After growing up in a small-town, I was always looking for the big city vibe. No wonder I fell in love with New York City when I was 17 on my first trip outside of Europe.
Fast forward to today: I am living in a big city and I discovered my love for small towns again. I still feel like a little girl sometimes walking through big cities being impressed by all these skyscrapers… But each small town just has something unique usually providing much more personality than big cities do, don’t you think?
I asked 16 of my fellow travel bloggers about their favorite small towns and received a list of amazing places that I would love to share with you.
What to find out in this post
- 1 Goslar, Germany
- 2 Itanhaem, Brazil
- 3 Interlaken, Switzerland
- 4 Ushguli, Georgia
- 5 Capurgana, Colombia
- 6 Rotorua, New Zealand
- 7 Katoomba, Australia
- 8 Palolem, in Goa, India
- 9 Durbuy, Belgium
- 10 Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia
- 11 Cafalu, Sicily
- 12 Leesburg, Virginia, USA
- 13 Hallstadt, Austria
- 14 Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy
- 15 Jiufen, Taiwan
- 16 Terlingua, Texas
- 17 Taghazout, Morocco
Vicki from Vicki viaja
First of all, I’d love to introduce you all to my hometown which became one of my two favorite small towns (the other one – as often mentioned on this blog before – is Kampot, Cambodia).
Goslar is an amazing little small town that is located at the foot of the Harz-Mountains. With its long important history reaching back to the 9th century, it’s a perfect city for everyone interested in middle ages and history in general. But also couples, families and basically everyone that likes half-timbered houses will love this little town. You can still visit the Imperial Palace and the mine which belongs to the UNESCO World Heritage since 1992.
Goslar is not only famous for its medieval charm but also is usually voted as one of the Top 5 Christmas Markets in Germany. If you have the chance, you should definitely check that out.
Want to know more about Goslar, Germany? Click here for my Ultimate Goslar Guide.
Thais from World Trip Diaries:
Itanhaem is a small beach town on the southern coast of Sao Paulo, Brazil. It’s not one of the Brazilian typical tourism-oriented places, like many others.The beaches aren’t the most beautiful ones in the country but it isn’t overrun with tourists and it’s quite calm and nice. The city center is cute and colorful, and you’ll probably need a car to get around, but we like it.It’s highly affordable and very much like the real Brazil. There are many restaurants in the area, a lot of them serve good food. For Brazilian food, try Tia Lena. It’s delicious! The view from the convent is one of the prettiest in town and the drive from Sao Paulo is really pretty. You’ll probably have time to enjoy it as traffic jam is almost always in. Don’t try to drive there during the big holidays (Christmas, New Years, Easter, Carnival) because you’re bound to take way too long. I mean really long. To go a bit beyond that, you can even try to visit one of the last native indigenous tribes in the area. Rio Branco is a bit difficult to find and reach but it’s a unique experience for sure!
Arzo from Arzo Travels
Though I am actually a city girl, I love visiting smaller towns as it is often slower and more peaceful to explore. Switzerland is full of wonderful towns and my favorite is Interlaken. Interlaken is not only a town of about 5000 inhabitants but also located in the region of Interlaken (in the German-speaking part of Switzerland) which is one of the most stunning regions in the world! The town itself is small and is probably not the most beautiful town in Switzerland but it is still my favorite because there is so much to do and see close by that I could spend months there without getting bored. It is the perfect base for trips in the region and of course the perfect base for discovering the town itself. Things to do in Interlaken: Stroll the lakes. Interlaken is home to two amazing lakes (I would even say two of the most beautiful lakes in the world), Lake Brienz and Lake Thun and the town is located between these two (is not that reason alone to love that town?). Though it is a town, there is also a lot of greenery in Interlaken so buy some snacks and drinks and enjoy a picnic in front of luxurious Victoria Jungfrau hotel. Check out the old town. Okay, this is not the most impressive old town but it is lovely to walk around and end your day in one of the restaurants there. And as already mentioned, it is also perfect to get around and visit beautiful places close by like the suspension bridge of Sigriswil, Lauterbrunnen or St. Beatus Caves.
Nate from Travel Lemming
High in the Caucasus Mountains lies a small community of four villages trapped in time. The only road into town is lined with hundreds of medieval watchtowers as if the town is preparing for an invasion by Father Time. This UNESCO World Heritage site in the country of Georgia is one of the highest continuously occupied settlements in all of Europe and should be on any list of the best small towns in the world. Ushguli’s 228 inhabitants belong to an ethnic subgroup of Georgians called the Svan people. Though the Svan have a reputation as fierce fighters (they managed to keep the Mongols and the Ottomans at bay), today they open their arms and their homes to hikers coming to take in the beauty of Ushguli. Visitors to Ushguli can spend their days hiking through the stunning surrounding mountains, and their evenings downing homemade wine with their Svan host families. Ushguli isn’t just one of the best places to visit in the country of Georgia, it’s perhaps the best small town in the entire world. And the word on that front is out, so be sure to visit now to get ahead of the coming hoards of tourists!
