A friendly smile and a wave takes minimal effort, but it’s a powerful gesture, especially when someone might be feeling out of place. These small towns around the world make good use of this gesture, and have been named the friendliest small towns outside of the U.S. — don’t miss our readers’ picks for the friendliest towns in the U.S. as well! With fantastic towns from around the globe to choose from, discover what made these towns stand out from the rest to our readers.
1. Banff, Canada (Winner)
Nestled in the Canadian Rocky Mountains of western Alberta, you will find the charming town of Banff. The town is located entirely within the borders of Banff National Park, with its 2,300 square miles of rugged, alpine wilderness, and makes for a great base camp for further exploration of the area’s many natural wonders. Arrive by car along the Trans-Canada Highway, or by rail, which allows even more freedom to enjoy the scenic journey into town.
Walk along Banff Avenue and shop through the many boutiques that line this well-traveled thoroughfare. Drop in for a pastry at JK Bakery & Cafe, eat a hearty meal at Chuck’s Steakhouse, and then stop off for a drink at Banff Ave Brewing Company, where the beer is brewed using water from nearby glacial runoff.
Explore the work of local artists at the many galleries around town, view the works and collections of other well-known artists at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, or experience the enriching artwork of Canada’s First Nations at Buffalo Nations Luxton Museum.
For outdoor fun, there is something to do regardless of the season. Enjoy a soothing dip at Banff Upper Hot Springs, where the natural hot spring water from Sulphur Mountain is available for use year-round. Winters are great for snowshoeing and skiing in the nearby mountains, while summer affords gorgeous hiking paths and climbing opportunities. Banff residents are eager to welcome you to this year’s friendliest small town, so plan your trip soon!
2. Niagara-On-The-Lake, Canada
Not to be confused with its up-the-river neighbor, Niagara Falls, this historic Ontario town sits along the banks of Lake Ontario and just across the Niagara River from the U.S. state of New York. Day trips to Niagara Falls and Toronto are no problem at all, at 30 minutes and 2 hours away respectively. But once you are in town, you honestly will have no reason to leave, as this unassuming Ontario town has plenty to occupy your time.
While the U.S. and Canada are strong allies today, that was not always the case. Pass through the gates of the imposing Fort George, used to keep the town’s U.S. neighbors to the east at bay during the War of 1812.
The lush and fertile land surrounding Niagara-on-the-Lake has allowed many vineyards to flourish here. Savor the sweet flavor of a Canadian ice wine at Inniskillin or one of the other many local wineries that produce this special late-season crop. Niagara-On-The-Lake boasts over 25 different wineries, making this friendly town a fantastic getaway for the wine lover in your life.
Niagara-on-the-Lake is known for Shaw Festival, a nearly year-long festival celebrating the life of Bernard Shaw through theater. Come celebrate its 60th season with Damn Yankees, The Importance Of Being Earnest, or one of the other great shows slated for 2022.
3. Positano, Italy
Drive an hour and a half south of Naples and you will find yourself in the quaint Amalfi Coast town of Positano. The town is quite literally carved into the side of the Lattari Mountains, with sheer cliffs overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea below in some parts of town.
Stroll along the switchback streets as you gaze up at the colorful hues of the buildings that surround you. Purchase a handcrafted pair of leather sandals from a local boutique and then grab an espresso at a roadside cafe.
After you have eaten and shopped your way through town, make your way down to Spiaggia Grande, a lovely and popular beach. Or, for a more intimate setting, make plans to visit one of the other area beaches such as Laurito Beach; this beach is more remote and less crowded as it is primarily accessible by boat. Soak in the sun and enjoy the refreshing chill of the Italian waters.
4. Lucca, Italy
The north-central Italian town of Lucca is located in the culturally and geographically rich region of Tuscany. Lucca rests at the foot of the Apuan Alps along a gentle plain. Enjoy a walk along the ramparts of the old city center, gaze at the scores of towers that rise up from around you, and keep time with one of the gorgeous clock towers.
Stroll down Via Fillungo, a historic street running through the center of town, lined with old churches as well as shops and cafes. Come and experience the history and culture of this quaint corner of Tuscany.
5. Lunenburg, Canada
The coasts of the maritime province of Nova Scotia are lined with quaint seaside fishing towns. If you have to pick only one of these charming towns to visit, make it Lunenburg. Named a UNESCO World Heritage site, the town itself is literally an international treasure. Visit the colorful waterfront, gazing around at the historic buildings, some dating back to the 1700s, that line your path. While in town, learn the history of the local fishing and shipbuilding industries that allowed this town to thrive.
Lunenburg is more than just historic buildings; enjoy the modern boutiques and eateries in town as well. Head over to Ironworks Distillery for a sample of their spirits, and then enjoy a tour of the facilities. Or head out to Lunenburg County Winery for a bottle of their blueberry wine before enjoying an afternoon of blueberry picking in late summer or early fall.
6. Montalcino, Italy
Not to be confused with its nearby neighbor Montepulciano to the east, Montalcino is a city on a hill, overlooking the valleys of the surrounding Tuscan region. The streets are lined with medieval architecture, including the historic fortress dating back to the 14th century.
Visit in October for the annual Festival of the Thrush: Enjoy roasted thrush in addition to many other regional foods and wine while enjoying a costume parade and music. Make sure to grab tickets for the longbow festival and experience a piece of Montalcino history.
7. Giethoorn, Netherlands
Known as the Venice of the North, Giethoorn is connected by a series of canals and bridges rather than roads. While the town does have some roads, namely those that connect the town to the rest of the Netherlands, travel around town itself is done by boat or on bike or foot.
Giethoorn is also known for the historic thatched roofs that adorn many of its homes and businesses. Rent a bike and enjoy a leisurely pedal along the canals and across the bridges. For more history on the region, drop into Museum Giethoorn ‘t Olde Maat Uus. Without the stressor of traffic to contend with, it is unsurprising to find this town on a list of the friendliest around the world.
8. Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
A must-visit ski resort town, Garmisch-Partenkirchen can be found along the northern slopes of the Bavarian Alps. Visit Garmisch-Classic, where skiers of all skill levels can find a slope to match their abilities. Or saunter around the charming town of intricately carved wooded homes bedecked with beautiful balconies and flowering geraniums.
Located just an hour and a half from Munich and an hour’s ride from Innsbruck, Austria, Garmisch-Partenkirchen is remote enough to be a retreat and yet still accessible from major city centers.
9. St Ives, England
St Ives is a contemporary seaside town near the southern tip of England in Cornwall. Known for its sandy beaches and art scene, St Ives is a vacation destination for many around southern England. Stroll along the cobbled streets as you make your way down to the harbor. Once you have arrived at the harbor, enjoy a day in the sand and sun, cooling off in the refreshing waters of the Celtic Sea. Then, journey to nearby Seal Island on a boat tour to enjoy the native wildlife. When you are ready to call it a day, order a pint and stay the night at Sloop Inn, one of the oldest inns in Cornwall.
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