Illustrated collage of cities mentioned in the article

The Ultimate Itinerary for a European-Inspired Solo Trip Around the U.S.

Re-create an epic European adventure without crossing the Atlantic

We’re celebrating the joy of solo travel. Let us inspire your next adventure with features about why 2021 is the ultimate year for a solo trip and how traveling alone can actually come with amazing perks. Then, read personal features from writers who have traversed the globe alone, from hiking the Appalachian Trail, to riding rollercoasters, and finding themselves while discovering new places. Whether you’ve taken a solo trip or you’re considering it, learn why a trip for one should be on your bucket list.

The idea of a solo trip around Europe has become a romantic (almost cliche) journey for travelers looking for a sense of adventure. For some, jetting off across the Atlantic to be immersed in a different landscape, culture, language, and lifestyle feels like a rite of passage, a tool to find oneself, or simply enough, a long-time dream come true.

Whatever the reason, the many travelers that have done this would likely tell you that it was one of the most memorable experiences of their lives—touching down at London-Heathrow and exploring the city before boarding a train to Paris to indulge in world-class food and art, then flying off to the Greek Islands to lounge on serene, sandy beaches and watch the sunset over Santorini. 

Unfortunately, the past year has put this bucket list adventure for many on hold with border restrictions and safety concerns, and it’s still uncertain when a trip like this will become possible. The good news? You can re-create this epic adventure without crossing the Atlantic. The United States, a melting pot of people from all over the world, is home to several destinations that offer amazing and authentic experiences you’d find in Europe. You might not be able to go to the Netherlands to see the tulip fields this spring, but Holland, Michigan, founded by Dutch settlers, hosts the country’s largest tulip festival, hundreds of miles of bike paths, and Dutch-style windmills. And Switzerland may be out of reach, but you can find a worthy substitute in Ouray, Colorado, a charming small town surrounded by outdoor adventure opportunities.

If you’re hoping to set off on a solo trip this year that’s truly reminiscent of Europe—in other words, exploring historical and beautiful places while connecting with people from different backgrounds and sampling delicious food along the way—you can achieve that here. Read on for the ultimate solo adventure itinerary around the U.S., with the stops suggested listed in the ideal order of visit.

Poulsbo, Washington
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Instead of Norway: Poulsbo, Washington

Poulsbo, Washington, a small city about an hour and a half from Seattle, is nicknamed “Little Norway on the Fjord,” and after spending a few days here (or even just a few hours), you’ll undoubtedly see why. The city was established in the 1880s by Norweigan immigrants who had previously lived in the Midwest but moved to this coastal location for its similarity to their home country; it’s situated along the perimeter of Liberty Bay with views of the Olympic Mountains to the west. 

Since that time, the city has maintained a strong sense of its Scandinavian heritage and connection to its European counterpart. In 1975, King Olav of Norway visited Poulsbo to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Norwegian immigration to the U.S.; Norweigan was the only language spoken in town until World War II; and in 1990, the town officially named two destinations in Norway (Namsos and Kautokeino) as its sister cities. 

You can learn about all of this and more at the Heritage Museum and the Maritime Museum during your visit. Or, you can simply stroll around the town to spot some of the Scandinavian influence yourself, such as the flag of Norway hanging around town, thematic murals, and sailboats and kayaks floating in the water. 

Be sure to stop into Sluys Bakery, famous for its Poulsbo Bread, but it also sells various traditional Norweigan baked goods. (We recommend the Viking Donut, a massive chocolate glazed donut.) Everything is made from scratch, and they’ll make upwards of 5,000 donuts per day. Then, continue to wander, stopping into other shops, like Nordiska to browse Nordic home goods or Viking Brew Coffee when you need a caffeine fix; for souvenirs emblematic of the destination, shop at Marina Market. Cap off your evenings with Valholl Brewing, and watch the sunset over the marina and mountaintops. —Jamie Hergenrader, Senior Editor

Ferrari Carano Vineyard and Winery near Healdsburg, Sonoma County, northern California, USA
Ed Reschke / Getty Images

Instead of Italy: Healdsburg, California

If you've been dreaming of Tuscany's rolling hills, you need not travel further afield than California's Sonoma County. Just over an hour from San Francisco, the quaint town of Healdsburg will serve as your base for a wine-fueled exploration of the Dry Creek Valley area. And while there might not be dramatic castellos perched on hilltops or winding roads lined with Mediterranean cypress trees, you’ll almost certainly find that the Sonoma Valley’s world-class cuisine, wine, and lodging is well on par with its European counterparts.

