Solo travel, when done right, can be the most enjoyable kind of trip. You don't have to appease anyone else's tastes but your own. You can go to the country or city of your choosing, eat at whatever restaurant you like, and pick the attractions you want to see. Without the pressure of someone else’s needs or wants, exploring a city solo can be a liberating experience.
Traveling alone can also have its hang-ups, of course. You’re responsible for drawing up the itinerary, booking the flight and accommodation, and doing all the pre-trip research. It can be overwhelming, sure, but take comfort in the fact that you don't really need to answer to anyone but yourself. Love food? Spend an entire afternoon eating your way through the city. Hate crowds? Don't go to that tourist attraction everyone has tickets to.
One of the most important things to consider—no matter where you are and what your preferred activities are—is safety. As a solo traveler, you may be an easier target for petty crimes like pickpocketing. But social unrest, growing anti-tourist sentiment, and more prevalent urban poverty in certain cities—especially in Europe—that have historically been open to visitors are some things to consider if you’re choosing to a place to have a solo adventure. Here are 10 European cities we’d rather you didn’t explore alone and 10 that are totally safe for solo wanderers.
20 Kiev (be careful) - Sporadic protests
Kiev, or Kyiv, is the country’s capital and largest city. It’s known for its rich architectural history and numerous museums. The 11th-century Kiev Pechersk Lavra monastery and pilgrimage site is a popular and highly-recommended place to visit for tourists.
But recent unrest within the city warrants some precaution, especially if you are travelling alone. Petty theft and vandalism may not be as common anymore, but violent protests in the city have injured (sometimes fatally) hundreds of people. The most recent incident was a disruption by a far-right group trying to thwart an ongoing gay pride march. You wouldn’t want to be caught up in a mess like that without a companion.
19 Helsinki (no worries!) - Small-town vibe with the amenities of a big city
Finland’s capital is a cosmopolitan city, complete with world-class destinations like the National Museum and the Uspenki Cathedral. But somehow this city has kept its small-town vibe and more importantly, its hospitality.
The crime rate is very low, thanks in part to a higher quality of life. Travelers, especially solo travelers, are usually welcomed by the locals. It’s easy to get around by public transport and taxi fares within the city are government-regulated so the chances of you being scammed are low or none at all. The city’s penchant for slow living is perfect for those who are not trying to rush from one destination to the next as well.
18 Belgrade (be careful) - Overrun by shady organisations
The capital of Serbia, Belgrade has a long history as a city of importance to several empires. More recently, Belgrade is known for its buzzing nightlife. At the junction of the Danube and Sava rivers, don’t be surprised if you find yourself at a floating club late at night.
But the city is also notorious for its organized criminal class. Rampant organized crime activities have been spurred by hard economic conditions in the region. Usually tourists are not the targets of these criminal activities—since they usually involve corruption and bribery—but pickpocketing and purse-snatching have been known to happen in touristy areas of the city.
17 Reykjavik (no worries!) - Tight-knit community of locals
Iceland’s capital is considered to be one of the safest in the world for tourists, mostly due to its small population and tight-knit community. Muggings or street theft is very rare, or don’t happen at all. Most of the residents are also fluent in English, which makes it easier for getting around.
Many residents like to commune at bars during the evening, so if you’re one to make friends on your solo adventure, it’s easy to strike up a conversation with the locals. If you’re looking to explore more of Iceland, Reykjavik is probably your best best for a base or starting point.
16 Athens (be careful) - Ancient square a popular spot for the dodgy
Once the heart of ancient Greek civilization, Athens remains the country’s capital and centre of politics and commerce. It is home to two UNESCO Heritage Sites, the Acropolis of Athens and the medieval Daphni Monastery. It is a popular stop for big Mediterranean cruise ships.
But the poverty resulting from the financial crisis plaguing the country in recent history has forced many people living in inner-city Athens into crime and drugs. Tourists are advised not to roam the city’s squares, especially at night.
Omonoia—Athens’ oldest square—for example, is flanked by shuttered hotels and is a usual hangout spot for drug addicts.
15 Stockholm (no worries!) - Diverse local and international cuisine
Sweden’s capital is the perfect city for a solo traveler seeking to be immersed in a bit of nature. Surrounded by waterways and so much greenery, Stockholm is a peaceful Scandinavian dream. Not to say that Stockholm is boring. It definitely isn’t. Its club and restaurant scene is one of the best in the world!
