Planning Solo Travel

10 Cities Ideal for a First Time Trip to Europe

On my first trip to Europe, I was 19 years old- a freshman in college- and visiting London as part of a guided spring break trip. That was the trip I truly fell in love with travel, and even more so- Europe.

My second time on the continent was under a similar circumstance- a guided spring break trip to visit Rome and Naples in Italy.

Although I wouldn’t return to Europe for several years after visiting Italy, my third time in Europe, I re-visited London, and then ventured to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam- all on my own.

Fast forward a few more solo Europe trips, jaunt to Oktoberfest, and eventual move to London for work. Over time, I’ve worked my way around the continent, and loved every place I’ve had the luxury of visiting.

In fact, part of the reason I moved to Dublin? To be back in Europe full-time.

Travel may be paused at the moment, with COVID, but if you’re dreaming about a trip to Europe in the future, these are 10 cities that would be perfect for any first-time trip.

I’m planning future posts with route suggestions, and specific tips to planning your first time in Europe, but the overarching advice I’d give is- don’t try to do too much.

One of the best things about Europe is how inter-connected all the countries are, and how easy it is to hop from one place to another. But, on any trip that’s ~10 days or so, I wouldn’t recommend visiting more than one region or combination of three cities.

Even three cities is a lot for that amount of time- don’t forget to factor in travel time, and recovery from jet lag you may experience at the start of your trip.

And, by the way, I visited most of these places on my own- so, if you’re pondering a solo female adventure, go for it. Any of these 10 cities would be perfect for a solo exploration.

10 Cities, Perfect for a First Time Trip to Europe

London, United Kingdom

Every time I visit London, I find it more beautiful and interesting. Full of iconic buildings and historic landmarks, there’s a timeless, yet energetic, vibe.

My first trip to London was part of a college program, we spent ~2 weeks exploring the city’s highlights and took a few day trips to Windsor and Hampton Court to experience England’s history firsthand. After that trip, I was hooked, returning for a few more visits before moving to London for work.

Even after three years of living in London, I feel like there’s so much I could see and do on subsequent returns. Like any major city, there’s no shortage of ways to fill your time.

  • Favorite thing to do: Many of London’s museums are free and absolutely worth visiting, but whenever I lived in London and people came to visit, there were two places I always took them to- the pub, and to a high tea. The British are known for afternoon tea, so having tea at a fancy hotel or restaurant can be a good way to indulge on your vacation. My favorite spots, all of which it’s smart to make a reservation at ahead of your visit: The Sketch, Mad Hatters Afternoon Tea at The Sanderson Hotel, Fortnum and Mason, and One Aldwych’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory themed tea
  • Favorite places to eat:
    • Dinerama: Popular food / drinking mall (free before 7 pm, don’t miss the tofu bao)
    • Dishoom: Excellent Indian
    • Homeslice: Slice pizza
    • Poppy’s: Great fish & chips
    • Pistachio + Pickle: The absolute best cheese toasties
  • Favorite places for coffee: 
    • Monmouth Coffee Company: In my opinion, the best coffee in London. Monmouth is my go-to for at-home cold brew beans, and a flat white or latte on the go
    • Ozone Coffee Roasters: A touch of ‘coffee snob’ vibes, but the flat whites are good enough, it’s worth it.
    • Grind (multiple locations): Love a place that’s versatile, Grind excels at breakfast (don’t miss the sweet potato cakes or flat white), and does excellent espresso martinis in the evening
    • The Attendant: Housed in a former Victorian Toilet (from the 1800s), grabbing a brew here feels special
    • Host Cafe: A church turned coffee shop, this cafe is inside an ornate Gothic church. An independent cafe, it’s run by the Moot community with the goal of opening up the church to the public
  • Favorite cultural site (museum; temple)Tower Bridge, often mistakenly called London Bridge, is one of London’s most iconic landmarks, infamous because of its drawbridge effect. Nearby Tower Bridge, the Tower of London is a must-visit on your first trip. Founded in 1066, the castle was used as a prison for many years. Despite the Tower’s grim reputation as a place of torture, it was also a powerful fortress. And, across the river from the Tower of London is Borough Market, a food market with specialities from around the world. All around quintessential London.

