We’re so lucky to live a short tram ride from one of the most beautiful squares in Europe, the Old Town Square in Prague. It’s one of the most famous squares in Europe, and Central Europe is endowed with an abundance of them. After visiting one of these – the stunning town square in the UNESCO World Heritage town of Telč – recently, we thought it was high time we had a run-down of the most beautiful European squares.
Please feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments box at the foot of the page.
- 1 31 Beautiful Squares in Europe
- 1.1 1. Old Town Square Prague
- 1.2 2. Piazza del Campo, Siena , Italy
- 1.3 3. Piazza del Duomo, Ortigia, Siracusa, Sicily
- 1.4 4. Namesti Zachariase z Hradce, Telč, Czech Republic
- 1.5 5. Place de la Cathédrale, Rouen, Normandy, France
- 1.6 6. Campo dei Miracoli, Pisa
- 1.7 7. Rossio, Lisbon
- 1.8 8. Piazza Maggiore and Piazza Nettuno, Bologna
- 2 9. Am Hof, Vienna, Austria
- 3 10. Horni Namesti, Slavonice, Czech Republic
- 4 11. Trafalgar Square, London
- 5 12. Largo de Conde de Vila Flor, Evora, Portugal
- 6 13. Plaza de España, Seville
- 7 14. Heroes Square Budapest
- 8 15. The Circus, Bath, England
- 9 16. The Piazza, Portmeirion, Wales
- 10 17. Gendarmenmarkt, Berlin
- 11 18. Place Rossetti, Nice, France
- 12 19. Parliament Square, London
- 13 20. Piazza San Marco and Piazzetta, Venice
- 14 21. Dolac Square, Zagreb, Croatia
- 15 22. Plaza Mayor Salamanca
- 16 23. Grand Place, Brussels
- 17 24. Piazza Anfiteatro, Lucca
- 18 25.Place des Cornieres, Monpazier, Perigord, France
- 19 26. Old Town Square, Warsaw
- 20 27. Am Markt, Bremen, Germany
- 21 28. Splantzia, Chania, Greece
- 22 29. Rynek Market Square, Kazimierz Dolny, Poland
- 23 30. Rynek Wielki, Zamość, Poland
- 24 31. Domplatz, Erfurt, Germany
31 Beautiful Squares in Europe
1. Old Town Square Prague
Prague Old Town Square – Staroměstské náměstí – is impossibly beautiful.
It’s surrounded by incredible Prague architecture dating as far back as 800 years, and the scene is dominated by the gorgeous Gothic spires of the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn, one of the most impressive churches in Prague. Other buildings include the Old Town Hall (with its famous Astronomical Clock), the Rococo Kinsky Palace and the Baroque St Nicholas Church. The effects of mass tourism have had some detrimental effect, but block out the crowds for a moment – it doesn’t get much better than this.
2. Piazza del Campo, Siena , Italy
Siena is one of the best-preserved medieval cities in Europe, and the Piazza del Campo very much its focal point.
The sloping shell-shaped square is lined with red-brick palazzi, the largest of which is the Palazzo Pubblico. You have to crane your neck to see the top of its tower, the Torre del Mangia, at such close quarters. The Piazza is the setting for the famous Palio horse race, which is held on July 2nd and August 16th each year. Getting a decent view on the day involves parting with a rather large sum of money, but bear in mind that you can get a taste of the spectacle if you’re around on rehearsal days, when the horses are given a run-out.
3. Piazza del Duomo, Ortigia, Siracusa, Sicily
This may just be the most beautiful square in Europe.
Ortigia, Sicily is an incredibly beautiful place, a tiny island city that’s part of Siracusa (Syracuse), which 2,400 years ago was the prevalent power in the Mediterranean. It’s now a relative backwater, and the island is one of the most captivating cityscapes in Italy, a labyrinth of slightly decaying 18th century townhouses with the Tyrrhenian Sea on either side.