Stockholm’s famous food halls offer gourmet traditional Swedish cuisine alongside well-thought out fusions with other cuisines. If you’re traveling alone and hate ordering for one at a sit-down place, try Östermalm's, a food hall from the 1880s. It’s a great place to taste the local produce and also people-watch.
14 Sofia (be careful) - A third of locals don’t feel safe in the city
The capital of Bulgaria is home to the country’s finest restaurants, galleries, and museums. It’s only a short ride away from the ski slopes of Mt. Vitosha, where most tourists in the area are usually inclined to visit.
Organized crime is a big problem in Sofia, with 140 contract murders recorded between 1993 and 2008. And even though most of the city’s criminal activities are high-level bribes and cases of corruption, street theft is still commonplace. Almost a third of residents have said that they don’t feel safe when in the city. Sveta Nedelya Square and its underpass near and the area around Central Station are popular hangouts for criminals.
13 Amsterdam (no worries!) - No shortage of bars and events to meet people
Amsterdam’s notorious red light district may draw up a certain kind of picture in some people’s imagination about the type of city it is. But be assured: this world-class city has more to offer than its busy, buzzing, brilliant night scene. It has a rich artistic heritage, an elaborate canal system, and beautiful art museums housing works by Van Gogh and Rembrandt, among others.
Amsterdam’s knack for embracing tourists is well-displayed through the city’s numerous trendy hostels, social events, and concerts—which all form an ecosystem that will leave no solo wanderer bored, lonely or unsafe.
12 Budapest (be careful) - Unrest in the city
Between its 16th-century Turkish bath houses, St. Stephen’s Basilica, and the Roman ruins of the Aquincum Museum, Budapest is a city steeped in architectural and religious history. Its world-class music scene and burgeoning nightlife popular with European millennials help make it a top choice for tourists.
The recent refugee crisis, however, has stirred up massive social unrest within the city, sparking protests in the streets. At the city’s Keleti station, a makeshift refugee camp remains chaotic as the government and its residents spar on how to handle the situation. The city is not particularly unsafe, but the growing tensions between residents and its local leaders may be a good indication to have a travel buddy.
11 Munich (no worries!) - Home to the world's best social outdoors
Munich is the capital of the German region of Bavaria and a city that has stood the test of time—surviving two World Wars and managing to hold on to its rich cultural heritage. It’s well-suited for solo wanderers because it strikes the balance between having welcoming residents and a steady stream of tourists who are not overcrowding the streets.
Munich’s annual Oktoberfest celebration attracts a lot of tourists. And though many of those visitors may come in groups, there are many solo travelers who choose Munich for its beer halls and gardens, centuries-old architecture, and cafe culture. If you stay in and around the central hub, Marienplatz, you likely won’t even really need to take the train anywhere.
10 Barcelona (be careful) - Tourists are targeted
The capital of Spain’s Catalonia region has stayed a popular tourist destination for many years because of its diverse offering of art museums, historical landmarks, and beach-side nightclubs. It is home to Antoni Gaudí’s beautiful work—like the iconic Sagrada Familia church and Park Güell—as well as Museo Picasso, one the most extensive collection of artworks by Pablo Picasso.
But recent anti-tourist sentiment brought on my overcrowding, economic hardship, and regionalism has produced widespread protests. Already notorious for its pickpockets, Barcelona is now experiencing more and more incidents of targeted attacks on tourists. One recent attack saw an anarchist group breaking five-star hotel windows and letting off smoke devices at busy restaurants.
9 Dublin (no worries!) - Ranked one of the friendliest cities in the world
Consistently ranked as one of the friendliest cities in the world, the capital of the Republic of Ireland is perfect for a solo wanderer who is looking to eat up the culture of a world class city as well as explore remote, awe-inspiring natural sights.
A short day-trip from Dublin will take you to magnificent places like the Cliffs of Moher and Giant’s Causeway. It’s a great city to use as a base if you’re looking to see more of Ireland. When you’re back in the city, it’s not hard to find a watering hole that would suit your taste.
8 Majorca (be careful) - Anti-tourist graffiti everywhere
Similar to Barcelona, the party island of Majorca is facing a wave of anti-tourist sentiment. A favourite destination for vacationers all over Europe for years, Majorca is the largest island in the Balearic archipelago in the Mediterranean and home to only one million people. During peak season, this population triples and even quadruples.
A solo beachside getaway may sound appealing to you, but anti-tourist behaviour in in the form of graffiti messages and violent protests have really ratcheted up safety concerns for travellers.
