8 Medieval Towns to Visit When You’re in Europe
Europe is home to some of the world’s leading economies and technologically advanced cities in the world. But it’s also a perfect looking glass back into medieval times. This juxtaposition of new and old makes it a fascinating continent to explore, especially when you can sail between totally unique town centers on world-class railway lines. Here are 8 incredible medieval towns to explore by rail.
As you approach Carcassonne you’ll feel as if you’re slipping into the pages of a fairytale. The large double walls and more than 50 watchtowers that surround the city set the perfect tone for what is one of France’s best medieval cities. Spend a few hours walking the walls and then dip into the heart of the town. You’ll get up close to the impressive buildings, some of which date back to the 12th century.
How to get there by train: There are regular trains to Carcassonne from within France, including Marseille, Bordeaux, Toulouse, and Paris. There are also regular connections from Barcelona.
Prague, Czech Republic
Many travelers have a love-hate relationship with Prague. While it’s without doubt one of the continent’s best-preserved historical cities, a few hours there will demonstrate to you that it’s also one of the continent’s most-visited historical cities. Even so, the “City of a Hundred Spires” is truly something to experience at least once in your lifetime. If you’re a fan of medieval towns, you’ll be in heaven in the city’s historic core.
How to get there by train: There are several regional trains within the Czech Republic to Prague. There are also long-distance or overnight trains from many major cities including Amsterdam, Zurich, Vienna, and Frankfurt.
Like Prague, Bruges has become a firm fixture on the European tourist itinerary, and for good reason. This quaint town is infectiously charming. It’s peppered with quiet canals, cobbled streets, open-air cafés, and the clip-clop of horse drawn carts. The medieval architecture is truly absorbing, and the town’s iconic 13th century belfry serves as the perfect focal point. It also provides an aerial perspective from which to take it all in.
How to get there by train: Bruges is a convenient train ride away from Antwerp, Brussels, Liege, and Oudenaarde. There are also trains from further afield including Paris.
San Gimignano, Italy
The Italian city of Siena may be one of Italy’s most iconic medieval centers, but if you’re after a smaller, more romanticized town then head to the nearby San Gimignano. This small village sits proudly atop a Tuscan hill. Although it’s frequented by camera touting tourists, it still maintains much of the charm and appeal that made it famous in the first place. You’ll find 14 towers, a bustling town square, and hundreds of medieval photo opportunities.
How to get there by train: There is no direct train to San Gimignano. You can catch a train to nearby Siena from most major Italian cities. From where you can get an easy bus connection to San Gimignano.
Portugal is no stranger to quaint medieval towns. The small town of Obidos is possibly the most accessible from Lisbon, but the hilltop village of Monsanto is truly unique. You’ll find it in the hills of Northern Portugal. Although much of the castle and walls have been reduced to ruins, there’s an alluring appeal thanks to the medieval rock houses that still exist to this day. Time a visit in May to get the full medieval experience during the Festa das Cruzes.
How to get there by train: Take the train from either Porto or Lisbon to Castelo Branco, and then connect to Monsanto.
You’ll recognize the name from the cheese, and then never forget this Swiss village for its sublime views and absorbing alpine atmosphere. Many people consider this the gateway to the Swiss Alps, and the quiet pedestrianized streets and classic Swiss architecture are instantly calming. It also has an intriguing medieval history. Its popular castle houses a museum that will provide you with fascinating insight into its origins.
How to get there by train: There are regular train connections to Gruyeres from several Swiss and international cities, including Geneva which is just two hours away. The Chocolate Train also passes through the region.
Hallstatt lost many of its medieval buildings back in a disastrous fire in the mid-1700s. But this spectacular town has lost none of its beauty and historical charm. It stretches out along a narrow strip of land on the shores of Lake Hallstatt. The natural beauty of the surrounding region perfectly matches the typical Hallstatt style houses and iconic buildings that survived the fire. The notable Rudolfsturm, built at the end of the 13th century to protect the salt mines, still stands.
How to get there by train: You can reach Hallstatt by train from both Salzburg and Vienna. If arriving by train from Salzburg, you will need to take a short ferry ride across the lake.
This small Spanish medieval city has it all – churches, fountains, monasteries, impressive views, and fascinating architecture. It also happens to be the capital of the Asturias region, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This means that the buildings are beautifully preserved and looked after, and much of the quaint medieval atmosphere still remains.
How to get there by train: You can easily reach Oviedo from Madrid or Valladolid by train.
Even if you’re not captivated by medieval history, there’s something special about walking the streets of a town or village that’s hundreds of years old, and still feels that way. While there are dozens of beautiful examples of medieval towns throughout the continent, these are particularly beautiful and easy to reach with a Eurail Global Pass.