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Old Town, Historic Center, Altstadt, Vanhakaupunki, Gammelstaden, Citta Vecchia, Centro Storico, Casco Antiguo, or whatever you may call it, is the area of a city where its architecture, history, and identity are kept alive, and where its medieval remains and main tourist attractions are usually located.

Imagine Prague without the Old Town Square or Florence deprived of its historic center and you’ll almost run out of reasons to visit these beautiful cities.

It comes somehow natural for Europe – the old continent, to host most of these privileged cities, but there are also such fantastic places around the world that are proudly worth to be mentioned.

When I am visiting a city, I usually start with its oldest part, that way I manage to capture its essence from the very beginning and let it accompany me along the entire journey.

When I feel like traveling in time, the following European “old towns” are my favorite doorways:

Marbella Old Town

Casco Antiguo, Marbella

Photo by Nick Kenrick

White-washed houses with flowers hanging from the balconies, narrow streets adorned with stylish boutiques, tiny old churches, beautiful fountains, and ladies wearing vivid flamenco dresses in the lively Plaza de Naranjas (Orange Square), where traditional restaurants serve the best (and priciest) of Andalusian cuisine – this would be an accurate picture of Marbella Old Town, one of the most colorful and full of life old centers I’ve ever seen.

Among the main attractions of Marbella’s Casco Antiguo are the Moorish Walls, the Church of Saint Mary, the Chapel of Saint John, and, of course, the idiosyncratic craft shops that line the impossibly narrow streets.

Prague Old Town

Prague Old Town

Prague Old Town

The Old Town of Prague, filled with legends and imposing monuments that stand as constant reminders of its tumultuous past, is the most imposing and valuable side of the city. With the famous Old Town Square located in the middle, and several museums and churches connected by old-fashioned cobblestone streets, this medieval-flavored area dominated by the Gothic Church of Our Lady of Tyn and the Town Hall is not just a captivating visual illustration of history, but also one of the best preserved old centers in Europe.

Sibiu Old Town

Sibiu Grand Square

The Old Town of Sibiu

Surrounded by the ancient citadel’s walls, the handsome old town of Sibiu is one of the most important touristic and cultural attractions in Romania. Consisting of three lovely medieval squares – Big Square, Little Square and the Huet Square, the old center of the city hosts many iconic monuments, including the remains of the seven towers (one for each traditional craft), a great range of cozy cafés, terraces and restaurants, as well as one of Sibiu’s 10 museums – the Brukental Museum.

Throughout the year, Sibiu Old Town makes for a charming medieval backdrop for festivals and events.

The Historic Center of Rome

Piazza Navona, Rome

Photo by Giuseppe Moscato

Teeming with life and outstanding roman ruins, remarkable basilicas and fountains for wishes, the Historic Center of Rome is undoubtedly the definition of what an “Old Center” means. No wonder it is one of the most visited and romantic places on Earth. Wander the ancient streets of this Renaissance pocket and you’ll discover architectural treasures and remains of an astonishing past at every turn.

Vienna Old Town

Vienna Old Town

Vienna Old Town

The Innere Stadt is the soul of the city and a symbol of the Viennese grace and sophistication. The majestic State Opera House, St. Stephens Cathedral, Albertina Museum, Hofburg Palace, and the Austrian National Library are the supporting pillars of this ocean of culture that is Vienna Old Town. A slow walk on Karntnerstrasse –Vienna’s main shopping street – will immerse you in a genuine atmosphere where you can linger over a torte and a cup of coffee for hours while feeling the lovely fragrance of freshly baked pastry and living as if you were part of the society that they invented.

The Old Town of Amsterdam

Oudezijds Kolk, Amsterdam

Oudezijds Kolk, Amsterdam

Whether you’re looking for culture, history, architecture, shopping, coffee shops, bars, restaurants, or maybe you fancy a quiet stroll or a fun bike ride, the old town of Amsterdam will put all these at your fingertips. This part of the city is an inviting, cosmopolitan and unconventional mix of canals, curled bridges, narrow gobbled houses, bicycles, tulips, and De Wallen (Red Light District).

Consisting of 4 neighborhoods – De Wallen, Dam, Spui and Nieuwmarket, the historical center of Amsterdam plays host to attractions such as  Oude Kerk – the oldest building in the city, the marvelous Royal Palace, the Amsterdam Historical Museum and the notorious Madame Tussauds’s.

Warsaw Old Town

Warsaw Old Town

Warsaw Old Town

You will be surprised by the beauty and individuality of Warsaw Old Town. A place where sadness meets fairy-tale, the historic center of Warsaw, also called Stare Miastro, was largely destroyed during the Second World War, when more than a half of the city’s population was killed. The buildings were perfectly reconstructed at the end of the war, but there is a shade of sorrow still floating over the beautiful Polish city.

Some of the things you should not miss here include the Old Town Market Square - a charming space filled with cafes, bars, shops, and restaurants located right in the middle; the churches – St John’s Cathedral, Jesus Church, and St Martin’s Church; and The Barbican - remains of the fortification that once surrounded Warsaw, which now serves as the gate between the Old Town and the New Town.

Historic Centre of Bruges

Historic Centre of Bruges

Photo by Daniel Mennerich

A medieval urban landscape with a gorgeous mix of Gothic architecture, history, canals, chocolate, and lovely atmosphere, the UNESCO-listed Historic Centre of Bruges looks so perfect that it’s actually hard to believe that there are people living here.

However, there are plenty of things to see and do in this chocolate-box part of town: you can try the delicious local cuisine and fantastic beers in the wonderful restaurants, or travel back in time with a romantic carriage ride. If you want to experience Bruges Old Town at its best, you should definitely visit during the Christmas period, when Grote Markt hosts one of the most beautiful and idyllic Christmas markets in Belgium.