Piazza del Duomo is by far the biggest space on the island, centred on the ancient Cathedral which incorporates the pillars of an ancient Greek temple. The Baroque façade is glorious, especially at dusk against the blue evening sky.
Kids toddle around the square, parents sit on the steps of the Duomo, an accordionist runs through his repertoire of Italian favourites. We sit at a café table just behind him, giving our little man his first ever taste of gelato, which would soon send him off among the toddling throng.
If you ever make it to Sicily, do not miss this place.
4. Namesti Zachariase z Hradce, Telč, Czech Republic
The entire centre of the small town of Telč, in the rural Vysočina region of the Czech Republic, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it comes mightily close to being the most beautiful on our entire list.
The square – named after Zacharias of Hradec, who built the town in the 14th century – dominates the peaceful little town, which has largely been bypassed by the tourism boom until now.
The square is simply exquisite, and one of the reasons it’s so easy on the eye is the symmetry of many of the houses, which are the same height and width, each with arches and an arcade below. It’s a magnificent square, and you can normally climb church towers at either end for a bird’s-eye view.
5. Place de la Cathédrale, Rouen, Normandy, France
Rouen’s Cathedral is immense, but its square doesn’t match it for size and scale. Nonetheless, it’s one of the best places to visit in Normandy, dominated by the west front of this vast Gothic masterpiece.
Impressionist art lovers will be familiar with the Cathedral as the subject of Claude Monet’s study of changing light on the façade, which in turn has inspired the son et lumière spectacular held the in the summer months.
You’ll find several cafes and patisseries close by, and right around the corner is the Rue du Gros Horloge, home to the Great Clock, another beautiful Rouen landmark.
6. Campo dei Miracoli, Pisa
Forget the tourist cliches for a moment. Pisa’s Field of Miracles is architecturally outstanding, and very few places in the world come anywhere near measuring up to it. The Baptistery and Duomo are superb 12th century Romanesque masterpieces, and the monumental Camposanto cemetery is an escape to peace and serenity from the crowds outside.
These would all be reason enough to go well out of your way to visit Pisa, but nearly everyone who does come does so to see the precarious-looking Leaning Tower of Pisa in the corner of the Campo. Avoid all restaurants within 200 metres of the Campo, and discover what else Pisa has to offer. It’s also one of the best places to stay in Tuscany if you’re looking to explore the coast and countryside.
7. Rossio, Lisbon
We could have gone for Praça do Comercio, the grand open-air entrance hall to Lisbon for train and ferry passengers at the opposite end of Rua Augusta, but Rossio is much livelier. Officially known, but never actually called, Praça Dom Pedro IV after the king whose statue graces the square, it’s a busy hub lined with cafes and bars, linking smaller squares and streets in the Baixa district.
Its setting is superb, with views to the Bairro Alto and Convento do Carmo. Look out for the opulent neo-Manueline façade of Rossio railway station just off the corner of the square, and the ginjinha bars where you can sample the local super-sweet kicking cherry liqueur.
8. Piazza Maggiore and Piazza Nettuno, Bologna
These two adjoining squares at the red brick medieval heart of Bologna are a great place to start exploring one of the culinary capitals of Italy. One of the most popular things to do in Bologna is to sit with a coffee in one of the arcade cafes and watch the world go by, admiring the splendid buildings and monuments all around.
These include Giambologna’s huge Neptune statue crowning Tommaso Laureti’s Fountain, the vast Gothic San Petronio Basilica and the Palazzo d’Accursio. The city’s two famous medieval towers and the Quadrilatero food district are just off the square.
9. Am Hof, Vienna, Austria
Am Hof (‘At Court’) was the centre of medieval Vienna, and along with nearby Freyung is one of the most picturesque squares in Vienna. It’s surrounded by a mish-mash of historic buildings, most notably the lavish Baroque Kirche Am Hof (the Church of the Nine Choirs of Angels) and the Zeughaus, or Civil Armoury, which has also served as the incredibly sumptuous fire brigade headquarters. In December it’s the setting for one of the prettiest Vienna Christmas Markets, and well worth visiting along with the traditional Viennese one 100 metres away at Freyung.
