Top 25 Medieval Cities in Europe:
The Middle Ages may have been a time of change and turmoil in Europe, but it is also where we got much of our modern-day folklore. Everything from knights in shining armor, grand castles, royal courts, and even Braveheart have been used to create amazing fairy tales. Stories of Robin Hood, witches, wizards, dragon slayers and more spread like wildfire. These stories were fantasies to escape the troubles of the day, but their cultural influence was as significant as any Medieval event.
Since this amazing era of history ended, countless cities in Europe have managed to retain their Medieval elements, architecture, charm, and flair. From mighty walled cities, to small villages with castles, and Gothic meccas, there are a lot of well-preserved Medieval towns to visit in Europe. It was with the spirit of the folklore combined with the preserved old world elements that helped us forge our list of the best Medieval cities in Europe. After long consideration, here are the top 25 Medieval Cities in Europe to visit; plus a few extras.
About Prague: With a city center largely untouched by WW2 bombings that crushed other national capitals, Prague is the best preserved large Medieval city in Europe. Some of the other Medieval towns in Europe may be more compact or have their city walls preserved, but Prague has an unmatched vibe that helps bring you back to the past. We love that Prague as it is big enough to be impressive, yet cozy enough to feel warm and inviting. With rich architecture, thriving culture, top-notch drinking, and even a huge urban castle, Prague is our favorite Medieval city in Europe. If you travel to feel like you’ve gone to another world with an entirely different culture, then you’ll love this historic getaway.
The unique architecture of Prague really stands out especially with the Medieval facade in Prague is the Church of Our Lady Before Týn dominating the Old Town Square, our favorite The Gothic towers peer down at colorful buildings with playful names like the Storch House and House of Gold Ring, as well as the oldest operational astronomical clock in the world. There are nearly a dozen Gothic watchtowers in town, including two you can climb at either end of the famous Charles Bridge which is magical at dusk. The bridge also leads to the sprawling Prague Castle, where you can roam the grounds just like the Kings of Bohemia and Medieval alchemists once did.
Having visited dozens of Medieval cities in Europe, Prague especially won us over after dark. In the evening, Prague’s cobblestone streets glow with a yellow hue from decorative lamps, shadows play on the facades of the colorful homes, and you feel the silent power of the watchtowers that still guard almost every block of Old Town.
Especially exciting at night are the two Medieval taverns that operate in Prague. Near Prague Castle, the Barbant Medieval Tavern is an underground labyrinth decorated with human skulls that has been open since 1375. We love their authentic food from the Middle Ages and the live performers ranging from belly dancing to fire-breathing. With snakes, fire, drums, and dancers, the Medieval Spider in Old Town will also send you back in time and has been featured on many famous TV shows. Inbewteen the two taverns is also one of the best Medieval torture device museums in the world!
Other Medieval Alternatives Nearby: Near Prague, you can also get the Medieval experience at the colorful village of Karlovy Vary with its natural moat, the picturesque Karlštejn Castle built for the Holy Roman Empire’s crown jewels, or the Bone Chapel made out of 40,000 human skeletons in Kutná Hora.
Read More: Our Prague Travel Guide.
About Rothenburg: The quaint German village of Rothenburg seems frozen in time, Medieval times that is. There probably isn’t a more authentic feeling Medieval city in Europe from top to bottom than the largely untouched Rothenburg ob der Tauber. The village grew around the royal castle of Germany’s King Conrad III and became a powerhouse in the Middle Ages thanks to its position at the crossroads of important European trade routes. With Free Imperial Statue, Rothenburg was the 2nd largest city in Germany in the year 1400, but poverty following the 30 Years War in the 1600s put the village to sleep and helped keep it extremely well preserved.
Today, most of the original city walls still stand circling the village, while trying with all of its might to contain Rothenberg’s Medieval magic. The elaborate city gates, colorful half-timber homes, cobblestone streets, and narrow passageways will make you feel like you left the real world and stepped onto a movie set. It’s no wonder that elements from Rothenburg are featured in many Disney movies from Pinocchio (1940) to Beauty and the Beat (2017). From the famous Christmas Market (started in the 1440s) to the postcard-perfect views of Plönlein Corner, you’ll be snapping photos left and right!