Thomas from Tom plan my trip
Do not expect Capurgana to be a little town like many others. Located at the border with Panama and surrounded by the mysterious Darien Gap, Capurgana grows at its own pace, in front of amused howler monkeys. Forget the traditional roads to reach out this heaven of peace and be ready to ride like a Captain Haddock with flipflops on his tiny speedboat. The inhabitants never rush. They walk and work with Vallenato music, cradled by the accordion and hundreds of Corazon lyrics. On the main square, everyone meets at the bakery to buy the warm chocolate doughnuts at 4 pm. On the left, behind the airstrip that only works twice a week, a trail through the jungle leads the visitors to fincas, secluded beaches, and peaceful waterfalls. On the other side of the hill, travelers can explore Sapzurro, the last village before the border with Panama. More sands, more reefs, and fewer foreigners. Let your luxury habits at home when traveling to Capurgana. Come here to learn how to live one day at a time, savor each sip of juice and coconuts, take a dip in each natural pool and tan your butt on every beach. Welcome to Capurgana, the best little town on the Caribbean Coast in Colombia.
Rotorua, New Zealand
Alex from discover-Aotearoa
From afar, you could think that Rotorua is just like any other New Zealand town. Smallish, with a picturesque location right on a lake, restaurants and some pubs. But Rotorua has something that hardly any other place in the world has: Geothermal activity right in the town center!
New Zealand is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire. The Taupo Volcanic Zone spans from White Island all the way down to Taupo. The earth crust in Rotorua is very thin and unstable, which is causing this amazingly beautiful natural phenomenon.
My favourite place in Rotorua is Kuirau Park. It’s literally the local city park, but I think it must be the coolest park in the world! It’s hissing and steaming everywhere. Mud and boiling hot water is bubbling in deep holes. There are even free thermal foot baths to soothe your feet after a day of walking! The park is generally safe, as long as you’re staying on the right side of the fences, but the landscape is ever changing and smaller eruptions or hiccups can occur.
The highlight of the park is the name giving sulfur lake. The colors of the lake keep changing every time I visit. Kuirau Park is a place I keep coming back to because it’s just so beautiful!
But other than being a geothermal wonderland, Rotorua is also the (adventure) playground of New Zealand’s North Island. The area is perfect for hiking, mountain biking, Maori cultural experiences, zip-lines, zorbing and many more things. There are plenty of great restaurants and homely pubs. To me, Rotorua just has it all!
Neeharika from Map In My Pocket
Just a short train ride from Sydney, Katoomba was my favourite weekend getaway from the city while I was living there. The town of Katoomba in New South Wales is the base for your adventure in The Blue Mountains National Park or The Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area as it is formally known. The perfect destination for both adventure and leisure, I would spend my days hiking through the forest trails, looking out over the hazy blue forest (which gives this national park its name), chancing upon the waterfalls that dot the landscape and slowly making my way back the steep narrow stairs with the dramatic views that is the Giant Stairway. While evenings were spent in one of the family-run delis or the quaint pub with its snooker table overlooking the railway line, winding down in the typical style of a small town. The most popular activities in the Blue Mountains are the hike to the lookout point from where one can see sandstone turrets of The Three Sisters and abseiling. Katoomba is a little over hundred kilometers from Sydney.
Palolem, in Goa, India
Abby from the Winged Fork
Palolem is not really a town. It’s just a 2 km stretch of land that’s part of the municipal area of Canacona in Goa, India. Most of the time you spend in Palolem, might be spent at the beach. Being the Southernmost part of Goa, Palolem has warm aquamarine waters and sandy beaches. I love staying here during vacations since it’s still retained some of its old quaint feeling and not overrun by the riffraff that’s taking over lots of other parts of Goa. (Why can I say this? Because I’m Indian and have been vacationing in Goa every few years since I was 12.)
There isn’t much to do in Palolem for visitors other than swim and enjoy the local cuisine. Locals, on the other hand, are involved in farming, restaurants, and fishing. An early morning walk on the beach will give you the pleasure of seeing the fishermen come back with their catches. It’s also the best place to buy the fish and skip the local market.
At low tides, walking or taking a boat across from Palolem to Monkey Island to hike to the top is a fun activity. Palolem’s ‘susegat’ or ‘laid back’ lifestyle is perfect both for short weekend stays as well as long vacations.
