50 Top Small Towns to Visit in 2018

For a dose of history, art, scenery and small-scale charm, visit these idyllic towns.

U.S. News & World Report

50 Top Small Towns to Visit in 2018

Riomaggiore village, La Spezia province, Liguria, northern Italy. View of the colourful houses on steep hills, sea rocks, beach, laundry on balconies, boats and tourists. Part of the Cinque Terre National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
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Explore enchanting towns across the globe.

If you're looking for an escape from the thick crowds, bustling blocks and frenetic sights and sounds of city life, fortunately there are plenty of scenic idylls – filled with personality, charm, storybook settings and a slower pace – worth exploring. And as you tackle the slopes in an inviting ski town, soak up history in a centuries-old village or wander along cobblestone streets to vibrant coffee shops, green spaces and local boutiques and bistros, you can immerse yourself in diverse enclaves and lovely landscapes. With that in mind, these classic and up-and-coming small towns merit a visit in 2018, whether you're plotting a quick weekend ski break, a coastal retreat or a history-fueled journey.

Alsace is a cultural and historical region in eastern France, now located in the administrative region of Alsace-Champagne-Ardenne-Lorraine. It is widely known for making white and red wines including Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noire, Sylwaner and others.
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Riquewihr, France

If you're looking for an off-the-beaten-track, fairy tale French village, Riquewihr offers a storybook setting. "The inspiration for 'Little Town' in Disney's 'Beauty and the Beast,' Riquewihr is a slumbering ensemble of brightly painted timber-framed houses and cobbled courtyards," says Daniel Farley, Lonely Planet's Western Europe destination editor. Set on the Route des Vins (the Alsatian Wine Route), the village is a bucket-list worthy destination for grape-seekers and nature lovers itching to wander through the surrounding vineyards and castles. Don't skip exploring the lively main square, admiring the iconic clock tower (Dolder Tower) or savoring a baguette at Au Petit Délice. Another must-see town in the Alsace region is Ribeauvillé, a neighboring medieval village with beautiful backdrops.

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Explore enchanting towns across the globe.

If you're looking for an escape from the thick crowds, bustling blocks and frenetic sights and sounds of city life, fortunately there are plenty of scenic idylls – filled with personality, charm, storybook settings and a slower pace – worth exploring. And as you tackle the slopes in an inviting ski town, soak up history in a centuries-old village or wander along cobblestone streets to vibrant coffee shops, green spaces and local boutiques and bistros, you can immerse yourself in diverse enclaves and lovely landscapes. With that in mind, these classic and up-and-coming small towns merit a visit in 2018, whether you're plotting a quick weekend ski break, a coastal retreat or a history-fueled journey.

Riquewihr, France

If you're looking for an off-the-beaten-track, fairy tale French village, Riquewihr offers a storybook setting. "The inspiration for 'Little Town' in Disney's 'Beauty and the Beast,' Riquewihr is a slumbering ensemble of brightly painted timber-framed houses and cobbled courtyards," says Daniel Farley, Lonely Planet's Western Europe destination editor. Set on the Route des Vins (the Alsatian Wine Route), the village is a bucket-list worthy destination for grape-seekers and nature lovers itching to wander through the surrounding vineyards and castles. Don't skip exploring the lively main square, admiring the iconic clock tower (Dolder Tower) or savoring a baguette at Au Petit Délice. Another must-see town in the Alsace region is Ribeauvillé, a neighboring medieval village with beautiful backdrops.

Stratford, New Zealand

With its beautiful black-sand beaches, lush rainforests, limestone caves and alpine landscapes, New Zealand's North Island has long lured nature lovers and intrepid types craving spectacular natural scenery. But here's a secret: Stratford, a tucked-away town perched beneath Mount Taranaki, a stratovolcano, along the island's West Coast is a not-to-be-missed small town for literary buffs. As its name suggests, the town honors Shakespeare with quirky streets named after beloved characters. Plus, the farming community (and former Maori village settlement) offers plenty of charms for outdoorsy types, too. And perhaps the crown jewel is Highway 43 – dubbed the Forgotten World Highway – that snakes past bucolic landscapes, verdant rainforests and natural attractions, including Tangarakau Gorge and Mount Damper Falls.

Lake Placid, New York

It's no secret that Lake Placid, the tiny village tucked in the Adirondacks, is an outdoor lover's paradise after twice hosting of the Winter Olympic Games. With its storied sites, Olympic Sports Complex and endless outdoor diversions, from skiing to snowshoeing to fat tire biking in winter to paddling and fishing in the warmer months, and its high-end resorts (we're looking at you, Whiteface Lodge), the area draws outdoor enthusiasts and serenity-seekers year-round. Carve out some time to explore historical attractions such as the John Brown Farm State Historic Site and arresting trails along the Brewster Peninsula before savoring a memorable meal at the Lake Placid Club Boat House.

