Ghent is one of the charming European towns

6 Charming European Towns to Explore

Charming European Towns You Need to See!

Chris and I are always looking for the most charming European towns to add to our travel bucket list. We think we discovered a few charming and quaint European cities you might just love as well and want to add to your own bucket list.

1. Ghent, Belgium—A Pretty European Town

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When Chris and I arrived at the Marriott in Ghent, it was quite late at night. From the entrance, the exterior of the hotel had a modern look to it.

We planned our stay at this Marriott using hotel reward points. Want to know how to maximize your travel reward points? Here are 6 Steps to Plan Travel with Reward Points.

The next morning, Chris and I packed our backpacks with snacks and drinks for a day of sightseeing, and then went down for breakfast in the hotel restaurant.

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From the front entrance the hotel gave off a totally modern vibe; inside the lobby, it was a spectacle of glass and structure. Ghent wasn’t immediately living up to the hype of being a charming European town.

Interior of Marriott Hotel lobby in Ghent Belgium

At then at the back of the hotel—in the restaurant—Chris and I stepped back in time.

We found beautiful stained glass windows, wide-plank wood floors, and fantastic beamed ceilings as we sat down to breakfast.

Apparently, Marriott had purchased three row homes along the canal and refurbished the homes into a hotel, keeping the rear of the hotel exterior as it had once been.

Ghent, Belgium a charming European town

Chris and I exited at the rear of the hotel after breakfast and walked into a medieval storybook setting with the buildings, the canal, the cobbled streets, the smell, the beautiful sunshine. It was THE quintessential charming European town.

>> Related: 17 Dreamy Small Towns in Italy Near Florence

And we couldn’t have asked for better weather. For November, we were just wearing our fleece jackets.

Our path took us onto Korenlei Street next to the canal in the center of the historic district. The sights and sounds were just amazing. We continued past the Korenmarkt and St. Nicholas’ Church to St. Bavo’s Cathedral

There was something like 300 crazy narrow steps to the top of the church to the bell tower!

Good to note that there was an elevator that you could take part of the way up. Every 15 minutes the bells chimed and on the hour music played; we happened to be in the room where the large organ grinder type thing started to play. It wasn’t too loud, but cool. 

Ghent boasts a castle surrounded by a moat. If you tour the site, you will be able to see the castle’s gatehouse, keep, ramparts, count’s residence, and stables. And don’t overlook the castle’s unique collection of torture devices.

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We enjoyed a boat tour along the canal after exploring St. Bavo’s Cathedral and St. Nicholas’ church. Our guide, Matt, gave the tour in French and then English. I LOVED Ghent. It was a hidden gem we were thrilled to find and explore.

I would say that Ghent was one of the MOST charming towns in Europe that I have visited.

The view from St. Michael’s bridge at night offered a beautiful vista of the romantic side of Ghent. My husband snapped this awesome picture with his iPhone.

Ghent Belgium at night time

>> Related: Check out more of my Favorite Photos of Belgium.

2. Riquewihr, France

On our way from Strasbourg, France to Freiberg, Germany we stopped at two charming European towns—Colmar and Riquewihr. The scenery was beautiful as we zoomed through the French countryside.

Chris had done extensive research to determine that though we couldn’t leave our luggage at the Colmar train station, but we could leave it at the bike store adjacent to the train station for a small fee. We had thought we might rent bikes later in the day, so this was a perfect option. (You’ll want to contact the bike store directly to see if this is a service they still provide.)

The timing here was perfect. The bike shop closed at noon and we arrived at 11:45 am to drop off our luggage.

We then quickly found the bus to Riquewihr for the noon departure. Our family was the only riders on the bus as we passed through the French countryside dotted with vineyards and farms.

We stepped off the bus into a fairy tale. Apparently, the animators and creators of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast came to Riquewihr when looking for inspiration in creating that old provincial town. If ever there was a charming European town, this was it.

And you could see the charm the moment you stepped under the arch into Riquewihr.

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The scene was delightful and picturesque. Riquewihr has been classified as one of the most beautiful villages in France or Les Plus Beaux Villages de France. If you go, you’ll see why. It didn’t even seem too overrun with tourists. At least not when we arrived.

We found this cute little sidewalk cafe for lunch—Restaurant-Pizzeria du Vignoble. It was out of the way of the main flow of tourists and a perfect place to enjoy lunch on the patio.

We spent the afternoon happily wandering the streets, taking pictures, and checking out the many shops. It did get busier later in the afternoon…and it started to rain just as we were ready to leave. We stood under an awning waiting out the rain while also waiting for a taxi to come and pick us up.

We shared the awning with a British couple who were happy to chat. They were so much fun. The new word that Chris taught the British lady—hangry (adj.): to be hungry and angry all at once. She said it fit her son’s personality perfectly. “Oh, I’ll remember that one,” she quipped.

