Giethoorn, the Netherlands
The village of Giethoorn in northern Holland has been called many things: “the Venice of the North,” for its serene canals; “like something out of a fairytale,” for its thatched roof homes, centuries-old wooden bridges, and tree-lined footpaths. You know what we call it? Quiet. Blissfully quiet. If you’re from a big city, there’s nothing more romantic than that—you can even rent your own boat to row down one of the gondolier-free waterways, too.
Isn’t she lovely? There’s something special about Hallstätt, made evident when you pull up by ferry across the glassy lake, with mist rolling down from the towering Dachstein mountains. Within the UNESCO World Heritage town are churches that date to the twelfth century, a buzzing market square, and plenty of cozy, candlelit restaurants for date night. Bonus: Hallstätt is only an hour’s drive from Salzburg and three from Vienna, making it a relatively easy day trip from Austria’s larger and more touristed cities.
You’d be hard pressed to find a seaside town in Italy that doesn’t inspire romance, but there’s something especially dreamy about Taormina, a clifftop town on the island of Sicily. The views of Mount Etna and the Ionian Sea hypnotize, and the ancient ruins and cafe-lined streets keep you occupied. But we wouldn’t blame you if you were to check into the honeymoon-worthy Belmond Grand Hotel Timeo—one of our favorite hotels in the world—and never leave the room.
Another town that inspires: Soglio is “the gateway to paradise,” mused Italian-Swiss painter Giovanni Segantini, but we’d argue that the Swiss town is paradise in and of itself. High up in the alpine Bregaglia Valley by the Italian border, Soglio begs to be the set of a Sound of Music remake. Come here to stroll cobbled streets, breathe in that mountain air, and smell the roses in the garden of historic Palazzo Salis. Serenity is an aphrodisiac.
It doesn’t get much more romantic than Bled, a quaint, fairytale village on Slovenia’s glittering Lake Bled. Everything about it is swoon-worthy, from its 12th-century castle, set high on a cliff overlooking the lake, to its charming, candlelit restaurants. Pro tip: Take your sweetheart on a boat ride in a pletna, a traditional wooden rowboat, to the lush island in the middle of the lake. (Legend has it, visiting the island’s church and ringing its bell will make all your dreams come true.)
With its candy-colored houses, magnificent Art Nouveau architecture, verdant gardens, and boat-filled canals, the charming seaside town of Aveiro is an easy place to fall in love. Take a ride on a moliceiro boat, picnic under the shady palms of the waterfront Jardim do Rossio, or simply duck into one of its many cafes and share a plate of ovos moles (Portuguese pastries). Plus, with the Atlantic on your doorstep, you’ll find sweeping golden beaches just minutes away by bus or boat.
Flanked by the tallest peaks in the Pyrenees mountain range, Benasque looks more like a village in the Swiss Alps than northern Spain. Benasque—considered one of the most beautiful small towns in Spain—draws outdoorsy types looking to hike or fly fish, as well as shelter seekers who’d rather while away the afternoon with a mug of hot, spiced wine in a wood-paneled restaurant.
Sometimes called “the Venice of Savoie,” this dreamy alpine town is treasured for its sloping hillsides and bridge-covered canals (the perfect backdrop for a photo op—or even a proposal). The town’s cobblestone streets are ideal for strolling hand-in-hand, and its proximity to the emerald waters of Lake Annecy make it all the more romantic.
Nestled at the base of a UNESCO-protected fjord and surrounded by steep, snow-capped mountains, the village of Geiranger is as postcard-perfect as it gets. Views aside, it’s also a secret foodie paradise, home to chocolate shops, cheese shops and excellent farm-to-table restaurants (like the intimate and very proposal-worthy Brasserie Posten, found at the very edge of the fjord). Don’t miss a boat ride to see the fjord’s spectacular waterfalls, one of which is aptly named “The Suitor.”
Lake Como might get all the glory, but Lake Iseo is more tranquil, less crowded, and (dare we say) much more romantic. For starters, the town of Iseo itself, set on the lake’s southern shore, looks onto Monte Isola, a mountain that soars from the center of the lake. There are less tourists, too, which means you’ll have its lovely piazzas, Romanesque churches, and medieval castles all to yourself.