The 14 Best European Cities for Solo Travelers
When I was a teenager, my family went on one of those bus tours of Europe, where we saw everything — we took 15-minute photo stops in front of landmarks from the Leaning Tower of Pisa to the Amsterdam Central Train Station. But now looking back, I realize we really saw nothing.
While monuments should dictate your itinerary in Europe, it’s really how you take in the sights that will make your trip. And with the sheer amount of things to see and do, traveling in Europe, especially with a big group, can get overwhelming. That’s why it’s one of the best continents to visit alone, where you can really see everything at your own pace.
Related: Hacks for Mastering Solo Travel
I’ve spent alone time in big metropolises like London and Paris; good-sized cities like Stockholm, Copenhagen, Berlin, Dusseldorf, and Vienna; and as smaller towns like Bergen. In each case, letting myself wander and getting lost led to some of the most memorable moments on the trip, like when I swapped cameras with other single travelers on the towering outdoor spire of Copenhagen’s Vor Frelsers Kirke, or when I relaxed in the pools of Stockholm’s historic Centralbadet bath house alongside locals of all ages. For more tips on how to meet people while traveling, click here.
When choosing your ideal destination, think about whether you’d prefer a large city with a simple public transportation system to help you cover more ground, or a smaller town that’s easy to explore on foot. Also consider whether you’re looking for an activity-filled city or one where you can kick back and relax. Watching your own back is always necessary, even in the most crime-free locations, but many European cities have safe reputations, so that you can focus more on where you go than how you go.
Taking in all those considerations, here’s a list of cities that are most welcoming to solo travelers — and where you can build your own ultimate Eurotrip.
Copenhagen’s two-line metro system may look sparse, but it gets you exactly where you need to go (including from the airport to town) and makes it incredibly easy to jet around the Danish city. For the spots in between, grab a City Bike (which come equipped with built-in GPS) and pedal right into the 242 miles of designated lanes. No wonder Copenhagen’s been named the best bike city in the world. For where to stay, eat, and drink, check out our guide to the city and our list of the best cocktail bars around.
Forget the romance: the City of Lights is just as magical for a party of one. First, check off the necessary Parisian requirements: strolling down the Champs-Élysées, wandering the winding paths of Montmartre, and exploring the halls of the Louvre. My favorite discovery was the Sainte Chapelle — its stained glass was so dramatic that I was grateful for the opportunity to take it in at my own pace. And for a quirky and free place to stay, become a Tumbleweed at the English bookshop Shakespeare and Company, where you pay for your night’s stay by volunteering at the store for a few hours, reading a book a day, and writing a one-page autobiography.
The Swedish capital truly has it all: a cobblestoned old town with pedestrian-only roads, 57 bridges that stretch over its 14 islands, an amusement park dating back to 1880s, a bath house from 1904, and the most artistic subway stations, each decorated with its own theme. So it was no surprise that the free walking tours in town were dominated by solo travelers finding their own piece of the low-crime city.
As I glided through the canals under stone bridges and past weeping willows in the Flemish town, I felt like I finally understood what all those books about “once upon a time” truly meant. And while I loved perusing the shops and observing the scene in the Market Square, my favorite moment was when I came across a pond filled with the most immaculate swans I had ever seen in my life. What better place to explore on your own than a city that invites you to be the star of your own fairytale adventure?
The jolly Irish spirit isn’t just the stuff of legends — the welcoming nature of the Dubliners will immediately make you feel like the city is your home, too. Leave your stress behind as you explore the centuries-old Dublin Castle and St. Patrick’s Cathedral, in the capital ranked one of the safest cities in 2015 by a Post Office Travel Insurance Study. Pick up a three-day Leap Card at the airport for less than 20 Euros (which includes your bus ride from the airport) and you’ll be zipping through town in no time.
One of the best ways to meet people while traveling alone is to head to a festival, where like-minded travelers and locals bond over common interests. And no European city does festivals quite like the Scottish capital. From the more traditional International Film Festival and Jazz and Blues Festival to the spectacles of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the celebrations only add to the long list of to-dos in the hilly coastal city.
I loved the freedom of being alone in the City of Music, where I sipped coffee and indulged in a sacher torte in a traditional café, got lost on the grounds of Schönbrunn Palace, and took in a show at an opera house. With plenty of visitors and a burgeoning design scene, Austria’s capital is bursting with charm. So it’s no wonder it ranked the highest for quality of living in a Mercer study this year.
The friendly waterfront Norwegian town is an idyllic spot for traveling alone. It’s a cinch to locate the UNESCO Heritage wooden houses of Bryggen, the outdoor fish market, and Fløibanen funicular, but just challenging enough to get to surrounding sights like the Mount Ulriken Cable Car and Troldhaugen, home of composer Edvard Grieg. If you start feeling like you’re lost, like I did during the 20-minute walk through a suburban neighborhood with little signage, just wait until you run into a local — they’ll kindly point you in the right direction.
As the capital of one of the highest-ranking European countries for safety and security in the Prosperity Index, Helsinki is one of the most laid-back places around. I fell in love with the quaint seaside village, which is full of innovative eats and has tons of open air (one-third of the city is green space). And water lovers should spend some time hopping between one of the 330 islands on the archipelago.
Berlin is young and old, historic and modern, and classic and cutting edge — all at the same time. The city is still constantly changing, and there are so many sights that it’ll inevitably be difficult to fit it all into your schedule. I started my sprint at the Circus Hotel, which offers single rooms in both its hotel and hostel, and took off on city tour with them to get the lay of the land the first day. Once situated, I was able to run between sights like the Berlin Wall’s East Side Gallery and the Brandenburg Gate, snacking on currywurst — my newfound favorite local dish — along the way.
With Iceland earning top honors as the most peaceful country in Europe according to last year’s Global Peace Index, safety is rarely a concern on the island nation. While the capital itself can be pricey, there are ways to navigate the high exchange rate: Two companies offer free city walking tours (there’s also a pub crawl tour for $24), and the most popular meal in town is the Baejarins Beztu Pysur hot dog stand, made famous by Bill Clinton and more recently, Kim Kardashian.
Follow in Mark Twain’s steps in this tourist-friendly town nestled in central Switzerland, on the northern tip of Lake Lucerne. The charming covered Chapel Bridge and Water Tower sit in the heart of the mountaintop city, making the small town an effortless getaway for first-time solo travelers. The railroad station is in walking distance of Old Town, and the entire city is extremely easy to explore by foot.
With easy-to-navigate trains from its airports (which I’ve managed while bleary-eyed from both Heathrow and Gatwick) and 270 stations on the London Underground (which helped me connect day trips to Windsor Castle and Levensden’s Warner Bros. Studio Tour for the Harry Potter tour), you can get anywhere quickly in the British capital. Pub culture makes it easy to grab a pint at the bar among locals and the long stretches of shops in areas like Notting Hill and Knightsbridge can help you blend in with shoppers. Plus, you’ll get all the European charm without the foreign language anxiety. For a list of free things to do, click here.
The Czech Republic capital is a manageable size, with major sites concentrated within walking distance. Whichever side of the Charles Bridge you stay on, you’re just steps away from Old Town and the Prague Castle — both of which provided a full day’s worth of exploration for me. Just a stroll away on the castle side is the Petřín funicular, where I took in hilltop views of the city’s orange rooftops, Gothic cathedrals, Baroque churches, and Renaissance palaces. And throughout town, you’ll find stands to buy affordable concert tickets in exclusive venues, like the stunning show I caught in the Klementinum’s Mirror Chapel.