The Middle Ages were a period of transition and turbulence in Europe, but it is also when much of our current folklore originated. Knights in shining armor, huge castles, royal courts, and even Braveheart have all been utilized to create incredible fairy tales. Robin Hood, witches, magicians, dragon slayers, and other legends spread like wildfire. These tales were fantasies meant to distract people from their daily problems, but their cultural impact was as substantial as any Medieval event.
Since the conclusion of this wonderful period in history, several towns in Europe have managed to keep their Medieval characteristics, architecture, charisma, and flare. There are many well-preserved Medieval towns to visit in Europe, ranging from massive walled cities to little villages with castles and Gothic meccas. The spirit of folklore paired with intact old-world components aided us in compiling our list of the top Medieval Towns in Europe. After careful deliberation, these are the top Medieval Cities to visit in Europe.
Rothenburg looks stuck in Medieval times. Rothenburg ob der Tauber is Europe’s most intact medieval city. The community flourished around King Conrad III’s castle and became a powerhouse in the Middle Ages due to its location on vital European trade routes. Rothenburg was Germany’s second-largest city in 1400, but poverty after the 30 Years War helped preserve it.
Most of the old city walls still surround Rothenberg, seeking to contain its medieval mystique. The magnificent city gates, colorful half-timber dwellings, cobblestone alleys, and small tunnels seem like a movie set. Rothenburg features in several Disney films, from Pinocchio to Beauty and the Beast (2017). From the 1440s-founded Christmas Market to Plönlein Corner, you’ll be shooting shots everywhere.
Rothenberg is beautiful, but there’s also a lot to do here. We enjoy the Medieval Criminal Museum, Imperial City Museum, and city wall. At twilight, when most tourists have left, the covered Medieval wall is stunning. Add an antique blacksmith shop, a vibrant market square, and fantastic mom-and-pop pubs, and you’ll feel transported back in time.
We adore discovering Rothenburg’s hidden gems, but the finest activity is the 1 hour Night Watchman’s Tour. We’d go only to see the funny Night Watchman, who teaches us about his responsibilities and Rothenberg’s history. Rothenberg is a genuine, exciting, and adventurous Medieval town in Europe.
There is a strong correlation between cities that have maintained a significant portion of their medieval centers into the modern day and their ability to maintain a high level of security over the course of many centuries. As a result, castles and other forms of fortification may be found across a significant portion of this list. But few cities have city walls that are as strikingly unique as those of Vila, which is located in the Castile and León area of central Spain, west of Madrid. The 88 circular towers and walls span over 2.5 kilometers (1.6 miles), enclosing an old town full of monasteries, convents, and basilicas dating from the 12th to the 16th century. For example, the construction of the Vila Cathedral began in 1091, giving it a blend of Romanesque and Gothic characteristics.
Bamberg was born during the Middle Ages, in contrast to the majority of other important European towns, which can trace their history back to Roman times and even farther. The year 902 is when the city, which may be found in Northern Bavaria, is mentioned in written history for the first time. It expanded at a quick rate to become an important center of Holy Roman Empire activity in central Europe. The green spires of Bamberg Cathedral and the octagonal onion domes of the Schloss Seehof, both of which are a hint to the city’s Slavic roots, are two examples of the wide range of continental influences that can still be seen today. The Old Town Hall, which has a yellow half-timbered front and overhangs the river, is one of the highlights of the Old Town, which has been carefully conserved.
Prague, Czech Republic
Prague is Europe’s best-preserved big Medieval city, mostly unscathed by the World War II bombardment. Some Medieval towns in Europe may be tighter or have maintained city walls, but Prague has an unequaled atmosphere. We enjoy Prague because it’s large enough to be stunning yet still intimate. Prague is our favorite Medieval city in Europe for its architecture, culture, drinking, and urban castle. This historic destination will make you feel like you’ve traveled to another country and civilization.
The Medieval façade of the Church of Our Lady Before Tn on Prague’s Old Town Square is our favorite. Gothic towers overlook colorful structures like the Storch House and House of Gold Ring, as well as the world’s oldest working astronomical clock. There are approximately a dozen Gothic watchtowers in town, including two you may climb on Charles Bridge at dark. The bridge goes to Prague Castle, where medieval alchemists and Bohemian kings formerly roamed.
Prague won us over after dark after seeing dozens of Medieval cities across Europe. In the evening, Prague’s cobblestone streets gleam yellow from ornate lamps, shadows dance on colorful residences, and watchtowers defend practically every block of Old Town.
