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Beat The Dubrovnik Crowds With These 4 Equally Beautiful Ancient Towns In Europe

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Dubrovnik is one of the most popular summer destinations in Europe not only because it's balmy and coastal, but largely thanks to its picturesqueness: we're talking fairytale-like forts, cobbled streets leading to hidden courtyards and Romanesque churches.

You know, it's almost as if it belongs in an epic TV show about a fantasy medieval world when dragons paraded in the skies… the only major downside?

For a city as small, with only 42,000 inhabitants and a historic center so small, it is an absolute gong show, particularly in hotter months.

Panoramic Aerial View Of Monemvasia, Greece, South Eastern Europe

It is when a majority of cruise ships start lining the ever-busier port it becomes virtually impossible to stroll down the world-famous Stradun without accidentally bumping someone, and good luck trying to get a clear shot for the ‘gram (even if you rise with the sun).

Luckily, you don't need to go to Croatia's jam-packed Adriatic jewel to see a well-maintained walled town. This is still the Old Continent, after all, and there are 4 other equally beautiful gems (also coastal) that could make good old ‘Dbv' blush:

Monemvasia, Greece

Picturesque Old Town Of Monemvasia, Greece, South Eastern Europe

A hidden gem of the Greek mainland, away from the overtouristed islands and development zones, Monemvasia is a small town bounded by the azure waters of the Myrtoan Sea, an arm of the wider Mediterranean, that's been inhabited since at least the sixth century.

It is one of the oldest such settlements in Europe, and one that's largely retained its ancient character, with no modern buildings to be found within the historic zone, which is dominated instead by Byzantine churches and storied stone houses.

Old Town Monemvasia, Greece, South Eastern Europe

It is comprised of both upper and lower towns, all guarded by a series of impenetrable, defensive walls and connected by means of a complex maze of cobble-laden alleys – sounds like Dubrovnik to you?

Well, it's not far off, except Monemvasia receives far fewer tourists:

Unlike its Croatian equivalent, Greece's ‘Gibraltar' is not overrun by visitors, as it belongs to one of Greece‘s lesser-explored regions, the Peloponnese, a peninsula that recorded only 146,000 arrivals last year (not all of whom will be visiting Monemvasia specifically).

Kotor, Montenegro

City Walls And Medieval Bridge In Kotor, Montenegro, Bay Of Kotor, Dalmatian Coast Of South Eastern Europe

A short two-hour drive from Dubrovnik, in neighboring Montenegro, Kotor is often considered Dubronvik's smaller sister: it is tucked away in the innermost part of the Bay of Kotor, an inlet of the Adriatic, and much like the Croatian counterpart, it belongs to the Dalmatian Coast.

Kotor ticks all the ‘Dubrovnik' boxes: it is surrounded by medieval fortifications, encircling rows upon rows of terracotta-roofed houses, and there are beautiful Adriatic beaches nearby, the difference being that it is yet to succumb to the whims of foreign visitors.

View Of Kotor Town And Kotor Bay From Atop Kotor Fortress, Montenegro, Mediterranean Europe, Adriatic Coast

The Old Town is somewhere locals still live, conduct business, and socialize, other than an Airbnb-exclusive zone and tourist playground, and regardless of the steady increase in tourism in recent years resulting from Montenegro's growing popularity, it is nowhere near Dubrovnik's crowdedness.

As a result, you can expect to find cheaper accommodation in the heart of town, sometimes for as cheap as $72, and lower consumer prices, as despite the widespread use of euro in Montenegro, the country is not officially in the Eurozone, nor is it a member of the European Union.

Tallinn, Estonia

Tallinn Skyline Seen From One Of The Hills Surrounding Tallinn Old Town, Capital City Of Estonia, North Eastern Europe

Perhaps one of the most beautiful yet lesser-known capitals of Europe, Tallinn straddles the Baltic Coast in the continent's freezing North.

Though it is not your traditional summer destination—you see, it's never exactly warm in Estonia—it's worth visiting purely for its unrivaled architectural wealth.

Old Town Tallinn is just as perfectly-preserved as it must have been five or six centuries ago, with its historic Town Hall still towering above the winding lanes and courtyards below, imposing cathedral, and majestic bulwarks and towers making up a postcard-ready townscape.

Woman Sitting On The Parapets Overlooking Old Town Tallinn, The Capital City Of Estonia, Baltic Coast Of Northern Europe

It is one of Estonia's handful of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and we can't fathom why there are so few tourists around – in particular Americans – when it literally looks like it's been cropped out of a Disney movie (except it's the real deal).

Accommodation in Tallinn is also incredibly affordable by European standards, making it a budget-friendly city break: in summer, while everyone is headed for Croatia, Italy, Greece, and the like, you can book single rooms in the heart of town from only $57 per night.

Nessebar, Bulgaria

Aerial View Of Nessebar, An Ancient City On An Islet Surrounded By The Black Sea In Bulgaria, Balkan Peninsula, South Eastern Europe

Back to the Balkan Peninsula, Nessebar is the jewel of the Bulgarian Coast, and the bucket list destination you didn't know you needed as a History buff: sitting on an islet linked to the mainland by a newly-built bridge, it is a city-museum with over three millennia of accumulated heritage.

Included in UNESCO's World Heritage Site list, Nessebar was originally founded as a Greek settlement in Antiquity, and over the centuries that followed, it became part of several consecutive empires, all of which have left their own imprint on this compact, fortified port.

Harbor In Nessebar, An Ancient Greco Roman City On A Promontory On The Black Sea, Off The Coast Of Bulgaria, South Eastern Europe

Other than the city walls running along the rugged shores of the islet, Nessebar is home to a wealth of Byzantine churches, traditional wooden Bulgarian dwellings, and several Greco-Roman ruins, and in summertime, temperatures get just as hot as in Mediterranean Europe.

Fortunately for beachgoers, the nearby Sunny Beach offers endless miles of golden sands bounded by azure waters – remember the Black Sea is only black in name – and all-inclusive resorts like oceanfront Helena Sands for only $136 per night.

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Peter Chenoweth

Friday 10th of May 2024

Refreshing and informative