Looking for an old, charming expat city in (maybe) Europe.
May 22, 2014 8:51 AM   Subscribe

I'm traveling and I'd like to find an old, charming city somewhere outside the US (probably Europe) to settle down in, at least for a little while. Ideas?

My ideal city would:
  • be small to medium sized (less than 1 million population, probably a lot less in fact)
  • be close to water (ocean/river) and hills/mountains
  • be walkable, with lots of old cobblestone streets
  • have lots of old architecture
  • have a more relaxed pace of life
  • have reasonable rental prices (~$1000/month w/o roommates close to the center; somewhat flexible)
  • not be a major tourist destination
I've enjoyed visiting the big capital cities in Europe, but unfortunately, rent tends to be astronomical in the older parts of town (or even within a 10 mile radius), and those parts tend to be grimy and tourist-ridden anyways. I'm looking for a town that still uses its old streets and buildings to live in, not for tourism.

Santa Cruz de Tenerife struck me as a city that fit many of my criteria, but I only spent half a day there so it was mostly a first impression.

Any cool ideas? Thank you!
posted by archagon to Travel & Transportation (22 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Lisle, France might work for you. Another nice place would be Dijon, in the suburbs.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:56 AM on May 22, 2014

Krakow, Sofia, Riga
posted by Ideefixe at 9:03 AM on May 22, 2014

If you're willing to go to Eastern Europe, Cluj, Sighisoara, Sibiu, Iasi and Brasov, Romania all fit your criteria, though most have miles of bloc apartments surrounding their adorable city centers.

If you like hills, Gjirokaster, Albania is a gorgeous stone historical city built on a mountain. You're never far from the ocean in Albania.

I'm not sure about prices, but I have fond memories of Assisi, Italy as well.
posted by chaiminda at 9:04 AM on May 22, 2014

From my impressions last time I visited, Strasbourg is a lot like this. Can't speak to rental costs, they might be pushed up by the European Parliament being there, and possibly on the touristy side, but it's a lovely quiet old city.
posted by corvine at 9:04 AM on May 22, 2014

There are a thousand little towns in Romagna, Italy that fit your description, that get zero tourists (unlike Tuscany) and have beautiful old town centers. I'd start with Cesena.

If you're willing to get a bit away from Europe proper, Chania and Rethymno in Crete are both gorgeous old Ottoman/Venetian port towns, with lovely weather most of the year, are very close to some dramatic mountain terrain and totally deserted southern-Mediterranean beaches, and are basically empty between September and May.
posted by Oxydude at 9:09 AM on May 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Something to consider: The financial crisis has dramatically affected smaller non-capital cities like the ones you mention, with things like cuts to public transport and services making life visibly worse, and pensions and salaries evaporating making life for your neighbours much harder as well, though that might manifest itself more indirectly in things like closed/dying streets of shops or more strikes and protests.

Think hard about your needs - if you're financially comfortable and just want a longer-term holiday in the sun with a few nice cafes and trips to the beach, you have more flexibility to move somewhere like Porto or Thessaloniki than if you need things like good bus/train service to major cities, public swimming pools, or libraries with free wifi, like you might find in Turku or Leiden.
posted by mdonley at 9:14 AM on May 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Heidelberg, Germany!

•be small to medium sized (less than 1 million population, probably a lot less in fact): check.
•be close to water (ocean/river) and hills/mountains: check, check.
•be walkable, with lots of old cobblestone streets: check.
•have lots of old architecture: check, check.
•have a more relaxed pace of life: check.
•have reasonable rental prices (~$1000/month w/o roommates close to the center; somewhat flexible): check.
•not be a major tourist destination: check.

And this wasn't on your list, but they also has a spectacular castle smack dab in the middle of the city: Schloß Heidelberg.

It's seriously my favorite place on earth, I can't recommend it enough.
posted by divined by radio at 9:17 AM on May 22, 2014

I've said it before and I'll say it again, seconding Vilnius. It has everything on your list. I would love to live there for a while.
posted by wingless_angel at 9:18 AM on May 22, 2014

Cádiz, Spain.
posted by chainsofreedom at 9:35 AM on May 22, 2014

Stuttgart, Bruges; seconding Riga.
posted by Emperor SnooKloze at 9:36 AM on May 22, 2014

What is your plan for attaining legal residency?
posted by humboldt32 at 9:38 AM on May 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Cusco, Peru. 500K population, in the Andes Mountains, the river Huatanay runs right through it, cobblestones and architecture go back to Inca times, rent is cheap. It is a "tourist destination" in that travelers to Machu Picchu stop there; if this bothers you, try nearby towns, but you'll really need Spanish if you do.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 9:42 AM on May 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

humboldt32: No plans yet, just compiling a list of places to look at. Will figure out visa situation later, or, at worst, alternate subletting for a few months at a time in Shenzhen and non-Shenzhen countries.
posted by archagon at 9:43 AM on May 22, 2014

Lyon, France : https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyon

< 500k population. Two rivers.

But maybe a little touristy...
posted by vayan at 9:45 AM on May 22, 2014

Coimbra, Portugal fits all your criteria.
posted by vacapinta at 10:03 AM on May 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also Tbilisi, Georgia (if you ask a Georgian they'll say they're in Europe). Adorable, tiny city with lots of old parts, cheap as hell, on a river, not far from the countryside.

And Seville, more touristy, but beautiful and incredibly walkable/bikeable.
posted by chaiminda at 10:11 AM on May 22, 2014

A Canadian friend stayed in Krakow for 6 months and thought it almost unbearable after a few weeks. Her LGBT status did not help matters, but even without taking those issues into account, she got tired of the endless stag party crowds coming from the UK and Ireland.
posted by kariebookish at 10:12 AM on May 22, 2014

I can't speak to the issue of rents, but Graz hits a lot of your other points.
posted by scody at 10:55 AM on May 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

* Oops, that should be Schengen, not Shenzhen. My quick Google spelling skills have failed me!
posted by archagon at 11:34 AM on May 22, 2014

posted by mani at 12:12 PM on May 22, 2014

What about South America? Not exactly to your standards but there are many European influenced towns like you describe and at a fraction of the price. Bariloche, Argentina. I'm now very interested in Puerto Alegre, Brazil. Probably not lots of expats, but not many tourists either.
posted by Che boludo! at 9:08 PM on May 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

You could always try Luxembourg - it fits most things you say you require:

- small to medium sized - Yep
- close to water (it's land-locked but there are rivers and lakes) and hills/mountains (Tail end of the Ardennes - goddam beautiful if you ask me)
- walkable, with lots of old cobblestone streets - Yep
have lots of old architecture - Jawohl
have a more relaxed pace of life - It's a finance centre, but it's not fancy-pants showy like Monte Carlo - No way it's NYC stressful either.
have reasonable rental prices - Think so...
not be a major tourist destination - definitely not.

Probably the most multicultural city/country there is (in % terms), it's green heart of Europe. Direct Paris TGV, well connected Airport. etc

I've always thought Atmosphere's Shhh lyrics sum Luxembourg up pretty well.
posted by guy72277 at 5:01 AM on May 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

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