Once you wrap your head around Rothenberg’s beauty, you’ll find there is actually a lot to do here as well. We love exploring the famous Medieval Criminal Museum, visiting the Imperial City Museum, and walking on top of the romantic city wall. The covered Medieval wall is absolutely breathtaking to stroll around at sunset when most the tourist hoards are long gone. Throw in an old Blacksmith shop, a lively market square, plus great mom-n-pop pubs, and you’ll feel like you have traveled hundreds of years into the past in no time.
We love the finding the hidden features of Rothenburg, but the best activity is joining the unbelievably entertaining 1 hour Night Watchman’s Tour after dark. We would make the trip for the witty Night Watchman alone as he walks you through the duties of the Watchmen and the history of Rothenberg with a mixture of humor and education. Rothenberg is the perfect Medieval village in Europe to visit if you are looking for authenticity, fun, and adventure!
Other Medieval Alternatives Nearby: Just to the South of Rothenburg along the Romantic Road are two other well preserved Medieval villages, Nördlingen and Dinkelsbühl. Nördlingen is particularly interesting as it is almost a perfect circle from the air because it was built in the crater of an ancient meteorite. A fragment of the meteorite is on display at the town museum.
Read More: Our Rothenburg Travel Guide.
3. Mont Saint Michel, France:
About Mont Saint Michel: The dreamy village of Mont Saint Michel is frickin awesome! The unbelievably small town only has 44 residents, but they get to live one of the most magical experiences in Europe on a daily basis. The village sits on top of a large rock formation sticking out of the ocean just off France’s Northern coast. The rock is capped by a huge cathedral which looks as if it were being supported by the homes and shops below that hug the sides of the formation. The iconic silhouette Mont Saint Michel was even used in Disney’s Tangled (2014) as the city that Rapunzel was from.
The tiny Mont Saint Michel is probably the most unspoiled Medieval city in Europe as it has remained virtually the same over the centuries. This is partly to do with the Mont’s small footprint, but also because for centuries you could only reach the town during low tide by crossing the tidal basin before the oceans rushed back in. At times the crossing could be somewhat dangerous as it is a good 30-minute walk from the coast. In 2013 an elevated road was completed making Mont Saint Michel accessible 24 hours a day, replacing an older basic road, and took the guesswork out of visiting with the tides. If you are in Northern France or Paris you really need to visit or stay overnight in the gem of a true Medieval city.
Nearby Medieval Alternatives: The walled village of Saint-Malo sits nearby jutting out into the ocean like a beachy citadel. Just South of Mont Saint Michel is a line of some of the best Medieval cities to visit in Europe. These included the fairytale city of Vitré and the half-timbered Le Mans.
4. Siena, Italy:
About Siena: Siena’s old world charm rivals any European city and it needs to be toward the top of any itinerary for Italy. This Tuscan paradise has a vibe that is a mash-up of Medieval and early Renaissance elements which is perfectly accented by its amazing food and wine. There may not be a more authentic feeling town in Tuscany so it’s no wonder restaurant chains like the Olive Garden have tried to copy Siena’s magic.
In the center of Siena is Piazza del Campo, which was laid out in the 1300s and is considered the greatest Medieval square in Italy. Shaped like an inverted clamshell, the popular square still serves as Siena’s focal point with visitors relaxing and people watching all day. Not only is Il Campo lined with some of the best preserved Medieval mansions in Europe, but it is also home to the famous Palio di Siena horse race which has been active since the 1200s. Twice a year 30,000 fans pack the square to watch ten of Siena’s 17 contrade (districts) complete in the exciting race.
Two of the most impressive buildings from the Middles Ages are also in Siena. The first is Palazzo Pubblico (Town Hall) which sits on the main square and houses some of the best Medieval frescos in Europe. The town hall also has the Tower of the Eater (Torre del Mangia) which you can climb and was the tallest in Italy when it was completed in 1348 at 289-feet-tall. The other major structure is the famous Cathedral of Siena (Duomo) which was built over an Etruscan Acropolis and consecrated in 1215. The interior of the stunning cathedral is our favorite in Italy as it is filled with zebra striped columns, amazing mosaic floors, plus artwork from masters like Michelangelo and Donatello. Next to the Cathedral is a true gem from the Middle Ages called the Santa Maria della Scala which is a former hospital turned into a wonder Medieval museum.
In addition to the amazing city of Siena itself, there are also a ton of great Medieval castles including Castello di Celsa and the Castello Meleto Castle Winery. Our favorite nearby castle to visit is the astounding Castello di Barone Ricasoli where Chianti wine was born. This estate was established in 1141 and both the castle and its family have been one of the most famous producers of wine in Tuscany.