3. Colmar, France

As our family returned to Colmar, our taxi driver dropped us off in the Old Town of Colmar (another one of the pretty European towns you need to visit), and we wandered around the cobbled streets, stopping at some of the quaint shops, and drooling over the patisserie windows. We may have sampled a few of their wares.

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Want to see more photos?

Take a peak at more of my Favorite Photos of France in 2017 and each of the charming European towns that we visited.

4. Segovia, Spain

Segovia was the perfect day trip from Madrid. We hopped on one of the fast trains out of Chamartin Train Station in Madrid.

Segovia, a town in the higher mountain regions of Spain, sported chilly temperatures in the 40s for our November day of touring yet it still met our charming European town requirements.

Chris and I were grateful for the warmth of our puffy jackets. We joked that we were the “puffies” on vacation in Segovia! I will admit I was getting pretty tired of my puffy jacket. Mine was leaking feathers all over my clothes! (I bought this new one when we got home.)

The train station in Segovia was quite a distance from the city, not walkable for sure. We took a bus in to the Aqueduct bus stop and from there walked up the hill away from the Aqueduct (where all of the other recently arrived tourists were congregating) and continued on toward the Alcazar of Segovia (literally meaning Segovia Fortress) a castle on the far end of town. 

Our intent was to outsmart the tourists and work our way back to see the Aqueduct later in the day as we visited this charming European town.

In our research, Chris and I learned that Segovia was famous for three main attractions: the Roman Aqueduct, the cathedral, and the castle.

Hurrying past all of the tourists, we arrived at the castle and purchased tickets that included an audio tour of the castle. Apparently this castle was used as a model for Disney’s Cinderella castle.

Castle in Segovia Spain

As far as castles go, this castle was perfectly situated as it was completely impenetrable and inescapable, used at one time to house prisoners.

We loved the views of the city from the top of the castle, posting photos to Instagram from our iPhones [affiliate] while we were there.

View from the roof of the Segovia castle in Spain

We stopped for lunch at Da Mario Trattoria Pizzeria (listed on Yelp as the #1 pizza in Remondo, Segovia, Spain). Yes, Italian food in Spain!

Chris ordered pizza, and I ordered Gnocchi a la Bolognese. Even in Europe, I changed my ordered to my liking. There was so much food; one meal between the two of us would have been fine.

As the afternoon wore on, the sun sunk in the sky and started to cool off the temperatures even more. We checked out the Segovia Cathedral (it was really dark inside) and other structures close to the main square.

Chris and I followed winding streets, hoping to pop out at the top of the Aqueduct. Success!

After the necessary picture-taking (switching back and forth between my Canon 6d Mark II and my cell phone camera), we took the stairs down to the base of the Aqueduct.

The Aqueduct, amazingly well preserved, was built by the Romans around 50 BC. It’s two tiers of arches have stood strong over the years, as the structure was designed and built with un-mortared, brick-like granite blocks.

Roman aqueduct in Segovia Spain Europe Travel

Before leaving Segovia, Chris and I warmed up with delicious Spanish hot chocolate.

We took a bumpy number 11 bus back to the train station, a train back to Chamartin, and a metro to Puerto del Sol.

Chris found this cool restaurant on Yelp called Takos Al Pastor.  It was a trendy spot offering tacos for 1€. The queue formed out the door; we waited for about 30 minutes before ordering something we hoped would be great. It was tasty and messy—fingers only and a “ten-napkin” meal for me. If you are ever in Madrid, Chris and I highly recommend it.

>> Related: Check out more of my Favorite Photos of Spain here.

5. Lourmarin, France

Lourmarin, nestled in the Luberon Valley, was about one hour from Aix-en-Provence. The Luberon Valley offered most charming towns in France, one after another of picturesque beauty.

As Chris and I drove, we enjoyed the beautiful vineyards with yellow changing leaves, olive gardens, apple orchards, and rolling hills. We were both enchanted with Lourmarin.

Because I tend to wander about with my camera whereever I travel, I especially loved the charm of Lourmarin. It was just a lovely little village with the cutest shops. I was telling Chris that the French really know how to create a vignette to draw you in to their stores, as well as picturesque scenes as you drive to make the passing countryside even more beautiful.

Blue shutters and curved stairs in Lourmarin France Europe Travel

Since we were visiting late in the season, there were a lot or shops and restaurants that weren’t open. Of the shops that we did visit, we were always welcomed in with “bonjour”. We felt welcome in this charming European town and all the other ones we were able to visit as we toured the South of France.

We enjoyed dinner at L’Insolite on our return to Aix-en-Provence.

