Beautiful banners are coming to every article and you can help!
Check out our guidelines and learn how to create your own!

Old Towns

From Wikitravel
(Redirected from Old town)
Jump to: navigation, search

    This article is a travel topic
An Old Town, or a historical district, is a preserved urban neighborhood of significant age, built before the emergence of rail travel, large-scale urban planning and high-rise construction in the mid-19th century. The oldest towns have existed since before the beginning of the common era. Several Old Towns are recognized on the UNESCO World Heritage List.


An Old Town is inhabited or is part of functioning or inhabited city or a town, in contrast to an archaeological site or a ghost town which are usually uninhabited.

The Old Towns that exist today, are not necessarily the first settlements built at the location; many of them have been destroyed and rebuilt several times. Some Old Towns, such as Düsseldorf, have been restored to its former appearance in recent times.

Foreign-language terms for Old Towns:

  • Arabic: Medina (not to be confused with the Saudi Arabian city of the same name).
  • Bulgarian: Стар град (Star grad)
  • Czech: Staré město
  • French: Vieille ville
  • German: Altstadt
  • Italian: Centro Storico
  • Portuguese: Cidade Velha
  • Serbo-Croatian: Stari Grad
  • Norwegian: Gamleby

Get around[edit]

Since the very purpose of Old Towns was to collect buildings within walking distance of each other they were built to be more pedestrian oriented during a time before the existence of automobiles. Old Towns usually have narrow streets and even narrower alleys, where pedestrians move easier than automobiles.

Pre-modern cities typically had less than 100,000 inhabitants (with a few exceptions, such as Rome, Istanbul and Beijing) were densely populated, so they are usually less than a kilometer across. Due to grade separation, staircases and cobblestone, travellers with disabilities might have difficulties to get through some points. Wheeled suitcases, strollers and bicycles can also be hard to get through.

Entering an Old Town by automobile can be physically impossible, illegal, or at least very difficult.

See[edit][add listing]

Architecture in Old Towns can be totally unique. Old Towns are usually dominated by city walls or other fortifications, together with palaces and religious buildings (churches, mosques etc). Non-government profane buildings can be prominent in merchant cities, such as Venice.

Do[edit][add listing]

Several Old Towns are served by horse-carriage rides, in old-style carriages. These are often costly, far from genuine, and should primarily be considered if a guided tour is included.

Several Old Towns have traditional festivals, connecting to their past heritage. Whether carried on since old times (such as Sechseläuten in Zürich), or made up by posterity (such as the Medieval Week in Visby), they can provide an experience beyond the usual, as well as overcrowded venues.

Buy[edit][add listing]

Old Towns usually contain different kinds of shopping: traditional arts and crafts, as well as mass-produced souvenirs and mundane shopping.

Eat[edit][add listing]

As Old Towns are frequented by travellers, meals can be overpriced, and hygiene might be deficient.

Sleep[edit][add listing]

The available accommodations inside the Old Towns are usually limited in size and comfort, compared to the Grand Old Hotels of the late-19th century. As rooms are rarely standardized, you should have a look at the room, or at least have a description, before you make the deal.

Stay safe[edit]

As Old Towns are often packed with travellers, be aware of common scams. Street lighting might be deficient in Old Towns.

Famous Old Towns[edit]

This list includes inhabited urban districts of decent size and population, open to the public, that have remained largely intact since around 1850 or earlier, or have been faithfully restored to that state.


Most of the South European cities date back to the Roman Empire or even before, or were founded during the Middle Ages (AD 500-1500). Several of them bear scars from warfare. Several Old Towns (not least in Germany and Italy) were once independent city-states. Today, just a few of them fly their own flag (Monaco, San Marino etc).

Middle East[edit]

The Middle East contains many of the world's oldest cities, some of them inhabited for several thousand years.

  • Cyprus: Nicosia, Famagusta
  • Lebanon: Byblos, Sidon, Tyre
  • Syria: Aleppo, Bosra, Damascus (NOTE: Due to ongoing conflict it is not safe to go at this time. Please see the articles on 'War zone safety', on Syria or on these cities or your country's foreign ministry travel warning site for updates on the situation there.)
  • Iran: Shiraz
  • Iraq: Baghdad (NOTE: Due to ongoing conflict it is not safe to go at this time. Please see the articles on 'War zone safety', Iraq or on these cities or your country's foreign ministry travel warning site for updates on the situation there.)
  • Israel/West Bank: Akko, Jerusalem/Old City, Jaffa, Jericho, Tiberias
  • Jordan: Amman
  • Saudi Arabia: Jeddah, Mecca, Medina (NOTE: You must be a Muslim to be able to enter into Mecca & Medina. Non-Muslims are strictly prohibited from entering and such rule is strictly enforced with ID checks and for proof that one is a Muslim. All are welcome to Jeddah (rather they are Muslims or not) See the linked articles).
  • Turkey: Edirne, Istanbul/Sultanahmet-Old City, Konya
  • Yemen: Sana'a



Most Old Towns in North Africa have an Arabic (or at least Islamic) heritage, but some have an even earlier history.


The Americas have some colonial Old Towns from the time between the European arrival in 1492, and the independence movement of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Most of these are in the Caribbean, or in the coastal areas of Latin America.



Destination Docents

In other languages