25 Under-the-radar European Villages to Visit

·11 min read
Panoramic view of Hall in Tirol Austria
Panoramic view of Hall in Tirol Austria

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While the sprawling capitals of London, Paris, and Rome are well worth a visit, the small towns dotting Europe's coastlines, countrysides, and mountain ranges offer all the beauty and culture with a local feel.  For every bustling city, there are dozens of charming, hidden European villages, packed with family-run cafes, intimate hotels, and authentic experiences — you just have to know where to look. Start here, with our list of 25 European villages and towns to visit on your next big adventure — they make perfect day trips, overnight stays, or weeklong escapes. While you might recognize some of these destinations, many are hidden gems that offer under-the-radar experiences loved by locals.

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Giornico, Switzerland

mountain town on the river in Giornico, Switzerland
mountain town on the river in Giornico, Switzerland

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The charm of Ticino, the Italian-speaking canton of southern Switzerland, is the not-quite-here, not-quite-there, lost-in-time feel of the place. To fully appreciate it, drive north 35 miles from the popular lake resort towns of Ascona and Locarno and find the turnoff for Giornico, a stone relic of 14th-century Europe hiding off the main road. Descend into the valley and arrive at a trickling little river crossed by two arching stone bridges. The family-run restaurants of the region are called grotte, and they serve dishes like spezzatino (meat ragoût) with polenta and local Merlot.

Kotor, Montenegro

over looking the harbor and mountains Kotor, Montenegro
over looking the harbor and mountains Kotor, Montenegro

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Kotor, located on the Adriatic coast of Montenegro, has become an increasingly popular destination among travelers searching for a beautiful European riviera without the crowds typically found in France or Italy. The well-preserved old town packed with charming red-roofed buildings set against green hills and blue waters make this a stunning stop on the Dalmatian Coast.

Bolgheri, Italy

Road To Bolgheri - Bolgheri, Italy
Road To Bolgheri - Bolgheri, Italy

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The Viale dei Cipressi, a three-mile road flanked by over 2,500 cypress trees (the only vegetation local buffalo don't eat), leads straight into Bolgheri, which is set amid the vineyards of southern Tuscany's Maremma. There's more to this village than just the dramatic arrival, however. Stop in at Caffé della Posta, on the main square, to try one of Bolgheri's reds: first produced in the 1980's, these wines now rival French Bordeaux.

Related: 12 of the Best Small Towns in Italy

Staufen im Breisgau, Germany

A general view of the village Staufen im Breisgau
A general view of the village Staufen im Breisgau

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This enclave on the edge of the Black Forest in southern Germany is the ideal destination for a wine weekend. From Strasbourg, you'll pass hills covered with terraced vineyards; the statue of a fat, naked Bacchus signals that you've arrived at the tiny downtown. Main Street's pastel houses lead to the market place, which is crowned by the Town Hall, with a gothic inscription relating local history back to 770 on the façade. Join the locals at the outdoor wine bar, though a word to overindulgers: legend has it that any reveler who falls into one of the (sparkling-clean) irrigation ditches that run through town is destined to marry a local.

Lavenham, England

small European town in Lavenham, England
small European town in Lavenham, England

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Lavenham, in Suffolk, may just be the prettiest town in England. It boasts more than 350 heritage houses and its high street is lined with the kind of bric-a-brac shops and teahouses (serving scones and clotted cream) that are on the endangered list throughout rural England — and all but extinct in glossier reaches, such as the Cotswolds and West Dorset.

Aberdour, Scotland

castle in Aberdour, Scotland
castle in Aberdour, Scotland

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The train from Edinburgh stops at a Victorian station next to a riot of neatly planted flowers in a hidden glen in the shadow of a medieval castle. Aberdour is not car-friendly, but why should it be when anything you would want to see is in town and connected by well-kept walkways? In August, this hamlet serves as a tranquil base for visiting the Edinburgh International Festival, but for the rest of the year, it is a working village with a general store, cozy pubs, and even a shop dedicated to Wiccan supplies.

Norcia, Italy

small european town Norcia, Italy
small european town Norcia, Italy

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In this eastern Umbrian citadel, artisanal culinary traditions endure. Pecorino cheese is aged for two years, trained dogs sniff out black truffles in the woodlands, and honey is sourced from the red wildflowers that bloom in the plains. But it's the cinghiale that takes pride of place. Throughout the centro storico, the scent of spiced wild-boar salumi carries from the norcineria (delis) into the traffic-free roads. Step past the prosciutti hanging in storefronts to find shopkeepers curing cuts of the pork with methods perfected over the past 800 years. Ask them to slice up fresh ciauscoli, and bring it to the Piazza San Benedetto, where villagers celebrate the Festival of Saint Benedict in the spring.

