Ask Kate: First Time in Europe

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If your friend were visiting Europe for the first time ever, where would you tell him or her to go? Join in and help this reader out!

Hey Kate!

I’m planning a several months trip for next year and would like to start in Europe. I have never been so I was wondering where you recommend starting for someone’s first trip to Europe?? I guess I’d want to start somewhere with a lot of energy, comfortable for a solo female and fairly inexpensive. But there are so many amazing countries to choose from!

I almost think my best strategy would be to see where I can fly in from the U.S for the cheapest!!

No matter who you are, my advice is always the same: go to the place that calls to you. If you’ve always dreamed of visiting Paris, go there. If you’ve been dreaming of sailing Greece, do that. Travel is about fulfilling your personal dreams, but it’s easy to get caught up in what you think you should do or what other people want to do.

This is about you and you alone.

Try not to get caught up in going wherever the flight is cheapest — it might be cheapest to fly to London, Paris, or Reykjavik, but it will be a lot more expensive than your time in Granada, Berlin or Prague.

You’ll have a great time wherever you go. That said, there are a few places that I think are especially good destinations for first-timers.

For adventure: Iceland. I wrote about Iceland being an ideal destination for first-time solo female travelers, and it’s true — it’s a phenomenally easy place to travel, English is widely spoken, the environment is unlike anywhere else in the world, and there are so many adventure activities, from mild to extreme. There’s also the bonus that Icelandair makes it easy to do a stopover on your way to or from Europe.

You can have a great time in Iceland if you base yourself in Reykjavik the whole time and do day trips; for a bigger adventure, you can road trip the ring road around the island.

For food: Italy. But not just for food: for art, culture, architecture, natural beauty. Italy is probably the top destination I’d recommend in Europe because it’s even better than you think it will be. The cities are gorgeous, the art is the best in the world, it’s easy to travel here, and the food is outstanding. Oh, and the men hit on you nonstop.

Most visitors do the standard Rome-Florence-Tuscan countryside-Venice loop; I’m also a big fan of Bologna and the Emilia-Romagna region, as well as the island of Capri.

For culture: England and Scotland. If you love history, museums, theater, and cold nights spent in warm pubs, you can’t beat the UK. Lots of people find it hard to believe, but I think the UK is one of the most culturally fascinating places I’ve ever been, in part because the shared language makes it easier to go deeper and notice more things than you would with a language barrier. Plus, Scots are some of the most fun and friendly individuals you will ever meet.

You could stick to London and Edinburgh and have a fun, fulfilling trip, but I also recommend York and Bath in England and Glasgow and the Highlands in Scotland.

For beauty: Andalusia.Β Come here for the romantic side of Spain: jaw-dropping Moorish architecture, flamenco, sunshine, orange trees, horse-drawn carriages, delicious tapas (free with drinks in Granada!), whitewashed villages. Of all the regions in Spain, Andalusia is where most of the stereotypical ideas of Spain come from. It’s one of the warmest places in Europe in winter, but know that summer can be miserably hot.

Definitely visit Sevilla and Granada at the very least. Other nice cities include Cordoba, Malaga, and Cadiz.

For fun on the cheap: Berlin, Prague, and Budapest. These three cities strike a great balance between lots of attractions, ease of travel, wild nightlife, and much lower prices than western Europe. They’re also close enough to each other to do in succession, and each makes a good base for visiting nearby attractions as well.

Visit in the order of Berlin-Prague-Budapest or in reverse, and if you have more time, you could add in Vienna, Bratislava, even Krakow.

This list is by no means a complete list — just the faintest beginning of all there is to see and do in Europe.

Where do you think this reader should go? Leave your opinion in the comments!

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77 thoughts on “Ask Kate: First Time in Europe”

  1. I think an American embarking on her first – and epic! – trip to Europe is looking for something New & Different, as well as that ‘je ne said quoi’ European Experience. I think Italy is the best place to start. Most of the places in that country have that quintessential postcard quality, and there are medieval streets and castles and palaces galore to fulfill the ‘old stuff you cant find in the States’ requirement. At the same time it is a thoroughly modern country, with great rails, roads (I drove), and air conditioning in even the smallest B&Bs. It’s not exactly cheap but neither is it as expensive as London, Paris, Switzerland and Scandinavia could be. As Kate mentioned, the county’s culinary & artistic offerings are like no where else in Europe, if not the world. Here too the country perfectly straddles the balance between ‘different’ and ‘comfortable.’ Plus, the weather is nice, the people are friendly, and you can be on a beach or farm one moment, and listening to the opera in a gilded palace not an hour later.

