The 20 Best Mountain Towns to Visit in Europe

Zell am See, Austria

Feeling touristy? Escape to one of these authentic mountain towns in Europe. Options include a fishing village in Scotland, a medieval town in the French Alps, a stunningly preserved fortress in Croatia, and an alpine ski town in Sweden. The choice is yours. Just remember to pack your camera.

Portree, Scotland

20. Portree, Scotland

This waterfront village on the Isle of Skye is where you’ll find all the amenities you need for a laid-back vacation. You can explore sea caves or go hiking in the neighboring Kyleakin (where Bonnie Prince Charlie first landed in Scotland after his Jacobite Rebellion in 1745. But the main attraction is downing a pint of Guinness at The Three Chimneys while enjoying fresh seafood, live music, and views of the surrounding mountains. Five Things You Can Do Here: Hiking | Explore the Town on Foot or by Bike | Wildlife Viewing Best Time to Visit: Spring for hiking, summer for everything else. The Isle of Skye is notoriously rainy, so you might want to avoid it in winter unless you have some serious rain gear.

Bled, Slovenia

19. Bled, Slovenia

This idyllic spot around Lake Bled makes for a wonderful getaway from nearby Ljubljana, Slovenia’s capital city. This alpine town looks like something straight out of a fairy tale: The aptly named Lake Bled, surrounded by mountains and filled with swans, is one of the most peaceful spots in Europe. To get even closer to nature, head to Vintgar Gorge for hiking or take a boat ride on the lake. Five Things You Can Do Here: Hiking | Go Mountain Biking | Take a Boat Ride on Lake Bled | Wine Tasting Best Time to Visit: Spring for hiking, summer for everything else. Like Scotland, this part of the world is pretty rainy, so you might want to avoid it in winter unless you have some serious rain gear.

Gimmelwald, Switzerland

18. Gimmelwald, Switzerland

This charming non-touristy spot in the Bernese Alps is best known for its hiking trails but it’s also one of the few places where it’s easy to access Mürren. You can hike to Schilthorn, which has views of the entire country (and even into Germany), or climb up Mount Stanserhorn, which has a spectacular 360-degree view of the Swiss Alps and Lake Brienz. Five Things You Can Do Here: Hiking | Relaxing in Your Accommodation (Hotel Gurgl is a good choice) | Explore the Area on Foot or by Bike | Take in Some Art and Architecture at Kunstmuseum and Landesmuseum (Bern’s art museum and historical museum, respectively) Best Time to Visit: Summer for hiking, winter for everything else.

Hallstatt, Austria

17. Hallstatt, Austria

This small town on Lake Hallstatt in Upper Austria is just an hour away from Salzburg by train and perfectly captures the spirit of old Austria. It’s a half museum and half recreation: Art Nouveau buildings sit next to quaint homes, and the salt mines made Hallstatt rich. The Dachstein Ice Cave is a must-see, carved into a mountain with ice blanketing around its walls year-round. Five Things You Can Do Here: Hike the Dachstein Mountains, go ice-climbing in the winter, Watch Lake Hallstatt’s ferries go about their daily business, Visit some of the smaller neighbouring villages like Gosau and Obertraun Best Time to Visit: Winter for skiing

Plan de Corones, Italy

16. Plan de Corones, Italy

On your way from Germany to Switzerland, you can stop by this ski town in the Italian Dolomites for a day of skiing on the world-renowned slopes of Kronplatz. If you’re tired of snow sports, there’s still plenty of what you can do in town: You can go river rafting down Lienz or take an easy hike through beautiful meadows. To get around, hop on the Strada Delle Dolomiti, a scenic road that takes you up and down mountain passes. Five Things You Can Do Here: Skiing, snowboarding, ice-skating, cross-country skiing, tobogganing Best Time to Visit: February for Ski World Cup Races

Ljubljana, Slovenia

15. Ljubljana, Slovenia

Despite being the capital of one of Central Europe’s smallest countries, Slovenia’s capital is a big city with culture and dining. The cobbled streets surrounding triple-decker Preseren Square are filled with cafes, bars, and restaurants serving everything from pizza to river trout. After dark, you can head over to Metelkova for some of the city’s best nightlife — it used to be an army garrison, but now it’s a cultural centre that hosts anything from free concerts to graffiti workshops. Five Things You Can Do Here: Stroll through Preseren Square, Visit Tivoli City Park, have dinner on Castle Hill, Explore the old town of Ljubljana, Hike up to Ljubljansko Barje Best Time to Visit: May for the International Street Performers Festival, July for Summer festival, October for grape harvest festivals

Annecy, France

14. Annecy, France

This picturesque lakefront town is a playground for all seasons: You can take to the water in a kayak and explore its shores, head down to one of its many beaches, and go hiking along the nearby trails. In winter, you can ski or snowboard at Le Semnoz. Annecy’s most famous attraction is the Palais de l’Isle, a medieval castle surrounded by canals. You can get there by boat from Lake Annecy. Five Things You Can Do Here: Visit the old town, take a cruise on Lake Annecy, walk around the Fontaine des Tritons, climb up to the viewing platform on top of Chapel des Macchabées, Visit the Annecy International Animation Festival Best Time to Visit: April for flowers and May for chestnuts, November for autumn foliage

Zakopane, Poland

13. Zakopane, Poland

The most popular ski resort in Poland is also among the best in Eastern Europe. On your way there, stop by Wieliczka Salt Mine, one of the most frequented attractions in the country. Once you get to Zakopane, take a cable car or chairlift up to Gubalowka Mountain and marvel at the views. Then, check out the wooden villas that line the city centre and look like something out of a fairy tale. Five Things You Can Do Here: Ski or snowboard at Tatra, take a hike on Krupowki Mountain, Visit Park Miniatur and see what each building in the park is made of, Pay a visit to the museum of Tadeusz Kosciuszko, Poland’s national hero Best Time to Visit: January for Ski Jumping World Championships, February for an Easter bonfire and a cross-country ski competition

Pontresina, Switzerland

12. Pontresina, Switzerland

Some of the best skiing surround this Alpine town in the Swiss Alps (the resort of St. Moritz is just down the road). In summer, you can hike up to Piz Languard, a peak that gives the best view of the Bernina massif. If you’re looking for a bit more adrenaline, Swissraft is a popular white-water rafting outfitter in the area. Five Things You Can Do Here: Go hiking around the surrounding mountains, Visit Mount Titlis and take a trip down its toboggan run, take a hike by the Oeschinensee, Switzerland’s biggest glacial lake, Explore the old town of St. Moritz, Visit the Swiss National Park Best Time to Visit: February for White Carnival, April for Easter celebrations and an art show, October for grape harvest festivals

Berchtesgaden, Germany

11. Berchtesgaden, Germany

This small town sits in Bavaria, at the foot of Germany’s highest mountain (the Zugspitze) and right on Austria’s border. Berchtesgaden is filled with stunning alpine scenery. You can go cross-country skiing in the morning and hike around local lakes after lunch. If you’re looking for something more relaxing, head to the salt baths of Berchtesgaden Spa and get a treatment done in one of the pools there. Five Things You Can Do Here: Go skiing or cross-country skiing in the morning, Visit Königssee and St Bartholomä in the afternoon, Climb up Zugspitze in the summer Best Time to Visit: Late February for the Snow Cup Races, April for one of Europe’s biggest Easter egg hunts, June/July for festivals, September for wine festivals

Bergen, Norway

10. Bergen, Norway

The most famous attraction in this UNESCO World Heritage-listed city is Mount Fløyen. This hill gives you fantastic views of the area and allows you to hike up to the Fløyfjellet summit and visit the Fløibanen funicular. Bergen is also a great destination for seafood lovers: The city’s old fish market, Bryggen, is where you buy fresh cod, haddock, salmon, and shellfish right off the boats that dock there. Five Things You Can Do Here: Hike to Mount Fløyen, a bike and ride around the harbour, Explore the UNESCO-listed Bryggen district, Go shopping in Marken, Bergen’s old quarter Best Time to Visit: May (for the annual Norwegian film festival)

Val Gardena, Italy

9. Val Gardena, Italy

For Italian alpine scenery at its finest, head to Val Gardena, where you can ski or go hiking during the day. Stop by Rifugio Bolzano for lunch — it’s got one of the best views of the Alps you’ll ever see. If you’re looking for something a bit livelier, head to Ortisei, a town that hosts a film festival every year and is filled with some of the finest watering holes and shops. Five Things You Can Do Here: Take a hike on Alpe di Siusi, rent a bike and head to Selva Gardena, walk around the car-free town of Santa Cristina, Visit an alpine farm and try some local cheese Best Time to Visit: March for the annual ski festival, September for the Grape Harvest Festival

