Solo Female Travel in Europe: Complete Travel and Safety Guide

Looking to travel solo in Europe? You’ve come to the right place! My name is Kate and I teach women how to travel the world safely on their own. While I’m American and I travel all over the world, I’ve spent the most time in Europe. Several years, when you add it all up. I have traveled to every single country in Europe and have lived in two of them (Italy and the UK).

This continent has given me so many happy travel memories and I want you to have them, too.

And yet…you have doubts about your trip. You may have well-meaning friends or family who have convinced you that a woman shouldn’t travel on her own in Europe. And you’re Googling…hence, you ended up here.

This guide will tell you the truth about what it’s like to travel solo in Europe.

Kate in Minsk, Belarus

Why Travel to Europe Solo?

Um, why not travel to Europe solo? It’s one of the best regions of the world to have fun on your own.

Europe truly has everything a solo traveler could hope for. Are you looking for interesting cities? Fantastic cuisine? Glorious mountains? Beautiful islands and beaches? Gorgeous men or women? (Hey…Spain and Sweden. That’s all I’m saying.) Not only does Europe have all of those things, the continent has dozens of destinations that have EACH of those things.

Beyond that, Europe is a very safe place for women to travel alone. Generally speaking, it’s about as safe as your hometown, and most of the precautions you’d need to take are precautions you already take as a woman. Europe is also easy for first-time solo female travelers, as much of the continent has excellent infrastructure for travelers.

Also, know that it’s extremely common for women to travel solo in Europe.Especially European women. While you may be the only one of your friends who has traveled solo, nobody in Europe will give you a second glance for being on your own.

Kate at the Christmas markets of Passau, Germany

The Best Experiences in Europe

Man, I could make this list hundreds of items long, but here are some of the best experiences you can have in Europe:

Visit the Christmas markets in December. They’re all over Europe but the best markets are in Germany. One of my favorite trips was checking out different markets every night, eating sausages and drinking gluhwein, just enjoying the festive atmosphere with no pressure to sightsee.

Island-hop around Croatia or Greece. These two countries are home to the most glorious islands! Whether you book a sailing cruise (like I did in Croatia) or book ferries between islands, you’ll be experiencing some of the most beautiful coastal scenery in Europe.

Spend time underneath the midnight sun. Whether you do it in Iceland, Finland, Norway, or somewhere else entirely, it can be a trippy experience to be swimming in a lake underneath a pale pink sky at midnight. It’s even better if you skinny-dip while doing it amongst a group of nonchalant Finnish women!

Take a ride through the canals of Venice, Amsterdam, or Bruges. Find your perfect canal city and relax in a boat. There’s no better way to see the cities than from the water!

Sit in an Irish pub and listen to traditional music. Order a Guinness — yes, it tastes much better in Ireland than anywhere else — and listen to the magic as musicians join in with each other, play off each other, and make the crowd go wild. You’ll have a group of friends in no time!

Hike through the Alps — or ski down them. Europe’s most majestic mountains are begging for you to visit. Whether you go skiing in St. Moritz or get in some hiking in Italy’s South Tyrol, whether you attempt Mount Blanc in Chamonix, France, or snowboard through Austria in August, the Alps will invigorate your body and spirit.

Attend one of Europe’s quirkiest festivals. My favorite? Up Helly Aa, where you dance with Vikings in the Shetland Islands all night long. Or head to Las Fallas in Valencia, Spain, where things burn and explode for three days. Catch live performances or street theater at Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival or Ana Desenica in Ljubljana, Slovenia. My favorite weird festival? The Air Guitar World Championships in Finland.

Visit the places where your family comes from. If you’re of European descent, it can be a lot of fun tracing your roots and seeing where your ancestors once lived. I did that in Latvia, Sicily, and Scotland.

Sit at a cafe and people-watch. It’s universal. When the sun starts going down, that’s the time to see and be seen in lots of places throughout Southern Europe. Whether you’re enjoying a glass of red on a Rome piazza while well-dressed people stroll by, or having a coffee at a sidewalk cafe in Zagreb, or enjoying cava in Madrid as kids kick a soccer ball around, it is such a quintessential European experience.

Kate in Zadar, Croatia

Is Europe Good for First-Time Solo Female Travelers?

Yes, Europe is perfect for first-time solo female travelers! Europe is easy, safe, and a lot of fun. Here’s where Europe particularly shines for first-timers:

Infrastructure. Travelers have been coming to Europe for centuries. Europe has all kinds of hotels, restaurants, and tours catering to travelers, particularly in its most popular destinations. And if you’re from North America or Australia, you’ll be blown away by how much better the public transportation is, especially the trains.