Ibiza Old Town

Called Dalt Vila (Upper Town), the medieval old town of Ibiza is located on a little mountain overlooking the sparkling Mediterranean Sea. This fascinating part of the island consists of three main areas: Dalt Vila itself, Sa Penya, and La Marina.

Dalt Vila is the epicenter, so different from the rest of the island, so magical, and so full of history. The Roman ruins, Ibiza Castle, and the famous city walls are, beyond doubt, the main attractions of Dalt Vila.

La Marina is an extension of the historic center and the district where are located some of the best restaurants, bars, and shops on the island. This is also the place where ships from all over the world are tied up, and where Eivissa’s traditions are beautifully assorted with a cosmopolitan vibe.

Sa Penya or “the gay town” of Ibiza is one of the most popular areas to enjoy the amazing nightlife that the “island that never sleeps” is so famous for.

Tallinn Old Town

Tallinn Old Town, Estonia

Photo by Peter Thoeny

Tallinn Old Town is a compact medieval city center crisscrossed by winding cobblestone alleys; a delightful cluster of guard towers, Gothic spires, beautiful shops and markets, brightly colored houses, churches, museums, and cozy cafes – all enclosed within walls and olden times. A particularly impressive location in this UNESCO-protected site is the Danish King’s Garden.

Tallinn Old Town can be enjoyed any time of the year, but if you’re looking for a truly wonderful and authentic Estonian experience, try to organize your trip around the winter holidays, when a magical Christmas market is set up amongst the centuries-old buildings! Expect delicious traditional food, plenty of snow, and rock-bottom prices.

Have you visited any of these “Old Towns”? Which one impressed you the most?

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Comments

12
  • Victor

    Victor Victor

    Reply Author

    My love is Bruges. I have been there two times and want more :-) It is the best city in Europe.

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  • Miruna Corneanu

    You have very good tastes, Victor. Bruges is one of the most idyllic cities and during Christmas, it’s a fairy-tale!

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  • Irene Rawlings

    I love Warsaw but, in Poland, I would submit that Krakow is the more authentic. Warsaw was more than 80% destroyed in WWII and the old town was completely (and beautifully) rebuilt so it is a “new” old town. Love your blog!!!

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  • Miruna Corneanu

    Hi Irene,
    Maybe you’re right, I know Warsaw was destroyed and rebuild and might not be as authentic as Krakow but, unfortunately I have never been in Krakow:). I hope to visit it one day!

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  • John

    John John

    Reply Author

    Great subject for a post. I prefer Grand Place in Brussels to Bruges Grote Markt though but the whole city centre of Bruges is picture postcard material while Brussels is a mix of old and new. A lot of cities and towns have some really attractive ancient quarters. Some of my favourites are Firenze, Lucca, Bergamo, Honfleur, Riga, Telc, Chester, York and Annecy.

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    • Miruna Corneanu

      Thanks, John. So far, I’ve only had the chance to see Firenze which is unbelievable and I’m sure the others are as beautiful as this one.
      Regarding my article, I selected some of my favorites but, being afraid of making it too long, I skipped some important ones. Who knows, maybe I will think of a part two:).

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  • Vanny

    Vanny Vanny

    Reply Author

    Have only been to 3 of the 10 and of those, my fav is Bruges. Really want to explore Tallinn one day.

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  • kimberly

    I have just came upon your blog and can’t stop reading it. It’s addicting! I love your blog! There are just countless old towns and old quarters in Europe. One of the reasons why I love traveling in Europe. But I would like to add in the Albayzin neighborhood in Granada, Spain. It’s so mysterious. Getting lost in the Albayzin alleys is like getting lost in a moment in history. It’s a place filled with stories of love, lost, war, religion, ethnicity, culture, conflict, and tradition.

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    • Miruna Corneanu

      Thank you so much, Kimberly! It’s very nice of you to say that. I can’t believe I had no idea about Granada’s Albayzin, as Spain is my favorite country. But, thanks for the idea:). Maybe Albayzin deserves an article of its own. I’ll do some research and I will definitely stop by during my next Spanish trip. You also have a great blog and I’ll make sure to follow your posts. By the way, I’ve seen your bucket list:). If you’d like to write a guest post for Travel Away, you are more than welcome. We’re not Conde Nast Traveller, but you’ll have your article published on a website:). If interested, let me know! Best Regards!

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  • Jericho

    Jericho Jericho

    Reply Author

    Well you should see Dubrovnik in Croatia, there are several other cities in Croatia that need to be mentioned: Zadar, Šibenik, Split, Rovinj, they all have beautiful old towns which range from Roman empire to the middle ages.

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  • Carlos

    Carlos Carlos

    Reply Author

    I find it a bit sad that you only mentioned the old towns of the most touristic places in Spain, well-known by their coasts, but not by their history or the beauty of their old towns. The Old Towns of Cordoba, Sevilla, Granada, Ávila, Santiago de Compostela, Salamanca, Cádiz and Santa Cruz de Tenerife can easily surpass those of Marbella and Ibiza. But most tourists don’t want to know Spain.

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    • Miruna Corneanu

      Hello Carlos,
      You’re right, Spain has some astonishing “old tows”, but in 2012, when I wrote this post, Ibiza and Marbella were the only resorts visited by me. In the meantime I had the opportunity to discover many other regions, cities and villages of your wonderful country. I fact, I fell in love with your country so much that I even launched a website entirely dedicated to Spain. If you want, you can check it out here: http://spainattractions.es/ . As for Spain’s most beautiful “old towns”, don’t worry, I’ll make sure they will all be featured in a future blog post:).
      Kind regards,

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