My favorite "small" cities in the world

Thursday, March 20

So often, capital cities get all the attention with travelers. And for good reason…there are a slew of walkable sites, notable history, and a buzz and energy from city livin'!

But hands down, I'm a sucker for the small tucked away gems that seem to dazzle the senses in a way nothing else can. To walk into a city you've hardly heard of, with no expectation, is a marvelous, marvelous thing. It is though a canvas is being drawn before your eyes, and the painted scenes become real life.

When traveling, Kevin and I always try to mix big city life, with rural and "off the beaten track" towns. Smaller towns are generally fierce in preserving culture, and therefore, can show you a better slice of life for the locals than a metropolitan city. Some are just plain peaceful and relaxing, away from city craziness!

In all our travels {through 40+ countries} here are my favorites….

Sarlat, France 
About 5 years ago, my family spent the summer in France. My mom, who is a master planner, steered our family to some really stunning places, but hands down, our family favorite {and my personal favorite} was Sarlat. Sarlat-la-Canéda, or simply, Sarlat, is located in the Dordogne region of central southern France. Sarlat is a perfect example of a medieval town, boasting the best representation of a 14th century town in all of France. The town has been impeccably restored, and is virtually car-free {which makes it perfect for walking around!}. My sisters and I had one of the funniest moments of our lives in Sarlat, but i'll leave that story to another day! One fantastic things about Sarlat is that besides the charm of the town, it is a perfect home base for other excursions in the area. Canoeing down the Dordogne river was my family's favorite day in all of France. The river boasts some breathtaking scenery, including medieval castles that you can get out of your canoe to hike up to. Ahhh, i'm already dreaming of going back to Sarlat and taking Kevin! {One of my favorite movies, Ever After, was filmed here!!}

Hoi An, Vietnam
I spent a good deal of time raving about this INCREDIBLE little haven {here}, but just thought i'd take the time to reiterate my love for Hoi An. If you love a tropical oasis where you can relax in crystal clear waters and under palm trees galore, Hoi An has it. If your taste in travel revolves around an epic and dazzling food scene {with celebrity chefs teaming the city}, Hoi An is your oyster. Or if you are intent on history and architecture, you will surely win in Hoi An. The city has it all, and Kevin and I a few times have blurted out "let's just move to Hoi An"…yes, it's that good! {For all you Bachelor fans, the infamous Juan Pablo, took a few girls on dates in Hoi An just this past year!}

Siena, Italy

A little known fact about me is that I studied Italian in college, and spent time living in the most quintessential Tuscan town of Siena. Friends, I loved this dreamy season of my life. Siena was the perfect mix of history, tradition, delicious food and wine, all wrapped in a romantic ribbon. It was small enough that the pace of life was slow and pleasurable, but big enough to do and see many wonderful things hidden in the gorgeous alley ways that wound so gracefully on cobblestone around the city. Eat a gelato {or 2!} and sit in the famed piazza called Il Campo, and imagine the glorious horse race that happens twice each a year here called Il Palio. If you want Italy at it's most romantic, in my biased opinion, go to Siena:) {So many movies have been filmed here, but Letters to Juliet, is one I love}

San Luis Obispo, California, USA

I gotta throw in a local favorite to this list! Kevin and I are both California natives, and there's one place we LOVE to go every year, San Luis Obispo. Many members in both our families went to college here at Cal Poly, and it was voted the "happiest place in America" by the Today Show. It is sunny almost every day of the year, has incredible outdoor activities, is a few minutes from the beach, and is just refreshing to the soul! If you visit California, consider making a quick trip though "SLO", as we call it:) {Remember our childhood favorite movie, "Little Giants"? It was filmed just a few miles from SLO in Arroyo Grande, where Kev's Grandma lives!}  {SLO pics, click here}

Dingle, Ireland

Soon after we were married, Kevin and I took a three week trip through the UK and Ireland. Dingle, Ireland was our favorite place hands down! This small, recently sheltered town, is all culture through and through. The town of Dingle sits on the Dingle Peninsula, which we spent a day driving around, stopping every mile or so to get out and explore the cliffs, the ancient forts, the abbey ruins, and many a local pub. Gaellic is very much alive and active, spoken by the locals. Each night we walked into town, shimmied up at the pub and listened to some incredible music. I felt as though I had been transported back in time. It was perfect! {The movie Far and Away, with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman was filmed here!}  {Dingle pics, click here}

