Reading a book in Paris (Dreamstime)
List Words : Insider Secrets | 07 June

Alone time: The world’s best cities for solo travellers

Cities are exciting and energising for solo travellers – but some can be daunting too. Author Stephanie Rosenbloom reveals her favourite cities to explore alone – where you'll always receive a warm welcome

1: Tokyo, Japan

Yakatori Alley in Tokyo (Dreamstime)

Yakatori Alley in Tokyo (Dreamstime)

There’s something enchanting about travelling solo in this city, spending time in quiet contemplation at temples and shrines – some so intimate they're practically hidden, like Toyoiwa Inari at the end of a narrow alley. 

Tokyo is also one of the great cities for shopping and eating solo. Sushi bars and counters at restaurants specialising in tempura, soba, and ramen (don’t miss Rokurinsha Toyko) are ideal spots for a meal on your own – though you’ll find yourself in good company with fellow solo diners. 

Being alone can also be a strategic advantage: it once saved me hours at the famous – but tiny – Sushidai restaurant. Most people waiting with me in the blazing sun seemed to want two seats or more at the counter, yet because I needed only one, I was whisked to the front of the line. 

Alone, you can pay close attention to the beauty of a chef rolling rice with his smooth fingers, the wonders of giant sea creatures at stalls in Tsukiji fish market, and the artful displays of bento boxes and pastel-coloured candies and pastries in department store food halls – too beautiful to eat. Well, almost. 

2: New York City, USA

Alone in New York City (Dreamstime)

Alone in New York City (Dreamstime)

Living in New York is a high-speed, contact sport. That’s why for many locals, myself included, it feels good to do something alone every now and then: idle on a bench in a leafy square; retreat to a dark, independent cinema; walk the elevated park known as the High Line in the early morning. In New York we take our laptops into coffee shops and boutique hotels to surf the web and work alone, together. 

The solo traveller fits right in. Our libraries are filled with people reading in quiet solitude. So are the fields and boulders in Central Park on sunny afternoons. Why, even our museums encourage us to enjoy a little alone time. The Museum of Modern Art offers monthly “Quiet Mornings” beginning at 7:30 for “personal reflection”, during which visitors are encouraged to turn off their phones and slowly take in the collection, or join a guided meditation session. 

3: Santiago, Chile

Academy of Bellas Artes, Santiago (Dreamstime)

Academy of Bellas Artes, Santiago (Dreamstime)

The capital of Chile offers plenty of pleasures to explore at your own pace, like the Plaza de Armas in the historic centre and the sweeping views from San Cristóbal Hill. But it’s also a delightful place for the poetic-minded solo traveller, as Santiago is home to La Chascona – the former residence of the Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda. 

You can visit the funky house amid the charming boutiques and eye-popping street art that covers the walls and buildings of the Bellavista District. And be sure to take a trip about an hour and a half west, on the coast of the South Pacific, where you can check out another one of Neruda's homes – La Sebastiana – on the hills of a World Heritage City, Valparaiso. There you can (and should) climb the historic steep streets, where buildings are painted vivid colours and the blue sea glistens all around. 

4: ​Bangkok, Thailand

Hat seller on Damnoen Saduak Floating Market near Bangkok (Dreamstime)

Hat seller on Damnoen Saduak Floating Market near Bangkok (Dreamstime)

Board a boat and get lost in thought while gliding along the Chao Phraya River, or indulge in a solo Thai massage or two (or three). There's never a dull moment in Bangkok, whether you're exploring the Jim Thompson House museum (the lovely former home of the founder of the Jim Thompson Thai Silk Company), the sprawling Grand Palace, the golden Reclining Buddha of Wat Pho, or the lively Chatuchak Weekend Market where the act of browsing is in itself an afternoon’s free entertainment. 

5: Paris, France

Coffee in Paris (Dreamstime)

Coffee in Paris (Dreamstime)

To visit Paris is to begin a romance with the city. And for this, it demands your full attention: no partner required. It's a terrific place for a solo traveller to practice the art of savouring: smelling the flowers and fruits that scent the city's streets in the spring and summer; noticing the delicate shadows cast on sidewalks by decorative gates; the old men smoking and playing pétanque in the park. 

The best way to see these joys is, of course, on foot. Paris is the birthplace of the flaneur – the idle, insatiable stroller of the city's streets. Even when you need a break you can still people-watch by joining countless solo Parisians at small sidewalk cafes and coffee shops to rest, sip, read a book – or begin planning your next solo trip. 

Stephanie Rosenbloom is a staff columnist for The New York Times. Her new book, Alone Time, is published by Bantam Press and can be ordered now from all good book stores.

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