These Breathtakingly Beautiful Small Towns Will Make You Want to Go Off the Beaten Path

  • Post category:Uncategorized
  • Post comments:0 Comments
  • Post last modified:February 13, 2024
  • Reading time:19 mins read
You are currently viewing These Breathtakingly Beautiful Small Towns Will Make You Want to Go Off the Beaten Path

If you want to get away from it all, visit one of these small towns that is so stunningly beautiful.

Everyone loves a little town. When you get in your car and drive off the highway, there’s nothing better than going to a cool mountain spot, finding a hidden coastal oasis, or finding an artistic community by chance. Small towns are full of history and beauty, and the best ones are also full of friendly people, great vibes, and delicious food.

This appeals to people from outside the US as well, though the allure of the world’s most famous places and busiest towns can take away from the smaller, more personal experiences that are just a drive, train ride, or ferry ride away. We often say we want to “travel like a local,” but being a guest in a small town is the only way to really “travel like a local.” In fact, they’re often so beautiful that it hurts.

We’ve put together a list of some of the world’s best small towns to visit (don’t worry, there are also plenty of American small towns on this list). Some of them are very small on the map. Some are UNESCO places that people come from all over the world to see. There are also some of the most charming, friendly, and stunningly beautiful places on Earth among these well-traveled and out of the way spots.

Go Shirakawa

David DUCOIN/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images
David DUCOIN/Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images

No. of people: 1,630
During the winter, Shirakawa-go, which is on top of a mountain and next to a cold, clear river, looks like the perfect alpine Christmas town. Gassho-zukuri buildings with raised roofs can be seen when you get closer to what at first glance looks like gingerbread houses. They have roofs made of 3-foot stacks of woven reeds that are angled to look like praying hands. This is why the town was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1995. And that wonderful smell you can smell? From the stoves, these buildings with paper walls get warm enough to make a winter wonderland. As summer approaches, the village changes from white to a deep green colour. The streets are lined with bright blooms that make the place smell like potpourri and feel like a Miyazaki movie. —Matt Miller

Český Krumlov of the Czech Republic

Education Images/Universal Images Group/Getty Images
Education Images/Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Number of people: 13,557
Český Krumlov is a tiny dot on the map—a red-roofed village tucked into a green carpet in Southern Bohemia, where the Vltava River forms a S shape. Since the Middle Ages, it has been the picture of perfect small-town life. It has a lot of Renaissance, Gothic, and Baroque building. The castle is the best place to see these styles in person. You can enjoy its old-world charm, which comes in the form of winding streets, alleyways with cobblestones, and buildings whose paint is peeling off in shades of pink, yellow, and green. —Uy, Michelle Rae

Canada’s Banff

Photo courtesy of Fairmont Resort Hotels
Photo courtesy of Fairmont Resort Hotels

No. of people: 8,905
Banff is a Rocky Mountain hideaway that feels beautiful no matter how much snow is on the ground. The area is mostly known for its ski resorts. Banff is the gateway to the same-named national park, which is one of the most beautiful places in Canada on its own. It’s also a great place to combine a full schedule with almost perfect mountain views. There are hot springs, slopes, and trails through the national park where you can see bears and elk sliding across mountain lakes. When you’re ready to retire, you can stay at a famous castle-shaped hotel on a hill. Plus, it’s surprisingly cheap to get to this town in Alberta; it only takes a short flight from many US places, so it’s easy to get away for the weekend. —Athrid Tiana

Ascend to the Top of the World in Banff National Park

Slovene Solčava

rechitansorin/iStock/Getty Images
rechitansorin/iStock/Getty Images

Population: about 500
Everyone in this mountain town, which is about an hour and a half from Ljubljana, the capital city, feels like they are part of the same big family. It’s not hard to believe, since the population is only about 500 people (some say it’s closer to 200). The valley is very small and is surrounded by tall mountains. There are a few homes, family-run hotels, and guest houses in the valley. Food is very close to where you are. Curried meats and homemade cheeses come from farms nearby, and there’s even a gin made with herbs from the area. As you might guess, there isn’t a town centre or a local pub here, so get ready for peace and quiet and a chance to explore the well-worn trails that wind through the mountains. —Lanes Nieset