Roundstone, Ireland

A Bright Tangle of Fishing nets and boys and ropes, B and B's and Pubs along the harbor, Roundstone Ireland
A Bright Tangle of Fishing nets and boys and ropes, B and B's and Pubs along the harbor, Roundstone Ireland

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No blackberries could taste better than the ones picked along the winding lanes of Roundstone. But even the berry-averse will find reasons to love this 19th-century fishing village. Climb Errisbeg Hill for a clear view of Connemara National Park's Twelve Bens: a mountain range rising over a vast peat bog. In case of rain — always in Ireland's cards — head to Malachy Kearns's shop, which sells handmade bodhran (Irish drums), or dry off by the fire at O'Dowds with a kit (a pint of Guinness and a shot of Irish whiskey).

Chassignolles, France

old church in Chassignolles, France
old church in Chassignolles, France

Courtesy of Myriam Roehri

This village, popular with Marseilles' elite in the 1950's, promises dormant green volcanoes and winding streams assumed to have healing qualities. At a restored auberge, guests look out toward the 12th-century Romanesque church and can enjoy inventive meals made from local ingredients.

Related: 10 Best Small Towns in France for Beautiful Beaches and Vineyards, Mountain Trails, and Medieval Castles

Folegandros, Greece

A narrow side street in Chora, old town. Folegandros, Greece.
A narrow side street in Chora, old town. Folegandros, Greece.

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There's no mistaking it, this tranquil spot in the Cyclades has nothing in common with neighboring Santorini: no building stands above two stories and there are no boutiques or fancy restaurants. Instead, on this remote island in the Aegean, waves crash on pebbled beaches, goats scurry up the hills, and an old wooden windmill twists in the salty breeze. It's a delightfully quiet escape for those who have grown tired of Greece's more trammeled getaways.

Getaria, Spain

boats docked in the harbor in Getaria, Spain
boats docked in the harbor in Getaria, Spain

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Were it not for San Sebastián, just 15 miles away, this Basque harborside village might have become Spain's next great getaway. Instead, the port is known mostly for its seafood — baby squid and turbot pulled from the Bay of Biscay and then grilled a la plancha. Prime dining is Saturday and Sunday lunch, when locals fill asadores dressed in creamy summer-weight cashmere (those in white-soled shoes arrived by boat) for that distinctly Spanish indulgence: a leisurely multicourse meal paired with bottles of white Rioja.

Marvão, Portugal

View from the castle of Marvão hilltop village, Marvão, Alentejo, Portugal
View from the castle of Marvão hilltop village, Marvão, Alentejo, Portugal

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There are dramatic mountainside forts, and then there is Marvão, the king of them all. Located in the southeastern Alentejo region of Portugal, this town is centered around a Moorish castle that was Christianized in the 13th century. The stone complex, now laid open to the elements in a kind of tumbledown glory, sits atop a rocky hill, dominating the red-tile-roofed houses and convents that spill out onto curving streets to the east.

Terschelling, The Netherlands

small European town Terschelling in The Netherlands
small European town Terschelling in The Netherlands

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Though just 85-odd miles from Amsterdam and northeast of Vlieland (nicknamed "Vli-biza" by Amsterdammers), the 18-mile-long island of Terschelling remains a haven for travelers craving tranquil stretches of sand in lieu of the thumping beach clubs on the mainland. Here, gabled 19th-century villas and clapboard houses are illuminated by the Brandaris lighthouse — the oldest surviving lighthouse in the Netherlands (built in 1594). When dusk falls, around midnight during the summer months, locals sit up late at bistros along the harbor drinking Jupiler beer and toasting their exceptionally good fortune.

Tisvildeleje, Denmark

beach at Tisvildeleje, Denmark
beach at Tisvildeleje, Denmark

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Riding the train from Copenhagen to Tisvildeleje is like taking an 80-minute tour of every corner of Denmark — past suburbs, verdant countryside, and forested woodlands. The journey is well worth it: On the shore of the Kattegat Strait is a quiet seaside village with thatched-roof cottages along sand dunes beside the sea. For those who think that Denmark doesn't deliver a memorable beach escape, a visit to this sunny enclave will surely change your mind.

Arild, Sweden

small European town in Arild, Sweden
small European town in Arild, Sweden

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Though there's plenty of natural beauty in Arild, a fishing village on a peninsula in southwest Sweden, the town's most notable site is actually man-made. In 1980, the artist Lars Vilks began nailing together driftwood and lumber in a nearby cove at the bottom of a hillside; he even declared the place an independent country called Ladonia. After police tried to dismantle the work, artists Christo and Joseph Beuys stepped in to protect the installation. Today the public art exhibit, officially christened Nimis, is the Scandinavian version of Los Angeles's Watts Towers. The maze of 300-foot aboveground tunnels and 45-foot-high climbing towers feels like an alternate — albeit somewhat unsturdy — universe for intrepid explorers.