Post I’ve written about London: London: City Guide // London: 10 Things to Do On Your First Visit // 15 Coffee Shops in London I Love // Where to Find the Best Views in London // Best Places for a Cocktail in London // Mad Hatter Afternoon Tea in London // Charlie & The Chocolate Factory Afternoon Tea //  3 Tips for Visiting Buckingham Palace State Rooms// A Very Merry Christmas in London // Candlelit Christmas Carols in London

Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Oh, Amsterdam. A city that captured my heart the first time I visited, and has lured me back many times since then.

A city on canals, Amsterdam is easy explored by foot, boat or bike. With delicious eateries, charming boutiques, and incredible museums, there’s no shortage of things to do in the capital of the Netherlands.

  • Favorite thing to do: Wander the Jordaan, it’s quintessential Amsterdam- arguably the city’s most charming neighborhood. The Jordaan doesn’t have any major sights, it’s more so a place where you stumble across things. For a bird’s eye view of the Jordaan (and more of the city), head to the Westerkerk. For ~€7, you can join a guide-led tour to the top for incredible views of the city and its many canals
  • Favorite places to eat:
    • Pancake Bakery: Best poffertjes (mini pancakes) in the city
    • Pluk: Great brunch in the heart of the Jordaan
    • SLA: The move for healthy salads and juices
    • Reypenaer Proeflokaal: Pop in to sample their incredible cheeses
    • La Perla: Phenom wood-fired pizzas
    • Van Stapele Koekmakerij: Get a warm chocolate cookie with white chocolate center and walk the canals
    • Stroopwafelkraam: Located at the Albert Cuyp market, these stroopwafels are made fresh and served hot. Few things are better than crispy wafers with gooey caramel
  • Favorite places for coffee: 
    • C.T. Coffee & Coconuts: Located in a former movie theater, this multi-level cafe has an open, gorgeous interior. Come for breakfast and linger over coffee or a freshly cracked coconut
    • Screaming Beans: Screaming Beans equals great coffee. Period
    • Back to Black: Super cozy cafe with good speciality coffee
    • Lot Sixty One Coffee Roasters: Excellent flat white
    • Little Collins: Great flat white + ace brunch, Aussie style
  • Favorite cultural site (museum; temple): Yes, the Anne Frank Huis is a must see. But, my favorite museum in the city is the Van Gogh Museum- it’s a place I could return to time after time. It’s hard not to love seeing Van Gogh’s famous works. And as a big impressionistic art fan, a trip to the Van Gogh Museum was at the top of my to-do list, and although I may be biased, I can’t say enough good things about it

Post I’ve written about Amsterdam: A Perfect Day in Amsterdam // Where to Eat & Drink in Amsterdam // Cycling Through Tulip Fields in Holland // Where to See Windmills in Amsterdam // Staying on a Houseboat in Amsterdam // Amsterdam: 10 Things to Do

Paris, France

Before visiting Paris for the first time, I’d heard it was a beautiful city, full of life. Ornate buildings, cute bistros, an abundance of exquisite food, and history present on every corner were enough to convince me it was worth a visit during an autumn trip to Europe years ago.

I’ll be the first to admit Paris can be tough for first time visitors, especially if you aren’t fluent in French.

Paris is a city that seems to evoke a strong reaction from most travelers – they either love it or hate it. After five days there, I left with good memories, but wasn’t over the moon about the city. It wasn’t until my third or fourth trip that I really started to fall in love with the City of Light.

  • Favorite thing to do: As tempting as it may be to try and see everything Paris has to offer, plan some unplanned time. Some of my favorite memories are from strolling through different parts of the city, wandering down side streets as we wished- including, an impromptu sunset picnic along the Seine. One sight not to miss: Saint-Chapelle. It’s a tiny chapel made almost entirely out of stained glass. If there isn’t a line of people outside waiting to get it, you can find it tucked away among the Conciergerie
  • Favorite places to eat:
    • Frenchie Wine Bar: Adjacent to Frenchie, its low-key wine bar outpost serving up phenom eats is a must-visit. Go early, as in before they open for your best shot of getting a seat at a communal table
    • Breizh Cafe: Proper crepes, don’t skip trying both savoury and sweet crepes
    • L’As du Falafel: Some of the best falafel I’ve ever had. And, coming it at €6 for a wrap packed with cabbage, slaw, tomatoes, cucumber, eggplant, falafel and tahini, it’s a good, cheap eat
    • Ble Sucre: Best croissants in Paris
    • Du Pain et des Idees: The pastry escargots are unreal
  • Favorite places for coffee: 
  • Favorite cultural site (museum; temple): Versailles, without question. The palace is stunning, it’s literally opulence upon opulence with mirrored halls, intricate ceilings, and gold details everywhere. There’s more to see at the Palace than the main chateau. The gardens are expansive- you could easily spend a few hours wandering them and the canals.