Nearby Medieval Alternatives: Very close to Siena are two amazing small Medieval cities. These include San Gimignano which is packed full of soaring Medieval tower houses and stone lane Volterra where you can get the Etruscan vibe. There are a couple of larger medieval cities in Tuscany that are quite stunning. The compact city of Lucca still has a lot of its Medieval wall while the delightful village of Arezzo makes for an amazing day trip from Siena.
Read More: Our Siena Travel Guide.
5. Carcassonne, France:
About Carcassone: As you approach Carcassonne it looks like you are coming up on a giant fairy tale castle until you realize it is actually an entire village surrounded by a large city wall. The impressive medieval wall easily makes this one of the best Medieval cities in Europe to visit and you’ll fall in love with Carcassonne as you start to explore. Visiting Carcassonne is one of the best overall experiences in Southern France’s Provence region.
The fortifications in Carcassonne were originally started by the Romans in 100BC and then carried on by the Visigoths who helped build it into a mightly village in the Middle Ages. Sitting at the trading crossroads for the important port cities of Bidart, Nice, and Barcelona, the walled city of Carcassonne grew into a powerful military fortification. Walking along the Carcassonne’s preserved Medieval wall and towers is so much fun that you actually have to force in time to check out the city center itself.
The first impressions as you reach Carcassonne are breath-taking and we love to explore the stone arch bridge and ramparts leading into town. As you walk the tight Medieval streets make sure to take in the panoramic views of the countryside from town. One of our favorite places to get a good view is at the Basilica of Saint Nazaire which dates back to the 600s and was rebuilt after a visit by Pope Urban II in 1096. Right below the Basilica is the wonderful Hotel de la Cite which our favorite place to stay in town as was built into the Medieval city walls in 1909.
6. San Gimignano, Italy:
About San Gimignano: While quite a bit smaller than nearby Siena, San Gimignano manages to capture the same old world charm. The main thing that sets San Gimignano apart from other towns on this list is that this hilltop village is littered with competing Medieval watchtowers. These skyscraping towers make San Gimignano look like a Medieval Manhattan and it happens to be our favorite Tuscan town to visit.
There are still 15 well-preserved tower houses in San Gimignano which seems like a lot, but at its peak, the tiny village had 72 of them. The city’s most powerful families each had their own tower with the height indicating their owner’s influence. Most of the cities in the region, including Florence were actually filled with house towers like this, but most were brought down due to wars, catastrophes, and expansions. It is amazing that over a dozen of these original skyscrapers still exist today in one Medieval village.
Nearby Medieval Alternatives: In addition to Siena, which is also in our top medieval towns in Europe list, the nearby cities of Lucca and Volterra to the West of San Gimignano are also stunning. Lucca has an amazing preserved wall you can bike on and Volterra was a the main Entruscan town in the Ancient times which was later chosen as the home to a large Medici Fortress. Bologna to the East is another example of a wonderfully preserved Medieval town in Italy which has a number of famous tower houses like San Gimignano.
7. Colmar, France:
About Colmar: If you were to picture the village from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast as a real-life place in your head Colmar would be it. Colmar’s brightly colored, half-timber houses and weeping willow trees cling to the edges of canals from the Lauch River giving it a postcard-perfect feel. The must-see attractions of Colmar include the Fishmonger’s District, the Little Venice where you can rent a rowboat, tons of iconic buildings from the 1500-1600s, and one of Europe’s best Christmas markets. Our favorite Medieval attraction in Colmar is the Oeuvre Notre-Dame Art Museum at the foot of the City’s cathedral which holds the Upper Rhine River Valley’s best sculptures and paintings from the Middle Ages.
While it is the old world beauty that has made Colmar the bell of France’s Alsace region (pronounced Alls-Ass), it is the amazing wine history that cements it on our Top Medieval Cities list. Colmar started as a rural community of wine producer and it quickly became known as the region’s king of wine. This is pretty impressive as the Alsace region is widely known as the Route du Vin or Wine Road. By the Middle Ages, Colmar’s Horbourg-Wihr port was being sent to the far corners of Europe. Today the city specializes mainly in perfect white wines including Riesling, Gewürztraminer; Pinot Gris, and Muscat d’Alsace.
