Identifying the best international small towns is no easy task. That’s why we enlisted your help in narrowing down the best small towns around the globe. TravelAwaits readers voted in our Best of Travel Awards to help us determine everything from the best national parks to the best beaches.
One thing’s for sure — the best international small towns also happen to be beautiful, with plenty of attractions. Read on for our readers’ top picks, and reasons to visit them yourself.
Best International Small Town Winner: Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario
One of the prettiest towns in Canada, Niagara-on-the-Lake is known for wine, theater, and being next door to the world-famous Niagara Falls. In addition to 17,511 Canadians, this picturesque town is home to sweet shops, cute cafes, art galleries, golf courses, and museums.
Stay in a luxurious bed and breakfast, beautiful inn, or boutique hotel. Lively and diverse, this quaint Canadian town’s food scene ranges from small cafes to world-class dining rooms, all of which take advantage of the area’s prime produce.
This Ontario town is the heart of the province’s wine country. Close to 100 wineries surround the town, including the world’s leading ice wine producers. Niagara-on-the-Lake also plays host to the world-renowned Shaw Festival, which celebrates the work of playwright George Bernard Shaw and his contemporaries.
Best International Small Town Finalist: Annecy, France
A string of scenic water canals flows through Annecy, which is why it’s sometimes referred to as the Venice of France. This lakeside alpine town is about half an hour south of Geneva. Stroll through Vieille Ville (Old Town) to experience its history and beauty. Medieval buildings, cozy restaurants and cafes, and small boutiques line its ancient cobbled streets. Chateau d’Annecy and Palais de l’Ile are both historic buildings that have been converted into museums.
Lake Annecy is one of the largest and cleanest lakes in France. Bundle up and take a bicycle around the lake on a sunny day and enjoy the stunning scenery of the snow-capped Alps.
During the holidays, this small town hosts a Christmas market, ice-skating rink, holiday lights and illuminations, classical concerts, and a tourist train. In January, hundreds of standup paddleboarders brave freezing cold temperatures to race across Lake Annecy in the amazing GlaGla Race.
Best International Small Town Finalist: Lucca, Italy
One of the most loved cities in Tuscany, Lucca sits on a plain at the foot of the Apuan Alps. It’s also near the water, as the coast of Versilia is less than half an hour away. Not only is this small town full of ancient history, but it is surrounded by it. Walls that were built to keep enemies out now block out more modern life.
Walking along the tops of these historic walls is one of Lucca’s main attractions. It’s also known as the City of 100 Churches as there is an ornate church around every corner. Roman amphitheater ruins and towers and villas from the 12th to 16th centuries add to the town’s rich history, making it one of the best international small towns.
Grab a gelato and have a seat at the Piazza dell’Anfiteatro, one of the town’s public gathering spots. Get a bottle of olive oil and shop for silk — this Italian town is known for both.
Wānaka, New Zealand
About an hour outside of Queenstown, this cute New Zealand town is home to 7,521 Kiwis. Lake Wanaka offers tons of water sport activities. It’s also where you can find the most photographed tree in the country, #thatwanakatree. Go at dawn or sunset for the best views in one of the best international small towns.
This resort town serves as the gateway to the Southern Alps’ Mount Aspiring National Park. The wilderness dreamland features a range of breathtaking landscapes. Highlights include glaciers, beech forests, alpine lakes, river valleys, and of course, mountains. Ridgeline Adventures offers tours of the New Zealand high country. There are many great accommodation options in Wanaka to suit every budget.
Of course, the big draw to this little Italian town of 28,132 is St. Francis of Assisi. Francis’s tomb as well as some fabulous frescos can be found in the Basilica of Saint Francis. This spectacular Gothic church complex juts out the side of a hill. Once dubbed the “Hill of Hell” because it was where criminals were put to death, it’s now referred to as the “Hill of Paradise” as its home to all the churches.
Bayerisch Gmain, Bavaria, Germany
Yet another alpine town, Bayerisch Gmain is home to only a few thousand Bavarians. Nestled between Salzburg, Bad Reichenhall, and Lake Königssee, this idyllic township sits on the border of Germany and Austria. The area is known as the “prettiest corner” in the land for its magnificent natural panoramic views.
Several themed trails wind their way around the surrounding highlands. Besides hiking, other outdoor activities include rock-climbing and biking in warmer weather, or sledding, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing when it’s cold. But outdoor adventure isn’t the only thing that makes Bayerisch Gmain one of the best international small towns in the world.
