The 11 Most Romantic Small Towns in Europe to Visit in 2024
Writers, filmmakers, and more have long used small town charm as a crutch for romance stories. One look at the locales featured in Hallmark movies is all it takes to see that, when it comes to humanity’s popular idea of a romantic destination, the small town looms large. And it makes sense as to why: it’s often easier to disconnect from hectic day-to-day life while vacationing in a small town, and that leaves plenty of room for focusing on a significant other. Few parts of the world provide a wealth of romantic small towns like Europe. From historic beachside towns to quaint villages, these are the most romantic small towns in Europe for a 2024 vacation.
Contributors: Alex Bresler, Eben Diskin, Katie Scott Aiton, Morgane Croissant, Nickolaus Hines, Suzie Dundas, and Tim Wenger
We hope you love the places we recommend! Just so you know, Matador may collect a small commission from the links on this page if you decide to book a stay.
The setting for the best-selling novel and popular Netflix series All the Lights We Cannot See, Saint-Malo is a small seaside town that inspires big emotions. It spent centuries as a stronghold for privateers, and 80 percent of it was destroyed during the Second World War. Today, modern Saint-Malo is just as defined by couples walking the narrow, twisty streets of the walled city hand in hand.
A romantic few days of exploration in historic Saint-Malo should start with a simple stroll to visit artisan shops and Breton clothing boutiques such as Saint James and Mat de Misaine, as well as a stop in one of the many créperies to try out Brittany’s most famous foods: crepes and their savory companion galettes. Order a galette complète (egg, cheese, and ham) as a main, and a crêpe au sucre (butter and sugar) as a dessert. Like me, a real-life Breton, wash it all down with local cider served in a bôlée.
Must-sees in Saint-Malo include the 12th-century cathedral, where you can sit and take in the immense beauty of the rose window and other stained glass windows. Just be aware that such beauty is bound to inspire a marriage proposal or a renewal of vows. For outdoor activities, take the 1.2-mile walk around the ramparts to see the city, the beaches, and the sea from a magnificent vantage point, or, if the weather allows, take a refreshing swim in one of the two saltwater pools at Plage de Bon Secours or Plage de l’Eventail. The saltwater pool at Plage de Bon Secours has a diving board that passes the fun test with flying colors. If the tide and the weather are on your side (and please be very mindful of the tide), walk from the city to the small islands of Grand Bé and Petit Bé, where you can visit the grave of French writer François-René de Chateaubriand, see an 18th-century fort, or just sit and enjoy the views and each other’s company.
Loved-up visitors to Saint-Malo have plenty of options to choose from when it comes to hotels, but being on the northern coast of Brittany in the city known for its sailors, it would be a shame to book a hotel that lacks views of the sea. The beautiful, five-star spa Hotel des Thermes is right on the beach — perfect for long, romantic, windswept walks before going for a meal at the on-site restaurant or a couples massage. The four-star spa Hotel du Nouveau Monde is another great option by the sea. — Morgane Croissant
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In 2023, my now-wife Heather and I held a ceremonial wedding in Tuscany after 15 years of being together. After, with our six-month-old in tow, we headed to the Amalfi coast for five days. The region has long been a dream vacation destination, and for the past couple of years it’s felt like everyone with an Instagram account has flocked to Positano for at least part of the summer to take in the breathtaking views and la dolce vita. Positano, however, wasn’t for us — too many stairs to make a stroller practical, jaw-dropping high-season prices, and far too many aspiring influencers. Instead, we set our sights slightly up the coast to Maiori. Here, the streets are relatively flat and the smattering of other tourists largely Italian.
Romantic locales are often only as romantic as a person makes it. Maiori certainly makes romance easy, though. We stayed at Hotel Sole Splendid, located on the edge of town, in a balcony room that looks out over the beach and seasonal snack and aperitivo shack. Its location makes for easy quick dips in the Mediterranean, and it’s the perfect starting point for strolls along the waterfront promenade. The number of small places to pop in for a drink and bite to eat is extensive, but Made in Eataly is a stand-out quaint spot for small plates and local wine and beer. For seafood, walk past the cats lounging near Ristorante Pizzeria Nettuno to indulge in hearty servings of the day’s catch.
