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The world's most beautiful small towns

Bypass the big cities in favour of some small-town charm.

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Colmar, France

This quaint town in France’s Alsace region is well-known for its kaleidoscopic, timbered houses and winding cobbled streets. Grand St Martin’s church, which dates back to 1235, and the historical Unterlinden Museum are must-visits.

Bibury, England

A tiny village in the Gloucestershire Cotswolds, Bibury sits on the banks of the River Coln. Rack Isle, a boggy expanse home to an abundance of wildfowl, and Arlington Row, a picturesque line of weavers’ cottages, are two of the main draws.

Goreme, Turkey

This whimsical town could have been plucked straight from a fairytale. The best way to take in Goreme is from the air – climb into a hot air balloon and fly over the otherworldly landscape of Cappadocia with its elaborate caves and “fairy chimneys”.

Morro de São Paulo, Brazil

Life moves at a slower pace in Morro de São Paulo, a romantic village on the island of Tinharé. Embrace its car-free expanses and spend your days roaming the palm-tree clad beaches and enjoying the calm, shallow waters.

Essaouira, Morocco

Essaouira is a refreshing alternative to the dusty roads and labyrinthine souks of Marrakech. Watch the town’s weather-worn blue boats battle the tide, wander its winding streets, and be sure to taste the catch of the day.

Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

Pretty port town Lunenburg has an interesting past. Learn about its tumultuous maritime history at the celebrated Fisheries Museum, then admire the area’s famously colourful houses, before ducking into one of the many family-run restaurants.

Shirakawa-go, Japan

Shirakawa-go is best-known for its Gassho-zukuri-style architecture, characterised by sloping thatched roofs. Not yet overrun with tourists, this tiny mountain village gives a unique glimpse into the lives of rural Japanese communities.

Camden, Maine, USA

Though at its best when under a canopy of fall foliage, the coastal town of Camden is picturesque year-round. Take in stunning views from the harbour or, weather permitting, enjoy the New England scenery with a hike in the Camden Hills State Park.

Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang sits at the confluence between the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers in northern Laos. It's an intriguing spot thanks to its rich monastic culture and history, and its astonishing natural beauty. It also boasts a cocktail of architectural styles: elaborate stone pagodas sit alongside humble wooden houses and decorative colonial buildings.

Bled, Slovenia

Despite its tiny size, the picturesque town of Bled is one of Slovenia’s most popular resorts. It sits at the foot of the Julian Alps, complete with a medieval fortress and museum, while the town’s charming church floats on an islet amid glassy Lake Bled.

Manali, India

This small Indian town runs on adrenaline. With an enchanting location at more than 6,000 ft (1,830 m) in the Himalayas, balanced on the fickle Beas River, Manali is a haven for hikers, climbers and skiers.

Port Fairy, Australia

A lovely fishing village along the Great Ocean Road, Port Fairy is the unlikely host of one of the country’s largest music festivals: the Port Fairy Folk Festival. If you’re not here for this culture-filled event, don't worry: you can explore its many antiques stores or immerse yourself in the region’s maritime heritage.

Telluride, Colorado

Tucked in the Rocky Mountains, Telluride wholeheartedly warrants its title as a National Historic Landmark District. Nestled in a canyon, it boasts an incredible setting, and also has a handful of interesting art galleries. It’s worth timing your visit with the world-class Telluride Jazz festival.

Picton, New Zealand

This delightful port town is the perfect place from which to explore the sunken valleys of Marlborough Sounds, with their fascinating marine life and verdant hills. The town itself has many a draw too; bask on its sandy shores, and be sure to taste fresh seafood in one of the many independent restaurants.

Sitka, Alaska

Spruce forests envelop this seaside town which is given added awe by majestic Mount Edgecumbe rising behind it. The town also boasts a fascinating Russian heritage, which can be soaked up at St Michael’s Cathedral, an imposing Russian Orthodox Church in downtown Sitka.

Portree, Isle of Skye, Scotland

Lively Portree is the heart of Skye. Once you’ve admired the pretty harbour with its multicoloured houses and dinned on traditional cullen skink in the town itself, venture further into the Highlands and discover the rugged coastlines, jagged peaks and abundant wildlife of this sublime isle.

Zhouzhuang, China

Fondly nicknamed the “Venice of China”, this town is famous for its canals. A gondola ride is the best way to see the elegant stone bridges and whitewashed houses, which are beautifully lit at night.

Reine, Lofoten, Norway

One of the dreamy Lofoten Islands, Reine is made up of rustic fishermen’s cabins perched by the water’s edge. Activities include hiking up the Reinebriggen peak (not for beginners), which towers over the village, or taking to the glittering lake on a kayak. If you’re lucky, you may even spy the Northern Lights too.

Trinidad, Cuba

The heart of this laid-back Cuban town is the Plaza Mayor, which includes the Museo Historico Municipal and the Iglesia y Convento de San Francisco. Wander the cobbled streets, taking in the Colonial architecture and soaking up its old-world Spanish charm.

Hallstatt, Austria

It’s no wonder that Hallstatt, with its breathtaking mountain views, muted pink-and-yellow houses, and enviable lakeside setting, is pitted as Austria’s most beautiful town. A tour of its ancient salt mines is worth signing up for too.

Holland, Michigan, USA

Complete with clapboard houses and neat-as-a-pin streets, Holland oozes small-town charm. In spring, locals celebrate the town’s Dutch heritage; millions of tulips line the streets (resembling the Netherlands’ bulb district) and residents come together to perform traditional dances.

Manarola, Italy

Manarola is one of Italy’s most sought-after Cinque Terre towns. Its brilliant buildings tumble down a steep gorge to a dramatic, craggy coastline. Be sure to sample a cool glass of Sciacchetrá wine (the town’s pride and joy) during your visit.