There are all these myths and fears circulating around that it’s so scary and boring to travel all by your lonesome. But you know what? It’s actually one of the most beautiful ways to get to know yourself and the world – exactly the way you want. Traveling at your own pace you can really take in the best parts of a city, and when you’re on your own schedule, there’s all the more reason to push yourself to go exploring.
Traversing the world solo can be intimidating, but those trips I’ve taken alone have been some of the most life-changing. These were moments of meeting new cultures, uncovering gorgeous architecture, hidden alleyways and tiny book markets, and nights when I’ve made some of the best friends of my life. Although much of your time can be spent meditating on the meaning of it all, really diving deep into a museum, or maybe even bungee jumping off a bridge – whatever floats you boat is what traveling solo is all about.
So what’s my favorite place to explore on my own terms? Well, Europe gives you myriad cultures, unbelievably varied landscapes and some of the best food in the world. I’ll probably spend the rest of my life continuing to explore this continent, which gives me even more reason to share with you what I’ve already discovered. Next time you’re planning a trip, consider going it alone to one of these 25 marvelous corners of the world. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
25 Lucerne, Switzerland
This gorgeous little city that wraps around Lake Lucerne is the perfect spot to enjoy some alone time wandering the town and taking in the beautiful scenery. Although Switzerland isn’t generally the most affordable country in Europe, you can still travel on the cheap here by spending your time hiking in the many beautiful mountains and valleys surrounding the city, like along the stunning Bürgenstock mountain. If you’re not into hiking, head to Mount Stanserhorn and take the world’s first open-air CabriO cable car up for the literally breathtaking panoramic vistas.
24 Lille, France
This sweet little city isn’t as quiet as it seems when glancing at a map. This lively university locale has plenty to offer any type of traveler. Exploring the city you’ll find a great European fine art museum, a unique cathedral, and plenty of charming 17th-century architecture that’s reminiscent of their nearby Belgian neighbor’s style. Don’t miss Lille’s Old Town, with tiny romantic squares and cozy restaurants and pubs – La Capsule was one of my favorites, serving some of the city’s best craft beer.
23 Thessaloniki, Greece
The second-largest city in Greece is often overlooked next to its sister, Athens, but it surely shouldn’t be. This port city has beautiful ancient monuments and churches to explore, including a Roman Forum, an impressive Archaeological Museum and the White Tower, an Ottoman fortress and former prison right on the water. Oh, and not to mention the food is absolutely delicious – don’t miss the super fresh seafood and amazing Greek wines. For some peace and quiet, make your way to the nearby Mount Chortiatis for hiking and views out over the Aegean Sea.
22 Cork, Ireland
This little gem on Ireland’s southern coast is the perfect spot to get away from it all. It’s a university town with a bustling vibe and plenty of cool things to explore throughout. There’s a stunning Gothic revival church and castles galore – don’t miss the 16th-century Blackrock Castle and Blarney Castle, where you can kiss the infamous Blarney Stone for good luck. You should also definitely go for a saunter through the 18th-century covered English Market, packed with organic and local products. It’s the perfect place to peruse and grab some satisfying Irish treats.
21 Košice, Slovakia
This colorful medieval city is just on Slovakia’s eastern edge near the Hungarian border. Its pretty main square (Hlavné námestie) is filled with trees and features two striking Gothic churches on either side – St. Elisabeth Cathedral, Slovakia’s largest with seating for 5,000, and St. Michael Chapel, a more quaint little 14th-century piece of architecture. The best part of Slovakia? It’s absolutely the nature and mountains, so head outside of the city and go hiking near Čierna hora (Black Mountain), or venture to see Spiš Castle, one of the largest in Europe.
20 Bergen, Norway
Not quite as known as its Nordic cousins like Copenhagen or Stockholm, this city on Norway’s southwestern coast is just as exciting and fun to explore. A walking tour is a very interesting away to discover its sweet alleyways and unique architecture. Bryggen is an area of the city that’s been rebuilt time and again after fires and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Check out the Fish Market and Bergenhaus Fortress before stopping for a bite at one of the many cafes and restaurants along the water.
19 Valencia, Spain
Orange trees line the lovely pedestrian streets of this southeastern city on Spain’s coast, one of the best places for wandering. Don’t miss a trip to the City of Arts and Sciences, a truly remarkable feat of modern architecture that’ll have you feeling like you’ve traveled to the future. Explore the many beautiful markets throughout, including Mercat Central and Mercat de Colón, where you can dine to your heart’s desire. Stroll past the North Station and Cathedral to see completely opposite styles of elegant architecture, then on to the Antiguo Cauce Del Rio Turia Park that runs along an old riverbed.
