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My favorite small European cities (#10-5)

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City street in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Taken by Kirstie.

Europe is full of magical cities to be discovered!

Although I love visiting world famous cities such as Paris, Madrid or Berlin, there is something special about smaller, more local and charming small cities. You can easily explore them in a short period of time as well as the prices tend to be a bit lower and the locals a bit friendlier.

Here are my 5 of my 10 favorites thus far:

  1. Heidelberg, Germany

Nestled into the Rhine Rift Valley along the River Neckar in southwest Germany, Heidelberg is a really charming small city. With lots of winding, small stone streets in the Baroque style Old Town, you could spend the afternoon wandering around stopping for coffee at one of the many cafes or simply just enjoying the romantic atmosphere. Heidelberg is also famous for the Heidelberg Castle, which stands over the city, with great views of the landscape.

The Heidelberg Hauptstrasse (main street). Taken by Nelson Minar via Flickr.
The Heidelberg Hauptstrasse (main street). Taken by Nelson Minar via Flickr.
View of Heidelberg from the Heidelberg Castle, Germany.
View of Heidelberg from the Heidelberg Castle, Germany.

 

  1. Ljubljana, Slovenia

If I’ve ever been anywhere that looks like it’s straight out of a postcard it’s Ljubliana, Slovenia. The old city center features a mix of architectural styles, and the older buildings are kept up in great condition. The Ljubljanica River also runs through the old city center, creating a really cool, calming feeling over the city. It is a popular Erasmus destination for students, so expect there also to be a great nightlife!

Shoes hanging in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Taken by Kirstie.
Shoes hanging in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Taken by Kirstie.
River in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Taken by Kirstie.
River in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Taken by Kirstie.
City street in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Taken by Kirstie.
City street in Ljubljana, Slovenia. Taken by Kirstie.

 

  1. Lagos, Portugal

Right on the Algarve coast of southern Portugal, Lagos is more of a town than a city with only 22,000 inhabitants. Despite its small size, Lagos attracts tons of visitors in the warm weather for its beautiful beaches, many cliffs and caverns as well as the many bars, restaurants and especially nightlife. As well, it has a huge historical significance for not only Portugal but for Europe in general, as it was a vital port and, at one point, center of the European Slave Trade.

Cliffs in Lagos from boat, Lagos, Portugal
Cliffs in Lagos from boat, Lagos, Portugal
Boats at the bottom of the cliffs, Lagos, Portugal
Boats at the bottom of the cliffs, Lagos, Portugal
View from the cliffs, Lagos, Portugal
View from the cliffs, Lagos, Portugal
Beach in, Lagos, Portugal
Beach in, Lagos, Portugal
Market street, Lagos, Portugal
Market street, Lagos, Portugal
City street, Lagos, Portugal
City street, Lagos, Portugal
Harbor in Lagos, Portugal
Harbor in Lagos, Portugal

 

  1. Niš, Serbia

After attending an amazing wedding for a friend from Niš last weekend, I may be a little bias, but in any case, it is a really great city to visit! You can easily walk around the city center in a few hours, and visit some of the main sites such as the Niš Fortress or Tinker’s Alley. As one of the oldest cities in the Balkans and Europe, it is full of history too! Make sure to visit one of the “kafanas” or traditional restaurants where you can try common foods, drink some “rakija” (a fruity brandy popular in the Balkans) and listen to traditional live music. We went to this really cool one Nislijska Mehana during our trip there.

Niš skyline. Taken by Monika via Flickr.
Niš skyline. Taken by Monika via Flickr.
Entrance to the Niš Fortress, Niš
Entrance to the Niš Fortress, Niš
Nislijska Mehana in Niš.
Nislijska Mehana in Niš.
Nislijska Mehana in Niš with live music.
Nislijska Mehana in Niš with live music.

