Whilst some of the fortifications in European Cities have been removed; these 5 beautiful Cities still retain their walls, and each of them is very worthy of a visit. I am privileged to have visited each of them and experienced their beauty first hand. I share the history of the fortifications in each of these locations, and how to make the most of your visit. These are not the only walled Cities in Europe, I’m just covering those I have visited and loved.
Of course in the current day these walled cities are encased in modern urban surrounds, so to experience them at their most beautiful I highly recommend that you find accommodation within the walls.
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Avignon in Provence has a rich history and is known as the City of Popes. Whilst Avignon is now a modern CIty, within its fortifications you will find much to explore and enjoy. Yes it is touristy but it is also beautiful and charming. The walls are complete and clearly visible and the gates and towers have all been restored. The old city of Avignon is a lovely space to wander through, but do consider visiting in the shoulder or off seasons when it is less crowded and not as hot as you will find it in summer.
The UNESCO heritage listed Pope’s Palace (constructed in the 14th Century) is one of the most visited monuments in France, with over 20 rooms accessible for your tour. And of course you will want to walk out on the lovely Saint Benezet’s Bridge singing ‘Sur le Pont d’Avignon’ as you go.
You can do a tour of the ramparts; the second longest continuous wall in the world (second to the Great Wall of China). You can access the walls’ walkway from the Rocher des Doms or from the Saint Anne stairs behind the Palace. You can also do a 3 hour walking tour and wine tasting which includes the Papal Palace and ends with a celebratory glass of Cotes du Rhone wine.
There are lovely places to wander and rest within the walls of the Old City, and we enjoyed a pleasant lunch in a shaded square. You can also stay within walls of the Old City and there are many choices available. We stayed with friends elsewhere in Provence but our preference for our next visit to Avignon would be to pick one of these hotels, all in great locations.
Top end hotel – La Mirande overlooking the Palace of Popes
Mid range hotel – Le Magnan, a 10 minute walk from the Palace
Budget hotel – Au Saint Roch, a 15 minute walk from the Palace
carcassonne Old Town, France
Visiting the old town of Carcassonne was like stepping back into history as if in a dream. From the moment we parked our car and approached the entrance I was mesmerised. One of the largest surviving medieval cities in the world, Carcassonne offers such a rich experience within its 3 kms of walls.
Amazingly entrance to the old City is free, although there is a fee for car parking. Costs are subdised by the presence of boutiques and restaurants, but don’t let that put you off, you can have a wonderful experience without opening your purse, although that would be a shame. There is however a fee for entrance to the ramparts via the Chateu Comtal, find out more here.
We arrived in the morning and did a most informative walking tour before enjoying a delicious cassoulet in Le Cachotier. Of course you can tour the City without a guide but we loved soaking up the history shared by our guide. If you do choose not to use a tour then do allow at least1.5 hours to wander within and outside the walls.
As mentioned above there are restaurants and shops in the precinct and they are worth enjoying, As well as our delicious lunch we purchased some table linen at a shop within the old City. Given there is no charge to enter the City it seems only right to support the businesses that allow that. Artisan ice cream anyone?
As we had driven in from nearby Narbonne we did not stay in the old City but we noted this hotel for a future visit. It’s definitely a splurge but how wonderful to stay right within the medieval City.
The Alhambra Old Town, Granada, Spain
Ah the Alhambra (Red Castle), it is a totally wonderful experience to visit this beautifully preserved Moorish old City within its ramparts. Like Carcassone, the Alhambra is immediately captivating as you approach it. We visited as part of several days staying in the centre of Granada.
The richness of both the history and the incredible architecture and gardens of the Alhambra are so wonderful I highly recommend you take a skip the line guided tour. Make sure you take some water with you as tour this is around 3 hours and involves quite a lot of walking and some steps. You won’t regret your investment of time and if you are like us you will be overwhelmed in the most positive way. It is fair to say we would revisit the Alhambra in a heartbeat.
Built on a hill with strategic views over the City, it’s is believed that there were buildings on the site before the Moors arrived in the 9th century and began bulding the Castle within the ramparts. The details you will learn about the architecture, including the use of water around the buildings and in the stunning gardens is just fascinating.
