The Elder Scrolls Online has a lot of content to play through, but everyone has to start somewhere. In the beginning, the game used to set you down in a pre-determined area or the zone of your most recent DLC, but that’s now a thing of the past! You can start wherever you please, even if that means jumping straight into Elsweyr to start slaying dragons right away.
Each playable race has a starting zone that introduces their history and stories, but you can always pick your favorite zone and start there instead. Since everything levels with you, you can pretty much start wherever you want (though we don’t recommend starting in DLC zones for the sake of ease and convenience).
In this article, we’ll cover the best starting zones in ESO for each race. We’ll discuss our picks in depth, ranging from lore-accurate picks to just downright beautiful areas. Let’s get started!
➡️ Related Reading: ESO Beginner’s Guide: Tips & Tricks for New Players
Starting Zones by Alliance
If you’re especially loyal to your preferred alliance, here’s a breakdown of each of the zones (and DLC areas):
- Aldmeri Dominion: Auridon, Grahtwood, Greenshade, Khenarthi’s Roost, Malabal Tor, Reaper’s March, (DLC: Northern Elsweyr, Southern Elsweyr, Summerset)
- Daggerfall Covenant: Alik’r Desert, Bangkorai, Betnikh, Glenumbra, Rivenspire, Stormhaven, Stros M’Kai, (DLC: Wrothgar)
- Ebonheart Pact: Bal Foyen, Bleakrock Isle, Deshaan, Eastmarch, The Rift, Shadowfen, Stonefalls, (DLC: Blackwood, Vvardenfell, Western Skyrim)
Getting to Coldharbour
Now, keep in mind that no matter what faction you are and what zone you choose, it’s important to complete the main quest in Coldharbour. Not only do you get free skill points (who doesn’t want those?), the game makes so much more sense as a whole once you’ve done it.
Starting the “Soul Shriven in Coldharbour” questline will eventually lead you to the actual Coldharbour zone. A mysterious hooded figure will approach you in certain cities to offer you the quest. Here’s the breakdown of those cities (and their respective zones) by faction:
- Aldmeri Dominion: Vulkhel Guard, Auridon
- Daggerfall Covenant: Daggerfall, Glenumbra
- Ebonheart Pact: Davon’s Watch, Stonefalls
Best Starting Zones in Elder Scrolls Online
With that in mind, let’s get into the best starting zone for each race in ESO, as well as their initial alliance starting area.
Aldmeri Dominion — Khenarthi’s Roost
Khenarthi’s Roost is the best starting zone to get acquainted with the Aldmeri Dominion. This area is quite small and has only two available wayshrines (most zones have 10–15), which makes it easy to get around.
This is the best route if you want the original starting experience for Aldmeri Dominion characters. It’s a beautiful area populated mostly by Khajiit and other AD races.
Altmer (High Elf) — Auridon / Summerset
Altmer come from the Summerset Isles, so it just makes sense for High Elves to start in an associated region. Auridon is a base game area, and the second-largest island in the Summerset Isles (just behind the DLC zone). It’s mainly home to High Elves, and strikingly beautiful with its abundant greenery and sakura trees.
Questing here will give you a better idea of Altmer history and culture. The Summerset DLC is equally relevant, but it’s worth meeting the major players in the base game main quests before venturing into DLC.
Bosmer (Wood Elf) — Grahtwood
There are a couple of good starting zones for Wood Elves. Grahtwood, Greenshade, and Malabal Tor all have great stories and significant characters to help ground you in the world. When the game first launched, you would progress through these areas in a linear fashion while learning about Bosmeri lore. Since this path started you out in Grahtwood, it wins out as our recommended starter zone.
Grahtwood features a solid selection of guild traders and offers a great story arc for the main quest. It’s also a convenient hub for important things like the undaunted enclave. Malabal Tor, however, is where you’ll get a lot more information on the Silvenar and Green Lady, who represent the whole of the Bosmeri people.
Khajiit — Reaper’s March / Elsweyr
Khenarthi’s Roost is a solid starting zone to get you acquainted with the Khajiit, but it’s quite a small area. Reaper’s March is much larger and gives you a better picture of the Khajiit, rather than the AD as a whole. It’s great to learn more about who The Main is, as well as who/what Jone and Jode are.
To really delve into the entirety of Khajiit, from the largest non-playable Senche-raht all the way to the tiny Alfiq, you can check out Northern and Southern Elsweyr. These are DLC areas that really explore the Khajiit to great lengths. You’ll also get the bonus of being able to face dragons, which you won’t be able to fight outside of select dungeons.
Daggerfall Covenant — Stros M’Kai
Stros M’Kai is the best starting zone to get acquainted with the Daggerfall Covenant. This is the OG starting experience that players got starting out as a Daggerfall Covenant character, so this is a good place to start before jumping to a larger zone.
The zone boasts sandy beaches and some magnificent statues dotting the coastline. The area is small and has three wayshrines in total, meaning you’ll get through the content quickly. You’ll interact mostly with Redguards and other DC peoples.