Nearby Medieval Alternatives: If you really want to get off the grid there are 2 tiny wine towns right next to Colmar that even more untouched called Riquewihr and Eguisheim. These little outposts to Colmar may be small but are beautiful and a great break from the tourists for a couple of hours. Both of these towns are easily accessible by local bus from Colmar.
8. Saint Paul de Vence, France:
About Saint Paul de Vence: Perched high on a hilltop between Nice and Antibes, Saint Paul de Vence is an untouched Medieval wonderland. Entering through the city walls past protective cannons in the early morning before helps you beat the mid-day tourist rush and you’ll almost have the place to yourself. The solitude is magical as sunbeams mix with shadows on the aged stone walls of the homes and decorative cobblestones in the streets. The village is so beautiful that it is easy to understand why so many famous artists, including the late Marc Chagall, have called it home over the centuries. As the tour groups arrive the boutique shops and dozens of art galleries open creating the opportunities for endless days of shopping. If you want the full old world experience, make sure to take a winery tour into the vine terraced cliffs surrounding the city.
Nearby Medieval Alternatives: Just on the other side of Nice from Saint Paul de Vence is the lovely hilltop town of Eze which also made our top medieval towns in Europe list and is magical.
9. Tallinn, Estonia:
About Tallinn: Although it is the Medieval gem of the Baltic Sea, Tallinn is a European too often overlooked by tourists. Known as the village of Reval in the Middle Ages, Tallinn is one of the few Eastern European cities to have true Medieval charm. There is a beautiful princess-towered city wall, a small central castle, cobblestone streets, and brightly colored homes along Town Hall Square.
Nearby Medieval Alternatives: Tallinn is only a 2-hour ferry ride from Helsinki, Finland but its closest Medieval neighbors are the villages of Riga Latvia, and Stockholm Sweden, both of which are best visited with a short plane ride.
10. Venice, Italy:
About Venice: Spread over 118 small islands joined by over 400 bridges, romantic Venice lays virtually unchanged since the Middle Ages. Initially, we shied away from including Venice in our best Medieval cities to visit in Europe list because we got too caught up the strong Rennisance vibe an ignored how amazing well it is preserved. As you walk through the tightly-packed cobblestone alleyways and a weathered waterfront homes, you are still able to experience Venice exactly how it was in the 1400-1500s. If Venice was so packed with tourist it would be even higher on our list of Medieval cities you must visit, but is still worthy of the top 10.
As a ship building and naval power, the city-state of Venice was also very powerful in the Middle Ages. Clearing the Adriatic sea of pirates, Venice grew to be one of the Europes most important trading hubs connecting Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. By 1204 Venice had grown so mighty that it successful sacked the Eastern Roman Byzantine capital of Constantinople in what became known as the 4th Crusade. This victory was a springboard for Venice bringing in riches, treasures, and relics. The Horses of Saint Mark statues pillaged from Constantinople’s Hippodrome remain perched above the central basilica in Saint Mark’s Square (actually replicas, but the originals are on display inside).
Even the two most touristy things to do in Venice have strong Medieval roots. The first is the gondola rides which have actually existed here since the year 1094. While there are only around 400 gondola’s today, in Medieval times they were the most popular form of transportation in Venice and the canals were packed with 10,000 of them. Even the wonderful mascaraed balls go back centuries as the first Carnival was celebrated in Venice in 1162. The festival was outlaws by party-pooping Emperor Francis II in 1797, but luckily the Medieval celebration was reborn here thanks to preservationist in 1979.
Nearby Medieval Alternatives: If Medieval Romance if what you are chasing you can also find it in the stone streets of Verona, Italy less than an hour away by train. The tower-filled village of Bologna is also tempting as only 90 minutes away by train from Venice. You can also get a strong Byzantine feel nearby in Ravenna, which once controlled Venice and served as the capital of the Western Roman Empire after it was moved from Rome.
11. Sighișoara, Romania:
About Sighișoara: Home to Peles Castle and Bran Castle of Dracula folklore. While Vlad the Impaler isn’t really connected with the Bran Castle, the village is still mystical as he was born here. Vlad Tepes, known as Vlad the Impaler, was born at a home in Sighișoara’s Citadel Square in 1431 where his family lived for 4 years before moving to their castle in Târgoviște.
Between Sighișoara and Bucharest are many more Dracula sights like Vlad’s former Princely Royal Court Royal inside the ruins of Târgoviște Castle where he ruled from in the 1300s and famously impaled people on stakes, his high-perched Poenari Fortress in Valachia, and the Old Princely Court in Bucharest where he kept his prisoners.