  2. Ireland would be a good start. You can speak the language, you can get around fairly easily (driving on the other side of the road is not as difficult as you might expect, and you can get GPS in rental cars) and the food, beer and whisky are fantastic. You can get some good nightlife in Dublin and Galway, beautiful scenery and plenty of culture. It’s been well over a decade since I’ve been to England and Scotland and only a couple of years since I visited Ireland, but I would guess that it’s slightly cheaper to traipse around Ireland, but don’t hold me to that.

  3. I definitely second Andalusia. The region has really upped its game for travelers since I moved here in 2007, and English is more widely spoken. Plus, it’s pretty easy to get around, cheap and full of cool places to explore. Even after seven years, there are places I haven’t visited! Ireland is a great choice, too, and I found Berlin to be extremely cheap and friendly to solo travelers.

  4. Great advice!! I totally agree with going somewhere that calls you. It was hard for me to do my first Eurotrip, because I felt like I NEEDED to see certain things in Europe. Now, I live in Spain and for Semana Santa I’m visiting Berlin, Prague and Budapest and am pumped!!! Greece has also been calling me for forever, and I might do a solo trip there for a month in the summer…I’m not sure if I could do a solo trip, but it’s definitely been on my mind since reading your blog!

  5. Going where you dream about is the best advice! I did a couple European tours and didn’t like some of the places I went, and even knew ahead of time I wouldn’t like them, but went because my travel buddy wanted to. So when traveling solo, it’s important to take advantage of that time and do what you really want! Balance πŸ™‚

  6. I agree with all your suggestions, Kate. However I would also add France to the culture part, maybe even the food part. France played such a major role in shaping history that it seems almost impossible to miss it on a cultural trip. Like you said, the language barrier may be an issue but I feel France is touristy enough nowadays that most of the French people located in touristy cities speak a little bit of English (they’re awful at it, but at least they try!)

    I suggest the Loire Valley, Paris and Normandy for history, Savoie and Aquitaine for culture and food.

  7. Ah, you know me, I always boost up my own country πŸ™‚ The Baltics can give you art, culture, food, sights on a good budget and we are learning English pretty fast.

  8. I agree with everything on your list, especially Italy (and how it’s even better than you think it will be). The other spot I would definitely add is Ireland. I spent several weeks there last summer and loved it – especially the friendliness of the people and the incredible music tradition.

  9. I would definitely vote for ireland. Great nightlife in the big cities, beautiful beaches in donegal and amazing scenery in galway and kerry

  10. I know it’s easy to pick your own country, but I genuinely do think London is a great place for a first-time female solo traveller. Plus, it definitely fits that buzzing energy requirement. For someone coming from the States, it can be a good way of easing into a longer trip, as there’s no language barrier to add to the list of things to get used to.

    Then again, if you want somewhere continental, Paris is a classic. Or somewhere on the Mediterranean: Spain; South of France (though this is expensive); Greece; or Italy.

    Especially Italy. Rome is fabulous, but loads of potential for getting ripped off, so maybe not the best starting point. Venice is of course stunning, as is Florence.

    Yes, I think those are my two top choices: London, or somewhere in Italy.

    But good luck to her wherever she decides to go – and hope she has a wonderful trip!

  11. Great recommendations, I would second all of them! Barcelona is another city I always recommend for first time travelers to Europe because it has the food, the culture, the architecture and the beach if one wants to relax! Also, Munich is a gem that I think is often overlooked. Beer lovers should head there first, but the culture and friendly people also do not disappoint!

    1. For Barcelona, I could go either way. I know people who have been and loved it — but then again, I’m not a big fan of it, it feels very tourist-trap-py in lots of places, and the pickpockets are legendary. I’d recommend Sevilla or Granada over Barcelona for a first-timer for sure, but if that’s the place you want to go, do go. πŸ™‚

  12. Great advice, Kate! I would definitely recommend Andalusia, Spain for its beauty. Granada is a great and inexpensive place to go. There is a lot to do and with it being a primarily university city, most things do not cost too much. Plus, there’s aways people around. Italy for food is a good recommendation. I would also suggest Portugal. I was pleasantly surprised when I traveled to Lisbon. Follow Kate’s advice and go to wherever it is that calls you.