Andrew from Dish Our Town
The car in which we were traveling was too big for the street the navigation device had told us to take. We backed it up and found a street wide enough for us to pass through. Once we stepped onto the cobblestoned streets we knew we were somewhere special. The feeling was akin to how the characters in, “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe” felt when they exited the wardrobe out onto the magical land of Narnia.
Durbuy is touted to be the “smallest city in the world”, which has been its claim to fame since the 1300’s. With the extension of the city limits, this claim is probably hard to prove, but when in the heart of the original old town, one can’t help but believe that it is.
With streets gray as the stones laid, a large chateau on a hill overlooking the town, and residents living in the smallest houses; not much seems to be different from the quaint town it was many centuries back.
Come during the cold months, when the town is eternally in Christmas mode, and experience the beauty that winter brings. The snow seems fresher here, and the cold not so intrusive. There is a warmth found in every shop you enter, and every person you meet.
Durbuy is still one of those towns where you can enter the butcher shop, pick the cut of meat you like, grab a table, and they’ll bring it out to you cooked to your liking. That’s what people do in small towns.
So, if a small town experience is on your destination list, put magical Durbuy on the top.
Sidi Bou Said, Tunisia
Stephanie from History Fan Girl
Sidi Bou Said is a small North African seaside resort town outside of Tunis on the Bay of Carthage in Tunisia. It looks like it could be a Greek island since the entire town is painted blue and white. But instead of halloumi and Greek salad, the restaurants serve amazing African couscous. I love to walk the winding streets and look down into the harbor, visit the traditional Tunisian homes that have been preserved as museums, and sit on the soft sandy beach. I’ve traveled all over northern Tunisia, and Sidi Bou Said is the only place that takes advantage of Tunisia’s coastline to connect to the greater Mediterranean culture. And while it does feel like you could be in the Cyclades, it also has a distinctly Tunisian and North African air that makes this small town like no other place on Earth. Everyone who has a chance to visit immediately feels how special and enchanted a place this is.
Michelle from Greedy Gourmet
There is nothing more beautiful that pops straight into my mind than Cefalu. Cefalu is a coastal city located in northern Sicily in the Province of Palermo. Rich with history and magnificent temples, it is most known for its Norman Cathedral that stands there since the 12th century. Being a complete fan of history, I truly enjoyed the vast number of historic sites such as the Duomo di Cefalu, Lavatoio Medievale, Santuario Gibilmanna, La Rocca and of course the stunning Museo Mandralisca. Combined with the narrow alleyways and gorgeous architecture, Cefalu has a charm that will send you back in time, making it a very special place to visit.
Think of incredible weather, beautiful seaside views and of course the amazing Sicilian cuisine. You’d wish you were Sicilian. Moreover, the panoramic views of the Aeolian Islands are just moments away, so you can easily plan your journey via a local boat. Aside from that, the Cefalu coast is most likely one of the most beautiful Mediterranean coasts you will find.
With all this in mind and so much more, Cefalu is truly my favourite small-town ever. I look very much to coming back soon and discovering something new again in terms of cuisine and finding out more secrets this historical charming town has in store.
Leesburg, Virginia, USA
Kelly from A Pair of Passports
I am a bit partial towards Leesburg, Virginia, because it is my hometown; however, it’s also a wonderful, historic town that is rapidly becoming a bustling area filled with restaurants and shops, breweries, and wineries. Leesburg constitutes a pretty big area, which includes some well-developed suburbs. However, the downtown area, the heart of Leesburg, is what I consider my favorite small town.
Leesburg was home to George C. Marshall (of the Marshall Plan). It was also home to some of the United States’ most important documents, like the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, during the War of 1812. The Battle of Balls Bluff in the Civil War also took place in Leesburg, so it’s safe to say the town is full of history. However, beyond the historical, Leesburg today is simply a really charming place to be.
Leesburg’s main streets are lined with local boutiques and incredible restaurants. At the very top of the town is Mom’s Apple Pie, where you can find the most delicious pies and treats. As you wander further into town, you’ll find boutiques like Lou Lou and Madison Belle. Some of the best restaurants include South Street Under, Fireworks Pizza and, for a cozy coffee or glass of wine, Shoes Cup & Cork. In between shops and restaurants, you’ll find wine tasting rooms and taprooms. Leesburg is even home to Belgian Delirium’s first US branch!
On the first Friday of each month, Leesburg becomes pedestrianized as residents and live music fill the streets for the First Friday festival. It’s a cute town, with a lot to offer, and is also just a really fun place to be. I’m lucky that I got to call Leesburg home!