Nearby Medieval Alternative: Eastern Europe doesn’t have a ton of villages still in their original Medieval state as a lot of the homes in the region had thatched roofs in the Middle Ages which didn’t survive time and war. You can, however, find Medieval solace in Riga Latvia and the walled city Tallinn Estonia mentioned below.
12. Edinburgh, Scotland:
About Edinburgh: With yet its own urban castle and unbeatable charm, the Scottish city of Edinburgh give Prague a run for its money as Europe’s best Medieval city. As you stroll the worn streets your trips gets down right magical as you hear beautiful music from kilt-clad bagpipers, stories of the Loch Ness Monster from the North, and tales of Braveheart himself, William Wallace. There have been Royal Castles in Edinburgh since the 1100s, but it is less about sights and more about the history and folklore whey we love the Medieval city.
13. Hallstatt, Austria:
About Hallstatt: There was a Hallstatt before there was a Rome and this dream of a Medieval town will make your heart melt. Hallstatt is compact, full of history, and an absolutely beautiful lakeside village. Just walking around the village streets can be amazing and we’ve put together a Free Hallstatt Walking Tour for you to follow to make sure you see all the top sights. The main highlights include the colorful Market Square, the creepy painted skulls of the Bone Chapel, the unique wooden headstones in the cemetery, and a boat ride on the lake. If you end up with extra time we also suggest visiting the World’s oldest Salt Mine sitting just above the city which over 7,000 years old. If you are more adventurous you can even take the alpine lift far above the village to explore the Giant’s Ice Caves. A guided tour through the cave is fun for the whole family and is nicely paired with the 5 Fingers Lookout. At the Lookout you can walk on a series of elevated platforms jutting out thousands of feet above the valley floor. After just a few hours in Medieval Hallstatt you’ll be leaving a part of yourself behind when you leave.
Read More: Our Hallstatt Travel Guide.
14. Cinque Terre, Italy:
About Cinque Terre: Clinging to wine terraced cliffs, the mulit-colored collection of 5 tiny town making up Cinque Terre are a Medieval delight. These magical fishing villages have been here for 1000s of years, but it was the fortifications added in the Middle Ages that helped them remain untouched. The sections of wall were built to keep pirates from sacking the towns which you can still see elements of today. We love touring the old towers, cobblestone street, lookout towers and of course eating. In addition to fresh sea food and wine the region is also known as the birthplace of pesto. In Cinque Terre it’s all about slowing making your way between the villages, eating, and relaxing. On our first visit we rented an apartment in the harbor of Vernazza, an it has left a lifelong impression. As you walk through the tight, traffic-free streets and look up at the brightly colored clusters of homes you’ll never want to leave.
15. Chester, England:
About Chester: First established as an ancient Roman outpost, Chester’s prime location in Northwestern England helped it grew into a regional power in Medieval times. Huge sections of Chester were spared from WW2 bombs so the village’s black and white half-timber charm still shines brightly. Typically you have to go to small towns in Germany or France to see this type of architecture well preserved so it is refreshing to see it alive and well in England. Because the Duke of Westminster owns large parts of Chester extra effort has been given to taking care of its Medieval and Roman elements. One of the most enjoyable activities is walking along the old city walls and through the numerous restored gates throughout the city.
Nearby Medieval Town: A bit South of Chester is the sleepy city of Warwick, known for its mighty Warwick Castle. The first castle structure was built in 1068 by William the Conqueror and over the following centuries it morphed in the impressive structure you see today.
16. Città di San Marino, San Marino:
About Città di San Marino: Perched high on a mountain peak, San Marino has remained one of the only independent city states inside Italy.
Nearby Medieval Cities: Sitting North of San Marino toward Venice are the Medieval cities of Bologna and Cittadella. Cittadella in particular is one of the best walled cities in the World and was defensed enough to lead to the word citadel.
17. Vitré, France:
About Vitre: With an unbeatable fairytale wall and towered chateau, Vitre is the coolest city that you’ve never heard of.
Nearby Medieval City: Just to the North, along the English Channel, with the colorful port city of near Honfleur. It has been largely untouched since the 1500-1600s and feels more like a Dutch town than a French one.
18. Istanbul, Turkey:
About Istanbul: Istanbul is the true definition of East meets West as it literally sits on the gateway between Europe and Asia which has created an exotic blend of cultures. Even before you start to learn about the history or see the attractions, it is the fairy tale vibe of Istanbul that brings you back to the Middle Ages.