We stayed in central Granada and caught a taxi up to the Alhambra then enjoyed our walk back down to the centre of the City. There is no accommodation within the Alhambra itself and we loved staying in the Centro area with a choice of restaurants and shops on our doorstep. We were not short of wonderful places to eat including great opportunities to self cater, but we particularly enjoyed our visits to Mas que Vinos Restaurant where we were warmly welcomed .
Lucca, TUSCANY, Italy
The Lucca Walls and fortifications are quite extraordinary as are the gates leading into the old CIty. It’s a beautiful place to visit as vehicular traffic is very restricted making the cobbled streets a joy to wander through.
There is something very classy about Lucca with it’s beautiful architecture, wonderful restaurants and elegant shopping opportunities. Is it because Puccini was born there?
The walls have all been beautifully maintained and you are able to walk or cycle right around them, or part way, with various entry points available to you. You can take your time too, with spots along the way to sit and contemplate. It’s not hard, as you wander the fortifications, to imagine arrows being fired and perhaps hot oil being poured over intruders – well not hard for me anyway :-).
A great way to familiarise yourself with the layout and history of Lucca is to do a 2 hour city centre walking tour visiting some of the main attractions and walking on the walls. We also highly recommend booking in to a Puccini concert – we did this and loved the venue (a deconsecrated Church) as well as the music. Neither of us are opera afficionados but this is a must do for anyone.
Read more about Lucca on this site.
But don’t spend all your time on tours, do make some time too for a leisurely lunch in one or more of Lucca’s wonderful restaurants like Buca di Sant’Antonio where you will be treated to incredible Lucchese cuisine and Tuscan wines or a prosecco (or two). Definitely take your appetite, Lucchese food is rich and filling.
Whilst Lucca is often positioned as an easy day trip from Florence we would definitely recommend a longer stay – we spent 5 nights in Lucca and loved every minute of it. We stayed in a BnB in the old City, that is no longer open but there is a wonderful choice of accommodation here. We found the following options, all within the walls of the old City:
Top end – Hotel Alla Corte – with a bar and 24 hour reception, walking distance to everything
Mid range – B&B Relais Inn Lucca – breakfast included, and with a choice of room types
Budget – Hotel Diana – in the heart of the historic centre, with breakfast served daily at a nearby location.
Rhodes Old Town, Greece
The old City of Rhodes is such an incredible step back in history – another one where again my imagination took flight. The old City is hidden within a double ring of high walls plus a deep moat. The architecture within is simply stunning, and the cobbled streeets wonderful to wander through. Rhodes offers an amazing combination of history from the Classical, Ottoman and Venetian eras.
There are three sections in the Old Town although the transitions from one section to the next are seamless. Perhaps the best well known is the Knights’ Quarter with austere buildings designed to house the Knights of St John. But don’t miss the Hora or Turkish Quarter which now houses the restaurants and shops of the old town. Also plan to visit the Jewish Quarter for a step into a modern day residential district away from the busy tourist areas.
It is possible too to walk on the central stretch of the ramparts and enjoy wnadering down into the moat now filled with beautiful gardens. There are nine gateways to the old town and you are most likely to enter via the Liberty Gate near Mandraki Harbour, but take the time to seek out the other entrances including the lovely D’Amboise Gate.
There is so much to see in Rhodes that it is hard to know where to begin, but definitely take a wander through the Street of the Knights and visit the Palace of the Grand Master. It’s worth getting some guidance for your visit to Rhodes and this self guided tour is a great option and fun if you have children with you too.
And make sure you leave plenty of time to enjoy delicious Greek food during your visit, with opportunities to sit in delightul courtyards soaking up the ambience. I like the look of the traditional taverna of Rustico
You will be spoilt for choice for accommodation in Rhodes and as always we recommend you try to choose accommodation within the old town of Rhodes. Our top picks are:
Top End – the uber stylish 10GR Hotel & Wine Bar – in the heart of the Old Town but only a 15 minute walk to the beach
Mid-range – Hotel Galaxias – again in the Old Town of Rhodes but with easy access to the beach
Budget – pehaps unsurprisingly there is no budget accommodation within the walls, but within walking distance of the medieval town you will find the Hotel Savoy with most rooms featuring balconies.
And perhaps most importantly, as soon as you make your first booking for any trip, immediately organise your travel insurance. We have never taken the risk of credit card backed insurance, and always use and recommend Cover-More. We have, on two occasions needed to make a claim and found the Cover-More team truly excellent.