There are very few things more exhilarating than travelling alone. Meeting new friends, discovering the great wide world, maybe even learning a thing or two about yourself – wherever you and your backpack travel, the experience is well worth it.
Here’s our run-down of the safest and most exciting places to visit right now as a solo globetrotter.
Treat yourself to a bit of laid-back luxury in the centre of the world’s most famous wine region. Bordeaux’s idyllic city centre is a Unesco world heritage site where you can get lost among 18th century architecture, including the Gothic Cathedral of St. Andrew and the grandiose Place de la Bourse plaza, easily one of the most recognized sights in the city.
Wine and dine at one of the many chic brasseries and informal wine bars lining Bordeaux’s cobblestones streets. To take in the most impressive views of the city, rent one of the local city bikes along the river for just less than €2 a day.
If you have the time, you can tour the historic vineyards and quaint shops in the medieval village of St Emilion during a quick day trip, it’s only an hour away by train.
Hoi An, Vietnam
A well-preserved former trading port on Vietnam’s central coast, Hoi An is a melting pot of cultures and architecture. A city known for its high-quality and affordable clothing, you can buy anything from t-shirts and shorts to suits and dresses, or even have a specially made garment made at a very affordable price.
Cars are banned from the city centre, so stroll through the old town on foot and admire the street-side cafes and picturesque historical homes lining canals and winding alleyways. Alternatively, do as the locals do and hop on a bike to see the city or opt for a guided bike tour. You can even cycle to the pristine beach of An Bang, just a little under 5km away.
Hoi An’s diverse culinary scene stems from Japanese, Chinese and Portuguese influences, and many restaurants offer their own cooking classes, so why not try one out while you’re there? Don’t leave without trying a bowl of cau lao, the signature noodle dish only found in Hoi An.
Indulge in world-renowned beer, waffles and chocolate in the easily walkable city of Ghent, located in the Flanders region of Belgium. With its city-centre medieval castle and quaint gingerbread house facades, the city feels like something out of a fairy-tale.
Take a boat ride for the best views of the city or, alternatively, wait until night to stroll along the water, when the city becomes illuminated by thousands of lights. Grab a sweet waffle from one of the food carts in Vrijdagmarkt, the central market square where you can also stop for a beer in one of the traditional pubs – like the legendary cafe Tavern Dulle Griet, known for its eclectic decor and over 250 Belgian beers.
Wander around the colourful neighborhood of Patershol, located in the north of the city. The artsy hub of the city, Patershol has a unique folksy feel and its streets are filled with trendy bars and cosy restaurants, where you can find flavors from every part of the world.
Walking around Split is like walking into the Roman era. The ruins of Diocletian’s Palace, built in the 4th century AD, now compose Split’s Old Town with historical buildings and narrow streets within the walls of the fortress. Pass through the Bronze gate, one of four entrance gates, now merely pillars and partial arches, to reach the shoreline promenade known as Riva. Check out the green market and fish market on either end for fresh foods, but for the finest seafood dishes, don’t miss out on lunch in the typical wine cellar taverns like Konoba Matejuska.
Split has many hostels catering to the solo traveller looking to socialise – pub crawls and nightclub outings abound. Nurse your hangover with a friendly game of picigin (ball throwing and catching in shallow water invented in Split) at Bačvice Beach, or keep the party going with a sailing tour along the Dalmation coast for a few days of fun.
Rent a mountain bike and ride along Ruta de las Cascadas to experience steep climbs through thick rainforest and past roaring waterfalls. Baños (bath in Spanish), as the name suggests, is a city that is reputed for its natural baths, fed from the Tungurahua volcano’s hot springs. Soak in the thermal baths at La Piscina de la Virgen at the base of a huge waterfall.
For a picture to stun your friends back home, take the bus to Casa del Arbol. A high swing hangs from a treehouse – once in motion, you’ll feel like you’re flying above the rainforest, in arms reach of the active volcano.
Although one of the safest cities in the country, petty theft occurs, so just keep your valuables out of sight, avoid walking home late at night, and if you need to withdraw money, do so during the daytime and avoid keeping large sums of cash on you.
Gyeongju, South Korea
Travelling alone in Gyeongju is a journey towards inner peace, especially when wandering through the Gyeongju Historic Areas. These UNESCO World Heritage Sites protect the Bulguksa Temple, a masterpiece of Buddhist art and home to many national treasures of South Korea. Ancient pagodas, bridges, and stairways lead the way to bronze Buddha statues and sariras (Buddhist relics). Look up – beneath the temple roofs, you’ll find colourful decorations and lotus motifs.
Pair this visit with that of the precious Seokguram Grotto, a short hike from the temple. The seated Buddha, surrounded by stone guards, is so fragile that visits are kept brief and photography is not permitted. Follow the Buddha’s gaze outside, as the view from the grotto stretches across Mount Tohamsan towards the Sea of Japan.
Complete your solo quest for peace in the peaceful Gyeongju National Park, or stretch your quest a bit further to Homigot beach in neighbouring city Pohang. Two giant hands jut out from the sea and the shoreline – the hands of harmony and coexistence. Feet in the sand, arms stretched toward the sky, you have arrived.