Related: 13 Affordable Places to Visit in Europe — From Country Escapes to Stunning Cities

Hellnar, Iceland

Dwellings in the tiny town of Hellnar, on Iceland's Snaefellsnes peninsula.
Dwellings in the tiny town of Hellnar, on Iceland's Snaefellsnes peninsula.

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While the remnants of the fishing sheds built by Hellnar's 11th-century settlers may suggest that this town hasn't changed since the Vikings arrived, it is, in some ways, the most contemporary village in Iceland. The handful of residents — many of them small-boat fishermen — share a serious commitment to preserving the environment.

Slavonice, Czech Republic

town square in Slavonice, Czech Republic
town square in Slavonice, Czech Republic

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During 41 years of Communist rule, Slavonice, halfway between Prague and Vienna, was too close to the Iron Curtain for the government's comfort. But since the Velvet Revolution in 1989, this off-the-radar hamlet — composed of two town squares and burgher houses painted with Renaissance-era graffiti of biblical scenes — has attracted painters and potters from Prague looking for refuge. We're not betting that this village will become a mini Berlin, but British-born architect John Lifton's Slavonice Institute, a center for art and progressive thought, may put the village on the art world map yet.

St. Mawes, England

Beautiful cornish costal village of St Mawes in South west England, UK.
Beautiful cornish costal village of St Mawes in South west England, UK.

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As fishing villages go, the whitewashed cottages and tidy tearooms of St. Mawes, in southern Cornwall, feel like a stage set. In this quiet backwater, fishermen sell their catch on a quay, and in the evenings, you will find them (and other locals) drinking Cornish-brewed ale and Pimm's Cups at the pubs.

Saint-Geniès, France

castle in St.-Geniès, France
castle in St.-Geniès, France

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The Périgord, in the Dordogne, is home to two of France's most coveted delicacies: foie gras and truffles. On market days in the tiny village of Saint-Geniès, two hours east of Bordeaux, shoppers tote wicker baskets to the town square, where apron-clad vendors hawk pommes salardaises (potatoes sautéed in duck fat and garlic) and saucissons rolled in herbs.

Kardamili, Greece

The Church of St. Spyridon in Old Kardamili, Greece
The Church of St. Spyridon in Old Kardamili, Greece

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If you've heard murmurs that the jagged mountains and white-sand beaches of the Mani region are worth the trip from Athens, you're not alone. Insiders head there for a traditional experience: authentic Greek salads and moussaka at Lela's Taverna before spending the evening at the Elies Hotel's outdoor patio, which overlooks the Gulf of Messenia.

Related: The Top 10 Cities in Europe

Ullastret, Spain

country road and old ruins in Ullastret, Spain
country road and old ruins in Ullastret, Spain

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Spain's Baix Empordà region is chock-full of authentic towns, but local foodies have a favorite destination: Ullastret, home to El Fort, a restaurant and hotel run by Lola Puig. The village, located in Catalonia, is home to ancient archeological sites.

Hall in Tirol, Austria

Panoramic view of Hall in Tirol Austria
Panoramic view of Hall in Tirol Austria

Animaflora/Getty Images

Take a 10-minute train from Innsbruck straight into what feels like the Middle Ages. Hall in Tirol, established in 1303, has remained unusually intact thanks to the medieval embankment and the area's wealth from salt mining and minting. (Ample cash flow meant that the buildings were constructed from the finest materials.) But the allure comes from the surroundings: the Alps, with hiking and ski trails galore.

Koguva, Estonia

wooden windmill in Koguva, Estonia
wooden windmill in Koguva, Estonia

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In this Estonian island hamlet — once a Swedish feudal territory — the local trades of fishing and shepherding have left the surrounding wilds untouched by large-scale agricultural development. Visitors can still catch glimpses of wild goats, fox, deer, moose, and — in spring — migrating swans; or head to the 60-foot Üügu Cliff to take in the views.

Les Baux-de-Provence, France

Les Baux de Provence, an ancient medieval village nestled on a hill in Provence, France
Les Baux de Provence, an ancient medieval village nestled on a hill in Provence, France

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France's Provence region is absolutely filled with charming villages nestled between lavender fields, vineyards, and groves of olive trees. Les-Baux-de-Provence, a small village with panoramic views of the countryside, is an easy day trip from Arles and Avignon. Don't miss the Carrières de Lumières, with multimedia art shows housed inside a former quarry.

Viscri, Romania

Viscri, Romania
Viscri, Romania

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This Saxon village got a lucky break when it became the beneficiary of the Mihai Eminescu Trust, a nonprofit overseen by Prince Charles that's devoted to protecting the heritage of Transylvania's country towns. In Viscri, that means the church and its cemetery (which dates back to the 12th century) is now a UNESCO World Heritage site. Indigenous pear trees were replanted, the lone blacksmith has a new shop, and a new road along the pastel-colored brick houses and farms provides visitors — and the philanthropic elite — a glimpse into the authentic Saxon way of life.