Beaufort, South Carolina

Long heralded as a lovely waterside town, Beaufort lures visitors with its antebellum charm, Spanish moss-canopied streets and urban allures, from art galleries to upscale restaurants. Pick up a souvenir at Scout Southern Market before making your way to Huntington Island State Park to tackle picturesque trails and take pictures at the charming lighthouse, Hunting Island Light. After embracing your surroundings, fuel up at Lowcountry Produce or Old Bull Tavern, or savor a leisurely cocktail at Anchorage 1770, a storied Victorian mansion-turned-inn with history dating back 300 years. The property also arranges horse-drawn carriage rides and boasts seaside yoga sessions with sublime water views.

Lewes, Delaware

A classic coastal town, Lewes blends seaside charm, a fascinating Dutch heritage and a laid-back ambiance, says Clem Bason, CEO of goSeek, a site focused on surfacing hidden hotel discounts. "The town continues to receive awards and designations over time," Bason adds. A top draw for outdoor lovers is Cape Henlopen State Park, where you can take a scenic stroll along the Great Dune Overlook Trail. When you're ready to refuel, check out Notting Hill Coffee. As for lodging, Bason highlights Hotel Blue, with its rooftop pool, fireplace and ideal location within a block of the beach. And if you're a beer lover, consider the Dogfish Inn, a brew-inspired boutique hotel pioneered by the owners of Dogfish Head brewery.

Baie-Saint-Paul, Quebec

This storybook small town near Quebec City offers picture-perfect surroundings in the Charlevoix region. Catering to history lovers, art aficionados and foodies, the area brims with cozy cafés, trendy galleries and bohemian shops. Wander along Rue Saint-Jean to pop into galleries showcasing pieces from local artists or enjoy a leisurely meal at Le Café du Marché, a hybrid grocer, farmers market and pastry shop, or Bistro La Muse. After painting the town, slip away to the lovely Hôtel & Spa Le Germain Charlevoix, which offers access to a Nordic-inspired spa and an ice skating loop, along with fat bike and snowshoe rentals.

Buellton, California

"This small California wine country town is quickly becoming a destination all its own," says Gabe Saglie, senior editor at Travelzoo.com. Situated off U.S. Route 101 in the Santa Ynez Valley, the town offers scenic vineyards, along with an emerging craft beer scene and access to scenic hiking trails. "Its better known neighbors, including Danish-inspired Solvang to the east and Santa Barbara to the south, get lots of attention," Saglie says. "But Buellton's culinary renaissance, with innovative and buzzy eateries like Industrial Eats, the new Bottlest [Winery, Bar &] Bistro and the popular Hitching Post II, are tough to resist," he adds. He also highlights the area's top-notch wine tasting rooms and DorWood Distillery as must-visits.

Bozeman, Montana

This picturesque former mining town offers an ideal jumping-off point for hikers and skiers itching to explore Big Sky Resort and Yellowstone National Park. But aside from its ideal perch, Bozeman also offers striking natural surroundings that merit a visit all on its own, with the Tobacco Root Mountains and the Bridger Mountains in the backdrop. Plus, the town boasts lively galleries and cafés along Main Street, along with ample opportunities for outdoor recreation, whether you want to try snowga (snowy yoga) at Big Sky Yoga Retreats or take a mushing expedition with outfitter Yellowstone Dog Sled Adventures. Bason highlights Bozeman as a beautiful year-round destination, "though you'd better love skiing if you come in the winter," he says.

Lake Tahoe, California

Set along the California-Nevada border, amid the Sierra Nevada Mountains' snow-covered peaks, craggy granite cliffs and cobalt waters, Lake Tahoe is an outdoor lover's playground. In the warmer months, strap on your hiking boots and explore picturesque trails, kayak in Emerald Bay to soak in dramatic backdrops or hike, fish or boat in the sprawling alpine lake. And in the cooler months, powder chasers flock to Squaw Valley or Heavenly Ski Resort & Gondola to tackle challenging runs. When you're ready from a break from all the activity, Lake Tahoe boasts plenty of luxurious hotels, from the Ritz-Carlton, Lake Tahoe, to the Resort at Squaw Creek.

Shirakawa-go Village, Japan

If you've already crossed Tokyo and Kyoto off your list, embrace the old-world charm and picture-perfect setting of Shirakwa-go Village, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that's known for its authentic gassho-style homes with thatched roofs. The cottages are even more enchanting in winter, when they're blanketed in fresh powder. After taking in your surroundings, explore the nearby town of Takayama, just an hour outside of Shirakawa, where you can explore more authentic wooden houses and check out trendy galleries and jazz clubs. Consider making Beniya Mukayu, an intimate 17-room inn in Takayama, your home base.