Istanbul started as the Greek city of Byzantium before becoming the capital of the Western Roman Empire known as Constantinople (Nova Roma) in 330. Through early-Medieval times, the trade routes through this Christian capital helped to spread influential Byzantine through Europe. To some scholars, Constantinople was the most import city in Europe through much of the Middle Ages. The Church of the Holy Apostles even inspired the design of today’s Saint Paul Cathedral at the Vatican. The Muslim Ottoman Empire sacked Constantinople in 1453, making it their own capital throughout their Golden Age of expansion further adding to the melting pot of culture which is still alluring today.
Istanbul may lack the preserved Medieval homes of other cities of this list, but most than half of Old Town is covered in some of the most impressive massive structures from the Middle Ages. The grandest of this buildings is the Hagia Sophia (Church of Holy Wisdom) whose current cascading dome building was completed in 537. This church served as one of the most important in the world through Medieval times and also served as a mosque (1453-1935) before becoming a museum. The nearby Blue Mosque, built in 1453 over the Emperor’s Palace, is still one of the most tantalizing structures of the Middle Ages. Its beauty brought us the word turquoise (color of the Turks) by French visitors in the 1500s.
A visit to the sprawling Topkapi Palace, built over an ancient Greek Acropolis in 1465, shows off the Ottoman’s might and lifts the veil on harem lift of the Medieval Sultans. The labyrinth-style lanes of the vast Grand Bazaar (established in 1455) is also a great way to travel back in time in Istanbul as you are surrounded my rugs, pottery, spices, and Turkish delights.
19. Eze, France:
About Eze: Eze may be small, but it is one of Europe’s only authentic Medieval cities built in the Alps. The little village is mainly set on the mountainside leading up to Centenaire Palace and has streets so old and narrow that you can only navigate them on foot. While Eze isn’t overly flashy it has the back alley, old-world feel that keeps its strong Medieval vibe alive. The city is so proud of its Medieval appeal that it has declared itself “Cite Medievale” on all the local town maps and directories. Around everyone corner and up every stair, it feels like you are entering a secret passageway which is part of the reason Walt Disney permanently rented a hotel room right in the middle of town. We love that tons of the tightly quartered hotels use the cobblestone streets as makeshift hallways. Many of the small shops are actually carved into the caves in the mountainside.
While grabbing a drink on the terrace of the Michelin-Starred Chateau Eze (website), you’ll experience one of the best elevated ocean views in the world. Follow up drinks with dinner at the fairytale Mas Provencal Restaurant (website). Filled with hanging fruit and flowers, it takes the workers 6 hours a day to fill with space with fresh decorative produce and is only open for dinner Spring-Fall. The sweet after taste that comes from even a short visit to Eze will make you miss it quickly.
20. York, England:
About York: York is one of the rare places in England where you can still walk on top of an originally Medieval city wall. The wall was first built in 300AD by Roman Emperor Constantius Chlorus who died in York 6 years later and was reinforced in the Middle Ages. The mighty 2 mile long stone wall is still 95% intact, making it the longest preserved Medieval wall in England.
In addition to the wall, there York also has tons of fantastic large city gates, although they have an odd naming system. For some reason in York the streets are called gates, the city gates are called bars which can be confusing. If you are looking to get a drink make sure to look for a pub and not a bar! The coolest thing in town are the 60 of traffic free, alley sized streets that make up York’s city center called Snickelways. These Medieval alleyways are lined with homes from the 1300-1400s and actually follow the paths of the streets laid out during the days when York was filled with thatched roof houses and controlled by the Vikings. You can get a glimpse of the Viking history as the Jorvik History Center.
The most famous of York’s Snickelways is Shambles Street which inspired Diagon Alley in the Harry Potter books and movies. In Medieval times this alley was the butcher street and derives its name from the meat shelf butcher tables outside each shop called Fleshammels. During the butchering process blood and guts would drain down the street and led to the phase calling things a bloody shambles. We love the crooked second floors above each shop which dramatically hang over the road. They were built like this so the people living on the upper floors could toss the contents of their chamber pots into the street to be washed away without contaminating the meat hanging below. You can still see the outdoor meat hooks above first-floor windows which were still in use until WW2. If you investigate further than most tourists do, you can also weave through the 5 mini side alley Snickelways that branch off of Shambles Street.