Floripa, as it’s locally called, is an island paradise for students and backpackers alike, looking for the perfect beaches and best parties. The yellow arches of the Mercado Publico shelter a multitude of craft stands and shops with local fare – if you had to choose one, dig into a hearty dish of anchova grelhada (grilled or fried bluefish).
The afternoon is best spent sunbathing on one of the 40 beaches on the island – the hardest part is choosing between the seemingly untamed Praia do Matadeiro and the beach-bar-clad Jurerê. The daytime bustle turns into a murmur, as nightclubs pump the volume of their neon-lit dancefloors. On the walk back home, admire the lights of the Hercilio Luz suspension bridge reflected in the waters that lead to mainland Florianópolis.
Proudly flaunting its rich 1000-year history right alongside its defiantly international population and contemporary architecture, it’s almost impossible not to fall for the contrary charms of Dublin.
For the travelling bookworm, there are city tours that pass through the tiny cobbled pathways, ancient bell towers and Georgian town houses where heavyweights like Oscar Wilde, James Joyce and Bram Stoker once resided. Lose yourself in one of Dublin’s many leafy spaces, like Phoenix Park and its herds of beautiful wild deer.
A nation known world over for their cheery disposition, the way to an Irish guy or gal’s heart is through their taste buds. Make your way down to a traditional Victorian pub (you’ll find one on almost every street corner, it seems!), head for the bar and you’ll be sipping Guinness with your new best friends within no time. You don’t have to go and find yourself a good time in Dublin, it will come and find you.
If you’re looking for a bit of spice and sensuality for your next solo travel conquest, then head to Havana. The safety of travellers (particularly those visiting alone) is taken seriously, meaning that you’ll find many multi-lingual policemen in the busier neighbourhoods, often dishing out tips of where best one should wine and dine.
Chow down on piping hot fried croquettes served from street vendors, then get yourself a snapshot of modern-day Cuba with the hip Cuban entrepreneurs selling their locally-produced wares in the trendy boutiques, workshops and cafés of the 500-year-old Old Town, La Habana Vieja.
A trip wouldn’t be complete without a stroll along the Malecón esplanade to have a gander at vintage American cars and the colonial buildings – decaying, yet oddly alive. If you really want to blend in with the Habaneros (the inhabitants of this electric city), then bring yourself some comfy shoes, plus a bottle of wine, and spend the tropical evening dancing along the harbour.
You’ve probably heard countless cities being labelled as “vibrant”, but it’s the welcoming melting pot of Toronto that really owns the label. With around 200 languages spoken and a population of 6.1 million, the solo traveller is likely to feel at home and welcomed with open arms in “the world’s most multicultural city”.
The best time to visit is in the heat of summer, when the streets are packed with locals and like-minded travellers looking to get their festival fix. The Beaches International Jazz Festival is at the top of the pile, hosting 24 days of free public concerts throughout July featuring some of the biggest names on the jazz scene. Or, go calypso with the Caribana Festival Parade, celebrating the city’s vibrant Caribbean communities in North America’s largest street festival.
If you’re keen on travelling solo, it probably means you’re not afraid of leading the pack to explore frontiers new. For a truly life-affirming independent travelling experience, Bhutan is the place to go.
Famed for its mountainside fortress monasteries and regarding its “gross national happiness” higher than its GDP, Bhutan only opened to international tourism some thirty years ago, and it is still relatively unscathed by Western influence. In fact, the state is so protective of its roots and culture that travelling to the country must be pre-approved and pre-paid through tour groups, who offer up a range of exotic trips for the curious traveller looking to explore this mystical Buddhist kingdom (but solo backpackers can find private tours, allowing personal flexibility).
And, boy, do these Buddhists love to party! Food, song and dance festivals occur throughout the year in Bhutan, meaning that whenever you decide to visit, you’re likely to stumble across something worth celebrating.
Queenstown, New Zealand
New Zealand is an incredibly welcoming place to travel, and great for solo travellers looking to meet other solo globetrotters landing here and looking for fun.
You can soak up the Lord of the Rings-affiliated antics found around the Wellington capital, but the real daredevils head for Queenstown. This winsome lakeside town really earns its nickname as ‘The Adventure Capital of the World’, with one million visitors – groups and singletons – coming together every year to soak up the bodacious white-water rafting, skydiving, bungee jumping, and black-run ski resorts over the Remarkables mountain range.
Always forced out of the limelight by the beautiful, if a little pricey, Swedish capital of Stockholm, super-friendly Gothenburg has plenty of culture and Scandi style to keep you entertained, often at prices that are far more forgiving and budget friendly for the solo traveller.
Whether the sun is shining or otherwise, you’ll find yourself lured in by the beautiful aromas emanating from the Gothenburg Botanical Gardens, one of the most florid plant centres in all of Europe. Grab a quick bite to-go at the Stora Saluhallen food market and head for the Paddan Boat Tour. This relaxing cruise is the best way to get your bearings as you coast through the inner city’s 17th century canals and under 20 bridges.
But it’s not all about the old fortifications in this quaint harbour city; Gothenburg is also the breeding ground for some of the country’s brightest new talents in design. You’ll realise it when browsing through the boutiques around the trendy Magasinsgatan street, as well as in the world-leading centre for fashion and applied arts, The Röhsska Museum.
- tips about how to meet locals while travelling