 

  1. Annecy, France

With charming small stone streets, mountains in the backdrop, turquoise crystal clear canals intersecting the city and draining into a beautiful lake, Annecy is nothing short of a fairytale. It is sometimes referred to as the “Venice of the Alps” and I wouldn’t disagree! It’s a really popular destination in the warmer weather, when you can take advantage of water activities such as swimming, sailing, water-skiing and diving as well as cycling and mountain exploration.

Lake Annecy, France. Taken by Pug Girl via Flickr.
Lake Annecy, France. Taken by Pug Girl via Flickr.
Annecy, France. Taken by Daniel Jolivet via Flickr.
Annecy, France. Taken by Daniel Jolivet via Flickr.
Streets of Annecy, France. Still charming in the rain!
Streets of Annecy, France. Still charming in the rain!

Still to come: numbers 5 to 1!

A real-life fairytale in Annecy, France

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Lake Annecy. Taken by Pug girl via Flickr.

Also known as the “Venice of the Alps” in the Rhone-Alpes region of southeast France you will find the city of Annecy. Romantic by nature, with stunning turquoise canals intersecting within the old, cobblestone roads of the city center, Annecy is every bit a fairytale.

Unlike the canals in many other European cities, the ones in Annecy are crystal clear, almost begging you to jump in for a quick swim (you know, right in the middle of the city center). They are running from Lac Annecy (Lake Annecy), the third largest lake in France. Formed over 18,000 years ago by large melting alpine glaciers, Lake Annecy is also known as Europe’s cleanest lake due to strict environmental restrictions put in place in the 1960s. Small rivers further feed the lake from the surrounding mountains as well as the Boibioz, a powerful underwater source that enters at 82 m depth. The result, a crystal clean lake, with stunning mountains serving as a backdrop is nothing short of spectacular scenery.

With such natural gifts, Lake Annecy is a popular spot for tourists to enjoy cultural and sport activities all year round. During the summer, you can take advantage of water activities such as swimming, sailing, water-skiing and diving as well as cycling and mountain exploration.

They also host many events, including a “Pyroconcert”, which features a musical concert in the center of the water highlighted by stunning pyrotechnic effects. Can you imagine something more impressive? Thanks to a comprehensive tourist website, you can find tons of information about planning a trip to Annecy here.

Lake Annecy. Taken by Pug girl via Flickr.
Lake Annecy. Taken by Pug girl via Flickr.

With about 52,000 inhabitants, the town of Annecy is also quite small. The most frequented area of the city by visitors is La Vieille Ville (the old town center), which is complete with small, winding cobblestone paths, lined with boutique shops and small eateries. It’s really pleasant (and recommended) to spend the afternoon casually strolling (perhaps hand in hand with your partner) through the streets, taking in the simplistic beauty Annecy has to offer.

We were unlucky during our visit, as it rained the entire afternoon (bad for pictures), but we managed to find a cozy corner booth in a café to sit and watch the people walk by over a warm cup of coffee, followed, of course, by a delicious crepe with Nutella from a corner shop.

Walking into Annecy. Taken by Daniel Jolivet via Flickr.
Walking into Annecy. Taken by Daniel Jolivet via Flickr.
Streets of Annecy, France. Still looking charming in the rain!
Streets of Annecy, France. Still looking charming in the rain!

Some of the main sites in Annecy include the Palais d’Isle, Église Saint-Maurice and the Château d’Annecy.

The Palais d’Isle is one of the most visible landmarks of the city, situated on an island between canals. Since its creation in the 12th century, it has served as a home for lords, courthouse, prison and today a museum and exhibition of the local architecture and history.

The Église Saint-Maurice (St. Maurice Church) is the oldest church in Annecy, built in 1422. It features gothic style architecture and has been a national monument since 1957.

Lastly, the Château d’Annecy (Annecy Castle) is a restored castle that sits upon the hill overlooking the city. Today, it serves as a museum.

Even though Annecy is quite small, getting there is easier than you may think. It is a short distance from Geneva, as well as Lyon and Grenoble. You can get there by train, bus or plane.

[Wikitravel], [Lac Annecy]

Featured image from Alex Brown via Flickr.

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