By Rachel Chang
Updated March 25, 2016
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Three years ago, I sat on the wooden chair in the back of Randi Bjellands’ kitchen in Norway, waiting. And waiting. A gentleman walked in and sat down. She quickly emerged from the back room and greeted him in Norwegian with a plate of food.

I don’t speak — or understand — Norwegian, and couldn’t tell if she understood that I was hungry, too. Did she think I was sitting here waiting for a travel companion to join me? Did she not realize my feet were aching from winding up-and-down the San Francisco-like streets of the Nordnes neighborhood, in Bergen, trying to find Bjellands Kjøkken (Bjellands’ Kitchen) before she closed shop?

It was clear Randi wasn’t to be disturbed. I had stumbled upon the recommendation online, stating that Bjellands, who is in her late 70s, single-handedly ran the restaurant and had her own methods.

When I first entered, all she said to me in broken English — a bit brusquely — was: "You hungry? You want fish? Cod?" I had nodded with every question and sat down, a good 20 minutes ago. She hadn’t acknowledged me since, while several locals had entered and been served immediately.

After another 15 minutes of clanking in the back, she appeared in front of me with plate, piled high with battered cod, potatoes, and slaw — and the heartiest grin on her face. Even though we couldn’t carry on a conversation, her expression said it all. She wanted to impress the one tourist — and only other female — in the room and had gone out of her way to prepare my meal with an extra dose of care.

The beauty of solo travel is the ability to immerse yourself in the community and to stumble upon those moments of international connection organically on your own. But as a woman, fears — sometimes innate — over the silliest things can spin into overdrive, especially in a foreign environment.

While the destination you choose should be somewhere you’ve always wanted to go, being in a safe location where it’s easy to navigate both the transportation and culture alleviates major worries and lets you focus on being present. And the more hotels, activities, and sights you’re able to find in a centralized, accessible area, the simpler it is to blend in, and allow yourself to experience those special travel moments that you’ll remember for a lifetime. Here, our list of the 17 best places in the world for women to travel alone.

Barcelona, Spain

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Barcelona is an extremely walkable city, and you’re unlikely to get lost as long as you have a map of some kind. In the city, you can window shop along Las Ramblas, stroll down the beach boardwalk, and wander through the Gaudi-designed Park Güell. And the dining options are great for a solo traveler too—you can eat al fresco at waterfront paella restaurants (people-watching is built-in entertainment) or opt for a counter seat at one of the city’s many incredible tapas bars.

Seattle

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Thanks to the omnipresence of Seattle’s coffee culture, a solo diner (or drinker) is commonplace in Seattle. Plus, the proliferation of cafes means there’s a rest stop around every corner in between visits to Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, or the funky Museum of Pop Culture. The compact downtown area made it easy for me to zip between sights, restaurants, and shopping on foot — and anything that was slightly farther was accessible by the easy-to-use Link light rail.

Munich, Germany

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The jolly German mentality shines in this Bavarian town, where on each of my visits, locals welcomed tourists with a grin, whether it was at a small mom-and-pop bakery or the touristy Olympiapark tower. The best way to immerse yourself in the Munich lifestyle? Grab a pint at a local biergarten or scour the aisles of the Christmas markets for a glühwein (hot mulled wine) stand. Since a mug requires a deposit, Germans hang around the stand, ready to chat (or give recommendations), while warming up over the traditional drink.

Dubrovnik, Croatia

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The rise in Croatian tourism has improved the ease of travel, and the country’s low crime rating heightens the appeal. One look at the oceanfront medieval city of Dubrovnik, preserved by 6,365 feet of pristine walls, and all my worries vanished. The cobblestone streets guided me through artisanal shops and local eats, while a walk along the wall itself offered spectacular bird’s eye views of the Adriatic coastline. Other great solo activities: there’s a beach just a few minutes away from Old Town, with plenty of kayak and snorkeling tours offered along the way.

Austin, Texas

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Austin’s festival culture makes it really easy to get pulled in multiple directions. But it’s also a great way to meet new people. As soon as I arrived, I wandered over to one of the many food truck trailer parks to line up for the indulgent Gourdough’s doughnuts truck, which still had a long line well after midnight. The next day, I juggled sessions at the ATX Television Festival and concerts at the X Games Austin. When you do need a little quiet time, head downtown for a walking tour, or find a spot to see the Congress Avenue Bridge bats soar.

Salzburg, Austria

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With the Hohensalzburg castle atop the hill and the Salzach River running through town, the storybook allure of Mozart’s hometown is as inviting as it is charming. After recreating The Sound of Music by visiting the Mirabell Gardens and Nonnberg Abbey, relax with a coffee on the terrace of Cafe Tomaselli or a pint in the 1,400-seat outdoor garden of Austria’s biggest biergarten, Augustiner Bräu — I spent hours people-watching at both. Bikers should take note: while the entire city is walkable, Salzburg is also one of the country’s most bike-friendly cities, with over 112 miles of paths — which means you can pack way more into a day.

Taipei, Taiwan

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The capital of Taiwan is an ideal mix of history and modernity: it’s one part traditional night markets (the perfect place to make a meal out of snacks while shopping for accessories and souvenirs) and temples, and the other part super high-tech buildings and malls. Taipei has the bustle of a major Asian metropolis, as well as important urban comforts. Street signage and public transportation all have names in English — and even though crime is low in the country, the 22-year-old metro system has “Safe Waiting Zone” boxes marked on the platforms, which are monitored closely by video feed, specifically to protect female passengers at night.

