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Old Towns

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Old Towns

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    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 Western calendar. Several Old Towns are recognized on the UNESCO World Heritage List.


An Old Town is inhabited, in contrast to an archaeological site.

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:

Get around

Since the very purpose of Old Towns was to collect buildings with walking distance, 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) and 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, as well as travellers with wheeled suitcases, strollers and bicycles.

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


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.


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.


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


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


The accommodation inside the Old Towns is 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

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

Famous Old Towns

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


A few South European cities date back to the Roman Empire, while most were founded during the Middle Ages (AD 500-1500). Some of them bear scars from warfare. Several Old Towns were once independent city-states, but just a few of them fly their own flag today (Monaco, San Marino etc).

Middle East

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




In the Americas, there are just a few 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.