Carmel-by-the-Sea, California

This lovely coastal village is chock-full of fashionable galleries, cozy wineries and secluded beaches. "Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, is one of the most romantic towns in the country," says Sarah Stocking, Lonely Planet's California and Mexico destination editor. "The quaint architecture and cobblestone streets play host to world-renowned restaurants and wineries, and its proximity to Big Sur makes it a perfect getaway for a couple looking for creature comforts alongside a stunning backdrop," she adds. Wander along Ocean Avenue for a souvenir, soak up the sand and surf at Carmel Beach and cap off your day with a leisurely meal at a sophisticated bistro, like Corkscrew Cafe, before checking into a charming bed-and-breakfast like the Cypress Inn or the Wayside Inn.

Bergen, Norway

A cosmopolitan destination with small-scale charm, Bergen is renowned for its Instagram-worthy harbor filled with bold red, pink, yellow and orange homes nestled under the snow-topped peaks of the Seven Mountains. After meandering around the harbor, explore more cultural treasures, from the historic old wharf, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to the Fløibanen cable car, which takes passengers to Mount Fløyen and yields spectacular fjord and sea views. Other highlights include the bustling Fisketorget (fish market) and the Fantoft Stave Church. After taking in the sights, head to Norden og Verden, a trendy boutique, to search for Scandinavian treasures (think: blankets and leather goods). As for dining, head to Bryggen Tracteursted for traditional staples like marinated trout and homemade meatballs.

Chefchaouen, Morocco

If you've already explored Fez, Marrakesh and Casablanca, make the pilgrimage to Chefchaouen, a colorful blue-covered town nestled in Morocco's Rif Mountains. Amazing backdrops await at nearly every turn, with indigo, cobalt and cerulean painted buildings vying for your attention in the tranquil medina (old quarter) and lively souks. Admire elaborate pottery pieces and colorful blankets as you wander through the winding medina streets. After you marvel at the eye-catching blue-hued buildings, which have been painted with an azure palette since the 15th century, sit down for a traditional meal at Casa Hassan or retreat to Dar Echchaouen, a hotel situated near the medina.

Jackson, Wyoming

Framed by the Gros Ventre and Teton mountain ranges and Yellowstone National Park, Jackson is an adventure lover's playground. Each winter skiers flock to Teton Village's Jackson Hole Mountain Resort to shred powder along 2,500 acres of skiable terrain, before soaking in the lively après-ski scene at The Kitchen or indulgent treatments at Teton Mountain Lodge & Spa. But aside from snowy pastimes – a Jackson Hole Iditarod Sled Dog Tour offers a heart-pounding adventure – the warmer months offer their own allures. Carve out some time to visit the National Elk Refuge, hike along one of the more than 200 scenery-packed trails in Grand Teton National Park and recount the day's adventures in the legendary Million Dollar Cowboy Bar.

Atrani, Italy

If you've already explored world-renowned Italian capitals, such as Rome, Venice and Florence, make your way to Atrani, a lesser-visited seaside village along the Amalfi Coast. Gazing over the Tyrrhenian Sea from its cliff-side perch, the enchanting idyll is overshadowed by popular towns such as Sorrento, Positano and Ravello. Around town, you'll find lovely piazzas and Baroque churches (Santa Maria Maddalena is picture-perfect), along with winding and narrow staircases meandering to the area's secluded shoreline. When hunger sets in, stop into A'Paranza for an authentic Italian meal, or venture to nearby Amalfi or Positano for more dining options.

Wanaka, New Zealand

Wanaka, the daredevil destination on New Zealand's South Island, has long appealed to intrepid, adventure-loving types with its otherworldly landscapes and proximity to Queenstown, where days can be spent bungee jumping, whitewater rafting and mountain climbing. Thrill-seekers can embrace their surroundings with kayak rides, hikes, glacier hiking and waterfall climbing, among other active pursuits. But the cinematic setting is bound to attract a higher volume of visitors this year after making a debut in the much-anticipated film adaptation of the book "A Wrinkle in Time." When you're ready for a break from all the activity, grab a cappuccino at Ritual Espresso Café or a heartier meal at fan favorites Big Fig and Francesca's Italian Kitchen.

San Sebastián, Spain

This vibrant beach community in northern Spain's Basque country is perhaps best known as a foodie mecca with its surplus of Michelin-starred restaurants. But beyond San Sebastián's cutting-edge molecular gastronomy (Akelarre and Bar Gorriti are fan favorites), it boasts a deep-rooted surf culture. Stretch your sea legs at the acclaimed surf school Zurriola Surf Eskola before riding the waves at Zurriola Beach. Then, enjoy sunbathing at La Concha Beach. If you're a film aficionado, you'll also want to time your trip for September, when you can catch the glitzy annual International Film Festival. As for accommodations, Hotel Maria Cristina, a Luxury Collection Hotel offers a memorable stay with its old-world grandeur and sweeping river views.