st ives, cornwall, uk, seaside resort, from afar, with blue water

St. Ives, UK

Andrew Michael/iStock/Getty Images
Andrew Michael/iStock/Getty Images

Number of people: 10,756
This small fishing town on the southwest tip of Cornwall has grown into a cultural capital of England. It has its own Tate gallery and an annual arts festival that is known all over the world. But those are just the big names. The headland has four beaches with golden sand. On one side are Atlantic waves, and on the other are calm blue waters. The “downalong” neighbourhood by the harbour is a charming maze of jumbled cottages, small craft shops, and lots of artist workshops. You see, St. Ives has a natural light that is so beautiful that people cross seas to see it. This is something that no architect or urban planner can build. It’s what’s brought artists to the town for almost one hundred years, from famous names like Bernard Leach and Barbara Hepworth to people just starting out with watercolours. —Melmoth, Jonathan

Jajce, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Flickr/Darij Zadnikar
Flickr/Darij Zadnikar

Jajce, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Number of people: 30,758
There are many old mountain towns in Bosnia, but the stari grad of Jajce is the best maintained. It was the centre of Bosnia in the Middle Ages, and you can still see the old castle on top of the hill and walk around the maze of winding cobblestone streets below. But the best thing about Jajce is a natural wonder: the 72-foot Pliva waterfall, which falls over a sheer cliff where the Pliva and Vrbas rivers meet. Three sides of Jajce are water, which makes it a great place to start for some of the best whitewater paddling in Bosnia. Says Conor O’Rourke

New Zealand’s Wanaka

Photo courtesy of Lake Wānaka Tourism
Photo courtesy of Lake Wānaka Tourism

Population: about 9,000
If you can, try to get a window seat on the flight into Queenstown airport over New Zealand’s tall Southern Alps. This desert range is right in the middle of the airport that serves Queenstown and Wanaka. In the winter, this range is more beautiful than its northern cousin. Queenstown, which is popular for outdoor sports, overshadows the real gem of this area, which is small Wanaka. There is a beautiful mountain lake right next to the quiet streets of downtown. People come to swim and have picnics there, and the big hills look almost pink against the blue sky. At Wildwire Wanaka’s Lord of the Rungs, you can walk up the world’s tallest waterfall via ferrata for the best view of the city. You’ll be climbing up metal rungs that go up almost 1,300 feet up the side of a rock. In front of you is a waterfall. —MM

Moving to the most beautiful country in the world is easy for Americans.

Ko Phi Phi, Thailand

Peerapas Mahamongkolsawas/Moment/Getty Images
Peerapas Mahamongkolsawas/Moment/Getty Images

Population: about 3000
No one is talking about Ko Phi Phi island as being underrated anymore. People have been visiting the island for a long time, long before you forgot about Leonardo DiCaprio in The Beach. But even the most annoying people can’t take away from how beautiful it is. The light tan sand, turquoise water, and tall emerald-colored limestone rocks don’t make the beach feel like a hidden piece of paradise like they used to, but that doesn’t make them any less amazing. There will be a lot of people on the speedboats and on foot at Monkey Beach, where brave monkeys will walk up and ask for food. Thai beaches are known for their beautiful mix of blues and greens, and this beach is no exception. The friendly animals make it a fun place to enjoy the view. —MM

Brazil, Paraty

Guaxinim/Shutterstock.com
Guaxinim/Shutterstock.com

Number of people: 44,175
There is a town on Instagram that looks a lot like Paraty. There is fragrant bougainvillaea hanging from red-tiled houses and some really hardcore door porn on the streets that are perfect for taking pictures. But Paraty isn’t just pretty to look at. On Brazil’s Atlantic coast, it’s a fancy bay town in the middle of the distance between Rio and Sao Paulo. Life here moves slowly, like a horse-drawn carriage going over cobblestones (cars aren’t allowed in the historic Old Town), and the colonial buildings shine in the sun while palm trees sway in the wind. There are many different kinds of pretty boats in the harbour, and they’re not just there to look nice. Choose your favourite and sail to a close beach on an empty island. —JM

Stepantsminda, Georgia

Feng Wei Photography/Moment/Getty Images
Feng Wei Photography/Moment/Getty Images