Breton — Glenumbra
Glenumbra is definitely the best starting area if you’re playing a Breton, as it covers a lot of great Breton lore and has a solid main questline. There are also lots of interesting quests involving witches and werewolves, giving it a unique and fun playthrough experience.
Stormhaven and Rivenspire are both great areas to follow-up with more Breton lore — Stormhaven in particular has a lot of great content and is the home of the Breton King. That said, Glenumbra offers the lead up to those quests and is a better starting area overall.
Redguard — Alik’r
The Alik’r Desert on the Northern coast of Hammerfell is the homeland of the Redguards. The landscape is characterized by sandy dunes that can’t be matched by anywhere else in Tamriel. You’ll gain a solid understanding of the Redguard people from the story quests here, as much of their lore is condensed to this region.
Although great for lore, this zone also has plenty of Dolmens in proximity to wayshrines. Dolmens are group events where you fight through Molag Bal’s minions for a hefty XP reward. This can be jarring the first time you experience 20–30 people spawn from a wayshrine to bolt past you toward the Dolmen, which can definitely take you out of the immersion of the game.
Orc — Betnikh / Wrothgar
Betnikh is a great place to start out as when playing an Orc, as you start your journey by helping an Orc stronghold. However, this area is quite small doesn’t give you that much room explore Orc culture.
The DLC Wrothgar is a much better starting place for Orcs, as it covers the different clans competing for power and the emergence of Orsinium’s self-proclaimed king. Wrothgar has some of the best quests in the game and tells a fascinating story about the Orcs and their relationship with outsiders as well as the inner politics that goes on within Orsinium.
Ebonheart Pact — Bleakrock Isle
Bleakrock Isle is the best starting zone for players in the Ebonheart Pact. The landscape is harsh with lots of snow, and is mostly populated with Nords and other EP races.
The area is tiny and has only one wayshrine, meaning you’ll have to run or ride your horse around everywhere you need to go. It’s nice to experience this area before questing in larger zones with more detailed stories.
Nord — Eastmarch / Western Skyrim
For Nords, you can’t go wrong with settling into either Eastmarch or The Rift. Both areas tell great stories and involve you in learning more about Nord culture (especially their mead). Eastmarch technically comes first in terms of linear progression, but now it’s up to personal preference. Both are beautiful, snowy climates full of those massive mammoths and giants we all know and love from Skyrim.
If you’re looking for a true blast from the past, the Western Skyrim DLC will let you visit Solitude and Morthal. If you want to see Markarth, you’ll have to have The Reach DLC as well. They did an amazing job recreating its appearance in Skyrim, but with enough differences that it’s easy to believe 700+ years have passed.
Dunmer (Dark Elf) — Stonefalls / Vvardenfell
Deshaan and Stonefalls will give you great storytelling on the Dark Elves. Stonefalls technically comes before Deshaan in the way they set up the game originally, but you can choose to start in one or the other. Both give you insight to the Dark Elves and their relationship with their living gods (especially Almalexia as the most relevant and accessible living god before DLCs came out). Deshaan is my personal suggestion, as it feels more inclusive of telling Dark Elf lore.
The other living gods, Sotha Sil and Vivec, are explored later on in DLC. Clockwork City DLC will give you more insight on Sotha Sil in his mechanical city, while the Morrowind DLC explores Vivec in Vvardenfell with all of the glories of the looming Red Mountain and striking mushroom landscapes. Vvardenfell has a lot more content to get through, offering more experience and unique story lines, but it’s hard to beat that mechanical clockwork city.
Argonian — Shadowfen / Murkmire
Shadowfen is the clear winner for Argonians (excluding DLC). Shadowfen has a great grasp of Argonian lore and explores their people and the importance of their massive Hist Trees that they worship. Some people oddly enough hate this zone, but I always thought it was beautiful in its own way with its great swamps and many lizards lurking across it. This zone can be unforgiving as you try to move across it though, as many enemies dot the landscape and will attack you as you get near them.
Murkmire and Blackwood are both DLC areas that further explore Argonians, and can be great follow-ups to Shadowfen. Murkmire has a more direct connection with Argonians and is my personal favorite zone. The mix of music, swampy landscape, and amazing story telling really impressed me in this area. Blackwood shows more interaction between Argonians and Imperials, but also has some great Argonian storytelling within it.
Imperial (Any Alliance) — Blackwood
Imperials have kind of a bizarre best starting zone, as the original choice for them prior to DLC was Cyrodiil (which is, of course, a strictly PVP area). While you can do quests in this zone, it’s somewhat miserable unless you’re completely kitted out in great PVP gear with horse riding fully leveled up.
If you want an actual PVE Imperial zone, either Blackwood or the Gold Coast DLC areas are your best bet. Blackwood has great story telling for the Imperials, helping to get a better understanding of them outside of the PVP area. The Gold Coast also has some solid story lines with Imperials that are fun to learn about, but it’s certainly more geared toward the Dark Brotherhood.
Join the High Ground
Starting out in ESO can be confusing initially, as there are so many zones to explore. We hope this guide helps start you out in the area that works best for you. If nothing else, we hope you can avoid starting out in DLC zones so you don’t get big story elements spoiled by recurring characters (unless you don’t mind that)!
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