A quaint town with brick buildings and cobblestone streets
Choosing to stay in small towns in Europe is an excellent way to discover a completely different side to a country.
Photo Credit: iStockPhoto / paparazzit

How to Get the Most out of Staying in Small Towns in Europe

Taking in All the Quirks and Charms

Choosing to stay in small towns in Europe is an excellent way to discover a completely different side to a country. Away from main tourist centers, you will be able to experience life as the locals do, getting a glimpse of the everyday rhythms and seeing a culture from a fresh angle.

Staying in smaller locales can present a problem, though. Because there are fewer visitors, there is also less information available about these places. Whether it is browsing the internet or perusing guidebooks, you might be hard pressed to find guidance on visiting obscure places.

Small towns are usually given only the briefest of nods if they are not on the tourist trail so it is not always immediately obvious what attractions to visit or what activities to partake in. So how do you go about making the most out of staying in small towns in Europe?

Ask the Locals

Simply talk to people. The single best source of information about what to do and see in small European towns is local people.

Residents of a town not only know the area inside out, but they are typically proud and excited to let visitors in on local secrets, particularly if they don’t see many tourists passing through.

Once you have arrived in your destination, strike up conversations with anyone willing to talk to you. Smile, be friendly and open, and show your enthusiasm for their town — good advice is almost certain to follow.

Another way to tap into the wellspring of local knowledge is to search for accommodations that will put you in direct contact with people in the area. Airbnb and Couchsurfing are two websites that offer the opportunity to be accommodated by locals.

If you’re staying in someone’s home, you can sit down for a cozy meal together and get all of their best recommendations for things to see and do. Both of these options are also handy in places where there may not necessarily be hotels or other tourist accommodations.

If neither of these accommodation options appeal to you, never fear. Hotel or hostel receptionists are also wonderful sources of information and will be able to point you in the right direction.

Find Your People

Taking advantage of ways to meet people while traveling is a great way to explore new locations.

You can also use websites that facilitate meetups to find groups of people with similar interests. Bird-watching, coin collecting, long distance running — whatever your hobby or area of expertise, you are sure to find people who share it with you, even in small European towns.

Arrange meetups through websites and Facebook groups, or network via blogs and websites related to your interests. Once you have connected with people, you will be able to share your passion and get great travel advice at the same time.

In smaller towns in Europe, English might not be widely spoken, which can make communicating with locals tricky. To get around this, use meetup websites to track down expats, or people studying English.

English students will be happy to be able to practice their speaking skills with you, and equally happy to share their opinions and knowledge of the area. Asking for recommendations is a great conversation starter!

Hashtag Heaven

In the age of social media, you can also turn to hashtags to help you find lesser-known spots to visit and things to do. Try searching the name of the town or area on Instagram, Twitter or Facebook.

Because the results are generally real photos shared by real people, you will come across some great insights and hidden delights.

If you come across an account that shares lots of photos or information on the small European town you plan on visiting, you can even reach out to them directly via a comment or a tweet. Usually, people are excited to make these kinds of connections and excited to help with recommendations and advice.

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Embrace a Slower Pace of Life

When it comes to exploring small European towns, do away with the map and don’t be afraid to get lost. One of the best ways to get the most out of staying in small towns in Europe is to simply wander aimlessly.

Without a list of major attractions to see, you won’t feel pressured to hurry around ticking things off. You will be completely free to explore by picking a direction and just following your feet.

Small towns in Europe have a charm like nowhere else. It doesn’t matter where you are; villages and small towns are almost guaranteed to be picturesque and lovely. Give yourself time to enjoy the ambiance and look around, without feeling like you need to be seeing or doing something in particular.

Details such as colorful doorways, flowerpots on a windowsill or a cat dozing in an alleyway will catch your eye and your imagination. A slower pace lets you savor what makes small towns so special.

Live Like the Locals Do

Go to the local market and shop for regional fruits and vegetables. Stop in at the bakery and get freshly baked bread. Sit down in a café and sip espresso while watching people go by.

Immersing yourself in the daily customs of local people gives you an enriching and insightful experience. After all, the European experience is just as much about tastes, sensations and smells as museums and historic attractions.

It might seem daunting trying to plan a trip to a small town when there is scarcely any visitor information online or in books. By embracing the mystery, seeking out local advice and being open to new discoveries though, you are sure to stumble across some great sights and experiences.

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