Two wineries, in particular, will truly transport you: DaVero, which relies solely on Mediterranean grape varietals (a perfect match for Healdsburg's climate), and low-intervention winemaking to produce its striking wines, and Quivira, a biodiverse estate with honeybees, pigs, and chickens, known for excellent zinfandel and sauvignon blanc. (Yes, those two aren’t Italian, but we promise it’s still worth the visit!) While the wines at both properties are outstanding, you’ll want to be sure to pack a bottle of DaVero’s home-grown olive oil in your suitcase.

After a busy day tasting, rest your head at the classic Vintners Resort. Located closer to Santa Rosa, this is a longstanding favorite among Sonoma County visitors and is known for its vineyard-facing rooms with fireplaces. While its design skews more ultra-modern than Tuscan chic, Harmon Guest House, in the heart of downtown Healdsburg, offers bright, art-filled rooms filled with thoughtful local influences. Take out a complimentary bike from the hotel for a few hours—you can easily ride to DaVero, Armida Winery, De La Montanya Vineyard, and more.

While Healdsburg is an easy drive from San Francisco, there are options for those who want to go car-free—a harder ask in Tuscany! The Sonoma County Airport Express, an affordable, comfortable shuttle that runs from the San Francisco International Airport to the Sonoma County Airport and a few other stops in the Santa Rosa area, will resume service next month. Once you’re on the ground, rideshare services are readily available, as are private car services catering specifically to those with busy tasting schedules. Alternatively, the Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport does receive flights from cities like Denver, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and a few others. —Laura Ratliff, Senior Editorial Director

Catalina Island's famous landmark, the Casino.
Matthew Micah Wright / Getty Images

Instead of the Greek Islands: Catalina Island

White-washed buildings perched on a mountainside, freshly caught seafood, warm weather, and clear waters—this image may sound like we’re daydreaming about the Greek Islands, but this also describes Catalina Island, located just off the California coast. Like the Saronic Island of Spetses, Catalina is easy to get to (just an hour ferry from four SoCal cities) and is easily enjoyed in a few days.

When you first arrive, you’ll likely see shuttles and locals driving golf carts (available for rent), but beyond that, there are few vehicles on the island. That’s no issue, however, because Catalina Island is highly walkable. 

Deciding what to do depends on your vacation style. Outdoorsy types will love water sports (including scuba diving and kayaking), relatively remote campgrounds, and overland tours of the rugged landscape. If you really want to rough it, there’s the 38.5-mile Trans-Catalina Trail that takes at least three days to complete and guides you across the entire island. There’s also a nine-hole golf course, plenty of beachside cabanas, and small boutiques.

Most travelers will stay in Avalon, the only incorporated city on the island. Unless you’re heading out on the multi-day Trans-Catalina Trail, spend your first day in town getting to know Avalon, primarily by wandering around its main street, Crescent Avenue, where you’ll find plenty of shops and restaurants. Or for a more isolated experience, you can take a ferry to stay in the small village of Two Harbors. There, you’ll find more outdoor adventure opportunities, as well as Harbor Sands beach.

Fish will be on the menu at most restaurants, and if you’re an avid foodie with enough time and a strong appetite, you should be able to eat at all the restaurants within a few days. There aren’t many nightlife options (this is not a Mykonos parallel), but Harbor Reef Saloon is where to go for good drinks and good music. —Sherri Gardner, Associate Editor

Ouray Colorado
Richard Bittles / Getty Images

Instead of Switzerland: Ouray, Colorado

Think of Switzerland, specifically the Swiss Alps, and you likely envision a scene of a charming mountain town set in a peaceful valley against a backdrop of snow-capped, jagged peaks. That same picture would also be accurate for the town of Ouray, Colorado.

Nestled within the San Juan mountains of southwestern Colorado, this small town of only 1,000 residents actually dubs itself the “Switzerland of America” due to its mirrored scenery and reputation for outdoor adventure. If you’ve ever dreamed of hiking, skiing, or climbing around Interlaken (Switzerland’s adventure capital), you can check those off your list in this tiny Colorado town. 

