the Balkan Wars, but has been restored to its former glory.
Take a walk along the old city walls and be beguiled by the Baroque buildings or enjoy a lazy afternoon at streetside restaurants soaking up the splendor of the city.
The Old Town has also gained popularity for being the filming location of Game of Thrones and Star Wars, which just goes to show what an iconic place the old, walled city is.
Number 8. Hallstatt
One of Austria’s most beautiful destinations is Hallstatt, located on the banks of the Hallstätter See, or Lake Hallstatt. For thousands of years, people have been drawn to Hallstatt because of its salt mines.
Today, however, a major reason to visit is for the scenery.
Mountains jut up directly behind the placid mountain lake, and you can find everything from caves to waterfalls just a short walk from the picturesque, historic city center of Hallstatt.
Number 7. San Gimignano
Only an hour by car or bus from Florence is San Gimignano delle Belle Torri, a small medieval town dating back to the eighth century.
It is perhaps the most famous of the country’s small towns.
San Gimignano boasts 14 medieval towers of the 72 that once existed and overlooks picturesque olive groves and vineyards. Travelers who want to know what Tuscany was like in medieval times must visit San Gimignano and stroll along the narrow cobblestone streets.
The towers represent the historical practice of rich families competing for status by constructing tall towers.
Number 6. Bruges
Picture perfect, Bruges’ medieval streets are dreamy to explore. Its delightful cobbled streets give way to cafe-lined squares and meandering canals, as ancient church spires tower over everything.
One of the most scenic places in Europe, it is nicknamed ‘the Venice of the North,’ and is the most popular cities to visit in Belgium. While it is undoubtedly lovely, it can get over-crowded with tourists, so it is best to try and visit midweek if possible.
Wandering around this charming city, you’ll find atmospheric bars and cafes hidden away amongst its alleys – perfect for sampling some of Belgium’s fantastic beers.
Number 5. Rothenburg
The walled city of Rothenburg sits on a plateau overlooking the Tauber river in Bavaria. Straight from the pages of a fairy tale, the town is famous for its extremely well preserved medieval center.
Be sure to visit the Town Hall, the seat of city government since medieval times. Climb the steps of the 13th-century hall’s tower for stunning views of the city.
Rothenburg is also famous for the stores that carry Christmas items all year round and for having an outstanding Christmas market each December.
Number 4. Mont Saint Michel
This famous fortified island is located around a kilometer off the northwestern shores of Normandy in France.
Walking around Mont-St-Michel might feel as if you have been transported back to another time; the monastery here dates back to the 8th century and is still in use today. The old walls and chapels are intriguing places to explore.
At high tide, waters make the island seem as if it is a floating fortress in the sea. Previously only reachable by foot or car during low tide, the island can be reached at any time on foot along a bridge built in 2014.
Number 3. Kotor
Considered one of the best preserved medieval towns on the Adriatic coast, the fortified town of Kotor is tucked against the steep mountains surrounding the deep channels of the Bay of Kotor.
While Kotor’s architecture reflects the various empires that ruled over the region, it is best known for its Venetian-flavored Old Town, which is dominated by the 12th-century Cathedral of Saint Tryphon.
The cathedral’s carved stone altar is an exquisite example of the stonemasonry skills Kotor was known for in the Middle Ages.
Treks up the upper town walls to Kotor’s hilltop fortress reward hardy hikers with breathtaking views of the city and deep-water bay.
Number 2. Toledo
Perched on a mountaintop in central Spain, Toledo served as the Spanish capital until the 16th century. Because it was inhabited by Jews, Christians and Muslims for many centuries, the city is sometimes called the “City of Three Cultures.
” Today, Toledo is a popular destination for its wealth of historic art and architecture that dates back to the Roman Empire.
The best thing to do in Toledo is to get lost amid the medieval streets and admire the old architecture that includes a stunning cathedral, synagogue and mosque.
Number 1. Siena
Established upon three hills in the heart of Tuscany, Siena offers tourists a step back into the Middle Ages with its well-preserved historic center and medieval horse racing tradition.
The historic center of Siena is one of the most popular places to visit in Tuscany as it still retains many of its stunning works of art and architecture from that time period.
Siena’s Piazza del Campo is regarded as one of the finest Medieval squares in Europe. This fan-shaped plaza is noted for its architectural treasures such as the Fountain of Joy, the Palazzio Pubblico and the Mangia Tower.
Another of Siena’s architectural gems is its Duomo, a stunning black and white cathedral of Italian Romanesque design..