Once upon a time you might have prepared for a trip by booking flights, figuring out where you’d stashed your passport, and (maybe) tossing a guidebook into your bag to do a little research on the plane.
These days, not only will you likely do a bunch of online travel research before you buy a plane ticket, you might even plug phrases like “is it safe to travel to Europe right now” or “is it safe to travel” into Google. You’re not alone. Searches for both of those phrases have gone up over the past few years.
Yet here you are, reading this article and perusing a travel planning website. And although you’re not going to let fear keep you from using your passport (good for you!), you still want to choose a safe destination in which to spend your hard-earned vacation time.
May we suggest Europe?
The Institute for Economics and Peace produces an annual report on the safety of countries around the world, called the Global Peace Index. Of the top 25 countries listed on the latest GPI, 18 are in Europe. In other words, in spite of recent news reports to the contrary, traveling through much of Europe remains one of the safer options for tourists. (As a point of reference, for instance, the United States comes in at 103rd on the Global Peace Index.)
We’re highlighting here the top 10 safest European countries on the latest GPI – why they rank so highly, and why you might want to visit. Their actual Global Peace Index rank appears in parentheses.
Please keep in mind that in any unfamiliar environment, no matter how its safety is ranked, it’s important to obey local laws and social mores, stay aware of your surroundings, always keep an eye on your valuables, and do your best to avoid looking like an “easy target” for opportunistic thieves. Crime rates may be low, but they’re not non-existent. Travelers are often considered easy marks, so don’t mistake a good rating for an excuse to be cavalier about your own safety.
Here are the ten safest countries in Europe.
Iceland (Ranking: #1)
Iceland is not only Europe’s safest country, it’s the safest country in the world, according to the GPI. The crime rate in Iceland is extraordinarily low (there was one murder in the whole country in 2013). This may be due in part to how small the country is – with just 350,000 people, Icelanders are likely to know nearly every other person who lives on the island. Iceland has the lowest murder rate of any major European country, and Icelandic police don’t even carry guns. The safety warnings in Iceland typically involve cautions against getting lost while hiking or caught out by inclement weather.
Why should you visit Iceland?
Safety isn’t the only reason to visit Iceland, of course. Go for the awesome (and we mean that in the awe sense) natural beauty, from lagoons and fjords to volcanoes with nearly-unpronounceable names. Go for the warmth of the people and a chance to nuzzle those adorable Icelandic horses. Just remember to keep an eye on the weather or go hiking with a guide.
Denmark (Ranking: #2)
Denmark currently holds the top spot on the UN’s World Happiness Report, so maybe it’s unsurprising that it’s also ranked as the second-safest country in the world. Violent crimes are quite rare, and even pick-pocketing isn’t a terribly common occurrence (though it’s more likely to happen in tourist areas). One of the main safety notes in Denmark is to abide by the no-photography rules in the autonomous area of Christiania in Copenhagen.
Why should you visit Denmark?
Head to Denmark to explore fairy-tale castles, snap a million photos of multi-colored houses, ride through pretty and bike-friendly Copenhagen with all the locals, and suddenly become an expert on furniture design. Depending on when you visit, you’ll either embrace the long summer nights or – perhaps – see the Northern Lights. In any event, you’re bound to find plenty of reasons why Danes are so happy.
Austria (Ranking: #3)
Austria rounds out the GPI’s top three, with one of the lowest crime rates in Europe. Popular tourist areas in Austria sometimes see instances of pick-pocketing or scams aimed at travelers, though these are almost never violent crimes. Exercising caution with valuables in busy areas is typically enough to avoid theft.
Why should you visit Austria?
Austria’s rich history and culture have drawn visitors for centuries. Immerse yourself in Mozart or “The Sound of Music.” Ascend to lofty heights in the Alps for hiking or skiing or just to soak in the views. Tuck into hearty traditional meals in pubs or raise a toast to fine Austrian wine. Austria has something for everyone, wrapped up in a neat little package.
Portugal (Ranking: #5)
Portugal often seems forgotten sitting next to much-larger Spain. Spain comes in at #25 on the Global Peace Index, though, and Portugal is up at #5. Not only that, Portugal jumped from 11th place last year. Rates of violent crime are fairly low throughout the country, though petty thievery is not. Pick-pocketing is not uncommon in the bigger cities, particularly in tourist areas, so it’s a good idea to take the usual precautions with your valuables.
Why should you visit Portugal?
Proximity to popular Spain notwithstanding, Portugal still feels relatively under-appreciated by tourists. That’s a shame, given that its beaches on one side and verdant hills on the other, historic city centers and a world-famous wine industry. With Portugal, you get all the perks of a Mediterranean vacation plus a pretty safe place to visit.
