I have travelled in several European capitals on my own and noticed that some cities work better for a solo (female) traveller than others. Whether you are looking for proving yourself a delightful weekend get-way or exploring the capitals more in-depth, here is my current Top 5 List of Best European Capitals for Solo Travellers. If you are looking for tips on how to start your solo travelling, I recommend reading this useful post by Letters from a traveling girl on the topic!
I will tell you the pros and cons of each city, from my experience, and also give you some completely random tips that you might find useful. My listing is based on matters that in my opinion are important for solo explorers: activities that you can easily do on your own, safety and solo-friendliness.
The atmosphere. I love Paris. But Athens had me at hello when I arrived in Piraeus harbour on one early July morning. After picturesque Santorini, the contrast was huge. I had heard several negative comments about Athens and wasn’t quite sure what to expect. But I fell in love. Athens has it all, baby! The history, the luxury, the grit, the contradictions that make a place attractive. And those laid-back Greek people. I saw a police officer and a priest walking together on the street. Somehow Athens feels very REAL. It’s not always pretty but can be dirty and ragged – like any big cities. You know, there are these neo-classical buildings covered in graffiti and all historical places and monuments.
Food. Greek food is a-m-a-z-i-n-g. It is simple, full of vegetables and olive oil and rich tastes. But if you get enough of Greek cuisine (which I doubt), every other cuisine of the world is offered somewhere in Athens.
Attractions. There is so much to see in Athens that you can easily spend several days just for sightseeing. Besides the obvious ones like Acropolis and Olympieion, you should look at least Agora (the ruins of the ancient marketplace – also stupendous views over the city from the top of the hill) and beautiful neighbourhoods of Pláka and Anafiotika.
Safety can be an issue in Athens. Violent street crimes are rare, but there are some areas where it is not wise to go, at least in the night, for example, Mavromateon bus terminal area and southwest streets of Omonia. Pickpocketing is very common. Be careful in the metro, particularly the Piraeus–Kifisia line, and crowded streets around Omonia, Athinas and the Monastiraki.
There are occasionally taxi scams. If you need to use one, I recommend using the Beat ride app (read more below) so you can monitor your route and make your destination clear. Prominently solo male travellers’ should be aware of bar scams! That all being said, I personally didn’t feel unsafe when I was staying solo in Athens, even when I was walking the streets very late at night.
If you have a chance, participate in the Athens Free Walking Tour! They will show you fascinating places that you might never explore otherwise. We had a fantastic guide in July, and I learned so much about Greek history, philosophers and lifestyle.
Open air cinema is a unique experience while in Athens! Movies are not dubbed and will have Greek subtitles. I recommend Cine Thisio near Acropolis (I watched Mamma Mia 2 there this summer!). But if you want to check other options, there are many other outdoor theatres to choose from. Look for useful information on xpatathens.com.
Using a taxi is quite affordable in Athens, a 4-5 km ride is only around 6-8 euros depending on the traffic etc. Download the Beat ride app for easy booking, estimating the costs and minimising the risk of getting scammed! (Taking a taxi to and from the airport is not cheap, though, so I recommend taking the public transportation there if possible.)
Catch a metro or bus to an authentic residential neighbourhood, for example, Nea Filothei near the centre or chic Glyfada about ten km away from the centre. Wander around the blocks, have a frappé in a cosy café and buy gyros from the street. Feel Athens!
If you are interested in cultural events, Oslo is your pick! Look at the Visit Oslo’s event guide where you can find all kind of things to do, even for free. You can also read my post about seeing a ballet performance while in Oslo here. Visiting the beautiful, award-winning Operahuset is a must, and during the summer (or whenever it’s not too icy/snowy), you want to climb to its roof and marvel panoramic views of Oslo (free of charge, unless you opt for participating in a guided tour of the Opera House).
Shopping! Oslo has a great selection of all kinds of shops; fashion, home decor, cosmetics, antiques, second hand… There are both shopping malls and individual stores in the centre area.
Safety. I felt very safe as a female solo traveller in Oslo, even late in the night. Oslo is also relatively small, particularly for a capital.
People. The Norwegian people are usually super lovely and kind. The customer service is excellent almost everywhere.
Oslo is among the most expensive European cities. Nonetheless, that shouldn’t stop you from going there. You can definitely have a nice visit even on a low budget. One of the easiest ways to save money is to walk and use the quite smoothly working public transportation Ruter; taxis are expensive. When you are booking your accommodation, make sure to check the connections to the places that you will be visiting.
