5 Spectacular Walled Cities to Visit in Europe
Walled cities make fascinating tourist attractions. Throughout history, large walls were used to protect towns from advancing enemies and outside attacks. Most of these impressive walls are dotted with guard towers and impenetrable gates or drawbridges.
Europe is home to dozens of immaculately preserved walled towns. So whether you’re a history buff or just after panoramic views, it makes sense to add at least one of these to your list on your next European adventure.
Walled cities in Europe
1. Toledo, Spain
Many visitors to Spain overlook the fascinating historical town of Toledo, despite its convenient location just a short train ride away from the country’s capital, Madrid. Toledo is the former capital of the Spanish Empire, and it dates back to Roman times.
It lost its political significance in the mid-1500s, when the royal court moved to Madrid, but it still retains all of its beauty and charm. The River Tajo runs along three sides of the town, and two impressive medieval walls protect the other. It’s the perfect day trip from Madrid.
How to get there: Take the AVE high-speed train from Madrid’s Atocha station. The trip takes approximately 30 minutes.
2. Óbidos, Portugal
The walled Portuguese town of Óbidos sits on a small hill with dramatic panoramic views across the valley below. The town dates back to the 8th century, when the Moors saw the benefits of settling in this strategic hilltop location. The village is beautifully preserved, and the town walls – made from local marble and limestone – are freely accessible to visitors.
Óbidos is a popular tourist attraction for package-trip day visitors owing to its easy accessibility from nearby Lisbon. But to truly experience the tranquil charm of this village, stay at least one night and relish in the ancient atmosphere when the tour buses depart.
How to get there: There are several daily trains that leave from Lisbon on the suburban line, usually with connections at Mira Sintra-Meleças station. The station is at the foot of the hill, so prepare for a steep but scenic walk to the top.
3. Carcassonne, France
Carcassonne in France is one of the best-preserved walled cities in Europe, if not the world. It’s also one of the largest on the continent. You can spend several hours or days here and not tire of its beauty and intriguing history.
There are several walls and structures dating back to different eras, as well as impressive barbicans and towers that add a distinct medieval feel to this spectacular UNESCO World Heritage Site.
How to get there: Carcassonne is on the main line from Toulouse. It’s also easily accessible by train from Montpellier, Narbonne, and Perpignan.
4. Dubrovnik, Croatia
Dubrovnik is one of the Mediterranean’s most visited destinations, and for good reason. This beautiful walled city on the Adriatic Sea will instantly transport you back to the Middle Ages, when it was the only city on the Adriatic to rival Venice. While Dubrovnik is still a functioning seaport, these days its primary trade is tourism.
The dramatic architecture, history, idyllic location, and recent high-profile feature on television show Game of Thrones have made this one of the most talked-about cities in all of Europe. A walk around the walls is high on the list of many travelers around the world.
How to get there: There is no rail connection directly to Dubrovnik. Take the train to Split, and then take a bus from there to Dubrovnik.
5. San Gimignano, Italy
San Gimignano is an impressive walled city perched high on a hill in the heart of Tuscany. This “medieval Manhattan” is famous for its spectacular towers that are visible from miles around.
While a plague all but wiped out the city’s population in the mid-1300s, these days it’s a thriving city that attracts day visitors from across the region. There’s a real sense of history and medieval culture that still flows through its streets. Several stores, museums, and restaurants will keep you busy for at least half a day.
How to get there: The closest train station is Poggibonsi, which is a convenient 30-minute bus ride away.
If it so happens that your next European rail trip passes nearby one of these five attractions, or indeed any other of Europe’s numerous walled cities, be sure to hop off the train and journey back in time. You’ll be forgiven if you stand atop a medieval tower and imagine yourself fending off charging enemies and ducking flaming arrows.