One of the best things about Europe for foreigners is that even the most random towns can be charming. Places don’t have to be well-known or on the tourist grid for them to have the cutest cafes, the nicest cobblestone streets or the warmest pubs. Who knows though, maybe us Americans are just easily impressed.
Surprisingly, I’ve often been more awestruck by the places which I never knew existed than the ones I dreamt about all through middle school.
Here are some the best small towns in Europe which I visited this past year.
A small, cobblestone covered university town about 2 hours north-west of Madrid, Salamanca doesn’t often get added to the whirlwind Spain itineraries. If you have the time though, don’t forgo a couple of days in the city. The tapas are divine (and free), the historic city center is gorgeous and the nightlife is popping. If you stay at the humble Pension Los Angeles, you might just get lucky like I did and receive a balcony room right inside stunning Plaza Mayor. Still in your late-teens or early twenties? Don’t miss cheap shots at La Chupiteria. If you’re a little older, like me, there are still plenty of more mature spots to party the night away.
The ghost nerd inside of me couldn’t get enough of York. This ancient city in Northern England is chock-full of morbid history, ghost walks and cozy pubs. Make sure to walk down the famous Shambles street and look up at the over-hanging timber-framed buildings. It’s easily explored during a day trip, but if you’re like me you’ll want more time there. It is picture perfect in every way, especially on a sunny day (but I wouldn’t count on one).
On a beautiful riverfront lined by a colorful clutter of buildings, Porto makes for the perfect getaway. The views of the city are best appreciated from above, but getting within the tiny, old riverfront homes makes for a picturesque wander too. You can’t forget about the indulgent food and gorgeous wineries in Porto either. Even if you think you don’t like Port wine, give it another try and let some of the regional varieties change your mind. Once you are done appreciating all the old-world charm Porto has to offer in the city center, head to the nearby beach.
Burgos isn’t only special because of its location on the Camino de Santiago, it is also cute, colorful and walk-able. Not to mention, the Gothic Cathedral is stunning and the food is some of the best in Spain– a better reason than any. Although it might seem scary, trying the ‘morcilla’ (blood sausage) is a must. The texture isn’t what you think either. It’s fried up to add a little crispy crunch.
Don’t let the small town vibe fool you either, Burgos has some surprising nightlife! It’s been tried and tested by yours truly.
A short drive from Leeds, the Yorkshire Dales National Park is a dream to rent a car and drive through. The green rolling hills make this English countryside at its finest, but don’t forget to pay attention to the wheel. The old stone walls lining the road make for a narrow path. The English like to take the turns fast, so be ready for a adrenaline rush around every corner. (At least, it was for me. I was terrified!) Make sure to stop for lunch at one of the many beautiful villages to relax and enjoy a steak & ale pie with a pint.
Although many of Europe’s best small towns may not have highly trafficked airports or the bigger budget airlines, try out Thomas Cook Flights. They offer many routes to smaller towns all around the UK and Europe at budget prices.
If you still can’t find a way to fly nearby, take it as an opportunity to rent a car and drive. As long as you can handle a manual vehicle, it’s an inexpensive way to get around and see the countryside at the same time.