When I realized I had a break from school, I immediately started booking a week in Europe. It was my first time travelling alone to Europe and when I was preparing to leave, I started to realize how crazy I was. A girl, alone, taking on Europe’s main cities with no real plans in place.
I ended up falling in love with all three of these places. I’m so glad I spent one week in Europe as a solo female traveler.
In this post I detail how to get around these cities, the best sites to see if you’re short on time (including some hidden gems I stumbled on), and links to my favorite hostels. I’m an affiliate with Booking.com – accommodation links are affiliate links.
London has my heart, it’s my favorite of all of these cities and one of the easiest to fly into from abroad. London is one of the best cities for tourists, the city makes it incredibly easy to get around and find the top sites. It’s the perfect first stop for a week in Europe.
From any airport, a shuttle into the city will cost about 6-15GBPs. I’ve done the Gatwick Express – it’s fast and easy. You can book this in advance or when you arrive, it doesn’t really matter. On this trip, I traveled from a town in Essex by train.
Any London traveler needs an Oyster Card, they can be bought at major tube stations and you will be refunded any extra funds along with the price of your card at the end of the trip. For a typical day, I loaded mine with about 12GBPs. The Oyster Card works on the London City Bus, the Tube, and the DLR.
The CityMapper app lets you enter in your destination and it tells you the exact route to take. You can also share your route with friends. I used it in Paris and London, here’s the (non-affliate) links to CityMapper for iPhone or Android.
Best London Sights for Travelers with 48hrs or Less
When I stepped out of the Westminister Station I felt like I was inside of a postcard. The Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, London Eye, Trafalgar Square, and Westminister Abbey are all in this area – it’s a tad overwhelming but the perfect place to start any day in London.
From here, it’s a quick ride on the tube to Tower Bridge and London Bridge. This is where my favourite food market is -Borough market. I can smell the Pad Thai just writing about this place. Around London Bridge is the Tate Modern Museum and Shakespeare’s Globe, we skipped these places because we didn’t have much time.
For a few hours in the afternoon, we went to the British Museum. You could also choose to visit the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. The British Museum hosts one of the world’s largest Egyptian exhibits, the Rosetta Stone, and sculptures from the Pantheon. The Museum has put together a list of what to see if you’ve only got one hour. The National Gallery has pieces from Claude Monet,Georges Serrait, and Van Gogh (yes, that famous sunflower one). Here’s a list the museum has of it’s top 30 paintings.
Everything I’ve talked about so far is free, unless of course you buy food at Borough Market. Last but not least, you simply must finish a long day of exploring London with a beer at an English pub.
Hidden Gem- the best place to get a good view – People pay a ridiculous amount of money to get a beautiful view from the Shard. But, just passed the Shard is the Tate Modern Museum- you can walk to the top for free.
Another alternative for a London view is to go up the Water Garden, which is essentially a garden and restaurant area on top of a skyscraper.
If heights aren’t you’re cup of tea, the Embankment bridge will give you a view down the Thames River of the London Eye, Houses of Parliament, and Big Ben.
Because the Tube makes it so easy to get around, you really don’t need to book accommodation right in the main areas. That being said, anything in East London or past Chelsea is pretty far out. So, I’d recommend looking at the Tube Map and picking hostels that fall into the “Zone 1” area -you’ll also save money on the tube by only travelling in this part.
I’ve stayed at Astor Hyde Hostel and loved it, the location is a few blocks from Harrod’s and right beside Hyde Park. Kensington Palace or Harrod’s are about a 10 minute walk. They have a 1$ breakfast and all funds go to a local charity.
On this particular trip, I didn’t spend the night in London. Instead, I took a night bus to Paris. If you’re only spending one week in Europe, this is a great option to save some money and time.
Looking for more on London? Read “Explore London on 40 pounds or Less / Day”
Paris is romanticized, and for good reason. Parisians fill up the cafes on every street, leaning back with a cafe au lait and reading the newspaper. It’s a city everyone should visit and experience for themselves.
I took a night train with OuiBus but later found out the cheaper service is MegaBus. Honestly, the night bus isn’t ideal. You have to stop halfway through the night to get your passport checked and the underground chunnel is fully lit so it makes it hard to sleep. But, it’s a cheap way to get to Paris.
On my third trip to France, my family and I took the train. This was by far the easiest and most hassle free option. However, we did have to show up to the station about one to two hours earlier to go through security and customs.
