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The World’s Cutest Small Towns

Erin Dunn, Staff Writer

Small in size, but big on beauty, these towns are overflowing with charm that’s on a different scale (literally) to the big cities.

While the bigger cities are easier to reach, the most rewarding are those smaller destinations marked on a map by only the teeniest, tiniest dot, assuming they appear at all. They might not exactly be secret or a hidden gem, but reaching them can be a feat, with some only accessible by car, boat or trail. One thing is for sure, they’re absolutely worth the effort.

Giethoorn, Netherlands

Affectionately dubbed the ‘Venice of the Netherlands’, this small town, just a 90-minute drive northeast of Amsterdam, is a labyrinth of cobblestone bike lanes and canals, crisscrossed by wooden arch bridges and thatched cottages dating back to the 18th century. 

Cars stay firmly parked outside of town herewith only the whisper-quiet sound of electric motors on the idyllic canals.  

Shirakawa-gō, Japan

Shirakawa-gō is the sort of place you’d imagine when your parents would read you fairytales as a child: an isolated alpine Christmas village, set atop a pristine mountain with cottages that look like gingerbread houses, dusted with snow during wintertimeA UNESCO World Heritage-listed site, these thatched-roof gassho-zukuri farmhouses — whose pitched roofs are designed to look like praying hands — can only be found in Japan’s Gokayama and Omigachi regions. 

Come spring, this village comes alive with vibrant colour and cherry blossom. Iautumn, the landscape is covered in gentle mist and a blanket of snow during winter. Our tip: avoid visiting on weekends when tours arrive by the busload and during the popular cherry blossom season, as it can really impact the ambience of this tranquil village.  

Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany

Swoon-worthy pastel gabled townhouses, medieval stonework and a fairytale vibe are all part of Rothenburg ob der Tauber’s signature. Hidden away on the fittingly-named Romantic Road, this storybook town will fulfil your Disney dreams with a hidden alleyway dedicated to coopers, weavers, cobblers and potters that is also home to Plönleinforked cobbled road that you will recognise from Walt Disney’s classic ‘Pinocchio’.  

We recommend visiting in December when the town is carpeted in white snow. Visit cosy taverns and the Reiterlesmarkt, one of the best Christmas markets in Germany.  

Vernazza, Italy

No longer the undiscovered Eden it once was, Vernazza is still one of the loveliest of the Cinque Terre villages, buzzing with tiny cafés and framed by azure waters and pristine sand on either side. Rooted in antiquity, Vernazza banned cars over a decade ago, so each road is a pathway that reveals breathtaking sea views around each bend 

Walk out on the rocks that jut out from the pier to capture the perfect Instagram shot of the signature candy-coloured houses tumbling down the craggy coastline towards the golden beachfront.  

Jajce, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Bosnia and Herzegovina has no shortage of gorgeous ancient mountain towns, but what sets this historical gem apart is its highly evocative walled Old Town clinging to a steep rocky knoll on the edge of Pliva Waterfall

Once the home of medieval kings and Ottoman governors, the fortress and catacombs are truly something to behold – but it’s really the view from the summit of the waterfall, whose water is almost crystal clear and stunningly blue, that makes the journey worth it.  

Cirencester, England

This is not Downton Abbey, but it’s pretty damn close. A cosy nook in the Gloucestershire CotswoldsCirencester is the perfect distillation of cobblestone roads, quaint chocolate-box cottages and buildings almost entirely carved out of honey-hued limestone. 

Cirencester’s gorgeous Roman Amphitheatre, sprawling Cirencester Park and the Church of St. John the Baptist are just a few of the stunning features that make this quaint town a Cotswolds mustvisit.

The incredible medieval architecture, epitomised by the church’s high arches and spiralling tower, transports you back in time to another era. 

Guatapé, Columbia

A surreal multi-coloured dream, Guatapé is arguably one of the most eclectic, wonderfully painted towns in all of Columbia. An Instagrammer’s playground, this town is begging to be explored on foot. Simply choose a direction and follow the intricately laid cobblestone lanes to find a new artwork depicting the town’s history. 

Of course, if you’re dead on your feet after climbing the 740 steps of the nearby El Peñol, the public transport is equally adorable with vibrant colours and mosaic designs covered the exterior.  

Vik, Iceland

Located on Iceland’s gorgeous south coast with eerily beautiful cliffs that glow green from the constant rain and a black basalt beach, Vik is a paradise of haunting beauty almost swallowed whole by the shadow of Mýrdalsjökull Glacier. 

The only village for at least 50km in each direction, this adorably small, yet cosy village’s appeal lies in its serene isolation on the water’s edge.  

Zhouzhuang, China

Just 30km outside Suzhou, heralded as the ‘Venice of China’, you’ll find Zhouzhang, a 900-year-old water town of elegant canals and old-world charm. While Suzhou is better known for its whitewashed houses, delightful stone bridges and tall willow trees, Zhouzhuang is considerably more charming for its thinner crowds, allowing you to truly soak in the serenity.  

Enjoy an evening gondola ride when the crowds begin to thin and the canals are beautifully lit by stone light pillars. 

Honfleur, France

Honfleur, just two-hours’ drive from Paris, is a picture-perfect commune in breathtaking Normandy. The allure of its port, scattered with colourful 17th-century timber houses that reflect on the estuary where the Seine meets the English Channel, is no secret and has been the subject of renowned artists such as Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and Claude Monet for centuries

Beyond the mesmerising Vieux Bassin (old dock), the main street is a jumble of narrow, cobbled streets lined with half-timbered craft studios, cafés and galleries that you’ll long to capture on camera.  

Marzamemi, Sicily

Put on the map in the 10th century, Marzamemi is a pretty seaside village with all the history of Rome and the small-town seaside charm of the Cinque Terre, nestled in the deep south-east of Sicily. 

Scattered with whitewashed terracotta buildings organised around the picturesque Piazza Regina Margherita, this little fishing harbour is a picture of bobbing wooden boats and charming buildings, such as the Church of San Francesco di Paola and fisherman’s houses with sky blue doors and potted red geraniums

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