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Stephen Bugno
Created byStephen Bugno
traveler, blogger, writer, photographer

Europe's Small Places

Featured Guide
Welcome to my small places of Europe guide. It includes my favorite small cities and countries of the continent.

London, Paris, Berlin, and Rome, all major cities, are fantastic stops on a whirlwind first-time trip. But as you return to Europe, you may want to discover some places off the main tourist track. These not-so-predictable destinations can add a bit of exploration and self-discovery to your trip.

Why do I like Europe's small places so much? I love the stress-free environment of small cities, the laid-back attitude, and the slower pace of life. Who doesn't like the idea of sipping a glass of wine or coffee at a sidewalk cafe in a centuries-old city center closed off to traffic.

When I arrive for the first time in a new place, I like being able to walk from the train station directly to my accommodation without having to negotiate public transport or take a taxi. In a large city, this usually isn't possible. I want to be able to find my way around in the first couple of hours and then "get lost" without really getting lost. I don't want to have to worry about the safety and security issues that plague the huge capitals.

Small places have friendlier residents. Locals are more likely to appreciate the fact that you've made an extra effort to visit their hometown. They're more likely to chat with you in a pub or give you directions to their favorite restaurant.

I'm not alluding to the fact that all my picks are off-the-beaten track. They're not. Some are touristy. Others seem to be farther off the tourist's radar, but the discerning traveler will still find them intriguing. But all the places here are unique and worthy destinations for some reason or another.

My travels have taken me to all corners of Europe. I wanted to include destinations of as many cultures as I could, from the midnight sun of Trondheim, Norway to Dracula's hometown of Sighisoara, Romania. I included places with well-preserved architecture, delicious local food and drink, and those void of crowds. I even stretched my travels to include the more-difficult-to-get-to mini states of Liechtenstein and San Marino. 

This collection is not a best-of or top ten, but simply a selection of my favorite small destinations. Most are easy to get to by rail or road and have adequate accommodation for all budgets. Some make ideal day trips and others are worth spending the night. Read my individual place reviews for details.

In many big cities, local culture gets lost in the international makeup and buried in the globalism of the modern world. If you try hard, you can still experience old-world Europe. Making an effort to visit Europe's small places is an ideal way to see the authentic way of life and the individual cultures of each country. 
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Bellinzona

A well-situated small city in the Italian-speaking part of Switzerland called Ticino. Although it's not a very large city, Belinzona has three castles! A walk/bus ride to the upper two castles offers nice view of the city and surrounding mountains. Bellinzona is a good stop off between Zurich and...

Cesky Krumlov

In Czech Republic's western half, Bohemia, gorgeous old Cesky Krumlov sits among the meandering arcs of the Vltava River. Its renaissance and baroque buildings are squeezed into the cobbled streets below the 16th century castle up on the hill. Tourists have discovered the place, but don't let...

Sighisoara

Sighisoara is a well-preserved medieval citadel town in the Romanian region of Transylvania. It's also well-known as the place were Vlad Dracula spent some years as child. Brightly-colored, centuries old houses line the hilly cobbled streets of the upper town which is encircled by 14-century...

Orvieto

A beautiful and relatively untouristy hill town in close proximity to Rome, Orvieto sits atop a giant volcanic rock. Nice views of the Umbrian countryside look out in all directions. Gorgeous old cobbled streets wind their way around town. The Cathedral is a highlight. Also make time to visit...

Girona

Girona is located inland from the coast in Catalonia, in the northeast of Spain, about an hour north of Barcelona. It’s a small city known for its Jewish quarter, old town, Cathedral, and colorful houses along the river Onyar. The Catalans are a fiercely proud people with their own language,...

Trondheim

Founded in 997, Trondheim is one of the oldest cities in Scandinavia. With a total population of 180,000, including 30,000 students, Trondheim is big enough to offer an array of culture and entertainment, without the hassle of a big city. The city is home to Europe's most northernmost cathedral, an...

Kamenets-Podolskiy

Kamyanets Podilsky is another one of Ukraine's "museum cities" and I would consider it among the highlights of the country. The old city is perched dramatically on a island in the river and is completely encircled by a canyon. Even though the town draws a few visitors from Poland in the high season, it...

Turku

Turku is the ancient capital and easygoing city on Finland’s southwest coast. Dating from the end of the 13th century, Turku is the oldest city in the country and home to the well-preserved Turku Castle. It's the largest surviving medieval building in Finland and acts as a national monument. Turku...

Olomouc

Olomouc, in Moravia, the western part of Czech Republic is my perfect small city in Europe. It's beautiful and historic, but lacking tourists for some odd reason. (Maybe all the tourists are in Prague, but I prefer Olomouc to Prague.) Good local eating options and excellent beer and wine (Moravia is...

Segovia

Segovia is an excellent day trip from Madrid. The highlight of course is the Roman Aqueduct that cut through the center of the city. The Cathedral and the Alcazar are other outstanding attractions as well as other old churches and historic mansions. The city is perched dramatically on a rocky ridge....