Aspen, Colorado

If you're clamoring for fresh mountain air, powdery slopes, a lively après-ski scene and swoon-worthy backdrops framed by the Colorado Rockies, Aspen offers a winning mix of awe-inspiring scenery, laid-back vibes and cosmopolitan allures. In winter, Buttermilk (a crowd-pleasing ski area for novices) and Aspen Mountain (or Ajax to locals), are a must for powder hounds. And in the warmer months, exploring Maroon Bells' cinematic twin peaks is a must, as is peddling along the Rio Grande Trail. And grabbing a beer at Aspen Brewing Company, checking out the posh surroundings at The Little Nell and delighting in memorable meals at Cloud Nine Alpine Bistro or Justice Snow's are essential activities at any time of year.

Ketchum, Idaho

An unpretentious, down-to-earth ski town and home base to the legendary Sun Valley slopes, Ketchum is an up-and-coming destination for powder-chasers and beer aficionados. After hitting the slopes or snowshoeing (among other outdoor diversions), warm up at the Sawtooth Brewery, the Warfield Distillery & Brewery or another local brew pub. Then check out the Sun Valley Center for the Arts, a hybrid gallery and museum venue that hosts a summer concert series, art classes and workshops and extensive exhibits. When you're ready to kick back and unwind, explore the storied Sun Valley Lodge or check into the trendy Limelight Hotel, which boasts post-ski happy hours with live music, along with modern touches like sleek 55-inch TVs.

Mystic, Connecticut

For a dose of seaside charm and fresh ocean air, visit Mystic, a laid-back New England town. You might remember Mystic from its debut in the 1988 hit "Mystic Pizza" starring Julia Roberts. Beyond its superb pizza slices and legendary Mystic Seaport, the town's storybook setting offers a wide range of boutique shops, trendy galleries, lively cafés and even an iconic aquarium with beluga whales, sea lions and African penguins. For more activity, stretch your sea legs and rent a kayak to check out the enchanting lighthouses dotting Long Island Sound. And don't miss the Spicer Mansion, a Victorian-style sea captain home-turned-boutique hotel with wood-burning fireplaces, lofty accommodations and a sophisticated restaurant with a six-course tasting menu.

Ubud, Bali

If you're looking to fulfill an "Eat, Pray, Love" fantasy, chances are you've heard of Ubud, the tranquil Indonesian town teeming with verdant rice paddies, beautiful temples and lush forests. While the town has evolved since gaining national recognition on the silver screen, it still offers a dreamy atmosphere and inspiring natural surroundings well worth the pilgrimage. At the Hoshinoya Bali, a luxury hotel, you can stay in a thatch-roofed villa with access to water temples and café gazebos. Opulent accommodations aside, Ubud also entices wellness-seekers with its Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary, postcard-perfect Ubud Palace, Yoga Barn and the mystical Goa Gajah, a fantastical 11th-century archaeological site.

Ronda, Spain

Elaborate Moorish architecture, cinematic cliff-side vistas and dramatic bridges draw visitors to the region of Andalusia. After a few hair-raising twists and turns on the captivating drive from the port city Cádiz, you'll discover iconic pueblos blancos (white villages), before reaching Ronda's picturesque village, which dates back to the ninth century and features cobblestone streets, ornate churches and striking views of the Guadalevín River and Tajo Canyon. When hunger sets in, grab a bite at Restaurante Pedro Romero, which dishes up staples like beans with chorizo and monkfish. Consider staying at the Parador de Ronda, which offers an ideal location adjacent to the village's iconic Puente Nuevo (New Bridge).

Sonoma, California

With its unpretentious atmosphere, lovely vineyards and top-tier vino, Sonoma appeals to grape-seekers, foodies and nature lovers craving a more subdued atmosphere from neighboring Napa. Days here can be spent hiking along alluring trails in Sonoma Coast State Park and indulging in leisurely wine tastings and pairings at acclaimed wineries such as Scribe Winery, Ravenswood Winery and the Francis Ford Coppola Winery in nearby Geyserville. And when you're ready to turn in for the day, the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn & Spa and MacArthur Place offer intimate atmospheres, and the recently opened SingleThread Farms, a part-restaurant, part-inn outpost in Healdsburg, offers a memorable 11-course tasting menu, top-notch Cab varieties and luxurious accommodations.

