The best gap year destinations around the world

Hannah Norton

Oct 25, 2023

For many teenagers and young adults, one of the biggest decisions to make is whether to go straight into university after finishing school, or whether to take a gap year and spend some time travelling or earning money.

With COVID-19 stopping travel plans for people worldwide over the last couple of years, it makes sense that gap years are growing more in popularity; with teens looking to spread their wings and explore the world before settling back down into education.

By analysing factors such as the cost of living, volunteering opportunities, unemployment rates, and more, we decided to uncover the best gap year destinations the world has to offer. And, as travel insurance experts, we have also compiled some tips for you to get the most out of your trip with a suitable type of cover.

So, if you’re considering taking a break to travel before going to university, make sure you have a read of this…

Table showing the best cities around the world to travel to for a gap year.

The best gap year destinations worldwide

From the beaches of Australia, through to the rich cultures of Asia, and the charming coffee shops and restaurants of Europe; where are the top gap year destinations the world has to offer?

1. Tokyo, Japan

With its rich history, delicious food, and cutting-edge shopping, Japan’s capital tops the list as the best gap year destination worldwide.

Spend your days exploring the 13,437 attractions (the highest number on our list) and taking part in one of the 10 volunteering options available. Average daily expenditure may be on the higher side, but safety is a given – it’s officially the seventh safest city on our list.

From people watching in Harajuku to admiring the art galleries in Ginza and sampling the street bars and restaurants of Harmonica Yokocho; there’s no end of things to do if you choose to spend your gap year here!

2. Sydney, Australia

Sydney comes second on our list, thanks to having the most volunteering projects of all cities we looked at (34 in total). From conservation opportunities with whales and bears, to au pair work and everything in between, there’s something for everyone on a gap year in Sydney.

With 2,455 attractions on offer, you’ll easily be able to fill your free time, from hanging out in Wendy’s Secret Garden to riding the Manly ferry, and lounging at the Instagrammable Bondi Beach, and much more.

3. Shanghai, China

In third place is Shanghai, with 30 volunteering projects in total – the second highest number on our list, with TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) and au pair work the most popular.

Cost of living is cheaper here, with an average daily expenditure of US$38.47, meaning you’ll have plenty of money left aside to explore the 2,060 attractions on offer. Yu Garden is a great place to start, where you can enjoy some tranquillity amongst the chaotic city life; but you should also make time for an evening at Bund promenade, where you can sample the many bars, cafes, and restaurants on offer.

4. London, United Kingdom

Placing fourth overall on the list, London is the most popular European city to spend your gap year. Sure, the cost of living is higher, with average daily expenditure totalling $122.18; but it has the second greatest number of attractions on our list, at 8,930 – many of which are free.

In the summer, you can picnic in the several pretty parks, and visit the hundreds of museums available (many of which have days where entry is free). If it’s nightlife you’re after, then Shoreditch, Hoxton and Dalston are the places for you, where you’ll find some of the best bars in the country.

5. Kathmandu, Nepal

In fifth place is Kathmandu, with 24 volunteering projects in total, and the 4th lowest cost of living on the list, with an average daily expenditure of just $22.2, meaning you’ll have plenty of money left aside to explore the 2,522 attractions on offer.

Kathmandu is a melting pot of cultures, with influences from Hinduism, Buddhism, and Islam. This makes for a rich and vibrant cultural experience, with many festivals, temples, and other cultural attractions to visit.

The best gap year destinations in Europe

So, now we’ve covered the top destinations to take a gap year worldwide, it’s time to delve a little deeper into the other European cities that make the cut.

1. London, United Kingdom

As mentioned above, London places fourth overall. This makes it the most popular European destination.

2. Rome, Italy

Italy’s capital sits in second place for a European gap year, largely due to the fact it has a huge 6,277 attractions to choose from. The Colosseum and Pantheon are obvious sights to see if it’s your first time in the city; but you should put time aside to climb to the top of Gianicolo for city views, and eat your way around Testaccio Market.

When it comes to volunteering opportunities, there are 21 in total, with options including art history and law.

3. Paris, France

For a chic gap year you’ll never forget, there’s no better option than Paris. The city offers a decent number of volunteering projects, at 24; and with 8,735 attractions, you’ll have plenty to do in your spare time.

If you’re a shopaholic at heart, then head to The Marais for vintage finds and handcrafted jewellery, or St-Germain-des-Pres for cute home décor bits. And, if you’re looking to tick off some classic Parisian experiences, then book a show at the Moulin Rouge, head down to the Catacombs, and gaze out at the skyline from the Eiffel Tower.

4. Prague, Czechia

With average daily expenditure standing at $62.34, Prague is one of the cheaper European cities, which makes it a great option to explore during your gap year. The city is one of the safest too, with a score of 1.379, and unemployment rates are low, at 2.89%.

When it comes to choosing where to stay during your time here, Malá Strana is ideal if you want to be near some key attractions, but Nové Město is ideal if you’re looking for cheap nights out, and Žižkov is known for serving the best selection of beer in the city!

5. Madrid, Spain

Rounding up our top five European city gap year options is Madrid, with the fourth highest number of volunteering projects on our list, at 27.

Placing 12th overall on our list, Madrid is one of the cheapest European capitals to live in, with daily spending averaging at $76.

When it comes to filling your free time, there’s no end of things to do. Spend a Sunday at Rastro flea market, where you can pick up handicrafts, jewellery, antiques and more, picnic in pretty El Retiro Park, and get lost in the art at Matadero Madrid, which hosts several art exhibitions.

Rounding up our top 10 European gap year spots are Berlin, Barcelona, Budapest, Lisbon, and Krakow.

Adrian Taylor, General Manager of General Insurance at Compare the Market states: “Taking a gap year is a great way to experience more of the world, immersing yourself in new cultures, meeting new people, and maybe even making some money along the way.

“Whether you want to escape to Asia, volunteer in South America, or city hop your way around Europe, don’t forget to take out the right type of travel insurance for the specific purpose of your trip. For example, if you are planning to engage in snow sports while travelling the Swiss Alps, you will need to add ski cover to your policy – similarly, you may need an adventure activities add-on if you are planning to ride a powerful motorcycle, go hang gliding or white water rafting.

“And, if you’re looking to earn some money along your journey, be sure to look for travel insurance for working holidays, so that you are covered for unexpected accidents while working overseas.

“Regardless of what type of cover you are after, you should always check your Policy Disclosure Statement (PDS) before purchasing, so that you are aware of what you may or may not be covered for.”




A list of countries has been compiled, with the 5 factors for each gathered. The data was then normalised, to give each factor a score of between 0 and 1. If data was not available, the factor was given a normalised score of 0.

The normalised data was then summed to give each country a total score out of 5.

The countries were then ranked from highest to lowest, based on this total score, with a higher score producing a higher ranking.

The factors are as follows, and are split by city:

  • Safety rating – The average peace score for each city
  • Number of volunteering projects – Total number of volunteering projects available for each city
  • Number of tourist attractions – Total number of tourist attractions for each city
  • Average daily expenses – Total average daily cost of a dorm bed at a hostel, 3 budget meals, 2 public transportation rides, 1 paid cultural attraction, and 3 cheap beers
  • Unemployment Rate – The average unemployment rate for each country

The factors were then normalised as follows:

  • Safety rating – Low value gets a high score
  • Number of volunteering projects – High value gets a high score
  • Number of tourist attractions – High value gets a high score
  • Average daily expenses – Low value gets a high score
  • Unemployment Rate – Low value gets a high score