On your first day, though, settle in to explore the town. You can find a detailed historical walking tour here, or simply stroll along Main Street and its side streets to view the Victorian architecture while popping into some shops and restaurants. (Fun fact: There are no chains in Ouray—every single business is locally owned.) For a glimpse into its past as a mining town, take the Bachelor Syracuse Mine Tour, where you can delve 1,500 feet into Gold Mountain and pan for gold at this historic mine that operated for 100 years. Spend the night at the Beaumont Hotel and Spa, which opened in 1887 and has attracted visitors such as Herbert Hoover, King Leopold of Belgium, and Oprah Winfrey.

On your second day, get outside. In summer, go for a hike. Start with the Lower Cascade Falls hike, a short trail that takes you from town to a gorgeous waterfall. From there, head to the nearby Perimeter Trail, a 6-mile loop that encircles the town. Or, for a Swiss-inspired adventure with a little more thrill, spend the day traversing cliff-side ladders at the Ouray Via Ferrata. In winter, time your visit for the annual Ouray Ice Festival, a multi-day event that includes an ice-climbing competition (the largest in North America), gear demos, lessons, and more. After your adventure of choice, give your feet a much-needed soak at Ouray Hot Springs or indulge in apres-ski at Ouray Brewery.

With the charm of Gimmelwald or Zermatt and the outdoor appeal of Interlaken, Ouray earns its nickname as “the Switzerland of America.” —Jamie Hergenrader, Senior Editor

Fredericksburg Memorial Library
Dean_Fikar / Getty Images

Instead of Germany: Fredericksburg, Texas

Celebrating its 175th anniversary in 2021, Fredericksburg, Texas, is a perfect mash-up of German influence and Texas small-town charm. Situated in the heart of Texas hill country, about 90 minutes from Austin, the town was the second German town in Texas when it was founded on May 8, 1846, by the Adelsverein, also known as the Society for the Protection of German Immigrants.

Today, the German heritage shines through in the quaint shops, delightful restaurants, and fascinating museums that line Fredericksburg’s streets. Start at the Vereins Kirche, the settlement’s first public building, to learn about life at the settlement, then visit the 3.5-acre Pioneer Museum, an interactive experience that showcases traditional German buildings and reenactments of the many trades that sustained early life here. Much of the town’s original architecture is so well preserved that the visitor’s bureau offers a brochure for an excellent self-guided walking tour.

Those interested in history and architecture should stay at one of Fredericksburg’s well-known “Sunday Houses.” These original historic lodgings served settler families who made the journey into town to attend church on weekends and conduct business. The Metzger Sunday house, built in 1898, is a favorite of many visitors, nestled among two other homes and situated just a block away from Main Street.

Unsurprisingly, nearly a dozen restaurants in town serve German-influenced cuisine. Try the bratwurst at Opa’s Smoked Meats, or visit Altstadt Brewery, whose German brews have taken top titles at the U.S. Beer Open Championships. (The kölsch, comparable to the Cologne favorite, is a crisp refresher on a scorching Texas summer day—and don’t skip the excellent chicken schnitzel!) —Laura Ratliff, Senior Editorial Director

A Dutch windmill in Holland, Michigan.
Jose Azel / Getty Images

Instead of the Netherlands: Holland, Michigan

While you may not be going to the region of Holland in the Netherlands this year instead, opt for the city of Holland, Michigan, founded by Dutch settlers in 1847. 

Not unlike Keukenhof in Lisse, the city sees more than 6 million tulips in full bloom come spring. A bulk of these beauties can be found at Veldheer Tulip Gardens, Holland’s only tulip farm, which boasts 800-plus varieties of the colorful perennials. The second and third-largest displays can be found along the Tulip Lanes, a 12-mile roadway that winds through the city’s neighborhoods, and the 36-acre Windmill Island Gardens. Time your visit for Holland’s annual nine-day Tulip Time, the largest tulip festival in the U.S. Typically held during the first two weeks of May (prime flower viewing), the festival celebrates the city’s Dutch heritage and local community with a Dutch market and costume exhibit, dockside tours of a replica topsail merchant sloop, and a carnival. 

Of course, there are other ways to get a taste of the Dutch countryside for those visiting Holland outside of tulip season. Windmill Island Gardens features dikes and canals, an antique Dutch Carousel, an Amsterdam street organ, and a 250-year-old working Dutch windmill. Meanwhile, you can dive into the Netherlands' culture by visiting Nelis’ Dutch Village, a living history attraction and theme park. In addition to hopping on a windmill Ferris wheel, you can take folk dance lessons; make your own Stroopwafel cookie; tour a Frisian farmhouse and barn; and watch demonstrations on cheese making, wooden shoe carving, and Delftware ceramics crafting. Later, check out the Holland Museum to see Dutch paintings from the 17th to 20th centuries and other cultural artifacts from the Netherlands, including original Dutch costumes and Delftware.