10. Horni Namesti, Slavonice, Czech Republic
After Portmeirion, Slavonice is probably the smallest place to grace our list. Its name means Upper Square, on account of it being a few metres higher than neighbouring Namesti Miru (Peace Square). This tiny South Bohemian town in the bucolic borderlands a mile or so from Austria is home to some of the most breathtaking Renaissance architecture in Europe, around ten houses adorned with stunning sgraffitoed facades. Even Prague doesn’t have anything quite like it.
The town isn’t really set up for tourism, and more could be made of the square than it is. But it’s probably best left this way, one of the most beautiful places in Europe that you’ve never heard of.
11. Trafalgar Square, London
Trafalgar Square is the monumental centre of London, the point from which distances from and to London are measured. It’s the grandest of all London squares, with the National Gallery, the fine Baroque church of St Martin in the Fields, Nelson’s Column and the bronze lions the main landmarks.
The central space hosts everything from concerts to protests, and the busy central London traffic is ever-present. The view down Whitehall to Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament is rather special too.
12. Largo de Conde de Vila Flor, Evora, Portugal
Our favourite spot in the lovely Portuguese city of Évora isn’t even called a square (praça), rather a largo, which roughly translates as ‘wide space’. This space just happens to be filled by the 2nd century AD Roman Temple of Diana (Templo de Diana), one of the finest Roman remains on the Iberian peninsula. One of our favourite things to do in Evora is to sit at a table in the park on the corner of the square and watch the rays of the setting sun behind us warm the pillars of the Temple and the Cathedral tower behind. An amazing place in one of the most beautiful places in Portugal.
13. Plaza de España, Seville
The Plaza de España, around a kilometre from the tapas bars of the Barrio de Santa Cruz, was built in 1929 for the World’s Fair, showcasing Spain’s industrial prowess. It’s a hotch-potch of styles – Renaissance, Mudéjar and Baroque – that somehow works, and beautifully at that. The building is a huge semi-circle, and the plaza is filled with a moat and ornate bridges.
There is some beautiful tilework, much of it depicting the different provinces of Spain, and this has been restore in recent years. Try to see it at dusk, when it’s at its most alluring.
14. Heroes Square Budapest
I had the good fortune to stay around the corner from this imposing square several times, and was lucky enough to see it at sunrise in summer – a fine sight indeed.
It was built to commemorate the Magyar Millennium in 1896, and consists of a Neoclassical colonnade with statues of Hungarian heroes – its Magyar name is Hősök tere, pronounced HUR-shook teray. It’s at the end of one of the main Budapest streets, Andrássy út, and is the gateway to the Varosliget park, the best in the city.
15. The Circus, Bath, England
Time to own up – the Circus isn’t a square, but a circle. No matter, it’s one of the most graceful public squares in Europe, and that’s enough for us. The Circus is made up of three handsome crescents of grand terraced townhouses in the 18th century Georgian style. It was designed by the esteemed Bath architect John Wood the Elder, and the construction was overseen by his son, John Wood the Younger. It’s just around the corner from one of the most beautiful streets in Europe, the Royal Crescent.
16. The Piazza, Portmeirion, Wales
Portmeirion, on the fringe of the Snowdonia National Park in North Wales, was conceived as a fantasy village, somewhere people could escape on holiday for a while. The architect, Clough Williams-Ellis, rescued decaying or unwanted buildings from around the UK, including the classical-style Bristol Colonnade which graces the Piazza.
One of the most popular things to do in Portmeirion in summer is to sit down in the village Piazza with an ice cream, quietly admiring the Italianate architecture while the kids splash in the fountain. A wonderful wander in whimsy – add straight away to your Wales bucket list.