Woodstock, Vermont

If it’s a storybook New England setting that you're after, Woodstock, with its classic antique shops, historic bed-and-breakfasts and picture-perfect townscape, offers a quintessential retreat that's reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting. In the winter months, embrace Woodstock's real-life winter wonderland with a horse-drawn wagon ride or exhilarating day on the slopes in nearby Killington, followed by a cup of hot cocoa around a crackling fireplace at the Woodstock Inn & Resort. And in the warmer seasons, stroll along the village green, take back a pint at Long Trail Brewing Company, grab a bite at The Red Rooster, peruse the artisan syrups and cheeses at the Woodstock Farmers Market and hike along carriage roads and trails in Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park.

Giethoorn, the Netherlands

If you've already crossed Amsterdam off your European travel list, there's plenty more to explore in the Netherlands beyond the capital. Giethoorn, in northern Holland, bills itself as the Venice of the Netherlands – and for good reason. "There are no streets in Giethoorn. Instead, this serene Overijssel spot is all soft gliding canals, flower blooms, thatched cottages and silent bliss," Fahey says. And with its ambient canals, storied wooden footbridges, lovely bike paths and 18th-century thatched-roof farmhouses houses, Giethoorn oozes romantic charm. After taking in the tiny town's picturesque surroundings on foot, bike or boat tour, check into one of the area's tranquil bed-and-breakfasts.

Paraty, Brazil

Paraty, a beautiful colonial town on Costa Verde, a scenic stretch nestled between Rio and São Paulo, charms visitors with its cozy cafés, eclectic galleries and striking architecture. In the bustling Old Town, you'll weave past whitewashed buildings draped in bougainvillea and boutique shops selling arts and crafts, and along Paraty Bay, graceful sailboats bob in the harbor. Make Hotel Casa Turquesa, a laidback mansion-turned-hotel, your home base for an enviable location and well-appointed accommodations, creature comforts such as LCD TVs and music docking stations. When you're ready to get an energy boost, grab a bite at Camoka Botequim Arte Café, Casa Coupê or Banana da Terra. And after exploring the historic town, enjoy outdoor recreational pursuits such as stand-up paddleboarding and snorkeling.

Ko Phi Phi, Thailand

From dramatic limestone cliffs to striking coastlines punctuated by alabaster sands and unspoiled coral reefs, the natural scenery in Ko Phi Phi, a quiet island archipelago near Phuket in the Andaman Sea, is hard to match. You can't skip making the trek to Phi Phi viewpoint, which affords spectacular mountain and sea views. During your visit, you might recognize Ko Phi Phi's Maya Bay, for its picture-perfect backdrops in the 2000 film "The Beach." Captivating surroundings aside, you can also enjoy snorkeling at the secluded beach or getting acquainted with local primates in Ao Ling (Monkey Bay), where you'll find a monkey colony. As for accommodations, consider staying at Bay View Resort Phi Phi Island or basing yourself on nearby Phuket.

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

Long known as an easy weekend escape from the District of Columbia, Harpers Ferry beckons to adventurous types with its 20 miles of scenery-packed trails in Harpers Ferry National Historical Park (including access to the Appalachian National Scenic Trail). As the point where the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers intersect, this alluring mountain town also wins over visitors with its beautiful backdrops, especially in autumn, when green, golden and orange leaves drape the town's landscapes. During your visit, explore Civil War battlefields, take serene riverside strolls and get your heart racing with some hiking, rafting and zip lining. Back in town, wander along cobblestone lanes and admire 18th-century architecture before retreating to a charming inn.

Portland, Maine

With its cobblestone streets, craggy coastlines and enchanting lighthouses, Portland oozes with New England charm. When you're not exploring Old Port – the crux of downtown – savoring quintessential fried clams, lobster rolls and oysters (don't skip Eventide Oyster Co.) or delighting barrel-aged brews at Oxbow Brewery, stroll along the Eastern Trail or take a daytrip to Cape Elizabeth's Crescent Beach. Art enthusiasts will also want to check out the Portland Museum of Art, where you can admire the works of Andrew Wyeth, Edward Hopper and Winslow Homer. At the end of the day, check into The Press Hotel, a boutique hotel perched in the former offices of "The Portland Press Herald," with an ideal location in the heart of the Old Port district.

Vail, Colorado

You may be hard-pressed to find a dreamier ski destination than Vail, with its craggy peaks, postcard-worthy powder and glamorous resorts and après-ski haunts in Vail Village. But there's more to Vail than its more than 5,200 skiable acres. When you're not skiing, snowboarding or enjoying other cold-weather delights such as ice skating, snowshoeing and ski biking, you can ride the Eagle Bahn Gondola for sublime views gazing at the surrounding Gore and Sawatch mountain ranges. Then cozy up at one of the area's swoon-worthy hotels such as the Four Seasons Resort and Residences Vail or the Sonnenalp, where you can get pampered with soothing treatments, such as mud wraps and heated stone massage therapies.