  13. Although it may be more expensive to go to Eastern Europe, it is less expensive once you are there and
    English is widely spoken by the younger people. Lithuanian is a great place to start. Easy to get around lots to see and do. And a perspective that is quite different. Poland, especially Warsaw, is another great spot as is Ljubljana, Slovenia. If you’d rather not go to Eastern Europe, consider Portugal. Lisbon and Porto are spectacular cities where English is widely spoken and it is cheaper to travel.

  14. This is a great list! As you said it is most important to visit the places you are drawn to – if you are desperate to go to Paris you won’t be satisfied anywhere else. That said, I love the Loire Valley in France, Bruges, Belgium, and Amsterdam! I think they are all quite good for a first-time solo female traveler in Europe.

  15. “Travel is about fulfilling your personal dreams, but it’s easy to get caught up in what you think you should do or what other people want to do.” So true! Great advice, Kate. I’ll be returning to England tomorrow for about 10 days. I’ll also be spending a weekend in Edinburgh which will be my first time visiting so I’m very excited!

    Happy travels πŸ™‚

  16. Great post! I think posts like this, perhaps with a bit more detail/advice, would be a great way to keep your blog focused on solo women’s travel while slowing your travel to what’s doable for you.

  17. Think you’ve got it down here, Kate. Berlin-Prague-Budapest is a great combo. I’d also add in maybe three days in either Vienna or Bratislava, plus they’re only one hour apart, so an easy day trip from each other, too.

    I loved Poland when I visited, and actually loved Romania, too. The language is very easy to understand if you have a basic grasp of French, Spanish or Italian, lots of English speakers anyway, very friendly people, and beautiful cities. Plus it’s super cheap to fly to from the likes of the UK or Italy. Belgrade was another city I loved, and somewhere I think first-timers to Europe could easily get to grips with – and easy enough to get to as well.

    And as for your UK recs, YES to York (and maybe a day trip to my lovely hometown, Harrogate πŸ˜‰ ). I adore Newcastle and Manchester, too.

  18. I think you should make a stop in Croatia! Croatia is absolutely beautiful and affordable (for now)! They’re set to switch over to the Euro if they haven’t yet already, so I highly recommend going there before prices go up. Bon Voyage!!!!!!

    1. I was going to recommend the same stop! Croatia has beautiful architecture and history, but is incredibly affordable in comparison to many better known European destinations. In the summer, the beaches along the coast are stunning and make for a great vacation destination.

  19. I couldn’t have given a better answer myself!

    Iceland and Scotland are two of my favorite countries in the world, and I whole-heartedly agree on Berlin, Prague, or Budapest for really cool, budget-friendly destinations. And Italy… who doesn’t want to go to Italy??

    I would also suggest places like Slovenia, Croatia and the Greek Islands if it’s really beautiful scenery you’re after.

  20. It seems that a lot of people I know go to London-Paris-Rome route. Haven’t been to Europe myself, but my biggest takeaway is what you said: go to where the place calls you. And I think Greece is calling me =)

  21. Great suggestions! There are so many fantastic places to visit in Europe, it’s hard to pick only a few. I’d definitely recommend doing some reading and figuring out which cities are calling to you. For me, I was never too interested in Europe until I began learning more about Eastern & Central Europe. Paris never sounded that appealing, but Budapest? Sign me up! For my first solo Eurotrip, I just went where my miles took me, which was Bucharest.

    You could even start somewhere like Istanbul (FANTASTIC city) and work your way west into the rest of Europe. A great thing about Europe is that it’s so easy to get around via planes, trains, and buses. As long as you go where your heart aches to visit, you’ll have a great time.

  22. Always love to see Berlin make the list!! These are all great options. For convenience sake, transportation, cultural opps, etc., a big city is a great home-base, but day trips to smaller towns nearby can often make for an interesting contrast and another perspective to life in a certain country.

  23. Ah this question is almost impossible! There are too many good spots. I would say start on the far east and move west or visa versa so you don’t back track a lot. Prague is amazing… Cheaper, yet still expensive. Oh Europe… Can you please get cheaper soon? I want to go back :-p

  24. I spent a year living in Paris, and I did a lot of traveling. I think I would definitely second Dublin–the people were incredibly friendly, it’s beautiful, and my hostel was inexpensive and wonderfully comfy. Also, if you’re going to do Spain, I would hit Valencia (which, come to think of it, is the only place I’ve been in Spain!). The prices are low, it’s right on the Mediterranean, the oranges basically taste like the dictionary definition of oranges, and there’s a fascinating mix of contemporary and ancient architecture. Definitely check out the Ciudad del Artes y Ciencias–utterly gorgeous, plus you can go to the opera, the aquarium or the history museum, all in one place.