Prague’s Medieval pubs are especially fun at night. The Barbant Medieval Tavern near Prague Castle is an underground labyrinth ornamented with human skulls. We adore medieval meals and belly dancing and fire-breathing performances. The Medieval Spider in Old Town has snakes, fire, drums, and dancers and has appeared on several TV programs. Between the two taverns lies the world’s finest Medieval torture museum.
Bern, the current capital of Switzerland, dates back to the Middle Ages but is still considered a youngster at 830 years of age. The Old City of Bern is located in a horseshoe-shaped bend of the Aare River and has been almost entirely preserved from medieval times. As a result, it is a delight to explore for those who are interested in antiquity in general and medieval history in particular. The Zytglogge, a clock with moving parts, and the Berner Münster, a Gothic cathedral built in the 15th century, are two of the highlights of this UNESCO World Heritage Site, which was designated as such by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO; another common thread throughout this list). An excellent way to take in the medieval atmosphere of Bern is to take a stroll along the Kramgasse.
The majority of Italy is densely populated with historical sites, and it would be possible for us to construct a full list of 20 medieval cities without ever having to leave the country. The cities that have been chosen for this list are among the best that the globe has to offer in terms of tourism. Bologna is just simply a wonder. Around the city’s Piazzas, antique porticoes, medieval churches, and gorgeous palaces such as Palazzo d’Accursio, which is home to the Town Hall as well as an art gallery, can be found. These Piazzas have been the center of the city’s activity for centuries. There were once dozens of towering defense towers in Bologna, and traces of some of them still exist today. One such relic is the Asinelli Tower, which stands 319 feet tall and is one of the Two Towers. It dates back to approximately 1119.
Medieval stepped gables, belfries, and towers overlooking a series of canals that snake through the town, such as the Rozenhoedkaai, are perhaps the most distinctive features of Bruges, which is home to another medieval old town in Europe that has been immaculately preserved. Bruges is one of the most charming cities in all of Europe. During the 13th century, the city expanded at an extremely rapid rate as a result of the expanding fabric industry. At the time, Bruges was particularly well-known for the quality of the lace it produced. This affluence resulted in the development of structures that are still there today, such as the Belfry of Bruges, which is a sturdy tower that presides over the market square.
When making this list, it was hard to overlook Carcassonne for a number of different reasons; the city’s medieval walls and its status as a UNESCO World Heritage site are just two examples. The Romans started construction on the Cité de Carcassonne, often known as the fortress portion of the city because they thought the hill would provide an excellent location for a defensive fortification. Surprisingly, despite the passage of time and the expansion of the city outside the walls, a significant portion of the ground on three sides of this ancient castle is still occupied by grapes laid out in orderly rows. This has been the case for generations. It is a pleasure to get lost among the winding, cobblestone lanes that are contained inside.
Český Krumlov, Czech Republic
Another town in which the initial settlement was established on a narrow bend of a river is esk Krumlov, which is located in the South Bohemian region of the Czech Republic. In this particular instance, the Vltava River winds its way into a tight oxbow around a little plot of land, which would have provided excellent defense against an assault. The castle of esk Krumlov, which dates back to roughly the year 1250 and is located outside of this defensive ring, is perched on a rocky outcrop on the other bank of the river. Even if you only visit the Upper Castle with its towering walls and the multi-level Cloak Bridge, it will be well worth your time.
Colmar, which is located 70 kilometers (43 miles) to the south of Strasbourg, is considered by many to be one of the most picturesque medieval towns in France. Strasbourg is known for its combination of German and French culture and architecture. The earliest medieval dwellings have Gothic design patterns, but Baroque and Renaissance designs, such as those of Maison Pfister, are also quite prominent. Rows of colorful, half-timbered buildings border the cobblestone streets in a jumbled, disorganized fashion. Since the majority of Alsatian wine is produced in and around Colmar, taking a tour of the region’s vineyards is a good supplementary activity to participate in while you are in the area. Dry Rieslings and other white wines made in the German style are the region’s specialty. Other German-style white wines are also produced here.
San Gimignano, Italy
San Gimignano, however smaller than Siena, has the same old-world beauty. San Gimignano is unique because of its many Medieval watchtowers. San Gimignano looks like Medieval Manhattan, and it’s our favorite Tuscan town.
In its heyday, San Gimignano boasted 72 well-preserved tower residences. The city’s most influential families had towers whose heights indicated their dominance. Most cities in the area, including Florence, had house towers like these before wars, disasters, and expansions. In one Medieval community, nearly a dozen original skyscrapers still stand.
