10 of the Best European Old Towns to Visit this Spring

Who doesn’t love visiting a Historic Old Town?

My teaching career has shuttled between Europe and Asia on more than a few occasions: I moved from the UK to Vietnam in 2007, Vietnam to Sweden in 2010, Sweden to India in 2014, and India to Slovakia in 2016. While I love the temples and jungles of the Far East, something about Europe always calls me back.

There is something magical about cloudless blue skylines pierced by pointed turrets, or climbing a church spire to look down upon a carpet of orange roof slates, or imagining centuries of life passing by beyond thick city walls.

Something about European Old Towns calls out to my imagination.

I have not been to every European Old Town, so no doubt there will be something missing from my list, but these are the 10 Old Towns that I have loved most so far. They are in no particular order of preference, and I would like to hear any other recommendations you might have.

Stockholm, Sweden

Stockholm Old Town

Gamla Stan (Old Town), will forever hold a special place in my heart. When I lived in Sweden, I passed through Stockholm’s Old Town twice a day – on my way to and from work. I saw the lights reflecting in the water by night; the trees decorated in blossoms in the spring, the streets full of tourists in the summer, and the lake sheeted in thick ice in the winter.

I ate in the restaurants, drank in cellar bars deep underground, rode the ferry across to Djurgården, and witnessed the most vibrant, most vivid winter sunsets I’ve ever seen.

Top Tip:

  • Drink like a Viking in one of the cellar bars.
  • Join everybody else sitting along the waterfront on a sunny day – you might see local kids surfing on the top of the trains and diving into the water!

Bratislava, Slovakia

Old Town, Bratislava

Stare Mest, Bratislava’s Old Town will also hold a special place in my heart. I have lived here for almost two years, and I am thinking of buying a house here. Yes, really! I am lucky enough to live right in a gorgeous Town House apartment, at one of the most prominent addresses in the Old Town. In fact, the houses where I live were once called palaces, belonging only to Aristocracy.

There are so many restaurants, bars and cafes in Bratislava’s Old Town that I still haven’t been to all of them. It has a great street café culture, which is amazing for people watching. It is like Prague in miniature.

Top Tips:

  • Look out for celebrations, such as the Coronation Procession.
  • Eat ice cream, seriously – Bratislava has great ice cream.

Budva, Montenegro

Budva Old Town

Kotor is many people’s favourite Old Town in Montenegro, but I preferred Budva, simply because Kotor was overrun with tourists from 3 large cruise ships when we were there.

Budva was busy too, but not so busy that it detracted from the town itself. What I loved most about Budva was the laid-back atmosphere of early evening when the setting sun turns the sky dusky pink and music pulses through the balmy air. It had a vibe that reminded me of Cartagena on Colombia’s Caribbean coast.

Top Tips:

  • See how the other half lives by walking along the waterfront and admiring the eye-wateringly expensive yachts lined up there.

Dubrovnik, Croatia 

Dubrovnik Old Town

I did not like being in Dubrovnik on of my two previous visits, but it was not the city that I disliked: it was the behaviour of the tourists. Dubrovnik is a victim of its own success, and while most people are enjoying the Old Town responsibly, gangs of guys walk around topless, sweaty football shirts dangling from their waists. It is so busy that a small metal gate at the entrance regulates the flow of people going in and out. I’m pretty sure they’ll have to operate a one-in-one-out policy soon like they do in nightclubs.

BUT, I can’t deny that the Old Town is spectacular. If you walk just off the main avenue into the side streets, you will find a tangle of narrow bougainvillaea-lined alleyways that are often deserted.

Top Tips:

  • Walk around the City Walls at sunset for great views of the city.
  • Avoid expensive restaurant meals and buy a slice of pizza from a hole-in-the-wall kiosk. Eat it outside the city wall, while watching kids dive from rocks into the Adriatic.

Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn Old Town

Tallinn’s Old Town is straight out of a fairy tale – it is everything you would expect from a European Old Town; and, while it does get busy, it has not yet reached the tourism levels of other European Old Towns.

Top Tips:

  • Eat elk soup, or reindeer and wild boar pies from III Draakon, just inside the Town Hall in the Main Square.
  • Visit Raeapteek, Europe’s oldest pharmacy, and see the weird exhibits inside the museum. Incredibly, the pharmacy has been operating since the 15th Century. It’s kind of fascinating that many years ago, pharmacists would have been prescribing for diseases like the plague.

Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina 

Mostar Old Town

I experienced the hottest temperatures I had ever encountered in Europe when I was in Mostar; but thankfully, the trees shade most of the restaurants. Mostar is a great place to eat great food, buy souvenirs, and enjoy the jade green colour of the water.

Top Tips:

  • Eat. Just eat. Bosnian food is fantastic, so try a bit of everything.
  • Look out for crazy people diving from the bridge. If you are an adrenaline junkie, have a go – but it’s not for the faint-hearted.

Corfu, Greece

Corfu Old Town

I was surprised by Corfu because Brits commonly view it as a party island for 17 year-olds. However, last year we passed from Albania onto Corfu to get a flight back home to Bratislava, and so we spent a few days there. The Old Town has colourful facades and cheerful little doorways enough to charm even the keenest photographers.

