Holding down the fort! These walled cities in Europe are perfect to explore leisurely on foot for a walk through history.
What does it mean to be fortified? Typically, walled cities are surrounded and protected by a fortress. Most often this comes in the form of a defensive wall or blockade that was originally put in place to enclose cities and settlements. While these walls are no longer used practically for militant protection, they have left behind stunning 360° promenades of some of the most culturally rich and engaging cities in Europe.
Centrally located, Toledo is nestled high on a hill overlooking the Castilla-La Mancha plains, made famous by Miguel de Cervantes’ novel Don Quixote. The eye is immediately drawn to Alcázar de Toledo, the stone fortification in the highest part of the city which now contains a military museum.
If you fancy a jaunt about the town remember that the Senda Ecológica (ecology path) runs around the city heading for the riverbank. But please, take a lesson from Don Quixote and don’t attack any of the windmills.
Wedged in between Toulouse and Béziers, Carcassone is an often forgotten beauty. The Canal du Midi is a stunning example of not only Carcassone’s natural presence but also her architectural beauty. The Canal du Midi, a 240km canal in the South of France, was once considered the greatest feat of construction in the seventeenth century.
Carcassone is best known for its stunning medieval Gallo-Roman citadel La Cité which dominates the city atop a hill. There are 52 towers to explore in La Cité as well as double fortification walls. The best views of the valley below come from atop the citadel. Cité de Carcassonneis a UNESCO World Heritage listed site.
Want to feel like royalty? Visit Château Comtal, a stunning 12th century castle within the walled city. Once again, like all good things, it is atop the hill with access to stunning and far-reaching views of Southern France.
San Gimignano, Italy
Another beautiful city-upon-the-hill is San Gimignano. Located in Tuscany, this walled wonder is home to stunning views of rolling hillsides and medieval architecture. For the best views, be sure to visit Torre Grossa, built in 1310 it is the tallest tower in San Gimignano. Torre Grossa is one of Tuscany best-known medieval towers.
Or meet downtown at Piazza del Duomo! There are gorgeous coffee shops, places to get gelato, historic churches and medieval towers. For a stunning view of the spiritual side of San Gimignano visit The Collegiate Church of Santa Maria Assunta which is in the heart of the Piazza del Duomo.
Rothenburg is an idyllic and picturesque city in Bavaria. It is a pristinely preserved look at medieval architecture.
If you find yourself in Rothenburg, stop into the unique German Christmas Museum which showcases unusual and rare Christmas decorations as well as centuries old ornamentation.
For an unprecedented taste of life in the 1300s find yourself at the Alt-Rothenburger Handwerkerhaus. The Alt-Rothenburger Handwerkerhaus is a medieval home filled with artifacts, tools, and staples of general life and workmanship in the 1300s. Not to be missed!
Traveling Germany’s famously scenic Romantic Road? You’ll need to make a stop in Rothenburg!
York is home to the most well-preserved fortification wall in England. The wall is entirely walkable and can be done in a day but be sure to pack good shoes. I speak from personal experience on that one because I walked the whole wall in a pair of cheap sandals and paid the price! Let’s just say the final leg was done in bare feet…
While in York be sure to see York Castle. Originally built by William the Conqueror a steep walk up a grassy mound allows (and a relatively affordable fee later) and you’re inside the castle with a stunning view of the city.
Another must-see of your York destination is the Shambles which is a famous street filled with charming and whimsical old storefronts. All the buildings lean in upon themselves which reminds one of Harry Potter‘s Diagon Alley.
Facing onto the Adriatic Sea, Dubrovnik’s Old Town is protected by 16th century stone walls. The limestone streets of the Stradun allow for shopping and dining. As walled cities go, Dubrovnik is a stunner.
However, the low mountain of Srđ is home to Fort Imperial, a piece of French design that was constructed during the Napoleonic Wars. Access this fort by an enjoyable cable car ride to the summit to be able to see some of the best Adriatic sights.
Fans of George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones rejoice because Dubrovnik is also the main filming location for the fictional town of King’s Landing. You may even recognize some crucial locations…
Edinburgh is not only the capital of Scotland, it is also one of the most beautiful walled cities in Europe. Looming over the entire city is Edinburgh Castle, pictured above, home to Scotland’s Crown Jewels.
For a unique and challenging view of the city you can climb the narrow and haunting Scott Monument which can be found right downtown. Not for the faint of heart!
Another beautiful and haunting location in Edinburgh (and a chance to get to see what’s left of her fortification) is Greyfriars Kirkyard. Just to the south of Old Town, this graveyard is a stunning display of the city’s age and history.
Travel far, live green, and remain hydrated on your walks around these magnificent walled cities in Europe.
Also check out our Go Europe section for more stories like this one!