The magnificent walls that surround Dubrovnik, which serve as an unassailable barrier to the Adriatic Sea and any invading troops that may have come across it, merit their own page due to the impressive nature of their construction. Dubrovnik was a gem in the crown of the Republic of Venice until the city became a free state from the 14th century until 1815. The majority of the city’s construction took place during the medieval era, beginning in the 12th century and continuing until the present day. More recently, Dubrovnik has been the epicenter of a tourist boom fueled by the popular television show Game of Thrones. This is because the Old Town provided the ideal site for sequences representing the made-up city of King’s Landing. Other noteworthy attractions are the Rector’s Palace and Fort Lovrijenac, which dates back to the 13th century.
On this list, Granada stands out as one of the entries with the most individual characteristics. While many towns throughout the continent were establishing what might be termed a European style, Granada’s influences were unequivocally Islamic. This remained the case up until 1492 when the Moors were eventually expelled from their spectacular walled palace, the Alhambra. A study in perfect geometry, the enchanting complex is comprised of the Alhambra, the Alcazaba Fortress, and the Generalife, which is a summer palace and gardens dating back to the 11th century. You’ll find the roots of a great deal of Spanish culture, including flamenco, in the twisting lanes of the Sacromonte neighborhood.
Visit Guimares, which many people believe to be the origin of Portugal if you are interested in learning more about the country’s culture and history. Afonso Henriques, who became Portugal’s first king following the Battle of Sao Mamede in 1128, which took place near the city, was very definitely born there. This battle took place not far from the city. The city of Guimares, which is located to the northeast of Porto, has preserved many of its medieval buildings, such as the Romanesque Castle of Guimares and the Palace Duques de Braganca, which is known for the magnificent tapestries that are displayed in tall stone halls. Those who were traveling to Santiago de Compostela from farther north often stopped at the Praca de So Tiago, which is a picturesque plaza with several different restaurants that serve meals al fresco.
After completing their conquest of the British Isles, the Normans turned their attention to Ireland. It was at this time that Kilkenny developed into a significant commercial center under the Normans’ administration. Kilkenny Castle and its gardens, which look out over the River Nore, date back to the 12th century; however, a lot of the flavor of those days has been replaced by more contemporary structures. However, there is enough beauty in the principal attractions to go around. Kilkenny’s other major medieval attractions, such as St. Canice’s Cathedral, which has a part that goes back to the 9th century, are connected to the castle by a discovery route that runs across the city.
During the middle ages, the Hanseatic League was one of the most important defensive alliances in Europe. It brought together a number of important towns along the Baltic coast in Northern Europe. The city of Lübeck, which is located 61 kilometers (38 miles) to the northeast of Hamburg, served as the union’s central hub. The city was well connected by water to the Baltic Sea, and its historic district, which is effectively an island, is surrounded on all sides by canals and rivers for defense. A few features are the green church spires, the massive circular Gothic towers of the Holsten Gate, as well as the marketplace and the Town Hall, both of which date back to the 13th century. Additionally, there are house museums in Lübeck that are devoted to Günter Grass and Thomas Mann, both of whom once lived in the city.
You may never have ever seen the Colossus of Rhodes, but the medieval city of Rhodes is a stunning sight that you can see for yourself. Rhodes was once known as one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World. The city was established in the midst of the severe heat of the Crusades, and because of the proximity of the island to the mainland of Turkey, the founding Knights of Rhodes required sturdy fortifications and a large number of locations where Christians could pray. The Palace of the Grand Master is a stunning castle, and the quaint medieval walled town is large enough to explore for hours at a time. Within the medieval walled town, you’ll also find mosques that were constructed when the Ottomans took control of the city in 1522.
The Romanian city of Sibiu, which can be found in the southern part of the Transylvania area, has received a number of honors throughout the years in appreciation of its architecture, history, and gastronomy. One of them is the European Capital of Culture, which will take place in 2007, and the European Region of Gastronomy, which will take place in 2019. Old defenses dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries may be found scattered around the city center. One such structure is the Council Tower, which has an excellent perspective of the surrounding area. In the latter stages of the Middle Ages, architects used a peculiar design feature to assist with ventilation in the attics of homes. This design feature resulted in the creation of what seemed to eyeball in the roofs of the homes. The eyebrow dormers on many of the buildings in Sibiu are responsible for the city’s moniker, “the city with eyes.”
