I’ll admit it. I’m struggling being anchored in the UK, with little to no travel plans for the near future. This time last year I’d already completed two trips and had two more in the works. Having only 12 days holiday to use in the next six months means my travel plans are limited to long weekends, bank holidays and one or two quick breaks. It’s not ideal.
So while I’m struggling along in full-time employment, I thought I’d look back at all of the places I visited last year – the first year I tried solo travelling, too. I mainly stayed inside Europe but ventured out once to Africa, where I hope to travel more to in the future.
Aside a quick overview of where I stayed, I’ve added my top tip for each destination. So if you’re looking for the best place to grab a snack, where to explore outside of the city or simply how to stay on top of public transport, then keep reading!
If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’ll know that I entered 2017 in Paris on my first ever Contiki trip. I’ve visited Paris a few times on various school trips (and a trip to Disneyland when was younger) but it was a different experience going solo. I got to see all of the sights and I made some amazing friends at the same time. I’m still in touch with some of them now – a year later! This photo was taken when a group of us decided to try snails for the first time – can you see the hesitation in my eyes? I’m glad I tried them, but I don’t think I’ll be eating them again. No matter how hard I tried to pretend they were a strange variation of garlic bread, I still couldn’t get over the texture.
Top tip: hunt down the back streets for restaurants. They’re a lot cheaper, more authentic and you’ll get better service than on the busy, touristy main roads.
This was the first country I visited on my proper ‘proper’ solo trip. I booked my flight to Copenhagen for £16, which was kind of why I took the jump to go there. It was cold, but a great place to go, especially for a solo traveller. I stayed in the Copenhagen Downtown Hostel, which I’d 100% recommend. I spent a whole day cycling around the city with some new friends, and I went out every single night I was there – both expensive and terrible for my liver. I saw so many great sites in Copenhagen but this image was taken while the sun set walking home from a meal out with people from my hostel.
Top tip: For cheap drinks in the city, check out ‘Billy Booze’. It turns out ‘billy’ is slang for ‘cheap’ in Danish, rather than just a terribly named bar. During happy hour, the drinks are around £3.50 for a double vodka lemonade, as opposed to around £8ish+ elsewhere in the city.
I started my trip to Stockholm with the world’s worst hangover, on account of getting back to my hostel room in Copenhagen at 6:30am after a night out and having to get up at 7:15 to get a train to the airport. However, when I got there I fell in love. Stockholm is one of the most chilled out, relaxed places I’ve ever been. The hostel was incredible – City Backpackers is voted one of the best in the world and I can see why. You have to take your shoes off to enter (a Swedish tradition) which makes it feel incredibly home-y, and there were loads of areas to chill if you wanted to spend some time relaxing at the hostel. The city itself was expensive but also just incredibly cool – in the Swedish way you’d typically expect. I’m definitely going to go back when it’s warmer. On one rainy day in Sweden I rode around on the underground for a few hours, which would be weird in any other country, but it’s one of the city’s biggest art galleries, with every station decorated differently.
Top tip: Take a boat tour to see other areas of the city. The tours are inexpensive and allow you to hop on and hop off, and see different parts that are more difficult (or, impossible) to access on foot.
The first thing I bought in Warsaw was an umbrella, which was a wise decision because it poured with rain every. single. day. The hostel I stayed at, Oki Doki, was cool and colourful but didn’t have the same amount of places to chill as the previous ones. But regardless, I spent my first night at a comedy club with some boys who were staying there, and then I became really good friends with some Canadians I met outside the hostel. While there, I had arguably the best brunch of my life at a place called AiOLi around the corner from my hostel. Warsaw is cheap, but I’m pretty sure the guy undercharged me because I was on my own – I got my entire bacon and avocado brunch with a coffee and orange juice… for 80p. This picture is of the old town, which was actually rebuilt after World War 2… making it not so authentically old after all.
Top tip: Eat everything you can. Food in Poland is delicious and cheap. There are a lot of vegan and veggie options too, meaning it doesn’t all have to be unhealthy. But the cheap prices mean you should definitely branch out because, if you don’t like what you’ve ordered, you can just get something else.
Bratislava might not seem like a typical holiday destination, but the flight was £36, and it was also cheap to get to Budapest afterwards, which was my next stop. As a city, Bratislava can probably be completed in about two days. The first day I went on a walking tour and I think I saw pretty much all of the big sights within those three hours – it’s a small city. One of the best sights was the incredible Blue Church – the inside is pictured above. Definitely worth checking out if you find yourself in the area. Bratislava was also really hot, and it’s situated nearby to both Vienna and Budapest, making it a great stop off point if you’ve got 24 hours to kill. I stayed at the Patio Hostel, which had a cool outside area to chill in, and very small drinks, but wasn’t the best for socialising – and the plug sockets in the room didn’t work either. My room was nice enough, but the whole place could do with a bit of a clean up in all honesty.