Railay Beach, Thailand
Railay is not an island, but it is so isolated on a peninsula by steep cliffs, that the only way you can get to the beach is by boat. And that, my friends, is what makes it so great! Never have Kevin and I felt so excluded from the world and relaxed as we did on Railay Beach. The beach is absolutely stunning, with huge rock formations jutting out of the ocean, warm refreshing crystal water, and a funky island vibe that hasn't been turned into a party mecca, yet. We met so few people on the beach, it was rather remarkable. My soul was revived here in this little oasis, and I will forever return to the memory of our time on Railay Beach. {Just a few miles from Railay is Maya Bay, where they filmed the movie "The Beach"} {Railay Beach pics, click here}

Bruge, Belgium
4 years ago, Kevin and I spontaneously decided to spend a few days in Bruge. The day I woke up in Bruge I literally thought I had plain well walked into a Grimm fairy tale. Friends, EVERY way you turn, there is a postcard moment awaiting you. The city, once a great trading  port, became a back water sleepy town when the main port dried up, and for hundreds of years, nothing in Bruge changed. There is so much to do in Bruge, and it will leave your senses completely tantalized. They are famous for their chocolate, and my personal favorite shop is called The Chocolate Line. They also serve up a mean plate of fries, my favorite being sold in the little cart right under the bell tower. Stop into the brewery for a tour and a glass of the famous local beer. The architecture will stop you in your tracks, the gorgeous colors of the canals and flowers and buildings will mesmerize you, and the people are truly wonderful. Kevin and I loved it so much we've gone back twice!! It's just that great a place:) {Did you see the recent movie Monument Men? The altar piece in Bruge is a huge part of the story!}

Bhaktapur, Nepal 
Bhaktapur is a gorgeous, very well persevered town just miles outside of Kathmandu, Nepal. We visited Bhaktapur with friends a few months before we moved, and I fell in love with it. It is a hub for artisans in the area, and you can try your hand at throwing some clay, or watching the ancient art of Nepali painting. For generations, families have been creating in this little city:) {to see our time in Bhaktapur, click here}

Honorable mention goes to Oxford:England, Vernazza: Italy (Part of Cinque Terra), Santa Cruz: California:USA, Hania, Greece and Delft, Holland.

What are YOUR favorite small towns that we MUST see?
I want all your suggestions!
Kevin and I are planning our summer trip, and so far we have our eyes on
Cesky Krumlov, Czech Republic, and Colmar, France.
Can you convince me of a few other places we need to go?

Happy Thursday friends,
love Katie 


43 comments :

  1. Small towns tend to be some of my favorites, probably because I am from a small town. I loved Siena, was one of my favorite stops in Italy.

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  2. Never heard of Sarlat. Looks beautiful thought. I'm heading to Metz, France in a few weeks.

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  3. Your posts make me crave travel even more than I already do! They all look beautiful.

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  4. I love Bruge! The Chocolate Line was a definite must for me when I went. Yummm. And I had no idea you studied Italian! Italians are just my favorite. I've picked up a lot of the language from living with an Italian family this past year.

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  5. Loved this post! I am always dreaming of our next vacation so these are all going on my list!
    We recently went to Palm Cove, Australia and it was the most beautiful place I've ever been. Of course the coral reef is a huge draw for this area, but this little town was the perfect place to sit back and enjoy the beautiful sunshine.

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  6. Wow these are some beautiful cities, and I haven't been to any of them. The hubster and I need to check them out (especially Thailand)! If you stop by Portugal (which you should!) head over to Obidos. It's a walled city, (where you can walk on the wall) with great hot chocolate and cobble stone. My parents lived near Lisbon and Obidos was their favorite spot to take friends. Lovely! Happy Friday Eve!

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  7. oh Katie, if i could shrink myself and be packed into one of your suitcases! lol. those towns are so beautiful. i love the picturesque small towns. i haven't traveled much, but one place that stole my heart is La Push, WA. not so much of a picturesque town per se, but the nature and the beach. oh the beach was my favorite. so serene and quiet. something about knowing that it was on the very tip of the PNW of the country made me swoon! i think i'd die of awe visiting one of these places!

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  8. Sienna!!! What a beautiful city:) I would love to go to Bruge as well. Your travels make me want to take the next plane to anywhere!

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  9. Great post. I was in Sienna as well. I loved my two weeks in Italy. I've always wanted to go to Ireland. After reading this, Dingle is now on my list!

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  10. I love this post! Have you been to the Cinque Terre in Italy? I feel sure you'd love it!

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  11. Well if you were ever headed to Malaysia I know the best spots there! In Michigan, the little-known island of Bois Blanc is one of the most magical places I've even been to, I love it. In Kentucky, Cave City near Mammoth Cave National Park has a special charm.

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  12. I love this post! There are so many amazing cities around the world that are a little more off the beaten path, but are amazing! I have been to Siena and Bruges and loved both places!