    I do think that if an expensive city is your dream destination, you shouldn’t give it up just for that reason. There are all kinds of ways to experience expensive cities on the cheap (especially in Europe). I have a couple of friends who shared an apartment in an outer arrondissement of Paris for a week, cooked most of their meals, had picnics, took public transportation, and splurged on one or two nice dinners. You also need to decide which attractions are worth your while and which are not. For instance, in Paris, I wouldn’t bother with the top of the Eiffel Tower unless you are absolutely dead set. Go up to Sacre Coeur instead–the view is just about as good and it’s free, plus the climb up there goes through Montmartre, which is lots of fun. Or if you’re feeling really adventurous, go to the incredible Parc Buttes-Chaumont in the 20Γ¨me and go up to the top of the craggy mountain thing. You can see Sacre Coeur from there! Decide which local foods you MUST try and which you could pass on (I myself am a foie gras girl, but I could easily forgo escargot!). There’s no rule that says you have to have every single experience there is. Paris is the only city I have any specific information about, but I think this advice can apply to just about any expensive city.

      1. Absolutely! All I needed to be really happy in Paris was a great sandwich and a walk by the Seine. And sometimes Berthillon ice cream. πŸ™‚

  25. Great recommendations, especially going to York in the UK, though I’m a bit biased as that’s my hometown! My advice would be don’t forget about Eastern Europe as well, I haven’t been to many countries their yet myself, but cannot wait to try them out!

    1. Eastern Europe can be good, but I think a first-time traveler should be a bit more discerning when it comes to the east. I love Macedonia, for example, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a good destination for a first-timer in Europe.

  26. Good advice Kate!

    I would say that if this is your first visit to Europe, go where you have always desired to go and worry about the budget later. Europe isn’t cheap and if cost is going to be an issue, you’re not going to like it or enjoy it!
    Since I am British, I’m going to be biased and say start from London and take an overnight bus to Edinburgh. If time isn’t an issue take the National Express (Euroline buses) to Paris, Amsterdam and Brussels. With tickets from $8.00, you can’t go wrong! If time is short, the cheapest airlines around from the UK are Ryanair and Easyjet. Recommended places on the continent are Germany (Berlin: where I live :)), France, Italy, Spain, the Czech Republic, Poland and Portugal.

    I personally don’t think you can say that you’ve been here if you haven’t visited our capital and historically, cultural cities of old! Re-sleeping arrangements: couch surfing, hostels, B&B, pensions, small hotels, etc. according to budget and the wonderful people you meet on your journey.

  27. I wanted to also say Ireland is a great idea! I spent one week in Dublin last year- which was NOT enough- and it’s definitely on my list of places to return to someday. The city has so much going on and is one of the most “walkable” places I have been- I walked miles an miles everyday just exploring. It’s a melting pot of different nationalities, and you will easily find tons of people doing the same thing as you.

    I am also a big fan of Spain (Barcelona is of course a must, I definitely like it better than Madrid) and Italy is always beautiful.

  28. I recommend to start one of the Baltic countries then move on to the Italy or Portugal etc. I think it’s more reasonable to do several countries in one time, beside just visit Italy for example. Europe it’s not that big and it’s so easy to travel. πŸ™‚

  29. After living in Rome for a few years we are definitely partial to italy. Rome is a great starting off point for Italy since it is centrally located transportation wise to see the rest of Italy. Rome is a large city, so you get all the sites, art and culture but you also get fantastic food and there is a large expat community if you need a taste of home or just need to speak English for awhile. Rome is also a great spot to visit other Italian cities and small towns, the train system is super easy and convient to use.

    I also would suggest greece. Athens has all the history and phenomenal food and the islands are a blast. Thessaloniki is another great city, right on the Mediterranean and even though it’s greece ‘s second largest city it feels like a small town. It’s also only a 28€ round trip Ryanair flight from Rome so there’s something to think about. Little big house is the wonderful hostel that we always stay at. They are so incredibly welcoming and the hostel is right next to the old Byzantine walls. The nightlife in thessaloniki is great as well. They have a huge all day cafe and party all night culture.

    Hope that helps! Enjoy the trip!