Top tip: I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – go to the Blue Church. It’s tucked away a little bit, but searching around (or hunting down a walking tour) will easily get you there. Both the inside and outside are breathtaking.
I visited Budapest in 2016 with my family, but due to having Glandular Fever at the time, I didn’t get to explore as much as I would have liked. Either way, I had a completely different experience there on my own. I ended up spending almost a week in Budapest because I left Bratislava early. I stayed at the Wombats Hostel which is another I’d highly recommend. Budapest is one of the cheapest places I’ve been and I adored the food – except for the lack of vegetables. Spending a week in a city might seem like too long, but I spent time with three different groups of people and got to see almost everything in the city. I also went to the ‘Sparty’ (a night party at the Széchenyi baths with music and lots of alcohol) which was…interesting. I spent a lot of time with my roommates there and became really close to one of them – to the extent that we stayed up until 8am afterwards just chatting, until he had to catch a flight to Madrid.
Top tip: It might be obvious, but make sure to sample the traditional Hungarian food. It’s dirt cheap, and very ‘comfort food’-esque. Think lots of meat and potatoes, all in delicious sauces!
I had only three days between flying back from Budapest and leaving to go to Madrid – one of which was spent moving out of my university house and driving everything 125 miles home. Madrid was excellent – I’d never been there before and truly loved it. Being able to practise my Spanish, being surrounded by more tapas than I could eat and also travelling with some great friends. It was overall a very fun time. Our hostel was the Las Musas, which has a great rooftop bar and €2 Sangria during happy hour – what more reason could you need to visit? It was boiling hot, I could use student discount and I was almost permanently drunk on fruity red wine. Although it’s nowhere near the sea (somewhere I try and spend as much time as possible) I’m desperate to go back to Madrid.
Top tip: Check out the Royal Gardens behind the cathedral. The outskirts are filled with tourists but the further in you get, the quieter they become. With shaded and sunny patches, it’s a great place to wander around and get a tan, while enjoying some nature.
I’ve visited Barcelona before, as anyone who’s read my failures of studying abroad blog post will already know. It’s arguably my favourite city, ever, and I think I might move there one day. I was also there with friends this time, and as great as it was, I think I’m going to go back solo next time. It was weird being back there after having to leave so sadly a year before, and it brought back a lot of memories. Because we were trying to travel on a (very small) budget, we ended up staying in an Airbnb a bit further inland than I had previously. This meant we had to travel for around 40 minutes to get to the centre. My friends weren’t too impressed with this and I think it tainted our trip a little. We spent a lot of time on the beach, which I hadn’t done previously, and also took a day trip to the Illa Fantasia waterpark for one of my friend’s birthdays. The waterpark was probably more suited for kids, but was still a hilarious day.
Top tip: It’s worth venturing outside of the city centre, if you’ve got the time. Take a trip up the mountains to Montserrat if you’re a nature lover, or venture to the Salvador Dalí museum in Cadaqués, Girona, if you’re a fan of art. The latter is more of a day trip than the former, with more than an hour of transport each way to get there, but it’s incredible.
Once my friends flew home from Barcelona, I left them to fly to Lisbon. A lovely change of scenery, (especially for someone now more suited to travelling alone, not with six friends in tow) I fell in love with Lisbon. It was like Barcelona’s younger, more chilled out sister. I stayed at the Living Lounge hostel and tried to stay an extra day but they were fully booked. Another hostel I’d definitely recommend – the bathrooms were amazing and the rooms themselves clean and comfortable. The best thing about this hostel was that it did group dinners, allowing me to meet people from the hostel that I possibly wouldn’t have bumped into otherwise. While in Lisbon I joined a walking tour and met two Australian boys. After the tour ended we all got on a train to Sintra, a town about an hour outside Lisbon. We spent the day exploring there on the scariest (but also funniest) tuk tuk journey of my life.
Top tip: Another place to take a day trip, but there are a few options: Sintra can be done in the space of a few hours or the entire day, depending on how long you want to devote to the different castles. For a trip to the beach, take the train to Cascais.
I planned to fly to Porto, but my flight had only cost me £19 and, in short, I couldn’t be bothered. Instead, I decided to catch a bus, which didn’t take long at all. The journey was fine, although I somehow lost my Kindle en route. In porto I met new friends on a walking tour again, and then spent the rest of my time there with them. We became a sort of girl gang – going out for dinners together, exploring the city and meeting up for brunch. They were girls from all over the world so it was lovely to have a big international group. I tried Porto’s famous port wine, which was horrible. Not being one for strong alcohol anyway, it probably wasn’t going to be a positive reaction. I also ended up chatting to a guy in the hostel and going on a spontaneous dinner date with him, which was cute. We got into a taxi and he asked the driver to take us to a good seafood restaurant, and we ended up by the sea, but in the middle of nowhere. A fun, last minute evening. This photo was taken when we were walking by the river, unsuccessfully trying to find somewhere to eat.