Ristorante Torre Normana, housed in a medieval Normal watchtower jutting into the sea, is the celebrity-approved special occasion restaurant along the Amalfi Coast. Make reservations ahead of time, as the restaurant-hotel-beach club books up fast. The seasonal menu focuses on everything from the sea, naturally, and the multi-course meals pair perfectly with the well-curated wine list — particularly the local and French sparklings and wines from just up the road in Ravello. There’s not a bad view in the tower, but when the weather is nice, it’s hard to beat the open outdoor section. Don’t forget to head to the top of the tower for photos after your meal.
In the afternoons, take your aperitivo along Corso Reginna, which follows the river. Ristorante Pinata 1903 has a dining courtyard with lemon trees serving as a roof, each tree hanging its fruit above tables as diners indulge in all things lemon infused (don’t skip the lemon-sorbet-filled lemon for dessert). Casa Ferraiuolo does classic cocktails just as well as innovative signature drinks during aperitivo hour that bridge the gap to a pasta dinner. The restaurant also sits near the stunning Palazzo Mezzacapo Gardens with its rose bushes and open-top tunnels filled with clear water.
While Maiori may not have the name recognition of Positano, it does have one of the most stunning walking trails on the coast: Sentiero dei Limoni. Countless lemon trees shade the path from Maiori to neighboring Minori. Along the way, family farms open their doors to walkers for fresh lemonade breaks. Passing donkeys are just as likely to share the trail as other people. Near the Minori side, make a reservation for dinner at Cuonc Cuonc for lemon-heavy dishes made by the family running the attached organic farm. The views alone are worth the reservation, though the home-style food (and friendly cat) make the rustic dinner stand out most. While you wait, give your calves a break from the many stairs with all types of lemon- and other -cellos at the distillery Liquorificio Mansi Carlo.
Getting to Maiori requires driving the organized chaos of coastal road SS163. I was thankful for small rental cars as I squeezed past busses, bikers, hikers, and two-way traffic along the windy road. But a romantic stay in Maiori is more than worth the effort. — Nickolaus Hines
Traveling to the Amalfi Coast? Check out Matador’s Italy accommodation guides:
Few settings are more romantic than a village in the English countryside, and Ham, in the rural county of Wiltshire, is just that. Home to only 180 inhabitants who mostly live in rose-covered, thatch-roofed, timber-framed cottages, Ham is a real-life English storybook village. I went to Ham just a couple of weeks ago without my partner and, upon arrival, I knew that I might have scored a proposal if I had brought him with me.
The center of Ham is undoubtedly The Crown & Anchor, the one and only pub in the village, that doubles as an intimate restaurant with a small but gourmet menu — it even managed to make my simple parsnip soup a delicious meal. Above the pub-restaurant, there are a few cozy and beautifully decorated rooms. After a good, comfy sleep during which the only noise is the rustling of the wind in the trees, enjoy a hearty, but refined, breakfast. Opt for the full English or, like me, go easy and order the ginger porridge, a slice of thick brown bread, and a cafetiere of coffee — the perfect start of the day to brave the English weather.
Ham is the starting point of many walking trails of varying lengths, from two miles to 77 miles, but start your visit by taking a simple stroll around the village. Play a game of “which stunning cottage would I choose if I could pick any of them” and pay a visit to the small 12th-century All Saints Church and the picturesque Grade II-listed Manor House next door. Don’t forget to take a picture with the old-fashioned sign that sits on the village green.
Once you’ve thoroughly explored Ham, make your way to one of the world’s most famous prehistoric sites, Stonehenge, only 50 minutes away by car. Or opt for a romantic, tranquil, and traditional horse-drawn boat trip on the Kennet and Avon Canal, just 15 minutes away.
Note that Ham is a semi isolated location and you won’t be able to get there if you don’t have a car and aren’t willing to tackle the narrow and bumpy roads of the English countryside. If when you get there it’s pouring rain, be extremely careful. The roads get flooded quickly and driving is treacherous — trust me and my near-death experience. — Morgane Croissant
Traveling to Ham? Check out Matador’s England accommodation guides:
Pärnu, a resort town of just under 40,000 people on Estonia’s east coast, is bisected by the Pärnu River. Think Cape Cod without all the shirtless, sandy-footed tourists. Think St. Tropez with restaurants and boutiques that are actually reasonably priced. Pärnu is known for its beach, stunning waterfront promenade, walking paths on both sides of the river, and of course, its neoclassical spas.
Spas are synonymous with romance, and you shouldn’t have to empty your bank account for a 30-minute couples treatment. Hedon Spa & Hotel has one of the largest spas in Estonia, and it offers a wide range of affordable spa treatments that’ll put you in a romantic mindset. From the classics — couples massages, facials, and body wraps — to special offerings like the silent spa (a sound-free relaxation experience) and evening night spa, you’ll have a whole menu of rejuvenating, intimate experiences to choose from. For just $11, you can also use the spa bathing area and sink into the massage pool or take a steamy sauna break.
Even if you only have a day or two in Pärnu, don’t feel pressured to schedule tons of activities to fill your days. One of the most enjoyable delights of this coastal city is simply strolling its streets. Walk along the river, or down the beach promenade to the sandy Baltic shore. Explore the narrow cobbled roads, or sit down for an outdoor coffee or lunch date at Supelsaksad Pärnu, a cozy traditional restaurant in the heart of town that’s perfect for people-watching. My most lasting memory of Pärnu was having an outdoor lunch and spotting a couple in bathrobes — clearly coming from the spa — walking hand-in-hand down a cobbled street, passing a bottle of wine back and forth. It’s emblematic of the vibe of the city itself: a slower, laid back pace; intimacy without stodginess; and a relaxed vacation mindset that hits you right when you get to town. — Eben Diskin
Ireland has always held a special place in my heart, and the same is true for my immediate family. My trips have generally focused on the country’s whiskey and beer. But my mom, Gail Hines, knows a far wider scope of all that Ireland has to offer and for years has operated custom Ireland trips through her company, Ireland Enchantment Tours. There’s just something about the Emerald Isle that draws her and the people she’s leading back.
“I began Ireland Enchantment Tours because I sincerely believe Ireland is one of the most romantic countries hands down,” she says. “To me, a romantic travel destination means a little bit of countryside, music, food, drink, comfort, and gleeful surprises from the native residents. Killarney has all of that.”
Killarney is located along the incredibly scenic Ring of Kerry. Natural beauty speaks for itself and is never far away. The 65-foot tall Torc Waterfall is just outside of Killarney and is accessible via a short walk. The Lakes of Killarney has boating and sunset kayaking past islands filled with red deer and the stunning Ross Castle when the weather is nice (well, nice by Irish standards). Horseback riding with Killarney Riding Stables or taking a jaunting car ride on a horse-drawn carriage in Killarney National Park offers the chance to see the landscape by hoof. Not far away is the Gap of Dunloe and it’s Ice-Age-shaped mountains — and the drive there is worth the trip alone.
Visiting the town itself, population about 15,000, brings another side. Stay in town at Copper Kettle B&B, Dromhall Hotel, or Killarney Park. All are easy home bases to explore the town. Here, locals freely share their stories, and it feels like there’s always at least one person ready to pull out their instrument for a song or two at any given night in the pub (try Killarney Grand, John M. Reidy, and O’Connors Traditional Pub for live music). Try beer and whiskey from the source at Killarney Brewing and Distillery, or dive deep into all things Irish whiskey with Irish Whiskey Experience. When pub food gets too much, Murphy Brownes has cozy yet elegant dining, Harrow Killarney focuses on seasonal ingredients, and Bricin feels like a step back in time. — Nickolaus Hines
Traveling to Ireland? Check out Matador’s Ireland accommodation guides:
Few places have made me think, “man, I really wish I wasn’t single,” like Perast, Montenegro. It only takes an hour to drive from one end of the country to the other, but even if you don’t get out of the car, a drive along Montenegro’s coast is one of the prettiest hours you’ll ever spend behind the wheel. And if you do get out (which I highly recommend), it should be in Perast, a 300-person town on the bay that’s the perfect pit stop for couples.
