One of the main things that draw tourists from around the world to the European continent is the dense concentration of stunning and perfectly-preserved medieval towns and cities. Particularly for people like me, an American, where we have no such places to discover. It was near to impossible to narrow down this list, particularly in countries where fairytale towns reign supreme, like France or Italy. I’ve managed to narrow it down some. Here are the absolute best medieval towns in Europe to visit.
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15 Beautiful Medieval Towns in Europe
Provins is a great medieval town in Europe because of its stunning architecture. It is so impressive, in fact, that it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001. The perfectly-preserved city walls, which run the length of 1,200 meters, make for a beautiful evening stroll. However, the main tour de force in Provins is the Tour Cesar, aka Cesar’s Tower. The tower dates back to the 1100s and provides visitors with sweeping, full-circle views of the encompassing terrain.
Given its close proximity to the French capital, Provins makes an easy day trip from Paris. The entire train ride takes under an hour and a half, and departs hourly from Gare de l’Est.
Bruges has been a rising star in Belgian tourism, and for good reason. Affectionately referred to as ‘the Venice of the North,’ Bruges is one of the most beautiful medieval towns in Europe to visit.
Easily explored on foot, Bruges’ main attractions are in close proximity to one another. The city has many gorgeous historical attractions to explore, or you can explore the canals by boat tour. Don’t miss the vibrant Old Town, the Belfry, Minnewater Park, and the local markets.
Be sure to bring your camera with you, as Bruges is one of the most picturesque places in all of Western Europe. It’s a popular day trip from both Paris and Brussels.
Heading further east, the small town of Sighișoara, Romania is one of the most beautiful medieval towns I’ve ever seen. It’s like stepping into a fairytale, with bright, pastel-hued houses, uneven cobbled streets, and tall, looming towers.
Immerse yourself in the local folklore and stories, see the birthplace of Vlad Tepes (aka the vaudeville who inspired Bram Stoker’s Dracula), or simply grab a terrace table to people-watch in the main town square.
Sighișoara even has an annual Medieval Festival, complete with costume, jousting competitions, turkey legs, and more.
Sighișoara is easily accessed by car from most of Transylvania, but it’s easiest to reach from Cluj-Napoca or Sibiu.
Bayeux is another French town that is absolutely perfect if you’re looking for a medieval place to visit. The center of town has gorgeous medieval buildings and a lovely cathedral dating back to the 1200s.
Situated on the Aure River, Bayeux is most famous for the renowned Bayeux Tapestry, which pictures the Norman Conquest from the 11th century.
In addition to the medieval vibes, it’s also a great place to visit for WWII enthusiasts.
Bayeux is located in the Normandy region of France and can be accessed from Paris in just over two hours by train.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a magical, fairytale town in southern Germany. It showcases vivid, half-timbered medieval homes and a picture-perfect Old Town.
Walk along the perimeter of the fortified city walls, which date back to the 1100s, to imagine what life may have been like for those defending this magical place and retrace history.
The center of town is where you can explore Marktplatz, where you can find a stunning 52-meter-high tower. If you’re up for a challenge, climb the 220 steps to the top and be rewarded with 360-degree views over the medieval town.
There is even a Medieval Crime Museum to visit (though it’s a bit much if you don’t have a strong stomach!).
Rothenburg ob der Tauber can be accessed in about two hours (give or take) from both Frankfurt and Munich by car.
There aren’t many truly medieval towns to explore in Hungary, but Sopron is an excellent exception. Located in Western Hungary, Sopron is a beautiful medieval town that lies over an ancient Roman town. You can see a Roman Forum here, as well as many ancient excavations.
The Old Town consists mainly of medieval and Baroque buildings, a perfect place to explore and photograph.
Some pretty places to discover include the Holy Trinity Statue, Eggenberg House (the City Hall), the Goat Church, and the Firewatch Tower.
If you’re lucky enough to visit during the holiday season, don’t miss the town’s charming Christmas markets.
Sopron is reached in one hour (by car) from Bratislava or approximately two hours (either driving or by train) from Budapest.
From outside the town, Carcassonne almost seems like one giant castle. As you get closer, however, you begin to realize that it is in fact a walled city and not, in fact, a castle. Carcassonne probably tops this list of beautiful medieval towns in Europe.
Carcassonne’s fortifications date all the way back to 100 BC, when the Romans originally built them.
Located in the south of France near some of the country’s most important port cities, Carcassonne held an ideal location for a powerful military base. After you’ve walked the perimeter of the city walls and explored the many towers, save some time to head into the Old Town center for more exploring.
Don’t miss the Basilica of Saint Nazaire. This place dates all the way back to the 7th century and offers some out-of-this-world vistas.
Ryanair operates flights to Carcassonne from many European cities. From within France, Carcassonne can be reached from several cities by train – Dijon, Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, or Bordeaux. If you want to make an adventure out of it, take a night train from Paris.
Coimbra is Portugal’s medieval capital city, home to the oldest university in the country. Though the vibes of Portugal don’t necessarily scream ‘medieval,’ Coimbra is definitely worth a visit if you’re looking for a more unique experience.