Well-worn tourist trail. While it seems like so many people are talking about getting off the tourist trail, it can be very beneficial to newer travelers. Knowing that lots of travelers go from Rome to Florence to Venice can make your own travel planning a lot easier. (And then you can flesh it out with side trips to Pienza and Bologna!)

Familiarity. It can be jarring to head to Asia or Africa for your first solo trip. And if you’re heading to India or China, yikes, that’s a big cultural leap. But Europe is familiar and easy for Westerners. You’ll understand the food; you can converse with the people. Save Africa and Asia for once you get a little more comfortable traveling on your own.

English proficiency. Of course this varies quite a bit throughout the continent, but for the most part, you can find someone who speaks English when you need it. English proficiency tends to be the highest in The Netherlands and the Nordic countries, plus you have Britain and Ireland; I found English proficiency to be the lowest in less-developed countries like Albania, Moldova, and Belarus.

Natural and human-made beauty. Whether you want cliffs or castles, fjords or palaces, Europe is arguably the most photogenic continent on the planet. Whether you want to be holding up the Leaning Tower of Pisa or standing in front of the tiny island in Lake Bled, you’ll have beautiful photos no matter where you go.

Kate in Colmar, France

Is Europe Good for Experienced Solo Female Travelers?

Absolutely, Europe is great for experienced and expert travelers! Even though I’ve traveled to every country in Europe, lived in two countries in Europe, and have spent years here altogether, I’m going to keep returning to Europe as often as possible. I love Europe that much.

In fact, when you’re more experienced, you feel more freedom to concentrate on lesser-known areas. A first-timer might travel to London, Paris, and Amsterdam — but I’ve done that. Recently I chose to visit the Alsace region of France and I absolutely LOVED it. This is more of the kind of Europe travel I want to do: concentrating on a smaller region in depth rather than hitting up Europe’s greatest hits.

If you’re not into Europe, that’s fine — but don’t let anyone tell you that Europe is only for beginners. I’m speaking specifically of travel snobs who try to convince you that Europe is full of novice travelers and thus boring. NOT TRUE! There are plenty of stones left to overturn.

Kate in Taormina, Sicily

Is Europe Safe?

Most women are nervous about visiting Europe because they’re not sure whether it’s safe. Many of these women have well-meaning relatives and friends who tell them that sure, Europe’s safe if you have a man with you, but it’s not safe for a woman on her own.

Those well-meaning relatives and friends are wrong. They’re coming from a place of love and concern, but they’re wrong.

I always tell travelers to consider the source. Who is giving you this advice? Ask yourself the following questions:

Does this person travel?

Does this person travel in my style of traveling (i.e. backpacking as opposed to resort travel)?

Has this person been to this destination?

Has this person been to this destination recently (in the past 3-5 years)?

If the answer is yes to all of these, chances are you have an accurate source and should listen to what he or she has to say. But if the answer to one or more of these questions is no, you should seek out opinions elsewhere.

A lot of people who claim that Europe is unsafe have never traveled there and are remembering something bad about Europe they heard on cable news a few years ago. Or maybe their friend got robbed in Madrid in the 90s and they’ve been holding that experience in their mind ever since. Or maybe they saw Takena few too many times.

Generally speaking, Europe is as safe as your hometown. And your hometown is probably a very safe place — but that doesn’t mean nothing bad ever happens there. You could be killed by a drunk driver any day, but that doesn’t keep you from leaving your home.

There are two main risks that women traveling solo to Europe need to be aware of: petty theft and intoxication. You need to be ready to keep your belongings close while out and about, and you should drink much less than you do at home. Read on for more tips on both of those.

Kate somewhere in Albania

Travel and Safety Tips for Europe

The main risk you face in Europe is petty theft. The best way to guard against that is to protect your belongings in your room and on your person. Lock up your belongings in a portable safe and lock it to something sturdy in your room. When you’re out, use a crossbody purse that zips shut (see more here on what kind of handbag is best for travel) and you may want to try a Speakeasy Travel Supply Scarf, which has a hidden pocket for your valuables that no pickpocket will know about. Use a good day bag that locks if you’re carrying your camera and lenses; I use this one.

Keep a backup stash of cash in USD and an extra debit card in your luggage. Hide these in different, random places.

Pickpocketing is much more common in Europe than in the US. Two cities where it’s particularly insidious are the tourist hotspots of Paris and Barcelona. Be extra cautious with your belongings. Hold onto your bags when on public transportation. Don’t let your purse stay behind your back.