You know how saline solution can clear your sinuses? Well, Bad Reichenhall’s Inhalation Facility works along those same lines, except it pumps saline into the air. Brine also makes its way into local cuisine. Alte Saline is a museum dedicated to the area’s historic salt industry. You can even get brined yourself in a thermal bath at the Royal Spa Garden in the neighboring town of Bad Reichenhall.
Campos Do Jordão, Brazil
Perched 5,341 feet above sea level, Campos do Jordão is the highest city in Brazil. Located in the southeastern part of the country, in the state of São Paulo, this town of 52,405 is also one of the coldest. (Perhaps that’s the reason for the town’s Swiss-style architecture?) During the town’s coldest month, July, the International Winter Festival celebrates classical music.
Surrounded by stunning nature, Campos do Jordão offers several outdoor activities, including hiking, mountain climbing, arborismo (treetop cable swings), horseback riding, and riding ATVs and motorbikes. Spot toucans and capybaras at Campos do Jordão State Park, known regionally as Horto Florestal. Explore the internationally inspired gardens and maze of bushes at Amantikir Park.
Praca Sao Benedito, also known as St. Benedict Square, is the main tourist square. There are plenty of pousadas (inns) and chalets to stay in. Plus, Campos do Jordão is just a couple of hours away from beaches like Ubatuba, Ilhabela, Paraty, and about 260 kilometers (162 miles) from Angra dos Reis, a bay made up of 50 beaches that’s popular with surfers. How’s that for one of the best international small towns?
Situated in the Swiss Bernese Alps (Berner Oberland in German), Grindelwald is bordered by three massive mountain formations. Winter brings skiers and snowboarders, while summer invites hiking and climbing.
Ride the Jungfraujoch Railway all the way up to the majestic Jungfraujoch mountain for stunning panoramic views. (Pro tip: Visit the Ice Palace while you’re up there.) Explore the Glacier Canyon Walk, or the First Cliff Walk if you’re feeling brave. After a dizzying climb, visitors can take in spectacular views from a glass-bottomed platform that juts out 147 feet over the valley below.
Learn about local history at the must-see Grindelwald Museum. When you wear yourself out sightseeing, relax at one of the luxurious spas. A trottibike scooter/bicycle hybrid can help you get around town. Restaurants dot the Dorfstrasse (main street), serving Swiss food such as fondues, cheeses and meats, and the specialty roesti: deep-fried onion and potato pancakes. There are plenty of accommodations for every taste and budget.
On the edge of the North Sea in West Sweden sits the picturesque town of Lysekil. From culture and history to small islands and deep forests, this area has a lot to explore. Outdoor activities include diving, kayaking, hiking, biking, climbing, and swimming.
Surrounded by red granite rocks, Lyselkil is located at the mouth of Gullmarsfjord, Sweden’s only fjord. Explore the famous granite rocks at the Stangehuvud nature reserve and the town’s beautiful church that was built entirely out of granite.
Picton, New Zealand
Nestled at the head of Queen Charlotte Sound in the beautiful Marlborough Sounds, Picton is possibly New Zealand’s prettiest seaside town. The gateway to the South Island, this small seaport town features a beautiful harbor, winding wooded hiking paths, award-winning regional wines, and of course, the majestic Marlborough Sounds. The Marlborough Sounds boast one-fifth of New Zealand’s coastline, and this charming village’s waterfront offers world-class views.
Hike along the scenic Queen Charlotte Track for breathtaking coastal views of the Queen Charlotte Sound. Some of the best weather in New Zealand makes for nice boat rides. Local marine life includes blue penguins, dolphins, fur seals, humpback whales, orca, and rare birds.
Nelson, British Columbia, Canada
Big city amenities meet small-town charm on the shores of Kootenay Lake’s West Arm. With a population of just over 10,000, Nelson is nestled between Vancouver, British Columbia; Calgary, Alberta; and Spokane, Washington. Historic Baker Street serves as a vibrant main street surrounded by shops, galleries, museums, pubs, live music venues, coffee shops, and restaurants.
Stay in a waterfront hotel or B&B. Relax at a spa or hot spring resort. Temperate climates lend themselves to outdoor adventures such as ziplining, whitewater rafting, skiing, golfing, hiking, or biking. Whether you’re after relaxation or adventure, Nelson is one of the best international small towns for it!