Saba, Caribbean

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The Netherlands-owned five-square-mile island is only a 15-minute flight from St. Maarten. Within hours of my arrival, the tight-knit diving and hiking community made me feel right at home. Even though I’m scared of fish (seriously), they convinced me to try scuba diving, and I was so glad I did. The Dutch Caribbean island has the most translucent waters, where I spotted turtles and schools of fish among the untouched reefs. Another highlight: I challenged myself to summit the 2,877-foot peak, Mount Scenery — aptly named for the stunning views.

Copenhagen, Denmark

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Copenhagen’s quirkiness caters toward parties of one. From my single room at the Hotel Bethel, I was right on top of Nyhavn, the iconic canal lined with multicolored houses. My commute to embark on the canal tour, as well as to enjoy fine dining at Cap Horn, was less than 100 footsteps. Solo dining was encouraged at the Torvehallerne KBH food hall down the street, and at the Church of Our Saviour, other single travelers and I traded cameras to snap each other’s shots at the top of the spire overlooking the city.

Melbourne, Australia

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The Australian metropolis continues to hold the crown as the Most Livable City, according to the Economist Intelligent Unit. Throw in a free tourist tram that reaches the major sights, including the Melbourne Star Observation Wheel, Carlton Gardens, and Federation Square, and Melbourne’s got the simplicity and safety all rolled up in one.

Stockholm, Sweden

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After joining two separate free walking tours in Stockholm and staying in artsy Story Hotel’s single twin room, it was clear this stylish Swedish city has a gift for attracting single travelers — especially women. The cobblestoned streets of Old Town, or Gamla Stan, with coffee shops, restaurants, stores, and even a castle, provided hours of endless adventures, while the modern areas surrounding it are easy to navigate through its string of metro stations, which double as art exhibits. And the hospitality caters toward solo females, as I was doted on by the waitstaff at the Riche restaurant while I indulged in—what else? —Swedish meatballs.

Okinawa, Japan

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For a taste of Japan without the overwhelming hustle, head to Naha, the capital of the Okinawa islands. The monorail is super accessible — it links the airport to the city center as well as the popular Shuri Castle. And within walking distance of the city center are the Naminoue city beach, Tsuboya pottery district, and Makishi Public Market, where the pull-up-a-chair stands are perfect for solo dining. Lastly, the Japanese hospitality mixed with the American influence — due to the area’s U.S. military base — provides familiarity among the foreignness of the Asian island.

Norway’s Fjords

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There’s no better time to think than while sailing through the soothing blue-and-green canvas of the Norwegian fjords. I opted for the Norway in a Nutshell self-guided itinerary, which included all my transfers between Bergen and Oslo, with step-by-step directions. In Bergen, I rode up the Fløibanen furnicular and enjoyed local hubs like Bjellands Kjøkken's homecooking, then started a daylong journey ride on the Bergen Railway to Voss. Afterward, I took a bus ride to Gudvangen, where I hopped on the cruise through Aurlandsfjord and Nærøyfjord. Equally impressive as the waterfalls-at-every-glance boat ride was the Flåm Railway trip, with climate zones changing outside the window from sea level to snow-capped mountains.

Washington, D.C.

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The manageable size and easy layout of the nation’s capital makes it a simple solo stomping ground. In between exploring the iconic memorials along the National Mall, take in the exhibits at your own whim at the 19 Smithsonian museums (plus the zoo!), all with free admission — for more free things to do in D.C., click here. The 440 stations of the Capital Bikeshare stretch into Arlington, Alexandria, and Montgomery County, as do the 91 stations of the DC Metro, making day trips into the nearby areas accessible. And if public transportation doesn’t get you to your destination, book an Uber: D.C. was one of Uber’s first cities, and I’ve never had a canceled or unreliable driver in the area during any of my many annual visits.

Kripalu Center in the Berkshires, Massachusetts

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Escape to the nestled sanctuary of this 300-acre all-inclusive center tucked in the Berkshire Mountains between the forest and peaceful Lake Mahkeenac. While the 35-year-old nonprofit is technically a yoga and health retreat, the true focus is on self-discovery, whether through guided kayak trips, walks through the meditation labyrinth, or solitary hikes in the woods. The structured programs make it an easy getaway for first-time single travelers, while the R&R Retreat option offers just as many activities à la carte. During my summer weekend there, I was paired with another female traveler in a double room, and also ventured out to catch the Boston Symphony Orchestra playing under the stars at Tanglewood Music Center across the street.

London, England

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For European charm without culture shock or a language barrier, ease into big city solo travel in the British capital by spending days roaming along the River Thames, winding through the 4.5 acres of Harrods department store, and snacking in the 1,000-year old Borough Market. And at night, grab a seat at the bar alongside locals at a pub or catch a show on the West End, topped off with a late-night bite at nearby Chinatown. The endless sights and entertainment are easily connected via the 250 miles of the London Underground. On my last solo visit, I lived out my Notting Hill fantasy by scoring a reasonably priced twin single room on a cozy residential block. (Sadly, no Hugh Grant run-in included.)

Iceland

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On my drive between waterfalls and glaciers on the southern edge of Iceland’s Ring Road, it was common to go half an hour without seeing another human in the sprawling panoramic landscape. But when one did appear, it was often a female backpacker or cyclist traveling on her own with solitary miles enveloping her in every direction. And it’s no wonder: Iceland snagged the top spot on both the Institute for Economics and Peace’s Global Peace Index and the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap last year, so safety and gender equality are non-issues in this beautiful destination.