Recently, a protest group set off flames near luxury yachts and spooked tourist customers at a busy restaurant by throwing confetti all over.
7 Prague (no worries!) - Most important sights are in walking distance
Prague is also known as the Golden City of a Hundred Spires, a nickname characterizing the city’s stunning baroque buildings, Gothic churches and other remaining medieval architecture. The capital of the Czech Republic is known for stunning sites like the Charles Bridge, Prague Castle, and Old Town Square.
Unlike some European cities, there really are no particularly bad or seedy areas in Prague.
As a solo traveler, it’s more a question of convenience rather than safety. You’ll want to stay close to central areas where you can easily walk to or take a short ride to the city’s classic attractions.
6 Glasgow (be careful) - The title no city wants to hold
Set against the beautiful backdrop of the Scottish lowlands, Glasgow is a culturally-rich hub with numerous art nouveau architecture and a thriving music scene. But since as early as the 1930s, the city has grappled with different iterations of street youth gangs fighting for turf and prestige. In 2003, Glasgow was given a title it surely was unimpressed with, one that would scare away many tourists. The city was considered the United Kingdom’s most violent are by the Institute for Economics and Peace in 2013.
Although the homicide rates and knife fights have dramatically dropped since the peak of the violence, locals and travel guides still warn tourists against exploring the inner-city suburbs, where there are still organized gangs, albeit to a lesser extent.
5 Copenhagen (no worries!) - Easygoing tours perfect for solo wanderers
Originally a Viking fishing village, Copenhagen has grown to become one of Europe’s most sophisticated and progressive cities.
It is ranked second in the world on the Global Peace Index and residents also enjoy a very high quality of life. The city is compact and easy to explore on foot or by bike.
It is a popular destination for many solo wanderers, so you’ll find many like-minded travellers in the city. If you’re not already staying at and meeting people at a hostel in the city, there are many walking tours or even easygoing boat canal tours where you can either sign up individually or with newfound friends.
4 Marseille (be careful) - Avoid its alleys at night
The port city in the south of France has historically been an important hub for trade and immigration since the ancient Greeks founded the city. It remains to this day a bustling trade centre and important gateway for migrants into Europe.
The city’s Vieux Port, or Old Port, is popular with local fishermen and foreign tourists, which also mean it’s a popular spot for petty thieves, pickpockets, and scammers.
Hotels and landmarks around the city are generally considered safe, but it’s best not to wander alone along side alleys especially at night.
3 Vienna (no worries!) - Perfect mix of nature and beautiful architecture
Vienna, Austria’s capital, has many imperial palaces and historical museums, which are the ideal places to spend leisurely afternoon walks in. The city topped the list for quality of life on the Mercer index for the ninth straight year, which means there is very little (or none at all!) petty crime as a result of poverty.
Amidst its more recent urban sprawl and older Baroque-era monuments, you’ll find plenty of green spaces across the city. As a solo traveller, it’s easy (and recommended!) to roam the parks and restaurants that locals frequent. The Stadtpark, for example, is much smaller than the Belvedere Gardens, but is also more central and a favourite of residents.
2 Belfast (be careful) - Deep-seated tensions from the past
Belfast is Northern Ireland’s capital and the birthplace of the RMS Titanic. But what catapulted Belfast into the international consciousness is the period called The Troubles, between 1969 to 1997, when ongoing conflict between mostly Catholic Irish nationalists and mostly Protestant British loyalists brought on frequent tensions.
Although the political motivations behind the city’s bloody history have simmered down, the trick is not to bring up politics, according to residents and frequent visitors alike. The city has moved on—slowly but surely establishing itself as a premier European destination—but the wounds, if you pick at them, are still easily opened.
1 Zürich (no worries!) -Bike around the city for free
Zürich is a frequent high-ranker on the Global Peace Index created by the Institute for Economics and Peace and is also among the top European countries in the the Economist Intelligence Unit’s rankings of safest cities worldwide.
Its excellent public transit system makes it easy to explore Zurich’s museums and landmarks. If you’re planning to visit other areas of Switzerland, you can buy a Swiss Travel Pass for seamless transport in, out, and between cities. Ride a bike? You’re in luck. City bikes are free and can be picked up and dropped off at the most convenient locations. Most, if not all, residents speak English.
References: World Atlas, Mercer, The Independent, Institute for Economics and Peace, Smarter Travel