Hence my consternation. I was standing on the Perast Lake Promenade looking out across the water at Our Lady of the Rocks, an islet home to a small church. The islet, set against a dramatic mountainous backdrop and reachable by water taxi, is a humbler and more intimate version of France’s Mont Saint-Michel. “That’s where I’d get married,” I thought to myself. “Well, when I have a fiancée. Or a girlfriend. Or when I get even a single Hinge match.” Hell, even the promenade itself — which spans the entire town — smacks of romance. Of course, you don’t have to be an amorous couple to enjoy Perast; I certainly had a blast taking a water taxi to Our Lady of the Rocks, and the nearby Blue Grotto swimming hole. Though when I went alone to the locally famous Boka Seafood, an oyster restaurant and farm right on the bay, the aphrodisiac effect was somewhat wasted on me.
Despite its small size, Perast still has plenty of lodging options for couples looking to stay a while. From the Conte Hotel & Restaurant with its picturesque waterfront dining, to this medieval bay-view Airbnb with a stone courtyard and traditional aesthetic. — Eben Diskin
The province of Agrigento is on the southern coast of Sicily. It’s home to one of the island’s most impressive and popular attractions, the UNESCO World Heritage Site: The Valley of the Temples (or Valle dei Templi in Italian). You’d be remiss not to visit one of the most impressive temples in the world on a visit to Sicily, but rather than a quick day trip, consider staying in the region for a week or two and taking day trips into Agrigento, other charming coastal towns, and the capital city of Palermo.
That’s what my partner and I did a couple of springs ago. However, we made a mistake. What we needed at that time was a vacation where we could stop, decompress, focus on our wellness, and spend time in nature together. Now, for us, Sicily embodies everything we seek in a romantic destination. The food and wine culture is outstanding (in my opinion, the best in Italy), the topography is varied, the coastline is breathtaking, the locals are welcoming, and biodiversity is thriving. That said, one small town stands out as the perfect romantic destination in Sicily: Siculiana.
Siculiana sits about eight miles west of Agrigento and has a history dating back to at least the 1300s. The narrow, hilly streets of the small hamlet and the ancient architecture surrounding them tell of myths, legends, and romantic love stories. It’s grown into one of the most important cultural and artistic hubs on the island, with local artists regularly creating masterpieces that adorn city walls and public spaces. Many of these masterpieces draw inspiration from Sicilian traditions and culture, showcasing the history and beauty of the area through art. You’ll see groups of visitors come to admire the Baroque and Renaissance monuments and picturesque Sicilian gardens. But as the groups of day tours leave in the afternoon, the village becomes very much a locals-only place. Because of this, there’s only a handful of pretty Airbnbs to choose from. All are traditional in style and amenities.
For something a tad more elevated, you could opt for one of the best wellness resorts in Sicily, which is a 15-minute drive up the coast from Siculiana. ADLER Spa Resort Sicilia is relevantly new to the scene, but it’s quickly becoming a popular place for Europeans who want a restful vacation. Through cutting-edge architecture (natural materials and a liberal use of glass) and eco-friendly practices, the resort seamlessly blends into the cliff edge and the wildflower carpet of lavender, fennel, and violets. Stay in one of the open-planned suites, which open onto manicured gardens and the ocean beyond. Afternoons can be spent lounging in a robe between sauna sessions and mineral baths. And when the sun sets, the experience of watching the crimson sky against the white cliffs that pour into the sea below will stay with you forever. — Katie Scott Aiton
Traveling to Sicily? Check out Matador’s Sicily accommodations guides:
The picturesque harbor village of Zaton sits five miles (a 15-minute drive) north of the city of Dubrovnik on the Croatian coast. The medieval Old Town of Dubrovnik reached a new level of fame after it was a filming site for Game of Thrones, but that fame came with price. The narrow stone streets are now congested, especially in the high season. But that’s not a reason to avoid the UNESCO World Heritage site. Instead, base yourself in Zaton, which is, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful small towns in Croatia.