Alcohol is quite expensive (and hard to buy from the stores due to the monopoly system), but other than that, dining out in middle range eateries is not necessarily that expensive compared to other European capitals. If you want to buy some alcoholic beverages, I advise using the same trick that the locals do and buying it tax-free when you arrive at the airport. There is this huge duty-free arrivals shop that you can utilise after landing, so no need to bring your own booze from home if that’s what you were thinking! 😀 You can check their selection and prices here.
If you want to have a fancy coffee break while exploring the city, I recommend trying the historical Grand Café, which was first opened in 1894. They have excellent service, and the atmosphere is unique. You can also have breakfast, lunch and dinner there, but you will probably need to make a reservation, as the Café is quite popular. If you are on a tight budget, better opt for only coffee or tea 😉
Visiting the beautiful Aker Brygge area is a must! Many atmospheric restaurants have outdoor tables, even in the winter. A perfect spot for chilling and people watching.
I like to think of Brussels as a little cousin of Paris. Naturally, they are very different, but somehow I get a bit of Parisian feeling whenever I’m in Brussels. It’s hard to explain… maybe it’s partly due to the language; although legally bi-lingual (French-Dutch), French is the primary language in Bruxelles. Anyhow, Brussels a city with many faces – grand architecture and historical monuments, gorgeous gardens and billions of tons of grey concrete. It can be both smutty and pretty.
This city is used to solo visitors. Brussels is a city of expats! As the EU capital, it has a relaxed atmosphere of mixed cultures and lifestyles. You will hear so many languages, and nobody will look at you twice when you are dining alone.
Outdoor dining is significant, even in the winter! Nothing cosier than enjoying delicious moules marinière with Belgian fries and a glass wine under the warm lamps and doing some serious people watching.
The price level is not as high as in many other European metropolia – although Brussels is not cheap per se.
Shopping, culture, museums, attractions, cuisine, nightlife – Despite being on the smaller side of capitals (population around 2 million in the capital region), Brussels is a dynamic city and has something for everybody. You can explore current events, for example, on be.brussels and eventbrite.com. If you are looking for a budget-friendly itinerary, you might enjoy the European Parliament Hemicycle tours (free of charge). Also, I suggest visiting Palais de Justice (the Supreme Court, one of the most remarkable buildings in the whole of Europe) where you can also admire fantastic, panoramic views of the city below – and you know what the best part is, this can also be done for free!
Safety. You might want to check that the area of your accommodation is safe. Some neighbourhoods are not too safe, especially for a woman. Areas to avoid or at least to be very careful (at night) include Brussels North, Brussels Center, Molenbeek, Anderlecht and Schaerbeek.
Petty crimes such as bag snatching and pickpocketing are common in tourist areas. Avoid train stations at night, especially if you’re on your own. I remember spending one night stuck at Gare du Nord (Brussels North station), and I can assure you that it is not one to remember. Also, when I moved to Belgium, I had managed to book a cheap hotel in Anderlecht for my first night. It’s not the loveliest area to walk around looking for a bite to crap late at night, as a solo female. So it’s definitely worth doing your research about accommodation areas! If you are looking for a relatively safe, central and not too expensive neighbourhood, I advise checking the European district/EU Quarter which has many decent but affordable hotels.
Visiting the Delirium Café is a must! It is known to have the most extensive beer selection in the world; in 2004 when it got in the Guinness World Record, there were over 2000 different beers on the list.
Go for chic (window-)shopping in Les Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert, next to the Grand-Place. The gallery is extremely pretty and atmospheric. You’ll find there many luxury boutiques and chocolate shops as well as cafés and restaurants.
Eat as many waffles as you can. Only in Belgium… and it really does make a difference if you have it with whipped cream or chocolate or berries or all together, so no feeling guilty for trying every possible combination.
Also, you must try authentic Belgian fries with a local sauce in a friterie/frituur. Good ones are for example Maison Antoine, Friterie du Café Georgette and Frit Flagey. I suggest testing at least sauces Andalouse (mayo, tomato paste and peppers) and Samurai (mayo, ketchup, harissa or sambal oelek).
If you are in Brussels in spring, you must see the cherry blossoms in Park Leopold or Parc du Cinquantenaire. Oh, and if you love cherry blossom trees and have more time, you could visit the Japanese Garden in Hasselt (in around one hour by train)! In any case, Brussels is full of lovely parks and gardens – go for a picnic or read a book in one.