Zermatt, Switzerland

8. Zermatt, Switzerland

The most famous resort in the Swiss Alps is a mountaineer’s paradise: You can hike or try rock climbing. The Matterhorn is visible from almost everywhere in the valley — just make sure you don’t hike up to it during a storm, as several climbers and hikers have died on the mountain. Once you’re done outdoors, head over to Bar Glacier 3000 for some après-ski cocktails and live music. Five Things You Can Do Here: Climb up Gornergrat, hike up to Stockhorn and Stockghorn, Visit the Matterhorn Museum, Shop in Zermatt’s main market, Have dinner at Hauser & Wirth Best Time to Visit: May for the Matterhorn run, June for a summer festival

Cinque Terre, Italy

7. Cinque Terre, Italy

Five tiny cliffside towns line this part of the Ligurian coast: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. Make the trek between all five on the Sentiero Azzurro cliffside hiking trail. Once you’ve made it to each town, take a dip at one of the beaches or buy some fresh fish to cook for dinner. Five Things you can do here: Mountain biking, hiking, cliff diving, paragliding, fishing Best time to Visit: Autumn and spring

Grindelwald, Switzerland

6. Grindelwald, Switzerland

Grindelwald is a quaint town surrounded by imposing glaciers and mountain peaks. You can go mountain-climbing or skiing in the area or stop by one of the local cheese farms. Once you get hungry, head to Lauterbrunnen for some gourmet Swiss cooking at Hotel Sternen and check out the town’s impressive waterfalls. Five Things You Can Do Here: Mountain biking, hiking, skiing, paragliding, mountain climbing Best Time to Visit: Spring and Summer
Les Deux Alpes, France

5. Les Deux Alpes, France

This ski resort is home to the only green and black runs in Europe. Even if you’re not a skier, you can stop here for a day on your way to the Verdon Gorge, Europe’s Grand Canyon. Once you’ve had enough of nature, head back to Les Deux Alpes for some après-ski and live music. Five Things You Can Do Here: Skiing, snowboarding, hiking, climbing Best Time to Visit: Winter

Kotor, Montenegro

4. Kotor, Montenegro

This quiet town has become the new hot spot for high-end luxury travellers thanks to its spectacular natural harbour and impressive medieval fortress. You can stop by Hotel Palazzo Drusko for some of the city’s best views or take a day trip to nearby Lake Skadar for some swimming and water sports. Five Things You Can Do Here: Hiking, fishing, horseback riding, wine tasting, diving Best time to Visit: Autumn

Chamonix, France

3. Chamonix, France

This French resort is widely considered one of the best ski destinations in Europe. You can go skiing on Mont Blanc or take advantage of the après-ski scene by heading to some of Chamonix’s many bars and restaurants — La Petite Kitchen gets good reviews for its fondue. If you’re a keen mountaineer, head over to the Aiguille du Midi for spectacular views. Five Things You Can Do Here: Skiing, Snowboarding and Sledding | Climbing the Aiguille du Midi | Go Mountain Biking | Do a Heli-Skiing Tour (through Summit Air) Best Time to Visit: Winter for skiing and snowboarding, summer for mountain biking

Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy

2. Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy

This is the jewel of the Italian Dolomites — a mountain range famous for its distinctive “tufa” rock formations. When you’re not skiing or hiking nearby, indulge in some shopping at Cortina’s open-air market or treat yourself to a meal at one of the town’s fine restaurants (L’Alpino, for example). Five Things You Can Do Here: Skiing, Snowboarding and Sledding | Go Mountain Biking | Take an Aerial Cable Car Journey Over the City Best Time to Visit: Winter for skiing and snowboarding

Zell am See, Austria

1. Zell am See, Austria

This tiny town is surrounded by spectacular alpine scenery (the Grossglockner, Austria’s highest mountain, is visible from almost everywhere) and filled with activities to keep you occupied. For hiking, try the trails around Zell am See; if your legs need a rest, head over to Bruck for some white-water rafting. Five Things You Can Do Here: Skiing, Snowboarding and Sledding | White-Water Rafting | Hiking | Explore the Town on Foot or by Bike Best Time to Visit: Winter for skiing and snowboarding

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