That’s 1,326 people.
Architecture and wild beauty don’t usually go together so well. In this valley town, everyone looks up at the 14th-century Gergeti Trinity Church on a hilltop and the belltower next to it. Both of them have views of 16,560-foot Mount Kazbek, which is covered in glaciers. Stepantsminda is a great place to stay if you want to explore Kazbegi National Park’s hot springs, waterfalls, and lakes (both acidic and fizzy). You’re only a few miles from the Russian border, which isn’t as fun to talk about as, say, white vs. red wine. This country has over 500 different kinds of grapes and many wineries. —Burke Northam

Hallstatt, Austria

Walter Geiersperger/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images
Walter Geiersperger/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images

No. of people: 860
Hallstatt is a town that is very typical of Austria, but it’s not easy to get there. As you drive through the stunning Salzkammergut region, you’ll see many beautiful Austrian spa towns, such as Bad Ischl, that will make you want to stray from your path. The small turn-off is so easy to miss that it’s funny. When you finally get there, treat yourself to a pint of Stiegl. It won’t make you feel dizzy nearly as much as the stunning views on all sides. Hallstatt is thought to be the oldest village in Europe that has always had people living in it. It’s hard to believe how small this Alpine town is. The pastel Baroque buildings and wooden homes are squished together so closely along the foot of the Dachstein Mountains that they look like they might fall over. As the boats slowly move across Lake Hallstatt’s image of the town, you’ll be envious of their view of the Austrian Alps. —President Keller

Guatapé, Colombia

©Studio One-One/Moment/Getty Images
©Studio One-One/Moment/Getty Images

5,400 people live there.
Getting to Guatapé by road means a rough, stomach-churning ride through mountains a couple of hours east of Medellín. If you take the helicopter instead (you deserve it!) you’ll get a better view of a huge man-made lake full of water skiers and islands that move on the water like turtles. One of the islands draws tourists to the bombed-out home that Pablo Escobar used to vacation in. From above, you can also avoid being scared by the huge La Piedra monolith—the 649 steps to the top have stopped many a free-wheeling flaneur in their tracks. To see the crown jewel, the happy Pueblo de Zócalos, where houses are decorated with colourful paintings of people, shapes, and animals, you’ll have to land at some point. Things move slowly here, it’s quiet at night, and the coffee is extra strong. —Eva Salisbury

Sakrisøy and Reine, Norway

Dennis Fischer Photography/Moment/Getty Images
Dennis Fischer Photography/Moment/Getty Images

Population: less than 1,000
These two very small fishing towns are on Norway’s Lofoten Archipelago, very, very far north (like, inside the Arctic Circle). They are a bit of a pain to get to—you’ll need to take at least one flight, a bus, and/or a boat to make the long (but beautiful!) trip there. But if you can make it that far, you’ll see some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. You can hike, boat through the fjords, or look for the Northern Lights from the Reinebringen. A view of the mountains and fishermen’s huts can be seen. This could also be the start of a road trip along the beautiful E10 highway in the Lofoten Islands. —TA

The Azores and Furnas

PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP/Getty Images
PATRICIA DE MELO MOREIRA/AFP/Getty Images

That’s 1,439 people.
The Azores are finally becoming known around the world. They are quickly becoming more famous, just like the rest of Portugal. Geothermal features can be seen in the food as well. The local speciality is cozido, a traditional meat stew cooked in the boiling water that spews from the geysers. Furnas, which is known as “The Hydropolis of the World,” is built on top of an active volcanic crater and is filled with geysers, fumaroles, and hot springs. This is a good thing, especially when you swim in the therapeutic springs at Terra Nostra Botanical Garden, because it means that stinky sulphur gas is bubbling up from the ground. The only thing that will be left of your stress is a clear sulphuric-orange tint on your swimsuit. —Prince Paul

Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany

bluejayphoto/iStock/Getty Images
bluejayphoto/iStock/Getty Images

Number of people: 11,238
Along Germany’s Romantic Road, you can find towns and buildings that are very, well, romantic. But when you get to Rothenburg ob der Tauber (there are other Rothenburgs, but you want this one), you’ll fall in love with the best-preserved mediaeval walled town in the country. This fairy tale town’s signature Bavarian recipe includes pastel-colored half-timbered buildings, woodwork from the Middle Ages, and shopping that is surprisingly not tacky. The Mediaeval Crime and Justice Museum is a short trip into the dark side. It shows how people were tortured in the Middle Ages in a very frightening way. On a lighter note, the wineries in the hills around Franconia that are hundreds of years old will produce great local wines and make your fairy tale come true. —PJ