Something for everyone. Berlin is a modern, cool capital that has a fascinating history, vibrant culture and exciting nightlife. Whatever you are interested in, you will probably find it in Berlin.
The price level is reasonable. Obviously, there are trendy spots where you can spend a fortune on a cup of almond latte and avocado toast, but if you are on a budget, Berlin has countless enjoyable opportunities for you! For example, visit the flea markets where you can make exciting finds, imagine being a royal in the 18th century in the Charlottenburg Palace gardens (free visits), or if you are interested in arts, the Deutsche Guggenheim has free admissions on Mondays!
Safety. In general, Berlin is a very safe city. Use common sense particularly if you are going alone at night time and beware of pickpockets.
Not the prettiest city on the earth. Some people consider Berlin ugly. I personally don’t think it’s that ugly, but for sure it’s not the most attractive city in the world. It is more unusual compared to many other European capitals. For instance, there’s no central old town or consistent architectural style. Berlin is more interesting and strange than straight-forward beautiful.
If you have time, I urge visiting Potsdam and the Sansoucci palace and park area. Potsdam is a lovely small town worth visiting even if you are not interested in the castles. You can get there quickly by train from Berlin in around 30 minutes, depending on the type of the train.
You must take a funny photo of yourself in some of the photoautomat booths around the city. Check here where to find one if you don’t come across any.
If you are looking for a cosy Italian restaurant with a reasonable price tag, I can recommend Trattoria Peretti which is located near Alexanderplatz and the Berliner Dom (cathedral). I had an excellent fish dish there last spring and got outstanding service.
The atmosphere. Rome is a charming city, and the Italian culture and la dolce vita lifestyle are delightful. It is very easy to get caught by that, enjoying the delicious cuisine in the historical setting.
The exciting famous attractions. Fontana di Trevi, Colosseum, Vatican city, Piazza Navona, Roman Forum, the catacombs, Pantheon... Rome is like an open-air museum. There is so much to see and explore even on your own.
Gelato. Do I need to explain this one?
Shopping. You can quickly max out your credit card in Rome! Via Condotti and the Spanish Steps is the Rome’s designer shopping area. In Via Cola di Rienzo you will find more middle-range brands. Via del Corso is the home for high-street labels and stores such as Zara and H&M, but you can also find some smaller designer boutiques here.
If you have time, you could go to an outlet mall outside the city: Designer Outlet Castel Romano is a village about 15 km south of Rome. It’s quite a nice one and well worth a visit, with a wide range of brands such as Adidas, Burberry, Coccinelle, Furla, Gap, Jimmy Choo, Nike, Moschino, Valentino and Versace.
If you are looking for a flea market, Porto Portese Flea Market is the largest one in Rome and held every Sunday morning. You will find a broad mixture of antiques, second-hand, new stuff and food.
Rome is a huge tourist destination. That means that 1) you need to wait in lines for ages to get in the attractions, and 2) it can be quite expensive. Buying tickets to the attractions online is recommended – that way you can cut down the queuing time. If you haven’t got a ticket, go very early, in good time before opening, or late in the afternoon.
Petty theft. Pickpocketing and thievery are quite common, so you need to take very good care of your belongings. Pickpockets are running in touristy areas such as the Colosseum and St. Peter’s Square. Stazione Termini and crowded public transport are also their target destinations. It can be a good idea to use a money belt. Also, you should never put your bag on an empty chair at a streetside café. Other than that, Rome is generally a safe city.
If you haven’t ever seen, watch Roman Holiday starring Audrey Hepburn before going to get into the right kind of mood. 😉
Avoid tourist trap restaurants. You can get actually bad food in those – even if one was to think such a thing wouldn’t exist in Italy. Excellent, atmospheric areas for dining are for example Trastevere, Monteverde, Monti and Testaccio. Generally, avoid the city centre.
No need to buy water bottles – just carry a bottle with you and fill it from the public drinking water nasoni fountains throughout the city.
When dining out, order the vino della casa (house wine) which is much cheaper than the bottled ones (unless you are really picky about the wine). The house wine is usually quite good, served by the litre and comes in a carafe.
On the first Sunday of each month, many museums and archaeological sites, such as the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Galleria Borghese, have an admission-free day.
What are your favourite cities in Europe? Do you have more tips about these you would like to share? 🙂