Alex from Swedish Nomad
Hallstatt is one of those places where you almost have to pinch yourself to realize that you’re not standing inside a fairytale world. It’s definitely one of the cutest and amazing small towns to visit in Europe. It’s beautifully located along the Hallstätter See in Austria, an about 50 minutes drive from Salzburg.
Hallstatt has especially become popular among Asian tourists. In fact, it has been so popular that there’s now a complete replica that you can visit in China.
Here, you can enjoy a picturesque charming town center, beautiful views, boat tours or have a look at the house at the cemetery with skulls from more than 2000 people.
Manarola, Cinque Terre, Italy
Christine from Christine Abroad
One of my favorite towns is Manarola in Cinque Terre, Italy. It’s a charming little colorful town located along the rugged Italian coastline. With its relaxed atmosphere, picturesque streets and delicious Italian food, it’s a place you want to visit at least once in your life.
It’s something magical strolling around the streets of Manarola, and sit down at one of the cozy restaurants and just enjoy some fresh bruschetta and an ice cold Aperol Spritz. Not forget to mention the delicious Italian ice cream that you can enjoy along the waterfront.
There are no direct flights to Cinque Terre, but it’s still quite easy to get there – either by car or train from one of the nearby big cities like Genoa, Florence or Pisa. It will take you around 1.5-3 hours to get there by train from one of these cities, but once you get to see Manarola, you’ll understand why it’s worth hopping on a flight to Italy and travel all those hours to see this beautiful place.
Allison from Eternal Arrival
Jiufen is a gorgeous small town in Taiwan’s north, not far from its vibrant capital city of Taipei. It’s set into the hillside with gorgeous views overlooking the coast of Taiwan, with views of nearby Mount Keelung and ornate temples adding even more beauty to an already stunning scene. Jiufen is famous for its Old Street, where you can eat traditional Taiwanese food like braised pork rice, steamed soup dumplings, and other delicious street snacks. One of the most popular things to do in Jiufen is to watch the sunset from one of its many teahouses, which dot the hillside and provided the inspiration for the town in the famous Japanese anime film Spirited Away. Once the sun sets and the night goes dark, the orange paper lanterns that line the streets glow even more beautiful and are the subject of countless selfies and photographs. While Jiufen is a small town, it is certainly no hidden gem. It is one of the most popular day trips from Taipei and as a result, it’s usually quite busy with tourists in the evening. If you’d like to see a more peaceful side of Jiufen, I recommend making an overnight visit or perhaps going there in the morning or early afternoon instead. Despite its popularity, there is something insanely magical about small town Taiwan and Jiufen is no exception – I highly recommend including Jiufen on your next Taiwan itinerary.
Yulia from The Foodie Miles
I used to hate small towns until I moved to the USA and started exploring my new home in Texas with its many little towns full of character, soul, and cowboys. The one town that truly changed my mind was Terlingua.
Saying Terlingua, a town located near Rio Grande River, almost on the border with Mexico, is small is a huge understatement. As of 2010, the official population of the town is 58 people. No, I didn’t make a mistake, it’s not 58 thousand or 58 hundred, it’s just 58.
Despite its size, Terlingua is not your regular sleepy town. It is located right outside of the Big Bend which makes it attractive for tourists who want to stay for a few days to explore the national park. Terlingua features some of the coolest (although not conventional) places to stay like RVs and tipi. Regular hotels are not an option here, but you can find an awesome glamping spot or just bring your own tent.
Since Mexico is just across the river, Terlingua has an abundance of amazing Tex-Mex food. The best huevos rancheros I have tried were here, at Chili Pepper cafe. By the way, if you travel for food like I do, you have to visit Terlingua during the yearly International Chili Cook-off.
Bilyana from Owl over the World
Taghazout is a laidback fisherman village in Morocco. Taghazout is located close to the buzzing and popular Agadir but is a whole different world. It ended up being my favorite spot on my 3 weeks Morocco trip itinerary because of how relaxed it is, as well off the beaten path. Not many travelers are visiting Taghazout and there are not many things to do there, but if you’re a surfer, or you’d like to learn surfing, then Taghazout is the right place for you. On top of that, Taghazout might even be the cheapest place to surf! – renting the board and the suit for a whole day will cost you around 5 euros..My first attempt to surf was on this trip and in Taghazout – I was, of course, horrible, but I would love to return to Taghazout and learn to surf there properly. Besides the surfing, there are not many other things to do in Taghazout. However, is the perfect place to go to if you’re looking for a place where you can relax, away from the Moroccan madness and where you can enjoy wonderful sunset views over the Atlantic ocean. Which one is your favorite small town? Or which of the above makes you curious to visit? Let me know in the comments below!