Top Tips:

  • Climb to the top of the fort to enjoy great views over the city.

Prague, Czechia

Prague Old Town

Prague had to be on the list because it’s impossible not to love Prague. The Old Town is pretty self-contained, with the Astronomical Clock as its magnificent centrepiece and a vast range of outdoor seating to sit and people-watch.

The Charles Bridge is worth walking along, but it’s best to go early morning before it gets too busy!

Top Tips:

  • Corny as it is, I enjoyed the Segway tour!

Hallstatt, Austria

Hallstatt Old Town

An Old Town that sits next to a lake surrounded by mountains? Hell, yes! Literally, those are my three favourite travel-related things in life, right there. Once upon a time, Hallstatt was only accessible by boat, or by trekking over the mountains. It’s easier to get to now, but it is still mainly pedestrianised, which is excellent as there are virtually no cars (apart from service vehicles and resident’s cars) to get in your way.

Top Tips:

  • Visit the oldest salt mine in the world.
  • Sit by the lake and take in the view.

Trencin, Slovakia

Trencin Old Town

I’m putting another Slovak Old Town on the list, as I feel that Slovakia is one of Europe’s most underrated countries. When I say I live in Slovakia, most people think I mean Slovenia, or have never heard of it. Slovakia is such a great place (take a look on my blog for my other Slovakia posts, if you don’t believe me), it’s a shame that it only every features for most travellers as a fly-by between Vienna and Budapest.

Far above the town, a castle overlooks the row of colourful townhouses adorning Trencin’s high street. It is remarkably quiet, so you can take lovely photographs without all the tourists that plague the more popular Old Towns in Europe.

Top Tips:

  • Visit the Castle
  • Did I say that Slovakia has great ice cream?

So, those are my favourite European Old Towns. What are yours?

Post Author
Runaway Brit

Comments

14 Comments
  1. posted by
    Andrea Mayfield
    Feb 18, 2018 Reply

    So glad Dubrovnik made the list! I am from Croatia and cannot express how much I love Dubrovnik! Hope to make it to Budva this summer! great read!

    • posted by
      Runaway Brit
      Mar 4, 2018 Reply

      Thank you. Dubrovnik is so beautiful, but I really wish I could see it when there are fewer people around.

  2. posted by
    Brianna
    Feb 18, 2018 Reply

    This post just has me craving that European charm! I haven’t been to a single one of these cities! But many of them are on my wish list 🙂

    • posted by
      Runaway Brit
      Mar 4, 2018 Reply

      I hope that you get to them all! There are still so many others to go to as well!!

  3. posted by
    LaiAriel Samangka
    Feb 28, 2018 Reply

    I haven’t been to any of these old towns in Europe and I find them very interesting and amazing. I always love ambling around old town, it makes me feel like I’m drawn back to old days. Oh, by the way, Your photos are really stunning, I love how you were able to capture them. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

    • posted by
      Runaway Brit
      Mar 4, 2018 Reply

      I love walking around Old Towns too, it’s like walking around a film set or a museum. And the best thing is that it’s free!

  4. posted by
    Claire
    Mar 1, 2018 Reply

    There is something magical about Europe – although I think living here I forget to really appreciate everything we have on our doorstep! I’m excited to be visiting Prague in a couple of weeks, I’d love to go to Croatia too, maybe that will be my next trip!

    • posted by
      Runaway Brit
      Mar 4, 2018 Reply

      There really is something very special about Europe! When will you be in Prague? I am going next weekend.

  5. posted by
    Vibeke
    Mar 1, 2018 Reply

    I have only been to Stockholm and Prague. Such beautiful cities. I havent thought about the old town in Montenegro, looks so beautiful 😀 Tallin is also a place I have wanted to visit for a long time. So good you include the top tips, like the way you put up this post, very easy to read 🙂

    • posted by
      Runaway Brit
      Mar 4, 2018 Reply

      Thank you very much. I was really surprised by Budva, many people told us to go to Kotor and miss Budva completely. We went to both and I preferred Budva.

  6. posted by
    Candy
    Mar 2, 2018 Reply

    Croatia is on my list and I really want to visit but the tickets are so darn high for some reason 🙁 It may have to wait until the ticket prices go down. Stare Bratislava’s Old Town looks so charming and how cool that you are considering to purchase a house there. Are they expensive? I want a house there too!

    • posted by
      Runaway Brit
      Mar 4, 2018 Reply

      Croatia is really expensive, probably the second most expensive on the list after Stockholm. Hopefully the prices will come down so you can go. The houses in Bratislava are not too bad and the mortgage deals are pretty reasonable.

  7. posted by
    Francesca Murray
    Mar 2, 2018 Reply

    I lived in Europe for a year and I can’t believe I didn’t visit any of these towns! I like how you give some pro tips after each destination. When I go back to Europe I at least need to go to Austria. Halstatt looks gorgeous!

    • posted by
      Runaway Brit
      Mar 4, 2018 Reply

      You didn’t get to any of them?! Where in Europe did you live? Halstatt is gorgeous – come back to Europe!!

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