21. Nuremberg, Germany:
About Nuremberg: Before being heavily bombed in WW2 for being a Nazi stronghold, Nuremberg was one of the most beautiful cities in all of Europe. Luckily enough of the city remained that Nuremberg has slowly rebuilt over the decades and is becoming a great tourist destination yet again. We like to start off with the city’s biggest attraction, the Kaiserburg Castle which dates back to 1050 AD (rebuilt 1140 & after WW2). The Castle sits on at the highest point of Nuremberg which offers commanding views of town and provided a natural defense. The historic castle looks plainer than some of Germany’s other over-the-top fairytale castles which were built after the Middle Ages, but we enjoy the old feel. Since being bombed in WW2, great efforts have been made to restore parts of the castle.
That same old world feel carries into the city wall and watchtowers, plus the picture perfect Craftsmen’s Courtyard. Just steps from Market Square you can tour the 12 underground cells and a large torture chamber of the Medieval dungeons built in the 1300s. Our favorite building, called the Wine Store (Weinstadel), is built right into the old city wall. This beautiful building overlooks the river and is connected to the town by Hangman’s Bridge. The bridge and tower were constructed in the 1400s as a place for the Nuremberg executioner to live as the common people didn’t want someone of his profession living among them. It was really a strange arrangement, but interesting. You have to make sure to stroll down Weißbergergasse in Old Town and check out Saint Elisabeth Church which was once home to the Knights of Germany as well.
Not to be overlooked in Old Town is the food and especially the Original Nuremberg Rostbratwursts which have been made here since the 1300s. The best way to wash down your wursts is with Nuremberg’s best beer on the City Brewery Beer Tour. The 3-hour tour is only 25 Euros and is lead by a Medieval innkeeper who teaches you about the 700 years of beer in the city complete with tastings.
While these sights are the happy go lucky ones it is also important to known about Nuremberg’s Nazi years. One for the most moving sights is in the former Nazi rally grounds where 100,000s would gather for rallies. The grounds were later used by the Nazis as a concentration camp for over 50,000 Socialists and now holds the Fascination and Terror Museum. There is also a monument marking the Nuremberg Trials, where Nazi leaders were put on trial for the horrors of WW2.
When you are all done with doom and gloom Nuremberg has plenty more historic sights and mansions to tour on top of having one of the best Medieval Christmas Markets in Europe. If it is not over the Holiday season you can still get your Christmas on in the wonderful toy museum as Nuremberg has been famous for its toys since the middle ages.
Medieval Alternatives: While much smaller, nearby Bamberg is known as Little Venice as the heart of town is cut into a series of islands by the Regnitz River. The Medieval Old Town Hall even spans the river on top of a bridge making it one of the most unique buildings in Germany. While Nuremberg became more powerful over time, Bamberg’s old town and Gothic cathedral from 1237 (originally 1004) is still a Medieval treat.
Read More: Our Nuremberg Travel Guide.
22. Heiligenbrunn, Austria:
About Heiligenbrunn: If you want the hidden gem of Austria, the village of Heiligenbrunn is it. There aren’t many travelers that have ever heard of tiny Heiligenbrunn, but when you think of the early-Middle Ages, there may be no better preserved city. With a population of only 862 people, this village serves as a living museum of days gone by. Most of Heiligenbrunn’s houses have thatched roofs, and it almost doesn’t feel like real life while you are visiting.
Heiligenbrunn only has 1,000 residents, 2 hotels, no castles or fortifications, but it has personality to boot. Historically the village is most well known for its cute, thatched-roofed, hobbit-style houses, but don’t underestimate the wine. The wine, made as early as 1225 AD, was once banned for being too strong, but today it’s perfect and you’ll find grape vines growing in all sorts of places. The Basement or Kellerviertel is an awesome straw stellar which has been preserved as a living reminder of Heliligenbrunn’s wine culture. We highly recommend stopping by Ulrich’s Chapel as its bubbling spring is said to have curing powers, especially for the eyes.
Similar Medieval Cities: While there aren’t many authentic thatched roof villages from the Middle Ages remaining in Europe there are a few great open-air museum villages you can visit. Among them is the Celtic village in Hallein Austria (website), the Skanzen Village in Hungary (website), Frilandsmuseet in Denmark (website), and the Highland Folk Museum in Scotland (website).