Rife with Moorish architecture, lively squares, and rich history, Coimbra makes for a perfect rest during a Portuguese road trip or as a separate day trip from Porto. Explore the historic center, with its ceremonious cathedral, atmospheric alleys and stairways, and take in the sounds of guitarra and Fado.
Coimbra is about equidistant from Lisbon and Porto, taking a little over two hours to reach by train.
Besalú is an absolutely jaw-dropping medieval town in the region of Costa Brava, Spain. Its vivid character, cobblestone streets, and quintessential medieval bridge makes this town a real treat to visit. This is by far one of the most beautiful medieval towns in Europe.
Besalú’s most famous attraction is the medieval bridge that traverses the Fluvia river. Its medieval Old Town with winding stone streets has flourished for thousands of years. As you walk through the Old Town, the architecture will transport you back in time to the Middle Ages.
It makes for a wonderful break from Barcelona, allowing a peaceful respite from the crowds and overwhelming noise of the Catalan capital.
Other popular things to check out in Besalú include the Jewish Baths and Synagogue, the Sant Pau Monastery, and the Church of Sant Vincenc.
If you’re driving from Barcelona, the ride will only take approximately an hour and a half. If you don’t have access to a private vehicle, opt for the bus instead of the train. The train ride is indirect and takes around three hours, whereas the bus takes about an hour and forty-five minutes.
Barbarano Romano, Italy
Barbarano Romano is a tiny medieval village north of Rome. I had the pleasure of spending a couple of months here right before the pandemic hit. Despite its small size, it’s definitely worth at least a day or two of exploring. I used to visit Rome for day trips regularly when I lived here, so it’s doable, though indirect.
Upon arrival to the village, you’re greeted with the imposing city walls and gate. One of the best things to do here is to get lost in the winding alleys, admiring the picturesque buildings made of tufo rock, with vines climbing up their walls.
There is also a natural park accessible from Barbarano Romano. Parco Regionale Marturanum is a rugged, wooded nature park filled with Etruscan caves and necropoli, archaeological sites, and babbling brooks winding through the landscape.
The ride from Rome requires a couple of transfers, and takes a little over two hours.
Cochem is another magical place in Germany that is another of the wonderful medieval towns in Europe. Upon first glance, Cochem seems like a town out of a dream. Set high upon the banks of the River Moselle, Cochem is an Instagramers dream. With a charming row of vibrant, timbered homes that line the river, coupled with the dignified castle on the hilltop, you’ll never be at a loss for photo ops.
If you visit during the summer, a cable car will take you to a platform offering sweeping views overlooking Cochem, the castle, and the Moselle. There’s a small restaurant here where you can enjoy a snack and a cocktail or cup of coffee.
A river cruise is also an option, allowing you to enjoy Cochem from a different vantage point. The cruises last one hour and operate during the warmer months.
Regardless of the season, strolling around the quaint streets of Old Town and enjoying a stein of beer in the market square is one of the best things to do in Cochem.
Cochem is easily accessed from Cologne. By car, the drive takes an hour and a half. If you’re restricted to public transportation, you can reach Cochem in about three hours with a few transfers by train.
Colmar, which served as the inspiration for Beauty and the Beast, is a delightful medieval town in Alsace, located in the northeast of France near Germany’s borders. In this region, you’ll find a lot of German influence, for obvious reasons. The influence can be found in everything from the architecture to the cuisine.
Colmar is most famous for its picturesque Old Town, a beautifully-preserved collection of medieval buildings and half-timbered houses. With vibes somewhat reminiscent of Bruges or Amersfoort, Colmar is a series of winding canals of the Lauch river. While Bruges is known as ‘the Venice of the North,’ Colmar is affectionately called ‘la Petite Venise’ (little Venice).
A train ride from Paris takes a little over two and a half hours.
We couldn’t omit York, England from this compilation of the best medieval towns in Europe. York isn’t as heavily visited as the capital city London, however, it’s consistently ranked as the best place to live in the United Kingdom.
There are a number of Roman fortifications in and around York, which kickstart your imagination to transport you back to the Middle Ages. Rent a bicycle and explore the quaint, winding streets that transport you back to the 14th century.
While in York, don’t miss the York Minster and the stunning stained glass that decorate its windows. Depending on your energy levels, you may also be interested in climbing the 275 steps of the tower to see panoramic, 360 degree views of the city. There are also boat tours, guiding you along the Ouse River if you feel like doing something a little different.
York is best reached by flying into Leeds Airport.
Sully Sur Loire, France
One of the most stunningly beautiful and quintessentially medieval towns on our list is Sully Sur Loire, France. For a truly medieval experience, this town should be at the top of your list. Sully Sur Loire is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful medieval towns in Europe.
The most popular thing to do here is to visit the Château de Sully-sur-Loire. This medieval castle dates back to the 14th century, though it maintains its ancient beauty even today.
The chateau is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Surrounded by ramparts and a moat, the grounds are quite beautiful to explore, particularly if you go in the spring or summer months when the flowers are in bloom.
The interior is every bit as charming, with rich tapestries and ornate oil paintings.
Similar to Sighișoara, Sully Sur Loire also holds an annual medieval festival. This one, Les Heures Médiévales, is held on the third weekend of May each year.
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