Top tip: Porto is home to some typically ‘boring’ places you should definitely visit. The first is a McDonald’s (believe it or not) called the Imperial McDonald’s. Complete with works of art and chandeliers, it’s amazing. Check it out here if you don’t believe me. The second is Livraria Lello – a library that inspired J K Rowling when she wrote Harry Potter.
I wasn’t sure whether to include London in this post, because I already know it quite well (having grown up just outside it) but I’ve been living up north in Sheffield for three years and I officially moved to London in the summer so I felt it was worth including. Living in London is very different to being a tourist here, but I love it because there’s always something going on. If ever I’m bored on an evening or weekend (sadly, daytimes are now filled with employment) I’m never short of something to do here. This picture was taken at a private museum called God’s Own Junkyard (pictured) in Walthamstow, north London. It’s a bit of a trek to get to but so worth a visit. The museum is tucked away on an industrial estate and is free to enter, and there’s a cute coffeeshop selling drinks and snacks tucked away by the back.
Top tip: Most people tend to stick to the neighbourhoods they’ve heard of when visiting London – Soho (home to Oxford Street), visiting Buckingham Palace, and possibly Shoreditch, home to All Things Edgy. Instead, branch out – there are cool restaurants, galleries and things to do all over London. For help and ideas, check out the Dojo app.
Sal, Cape Verde
Every summer, my family go away on holiday to somewhere warm and by the sea. For the last few years I’ve been interning over summer and unable to go. This year, after finishing my degree, I was finally able to tag along. I’m not usually someone who enjoys beach holidays, because I get bored pretty easily and want to explore. But after three years of not having one I was completely happy to sit back with a good book and chill for a week. And chill, I did. One day we ventured out of the hotel into the local town, but other than that I spent a week either in the pool or in the sea, relaxing and having some time to spend doing nothing but drinking cocktails and eating good food. Admittedly, I did have some freelance stuff to do while I was there, but i’ve never been happier to work than I was sitting in the Cape Verde sunshine, a mojito in hand, typing away.
Top tip: As I said, I didn’t really venture too far from the hotel during my trip to Cape Verde, but the visit to the local town was great. We stayed on the island of Sal, and we visited one of the piers where locals catch and sell fish. They literally pull the fish out of the sea in front of you and kill/prepare it right there. It’s a bit shocking but also really interesting to watch.
Valencia was a spontaneous trip after starting full-time work. I got back from Cape Verde on the Thursday and started work on Monday morning – a bit of a reality shock. Work is great and I really enjoy it, but I desperately missed being able to up sticks and disappear as and when I wanted. So I used some of my holiday up on a trip to Valencia – somewhere right by the sea, warm and Spanish speaking. And my trip fulfilled all of the above. I got a tan, spent a day chilling at the beach on my own, and another one with people from my hostel. I went to see a midnight fireworks display, took a walking tour around all of the main sights (and parroted the facts I’d learned to all of my roommates afterwards) and drank so much sangria. I stayed in the Red Nest hostel, which was great for socialising and the rooms were comfy, too. My only (small) complaint was that the phone chargers were inside the lockers – great for security but not so much if you sleep with your phone beside you! I’m definitely going back to Valencia again.
Top tip: Be hesitant of public transport in Valencia. Not in the sense of being mugged or attacked, but rather there seem to be a lot of alterations. On my solo trip to the beach, my bus home had been diverted due to roadworks, and I had no idea where it was stopping instead. My basic Spanish told me that the bus didn’t appear to be re-diverting to anywhere, so it took me soooo long to get home. Obviously, this might not be a common thing, but something to keep an eye out for.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
I visited Amsterdam twice in 2017. I went once for my 21st birthday in January, and once right at the end of the year to use up my holiday time as a solo trip. Both were great for their own reasons. With my friends, I stayed in an Airbnb near Dam square, and on my own, I stayed at the Bulldog Hostel in the Red Light District. I made friends with a girl in my hostel room literally as soon as I arrived, so both trips were similar in terms of exploring with other people. i’ve visited Amsterdam four times now, but I still learned a lot about the city from going on a walking tour because my room wasn’t ready when I first arrived. My friend, a girl named Sarah from the US, was curious as to why everywhere advertises Argentinian steak… in Holland. It turns out the old king was married to a woman from Argentina, although most of the steak isn’t really authentic by now. But we did discover an amazing steak restaurant called Cau, which I’m dreaming of visiting again.
Top tip: Visit the Pancake Bakery. It’s a little out of the centre (around a 10-15 minute walk from Dam Square) but sweet Lord they do the best pancakes I’ve ever eaten in my life. They’re not too expensive – unless you go for an option with all of the toppings – but they’re filling, and flavoursome, and delicious.
Where did you visit in 2017? Let me know in the comments!