Post I’ve written about Paris: Where to Eat & Drink in Paris // Descending Into The Catacombs of Paris // Day Trip to Versailles from Paris // 5 Places to See the Eiffel Tower // Visiting Monet’s Gardens from Paris // Paris: 10 Things to Do

Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh is a gorgeous city, full of history and charm. With cobbled streets, medieval stone buildings, pubs tucked below street level on every other corner, and some seriously good cocktail bars, you’re pretty much guaranteed a good time.

  • Favorite thing to do: Wander the cobbled streets of the historic Stockbridge neighborhood. It’s a stunning part of town, so many great shops, bars and restaurants that represent the culture of Scotland. And, while you’re wandering, don’t miss roaming the Royal Mile in Old Town
  • Favorite place to eat:
    • The Scran & Scallie: The ultimate Scottish pub, excellent fish and chips, and fantastic sticky toffee pudding
    • Lovecrumbs: Can’t miss Scottish cake
    • Hula: Healthy breakfast in the heart of Old Town
    • El Cartel: The absolute best tacos I’ve had outside of the US
    • The Bon Vivant: A cosy French bistro with scotch coladas
    • And two cocktail recommendations-
      • Panda & Sons: Hands down, my favourite speakeasy in Edinburgh
      • nightcap:Below street level, this small bar is quiet, cosy and takes great pride in their cocktails
  • Favorite places for coffee:
    • Artisan Roast: The best coffee in Scotland
    • Wellington Coffee and Söderberg (doubles as a bakery) are great as well
  • Favorite cultural site (museum; temple): Walk up to Calton Hill for some seriously great views of the city skyline

Post I’ve written about Edinburgh: 48 Hours in Edinburgh //  A Perfect Day in Edinburgh // 5 Places for an Ace Cocktail in Edinburgh //

Lisbon, Portugal

Everyone told me I’d love Lisbon, and they were right.

Steep hills, colourful facades, delicious, creamy egg tarts, excellent wine, an endless array of beautiful doors and sunshine reflecting off the water.

In only a few days, it became one of my favourite cities in Europe. Once a gateway city for explorers to discover new lands and things across the world, Lisbon is now a vibrant coastal city. 

  • Favorite thing to do: Explore some of Lisbon’s best and most historic neighborhood- three I loved: Alfama, Baixa, Barrio Alto. Along with exploring don’t miss some of the city’s endless overlooks- Lisbon is built on seven hills, which means there are plenty of panoramic viewpoints
  • Favorite places to eat:
    • Taberna da Rua das Flores: Reservations are a must here, it’s cosy and the menu changes routinely but oh so good
    • Time Out Market Lisboa: Is this food market over-hyped and touristy? Sure. But, there’s also excellent food and so much variety – loved the croquettes, pizza, burgers, egg tarts, sangria and patatas bravas
    • Manteigaria: This is a can’t miss. The egg custard tarts are incredible- by far, the best I’ve had in Lisbon (and beyond)
    • Coyo Taco: Everything we had was great- the tacos, churros, margaritas, esquites and ensaladas
    • Landeau Chocolate: Go here for the chocolate cake, it’s epic
    • By the Wine – José Maria da Fonseca: We ended up here every night we were in Lisbon, some nights for a quick drink and others for hours of lingering over glasses of wine and cheese trays
  • Favorite places for coffee: 
    • Copenhagen Coffee Lab: Hailed as the best third wave coffee in Lisbon, the flat whites are great and there’s a cute park next door
    • Hello, Kristof: Cute little cafe with locally roasted beans
    • The Mill: Excellent Aus brunch, but also great coffee smoothies
    • Fabrica Coffee Roasters: Best place for cold brew in Lisbon
  • Favorite cultural site (museum; temple): Sintra, an hour from Lisbon, one of Portugal’s most visited spots, for good reason. Some of the area’s history can be traced back to early civilisation- think: the Romans. If you’re only got one day in Sintra, as I did, don’t miss Pena Palace and the Moorish Castle

Post I’ve written about Lisbon: Falling in Love with Lisbon // Finding Magic in Sintra, Portugal

Barcelona, Spain

Seemingly overnight, Barcelona became one of my favorite cities in the world. 

