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Backpacking

Europe for the solo traveler

Travelling on your own can be just about the most challenging and the most fun experience you’ll ever have – it will be a holiday unique to you because you’ll have the freedom to do exactly what you want. The golden rule? Preparation…

• Think hard about what you want to see and do, seek out other ‘soloists’ who’ve been there and done that, and pick their brains

• Brush up on the basic lingo, and find out about what makes the country tick (both useful for getting into conversation on a bus or in a bar over coffee)

• Be sensible and play safe – plan your itinerary and at least your first night’s stay

If you’re still deciding where in Europe to head to, here are a few ideas to inspire you…

 

Dublin, Ireland

Dublin may not be as sexy as many European capitals, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find one with more heart and soul. The charismatic Dubliners will welcome you as you wait for your pint of Guinness to settle (around 119.53 seconds), or will give you the papers to read as you take two hours over a coffee.

Dublin’s not the cheapest place for accommodation and food, but that said, there’s an awful lot that’s free. The parks are (including the lovely St Stephen’s Green – go and say hello to the bust of James Joyce), as are the top museums and galleries. And if it’s nightlife you’re after, you absolutely must go to Temple Bar, with its cafés, clubs and pubs, and great live music.

Don’t miss National Heritage Week, 17th to 25th August. Galleries, museums and gardens across Dublin will be hosting classical music, poetry, re-enactments, local history and maritime events, food fairs and lots more.

More info: http://www.visitdublin.com/

http://www.ireland.com/en-gb/destinations/republic-of-ireland/dublin

http://www.writersmuseum.com/

 

Amsterdam, Holland

On your bike! No, really… Take kilometres of cycle paths, pretty canals (around 166 of them), themed museums, laid back locals – many of whom speak English – and (with never a mention of clogs, cheese, windmills, or tulips) there you have Amsterdam in a nutshell. The city is one of the smallest in the world, combining 17th century history with a thriving, modern metropolis. Nowhere that’s worth visiting is more than half an hour’s walk away (and there’s always a tram, or a water tour of the canals if your feet give up on you).

And where to begin with the culture – the moving experience of the Anne Frank House, , the glorious Rijksmuseum, newly opened after a ten-year restoration, and amazing works of art at Hermitage Amsterdam.

All you need to know: http://www.iamsterdam.com/

 

Interlaken, Switzerland

Interlaken is truly Europe’s sport capital, so if mountain biking, skiing or white water rafting are your thing, head there to meet lots of like-minded solo travellers. The city itself is a great holiday destination, but it’s also the gateway for outdoor sports and travel in the surrounding Bernese Oberland (which is the highest range in the Alps).

There is masses to do in the summer – walking, hiking, swimming and sailing, rock climbing, boat trips and biking; but it’s the winter when Interlaken comes into its own – with skiing, sledging, cross-country skiing, ice-skating, and more.

Must do: The 2 ½ hour train journey to the Jungfraujoch – Top of Europe; at 3,454 metres Europe’s highest altitude railway station, it’s the highlight of every visit to Switzerland. A world of snow, ice and rock – you’ll never experience views like it.

More at: http://www.interlaken.ch/en/discover-interlaken.html

 

Brussels

Ah, the lace, les gaufres (waffles), the chocolate. One traveller tells the tale of drinking chocolate at a café in the sunshine and spotting at least three chocolate shops within eyeshot (“I didn’t bother with the lace”). That said, the capital of Belgium, nicknamed ‘the European Village’, has some of the best shops, sightseeing and ambience in Europe. And it all seems to emanate from the beautiful 15th century Grand Place, one of Europe’s prettiest squares and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Getting around is easy on public transport, although it’s much better to see everything on foot (comfy shoes are a must) – take in the pretty parks, the excellent shopping in the Grand Sablon, the magnificence of the Palais Royal, and René Magritte Museum. And if you want to get a taste (literally and figuratively) of Brussels’ obsession with beer, seek out one of the many lively bars.

Don’t miss: The Manneken-Pis, the statue of a little boy, peeing.

Further reading: http://www.brussels.info/

 

Other destinations to think about

Madrid, Spain

Mmm – tapas, wine and a chat with the locals, culture at your fingertips, tree-lined boulevards in the sunshine, the passion of flamenco…

http://www.timeout.com/madrid/

Prague, Czech Republic

Prague is a great option for solo travellers – fairy tale architecture, Gothic atmosphere, goulash and dumplings to die for, beer tours, and don’t miss the astronomical clock in the old town square.

http://www.praguewelcome.cz/en/

Paris, France

Although Paris can be pricey, a saunter through the Tuileries Gardens in the sunshine, the Christmas lights in the Champs Elysées, to Porte de Cligancourt to browse the flea markets or boat watching from the banks of the Seine are free – and magical.

http://en.parisinfo.com/

Alternatives

Of course, setting off entirely on your own isn’t for everyone. If, like many of us, you want to travel solo but not end up completely alone, then an organised European tour from a reputable travel company could be just the option for you. Guided tours are perfect for those solo travelers who’d prefer not to organise an entire trip themselves, as everything is pre-arranged for you. You just need to pick the tour which appeals to you most and relax, assured that you will see all the major sights with a knowledgeable guide who will ensure you get the most from each visit.

Have you travelled Europe alone? Where did you get the warmest welcome? Share your tips with other solo travellers in the comments below!

Image of a canal in Amsterdam from Wikimedia Commons