In Zaton, you’ll hear Croatian and perhaps a whisper of other Central and Eastern European languages being spoken, but on a recent vacation, the peace was never broken by English-speaking voices. I adored this. My partner and I could read on the pebble beach or sit with our feet in the crystal-clear azure harbor water and completely reset from home life.
We visited in the fall (or “grandmother’s summer”). During this time of year, the main bay fills with octopus. Small wooden fishing boats bob on the calm water, and young boys drive their boats from the rocks to check their homemade traps. The Adriatic Sea is still warm in September, the beaches are tranquil (other than early morning swimmers and the late afternoon crowd getting a daily dose of vitamin D), and restaurant reservations are plentiful.
The scenic bay has a path bordered by pine trees on one side and a drop into the ocean on the other. It leads from the neighborhood of Štikovica to the hub of Zaton, where you’ll find a small collection of bars and ocean-front restaurants. You can walk or run, as my partner and I did most mornings. The 40-minute roundtrip route took us past white-washed villas with window boxes of Dubrovnik cornflowers and bee orchids, and treated us to jaw-dropping views of the sea and surrounding Croation islands.
Our Airbnb was situated on the northern side of the harbor, which meant we had a 30-minute stroll to dinner on a well-lit pathway. The restaurants in Zaton are superb. We had our best meal in Croatia here at the small family-run fish restaurant Kasar, which has a floating platform with tables over the water. Book one of these. We had a sunset reservation and enjoyed lashings of langoustine, charred octopus, sea bass carpaccio, and cuttlefish risotto paired with a bottle of local Stina Pošip.
Zaton is very much a local spot. Despite its natural beauty, you’ll find it to be unpretentious and humble — the perfect destination for a peaceful romantic getaway. — Katie Scott Aiton
Traveling to Croatia? Check out Matador’s Croatia accommodation guides:
It’s rare for a small town in Bavaria to lack a centuries-old history, but Old Town Regensburg still manages to be a standout among them. It’s one of the largest in Bavaria, with narrow streets lined with pastel-colored buildings, large plazas with open-air cafes and restaurants, and gorgeous sunset views from across the Danube River as couples watch the town’s white lights reflect on the water. It even has ancient walls from the town’s Roman era.
Aside from being arguably the best preserved ancient downtown in Bavaria, Regensburg has quite a bit more going for it that makes it effortlessly romantic. One of the most defining elements of the city’s skyline is St. Peter’s Cathedral, primarily because it looks just like the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris. And that’s the intention, as the architect wanted to bring the romance and chicness of Paris to the small European city.
And while the architecture and art of the cathedral is worth a visit for any couple visiting the cute city, it’s best to explore Old Town Regensburg without a set agenda in mind. The meandering stone streets are dotted with murals and baskets of brightly colored flowers in the summer (and twinkling lights and fresh snow come December). Of course, the Old Town is quite large, so you’ll want to keep the Old Town tourist map handy in case you do find yourself walking in circles.
Also unmissable in December is the Old Town’s Christkindlmarkt, or Christmas market. The city has quite a few markets, but of the ones I’ve been to in Regensburg, the one in the Old Town at St. Emmeram Palace is certainly the best. It’s spread between the inner and outer walls of the castle, with dance and music performances, numerous stalls selling everything from shnitzel to feuerzangenbowles (stand back when they light it on fire) to handmade mittens and pastries. Walking through the market hand-in-hand, browsing the stalls, and enjoying a mug of glühwin makes for a romantic date night.
But even if you’re there outside of the Christmas market season (roughly November to December 24), it’s hard not to feel the cozy, warm vibes all year long. Duos with romance in mind will want to hit up Stella Eiscafé for breakfast crepes with views of the famous Steinerne Brücke (Old Stone Bridge), and make a dinner reservation at one of the town’s half-a-dozen Michelin-starred restaurants.