The beautiful region of Tuscany was the birthplace of the Renaissance, which would not have been possible without the presence of medieval towns in the vicinity that had already attained a high level of cultural and educational development. In particular, the Piazza del Campo, which is home to Siena’s well-known red-brick town hall and the 87-meter-high Torre del Mangia, a square, the castellated tower that overlooks the city, has preserved Siena’s quaint, small-town atmosphere that is filled with glimpses of that city’s former life. Among these cities, Siena is among the most charming and evokes a feeling similar to that of Monte dei Paschi, one of the oldest banks in the world, was founded in Siena in the 15th century, during a time when Siena was an important center for the banking industry.
Saint Paul de Vence, France
Saint Paul de Vence is an unspoiled medieval paradise that may be found between Nice and Antibes on a hilltop perched high above both cities. By entering the city via the city walls and past the protecting cannons in the early morning, you may avoid the tourist rush that occurs in the middle of the day, and you’ll nearly have the whole town to yourself. The seclusion is enchanting, especially when sunlight and shadows interact with the weathered stone walls of the houses and the ornate cobblestones that line the roadways.
The hamlet is so picturesque that it is simple to see why so many well-known artists, such as the late Marc Chagall, have chosen to make it their permanent residence throughout the course of many centuries. The opening of the hundreds of art galleries and one-of-a-kind boutiques that coincide with the arrival of the tour groups paves the way for unending days spent shopping. Be sure to take a vineyard trip into the vine terraced cliffs that surround the city if you want a genuine old-world experience.
There is no other place on earth quite like Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, which is another city that flourished as a result of the profitable trade arrangement of the Hanseatic League. A reminder that Estonia switched from Central European to Russian power in more recent centuries is provided by the fact that Medieval city walls, with circular, terracotta-roofed guard towers and Germanic green church spires share space with the onion domes of the Orthodox Alexander Nevsky Cathedral. In spite of these ups and downs, Tallinn has never really lost its allure because of the Baltic Sea connection, which connects it to Finland and other places farther afield. The result of this is that the Old Town of the city is one of the medieval areas on our list that has been conserved to the greatest extent.
Along with the city of vila, Toledo is located in the Castilla-La Mancha area of Spain. Like vila, Toledo has managed to save a significant portion of its lovely medieval atmosphere. Toledo is considered by many to be one of the most significant cultural centers in all of Spain, despite its location in an otherwise dry part of the nation and its dependence on the Tagus River. It was previously the capital of the Kingdom of the Visigoths, and it was also the seat of the Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, Charles V. During his reign, Spain colonized the Americas, and the Catholic Church faced a rebellion from Protestants. Because of this, the Alcazar, the cathedral, and the Monasterio de San Juan de los Reyes are considered to be among the most notable attractions not just in Toledo, but in all of Spain.
There were major personalities who made the transfer possible as the Middle Ages hurtled into a massive paradigm change that is known as the Renaissance, which saw Europe, and by extension, the entire globe, move into the Modern Age. This shift occurred during the Renaissance. Nicolas Copernicus, an astronomer and mathematician, was one of these individuals. He was the one who discovered that the Earth orbited the Sun and not the other way around. His house is one of the many attractive sites in the historic Old Town of Toru, which, as is probably unexpected on this list, is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, especially because of its Gothic city walls and cathedrals. His home is one of the many charming sights in the medieval Old Town of Toru.
Mont Saint Michel, France
Mont Saint Michel is amazing. The town’s 44 citizens enjoy one of Europe’s most stunning experiences every day. The town is on a cliff off France’s northern coast. The rock’s church seems to be supported by the residences and stores below. In Disney’s Tangled (2014), Rapunzel’s hometown was Mont Saint Michel.
The little Mont Saint Michel is possibly the finest unspoiled Medieval city in Europe. This is partially due to Mont’s limited footprint, but also because you could only access the town at low tide by crossing the tidal basin. The 30-minute walk from the ocean might make the crossing perilous. In 2013, an elevated route was finished, making Mont Saint Michel accessible 24 hours a day and taking the guessing out of tides. If you’re in Northern France or Paris, you must explore this medieval beauty.
You name it, York has seen everything: Romans, Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, and Normans to mention a few. Over the course of several centuries, the city had a position as one of the most significant communities in all of Britain. Fortifications like the Roman Walls and York Castle, which were constructed in the 11th century to prevent the Vikings from retaking the city, were erected around this northern capital city. The construction of York Minster, which would later become one of the biggest cathedrals in Northern Europe, began about the same period. On the other hand, the overhanging, half-timbered houses that are densely packed along The Shambles, a street that was once used as a meat market and is now a pleasant retail strip, may contain the essence of York’s medieval allure.