When you’re feeling hungry, look no further than deBoer Bakkerij & Dutch Brothers Restaurant. Head to their North location, where they serve up saucizenbroodjes (Dutch sausage rolls), klompen cakes, and omelets stuffed with Gouda cheese. Afterward, stop by their bakery for Dutch bread like Tijgerbrood (Dutch crunch), bruinbrood (brown bread), and Dutch currant.

It really shouldn’t come as no surprise that the Netherlands’ counterpart has more than 150 miles of bike paths and off-road trails. There are several places where you can rent a bike, including Velo City Cycles and Cross Country Cycle—so grab a bike and get exploring! —Elizabeth Preske, Associate Editor

Old State House, Boston, Massachusetts, America
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Instead of Dublin: Boston, Massachusetts

This New England city is as close in culture and history to Ireland as you’re ever going to get in the States. Boston is home to the country’s largest population of Irish Americans, with about 23 percent of the people who live here claiming Irish ancestry. Though the city is better known for its Freedom Trail, take time to walk the Irish Heritage Trail, featuring 20 historic sites and monuments honoring the city’s Irish roots in Downtown and Back Bay; stops include the Rose Kennedy Garden and the Boston Irish Famine Memorial, which pays tribute to the 100,000 Irish refugees who emigrated to Boston during Ireland’s potato famine.  

You’ll also find dozens of Irish bars and pubs where you can grab a pint of Guinness and chow down on fish and chips and shepherd’s pie. The oldest in Boston, J.J. Foley’s Cafe in South End, has been around since 1909, while Mr. Dooley’s hosts live music—and frequent impromptu fiddle sessions—every night of the week. While your plans to visit Dublin’s Guinness Storehouse are on hold, instead hit up the Sam Adams Boston Brewery, whose founder Jim Koch claims it’s the reason for America’s craft beer revolution.

Dublin is a UNESCO City of Literature, and Boston boasts a literary scene to match in historical and cultural relevance. Walk past the former homes and haunts of great American writers like Louisa May Alcott, Sylvia Plath, Robert Frost, and Henry David Thoreau in the city’s Literary District, or post up in the Bates Hall reading room at the Boston Public Library. Do check out a few bookstores while you’re in town, including the 196-year-old Brattle Book Shop, one of the largest and oldest used bookshops in the U.S., and Trident Booksellers & Cafe, whose onsite restaurant serves up a lemon ricotta stuffed French toast that is out-of-this-world good.

Consider booking your stay at FOUND Hotel Boston; originally built in 1877 by the architect Harris M. Stephenson, the hotel still retains some of its historic details despite being renovated in 2018. It’s a five-minute walk from Boston Common and one block from the MBTA’s Green Line, making it easily accessible to the city’s top attractions. We were able to find rooms for as low as $44 a night. —Elizabeth Preske, Associate Editor

Flatiron Building lit up at night

TripSavvy / Donghee Eim

Instead of London: New York City

New York City is similar to London in many ways—world-class museums, excellent theater, centuries of rich history—and to see either city in only a few days means you need to plan for long days. But it’s well worth it. After arriving in Manhattan and checking into your hotel, head to Chelsea, an area dotted with art galleries, historic townhomes, and cobblestone streets. Eat lunch at Chelsea Market—a converted factory with dozens of shops and dining options—before taking a stroll along the High Line, an elevated park and walking path, for a dose of greenery and scenic views.

Next up is Times Square, a substitute for Piccadilly Circus and a requisite stop for most visitors. The real draw for this trip, though, is Broadway. An evening show is a must (many productions are planning for a return this fall), and you’ve got plenty of places to grab a bite to eat beforehand. Restaurants in the immediate area can be very touristy, but a quick walk to Ninth Avenue will offer more options.

London and New York are both home to incredible museums, so day two is a museum-hopping day. (Fortunately, that’ll be easy since New York’s Museum Mile is where you’ll find the Metropolitan Museum of Art (“the Met”), the Guggenheim, Cooper Hewitt, and others along Fifth Avenue. Our favorite is the Met, boasting 2 million items spanning millennia of fine art, clothing, and more. When your feet need a rest, head to Central Park, comparable to London’s Hyde Park, for a meal at Loeb Boathouse. While in the park, be sure to visit the England-inspired Shakespeare Garden.

