10 Charming “Old Towns” in Europe

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 history, its values and its identity are kept alive, and where are usually located the medieval remains of that city and some of the main tourist attractions.

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 those privileged cities but there are also some others around the world that proudly worth to be mentioned.

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

When I feel like traveling in time, the following old centers are my favorite doorways:

Marbella Old Town

Plaza de Naranjas

Photo by HarryLawford

White houses with flowers on balconies, narrow streets adorned with stylish boutiques, tiny churches, beautiful fountains, ladies wearing flamenco dresses and the rustic Plaza de Naranjas (Orange Square) with its lovely traditional restaurants where you can taste the best of Andalusian cuisine, are all part of Marbella Old Town, one of the most colorful and full of life old centers I’ve ever seen.

The main attractions of Marbella Casco Antiguo are the Moorish Walls, the Church of Saint Mary, the Chapel of Saint John and of course, the beautiful craft shops.

Prague Old Town

Church of Our Lady before Tyn

Photo by Dave_B

The Old Town of Prague filled with legends and a tumultuous history 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 old town dominated by the Gothic Church of Our Lady of Tyn and the Town Hall is an authentic demonstration of history and one of the best preserved old centers of Europe.

Sibiu Old Town

Sibiu Grand Square

The Old Town of Sibiu

The Old Town of Sibiu surrounded by citadel’s walls is one of the most important touristic and cultural attractions of Romania. Consisting of three lovely medieval squares – the Big Square, the Little Square and the Huet Square, the old center of the city hosts many iconic monuments (seven towers – one for each traditional profession), a great range of cozy cafés, terraces and restaurants and one of its ten museums – the Brukental Museum. Many festivals and events are taking place every year on this medieval display with German flavor.

The Historic Center of Rome

Old Rome

Photo by mozzercork

With outstanding roman ruins, remarkable basilicas and palaces, fountains for wishes, sumptuous testimonials of one of the greatest civilizations in the world, the Historic Center of Rome is undoubtedly the definition of what an “Old Center” means. The vibrant life, the cosmopolitan appearance, the extravagance, the remains of an astonishing past – are all gorgeously mixed in order to create one of the most visited, romantic, famous and beautiful places on Earth.

Vienna Old Town

Vienna Old Town

Photo by Igor

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

The Old Town of Amsterdam

Amsterdam old houses

Photo by Jynto

Whether you’re in search of culture, history, architecture, shopping, coffee shops, bars, restaurants, or maybe you fancy a quiet stroll or a fun ride, the Old Town of Amsterdam will put all these on your tray, inviting you in a cosmopolitan and unconventional jaunt between canals, curled bridges, narrow gobbled houses, bicycles, tulips and De Wallen (Red Light District). The historical center of Amsterdam is a charming medieval area boasting 4 neighborhoods – De Wallen, Dam, Spui and Nieuwmarket. The main attractions of Amsterdam Old Centre are: Oude Kerk – the oldest building in the city, dating back in 1300, a beautiful church and an authentic monument filled with a rich history; the marvelous Royal Palace, the Amsterdam Historical Museum and the famous Madame Tussauds’s.

Warsaw Old Town

Warsaw Street

Photo by Rubber Dragon

You will be surprised by the beauty and the individuality of Warsaw Old Town. A place where sadness meets fairy-tale, the Historical 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 when you’re here are: 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, the Jesus Church, and St Martin’s Church; The Barbican - a remain of the fortification that once surrounded Warsaw and practically, the gate between The Old Town and The New Town.

Historic Centre of Bruges

A medieval urban landscape with beautiful Gothic architecture, history, channels, lovely atmosphere and chocolate. The Historic Centre of Bruges looks so beautiful than it’s actually hard to believe that there are people living in a place like that. There are plenty of things to do in this romantic area: you can pop up into one of the lovely restaurants and try the delicious local cuisine or the great range of beers, you can enjoy a carriage ride or you can just travel back in time to the city’s glorious past. If you want to see the Historic Center of Bruges at its best, you should definitely visit it during the Christmas period when the city hosts one of the most beautiful and idyllic Christmas Markets.

Ibiza Old Town

Dalt Vila Ibiza

Photo by Pepe ModMon

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

Dalt Vila is the center of Ibizian experience, so different from the rest of the island, so magical and 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. La Marina is also the place where ships from all over the world are tied up, and where Eivissa 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 during your trip to “the island that never sleeps”.

Tallinn Old Town

Tallinn Estonia

Photo by KylliKyT

Tallinn Old Town is a compact medieval city center sprinkled with winding cobblestone alleys, guard towers, Gothic spires, beautiful shops and markets, colored houses, churches, museums, cozy cafes and restaurants, the charming King’s Garden - all enclosed within walls and olden times.

Tallinn Old Town looks great in any time of the year, but if you’re looking for something special or if you really want to experience the authentic Estonian feeling, organize your trip in order to be there for Christmas! There is so much to see and do…you will be spoiled with an unforgettable display, a very friendly atmosphere, impressive snow, great food and good prices.

Which city center has impressed you the most?

19 Responses / Leave a comment

  1. Victor Reply

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

    • Victor Reply

      Last time we lived there 10 days not in a hotel, but in the rented house wich I’d like to show, if You allow me the link.

  2. Irene Rawlings Reply

    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!!!

  3. Miruna Corneanu Reply

    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!

  4. Johanna Bradley Reply

    Interesting collection Miruna. I’ve never come across Sibiu before. Vienna I hear mixed reports about but I’d love to see for myself. I only ever spent one day in Warsaw but it was a good one. Krakow I know much better and it’s beautiful.

  5. Mariam Reply

    Most of them I love Rome! It’s the best for me . Due to its historical and social importance, Rome is often nicknamed the “capital of the world” and it is! Rome contains a vast and impressive collection of art, sculpture, fountains, mosaics, frescos, and paintings, from all different periods. Rome first became a major artisic centre during ancient Rome, with forms of important Roman art such as architecture, painting, sculpture and mosaic work.
    Rome is city of my dreams and It is forever perfect!
    Thanks for your nice post, Miruna :)

  6. John Reply

    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.

    • Miruna Corneanu Reply

      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:).

  7. Vanny Reply

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

  8. kimberly Reply

    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.

    • Miruna Corneanu Reply

      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!

      • kimberly Reply

        Thanks Miruna! I would love to write a guest post for travelaway. If something interesting comes up that’s also fit for the website, I’ll run it by you. Keep up the great work!

  9. Jericho Reply

    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.

  10. Carlos Reply

    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.

    • Miruna Corneanu Reply

      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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