Why First Time Backpackers Should Kick Off Their Journey In This European Country

Planning a great backpacking trip through Europe is all about flexibility and adventure. However, between scheduling, budgeting, and packing, there's something even more important to consider before you embark on your journey: where you plan to start your travels.

While countries like Spain and Italy might feel like the right fit to kick things off — they're picturesque, rich in culture, and boast some mouthwatering food, after all — there's one specific destination that stands out among the rest for U.S. and Canadian travelers who want to ease into the European experience: the United Kingdom. From the fast-paced lifestyle of London to the historical charm of Edinburgh and the cultural vibrancy of Birmingham, flying into the U.K. provides a smoother transition into the European way of life than diving headfirst into other destinations. All of this comes especially in handy for first-timers who may feel a little overwhelmed by language barriers and cultural differences.

After all, choosing the U.K. as your starting point makes perfect sense for plenty of reasons — especially if you're trying to build the perfect European itinerary as a solo traveler. Locals speak the same language (mostly, at least), it's incredibly easy to get around between cities, and you can find plenty of cheap flights departing from there into the rest of Europe. This, combined with the country's rich history and diverse landscapes, makes it a solid winner.

Traveling around the U.K. is convenient

One of the most appealing details that make the U.K. a great first stop is that it's so easy to move around. Much of Britain is connected via the National Rail — an extensive train network that currently services more than 2,500 stations across England, Wales, and Scotland. As for hitting up Northern Ireland, the National Rail has a connecting station by the Cairnryan ferry that'll take you into Belfast — with "rail & sail" tickets available to cover both legs of the journey. Convenient, right? Because of their efficiency and reach, trains are an incredibly popular mode of transportation within Great Britain for travelers and locals alike. In fact, according to reports by the Office of Rail and Road, a whopping 397 million people traveled by rail between July and September 2023, collectively covering more than 9 billion miles.

However, it's not all smooth sailing. In 2023, it was reported that two of five train journeys were delayed (per Railway Magazine), while 3% of the journeys were flat-out canceled. That said, it's important to plan well ahead — especially if you're running on a tight schedule — and to keep your eyes and ears peeled for any notices that might disrupt your travels.

There's plenty to see and do in the U.K.

Starting your journey in the U.K. also means that you get to soak up history, culture, and entertainment from the beginning. For starters, London is brimming with museums, parks, restaurants, and historical sites that'll be sure to keep you busy — including plenty of ways to satisfy your curiosity and love for Britain's Royal Family. Some highlights include visiting the Tower of London and the British Museum, catching a ride on the London Eye, checking out the portraits of the National Gallery, snagging tickets for a play in the West End, and stopping by Buckingham Palace.

Once you've had your fill of London, there are tons of exciting destinations both north and south of the English capital. Manchester, with its rich musical past; Bristol, known for its vibrant street art and cultural scene; Cambridge, famous for its legendary university; the Peak District, a haven for outdoor enthusiasts near Sheffield; and Brighton, an LGBTQ+ hub bursting with pride. And that doesn't even begin to cover it.

Lastly, outside of England, you've also got Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland — each one as unique and captivating as the first. So while Scotland dazzles with destinations like Edinburgh and the Highlands — perfect for exploring ancient sites and stunning landscapes — Wales is all about rugged coastlines and its more than 600 castles, and Northern Ireland enchants with its dramatic seaside scenery and cultural cities.