After exiting the park at 59th Street and Fifth Avenue, get to know one of the city’s major shopping areas. This retail corridor stretches all the way to Bryant Park, and along the way, you’ll pass by St. Patrick’s Cathedral and Rockefeller Center. 

For the last day in town, head to Lower Manhattan to see the National September 11 Memorial & Museum. Then, walk to Battery Park to visit a few more memorials, such as the Korean War memorial and World War II memorial, and spot the Statue of Liberty from afar. —Sherri Gardner, Associate Editor

Eastons Beach and Cliff Walk Newport
Jon Lovette / Getty Images

Instead of the French Riviera: Newport, Rhode Island

The beaches, the cliffside mansions, the old-world architecture, and, perhaps most importantly, excellent seafood make Newport an idyllic alternative to the French Riviera. Daily strolls along this sweet coastal town’s Cliff Walk in the summertime aren’t so different from admiring the oceanside grandeur familiar to many of the Riviera’s hamlets. In fact, the Gilded Age mansions that line this stretch of Rhode Island are reminiscent of classic French architecture (think ornate pillars, abundant patios, lush greenery overlooking the ocean) and harken back to a bygone era of extravagance that vacationers now seek out in destinations like Nice and Cannes. 

Taste some of Newport’s finest French cuisine at Bouchard, a decades-old institution that serves items like lobster bisque and escargots. And inside the Chanler, perched high above the waves on Cliff Walk, Cara offers prix-fixe menus with an unbeatable waterfront view. Come evening, check into a room at The Vanderbilt, part of the Auberge Resort Collection (très chic, non?,) and unwind in well-appointed, beachy rooms and suites. 

Like so many summer towns in the South of France, Newport boasts one of those tough-to-replicate atmospheres that teeters between laid-back and upscale, touting sandy beaches, terrific shopping, and lots of seaside fun to be had. Gooseberry Beach, set in a tranquil cove, is excellent for those searching for calm waves and a bit of privacy. Alternatively, head to Sachuest Beach (a local favorite) for 1.5 miles of white sand and proximity to Sachuest Point National Wildlife Refuge. There is plenty to do with kids, too. In addition to long days spent in the sand, there are multiple places to play tennis—definitely don’t miss out on the International Tennis Hall of Fame—and ample ice cream venues, like Newport Creamery and Susanna’s Ice Cream. To experience Newport in the ultimate French style, spend at least one breezy afternoon on a chartered wooden-hull Hinckley sipping Aperol spritz and catch a sunset from the water. —Ellie Storck, Hotel Editor

Don Cesar Hotel.
Franz Marc Frei / Getty Images

Instead of Spain: St. Petersburg, Florida

It’s no surprise that Spain’s far-reaching influence on Florida is still very much alive, from street names to towns, beaches, and some of the best Spanish cuisine on this side of the Atlantic. After all, the European country did rule the Sunshine State two different times. But wander to central Florida’s western coast, and you’ll find that St. Petersburg is arguably one of the best places to go if you can’t cross the Atlantic this year. 

Spend at least one afternoon inside the world-renowned Dalí Museum, home to the largest collection of the painter’s artwork outside of Spain (though visitors may want to pay the museum a second visit to get eyes on all the incredible works). When ready for a taste of Spanish flavor, you’ll find no shortage of it in St. Pete’s lively restaurant scene. Try out the menu at Ceviche, where guests can enjoy traditional flamenco music and dance alongside cuisine like patatas bravas and pimientos de padrón. Alternatively, Copa is a can’t-miss tapas bar with a killer signature cocktail list (they use beer, wine, or champagne in all their house-created drinks). 

Upon arriving in St. Pete’s, both the climate and the town’s Mediterranean Revival style buildings summon images of Spain’s beautiful castellos and open-air plans. Iconic spots like Don Cesar, now a luxury hotel (you may have heard it called “the pink palace”), and the town’s open-air-style post office (the first of its kind in the U.S.) are must-see spots for design aficionados interested in learning more about Spanish colonial architecture and influence. Book a room at the Vinoy Hotel, a resort-style property located conveniently downtown and known for its nods to Mediterranean architecture and an excellent golf course. —Ellie Storck, Hotel Editor