I love visiting small cities, their less crowded, more authentic, and you can usually see the whole city in a day. My normal travel style is to go "off the beaten path" to smaller towns and nature destinations, but if you don't live there you will probably have to travel through a city at some point. I will never be a "city girl" but I can say a few of these smaller cities really surprised me and soon after I left I found myself figuring out ways to visit them again.
I have had a good amount of time to travel and really get to know Western Europe this year. With a crazy schedule like mine, the last thing I wanted to do was go to another major city and wait in lines and push through crowds.
Here are my 'Top 7 Small European Cities' to visit:
I decided to swing by Innsbruck on my way to Oktoberfest last year because I did not want to spend a week in Munich during its busiest time. The flights to Innsbruck are very expensive, but if you catch the bus from the Munich airport it is only a 2 hour bus ride (the bus ride alone is worth the trip, you pass through the mountains). This tiny city, right in the alps, is perfect for someone who loves the outdoors because there aren't that many man made sights to see. You can take a tram up into the mountains and get a 360 degree view of the Alps. Outdoor seating is open even when it's cold because the seats are lined with fur. My favorite part was grabbing a warm drink, settling down into the fur lined seats, and looking at the snow capped mountains
I originally came to Aberdeen to look at graduate schools because I absolutely love Scotland and had to find a way to go back there. Aberdeen is the perfect size for someone who isn't really a city person but still needs adequate public transportation and a social life. The city is right next to the mountains so a quick drive will give you access to winter sports and hikes, and the university brings in a young crowd so there is a good nightlife scene as well. The people are some of the friendliest people I've met, they are always willing to help when needed and will strike up a conversation at any moment.
I can safely say that any place in Ireland is a place you want to visit. Dublin is its largest city and I absolutely loved it, along with every other place I visited in that country, but it was Galway that really stuck with me. Located on west coast Galway is the perfect base city if you want to visit the Cliffs of Moher or the Aran Islands. It's tiny and right on the coast so you can go to the beach or stop into a pub for some pints. The main attractions here are the natural sights, in my option, so if you are looking to escape the city head on over to Galway, it will not disappoint.
I went to Granada simply because I had heard so much about it. Every time I asked a Spanish person where I needed to go in Spain the answer seemed to always be Granada. Luckily, my friend and I decided to rent a car (which was the best decision if you want to go into the mountains). The city has a large Muslim influence which can be seen in the architecture of the buildings. However, the main attraction was the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Of course, I had to find the mountains so we hopped in the car and drove up as high as we could get into the mountains, passing ski resorts on the way. The amazing views of the city quickly turned into amazing views of other mountains and valleys. Do not leave Granada without checking out the mountains, strolling through the old town, or visiting The Alhambra.
Zermatt, home of The Matterhorn. I had always wanted to visit the Matterhorn but never actually knew where it was until I found a cheap plane ticket to Geneva, Switzerland. With a quick Google search of what to see outside of Geneva, I discovered that the Matterhorn was only a few hours away, I was sold. You can take a tram all the way up to get face to face with The Matterhorn. Up there you can ski, dine, or even spend the night at the hotel. There are plenty of things to do in Zermatt. Whether it's outdoor activities, nightlife, or just a spa day you’re looking for, you will surely find exactly what you need.
I don't think this town can even be called a city, but it has a lot going on and is right outside of Dublin so I had to put it on the list. I frequented Bray a lot while living in Dublin, located right on the coast it offers beaches, mountains, and the typical green Irish countryside. Every time I would go it was always so lively but never felt crowded as there was always some sort of fair or festival happening. There is a short hike right by the ocean that gives you an unforgettable panoramic view of the ocean, countryside, and city. This can be done as a day trip from Dublin or a weekend trip. When traveling to Ireland, getting outside of the city is an absolute must, it will surely be beautiful wherever you go but if you are looking for beaches as well, and accessibility, then Bray is the place to go.
Porto was probably the most surprising one on the list for me. I was expecting dry dessert and flat scenery similar to Madrid. I spontaneously booked a flight there when I stumbled upon some really cheap tickets. Portugal wasn't even on my list but I am always open to new ideas so I decided to just wing it and go. The first thing I noticed was the lush green mountainous scenery. I was not expecting it to be that beautiful. Porto is small, easily accessible, and filled with many man made and natural sights. This is a great place to do a solo trip because pretty much everyone can speak English and the people are so friendly.
I'm sure this list will grow as I continue in with my travels but I have been to each of these places and can assure you they will not disappoint. The smaller cities are always the most authentic, if you find yourself disliking a major city don't hesitate to venture out to the countryside to one of my top 8 small cities. What are you favorite small cities?