Jerome, Arizona

A rugged Southwestern town on Cleopatra Hill with a mining-era backstory, Jerome was once dubbed "the wickedest town in the West," Bason says. While Jerome has seen a resurgence since the '60s, when a vibrant arts community populated the area, its ghost town legacy remains, drawing those looking for thrills and chills around Halloween. Today, there are plenty more draws for visitors, including spectacular views of the San Francisco Peaks and crimson rocks of Sedona at its steep perch, roughly 2,000 feet over the Verde Valley. Plus, the town offers boutiques, galleries and craft shops, along with charming bed-and-breakfasts (Bason highlights the Ghost City Inn Bed and Breakfast in the heart of town as a budget-friendly option).

Paia, Hawaii

Nestled along Maui's enchanting Road to Hana on state Highway 36, Paia is a picturesque, lesser-known surf mecca. Pop into eclectic bohemian-inspired shops and galleries in town, such as Café des Amis and Indigo Paia, before embracing the area's spectacular sand and surf. Head to Ho'okipa Beach Park to marvel at surfers, kite-surfers and windsurfers, simply unwind at the chic Paia Inn, a boutique property with access to an unspoiled 3-mile beach and water sports such as snorkeling, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. Afterward, head to the bustling Paia Fish Market, grab a slice at the Flatbread Company or venture to the nearby Baldwin Beach Park, where you'll find powdery sands and picnic tables.

Sintra, Portugal

With its picture-perfect backdrops, cobblestone streets, romantic architecture and enchanting castles and villas, it's no wonder Sintra was characterized as a "glorious Eden" by famous poet Lord Byron. The Pena Palace, the former residence of King Ferdinand II, with its bright red and yellow spires, is a must-visit. The National Palace of Sintra, which showcases a blend of Manueline and Moorish influences, is another can't-miss destination for architecture enthusiasts. When you need a break from wandering through the village's rolling hills, delight in a pastel de nata (a traditional custard-filled Portuguese pastry). Then head to about 20 miles southeast to Lisbon to admire colorful ceramic tiles and retreat to an upscale hotel like the Olissippo Lapa Palace.

Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre, Italy

Northwest Italy's captivating Cinque Terre (or five lands) along the Ligurian Coast offers plenty of charming seaside villages, unspoiled natural beauty and mesmerizing trails worth the trek. But among the five fishing towns, Riomaggiore stands apart with its dramatic setting tucked between two cliffs and its superlative snorkeling and scuba diving spots. Admiring pastel buildings, wandering along cobblestone streets and hiking the iconic coastal path No. 2, the Sentiero Azzurro, that links all five fishing villages, is sure to charm you. When you need a break, get an energy boost with a cappuccino and a cornetto, a traditional cream-filled pastry, or a more substantial seafood dish, such as calamari and fried mussels at A Pié de Mà, a charming café.

Plaka, Milos, Greece

A lesser-visited Greek isle, Milos offers enchanting villages and towns, isolated beaches, inviting tavernas and a crowd-free alternative to popular Mykonos and Santorini. Plaka, a picturesque village, features winding lanes, crumbling castle ruins and lovely cafés like Utopia, where you can catch picture-perfect sunset views, and Archontoula, an authentic eatery with Mediterranean-inspired dishes. Beyond Plaka, sun-seekers will want to explore tucked-away beaches such as Firiplaka Beach along the isle's southern coast and Sarakiniko Beach, which is framed by striking white sandstone cliffs. When you need a break from the sun, retreat to the Skinopi Lodge, where accommodations are outfitted with Nespresso makers, 32-inch flat-screen TVs and spectacular sea views.

Eze, France

For a cinematic French Riviera scene, skip Nice's pebbly waterfront in favor of Eze, a tucked-away jewel with a dramatic hillside perch above the Mediterranean. Situated between Monaco and Nice, the medieval village boasts charming cobbled streets, a castle-turned-hotel (the Château de La Chèvre d’Or) and spellbinding vantage points of the French Riviera. Jaw-dropping views aside, the village also offers enchanting stone buildings and challenging walking trails among dramatic cliffs. For a meal to remember, slip away to the chateau's on-site two-Michelin-starred restaurant, where locally inspired cuisine such as veal sweetbreads, grouper with caramelized cauliflower and chocolate soufflé are on the menu. Finally, stretch your legs at the Jardin d'Eze, a beautiful botanic garden.

Locarno, Switzerland

Fairy tale settings are abundant in Switzerland, with its alpine scenery, old-world splendor and snow-capped peaks. But Locarno, near the Italian border in the Ticino region in southern Switzerland, stands apart from the pack with its melding of Swiss and Italian influences. "With Renaissance abodes and Visconti castles jostling for sunbathing space on the shores of Lake Maggiore, Locarno looks more Italian than Swiss, and acts more indifferent than either of them," Fahey says. Days here can be spent touring 14th-century architectural gems like the Church of San Francesco, known for its elaborate frescoes, and lingering at traditional restaurants like Grotto dei Due Ponti. For lavish accommodations, check into the Hotel Giardino Ascona, where you can enjoy inspiring lake views and an on-site two-starred Michelin restaurant.

