Who can resist a picture-perfect village? Cities may have their charms, but sometimes, the best things in life really do come in small packages. If you're sick of overpriced restaurants, tacky souvenir shops, and hoards of sightseers, skip the hustle and bustle of the city and discover Europe's hidden gems instead. In fairness, not all villages are bucolic paradises. Some have become such firm fixtures on the tourist trail, they feel more like amusements parks than anything else. Naturally, there's a reason so many people visit them - they're beautiful - but if you'd rather not spend your day jostling for elbow space, you'll find plenty of equally delightful villages that have so far managed to escape the notice of the travel companies and keep their charms to themself. If you're ready to experience some old-world charm, scenic views, and authentic culture, check out our pick of the 20 most beautiful European villages to visit.
20. Reine, Norway
With a population of just 314 people, the village of Reine is definitely not the biggest village in Norway, but it might well be one of its most beautiful. It's set on the idyllic Lofoten Islands on the country's northwestern coast, an area known for its breathtaking scenery, frozen beaches, colorful fishing villages, and dramatic fjords. Reine is a picture-perfect dream, with charming yellow buildings, majestic mountain peaks, and an almost otherworldly view over the glacial waters.
19. Giethoorn, Netherlands
Known as one of the most beautiful villages in Europe to cntraveler.com and as the "Venice of the Netherlands" to everyone else, the tiny Dutch village of Giethoorn is an idyllic, incredibly peaceful place with no crowds, no clubs, and, most importantly of all, no cars. To get around, you'll need to either hop on your bike or take a boat along the canal. It's pretty at any time of year, but when the canal freezes over in winter, it turns into a winter wonderland - not to mention a great place to practice your ice skating.
18. Assos, Greece
There are small villages and then there's Assos, a tiny Kefalonian community that boasts a total of 88 year-round residents. In fairness, its ranks do well significantly in the warmer months, when legions of tourists descend on it to see out the summer in style. Tucked away at the bottom of a rocky outpost and bordered on three sides by the turquoise waters of the Mediterranean Sea, its location needs to be seen to be believed. There's not a whole lot going on, but there's always fun to be had lazing around its pebble beach or tucking into some traditional Greek cuisine at one of the restaurants scattered around the marina.
17. Staithes, England
The North Yorkshire coastline is always beautiful, but few places make quite so much of that beauty as the colorful fishing village of Staithes. Cute little cottages ring its lovely harbor, impressive mansions stud its clay cliffs, and the pace of life is delightfully relaxed. Factor in twisting streets, winding alleys, scenic views over the sea, a glut of fine seafood restaurants, and age-old local customs, and it's easy to see what makes it one of the prettiest villages in England.
16. Hallstatt, Austria
As travelandleisure.com says, the storybook Austrian town of Hallstatt enjoys an enviable setting on Hallstätter See, with a pristine, glassy lake on one side and the towering Dachstein mountains on the other. As you'd expect of a UNESCO World Heritage site, its architecture is impressive, with ivy-colored buildings and churches that date to the 12th century. A charming square and dozens of candlelit restaurants complete the pretty scene.
15. Albarracín, Spain
If remote mountain villages float your boat, you're going to love Albarracín in Spain's Aragon region. Set in a rocky valley on the banks of the Guadalaviar River, the village was almost reduced to rubble during the Spanish Civil War. Fortunately, the government intervened before it fell into complete ruin, carefully restoring the streets to their former glory. Peppered with colorful houses of pink and orange and red, it's a must-visit for architecture buffs - be sure to check out the 12th-century Castle of Albarracín in particular.
14. Cinque Terre, Italy
Why stick with one village when you can have five? Cinque Terre (which translates to Five Lands) is the collective name for a series of five fishing villages (Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore) in Liguria in northwest Italy. Each village is set in the ruggedly beautiful Cinque Terre National Park, a place of such natural and historical significance, it's been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Regardless of which village you visit (although you really should make time for all five), you can expect stunning coastal views, rugged mountain trails, romantic architecture, great food, and a deliciously relaxed pace of life. Just one slight word of warning - the days of Cinque Terre being a closely guarded secret known only to the lucky few are well and truly over. During the summer, it gets packed out with tourists. If you can't stand crowds, do yourself a favor and skip on over to the nearby village of Tellaro. Located just a few miles down the coast, it has much the same charm as Cinque Terre but, thanks to its relative inaccessibility, very few of its tourists.
13. Hvar, Croatia
Croatia's coastline is one of the most scenic in Europe. One of the best places to enjoy it is the island of Hvar, which has a deserved reputation as one of the country's most beautiful destinations. Its main village is a delight, with Gothic palaces, pedestrianized stone streets, quaint shops, and a lively cafe culture. Within just a few miles of its center, you'll find orderly vineyards, fragrant lavender fields, and some of the best beaches in Europe (although just be earned, it's rare that you'll find a sand beach on this part of the coastline, so be prepared for pebbles and remember to keep your flip flops on if you have sensitive feet).
12. Colmar, France
Traditional houses, Middle Age architecture, lush vineyards, scenic canals, gorgeous views... if you were asked to describe the perfect Alsatian village, it's likely you'd come up with something that looks a lot like Colmar. What sets it apart from other communities are the lights. For whatever reason, someone decided to string 1100 computer-driven fiber optic lights around the town. During major events and local festivals, the flick gets switched and the town lights up under their colorful glow. It's a wonderful sight, making an already beautiful village even better.
