By Jessica Russo
You've always dreamed about "someday" and finally! that day has come. Take your passport for a spin and show it proudly as you board your first international flight.
Sure, vacations should be stress-free, but figuring out where to go can be a headache. Do people speak English there? How will we get around? Is it dangerous? What's the exchange rate? The flight is how long!? Hey, you - relax! We've compiled a list of cities that are as amazing as they are convenient. From Asia to Europe, here are our top 10 cities that rank a "1" in difficulty and a "10" in beauty.
Yes, it's true: a bottle of wine in Barcelona can cost as little as $3, but that's not the only great thing about this city! In Barcelona, you'll discover a harmonious blend of old and new. Explore ancient neighborhoods adorned with Gothic architecture, then discover the beauty of Antoni Gaudi's modern creations such as the spectacular Sagrada Familia and Park Guell. When sightseeing makes you hungry, turn to paella, tapas, and sangria for a traditional (and unforgettable) culinary experience.
With unbelievable architecture, delightful cuisine, mesmerizing museums, and unique shops, this artsy city is a home run for tourists. Barcelona knows how wonderful it is, and indulgently made itself one of the most tourist-friendly cities on the map. Not only are you likely to hear English spoken in Barcelona, but you're also likely hear nearly every language of the world. With convenient transportation, bustling shopping districts, chic hotels, and bright blue beaches, Barcelona should be at the top of your list.
Okay, London may seem like an obvious choice. People generally speak English and you probably won't feel much culture shock - that's true. But you will still feel like you're in another country! London is iconic, beautiful, and filled to the brim with things to see and do. The Tube, Uber, and classic black cabs make transportation within the city easy peasy, and there's a direct shuttle train to Heathrow Airport from King's Cross station! Speaking of trains, you can hop on a train at King's Cross and be in Paris or Edinburgh in just a few hours!
Aside from the awe-inspiring architecture of Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, and the Tower Bridge, London oozes with culture and character. Nosh on fish n' chips at an English pub, hit up a record store in Camden Town, or put your pinky up at afternoon tea. For many Americans, London is the gateway to international travel. And for many Americans, London winds up being their favorite city. London's calling!
You might not think of a medieval Italian city as an easy first trip abroad, but we're here to change your mind. In fact, Firenze is a popular choice for American college students studying abroad, and for good reason! Firstly, most people in Florence speak at least enough English to get you by. Let's put it this way, if someone doesn't speak English in Florence, the person next to them probably does.
Secondly, the city is small and manageable. Use the red roof of the stunning Duomo as your guiding north star, and use the mobile map app on your phone as a backup. The city itself is very walkable, so you won't have to worry about navigating public transportation. If you're feeling adventurous, however, Florence has a modern train station located in the city center. Want to hop down to Rome or up to Milan? The ticketing machines are quite user-friendly and the trains are generally clean, safe, and direct. Florence has an incredible balance of feel-at-home modernity and travel-back-in-time old charm. Looking to immerse yourself in Italian culture, admire famous works of art, and eat way too much pasta? Florence is waiting.
South Africa may sound like another world, but Cape Town is a vibrant pocket of modern paradise - where luxury meets nature. What makes it an easy first-time destination? Well, most Capetonians speak English, Uber is widely available, and the exchange rate is amazing. While some suburbs of Cape Town remain impoverished, the city itself boasts high-end malls, pristine beaches, renowned restaurants, and cool coffee shops with surfer vibes. Think about it like this: if most people's vibes of modern-day Africa and Australia had a child, it'd be named Cape Town.
The magic of Cape Town is in its diversity, both naturally and culturally. Just minutes from the city center, you'll come across African penguins, baboons, great white sharks, and other wildlife. Trek a few hours northeast and you'll be in safari range! Cape Town is filled with breathtaking coastal views and unbeatable mountain hikes. Where authentic African culture meets urban cool, well, that's Cape Town.
Edinburgh is one of those storybook cities you'll immediately fall in love with. From colorful storefronts to cobblestone streets and amazing architecture, this itty bitty city is perfect for a first timer. Just a 7-hour flight from the northeast US, Edinburgh is a picture-perfect pocket of pub culture and fascinating history. Explore Edinburgh Castle, hike through postcard-worthy greenery on Arthur's Seat, and listen to live folk music as you sip some local whisky.
If you can dig through a Scottish accent and remember that "wee" means little, just about everybody speaks English. Edinburgh is small enough to walk front-to-back, but there's also Uber or a central tram that runs through the city if your legs get tired. Scotland is known as one of the safest countries in the world, and Edinburgh's Waverly train station offers a convenient link to London, Glasgow, or the countryside. With the city split into an "Old Town" and "New Town," you'll have the choice of chain restaurants and designer stores or local pubs and tiny wool shops. The blend of old and new will provide you with modern comforts while feeling like you're walking through the set of a Harry Potter movie.
Paris is on just about everyone's bucket list. With world-renowned cuisine, amazing architecture, prestigious art museums, charming cafe culture, and a stylish reputation, this posh city is the epicenter of western culture. The French are very proud of their culture and many Parisians do not speak English. While some do, it's recommended to learn a few phrases before you go. Trust us, a few hours of practice will treat you to the reward of a lifetime: an unforgettable trip.
With limitless shopping and dining opportunities, Paris will never leave you underwhelmed. The city's extensive metro system is clean, efficient, and easy to use. Plus, Uber is always an option when it comes to transportation. Paris has many distinct neighborhoods which are charming and exciting in their own ways. Easy transportation is key in experiencing them all!
Ireland's safe, beautiful, and English-speaking, but best of all Ireland is friendly. The term "Irish hospitality" is true to its name, and the charming city of Dublin will welcome you with open arms. Whether you stay in Dublin or journey out to a B&B in the countryside, the Irish are always willing to lend a helping hand. Once you get used to driving on the left side of the road, the Emerald Isle is easy to navigate.
Dublin is the perfect marriage of historical beauty and lively pub culture. Stroll down Grafton Street and snag some souvenirs then pop into a cozy pub. "Cheers" with a couple pints of Guinness and tap your foot to the fiddle of live folk music. Explore architectural wonders like Dublin Castle and Christ Church Cathedral then get your Irish literary fill at Trinity College Library.
If you can handle a long plane ride and a bit of sticker shock, Sydney is a fantastic choice for first-time travel. It's no secret that food and activities are expensive in Australia, but we know one thing for sure - its beauty is priceless. Feel like a local as you hang out near the stunning harbor and gaze out at the hilly geography surrounding you. Spend the day at picture-perfect Bondi Beach, soak up the scene at a coffee shop, and take tons of selfies in front of the iconic Sydney Opera House.
A great way to not spend lots of money in Australia is to embrace nature! If you're feeling adventurous, take tours or day trips from Sydney to stunning national parks or nearby cities. Melbourne, Sydney's artsy younger sister city, is another awesome option for first-time travel.
Ah, Copenhagen. The land of culinary innovation, colorful canals, and trendy markets. Aside from its charming historic center and idyllic Nyhavn harbor, Copenhagen offers something unique; almost everybody is near-fluent in English. There is no "one way" to get around the city - people bike, take a boat, use public transportation, or walk. You'll never ask "how do we get there? Instead, you'll ask, "when are we going?!
Denmark is also known for its "hygge" which translates into English as "cozniess." In Copenhagen, you'll feel the city's hospitable "hygge" from the moment you arrive!
Bangkok? Are you crazy? Hear us out! Bangkok is a hectic city and many people do not speak English - you're not wrong. Bangkok and Thailand as a whole, however, have greatly adapted to an influx of western tourism. This means more English-friendly signs and menus, an abundance of English-speaking tours, luxurious hotels, and modern stores that carry some western products. An added bonus? The exchange rate. Authentic pad thai for a dollar? Yes puh-lease.