18 Dresden, Germany
History is in abundance in this stunning metropolis in eastern Germany. The Baroque architecture here is unbelievable and most definitely deserves a guided walking tour or some dedicated solo exploration. Some must-sees include the Zwinger palace with exhibits and a wonderful garden, and the Dresden Frauenkirche, a church that was reconstructed in 2005 after its original destruction in WWII. The impressive buildings pop up everywhere you turn throughout the city, like the Semperoper opera house, Dresden Castle and Brühl's Terrace, known as the “Balcony of Europe,” an ornate display overlooking the Elbe River.
17 Bologna, Italy
This charismatic Italian city has been bustling with university students since 1088, creating a vibe all its own that’s still alive today. Start with the Piazza Maggiore, a grand square surrounded by medieval and renaissance buildings, as well as cafes and restaurants aplenty. Head down a tiny lane off this square and you’ll find yourself at the Quadrilatero or Old Market. Here you’ll find some of the city’s best cuisine, like tortellini, mortadella, cheeses, fish and wine.
16 Salzburg, Austria
Let’s take it back to your childhood and live your Sound of Music dreams – the lavish 17th-century Mirabell Palace here was used in the film, and a saunter through the gardens is a beautiful way to start your visit. The 11th-century Fortress Hohensalzburg is also very much worth a stop, with beautiful views over the city from its guarded hilltop location. Wander your way to the Getreidegasse, a UNESCO-protected shopping street that’s also home to the birthplace of Mozart at No. 9.
15 Bucharest, Romania
Romania’s capital is a great spot to chill and enjoy all the city has to offer at your own pace. A great place to start is in Herăstrău Park, just exploring the gorgeous tree covered walkways, looking out over the beautiful giant lake and maybe doing a little people-watching. The Art Nouveau, Art Deco and communist architecture here creates such a unique mishmash you’ll have to take your time walking the city to see it all. Don’t miss the haunting Cantacuzino Palace and the enormous Parliament building, the second largest administrative structure in the world.
14 Edinburgh, Scotland
Scotland’s capital doesn’t disappoint with a mix of awesome architecture, funky nightlife, and beautiful nature just outside the city – and to top it all off, it’s right near the coast. Explore the medieval Old Town that still has its original layout, then make your way up to Edinburgh Castle, a fortress that’s a staple of the city’s skyline. Get some great Scottish craft beers at BrewDog Edinburgh or head to The Jazz Bar for some live tunes and cocktails. To work off your hangover, hit up hilly Holyrood Park with sweeping views of the sea just east of the center.
13 Helsinki, Finland
This southern capital is an amazing place to uncover Finnish architecture and culture. The Market Square is a great place to start picking up the city’s spirit. Grab some Finnish specialties here like “karjalanpiirakka,” a rice and egg-filled pastry, or one of their many meat-filled pastries. They’ve also got unbelievably fresh fish here, so don’t miss out on that. Go on a guided architectural tour of the city, seeing sights like the 1960’s Temppeliaukio Church carved out of rock, 18th-century Suomenlinna fortress and the Upenski Orthodox Cathedral.
12 Split, Croatia
Imagine stepping back in time 2,000 years, and you’ve landed in breathtaking Split. Right on the Adriatic Sea, this Croatian paradise will have you considering becoming an expat – if you aren’t one already. Start by exploring the majestic Diocletian’s Palace, a fortress that was built just for the Roman emperor from whom it gets its namesake. Make your way up to tree-filled Marjan Hill to take in the views atop the peninsula, or go relax on Bacvice Beach with the locals. The food here is also phenomenal, with plenty of beautiful Mediterranean elements like undeniably fresh seafood and gorgeous wines.
11 Stockholm, Sweden
Even though this is the capital of the country, the city is a pleasant size to explore. Packed with various neighborhoods of many different styles, you won’t be bored here. I suggest staying in Södermalm, the island district that’s just south of the center. You can walk across the bridges from here, taking in cool views of the Old Town and City Hall. Explore both of these points as you enjoy the mix of architecture. Walk through the grand Kungsträdgården park on your way to the Östermalm's Market Hall, which is the perfect place to get down on some Swedish cuisine.
10 Porto, Portugal
Porto is the perfect city to throw yourself out there and mingle with locals and visitors alike. It's packed with adorable little hostels with great atmospheres, wonderful hosts, and like-minded travelers who you can go out on the town with if you’re in the mood. There’s beautiful pieces of architecture throughout the city, including Livraria Lello, an elaborate Art Nouveau bookstore, the Clerigos Church featuring a bell tower with panoramic views of the city and ocean, and the Dom Luís Bridge, arching over the Douro River. Don’t miss the Port here, or the amazing seafood!
