Warm and welcoming: two words used again and again to describe travelers’ experiences when visiting the 16 friendliest small towns on our list. Connecting with locals and achieving a sense of belonging in these special places turn a vacation into something much more. Of course, these towns also offer beautiful architecture, delicious cuisine, and plenty of outdoor splendor, but the common thread is the people.
1. Niagara-On-The-Lake, Ontario, Canada (Winner)
After landing in the number-two spot on our 2022 Friendliest Small Towns list, adorable Niagara-on-the-Lake owns the top spot this year. One visit and you’ll understand why. You’ll find good-natured Canadians willing to strike up a conversation in the town’s beautiful lakeside park, wine tastings where you leave feeling more like family than someone just popping into town, and boutique hotels and intimate restaurants with impeccable yet unpretentious service.
Niagara-on-the-Lake is located on Lake Ontario and the Niagara River, just 25 minutes from Niagara Falls. It’s an easy day trip but also an ideal getaway for a long weekend.
2. Ennis, Ireland
Ennis is the self-described friendliest town on the Emerald Isle, and with residents eager to welcome and assist visitors, it’s well-deserved. The town is the largest in County Clare and is an ideal location to soak in the area’s rich history, enjoy traditional Irish music, and visit the beautiful Cliffs of Moher, which are just 40 minutes away.
Enjoy a pint in one of the town’s many pubs and don’t pass up a visit during the holidays when it feels like the setting for a Hallmark Christmas Movie.
3. Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber, Germany
Rothenburg ob der Tauber is a pure fairytale. Located in Bavaria, visitors love strolling along the cobblestone streets while admiring the town’s colorful half-timbered houses. Take in a different view by walking on top of the 2-mile-long medieval wall that still surrounds the idyllic town today.
A portion of the town was destroyed during World War II, but it was spared total destruction. The damaged or destroyed buildings were rebuilt thanks to donations from around the world. The names of those who contributed can be found on commemorative bricks while walking along the medieval wall.
Visitors love to browse Rothenburg ob der Tauber’s specialty shops, dine in its delicious restaurants, and sip the local wine. Don’t miss the town’s Christmas market, known as one of the best in Germany. When you visit, be sure to explore these other romantic medieval towns in Deutschland as well.
4. San Gimignano, Italy
One of Tuscany’s most famous hill towns, San Gimignano is a must-visit for many exploring the region. Its 13 medieval towers, built by wealthy families in the Middle Ages, welcome approaching visitors. Its historic center was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its architectural significance. Wandering these streets is simply perfection. Every turn is a postcard, which makes it extremely popular with tourists; some may say too popular. Fans with a sweet tooth visit just to savor a scoop of world-championship-winning gelato at Gelateria Dondoli in Piazza della Cisterna.
Arrive early or base your stay here during a multi-day Tuscany road trip to experience the town in the early mornings or evenings after all the day-trippers leave. It’s also a great location to experience the surrounding wineries and beautiful olive groves.
5. Jasper, Alberta, Canada
Nestled in the Canadian Rockies, Jasper is known for its dramatic mountain peaks, beautiful lakes, glaciers, and thick forests. It’s blessed with an abundance of year-round outdoor activities including hiking, fishing, golf, skiing, skating, and snowshoeing. Located 5 hours from Edmonton and 4.5 hours from Calgary, it takes more effort to visit here than Banff, creating an intimate experience for visitors with friendly locals willing to help in any way. Many visit the area to explore Jasper National Park — a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its amazing wildlife including bears, moose, mountain goats, and elk. The park is also a designated Dark Sky Preserve, which makes stargazing a must.
6. Baden, Switzerland
Located on the beautiful Limmat River, visitors have flocked to this quintessential Swiss town’s rejuvenating hot springs for centuries. The natural warmth of these thermal wonders is also felt in its residents. Known for its “Baden Spirit,” the town exudes a beautiful and inviting culture filled with theater, musical events, museums, and yes, warm and welcoming residents. The city is an official Wellness Destination, one of eight in Switzerland.
Baden is just a 35-minute train ride from Zurich, so it’s an easy day trip, but you’ll likely find yourself wanting to stay longer. If you visit on a gorgeous summer day, be sure to bring your swimsuit and simply float down the Limmat River with the locals. It’s a free and relaxing way to truly feel the spirit of this Swiss town.
7. Gander, Newfoundland, Canada
The hospitality and warmth of Gander’s residents have been evident to those visiting the town for decades, but in 2001, their kindness became known worldwide. Gander and surrounding towns took in thousands of stranded passengers on 9/11, giving them food, shelter, and comfort. Their act of generosity is now portrayed in the Broadway musical Come From Away.
The colorful town is known for its rich aviation history, which is proudly displayed at the Gander Airport and the North Atlantic Aviation Museum. Located on Gander Lake, the area begs visitors to explore the outdoors and enjoy fishing, hiking, kayaking, and wildlife viewing.
While visiting, you may want to check out these other adorable towns to visit in Newfoundland.
8. Cobh, Ireland
Cobh’s colorful homes and beautiful waterfront setting make this town one not to miss in County Cork. The town’s charming streets invite visitors to take a stroll and breathe in the salty sea air. Of course, be sure to stop in its unique shops, pop into a cozy pub, or sit down to enjoy the delicious seafood from time to time as well.
