There's more to European romance than moonlit walks along the Seine and decadent meals in Tuscany. Just as swoon-worthy experiences can be found in the continent's quaint seaside towns, where authentic coastal dishes, atmospheric hotels, and gorgeous ocean views are a quiet stroll—preferably hand-in-hand—away.
Vernazza, Cinque Terre, Italy
Of the five coastal villages that make up Italy's Cinque Terre, there’s none more romantic than Vernazza, a colorful cliffside town that dates back to around 1,000 A.D. Its vibrant buildings, in hues of coral, sun yellow, brick red, and sky blue, border a small harbor on one side; on the other, the 11th-century tower of Doria Castle looks out over the sea. Take a stroll along the shore with a slice of focaccia bread or a paper cone filled with calamari and frites from Batti Batti, then skip the touristy harborside restaurants for Ligurian specialties (stuffed anchovies; minestrone Genovese) at the trattoria inside Hotel Gianni Franzi, located off the main piazza. For even better views, head to Belforte, located inside Doria Castle on an open stone terrace, which has remained one of the region's most elegant places to eat for more than 50 years. By the end of the afternoon, after the tourist throngs have departed for the day, the quiet streets left behind feel like an old Italian film set à la La Dolce Vita.
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Whether you’re coming for the waves or the glitz—you'll find plenty of both here—Biarritz is one of France’s most swoon-worthy gems. If you love long walks on the beach, there's no better place to go for a romantic stroll than the town's sandy stretches, which are lined with eye-popping Belle Époque villas. Spend an afternoon at the charming Plage Port Vieux beach, popular with locals, and learn to master the waves with Hastea Surf School. Other must-dos: a tour of Planète Musée du Chocolat Biarritz, whose exhibits celebrate Basque Country's chocolate-making heritage, and dinner at La Cabane à Huîtres for standout oysters on the half shell.
Neighboring Capri, in Italy's Bay of Naples, may get all the attention, but lesser known Ischia is just as alluring. Couples looking to get-away-from-it-all will find plenty of relaxation here, whether visiting vineyards like Cenatiempo, whose wine cellar dates back to the 1600s, or dining at the Michelin-starred restaurant Il Mosaico at Terme Manzi Hotel & Spa, where chef Giovanni De Vivo gives Italian classics an innovative twist. Whatever you do, don't leave without taking a cable car ride across the causeway to the isle of Ischia Ponte to see Castello Aragonese, a medieval castle carved right into the rock face built in 474 B.C.
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Oia, Santorini, Greece
Set 235 steps (or a mule ride) above Ammoudi Port, Oia, the most famous village on Santorini, is where you'll find the iconic blue-domed churches and whitewashed houses you've seen in pictures so many times before. Everything here screams romance from the narrow, photogenic lanes to the unexpected gems, like Atlantis Books—a beautiful English-language bookshop where you can easily fill a lazy rainy afternoon. For dinner, book a table at Karma, where you'll dine in a gold-walled courtyard filled with fountains and candles, or at the more modern Ambrosia, with spellbinding views of the sea. End the day with a glass of Greek wine on the private terrace of your room at Canaves Oia Hotel. JS Tip: Oia gets super crowded during the summer months, so consider a trip there in September or October when the weather is still good.
The restful and romantic feel of Braç, in Croatia's Dalmation Coast, is a far cry from the yacht-filled harbors and swanky party vibes of nearby Hvar. A breezy hour-long ferry ride from Split delivers guests to the palm-lined harbor of Supetar, where restaurant tables extend to waterfront patios—perfect spots for enjoying a bottle of Croatian wine as the sun sets. Further inland, a beautiful church rises up on a plaza above the rest of town, most of which was built with Braç's famous white stone. It’s hard to find a bad meal here, but a solid pick is Konoba Vinoteka for grilled fish, lamb, and pork, with its al fresco seating that spills down ancient stone steps. There are only a few decent places to stay on the island--and the adults-only Hotel Osam stands out for its slick design and rooftop bar overlooking the ocean.
Despite its emergence as a cruise-ship stopover, Kotor, a UNESCO World Heritage city, is still off the beaten track—and completely unforgettable. Its fortified port, built during the Venetian period, overlooks a sparkling bay ringed by limestone cliffs, and the preserved medieval streets of Old Town—a low-lying skyline of red roofs punctuated by Romanesque church spires—remain devoid of cars. The town is tiny and still bordered by ancient walls, so there's no risk of getting lost here. You can easily spend hours wandering its cobbled sidewalks, stopping for a coffee at one of the the cafes lining the many squares—Letrika serves the best brew in town—or to sample local cheeses and cured meats at the outdoor food markets. After a day of exploring, rest your legs at Hotel Cattaro, an intimate 18th-century boutique with 17 clean-lined rooms that look out onto the bay.
San Sebastián, Spain
With its aging buildings, golden beaches and gastronomic temples, San Sebastián in Spain's Basque Country is one of the country's most impressive seaside destinations. If you're counting Michelin stars per square meter, the town is second in the world only to Kyoto. Among our favorite restaurants: Arzak (one star), Akelarre (three stars), and Zuberoa (one star), but even a simple spread of tapas or pinxos from one of the many bars lining 31 de Agosto street won’t disappoint. Work off those calories during an afternoon stroll through the flower-filled gardens of Plaza Gipuzkoa, then watch the sun go down from La Concha beach. At night, go for cocktails at La Madame before catching a live music show at Leize Gorria.
Many old Eastern European towns offer romance in spades, and Tallinn is no exception—after all, how many cities have their own Kissing Hill?Walk the cobblestone streets, past bars and restaurants lit by candlelight to natural sanctuaries like the Danish King’s Garden, the Swan Pond or the baroque Kadriorg Park, gifted by Russian tsar Peter the Great to his wife Catherine. The paved pathway that stretches from Kadriorg, known as the Pirita promenade, offers amazing views of Old Town. Do like the locals do and bring a bottle of wine to one of the city’s lookout platforms—we suggest the sunset view from Patkuli, then head to dinner at the candlit Dominic. The Von Stackelberg Hotel, a former baronial residence near Old Town is our hotel of choice, thanks to its grand courtyard and subterranean spa.