Barcelona, a city with incredible architecture, golden beaches and an infectious energy.

Even though it’s part of Spain’s mainland, Barcelona is the capital of the Catalonia region, an autonomous region that’s proud of their distinctive culture and history. Incredible architecture (oh, Gaudi), golden beaches, delicious tapas, vibrant nightlife, fresh fruit juices, and winding alleys. It’s the perfect Euro-getaway.

  • Favorite thing to do: A Spanish wine tasting sunset sail- At the time of booking, I didn’t know I’d be joining a French bachelor party (they’d booked the other spots on the trip), and was a little apprehensive when I found out they’d be my fellow patrons, but ended up having a great time. Over the course of four hours, we tried four local wines and cavas, and munched on locally produced snacks (Iberian ham, garlic olives, manchego and cheddar cheeses, and sausages). Watching the sun set over the city with a glass of rose in hand was pretty much literal perfection.
  • Favorite places to eat:
  • Favorite place for coffee:
    • Granja Petitbo: Classic Spanish breakfast
    • Satan’s: Great cold brew
    • Nomad: Classic hipster cafe
  • Favorite cultural site (museum; temple): Sagrada Familia: Gaudi dedicated over 40 years of his life to the cathedral. It’s a truly incredible place- without question, the most impressive cathedral I’ve been to in Europe.

Post I’ve written about Barcelona: 48 Hours in Barcelona

Copenhagen, Denmark

Colorful houses, cobblestone streets, great food and cocktails, incredible ice cream, wonderful people, and Scandinavian functionalism at every turn. I knew I’d love Copenhagen before I even set foot in Denmark.

It’s a place designed to explore on foot or bike, with every street offering something to smile at. If this sounds too good to be true, I’ll admit- it’s hard to describe the magic of this city.

While wandering Copenhagen over the course of a long weekend, I kept thinking, “This place is so great.”

Before my trip, I read the Danes have achieved a quality and vibrancy of life that’s often missing in America. During my visit, not a single person asked me what I do, and it’s not because they didn’t care- it’s because we had other things to discuss. No one walks down the street with phones in hand, or checks them while at dinner or drinks. After living in New York for so many years, all of this was jarring. But, it shouldn’t be. And so, I’m grateful for the Danes- for reminding me what matters.

  • Favorite thing to do: Wander the city- it’s a gorgeous place to explore, and visit Tivoli Gardens. Built right in the middle of the city, you feel like you’re walking into a parallel universe when you enter the world’s oldest amusement park. Said to have influenced Walt Disney World, Tivoli is a fun place to wander or go on rides
  • Favorite places to eat:
    • Mother: Awesome sourdough-crust pizzas, and plenty of seating, indoors and outdoors
    • Baest: Fantastic pizza, the dough is next level. This place also turns out a mean negroni, and I mean, what could be better than excellent pizza and a good drink?
    • Osterberg: Delicious ice cream. You may be thinking, ‘ice cream in Denmark, really?’, but trust me- this place is not to be missed
    • Meyers Bageri: Y’all know I love my pastries. Ended up here three times, the kanelsnurrer were that good
  • Favorite places for coffee:
  • Favorite cultural site (museum; temple): Louisiana Museum of Art- Awesome modern art (LOVE anywhere with a permanent Yayoi collection & special Picasso exhibition) in a perfect location. Making it as much fun outside as inside, the museum sits on a bluff filled with sculptures, which overlooks the strait between Denmark and Sweden. Easily one of my favorite museums in the world.

Post I’ve written about Copenhagen: 5 Reasons to Visit Copenhagen // Where to Eat & Drink in Copenhagen

Munich, Germany

On my first visit to Germany, I didn’t have too many expectations. That’s not to say I didn’t think I’d like it, but it didn’t rank as high as other European countries on my travel list.