Czech Republic (Ranking: #6)
The Czech Republic is up to the #6 spot on GPI’s list this year, up from 10th place last year. It’s one of Europe’s safest countries, with one of its lowest murder rates and a very low risk of terrorism or even civil demonstrations. Pick-pocketing, travel scams, and other petty crimes are common in major cities, especially in the tourist areas of Prague, but these are rarely violent crimes.
Why should you visit the Czech Republic?
Prague has been a popular destination for backpackers for decades, and the whole country has just grown in popularity since the fall of the Iron Curtain. There is fascinating history to learn about and hilltop castles to explore. For many, the Czech Republic is the bridge to expanding one’s travel repertoire from Western Europe further east – and a very fine bridge it is.
Switzerland (Ranking: #7)
Despite dropping two places on the Global Peace Index from 5th to 7th place, Switzerland is still an incredibly safe country to visit. The rate of violent crime is low (there were 41 murders in the whole country in 2014), and has even dropped recently in some cantons. Likewise, incidents of pick-pocketing are decreasing in some areas from an already low level.
Why should you visit Switzerland?
Little Switzerland packs a lot of punch into not a lot of space. Its landscapes are legendary, from Alpine peaks to sparkling lakes. This is a country where outdoors enthusiasts feel like they’ve found heaven on earth, and where a long hike is soon rewarded with some of the world’s best chocolate and cheese.
Slovenia (Ranking: #10)
If Slovenia doesn’t pop into your head immediately when you think of “safe places to go in Europe,” you’re probably not alone. Part of the former Yugoslavia, Slovenia has come a long way in that regard since achieving independence. Violent crime is extremely rare – there were 15 murders in all of Slovenia in 2014 – and even pick-pocketing isn’t as common as it can be in other European countries. Slovenia cracks the Global Peace Index top ten this year, up from 15th place last year.
Why should you visit Slovenia?
Slovenia’s proximity to eternal favorite Italy and increasingly-popular Croatia should be all the information you need to book a trip. The country feels a bit like both of its neighbors, in the best possible ways. There are gorgeous mountains and lakes, historic cities, and exceptionally warm people – and far fewer tourists than in other nearby countries.
Finland (Ranking: #11)
Finland is orderly and safe, and though it dropped several places on the Global Peace Index it still comes in at #11. The country is economically and politically stable, and violent crime is rare. Petty crimes like pick-pocketing increase in touristy areas during the summer, so exercising the usual amount of caution with your valuables in busy areas is warranted.
Why should you visit Finland?
Imagine the kind of place Santa Claus might live and you’re probably picturing the northern part of Finland. Add sophisticated cities to the southern part and you’ve got the perfect recipe for a vacation. Finland is a country of superlative landscapes, modern cities, and low population density, with short (though festive) summers and storybook winters.
Ireland (Ranking: #12)
The Republic of Ireland has held steady on the GPI list for several years at around 12 or 13, standing at #12 this year. Dublin has the highest rates of petty crimes like pick-pocketing and burglary, especially in tourist areas. As is the case with Iceland, the police in Ireland don’t carry guns. Not only that, most Irish police aren’t even trained to use weapons. And yet violent crime is rare in Ireland, with 52 murders total in 2014.
Why should you visit Ireland?
Ireland has long been one of the most beloved destinations for travelers, noted for its gregarious residents and convivial pubs. The country is dotted with castles, historic monuments, and dramatic seaside cliffs amid vast stretches of rural charm that await anyone who travels outside Dublin. One of the best reasons to go to Ireland is to be reminded just how many shades of green exist in the world.
Sweden (Ranking: #14)
Sweden rounds out our top 10, coming in at #14 on the Global Peace Index. (If you’re sensing a Scandinavian trend here, you’re not mistaken. Norway is the only country not already listed, and it still appears in the GPI’s top 25). Sweden has low levels of violent crime, and though the rate of theft has decreased a bit recently, tourists are still the most common victims of petty theft such as pick-pocketing.
Why should you visit Sweden?
Take all the things you already find appealing about Scandinavia – rugged natural beauty, orderly cities, intelligent and multi-lingual locals – and throw in some Viking history, and you’ve got Sweden. Enjoy stylish and cosmopolitan Stockholm. Explore Medieval towns and Viking ruins. Work up an appetite hiking or skiing or whatever gets you into Sweden’s great outdoors. Then sample some herring and lingonberry jam. You might want to go easy on the aquavit, though.
Read about how to spend the perfect week in Sweden.
Incidentally, the other European nations that are in the top 25 of the Global Peace Index are: