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Europe’s Fairytale Towns

3 min read
From alpine villages to half-timbered medieval towns, these postcard-perfect destinations look like 3D recreations of a Disney movie.

Europe has some of the most charming towns and villages in the world. Full of historic buildings, towers, bridges and cobblestone streets, many of them could have just popped out of a children’s storybook.

Located about 33km from Portugal’s capital, Lisbon, Sintra is known for its majestic palaces, beautiful mansions, and breathtaking scenery. Pena Palace is a must-visit for its vividly painted, candy-coloured façade. It boasts a mix of influences, from North African to Gothic, with carvings of mythical monsters, decorative battlements, and a striking colour scheme. The interior is equally fascinating, having been restored to how it looked in 1910. Adding to the town’s beauty are Montserrat Palace, with its intricate geometrical patterns, and the Castle of the Moors, a 9th-century building that boasts spectacular views.

Pena Palace

Despite being accessible only on foot, this tiny town in Austria is one of the most visited places in the world. What makes it picturesque are the pastel-coloured houses that look onto a shimmering lake framed by steep mountains. Hallstat is particularly charming in winter, when it turns into a Christmas wonderland, surrounded by stunning alpine mountains and lakes.

Hallstat at wintertime

Gruyeres is perched on top of a hill with jaw-dropping views of the Saane Valley. It is a walled medieval town known for cheese, chocolate and cobblestone streets. It has been dubbed Doll’s City as it is tiny, with only one main street that is 300m long. A major attraction is Gruyeres Castle — this 13th-century fortress comes complete with turrets, battlements, defensive walls, a knights’ hall, and a lovely garden. There is also a small section of medieval walls you can visit outside of the main entrance of the town.

A garden inside Gruyeres Castle

Located in the Alsace region, along the border between France and Germany, Colmar is known for its colourful houses. It is said to be one of the places that inspired the village in the Disney movie, Beauty and the Beast. Cobblestone streets sit next to canals fronting half-timbered houses in sweet shades of pink, blue and orange, many dating back to the 14th century. The buildings here are a mix of French and German influences, and also have medieval and Renaissance roots. The most picturesque area in Colmar is Little Venice, a canal with the river Lauch stretching between Pont Saint-Pierre and Rue des Tanneurs.

The Little Venice canal of Colmar, lined with traditional half-timbered houses

Giethoorn is only accessible by boat. Located in National Park Weerribben-Wieden, it is a bucolic village in the province of Overijssel where countless thatched farms have been constructed on small peat islands connected by over 170 wooden bridges. The arch bridges over the canals allow pedestrians and cyclists to get around, but many houses can be accessed only by boat. With its many waterways, Giethoorn is known as Venice of the Netherlands. Giethoorn’s name comes from the original inhabitants’ discovery of hundreds of goat horns (gietehorens) in the marshland, remains of a 10th-century flood. The goat horns are long gone, but the vegetation still exists.

Traffic jam in Giethoorn
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