  • This picture with the curved stairs and blue doors is one of my all time Favorite Photos of the South of France. In fact, my husband had it printed on metal and it is stunning hanging in my front entry. If you are ever interested in purchasing this photo as a metal print, let me know.

6. Hallstatt, Austria

The clouds rolled in for the afternoon as we set off toward Hallstatt, a beautiful European town tucked into the mountainside next to Hallstatt Lake in the Salzkammergut Region of Austria. Hallstatt is famous for its salt mines.

We stopped at a bathroom before entering the town and amazingly enough, they were free to use. Not always the case as most public restrooms are usually 50 euro per person to use.

Clad in our rain jackets and carrying umbrellas, we set off to explore another one of the most charming places in Europe.

Just as we arrived on the main street of town, rain started with a few drops here and there, and then it just poured.

We stood under a tree on the patio of a restaurant, keeping dry and watching as the wait staff secured the outdoor seating area.

Red Lanterns hanging outside cafe in Hallstatt Austria

The tourists hurried back to their cars and the streets of this charming European town were left bare except for a few patient tourists such as ourselves who had waited out the rain.

Really, it was like watching ants pouring out of their anthill!

It took about a half an hour for the rain to stop, and when it did, we had most of the town to ourselves. And it was delightful.

Iconic photo of hallstatt austria Europe Travel

Hallstatt has been named the most Instagrammable town in the world. As such, it is often overrun by tourists. It was a blessing in disguise to have a rainy day for our visit to this charming European town.

Don’t forget to journal your travel experiences along the way. Check out my latest lined, blank Travel Journal on Amazon.

>> Related: How to Best Journal Your Travels and Your Life

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Final Thoughts on Charming European Towns to Explore

I would happily return to any of these amazing towns. They were charming, beautiful, and welcoming.

Do you have a few favorite pretty European towns or charming French towns that you have visited? I would love to add more of the most charming places in Europe to my bucket list.

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Sydney Hooten-Rynone

I am currently stationed in Germany & cannot wait to explore more of Europe when COVID-19 restrictions loosen up. Definitely adding all of these charming places to my must-visit list! Thank you for sharing!

1 year ago

These places look beautiful! I’ve only been to a few spots in Europe and am hoping to get to go back for much longer one day!

11 months ago

Can’t believe I live in the Netherlands and still haven’t crossed over to Belgium! I really need to go! Hopefully now that vaccinations are on track I can get back to it 🙂

Julia Bocchese
11 months ago

I’ve only been to Paris in France so far, but I really want to explore some of the smaller towns! They look so pretty!

11 months ago

Hallstatt looks absolutely stunning. I would love to visit! I’ve been to some of the bigger cities in Europe but would love to return to explore some of the charming towns. Thanks for sharing!

11 months ago

I love Europe for all of its hidden towns. Segovia sounds wonderful and the castle is definitely fairytale material. I can see why it gave Disney some inspo

11 months ago

That castle definitely looks like something straight out of a cartoon and the aqueduct looks amazing.

10 months ago

Such beautiful photos! And a wonderful guide. Will keep these places in mind for when I’m travelling around the region.

Jenn Record
10 months ago

Oh my goodness do you give me wanderlust! These places sound delightful! I would love to explore them all.

10 months ago

I’m going to France in December and we’re planning on spending a day or two in Colmar. I’m so excited, it looks like such a cute town!

10 months ago

That castle in Spain looks incredible! I love lists like this… small and charming towns that aren’t as “popular.” THere are so many hidden gems if you can get past the tourist attractions in the big city. THank you for sharing this! – Linzey @thefamilyfuntour

Melissa Miller
Melissa Miller
10 months ago

I’ve yet to go to Europe, but when I do I plan to travel slow and for a while and these places look so so charming! So this will definitely be helpful. Saving for the future!

10 months ago

I am absolutly obsessed with Colmar & Riquewihr now! I had never heard of these adorable French towns, but I’m so happy I’ve now discovered them, and so many other ccharming European towns that are off the beaten path!

10 months ago

We love Segovia. So glad to made your list. Will definitely need to check out Ghent.

10 months ago

Sign me up for all of these! They all sound so lovely, but I think Hallstatt and Segovia are at the top of my list! So beautiful!

9 months ago

Segovia sounds great! I didn’t realize it could be done as a day trip. The castle is beautiful!

Emilia Taneva
8 months ago

Wow! There are just so many places to see on your blog. It was very surprising to learn how they divided class status before in Cours Mirabeau. The Les Baux-de-Provence looks amazing too! 

Linda (LD Holland)
7 months ago

I always love to get suggestions for charming towns to visit. And since we have only visited Hallstatt, there were some great new European suggestions on this list. I love the small quaint villages with charm and local sights and tastes. Great for day trips or a short stay.