(CNN) — Paris, Rome, Barcelona… European cities are bucket list destinations and rightly so. But the continent’s small towns are a dream, with all the beautiful architecture and more culture you’ll find in the big hitters, with fewer crowds to share them with.
Here are some of the most beautiful small towns across Europe, from humble fishing towns to hilltop medieval power bases.
Giethoorn is known as the Dutch answer to Venice.
They call it the Dutch answer to Venice, but Giethoorn lacks one crucial thing the Italian city has in spades: overtourism. As in Venice, life revolves around the water, here — there are no cars in the center so the only way to get around is on foot or on the water.
Take a boat ride around thatched houses sitting on peat-filled islands. are you hungry Stop at the Michelin-starred restaurant Hollands-Venetië.
Guimarães is sleepy today, but it was the first capital of Portugal.
Guimarães is crucial to Portugal’s history — it was named the country’s first capital in the 12th century, and its medieval center remains largely intact, with convents, grand old palaces and a crumbling castle atop a bluff.
As everywhere in Portugal, the local bakeries make an average pastel de nata, but here you must try a local specialty: Torta de Guimaraes — Pastry filled with squash and ground almonds.
Roscoff is one of the most beautiful port towns in France.
Port towns can be dirty. Not pretty little Roscoff, though, in the Brittany region of France, which built its fortune on maritime trade, including exporting its famous pink onions to the UK.
Today, it is a center for thalassotherapy, using seawater to treat medical conditions, as well as a picturesque Breton town. Small fishing boats bob in a small harbor — along with larger ones, boats leave for Plymouth in the UK.
The streets of Anghiari were designed for the warriors of the Renaissance era.
Perched on a hill near the Tuscan-Umbrian border, Anghiari is a delight — a small walled town that wraps itself around itself as it clings to the landscape.
It’s a pedestrian warren of alleyways and roller-coastering streets, filled with magnificent palazzi built by the mysterious, mercenary “men” who lived here during the Renaissance.
Learn more about them at the Museo della Battaglia d’Angiari, which traces the history of an important medieval battle fought on the plains outside the town.
Nafplio was the first capital of modern Greece.
Gorgeous Nafplio straddles the Aegean Sea in the Peloponnese, with its Venetian-built citadel jutting into the water (actually, there are three citadels to visit here) and a picturesque Old Town spooling behind ancient walls.
It was the first capital of modern Greece, so there are things to do in spades. There’s a Lido if you want to take a safe dip in the sea, and if history is your thing, the Archaeological Museum contains items dating back to the Mycenaean era.
Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Mostar Bridge attracts tourists from all over the region.
Mostar’s Stari Most or “Old Bridge”, built by the Ottomans in the 16th century, is one of the finest examples of Balkan Islamic architecture.
Perched high above the Neretva River, it is one of the most famous sights in the Balkans and is traditionally where locals dive from the bridge – today it is a stop on the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series.
The bridge was destroyed by Croat forces in November 1993 during the Balkan Wars. A reconstructed bridge was built in 2004, and today, Mostar is a beloved destination in Bosnia and Herzegovina and a popular day trip from Dubrovnik over the Croatian border.
Mazara del Vallo, Sicily
Mazara del Vallo is one of the most beautiful fishing towns in Sicily.
Sicily is a melting pot, and Mazara del Vallo epitomizes that. Founded by the Phoenicians some 3,000 years ago, it’s seen a myriad of cultures flow across the island — its kasbah area resembles a North African medina, there’s a strong Tunisian community, and you’re more likely to find couscous on the menu. Pasta.
Its main attraction is the ancient bronze statue – Satiro Danzante or Dancing Satyr – which was pulled out of the sea in 1998.
Donkeys are the only way to get around cute Clovelly.
Donkeys are the only way to get up and down the steep streets of Clovelly, a picturesque fishing village in Devon, southwest England.
Today, they still haven’t managed to bring the cars – it’s at the bottom of a 400-foot cliff. Instead, goods are transported by human-powered sledges – and if tourists can’t make it back to the car park, they can take a ride in a Land Rover.
Dinkelsbühl sits on Germany’s ‘Romantic Road’.
A cute historic center, wooden houses and sturdy towers — Dinkelsbühl has it all. It sits plum on Germany’s “Romantic Road” — a route known for its stunning towns.
A vast Gothic church surrounded by medieval walls, St. George’s Minster, was the setting for Werner Herzog’s film “The Enigma of Kasper Hauser”.
Korcula sits on a peninsula dangling from the island of the same name.
As if an island sitting peacefully in the Adriatic Sea wasn’t enough, there’s Korcula, a small peninsula jutting out from the island of the same name.
Locals say the adventurer Marco Polo was born here; The Venetians dispute this. Either way, it’s a world-class town, with sparkling white streets and buildings carved from local stone, almost surrounded by water, and beautiful buildings left behind by the Venetians who ruled here for centuries.
Kenmare is one of Ireland’s great foodie destinations.
At the southwestern tip of Ireland, the land melts into the ocean in County Kerry. Kenmare dangles in the bay of the same name, where the River Rowty flows into the sea.
It’s in the middle of some of Ireland’s best-loved countryside – on the Wild Atlantic Way between the Ring of Kerry and the Ring of Beara. Kenmare is famous for its food and its views — the majestic mountains rear up behind the pristine bay.
Piran uses most of Slovenia’s Adriatic coast.
Slovenia has only a sliver of coastline, located at the top of the wedge-shaped Istrian peninsula that hangs in the Adriatic Sea.
Rein Norway is its most perfect image.
You want: A cute Norwegian town — remote, small, and waterfront Long Bay.
It’s one of the most spectacular spots in the Lofoten archipelago — with a jaw-dropping view of the islands and village, Rennebringen, just outside.
Rejenko’s Coast sits peacefully inland from the Brava beaches.
As far as Spain’s tourist-packed coastline goes, Catalonia’s Costa Brava is relatively quiet – but it doesn’t hold a candle to peaceful Regencos, just 10 minutes inland. South of the “Daly Triangle”, the area where the Surrealist artist lived and worked, is a mountain-edge region of quiet medieval villages.
Rejenkos, slightly larger, has the remains of its medieval walls, a beautiful church and traditional stone houses spiraling out from the center.
Tarnów is a city, but still has a small town feel.
First — it’s a city. But walk around the Old Town and you’ll find that it still has a small-town feel, with lots of medieval buildings giving you a sense of how close Krakow was before the arrival of mass tourism.
The Old Town square is a wonderful mix of architectural styles, with a beautiful Gothic church and a lot of Jewish heritage — the community was more or less destroyed during World War II.
Image above: Nafplio, Greece. Credit: Adobe Stock