Base your stay here and journey into the surrounding countryside where you’ll find lush green farms, beautiful forests, and even a few castles.
9. Soufriere, St. Lucia
Nestled next to St. Lucia’s iconic Pitons, Soufriere is the perfect beachside town for a relaxing getaway. The residents exude Caribbean hospitality, welcoming visitors who want to explore paradise. While the island as a whole grabs most of the travel headlines, Soufriere is a wonderful town to base your stay.
When you visit, spend time at the Diamond Falls Botanical Gardens & Mineral Baths to rejuvenate and restore. Also, reserve a table at Orlando’s. It’s been recognized as one of the best restaurants in the world by Food & Wine magazine.
10. Burano, Italy
A 45-minute ferry ride from the city of Venice awaits colorful Burano; a wonderful fishing village renowned for its lace-making artisans — a skill dating back to the 1500s in the town. Its intricate pieces are so famous, Hallmark Channel’s The Wedding Veil movies center around a veil made in the village.
Walking through the beautiful streets, you’ll also find shops selling hand-blown glass; restaurants serving local fish dishes, risotto, and pizza; and pastry shops where you’ll want to pick up a few Burano cookies.
While growing in popularity, you won’t find the crush of crowds in Burano like you will in Venice, and once you arrive, you’ll quickly find you’re entering a working community where you’ll want to spend the night to really explore and get to know those who live here.
11. Las Catalinas, Costa Rica
This small town is different from others on the list but still popular with our readers. Las Catalinas is a planned coastal community located on the Pacific Ocean in northwestern Costa Rica. It consists of amenities similar to many planned communities including restaurants, shops, parks, and recreational facilities. There are also hotels, vacation rentals, and office space. Las Catalinas’s first residents arrived in 2011, when the initial seven homes were completed. Today, there are nearly 180 residences.
12. Valletta, Malta
Valletta is just 60 miles south of Sicily and home to less than 6,000 residents. The entire town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Having been ruled by many, this wonderfully preserved city contains 320 historical monuments and is known as one of the “most concentrated historic areas in the world.” Its small size makes it very walkable for visitors. Wander Valletta’s narrow streets taking in the history, architecture, and beautiful Mediterranean views. Maltese residents are known for their friendly nature, helping visitors explore the area.
Its Mediterranean lifestyle and pleasant year-round weather make it an ideal destination. When visiting, buy the Malta Discount Card to save when booking museums, tours, and other activities. The card even provides discounts at amazing restaurants.
13. Sayulita, Mexico
Located in Riviera Nayarit on Mexico’s Pacific Coast, Sayulita has burst onto the travel scene in just the past decade. The eclectic coastal town welcomes visitors with a laid-back vibe. Spend your time walking along cobblestone streets admiring the colorful homes and businesses, relax at the beach, browse the works of local artists in the many galleries, or sit and people watch at the wonderful restaurants and cafés.
Surfers were the first visitors to discover the adorable town and surfing is still a popular activity today. Humpback whales visit the area during the winter and beachgoers will love watching for dolphins off the coast all year long.
14. Krabi, Thailand
With magnificent beaches, turquoise waters, and lush jungles, it’s quite a testament to Krabi residents that visitors cite their welcoming spirit, kindness, and hospitality as the main reasons for loving their time here. Divers and snorkelers flock to Krabi for its beautiful coral reefs and crystal-clear waters. Quench your thirst for 007 adventure with a day trip to Khao Phing Kan, also known as “James Bond Island.” Round out your visit by exploring the unique sea caves and enjoying the area’s hot springs.
Not directly in the town of Krabi, but nearby, is one of the best beachfront resorts in Thailand, Banyan Tree Krabi.
15. Fribourg, Switzerland
Located on a hill above the Sarine River, Fribourg offers breathtaking views. Walk through its medieval old town (one of the largest in Switzerland), climb the spire of St. Nicholas Cathedral, and seek out the city’s 11 historic fountains — each with its own unique story.
Both French and German are official languages, making it one of only three cantons that are bilingual in Switzerland. The city is also home to one of the country’s oldest universities — the University of Fribourg.
Cheese and sausage are always on the menu here; enjoy fondue, raclette, and Fribourg sausage. Explore the area by taking a day trip to adorable Gruyères, which is just 30 minutes down the road.
16. Beddgelert, Wales, UK
Charming stone cottages and cobblestone streets welcome visitors to this quaint mountain village in Wales. Located in Snowdonia (Eryri) National Park, Beddgelert is known for its breathtaking surroundings. Stroll along the Colwyn and Glaslyn Rivers, cycle along picturesque stone walls, or ride the rails behind a steam engine on the Welsh Highland Railway. You can also learn about the area’s industrial history by visiting Sygun Copper Mine. No matter what you choose, visitors say you’ll feel like you’re part of the community the moment you arrive.
If you have a car, explore more of Wales on these scenic drives.
Be sure to browse our readers’ picks for 14 Friendliest Small Towns in the U.S., 16 Favorite International Cities to Visit, 16 Most Walkable Cities Outside of the U.S., and all of our 2023 Best Of Travel Awards winners.