9 Catania, Italy
If you’re in need of some serious vitamin D and glistening beaches, then make your way down to Italy’s island of Sicily. This cool city has a raw vibe that tends to draw you in when you least expect it. With majestic Mount Etna as the backdrop, start off by checking out the main square, Piazza del Duomo, with a pretty fountain and the ornate Catania Cathedral. The best part of Catania though? Absolutely the to-die-for Sicilian cuisine. Don’t miss delicious treats here like seafood risottos and fresh fish, as well as great nightlife bars with unbeatable cocktails and wines.
8 Gdánsk, Poland
A vibrant hidden gem on the northern coast of Poland by the Baltic Sea, Gdánsk (or Danzig in German) is a port city that impresses with its reconstructions after WWII. The zig-zagging rooftop lines and multitude of colors on the main public square, Long Market, will delight you, along with the adorable shops and restaurants. Wandering is clearly the key here, with everything from the longest pier in Europe, Sopot, and the city’s ornate 13th and 15th-century gates, to amazing art and history museums, as well as a moving WWII memorial.
7 Bruges, Belgium
Bruges is like walking into a fairy tale, and anyone who’s been there will tell you exactly that. They’re telling the truth, because this extremely charming city is almost twinkling with its combination of cobblestone streets, quaint canals and medieval architecture that looks like it dropped straight out of a painted masterpiece. Don’t miss the central Markt square, the Gothic city hall from 1376, Basilica of the Holy Blood, and the many distinct churches throughout. When you’re here, it’s also a must to enjoy some “frites” (Belgian-style fries) and a satisfying Belgian beer, like a floral and refreshing “tripel.”
6 Reykjavík, Iceland
Still considered a bit of a hidden treasure when it comes to European destinations, this is one of the coolest spots to explore solo. Start out at Austurvöllur square and grab some breakfast with the locals, with cafes lining the street. Wander over to Hallgrímskirkja Cathedral afterwards. Featuring a striking tower, it stands as the largest in the country. The best part of Iceland is hands-down the nature – at least make it to the municipal Heiðmörk conservation area just outside the city, or head further afield to explore geothermal spas, waterfalls, volcanic national parks and glacial lakes.
5 Utrecht, Netherlands
This laid-back city in the middle of the Netherlands now has one of the coolest train stations ever, straight out of a Sci-fi flick. Wander through the shops here to get into the center of the city. There’s the Vredenburg Market right nearby that’s got great snacks, produce and cool snags like cheap vintage books. Make your way through the narrow streets and along the Oudegracht, a pretty canal with restaurants down below at water level in what used to be warehouses. Don’t miss the Domkerk, an impressive cathedral and tower standing proud in the middle of the hustle and bustle.
4 The Azores, Portugal
This little archipelago way west off the coast of Portugal is still a bit of a well-kept secret when it comes to European destinations. This protected collection of islands has an extremely amazing ecosystem that’s beckoning you to go exploring. If you’re not into intense nature adventures, you can also just hang in the capital, Ponta Delgada, wandering its pretty tree-filled streets, checking out the city’s three gates and lying around the quaint parks. Don’t forget to try the local cuisine, with delicious fresh seafood, rich meat dishes, local cheeses and Azorean wines!
3 Český Krumlov, Czechia
Everyone’s always talking about Prague, which is an awesome city, but there’s so much more to explore in Czechia outside of its capital. Český Krumlov is one of those places, and it’s no wonder its castle is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Curving around the winding Vltava River, the buildings seemed to be stacked on top of one another like in an Escher drawing. Explore the beautiful bridges throughout like the Cloak Bridge and Barber’s bridge, then sit down to some Czech comfort food and a pilsner at one of the riverside restaurants.
2 Seville, Spain
This relaxed, southern Spanish city has so much history to explore, there’s no way you could ever feel underwhelmed here. The Moorish influences are visible throughout much of the city’s architecture and tiny alleyways. Start your journey at the Gothic Seville Cathedral, then spend a few hours making your way through the Alcázar, one of the most incredible palaces I’ve ever seen (don’t miss the extensive gardens!). Then head south past the Torre del Oro alongside the river, towards the Plaza de España. This beautiful brick crescent-shaped building is the best spot for relaxing and people-watching.
1 Valletta, Malta
A wonderful escape from the mainland, Valletta is Malta’s capital just south of the island of Sicily. A walled city that was founded in the 1500s, its picturesque hilly alleyways are beyond charming, not to mention that you’re right on the Mediterranean Sea. Explore the city’s old forts, cathedrals and palaces, and take your sweet time enjoying the pretty parks you’ll find around town, like the Upper and Lower Barrakka Gardens with views of the Grand Harbour. There are many cozy and casual bistros around to really enjoy the amazing Maltese cuisine, a mix of influences from many Mediterranean countries.