Living in Europe is wonderful, but there is one very, VERY large downside – there is just way too much to see. And just when you think you have a good list of what you want to see, you talk to someone or read something that adds yet another place to your list.
I recognize how ridiculous this sounds, but trust me – when your time here is limited, you want to do as much as possible because never again will traveling Europe be this accessible or inexpensive. In addition to the tourist-favorite cities (London, Rome, Paris), there are literally THOUSANDS of cute villages and towns that don’t usually make the radar but are worth a visit nonetheless. The exhausting part isn’t planning an itinerary – it’s trying to figure out where to go! (Seriously, John and I just tried pulling a place out of a hat and when that didn’t work, we turned to Facebook.)
Most folks at work are about to enjoy a 4-day weekend (except for me), which means John has a free weekend. Instead of just hanging around Stuttgart, he decided to take a road trip somewhere…and then came the problem. Where should he go? John found an article that listed the top 27 villages in Europe to visit, and used that to pick his destination. It got me to thinking, though, that there were 27 places on that list – and I could think of at least 10 more that I would add, maybe more! While Travel & Leisure made a very comprehensive list, here are a few places I would check out if you want to get off the well-traveled path:
1. Meersburg, Germany: This cute coastal town is less than two hours south of Stuttgart on the Bodensee (Lake Constance), and is good for a day trip or a weekend getaway. The Bodensee itself is worth a visit. The lake borders Germany, Switzerland and Austria (so beautiful…gorgeous views of the Alps and the lake is the prettiest blue!) John and I had an awesome day trip to the medieval town of Meersburg, where we swam in the lake (super chilly!) and then hung out in the lake-front swim area before enjoying gelato and walking though the cobble stone streets with pretty views of the lake. If traveling from Stuttgart to Zurich, it’s a nice stop.
2. Bamberg, Germany: I went to Bamberg on John and I’s 3rd wedding anniversary. John was in the states, so it was a solo celebratory road trip. Bamberg is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and was one of the few cities in Germany not destroyed in World War II. I went because I had read about and seen images of the city hall that was built in the middle of the river, not realizing how much more the city had to offer. In addition to the historical sites still in tact, Bamberg is home to the smoked beer, Rauchbier, and has 11 breweries (impressive, considering it only has 70,000 residents.) It’s one of the towns I visited without John and said that I would have to bring him back to because I liked it so much.
3. Ribeauville, France: I had never heard of the Alsace region of France before I moved to Germany, but it is one of my favorite areas to visit – and a place that I would recommend to anyone. Strasbourg and Colmar are two of the widely recognized towns on the wine route, but there are multiple towns in between also worth a visit. I absolutely adore Ribeauville. It’s not big, but it is at the foothills of the mountains with colorful building and castles overlooking the entire town. It has good wine too. Honestly, any town in the Alsace region is a good option and a definite don’t miss – you will be passing up a wonderful area of Europe.
4. Rüdesheim am Rhein, Germany: Rüdesheim is one of the many towns on the Rhein River recognized by UNESCO. Thanks to a peek at Wikipedia, apparently Rüdesheim is one of Germany’s largest tourist attractions. That fact is striking to me, because there are many towns to choose from on the Rhine, and when my mom and I visited, it wasn’t all that busy (sure, it was a Friday mid-day but still). Like the Alsace region in France, you can’t go wrong with any town along the upper Rhine River valley, but Rüdesheim is a great introduction to the area.
5. Tübingen, Germany: Tübingen is a college town just south of Stuttgart. It is home to the oldest college in Germany, and a majority of the residents are students. Tübingen was one of the first towns I visited when I arrived in Germany, and I was charmed immediately. The town sits directly on the Neckar River (the place where the Neckar and the pedestrian zone convene is a great photo op!) The town is easy for wandering and has a castle to climb up to for great views overlooking the city.
6. Esslingen, Germany: Oh Esslingen – it is a small, virtually off-the-radar town by anyone outside of Stuttgart and is somehow home to the best festivals around. It is another adorable town on the Neckar River, and hosts such fests as the Strawberry Fest (my favorite), an Onion Fest, and a Wine Wandering Day through the vineyards that overlook the city (during which they give you wine glass necklaces). Not to mention, Esslingen’s Christmas Market is by far one of my favorites.
7. Chur, Switzerland: John and I just happened on Chur by accident when we decided to check out the Cows Coming Home festival one weekend. The little town that held the festival only had about one hotel that was already booked, so there were several other surrounding towns to pick from instead. I picked Chur simply because the hotel looked nice (it was), and Chur happened to be a pleasant surprise. Surrounded by mountains, Chur is small enough that it is an easy walk to the train station that can take you anywhere. It also lies on the Rhaetian Railway line recognized by UNESCO. It is a pretty town to have as a good base to anywhere in Switzerland.
8. Trier, Germany: Trier is the oldest city in Germany, and it lies in a particularly beautiful area of Germany on the Mosel River. It also has some of the best preserved Roman Ruins north of the Alps, so if you don’t make it down to Italy or Rome, Trier is a good place to experience ancient Rome. The Porta Nigra is on of the remaining Roman Gates that is especially impressive, but I was in most in awe of the Amphitheater. I’ve been to Trier four times, and it grows on me each time. The Trier Cathedral is one of the prettiest I have seen.
9. Wengen, Switzerland: Again, another area I hadn’t heard of prior to moving to Germany, but Wengen lies in the Bernese Overland area in Switzerland, home to the famed Eiger North Face mountain. A co-worker wanted to go to Switzerland on a road trip for his birthday and so we first circled down to Zermatt to see the Matterhorn before coming back toward Germany with a stop in Wengen. As is the case with most towns that are in the mountains of Switzerland, there are no cars allowed, so the entire town is a pedestrian area. Surrounded by the Alps it is an amazingly peaceful getaway.
10. Freiburg im Breisgau, Germany: So, it took two trips to Freiburg for me to really appreciate it. The first time, though, was on a sleepy, rainy Sunday so there wasn’t a lot going on. But I could appreciate the potential the town had as one of the main stops in the Black Forest. The second time I went, my mom and I were on the hunt for the Christmas market, but a couple of wrong turns actually worked out for the better. There are so many cute side streets, each with its own identity and as it is also a college town, it has a young vibe as well.
The good news is that we have been to these 10 places…now only about 10,000 more to go. Now, time to start planning the next adventure. Once we choose a place, of course.