Hallstätt, Austria

With its spectacular lakeside views, 12th-century architecture and surrounding Dachstein Mountains, Hallstätt offers an enchanting setting. During your visit, you'll want to carve out some time to explore the Dachstein ice caves, where you can catch sight of frozen waterfalls, ice stalactites and other structures about 9,750 feet beneath the Dachstein peak. The beautiful village also boasts vibrant cafes (Café Derbl and Gasthof Zauner are crowd-pleasers). Best of all, you can easily make Salzburg, just an hour drive away, your home base. As Fahey puts it: "There's nothing under the radar about Hallstatt, but if you had looks like this you'd want everyone to know, right?"

Gruyères, Switzerland

A tiny medieval town along western Switzerland's Saane River in the Fribourg canton, Gruyères – as you might have guessed – is a cheese connoisseur's dream destination. After sampling the legendary cheese and learning about the craft of cheese-making at La Maison du Gruyère, soak in the striking Swiss surroundings on a hike or bike ride or a trip to the Gruyères Castle, which dates back to the 13th century. Around town, you'll also find classic pottery and arresting alpine backdrops. After exploring (and eating) your way through Gruyères, relax at one of the area's inviting and affordable hotels, such as the Hostellerie St-Georges or the Hôtel de Ville Gruyères.

Muizenberg, South Africa

An off-the-beaten-track beach town, Muizenberg near the heart of Cape Town, offers a winning mix of low-key surf hangouts and sophisticated dining spots. Filled with colorful beach shacks and gentle swells that draw wave riders of all ages and skill levels, the relaxed village is a prime destination for surfers. If you're a beginner, sign up for a lesson and rent equipment and gear at Lifestyle Surf Shop (water temperatures can be icy in the summer months, so a wetsuit is a necessity). After skimming the waves, refuel at Olympia Café and Deli or kick back at the Chartfield Guesthouse, gazing over Kalk Bay. If time permits, spend time exploring must-see natural attractions in Cape Town, such as Table Mountain and Camps Bay.

Weymouth, Dorset, England

A striking coastal town – framed by jagged cliffs dating back to the Jurassic Period – Weymouth is an ideal summer seaside escape with its pebbly beaches (don't skip Chesil Beach), Georgian architecture and vibrant harbor. Set on the Jurassic Coast, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in southern England, Weymouth offers an abundance of picturesque views along Weymouth Bay and Corfe Castle. Another must-see for history buffs is Nothe Fort, which played a key role in protecting the town from the Spanish Armada. Breaks from taking in your surroundings can be spent with a pint at Brewers Quay, a charming brewery, or Black Dog, a tavern with a heritage that dates from the 16th century.

Tofino, British Columbia

For an offbeat coastal getaway filled with sun and surf, head to this isolated town in British Columbia, along the west coast of Vancouver Island. Time your trip for the warmer months, from March to September, for massive swells, unspoiled natural scenery and the chance to spot gray whales migrating from Baja California in Mexico to the Bering Sea. If you're a novice, book a class at Tofino Surf School to get started (three-hour sessions start at $140). After an action-packed day outdoors, refuel with a memorable meal at Wolf in the Fog or Ice House Oyster Bar. As for accommodations, it's hard to rival the Wickaninnish Inn, with its soaking tubs, crackling fireplaces and lavish spa.

Taormina, Italy

Southern Italy offers no shortage of cinematic cliff-side villages and coastal towns, but this enchanting retreat perched atop Sicily is a favorite among romance-seekers. Apart from its envy-inducing vistas of the Ionian Sea and Mount Etna, Taormina offers swoon-worthy accommodations, from the lavish San Domenico Palace Hotel to the opulent Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo, where accommodations display Sicilian ceramics, hardwood floors and balconies or terraces with jaw-dropping city, bay and Mount Etna vistas. Best of all, the lovely town offers an ideal launching pad for exploring the sublime seaside villages along the Amalfi Coast (Ravello, we're looking at you) and checking out archaeological treasures in nearby Pompeii.

Chamonix, France

A prime ski town that offers picturesque alpine views, glistening peaks and a lively après-ski scene, Chamonix outshines other ski meccas with its old-world charm, and reputation as the 1924 host of the Winter Olympic Games. And aside from allures for powder-seekers, from its steep vertical drops to the dramatic Mount Blanc massif to the formidable Vallée Blanche run, Chamonix lures visitors with its car-free village. Linger over a cocktail at the Scandinavian-themed Chambre Neuf or La Remise, or simply unwind in upscale accommodations, like the iconic Hotel Mont-Blanc, which boasts elegant amenities (think: a Clarins spa, a roaring fireplace and a grandiose staircase) and Instagram-worthy mountain vistas.