The Citymapper app I mentioned above works in Paris as well. In all the European cities I visited, the transport was very easy to figure out.
Best Paris Sights for Travelers with 48hrs or Less
I started my day in Paris perfectly- with a coffee, croissant, and a book at a cafe near the Notre Dame. All of Paris’ main sights are relatively close, so from here I walked to the Love Lock Bridge, the Eiffel Tower, Champs d’Ellisais, Arc de Triomphe, Luxembourg Gardens, the Palais de Justice, and the Louvre. I would not recommend trying to fit this in one day, it was pretty rushed and tiring but it’s certainly possible.
The second day in Paris I took my time wandering through the Luxembourg Gardens. Then, I made my way over to the Palais de Justice and the Gallerie Lafayette. I took the metro to The Sacre Coeur and Moulin Rouge, which are a bit far from the centre of Paris. The Sacre Coeur is an incredible church and has a remarkable view point of all of Paris, I’d recommend going at sunset.
(Kind of) Hidden Gem – My favourite bookstore in all of Europe is Shakespeare+Co in Paris. This small bookstore was originally opened by Sylvia Path. Famous writers are known to have frequented here, like Hemingway and Fitzgerald. It has the most quaint reading room upstairs with a typewriter that looks like it has cranked out some emotive novels. Vanity Fair calls it “arguably the most famous independent bookstore in the world”.
I have to give a shout out to my hostel in Paris– it has a rooftop area with a view of the Sacre Coeur and Eiffel Tower. It was absolutely dreamy. The location isn’t the best, a bit far from the city center but the metro ride into the center is fifteen minutes maximum.
When I was deciding where to go next, I plugged in “Paris to Everywhere” in a Google Flight search, and found a 9GBP flight to Milan. So, I booked it. Honestly, I didn’t really want to go to Milan at first because I heard that all it has to offer is the Duomo.
Milan is more of a business-y city then Rome or Venice. I took two half day trips to nearby towns instead of exploring Milan.
Like I said, flights to Milan are cheap. But when flying out of Paris and in to Milan, take a look at what airport it is. Waking up at 1:45 to catch my flight was not fun and the small Beauvais airport didn’t have any places to get food. This is a common thing with budget airlines, you’ll fly to smaller airports miles away from your actual destination.
Getting around Milan and the surrounding area is pretty easy, the Italian trains are very easy to use, just make sure you do validate your ticket at a (usually green) box. I had no problem buying them on the spot, there’s no reason to book in advance unless you want to be 100% sure you’re getting a cheap fare.
Best Milan and Area Sights for Travelers with 48hrs or Less
When I landed outside of Milan in Bergamo, I looked at the bus stop and saw one going to Milan and one going to the center of Bergamo. I thought about spending more time sitting and getting to a place, and I honestly just needed food. So I opted to go into Bergamo.
In Bergamo, these old city walls encircle the old town area. The hill and mountain views from here are really amazing and everything is a lot less expensive than in Milan. I got a pizza from one of the little shops and walked along the ancient walls for hours.
I took a quick hour long train back to Milan that evening and went to the Duomo at night. The Duomo really is amazing and it’s worth the trip just to see it. For decent pictures, either go early in the morning or late at night. Another interesting place in Milan is the Sforza Castle and surrounding park, I visited that the next morning.
The other day trip I did was to Lake Como, about an hour away from Milan by train (tickets should be about 15GBP). It is one of the most beautiful places I have seen and I sat by the water for a while, it was so relaxing.
My hostel in Milan was the best hostel ever! It had a rooftop bar and garden with cute hammocks. They supplied a free healthy dinner for all the guests. Guests could take a wi-fi pack out with them during the day. The kitchen upstairs was stocked with cookies, bars, and fruit, anyone was welcome to grab whatever. Seriously, Ostello Bello Grande is doing it right.
My total trip cost for the week in Europe was around 1000$CAD, including another four days in Ireland.
The main mistakes that hurt my budget was not packing food and airport transport for my early flights. My ubers and taxis actually cost me more than all my flights combined. I splurged on boutique hostels but it was so worth it for me. Also, my flight to Dublin was quite pricey.
Honestly, wherever you go in Europe it’s bound to be amazing. These three cities are must go places for any study abroad student, and all of them can be easily explored in a week or over a few weekends. Even though I was nervous before going, it was one of the best weeks of my entire study abroad.
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