23. Rhodes, Greece:
About Rhodes: The island of Rhodes is not only one of the most eclectic towns you’ll find in Greece, but it has one of Europe’s most impressive city walls. Sitting above an expansive beach there is a lot to see and do in Rhodes. Kicking off the eclectic mix of Rhodes is the Roman influence. Rhodes was part of the Roman in 164 B.C. and after Rome fell it remained part of the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire for 100s of years into the Middle Ages. We love the vast classical Roman influence on the city from buildings and columns to artistic statues.
From a pure Medieval standpoint, Rhodes was a late bloomer and didn’t start hitting its stride until the island was sold to the Order of the Knights Hospitaliers of Saint John of Jerusalem in 1309. The Knights quickly started molding Rhodes in their own image from adding baths to the houses, archways narrow streets, new cathedrals, and a greatly enhanced city wall. The new fortified wall and fresh mindset helped the city grow in strength and as an international trading partner. The good times didn’t last forever though as just over 200 years later Rhodes fell to the Ottomans in 1522. This Ottoman rule brought a new mix to the city as mosques and Arab culture was injected into Rhodes, but they felt most of the Knights Medieval city center well intact.
24. Ávila, Spain:
About Ávila: One of the best Medieval city walls in the World is by far the almost 2-mile long one surrounding Ávila, Spain! The city was started as a Roman settlement but hit its peak from 1088-1600 thanks to its unbelievable wall. With 9 massive gates, 100s of drum towers, topped with over 2,500 merlons, the 10 foot thick, 40-foot-tall wall is straight out of a storybook. The interior of the city is also impressive as it has the countries highest collection of Gothic churches per capita.
Spanish Medieval Alternatives: Toledo is also an old world wonder, but we love Spanish towns with Medieval castles. Segovia has Alcazar castle, Granada has Alhambra, and Navarra has the Castillo de Olite.
25. Dubrovnik, Croatia:
About Dubrovnik: Featured as Kings Landing in the Game of Thrones TV series is a beautiful, walled, seaside village. While 2/3rds of the town was damaged by civil war in the 1990s, it has been authenticly restored back into to its original state.
26. Honorable Mention Medieval Cities:
London, England: is what many imagine when they think of royal rule and knights in shining armor. While the impressive Tower of London still invokes Medieval power, most of the old city was burned down in the Great Fire of 1666 and much of the city has become modernized.
Obidos, Portugal: as mentioned above, Obidos has one of Europe’s best city walls which was started by the Moors and expanded by King Denis I. There is also a great fortress that has been turned into of the best castle hotels you’ll find anywhere in the World.
Cochem, Germany: As a small village along the Mosel River, Cochem has an impressive hilltop castle while also being near the famous Burg Eltz, Germany’s best authentic Medieval castle.
Salzburg, Austria: has a great old world feel with its High Fortress and monk breweries but most of the city got a facelift in the same era it’s most famous resident Mozart lived here.
Troyes, France: is one of the most surprising towns in France with its half-timber homes, Medieval stain glass, and laid back atmosphere.
Paris, France: has very strong Medieval roots from the churches on its central Cite island to the tight streets of the Latin Quarter. If this list was for pure Gothic feel, Paris would rank higher.
Bruges & Ghent, Belgium: are both absolutely amazing cities on the water which are often part of Medieval lists. While we would visit either in a heartbeat, the makeover of the building in the 1800s is just too strong to make this list.
Giethoorn, Netherlands: outside of Amsterdam with a series of intertwined canals and 180 footbridges as it has no actual roads. The canals were formed in Medieval times by locals harvesting peat moss needed a way to transport their goods. Largely unchanged since its founding in 1230AD, it is a great place for a boat ride. Also near in a defensive star pattern fortresses of Bourtange and Naarden which go back to the 900s and peaked in the 1600-1700s.
Costwolds, England: the region is usually considered quite Medieval, especially with the stone homes in the villages of Castle Combe and Bibury. Castle Combe is often considered the most beautiful town in England and was the filming location for the movie War Horse in 2011. Although the region is the home of 1500s playwright William Shakespeare well felt the area was a little too English Manor in style to make the list.
Landsberg am Lech, Germany: is one of our favorite small towns in Germany with its color homes and Medieval witch tower, but there are just too many German towns on the list already for it to make the cut. The same holds true for the beautiful half-timber village of Quedlinburg, Germany.
Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina: Famous arch bridge and Ottoman-style mosques make this wonderful river spanning village feel like you’re visiting old-world Turkey.