Romantic Venice is spread across 118 tiny islands connected by 400 bridges. We initially didn’t include Venice on our list of finest Medieval cities to visit in Europe because of its strong Renaissance atmosphere. You may still see Venice as it was in the 1400s and 1500s by walking through its cobblestone alleys and aged waterfront villas. If Venice were more touristy, it would rank higher on our list, but it’s still in the top 10.
Medieval Venice was a shipbuilding and maritime force. Venice became one of Europe’s most significant commerce cities by clearing the Adriatic Sea of pirates. In 1204, Venice sacked Constantinople in the 4th Crusade. This triumph brought Venice wealth, artifacts, and relics. The Horses of Saint Mark, stolen from Constantinople’s Hippodrome, stand atop Saint Mark’s Basilica (actually replicas, but the originals are on display inside).
Even Venice’s most popular attractions have Medieval origins. First, gondola trips have been around since 1094. In Medieval times, Venice had 10,000 gondolas, but now there are just 400. Even the magnificent mascaraed balls date back centuries to 1162 in Venice. Emperor Francis II outlawed the event in 1797, but preservationists resurrected it in 1979.
Legend has it that Dracula spent time at both Peles Castle and Bran Castle. Despite the fact that Vlad the Impaler isn’t truly related to the Bran Castle, the hamlet is nonetheless mysterious due to the fact that he was born there. In 1431, Vlad Tepes, well known as Vlad the Impaler, was born in a house in Sighisoara’s Citadel Square. His family remained there for four years before migrating to their fortress in Targoviște.
Many more Dracula-related sites can be found between Sighisoara and Bucharest. These include Vlad the Impaler’s former Princely Royal Court Royal inside the ruins of Targoviște Castle, the high-perched Poenari Fortress in Valachia, and the Old Princely Court in Bucharest, where he kept his prisoners.
The Scottish city of Edinburgh gives the Czech city of Prague a run for its money as Europe’s greatest Medieval city because of the city’s own urban castle as well as its incomparable attractiveness. When you make your way through the worn streets, your experience will become nothing short of amazing as you come across kilt-clad bagpipers playing lovely music and Northerners telling legends of the Loch Ness Monster and William Wallace, the real-life inspiration for Braveheart. Even though there have been Royal Castles in Edinburgh since the 1100s, the reason why we love the Medieval city so much has less to do with the sights and more to do with the history and the legend.
Hallstatt existed before Rome and will warm your heart. Hallstatt is a tiny, historic lakeside hamlet. We’ve created a free Hallstatt walking tour so you can explore all the key landmarks. Market Square, the Bone Chapel’s painted skulls, the cemetery’s wooden headstones, and the lake are attractions. If you have additional time, explore the 7,000-year-old Salt Mine directly above the city. If you’re feeling daring, take the alpine lift to the Giant’s Ice Caves. Family-friendly cave tours go well with the 5 Fingers Lookout. The Lookout has raised platforms hundreds of feet above the valley level. After a few hours in Medieval Hallstatt, you’ll feel changed.
Cinque Terre, Italy
Cinque Terre’s 5 colorful towns cling to wine-terraced cliffs and are a Medieval joy. These magnificent fishing communities date back thousands of years, yet Middle Ages fortifications kept them undisturbed. You can still see remnants of the walls intended to protect pirates from plundering cities. We enjoy ancient castles, cobblestone streets, lookout towers, and food. The area is noted for its seafood, wine, and pesto. Cinque Terre is about slowing down, eating, and resting. On our first visit, we rented an apartment at Vernazza’s harbor. You’ll never want to leave the traffic-free streets and vividly colored residences.
Chester was originally founded as a Roman outpost, but due to its advantageous position in Northwestern England, it was able to develop into a major power in the area throughout the Middle Ages. The black and white half-timber beauty of the hamlet has been preserved because of the fact that large portions of Chester were spared from bombing during World War II. It is unusual to see examples of well-preserved architecture of this sort outside of tiny towns in Germany or France; hence, it is energizing to observe that this style of building is thriving in England. Due to the fact that major portions of Chester are owned by the Duke of Westminster, more care and attention has been paid to the city’s medieval and Roman structures. Taking a stroll through the historic city walls and entering the various renovated gates located all over the city is one of the most pleasurable things to do in the city.