9 Fairytale Towns in Europe
Sure, Europe’s cities have eye-popping architecture, world-class art, and innovative food scenes—but the country’s small fairytale villages have a magic all their own. These nine postcard-perfect towns are quick to charm with their storybook streets and winding canals.
If the 12th-century Arab-Norman cathedral above the main piazza’s cafes and shops, doesn’t get to you, wandering through the old neighborhood’s stone streets might just do it. Beautiful all year round, but especially in the bridge season before the tourist hordes invade, this utterly romantic seaside escape in northern Sicily is a great destination for foodies looking to enjoy both traditional Italian cuisine and wine.
Just outside Lisbon, Sintra looks like a fantasy kingdom. The colorful Romantic-era Pena Palace and the ruins of a Moorish fortress top the tallest hill in the national park. But don’t miss out on the town itself: beyond all the tourist shops offering chocolate-covered cherry liquor shots (which, incidentally, are delicious), is the Gothic national palace and plenty of cobblestone streets to explore.
This Iron Age hamlet is so picturesque that the Chinese created a copy of it for their own country. Lining a crystal-clear lake, the UNESCO site offers incredibly maintained Alpine architecture that’s straight out of a storybook. There’s lots to explore from its heritage as an industry town, too—including a tour of the oldest salt mine in the world.
Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
One of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most recognizable towns, Mostar is most recognized for its 16th-century Stari Most bridge, which straddling a tranquil, rolling river. But go a bit further into the Old Town, and you’ll find a stunning blend of Balkan and Islamic architecture to take in along with its ancient streets.
Cascading down a cliff in southwestern France, Rocamadour is legendary not only for its landscape but also for its tales of saints, Madonnas, and miracles. Pilgrims have long visited its host of ancient churches, religious sites, and monastic buildings, especially the shrine of its Black Virgin in the Notre Dame cathedral. Today, the single street of Rocamadour is stunning to stroll down, with lots of restaurants and shops attracting visitors and locals alike.
Known as the “Venice of the North,” Bruges’ serene canals help set the scene for this fairytale town in Flanders. After starting the 19th century as one of Europe’s first true tourist destinations, Bruges escaped WWI remarkably undamaged. Now, its jaw-dropping medieval architecture—don’t miss the Markt and the 14th-century Gothic town hall—combine to create a setting that’s as close as you can get to being teleported back in time.
Česky Krumlov, Czechia
Set deep in southwest Bohemia, the Old Town of Česky Krumlov is deservedly a UNESCO World Heritage site. Take the architecture, a blend of Gothic, Baroque, and Renaissance styles that were built between the 1300s and the 1600s. But the true crowning glory is the castle, which dates back to 1240 and features blooming rococo gardens as well as a moat that has housed a family of four bears since 1707.
Another canal village, this one isn’t as well known as Bruges, but it also comes with a similar nickname: “The Dutch Venice.” This time, though, the canals continue to be inherently practical, as it’s still only accessible by boat. Here, the beauty is serene and simple: Thatched-roofed houses belonging to the town’s 2,620 residents line the waterways, which are crossed by more than 180 bridges.
Conwy knows how to make a grand entrance: the main road appears to take you right through the 13th-century castle at the heart of this waterfront enclave (though, of course, it veers off at the last second). If you’re after superlatives, a visit to the smallest house in Britain (10 feet by 6 feet) is worth a trip, but the true attraction is the old market town and its cute shops (try a traditional Welsh cake at Popty Conwy Bakery). To get a unique view of the city, walk around the mile-long medieval walls overlooking the harbor.
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