10 Incredible European Destinations That Make Time Feel Like It’s Stopped
There are places in the world where you can turn a corner and it immediately seems like you’ve been transported to another age, and your surroundings seem unchanged for centuries, as if time has stood still. Especially in Europe, with its many medieval town centers, time travel seems quite doable. Just replace parked cars with cars, the jeans people wear with panties and long dresses, and you can easily imagine yourself in another time.
The ease with which this is done is proven by the many series and films made in Europe. Just think of the Bridgerton series, filmed in Bath Spa, where time seems to have changed nothing in the city.
I didn’t include places like Pompeii or Greek historical sites, not because they don’t allow time travel (in the case of Pompeii, time has literally stood still since the volcanic eruption ), but rather listed destinations where modern life takes place in an ancient setting and historic districts are used and integrated into daily life.
Here are some of my favorite places in Europe where, in the blink of an eye, you can be transported to another era, turning your vacation into a trip back in time.
1. Saint-Malo, France
One of my favorite places in France, Saint-Malo showcases its time-warping potential perfectly. Step through the big city gates into the walled Intra Muros part of town, and you leave the modern city behind and find yourself in a fortified medieval village, with cobbled lanes, crooked houses and those huge ramparts from which the views across the tidal islands at the gates of Saint-Malo have not changed for centuries. Even the fishing boats seem to fit the scene. Imagine a few privateer-captain ships on the horizon, and you’re back in the 12th century.
Pro tip: In the evening, take a seat in Place Chateaubriand, where you can appreciate the old fortified enclosure while sipping a modern drink in your hand.
2. Oxford, UK
Oxford still makes me gasp at how little this old university town has changed over hundreds of years. The colleges, part of the whole of the University of Oxford, have been a center of learning since the 1200s and have changed little except that students now carry laptops and use Wi-Fi in old libraries. There are plenty of images that highlight just how much time warping you can expect, but the best way is not just to visit the colleges and libraries, but simply to turn around in the narrow lanes behind the main streets, where cars can’t reach, and you’ll see it for yourself.
Pro tip: Don’t miss a visit to the Bodleian Library, where old and new work hand in hand.
3. Venice, Italy
Imagine Venice without the tourists: the canals filled with gondolas, some bringing fresh produce to market, others carrying dirty laundry from a palace. Scenes that haven’t changed at all over the years, and even more evident in Venice due to the lack of cars. The buildings, the canals, the grand palaces, even the small villages of the different islands of the lagoon are all as they have always been. Yes, there are modern water taxis and vaporetti, but now that the gigantic cruise ships are banned, only the people look a bit out of place. But come to Carnevale, all in costume, and you will encounter a Venice where time has stood still.
Pro tip: For a real show, book yourself a real costume ball, always organized at the time of Carnevale.
4. Tbilisi, Georgia
Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, is a heady mix of old and new, different neighborhoods from different eras. But Tbilisi’s Old Town, clinging to the hillside between the imposing Narikala Fortress and the Kura River, looks like it did in the 1300s, when merchants traveling the Silk Road stopped to appease their bodies tired from the trip to the sulfur hot springs of Tbilisi. . The many ancient bath domes, somewhat resembling upturned egg cartons, and the ravine where the springs can still be seen emerging from the rock face, make for a photo opportunity that wouldn’t have looked any different there. several hundred years old.
Pro tip: Walk to the Juma Mosque and turn around all the tiny alleys behind the private houses for some great little finds.
5. Prague, Czech Republic
Standing in the Main Square, next to Prague’s Town Hall, facing Tyn Cathedral and the beautiful Astronomical Clock running since 1410 next to you, tilt your gaze a little to cut passers-by in modern attire, and you are back in a wealthy city in the Middle Ages. Turn to the Old Jewish Quarter with its atmospheric 15th-century cemetery, cross Charles Bridge, and you’ll see why this old town is so popular with those seeking history that’s still enjoyable today.
Pro tip: One of the oldest streets in Prague is Havelská Street, home to a daily market dating back to 1232.
6. Avignon, France
It’s rare enough for a well-traveled European like me to get your breath taken away from historical sites, but the famous bridge in Avignon and the gigantic Palais des Papes made my jaw drop, and I’m still in admiration. The whole of the old town of Avignon is still enclosed in a solid fortified wall, with large gates, and inside, nothing has changed much since the 11th century. In 1309, the Palais des Papes became the official residence of the popes, and they lived well: The building eclipses everything around it.
Next to the palace is the Pont Saint-Bénézet, better known as the Pont d’Avignon. This charming old bridge was originally built over the Rhone in the late 1100s and has been in ruins since the mid-1600s. is a step back in history.
Pro tip: Another small moment of incomprehension is to be experienced in rue des Teinturiers, the street of the dyers, along the small stream.
7. Korcula, Croatia
There’s nothing better than walking through a door, calling it a portal to another time, and finding yourself in a place where time has stood still. And if the gate is on an island in the Adriatic Sea, a walled city full of buildings where people have lived the same way for hundreds of years, that’s just perfect. Korcula Old Town is reputed to be the birthplace of Marco Polo, giving it a strong travel reputation. The small island has been populated since 400 BC and over the millennia has been occupied by everyone from Goths to Romans, Slavs and Byzantines, giving it a fascinating history and cultural background.
Pro tip: Get out of the city walls and also explore the wooded side of the island.
8. Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber, Germany
No matter the time travel, visiting Rothenburg ob der Tauber is like stepping into the pages of a fairy tale book. This small town in northern Bavaria is full of winding lanes and even old winding half-timbered houses, dating from the 12th and 14th centuries, seemingly unchanged by time or progress. To be fair, most of the buildings were destroyed during World War II, but have since been painstakingly rebuilt, even with the tilts and tilts so typical of medieval buildings, and today hardly a visitor is wiser. So, let’s ignore that fact and just enjoy the fairy tale, because seriously, if a princess with a pointy hat and a flowing skirt and a dragon appeared in one of these alleys, you wouldn’t even blink. One of the reasons they filmed a Harry Potter movie here.
Pro tip: If you have the chance, visit in winter, preferably coinciding with the Christmas market and decorations in December.
9. Wells, UK
England’s smallest town after the City of London, Wells is so well preserved it feels like stepping into a movie set. There’s the fabulous 13th century cathedral, which by the way allows well-behaved dogs, and the moated Bishop’s Palace on which Wells’ famous swans float and otters frolic, although I don’t have any spotted despite a patient search. The High Street full of cute pubs and cafes is twisty and quaint, and there’s also Vicar’s Close, said to be not only the oldest residential street in England but also in Europe, accessed through another door near the cathedral , and perfectly preserved for more than 650 years. now.
Pro tip: Wells does not have a train station, but you can take the 376 bus from Bristol Temple Meads.
10. Castellfollit De La Roca, Catalonia, Spain
This small town in the province of Girona in Catalonia, northern Spain, could not have changed over the years if it had wanted to. Perched atop a steep basalt cliff between the Fluvià and Toronell rivers, some 165 feet high and just over half a mile long, it’s a somewhat precarious location for a town . The old houses of Castellfollit de la Roca, many of which are built of lava stone, are literally facing the abyss, with no space for expansion or even much change. Even going out the back door could be very dangerous for some. Part of the volcanic region of the Pyrenees, the location of this town is picturesque to say the least, and the narrow streets of the community as well as the 11th century church perched on the edge of the cliff are well worth a visit. But the best views of the incredible site are from below, by the river.
Pro tip: You can explore this and other medieval towns on a day trip from Barcelona.