The 5 Oldest European Towns for History-Loving Families

Palmero Cathedral in Italy - oldest European towns to visit

A trip to Europe is guaranteed to satisfy any history fan’s hunger for knowledge. With such a wealth of historical sites, you’ll be spoiled for choice. 

But some are especially suited to family vacations, as a blend of the old and the new satisfies all levels of curiosity. So, take this journey with us through the five oldest European towns for history-loving families. 

This post is part of our Discover Europe series

Athens, Greece

Athens, the capital of mainland Greece, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited places in the world. Its history of habitation may stretch back as much as 5000 years!  

This Mediterranean gem offers historic sites, an island vibe, epic watersports, and other fun in the sun. It’s the perfect location to kick off a family tour of Europe’s oldest towns. 

Athens ancient theatre in acropolis Greece  - ancient European towns

And what better way is there for a family to enjoy the surrounding Greek isles than with a catamaran hire? Skippered and bareboat charters are available, but the option of a skippered boat gives you the freedom to just relax and explore. 

There are many fun things to do in Athens with young children. Several parks are located here, some along the coast, but be sure to stop by Green Park, closer to the city centre. This huge park includes an open-air theatre, picnic grounds, and a family-friendly restaurant.

Malaga, Spain

Another town with a rich and fascinating history is Malaga, in Spain. Inhabited since about 800 BCE, this town will delight you with several ancient archaeological finds and monuments. 

Originally called Malaka, it started its life as a Phoenician trading port. But that’s not this coastal town’s only claim to fame. Malaga is also the birthplace of renowned artist Pablo Picasso. 

View of Malaga in costa del sol Spain oldest cities in Europe

So, when you’re not enjoying some family bonding on Malaga’s best beaches along the Costa del Sol or the local amusement parks of Southern Spain, spend a day in Malaga and explore this town’s artistic history at the Museo Picasso Malaga.

Malaga is also one of the sunniest destinations in Europe if you’re travelling in winter. This popular Spanish family vacation destination has plenty of daylight hours, even in the winter months. 

Zadar, Croatia

Like Greece, Croatia has some of the best beaches in Europe. But another thing that they have in common is their historical value. In Croatia, the oldest continuously inhabited town is Zadar. This coastal town on the Eastern Adriatic was established as far back as 1000 BCE.

aeril shot of the old town Zadar in croatia one of the oldest towns in Europe

Visit one of the many family-oriented museums, national parks, and other attractions throughout modern-day Zadar. A guided Zadar walking tour will let you explore dozens of historical sites. Or take the kids on a sightseeing treasure-hunt-style excursion – Jadera: Secrets of the city,  in the Old Town.

And at the end of a day of sightseeing, relax on the waterfront to enjoy the sunset. Famous filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock once described the sunset in Zadar as “the most beautiful sunset in the world”.

This Adriatic wonder is the perfect base for any number of day trips, but some of the most exciting activities for families are at the southwestern quay. Listen to the Sea Organ, or experience the Sun Salutation light show once the sun has gone down.

Palermo, Italy

It probably won’t surprise you to hear that most of the oldest continuously inhabited towns in Europe are found in Italy and the Italian island of Sicily. And one of the best towns to visit there with the family is Palermo.

Those ancient Phoenicians sure were a busy group of seafarers. Like Malaga in neighbouring Spain, the Sicilian capital of Palermo was settled by the Phoenicians. These seafaring people occupied the coast of the eastern Mediterranean. The influence of these maritime traders can be found throughout Europe. 

Palermo in Sicily panoramic drone shot of the city one of the oldest in Europe

There is evidence of them setting up homes for themselves all the way back in 734 B.C. Since then, this town was perhaps one of the most consistently conquered places in the world. This is evident from the wealth of ancient European attractions. 

But the Phoenicians weren’t the first to set foot on this island. Cave drawings indicate that there were settlements here as far back as 8000 BCE. When you’re not seeing these sites on a guided tour, treat the younger members of the family to fun and games at the Palermo Family Park.

Mdina, Malta

The island of Malta’s contender, Mdina, has been continuously inhabited for about as long as Malaga in Spain. And yes, you guessed it; the Phoenicians were here too. They built the town of Mdina in 800 BCE, although their name for it was Maleth. 

Mdina view of old city in Malta one of the oldest cities in Europe

It was later renamed by the Romans, who built its stone walls. But the current Arabic name, Mdina, was bestowed much later. This European UNESCO World Heritage Site, and former home of Maltese nobility, is now home to fewer than 300 people. 

This town is always abuzz with history-loving tourists, though. When you’re not exploring historic sites on one of the many tours, go snorkelling or take a boat trip in the stunning Blue Lagoon. With so much to see and do, Malta is one of Europe’s hidden gems for family travel

For even more fun for the whole family, take a short car, taxi, or bus ride to the famous Popeye Village. This purpose-built movie-set village has become quite a tourist attraction, almost rivalling the ancient historical sites. 

More European Destination Inspiration

Family travellers looking for a little more inspiration, you may also be interested in:

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A view of the acropolis in Athens through trees - text overlay 5 oldest European Towns to visit
a view of the acropolis oldest European towns to visit

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