Dress to blend in with European women. European women tend to be well dressed and groomed, especially in the cities; dressing this way will help you keep a low profile. Don’t wear athletic wear, shorts, baseball caps, or torn jeans. Any of these items will instantly mark you as a clueless tourist.

Don’t wear athletic sneakers or flip-flops; instead, bring nice flats, boots, sandals, or fashion sneakers (think leather). The Walking Company is my go-to for comfortable shoes that are cute; I strongly recommend black ABEO flats, which have fantastic arch support. I prefer to dress up in Europe; it makes for better photos. I tend to wear tailored dresses in the warmer months and nice jeans, boots, and a black jacket with a Speakeasy scarf in the cooler months. Sunglasses are always important.

Be very cautious about your drinking. Europeans tend not to drink to excess (with some exceptions — hello there, Britain). Be aware of your drinking limits and drink less than you usually do when at home. Limiting yourself to two drinks is often a pretty good rule. Keep an eye on your drinks and only take drinks from the bartender.

Learn the best travel routes in Europe. My favorite site and app for this is Rome2Rio, where you put in two different cities and they tell you how to get between them. This is especially valuable for unusual routes in Europe (like when I went from eastern Slovakia to southern Poland). You can safely travel Europe by train, plane, or bus.

Ignore the Roma (formerly known as gypsies, a racist term that you should phase out of your vocabulary) and try to keep your distance. The Roma target tourists for scams in the popular tourist zones of Europe, whether that’s panhandling while holding a sedated baby or poking you to distract you while they pickpocket you. DO NOT GIVE THEM MONEY. You are rewarding a system where the men enjoy the money and force the women and children to work.

You are not obligated to tip the musicians who play near or in restaurants. However, if you make eye contact or make any indication that you’re enjoying the music, they will hound you for tips until you give in. And if you are enjoying the music, you should give them a euro.

Ask your taxi driver to use the meter. If not, you could be charged an obscene amount. If there is no meter and no other option for a ride, negotiate the rate in advance.

Consider faking a phone call when you get an Uber or cab. Sometimes if you’re taking a cab at night or in a rural area, it can help if you fake a call on your phone. Pretend to call a friend, read the driver’s license plate clearly, making sure the driver sees, say that you’ll be there in a few minutes, then get in the car. While most cabs and Ubers are fine, this just adds another layer of security.

Prepare for all kinds of weather. Europe’s climate varies widely. Summers can be extremely hot in Southern Europe; however, an August trip to Paris or Edinburgh or Copenhagen could be cold and drizzly the whole time. Or it could be a little of everything. Bring a variety of layers. No matter where you’re going, bring a high quality umbrella!

In hot destinations like Spain or southern Italy, shops often close in the early afternoon for a siesta during the hottest part of the day. Be sure to hydrate frequently and wear broad-spectrum sunscreen.

The water is safe to drink in most of Western Europe, but not everywhere. See this graphic for a guide on water safety. While most travelers in Europe rely on bottled water, it creates a major waste issue, even in countries that recycle. For this reason, I recommend you bring a reusable bottle and invest in a SteriPen water purifier (much better and faster than tablets) if you’re traveling to areas where the water isn’t safe.

Consider bringing a Speakeasy Travel Supply scarf. These beautiful scarves are designed and sewed by my friend and have a hidden passport pocket in them. I love these scarves (I even designed my own!) and they are so good at keeping your valuables hidden. They’re also extremely chic, enough to work in a fashion-conscious city like Paris or Rome.

Don’t let food allergies stop you from traveling in Europe. It’s easy to communicate food allergies in English-speaking countries or countries with high English proficiency like the Netherlands or the Nordics. Beyond that, many countries are very understanding about food allergies, especially Italy.

If you’re a celiac, my friend Jodi has written excellent, in-depth gluten-free translation cards for Greece, Italy, France, Portugal, Germany and Spain (both Spanish and Catalan). Each card is tailored to the local dishes of the country.

Finally, invest in a guidebook. Even as an expert traveler, I love guidebooks. They’re filled with detailed information about everything from travel times between cities to medical clinics serving foreigners. I’m a Lonely Planet fan and I recommend Lonely Planet’s Europe guidebook. I buy the digital version and store the PDF on iBooks on my phone. You can either buy the whole book or individual chapters, which is a budget-friendly option if you’re visiting a few different parts of Europe.

If you’re concentrating on a single country, consider the book or chapters from a more specific book like Italy, Eastern Europe, or Great Britain.

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