  30. PORTUGAL – START AT THE GATEWAY OF EUROPE!. In one week you can explore this country from North to South and see mountains, prairies, vineyards and beaches. There is always some village having a festival and the history is at the turn of every corner. A possible itinerary of locations from North to South: Guimaraes, Porto, Aveiro, Bussaco, Coimbra, Obidos, Peniche, Cascais, Lisboa, Evora and finally the dramatic beaches of Southern Algarve. For food…whether it is meat or fish…your palate will be forever thankful to have tasted Portuguese cuisine. Portuguese cheese and wine and pastries are the perfect snack in between meals. Seriously, this is the place to start!

  31. Italy is the best place to start as it has everything to offer in food, beauty, culture and alsoSardegna has to be on your list..then it is easy to get to other parts of Europe from Italy to also enjoy but take my word for it you will make your way back to Italy!!! πŸ™‚

  32. If this is someone’s first time traveling outside of the US, visiting the UK, Ireland, or another country like the Netherlands or Belgium where English virtually everyone speaks English might be good places to start. As a first-time international traveler in my 20s, I was terrified of language barriers and I didn’t know a thing about traveling or how to navigate myself. While I eventually realized they weren’t as scary as they seemed, I was able to get my bearings and learn how to be a good traveler in places I could easily understand people and they could understand me.

    If that’s not an issue, I highly recommend visiting Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and the Baltics. It’s inexpensive to travel to those countries and you’ll visit places not as many Americans travel to and see some sights you don’t always hear about.

  33. Going to the place that calls you is great advice. But if you’re truly wide open to suggestions, I’d have to go with Amsterdam. Everything in Schiphol airport is in English so there will be no language barrier and its easy to travel there from the U.S. It’s a fun, energetic, easy-to-get-around, friendly city where English is widely spoken. Same goes for other places in The Netherlands (Holland) including Rotterdam. You can easily travel from there to other cities in Europe.
    We have been living in Germany for 3 years and just wanted to say that my husband’s suggestion was Frankfurt, for pretty much the same reasons I gave for Amsterdam. Munich would be a great starting point as well.

  34. nice towns in Europe: Barcelona in Spain, Freiburg in Germany, Venice and Garda in Italy, Pula in Croatia, Salsbury in Austria, Lausanne in Switzerland. The best is to travel with train and bus if your alone over there

  35. Some great suggestions in here!! but its got to be Andalucia for me. The heat, the passion, the ‘joie de vivre’ of the people and as you rightly point out, the beauty!! there is no better place. Malaga is a very special place and still relatively untouched and unspoilt. Its still prominently Spanish and not filled with your typical ‘costa’ tourists. Long may it last!

  36. (I’m a bit biased) but I’d also say Ireland, partly because many of the people i’ve met travelling who haven’t been there see it as a bit ‘out of the way’ to visit if they don’t start there. Great suggestions though in general. Especially Iceland πŸ™‚

  37. maybe i could go to Lisbon in Juli, Portugal is a tip for travelers that dont like to spend much money, but i would prefer to view a bit more of Europe, Like Spain, France, Germany and Italy.

  38. Been to Iceland, Italy, and a few other places in Europe. I’d say I had the most fun in these two!

    With Italy though, she’ll experience the things expected of Europe like what you mentioned… architecture, art, food, culture.

    I haven’t had a man hit on me though πŸ˜‰ Haha! But yeah the men there are not afraid to approach women.

  39. We’ll be heading to Europe for the first time this Fall, and it was a very hard decision when it came to Italy vs. Ireland as our destination. We chose Italy this time, but Ireland will be our next trip for sure. We like a more Nomadic style where you can roam around at your own pace, and Italy has a great transport system, while Ireland (we’ve heard) can be done with a rental car pretty nicely. Thanks for the article and all the great accompanying comments! lots of food for thought.

  40. Hi Kate, I am intrigued by your website. There is so much information to cover and it looks amazing and interesting at the same time. I am doing a trip to Europe myself at the end of May. Your website will give me some insight on places that I didn’t know about. I look forward to reading all of your adventures. That would be amazing if I didn’t have to work and just travel. If you have any tips for me on how to market myself for free for now I would love the feedback. Thanks and look forward to hearing from you.

    1. Carla, when you’re starting out, work on building connections. Social media is a great place to start. Find people within your own blogging generation and get to know each other.

  41. I loved your advice, to go where the place is calling you. Whenever I travel to a new place, I keep getting suggestions to go to this landmark or museum, but I am not really an arts and architecture kind of person. I would rather go somewhere less popular that is more suited to my personality. Please visit my blog!

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