A small-town charm can capture your attention like nothing else. Walking along a quiet downtown filled with quaint, locally-owned stores, you might catch a whiff of the mom-and-pop restaurants preparing everything from burgers and fries to specialty dishes put up by executive chefs.
The residents welcome you to their little slice of heaven by simply stopping to say hello while walking their dogs. As you walk by you notice how to even shop owners take the time to throw up a hand and cast a friendly greeting. Festivals become an excuse to come together as many of the residents know one another. Also, looking closely you’ll find that there are plenty of things to do and “small-town” is usually a misnomer.
Similar to characters in a book, each small town has its own personality, backstory, and ways of doing things, and that is perhaps the best thing about small towns. Here we have listed 15 small towns from all over the world with their own charms and flavors for you to love.
1. Shirakawa-go, Japan
The isolated Shirakawa-go looks like a spiritual ideal of an alpine Christmas village during Christmas with its setting along a cold, clear river, isolated on top of a mountain. Once you get closer, you’ll come across thatched-roof gassho-zukuri buildings that actually look like gingerbread houses at first glance.
The village was rated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995 because of these structures whose pitched roofs are three-foot piles of woven reeds, angled to look like praying hands. The village changes colors from white to deep green in the summer, and the place is filled with the scent of a potpourri dish because of the colorful wildflowers that line the streets.
2. Český Krumlov, Czech Republic
The small town named Český Krumlov seems like just a tiny dot on the map: a vermilion-roofed hamlet sheltered in a carpet of green snuggled in an S-shaped loop formed by the Vltava River in Southern Bohemia.
For centuries, it has been a paragon of idyllic small-town life. You’ll find yourself admiring the best examples of the wealth of Renaissance, Gothic, and Baroque architecture, which are found in its impressive castle.
Its old-world charm comes in a package of tangled streets and cobblestone alleys. While the buildings are likewise coated with peeling paints of pale yellows, greens, and pinks
3. Santa Maddalena, Italy
Santa Maddalena is a tiny mountainous village in the Dolomites, bounded by jagged, snow-capped mountains, and green rolling hills, you could say it comes straight from an alpine dream.
South Tyrol is the region this town calls home and it refers to the southern part of Austria, giving the historical explanation for why signs here can be read in German, Italian along with the local language of Ladin. You’ll also find that the food in the handful of restaurants has a similar cultural mix.
During winter, this scenic inland town is also a skier’s paradise. It’s not bustling with nightlife and it also doesn’t have many hotels. But you sure can stay for a few days, make your way on a few of the hikes that are only a short ride away, and submerge yourself in the beautiful quiet.
4. St Ives, Cornwall, United Kingdom
St Ives was a former fishing village that has today blossomed into a miniature capital of culture, with praise-worthy arts festivals each September and a Tate gallery. But that’s not all, there are four golden sand beaches lined on the headland, with Atlantic breakers and sheltered turquoise waters on each side.
The neighborhood is an enchanting maze of muddled cottages, boutique craft stores, and tons of artist studios. St Ives is a picturesque dream with the natural light of such majesty that it makes you cross oceans for it.
5. Jajce, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Even though Bosnia doesn’t lack ancient mountain towns, none are better preserved than the stari grad of Jajce. Being the capital of medieval Bosnia, it still shelters the ancient hilltop castle, and you’ll get to explore the warren of curving cobbled streets splayed out below.
But the 72-foot Pliva waterfall is a natural wonder that you might call Jajce’s greatest asset. It spills over a sheer drop at the convergence of the Pliva and Vrbas rivers. Bound by water on three sides, Jajce is a prime base for some of Bosnia’s best whitewater rafting.
6. Wanaka, New Zealand
Cloaked by adventure-sporty Queenstown, small-scale Wanaka is the real gem of this region. Set next to a majestic mountain lake are the quiet streets of downtown where families picnic and tourists get to swim in the shadow of the grand peaks that have an almost pinkish shine against the blue sky.
You can climb up the world’s tallest waterfall via Ferrata at Wildwire Wanaka’s Lord of the Rungs to get the grandest view of the city. You’ll be traversing metal rungs nearly 1,300 feet up the side of a cliff, with a gushing waterfall right in front of you.
7. Ko Phi Phi, Thailand
Ko Phi Phi island can no longer be found in a list of underrated anything anymore. But the masses of tourists packing this Thai village still don’t diminish its stunning beauty. The light tan sand, turquoise waters, and towering emerald-colored limestone cliffs may not feel so much like a hidden piece of paradise as they once did, but they still aren’t any less awe-inspiring.
The beach there is a similar tableau of blues and greens which has become a trademark of Thai shoreline, and the friendly people around will make sure it becomes a light-hearted way of taking in the scenery for you.
8. Paraty, Brazil
Paraty would be the ideal town if Instagram could design one. As here the fragrant bougainvillea falls photogenically from red-tiled roofs while the snap-ready streets are lined with some aesthetically pleasing doors. Adding to the fun, Paraty is much more than just photogenic.