Eze, France

Smithlandia Media/Moment/Getty Images
Smithlandia Media/Moment/Getty Images

No. of people: 2,343
On the coast between Nice and Monaco, this cute mediaeval town is cut into the side of a 1,400-foot mountain. The curving cobblestone streets are lined with statues from the 1700s and cute sandstone shops that are decorated with bright flowers. The botanical park (Jardin Exotique d’Eze) with a view of the small town is a must-see on your trip. With plants all around and stunning views of the French Riviera in every direction, the garden has that alluring feel that you can only find on the Riviera. —The Shylie Rimmer

Port Douglas, Australia

Visit Port Douglas & Daintree

Visit Port Douglas & Daintree
3,504 people live there.
Port Douglas, which is humid and windy, looks a lot like the Caribbean. The mountains are five different shades of green and fall into the Coral Sea, which is a dreamy blue colour. Even though this town is on the shore, it still follows island time, which is set to a chorus of English you don’t fully understand. At the IronBar Saloon, you’ll see rich tourists as well as dedicated backpackers and dive bums getting ready to hike in the Daintree Rainforest or dive in the Great Barrier Reef. Before you leave, the Captain Cook Highway leads you to Cairns in an hour. It’s a beautiful, tropical version of the Pacific Coast Highway, but there are a lot more sights along the way. —MM

Western Australia’s Cape Walk Is Full of Lighthouses, Wine Trails, and Cliff Vistas

Sweden – Visby

Westend61/Westend61/Getty Images
Westend61/Westend61/Getty Images

22,000 people live there.
Gotland is the most beautiful island in Sweden’s famous archipelago. It is about 60 miles off the central eastern coast and is full of cute little towns and villages. When you close your eyes and dream of Scandinavia, its biggest “city,” Visby, is what you see (with or without an ABBA member). The walled city is on the Baltic Sea and is thought to be the best-preserved mediaeval city in Scandinavia. Walking through its stone streets and lush green spaces is like walking through history, from the Stone Age to the Middle Ages and now to the present day. You can fuel your exploration with cold beer from Gotland Brewery and delicious pastries and seafood. Go to Sweden’s biggest island to learn about its Viking history and see some strange sea stacks after you’re done falling in love with the city. – Kryza Andy

Sweden’s Second-Largest City Is a Big, Sustainable Playground

Ronda in Spain
Number of people: 34,000
This Andalusian beauty is about 65 beautiful miles from Málaga. Since it was founded in the sixth century, right on the edge of a huge cliff, it has been giving tourists weak knees. As you cross the impressive Puente Nuevo (New Bridge), which stands 400 feet above the El Tajo gorge, you’ll let out a big gasp. This place has Roman and Moorish buildings from long ago, and it’s not very crowded, which makes it even better to enjoy places like the Arab baths from the 1300s. Make time for a quick trip to Setenil de las Bodegas, which is close by and is another beautiful small town known for its delicious pork meals. You can enjoy them in the shade of the cliffside that the town was cut into. –AK

Italy – Pietrapertosa

Evgeni Dinev Photography/Moment/Getty Images
Evgeni Dinev Photography/Moment/Getty Images

Population: about 1,600
There are many beautiful small towns in Italy. In fact, there are less than 4,000 people living in the Cinque Terre. But if you want to see something completely different, go to Basilicata in the deep south. There, Pietrapertosa is tucked between two very sharp peaks in the Lucanian Dolomites. Many of the town’s 8th-century buildings are cut right into the mountain, providing natural protection from the wind for the people who lived there. Also, there is an old Arab neighbourhood from the Middle Ages with dark sandstone cottages, and every summer there is a fair with Arabic food and dancing. Angel Flight gives you a view from above. You’ll be strapped into a metal harness that’s connected to a steel wire that goes from the highest point of Pietrapertosa to the village of Castelmezzano, which is close by. – Marchetti Silvia

Advertisement

Leave a Reply