Rye, East Sussex, England

With its idyllic countryside, jagged coastline and tucked-away villages, East Sussex is a quintessential getaway for Londoners. And there's no better place to escape the hustle and bustle of urban life than Rye, a storybook village, with its quaint antique shops, Georgian buildings and beautiful terracotta-tiled rooftops. Overlooking Romney Marsh, the area's serene surroundings have drawn literati, including Henry James. Aside from its inspiring backdrops, Camber Castle, Camber Sands and the annual Rye Bay Scallop Week (in early spring) are top draws. Splurge for a stay at George, a high-end boutique retreat with a history that dates back to 1575 and accommodations outfitted with deep-soaking baths, flat-screen TVs and a complimentary full English breakfast.

San Pedro de Atacama, Chile

If you want to get off the grid and immerse yourself in inspiring natural surroundings, San Pedro de Atacama, a low-key desert town, offers understated charm and a launching pad to Atacama's surreal landscapes. The eco-friendly Explora Atacama, an adventure-focused boutique property tucked in the Andes highlands, should provide an ideal home base for adventure-seekers, with guided horseback riding, hiking and biking expeditions to the area's spellbinding sand dunes, towering volcanoes and salt lagoons. Guided tours include everything from cycling to the otherworldly geological formations in the La Luna Valley to hiking to the bubbling Tatio geysers. Even better, the property boasts an on-site observatory for star-chasers, open-air Jacuzzis and a lively bar filled with Chilean wines.

Breckenridge, Colorado

Breckenridge isn't just a beloved winter wonderland with its glistening slopes that beckon to skiers, snowboarders and cold-weather sports enthusiasts. Its Main Street overflows with lively restaurants, storied Victorian homes and unpretentious galleries and boutiques. And if you've already experienced Breck's popular seasonal delights in winter with some cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and holiday happenings in the Arts District, arrive in the warmer months to attend fun community events like the Breck Spring Beer Festival in April, and peddle the 14-mile Vail Pass or the 20-mile Boreas Pass Road, which yields impressive vistas of the Tenmile Range and Blue River Valley that's even more enchanting in autumn, when the route is covered in golden yellow aspens.

Banff, Canada

Tucked beneath the dramatic Canadian Rockies and filled with magnificent glacial lakes and snow-capped peaks, Banff charms visitors with its alpine beauty. But its postcard-perfect Swiss-inspired surroundings aren't its only defining characteristic. Banff also boasts trendy galleries, brew pubs and upscale eateries like Three Ravens Restaurant & Wine Bar, which dishes out innovative plates (think: charred Alberta Lake trout and miso-glazed Kyuquot Sound sablefish). When you're ready to embrace the great outdoors, explore Lake Louise's glacial waters on a canoeing or hiking expedition (or glide down the pristine runs at Lake Louise Ski Resort in the winter months). For more activity, check out the rugged backcountry trails in the Valley of Ten Peaks at nearby Moraine Lake.

Kotor, Montenegro

With its cobalt waters in the Bay of Kotor, quaint cobblestoned streets and dramatic surrounding hills, this gem on the Dalmatian Coast is often likened to Lake Como, Italy. While it's long been overshadowed by Dubrovnik, another Eastern European UNESCO World Heritage Site, Kotor's walled Old Town merits a visit on its own with its quaint piazzas, sophisticated boutiques, storied churches and signature ochre-colored rooftops. Lounge along secluded sands, enjoy leisurely meals at Stari Mlini and snap a few photos from St. John's Fortress, which delivers cinematic views beyond the town's walls. Another must-visit: St. Tryphon's Cathedral, with its vaulted roofs and Romanesque architectural elements. Plan a trip in the warmer months to marvel at bobbing sailboats and yachts speckling the bay.

Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany

For a scene that looks like it was taken straight from a fairy tale, make your way to this picturesque medieval old town. Harry Potter fans may recognize its bewitching streets from "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1." When you're not snapping photos of the town's charming buildings or the Town Hall tower, check out the German Christmas Museum, which boasts a robust collection of ornaments, Christmas tree decorations and Advent calendars. For a dose of history, check out the Medieval Crime and Punishment Museum or St. Jakob's Church, which boasts a wood-carved piece that dates back 500 years. Once you've soaked in the the town's sights and sounds, wander along an enchanting trail in the Tauber Valley.

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Liz Weiss, Staff Writer

Liz Weiss is a senior editor at U.S. News & World Report. With more than six years of ...  Read more

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