Cute options for a romantic stay for two include Hotel Orphée, where rooms feel like they’re straight out of a French palace, or the budget-friendly but surprisingly cozy Hotel Luis, with richly decorated rooms on the edge of Old Town. The town is easy to reach from Munich on the very efficient German rail system, and you’ll find plenty of online walking tours that are easy to follow and set to your own pace — leaving plenty of time for stealing away for an hour at a cozy cafe or ducking into an artisan gallery. — Suzie Dundas
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Nominating a romantic destination in a wine region is basically cheating. When that region is the Douro Valley, it’s a shameless con. But the real crime would be to exclude northern Portugal’s legendary wine country from a list of romantic European places.
The Douro Valley is one of the world’s oldest demarcated wine regions and the birthplace of port wine. Pinhão is a pretty town perched on a dreamy bend of the Douro River. Numerous quintas, or wine estates, operate within its limits, including the well-known Quinta do Bomfim. Many provide lodging where guests can sleep among the grapes. As you flit between tastings, keep an eye out for riverside picnic spots. Later on, when you want a moment alone, that’s where you’ll bring charcutaria and Portuguese cheeses from the Talho Qualifier butcher shop in town.
One of the most romantic things about Pinhão is getting there. From Porto, you can board a full-day river cruise, hop on the meandering Linha do Douro train, or rent a car and drive a little under two hours to get to Pinhão, as I did when I visited. However you arrive, carve out a few minutes to visit the train station. The decorative azulejos (hand-painted tiles) will make you swoon with depictions of harvest scenes. In nearby Peso de Régua, a larger town about 30 minutes west of Pinhão along the river, another former train station hosts Castas e Pratos, a restaurant with a predictably fantastic wine cellar that’s included in the Michelin Guide.
In 2021, my family and I stayed at the Quinta da Côrte in Tabuaço, which is less of a town and more of a vine-braided hillside across the river from Pinhão. Swimming in the quinta’s vineyard-facing infinity pool and dining alfresco outside of the main lodge, I remember wishing that my partner was there. Instead, I bought several bottles of my favorite wines to enjoy with him later. That’s another perk of traveling to a wine region with your significant other: you can bring back bottled memories to uncork on anniversaries, Valentine’s Days, or date nights at home to relive the romance whenever you want. — Alex Bresler
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Nowhere have I been more excited to break out my passport than in the alpine town of Wengen, Switzerland. Indeed, showing someone my ID was half the reason my then-girlfriend, now wife, and I booked a trip there in 2013. My last name, Wenger, originated here, and our family roots trace back to this tiny mountain town. For our first holiday season together, I could think of nothing more romantic than posting up high in the Alps for some skiing, fondue, and hot tub sessions. I reasoned that I’d immediately be welcomed as a local, if only someone cared to check my credentials, and that this level of legitimacy would somehow make me irresistible to this woman I’d spent the prior nine months courting. Thing is, no one ever asked to see it.
No matter. There’s undeniable romanticism in spending a few snowy days in a town only accessible by train or skis. Strolling the village plaza in Wengen, which is lined with cozy pubs and alpen-inspired restaurants serving traditional Swiss fare (heavy on the cheese, heavy on the carbs) is a surefire way to kindle romance. Waking up to the call of the alphorn before hopping on the tram toward the peak of the Jungfrau, only to carve your way back down the slopes toward the village, is a picture-perfect day for outdoorsy types, on par with a walk along the Seine in Paris or a gondola ride in Venice. In summer, the views are even better, and reaching the Jungfraujoch via cable car is perfect reason to celebrate with a toast – and, dare I say, a ring.
Check into a flat at the Chalet Arvin for overnights, and take advantage of the patio with a views of the Jungfrau and Silberhorn. For a more luxurious stay, try the penthouse at Chalet Fortuna, which puts you a few steps from the tram and the best date night restaurants in town, including the Eiger, the Restaurant Silberhornstube, and the Caprice Hotel. –Tim Wenger