11. Ísafjörður, Iceland
Iceland's Westfjords peninsula is beautiful enough anyway, but it's made all the prettier by Ísafjörðu, a tiny community of just over 2000 people that's completely surrounded by towering mountains. If you intend to visit, make sure to dress warmly - with winter temperature dropping as low as 20 degrees F and summer temperature rarely exceeding 50 degrees F, it's as chilly as it is beautiful.
10. Popeye Village, Malta
As roadaffair.com notes, one of the most beautiful villages in Europe is actually a vamped up ’80s movie set. Once the setting of Robin Williams' 1980 movie "Popeye," Popeye Village (or Sweethaven Village, as it's also known) has now grown into one of Malta's biggest attractions, drawing thousands of visitors each year to admire its colorful clusters of wooden homes, visit its museums, experience a wine tasting, and enjoy the numerous activities on offer.
9. Santa Maddalena, Italy
As topdreamer.com notes, Santa Maddalena's biggest claim to fame is as the legendary village where the miraculous image of Santa Maddalena was washed up by the Fopal river. A historic mountain village in the region of South Tyrol, it's a delightfully sleepy place with a charming square, a labyrinth of cobblestone streets, and, of course, the famous Santa Maddalena church.
8. Oia, Greece
Greece is peppered with gorgeous villages, but even so, Oia stands out as something special. Featuring beautiful blue-domed orthodox churches, whitewashed dwellings decorated with colorful flowers, a tangle of small shops, art galleries, and local restaurants, and sublime views of Ammoudi and the Santorini volcano, it's unquestionably one of the country's most dazzling gems.
7. Telč, Czech Republic
Prague might be the most beautiful city in the Czech Republic, but Telc holds the title of its prettiest village. Set in the scenic surrounds of south Moravia, it's a village with a competitive spirit. Back in its early days, there were fights (verbal and sometimes otherwise) about whose house was the best, with each household aiming to make their home the loveliest. The same spirit is still alive today, even if people tend to keep quieter about it. The end result is a delightful series of Baroque- and Renaissance-style buildings painted in pretty pastel shades. The main square with its fish-filled ponds is exceptionally picturesque, as is the imposing Renaissance-era château that sits at the center of the village.
6. Smogen, Sweden
According to dailytravelpill.com, the Swedish community of Smogen is one of the most beautiful villages in Europe. It's not hard to see how they've reached their conclusion. With its colorful buildings, bustling harbor, and picture-perfect views, it's a delight. But be warned - with each passing year, more and more people are cottoning onto its charms. If you want to visit before it gets overwhelmed with tourists, now's the time to book that flight.
5. Folegandros, Greece
Santorini is a beautiful island, but if you prefer a quieter pace of life and fewer crowds, hop on a ferry over to the nearby island of Folegandros, where you'll find whitewashed buildings garlanded with colorful blooms, bright blue domes, slate paved streets, and, best of all, almost no tourists. During the blistering heat of summer, there are few more beautiful places in the world to cool off than in the emerald waters of its secluded beach.
4. Ortahisar, Turkey
Ortahisar might be located in one of Turkey's most populous regions, but it's doing a fine job of ignoring the fact. It's small, wonderfully relaxed, and completely immune to the hustle and bustle of modern life. The towns surrounding it might be turning into tourist traps, but life here remains much the same as it always has. Key highlights include an underground cave bar, a staggering 78-meter high castle, and the people, who are just as charming as the village itself.
3. Bibury, England
The second English village to hit our list of Europe's most beautiful villages is Bibury. Set in the Cotswolds (an extremely prosperous, exceptionally pretty region of the country that's been officially designated an “Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty”), the village consists of rows of ancient stone cottages strewn along the banks of the River Coin. Of those rows, Arlington Row is the most famous, boasting a series of sepia-toned weavers cottages that date back to the 14th century. So significant is the street in English history, it's even made it onto the pages of the UK passport.
2. Simiane La Rotonde, France
The south of France isn't short on lovely villages, but Simiane La Rotonde might well be the most charming of them all. Perched high in the hills, it features picture-perfect views, lush olive groves, narrow cobblestoned streets, ancient stone dwellings, a medieval abbey, and some of the loveliest and most fragrant gardens in the entire country.
1. Castelluccio, Italy
Rounding off our list of the 20 most beautiful villages in Europe is Castelluccio in Italy. If you like vibrant, lively places with a big buzz and even bigger crowds, this isn't the place for you. It was small even before an earthquake rendered it almost completely uninhabitable in 2016, but these days, it's positively tiny. By the last count, it had less than 150 people to its name. But sometimes, the best things come in small packages, and that's certainly the case here. Set on a steep hill 5,000 feet above sea level, it's the very highest village in the Apennine Mountain Range. Bordered on one side by snow-covered peaks and on the other by flower-strewn meadows, it's a veritable feast for the eyes. You won't find much to do here other than admire the scenery, but that alone could eat up several lifetimes.
Written by Liz Flynn
Read more posts by Liz Flynn