After a few days in Berlin and Munich though, I found myself asking why Germany wasn’t higher on my travel list. Munich, especially, is the perfect mix of historic, yet progressive. It’s a charming city, and easy to get around by bus, train or foot.

As Germany’s third largest city, Munich is known for its world famous Oktoberfest. And while Oktoberfest did bring me to Munich for the first time, I returned the following year for the city’s Christmas markets, and can’t wait to return again.

  • Favorite thing to do: Like any European city, there’s no shortage of gorgeous churches to admire. St. Peter’s is a Roman Catholic Church done in Gothic style. It’s just as impressive on the inside as it is outside, and at the top. And when you’re done up top, spend some time wandering the heart of the city, the Marienplatz below. It’s been the main square of Munich for over 850 years. Home to many iconic buildings and sights, it’s easy to spend a few hours exploring the area
  • Favorite places to eat:
    • super danke!: Ace fresh juices
    • Livingroom: Cute cafe with great vegetarian options
    • Hofbräuhaus: Touristy? Yes, but a must-visit on a first time trip for an extra large pint and spaetzle
  • Favorite place for coffee: Man vs. Machine is the city’s best spot for brews
  • Favorite cultural site (museum; temple): The former royal palace of the House of Wittelsbach, the Residenz is incredible. Detail and design in each room are simply out of this world
  • Bonus: If you have the means, make it a priority to get to Munich once in your life for Oktoberfest. It’s one of the most incredible gifts I’ve given myself, and I sincerely hope to have the ability to return one day.

Post I’ve written about Munich: Visiting Dachau Concentration Camp //  Christmas Magic in Munich // 10 Things to Do in Munich // 5 Reasons to Plan a Trip to Oktoberfest // The Ultimate Guide to Oktoberfest in Munich

Dublin, Ireland

Dublin is one of those cities that’s perfect for a long weekend trip, or as part of a week long road-trip through the Emerald Isle.

As Ireland’s capital, it’s a town filled with culture, beauty and history. Even though it’s much bigger than other Irish cities, I’ve had no problem getting around by foot or hopping on a local bus.

  • Favorite thing to do: One of my favourite parts of visiting Dublin is wandering streets at leisure, popping in and out of shops, admiring pubs with overflowing hanging flower baskets, and listening to live music in the alleyways. The Temple Bar neighbourhood and downtown area are easy to walk, even if you’re short on time. As you’re wandering, pop into a pub and listen to traditional Irish music
  • Favorite place to eat: Elephant & Castle is great for sandwiches + chips on an afternoon out, and Osteria Lucio is fantastic Italian in the docklands
  • Favorite place for coffee: 3fe & Hatch and Sons are both fantastic
  • Favorite cultural site (museum; temple): Tour a local distillery to sample Irish whiskies. My particular favorite place? Teeling Distillery. Learning about the history of Irish whisky, touring their working distillery, and sampling three of their varieties was an excellent way to spend an hour. Teeling’s is also Dublin’s first city-centre distillery in over 125 years- Jameson’s distillery isn’t operational.

Post I’ve written about Dublin: The Perfect Itinerary for a Weeklong Roadtrip in Ireland // One Day in Dublin // 5 of My Favorite Things to do in Dublin

Venice, Rome

There’s no place in the world like Venice, it’s an unreal city.

With the most picturesque streets and houses you can imagine, you’ll be treated to gorgeous views every moment you’re in Venice. It’s a city built in another time, when access to water meant access to money.

  • Favorite thing to do: Stroll the Grand Canal, watching the gondolas and boats go back and forth on the canals was one of my favorite ways to pass the time. For a quieter vibe, head to the Dorsoduro neighborhood- it’s less busy than the main San Marco
  • Favorite places to eat:
  • Favorite place for coffee: Loved having espresso at the city’s tiny sidewalk cafes, none of which I can recall the name of- which, is partially why I loved them, they’re nondescript, local and wonderful
  • Favorite cultural site (museum; temple): Piazza San Marco, in entirety. Don’t miss heading to the top of the bell tower for aerial views of the city and its canals

Post I’ve written about: One Day in Venice // 5 Must-Do’s in Venice

Have you been to Europe? Which cities would you recommend a new-to-Europe traveler visit on their first trip? 

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