Traveling solo for the first time? These are 10 of my favourite destinations.
In honour of International Women's Day on March 8th, and the #WeGoSolo twitter chat, here are 10 amazing destinations that are perfect for a first time, solo female travelers.
I've been to them all and I can heartily endorse them. I've traveled in North America, Africa, and Europe, and I feel very sure there are many other cities around the world which would be perfect for a new explorer.
Which one sounds like the place for you?
1.) Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island.
This small, affordable, cozy provincial capital city is perched on the edge of the ocean. It has a great arts scene for a tiny city - there is a small independent cinema, crafts stores, artisans, and the renowned plays at the Confederation Centre of the Arts. Spend the days sitting by the harbour, sketching, painting, or writing. At night, take in a play, enjoy the freshest seafood from the Atlantic Ocean, and indulge in delicious east coast baked goods.
2.) Flagstaff, Arizona.
If you're anywhere close to Vegas, Phoenix or the Grand Canyon, you'd be crazy not to spend some time in Flagstaff. This lively university town has a vibrant arts scene, lots of funky cafes and restaurants, but the real appeal is it's proximity to three National Monuments, brimming with natural wonders, geological rarities, and terrific ranger programs. By evening, the Lowell observatory makes a great destination for a solo female traveler, with both planned programs and independent attractions. Flagstaff is the perfection destination for science and nature lovers.
3.) Old Quebec City.
This UNESCO World Heritage is brimming with romance - the kind you can revel in all by yourself! The only walled city in North America, Old Quebec really is romantic - prepare yourself for a life long love affair! Charming bed and breakfasts in century old stone houses, beautiful lights at night, dainty cafes on every sidewalk, there is delight at every corner. You can spend hours exploring the twisting cobblestone streets without ever getting lost - yet the old town is so compact, you can still get all dressed up and quickly, comfortably walk anywhere (even in heels!) Even if you can't afford to stay in the legendary hotel Chateau Frontenac, you can take guided tours (with costumed guide) and enjoy a scenic drink in the hotel bar. I always have a chocolate martini and crème brûlée when I'm in town - both are done to perfection. PS - If you can't get to Europe, Old Quebec will help curb your cravings!
4.) Brussels (Not Paris!).
Don't get me wrong - Paris is my favourite city in the world! But it can come with such loaded expectations that sometimes people end up overwhelmed. Brussels will give you everything you want in a European city - history, art, architecture, along with world renowned chocolate, artisan beer, and homemade lace. And waffles! And you'll never miss the downsides that can come with Paris. Brussels is cleaner, smaller, less likely to have strikes, and is humming with cosmopolitan flare as home to the EU and NATO. Your attempts to speak French will be welcomed, your chances of encountering English will be higher.
This is modern, worldly Europe - just the way you want it. This vibrant city has residents and visitors from all over the world, is renowned for human rights and tolerance, and is next door the International Tribunals in Den Haag - expect lots of intelligent, passionate, yet respectful conversation and debate. It's diverse attractions are perfect for a first time solo traveler who isn't sure what they want. Take a gentle, scenic bike ride next to luscious tulip fields or take a boat tour along the many canals. Soak up history at such renowned attractions as the Anne Frank House. Enjoy the beauty in the Van Gogh art museum, or visit the National Rijksmuseum - one of the best in the world. If you time it right, you can experience the pageantry of the Royal Family or one of many festivals. Everyone - no, really, everyone, in Amsterdam speaks English and you are sure to enjoy the culinary traditions of the former Dutch colonies. Amsterdam was one of my very first solo destinations and, while I was nervous at first, I found the city to be friendly, clean, and safe. No one really cares about the Red Light district and the pot smoking cafes!
One of the most underrated cities in Europe, and one of my favourite. The multi-lingual, punctual, organized Swiss are perfect hosts for a first time female traveler on her own. Centuries of rich history and centuries old wooden houses will make you feel like you've stepped back into a much older time -this is just what you expect Switzerland to look like (especially compared to ultra modern Geneva). For ladies on a budget, Bern's hostels are sparkling clean, often include a hearty breakfast (I have spend a decade trying to replicate a certain Swiss jam!), and they're not all filled with young whippersnappers! A great city for walking, I did a great tour with that included a history of the city's cuckoo clocks and public art. But my favourite thing - joining the locals to swim in the beautiful river! Gently floating with the current, you'll have a blast bobbing downstream until you grab a mental rail jutting out from the bank, climb out, and run back down the path to do it all over again.
7.) (London)Derry, Northern Ireland.
Just a few short decades ago, Derry was notorious as a hotbed of conflict and violence, but Derry today seems reconciled to it's difficult past and there are many moving exhibits and memorials. It's a beautiful city, with ancient walls perfect for walking, looking out on the preserved pro and anti-IRA murals. This vibrant, youthful, forward-looking city is a perfect base for day trip exploring the beauty and history you've always dreamed about in Ireland.
A large, busy, proper city - yet more affordable than London, and a little less hectic. I could try to convince you to visit Edinburgh for the rich Scottish history and whisky, but what I really love it for is the writing and literature. The Scottish Writer's Museum is a gem, a delightful haunt in the middle of the city. For something more modern than Burn, follow in the footsteps of J.K.Rowling and take a tour of her favourite cafes, retracing the birth of Harry Potter. The storytelling tradition continues in the evening with walking tours galore, taking you into the labyrinth of "closes" (underground passageways between the medieval buildings) for a ghost tour which inevitably finishes at a pub -the perfect, safe, fun evening activity for a solo woman to meet new friends) It's a great city to keep you busy day and night! And it doesn't hurt that it's just drop dead gorgeous!
9.) Muzuzu, Malawi.
If you are looking for something more exotic, more off-beat, more challenging, you might find yourself in Eastern Africa. Between the sprawling slums of massive cities like Nairobi and endless small towns with no potable water, you might be frustrated looking for a mid-sized city that has amenities and services, yet is not overwhelming. A university town with one of the country's 4 main hospitals, Muzuzu has a good selection of amenities, accommodations, and restaurants. I loved the crowded footpaths of the Taifa market, where I bought a lot of fabric, and the city is close to national parks and coffee production.
10) Your own hometown.
Get a hotel for the night - or spend your hotel money on a housecleaning service and feel like you're in a hotel! Eat out for the day - try to have breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee breaks, and late night drinks all at new locations you've never tried before. Go solo without your local friends and join in with a tour group instead. Visit a gallery, museum, or garden you've never been to before. Are you in a teeny town of just a few hundred people? Do a virtual gallery tour online, take part in a web seminar about art or history, pre-order in some Chinese tea, some Cameroonian coffee, a Spanish wine, or some Belgium hot chocolate. Buy a cookbook for a world cuisine you've never even tried and take on an ambitious project. Take public transit (bonus points if you carry a backpack!) and walk, walk, walk. How does it feel to try so many new things? Does it feel exhilarating, intimidating, overwhelming, or invigorating? Are you comfortable eating on your own? What does it feel like to join in with a group of strangers? One of the best things about travelling is that you can find beauty and amazing anywhere you look for it - I hope you can find it in your own back yard!
There are thousands of cities that are perfect for first time, solo female travellers - these are just 10 of my personal favourites that I've visited and know well. I'd love to hear from you - where else would you recommend?
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