17. Gendarmenmarkt, Berlin
Gendarmenmarkt is the one most impressive and monumental of all Berlin squares. Its centrepiece is the Konzerthaus theatre and, you guessed it, concert venue, with the statue of playwright Friedrich Schiller standing outside. The square has two cathedrals, one at each end.
The Deutscher Dom is at the southern end, while the Französischer Dom (French Protestant Cathedral) stands at the northern end. Unsurprisingly, this marvellous public space gets put to excellent use as the main venue for the annual Berlin Christmas Markets.
18. Place Rossetti, Nice, France
Place Rossetti is one of the smallest squares on our list. It seems to jostle for space in the tightly-packed warren of streets that is Vieux Nice, the old quarter of Nice on the Côte d’Azur. The tiny square faces the 17th century Cathedral of St Reparate, and has just enough space to squeeze in a few outdoor restaurants and cafes, not forgetting the fantastic Fenocchio ice cream shop.
19. Parliament Square, London
We had to include two squares in London, our former home and family favourite city. Like its neighbour Trafalgar Square it’s often snarled up with traffic, but what a place: the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben on one side, and the wonders of Westminster Abbey on the other.
Add a few statues of political figures, some prime red London telephone boxes and you’re in London Icon Land. Forty years after first clapping eyes on it, I still get the same feeling: wow.
20. Piazza San Marco and Piazzetta, Venice
Two squares for the price of one here, because many of the shots you see online are of the Piazzetta, not the Piazza as stated. The Piazza itself is one of the most handsome in Europe, its building housing the likes of the superb Museo Correr as well as two of the most overpriced cafes in Europe. OK, so you do get an orchestra sometimes. \
The Piazza – also known as St Mark’s Square – is dominated by the Byzantine brilliance of the Basilica di San Marco, a wondrous hint of what lies to the east. The Piazzetta – literally ‘Little Square’ – is the area between the Doge’s Palace, the Libreria Sansoviniana and the lagoon, with unforgettable views in all directions, the place to start if you’re photographing Venice.
21. Dolac Square, Zagreb, Croatia
It took our recent trip to the Zagreb Christmas Markets for me to finally fall for Dolac. The prettiest square in Europe it is not, but it’s cram-packed with colour and life. It’s home to the main outdoor market in Zagreb, selling all kinds of produce, from fruit and vegetables to delicious Croatian honey and cakes. The elegant tower of St Mary’s Church overlooks the Square from one side, while the (earthquake-damaged) twin spires of Zagreb Cathedral dominate the view the other way.
22. Plaza Mayor Salamanca
If I could return to Spain for one day tomorrow, I’d plump for Salamanca. Many of the old buildings are constructed from a local old gold-coloured stone that proved fairly easy to carve. The handsome Plaza Mayor – Main Square – is magnificent, a perfect, harmonious square lined with cafes and a wonderful place to hang out. Many of the local students simply sit on the floor with their laptops.
23. Grand Place, Brussels
This imposing square has been voted the most beautiful square in Europe by readers of another travel website. It is mightily impressive, a stunning ensemble of buildings including the Town Hall and Maison du Roi, which houses the Museum of Brussels. Architecturally it has few peers, but having been there 40, maybe 50 times, I’ve always found it a little lacking in atmosphere, which is why it wouldn’t get my ultimate vote. Every August it is carpeted with flowers, and this makes for a fantastic spectacle.
24. Piazza Anfiteatro, Lucca
The Tuscan city of Lucca is full of little quirks (like a tree growing out of the top of a medieval tower), and this square offers another one. The clue is in the name – it’s oval-shaped, having been built on the foundations of the Roman amphitheatre. It’s a surprisingly quiet square – if you want bustle, head for nearby Piazza San Michele in Foro. It’s somewhere I returned several times, its mustard-yellow houses and green shutters especially easy on the eye. There are also a few cafes and artisans’ shops, selling local crafts and food.