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  13. Brugge is definitely one of my all time favorite cities (of course I am biased being Belgium). I totally agree that some of the small cities are the best. It is def a good idea to do a mix of big and small cities when traveling. Ill def know who to ask for recommendations when I plan my next trip :)

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  14. I hope I get to travel enough to write a post like this someday! Did you by chance visit Lucca in Italy? I think that's number 1 for me. My Mr.'s mom is from Buti, and went to high school in Lucca.

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  15. Chester in the UK is definitely a beautiful small city, especially on a sunny day! Feel very lucky to live here as a student, but I'd recommend visiting in summer when there's less students at night!
    Another great small city I've had the pleasure of living in is Maastricht, the Netherlands, plenty of small intimate pubs and the Markt on market day is wonderful to wander around in

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  16. Bruge was hands down one of my favorite places in Europe. What a dreamy little place. Also the best hot chocolate I've ever had in my life!

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  17. I'm SO happy you included SLO on this list!! I went to Cal Poly and it really is one of the best, happiest places in the world. Love!!

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  18. amazing! i always love the tinier cities, they have a little more character!

    jorie

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  19. Would love to visit that beach in Thailand. Going to look into that.

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  20. So many great places! I love small towns, so much character! Stars Hollow is my favorite small town..... (Gilmore Girls reference? :) there is a cute little small town called Jacksonville, oregon that I am obsessed with... It reminds me of a Stars Hollow type of place.

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  21. Oh gosh, these are gorgeous! I want to see Bruges, Sarlat, and Dingle sooo bad! What a blessing to have visited so many hidden treasures!!

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  22. First off, the pictures are STUNNING. Secondly, now I need to go to all of these places. No, really, ALL OF THEM. Thank you so much for sharing!

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  23. this makes me all the more dreamy and wanting to see the beautiful places tucked away in the world! very lovely!

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  24. I hope i would travel as much as you do... :) amazing places!

    http://run-your-world.blogspot.pt

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  25. Oooh, now I am going to have to add all of these cities to my places to see list!!

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  26. I LOVED Cully and Montreux, Switzerland (along the north shore of Lake Geneva) and Krakow, Poland! Both smaller cities (the two is Switzerland are really more like villages) but they were amazing!

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  27. Some, if not all, of these places I want to see!
    Loves from Manitoba :)
    lovelottexo.blogspot.ca

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  28. these all look lovely!! the only one i've been to is SLO in cali and it really seems like a hidden gem.

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  29. This was wonderful! Loving all the pictures! xx

    http://teamstarnestakeslondon.blogspot.co.uk/

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  30. Small towns are my favourite!!!! I will definitely be adding these to my bucket list :)

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  31. Punta del Diablo, Uruguay (teeny fishing village, all houses on stilts), Puerto Lopez, Ecuador (beach town, amazing fresh seafood & beach bungalows), Huaraz, Peru (most beautiful hiking town high in the mountains), Cartagena, Colombia (good mix of city life & vibrant afro-caribbean culture), & Tulum, Mexico (pristine beaches & eco-friendly Bungalows right on the beach w/ plenty of delish Mexican food). So many wonderful spots to see on our planet!

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  32. Do you have any tips you could share for San Luis Obispo? I will be spending a fair amount of time there in the coming years and would love your insider insight.

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  33. Hi! Just found out your blog! Small cities you must visit: Granada, Spain, and Inverness, Scotland.
    Thanks!

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  34. I Katie your post and blog are interesting, I'm Italian, do you speak Italian? Did you visit Lucca, Tuscany?
    It's a small city, with 4 km of wall that surround the city, you can take a look to my blog, we rent the house and I would like to read and write in English to improve the language
    Ciao
    Paola

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  35. Nice post, just saying Dingle is not in the UK, so you might have been doing a round trip of the UK AND The Republic of Ireland?

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  36. Ohh so cute cities you're talking about here... and I'm sure if you come to visit Provence once, you'd love too, Aix en provence, Lourmarin... and Pernes les Fontaines, with its unique Concept STore lamaisonpernoise... ;-)) hope seing you soon there! and have nice trips!

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  37. When you liked Bruges, give Ghent (Belgium) a try, there's a medieval castle right in the center and a really nice food culture. More 'life' in the evenings than Bruges and little less touristic. I work in Brugge and live in Ghent and I would recommend this hyperlapse about my city, recently made by a Belgian student: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gqoy2lP9qpg

    Nice article, I've saved all the locations!

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    1. I agree, lived in Ghent for 5 years, it's (to my opinion) the best city Belgium has to offer! My (Australian) boyfriend even said that it's the prettiest old town in Europe he has seen so far and he has pretty much been everywhere ;-) So definitely worth a visit!

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  38. I love your beautiful blog postI'm attempting a travel and lifestyle blog so take a look if you have the time!

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  39. You also should see more small Spanish cities. They're absolutely beautiful.

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