Halfway between Rio and Sao Paulo on Brazil’s Atlantic coast, it’s a snoozy bayside town where life has the pace of a horse-and-cart tottering along the cobbles (the historic Old Town doesn’t allow cars). And the gleaming colonial architecture has a framing of palm trees swaying in the breeze.
There is every shade of pretty boats bobbing in the harbor, and they’re not just there for aesthetics. You can choose your favorite and set sail for a desert island beach closeby.
9. Stepantsminda, Georgia
This is a town where architecture and natural beauty rejoice in harmony. All eyes in this valley village are set on the hilltop 14th-century Gergeti Trinity Church and its neighboring belltower both of which have the glacier-capped, 16,560-foot Mount Kazbek as their mise-en-scène.
Along with natural beauty, Stepantsminda is also the perfect base camp to explore Kazbegi National Park’s hot springs, waterfalls, and lakes that are both acidic and carbonated. Adding the cherry on top, this winery-laden country also contains more than 500 grape varieties.
10. Hallstatt, Austria
Get ready to be distracted on your drive to Hallstatt as you’ll come across distractingly lovely Austrian spa towns like Bad Ischl dotted along the way that will tempt you off course.
You can reward yourself with a pint of Stiegl once you arrive here. The drink won’t get you as dizzy as the spectacular scenery rising on all sides will. Hallstatt is known as the oldest continuously inhabited village in Europe.
The pastel Baroque buildings and timber homes are jammed so steeply along the foot of the Dachstein Mountains they seem to topple over each other in this unlikely narrow Alpine town. You’ll be envious of the boats and their 360-degree view of the Austrian Alps while they lazily chug along with the town’s watery reflection.
11. Guatape, Colombia
Finding your way a few hours east of Medellín to Guatape on land means a bumpy, stomach-churning ride along mountainous terrain. You can ppt for the helicopter instead and get a reward of the view of a sprawling artificial lake, lively with water-skiers.
While the islands float up like submerged turtles. There’s also the intimidatingly towering La Piedra monolith, whose 649 steps might break any freewheeling flâneur. Be ready to experience the crown jewel, the joyful Pueblo de Zócalos, where houses are decorated with hand-painted colorful frescoes of people, shapes, and animals. Life here is unhurried, the nights are quiet. And you’ll come to know that the coffee is particularly strong.
12. Furnas, The Azores
The archipelago is quite appealing having been built on top of an active volcanic crater, scattered with fumaroles, geysers, and hot springs. It well serves its nickname as the “The Hydropolis of the World”. The geothermal influence is extended into the cuisine which explains why the local specialty is cozido, a traditional meat stew cooked in the boiling waters spewed from the geysers.
You have to expect frequent wafts of stinky sulfur gas bubbling up from underground which is a good thing, mainly when you bathe in the therapeutic springs at Terra Nostra Botanical Garden. All your stresses will be melting away, and the only thing left behind will be an unmistakable sulphuric-orange tinge on your swimsuit.
13. Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
Needless to say, the towns and castles along Germany’s Romantic Road are quintessentially romantic. But once you reach Rothenburg ob der Tauber (there are a few Rothenburgs; this is the one you want), you’ll be falling hardest for the country’s best-preserved, medieval-walled town.
Half-timbered pastel buildings, medieval stonework, and surprisingly non-kitschy shopping are just bits of this fairytale town’s signature Bavarian recipe. You can pay a quick visit to the dark side with a overtake on Medieval Crime Museum, which serves as an intensely disturbing sight of torture in the Middle Ages.
On the brighter side, there are surrounding hills containing centuries-old vineyards of Franconia which guarantee amazing local wines, giving your fairytale a happy ending.
14. Suzdal, Russia
This small town around Moscow seems to shine the brightest for visitors. The star-peppered onion atop the 13th-century Nativity Cathedral looks the most appealing and is just one of Suzdal’s many spellbinding sights. The Monastery of Saint Euthymius has ancient frescoes in it for you to gaze at.
You can also stroll along a meadow dotted with dandelions and pay a visit to the ornately carved, all-wood Transfiguration Church. Being a hoof-clopping, breeze-rustling kind of town, the only hum you’ll hear in Suzdal will be coming from the local bees (speaking of which, don’t miss out on trying the sweet honey mead).
15. Eze, France
Eze is located on the coast amidst Nice and Monaco. Being carved into a 1,400-foot mountaintop, it is where this endearing medieval village can be found. Filled all along the winding cobblestone streets, you’ll come across historical statues from the 1700s and picturesque sandstone boutiques adorned with radiant flowers.
You won’t have a complete trip without paying a visit to the botanical garden (Jardin Exotique d’Eze) that faces the small town. Surrounded by dramatic 360-degree views of the enchanting Cote d’Azur and filled with cacti, the garden sheds life to that captivating unique feel of the French Riviera.