25.Place des Cornieres, Monpazier, Perigord, France
Monpazier is a small town in the south of the Dordogne, founded by English King Edward I in 1284. He had already almost bankrupted himself building Conwy Castle and several other castles in North Wales, and this fortified bastide town would have set him back a fair few francs as well. The main square is a joy, lined with medieval stone houses with an arcade below to allow stall space in inclement weather.
26. Old Town Square, Warsaw
Warsaw was so utterly obliterated during World War II that locals sometimes didn’t know what street they were standing in. The Old Town was painstakingly reconstructed afterwards, and they made a pretty amazing job of it. I remember standing in the Old Town Square the first time, in disbelief that this square, which had been completed less than thirty years beforehand, seemed so authentic. It’s lined with beautiful townhouses, is incredibly pretty, and has a statue, of the mermaid Syrena, in the centre. The bars and restaurants are what you’d expect – overpriced – but it’s a lovely place to stop for a drink on a sunny afternoon.
27. Am Markt, Bremen, Germany
We’ve always felt Bremen is one of the most underrated cities in Europe. This north German city, an hour down the track from Hamburg, was one of the main Hanseatic League cities, and its wealth is reflected in its superb town square. The Town Hall and the statue of legendary knight Roland are jointly a UNESCO World Heritage Site – the statue dates from 1404. Readers of the Brothers Grimm may also recognise the statue of the Musicians of Bremen, and the twin spires of St Petri Dom, Bremen’s Cathedral, complete the scene. I’m not quite sure why the modern glass State Parliament building ended up next door, but it doesn’t particularly detract from this striking square.
28. Splantzia, Chania, Greece
One of the best things to do in Chania, the lovely old city in north-west Crete, is to spend an evening on Splantzia. It’s in the Turkish area of Chania old town, and the square is the tree-shaded hub of the area. There aren’t many sights as such – Agios Nikolaos Church overlooks one end of the square, and the streets behind the other end are among the most beautiful in the city – in summer you come here for the buzz. The place is packed with restaurants and bars, and even at midnight you have to do the rounds to find a table. Just sit and enjoy the balmy Mediterranean air and cool down with a glass of Alfa or Mythos beer or the local vino.
29. Rynek Market Square, Kazimierz Dolny, Poland
The small market town of Kazimierz Dolny is well-known among Poles, especially Varsovians, who frequently head there on weekends. The town is smaller than Telč, but probably has a wider appeal as it has long attracted Polish artists. The Rynek is gorgeous, with several Renaissance-era townhouses gracing it. This little town grew rich from grain – its position on the east bank of the Vistula (Wisła) river helping no end in that regard. It then faded into obscurity, which is not always a bad thing!
30. Rynek Wielki, Zamość, Poland
Like several other cities and towns in this article, the small Polish city of Zamość is inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. The Renaissance city is the result of collaboration between the area’s ruler, Jan Zamoyski, and Italian architect Bernardo Morando. They planned and designed the whole city centre, including the fortress, but the crowning achievement is the stately Great Market Square, its brightly-painted houses a little reminiscent of those at Telč. The grandiose Town Hall also draws the eye, a lofty structure worthy of a city twenty times the size. The Square is reason enough to venture to this corner of south-east Poland, close to the Ukrainian border.
31. Domplatz, Erfurt, Germany
And finally to Erfurt, capital of the German state of Thuringia. This Hanseatic city has a stupendous main square, Domplatz, surrounded by half-timbered houses and two ecclesiastical treasures in the Cathedral and St Severus Church which stand side by side. The square also hosts events including the Erfurter Oktoberfest and the Erfurt Christmas Market. The Domplatz is the highlight of what is one of the most beautiful medieval cities in Germany – several other cities in the former east, including Quedlinburg, just don’t seem to pop up on many people’s radar. Yet.