Europe in Autumn: Where to Go in September, October, and November
For travelers averse to Europe’s summer crowds and summer prices, autumn is an ideal season to visit many parts of the continent. What’s more, Europe puts on a good show this time of year—from displays of fall colors in storied forests to festivals celebrating harvests, holidays, the arts, and beer. All that and sweater weather, too? This is no shoulder season to shrug off. Here are our favorite places in Europe for a vacation in September, October, and November.
Pictured: the Belvedere Palace in Vienna
For more seasonal travel ideas, check out our roundups of great European destinations in spring and summer.
WHY GO IN AUTUMN? To celebrate beer and Bavarian culture at Oktoberfest
If your idea of Germany involves beer, pretzels, and lederhosen, you’re probably thinking of Bavaria in the country’s southeast corner. And while there’s a lot more to this historic region beyond the oompah stereotypes, those traditions are wholeheartedly embraced during Oktoberfest in Munich, the Bavarian capital. Kicking off in late September (name notwithstanding) and lasting through early October, the world’s largest beer festival draws millions of revelers to the Theresienwiese fairgrounds for steins of Bavarian brews as well as sausages, soft pretzels, carnival rides, and sing-alongs to live music. While you’re in town, feast your eyes on Munich’s elaborate Residenz palace, rococo churches, and central Marienplatz square, where a glockenspiel with mechanical figures displays timed reenactments of 16th-century events to the accompaniment of chiming bells.
WHY GO IN AUTUMN? To get spooky where Halloween was (maybe) born
The Irish are known as tellers of tall tales. But according to recent archaeological evidence, they may be correct in their claim that Halloween originated on their island. The Púca Festival pays tribute to the proto-Halloween tradition of Samhain, the time at summer’s end when Celts believed spirits passed from one world to the next. Counties Meath and Louth in eastern Ireland are the center of the action, hosting four days of concerts, spooky gatherings, and culinary events around October 31. That celebration joins Dublin's more established Bram Stoker Festival honoring the Irish author of Dracula. All sorts of goth goings-on—costume parades (pictured), ghost tours, eerie performances—take over the city in late October. Autumn is also the time for horse racing, traditional music get-togethers, and “Walking Festivals,” which involve hikers setting out en masse to discover the country’s natural beauty spots just as the leaves begin to turn.
WHY GO IN AUTUMN? To say goodbye to summer with human towers and fireworks
In September, Barcelona says adéu to summer with La Mercè, a huge street party thrown for the city’s patron saint, Our Lady of Mercy. Held in the days leading up to the saint’s feast day, September 24, the event showcases some uniquely Catalonian ways of having a good time, from building human towers several stories high in the Plaça Sant Jaume to throwing night parades called correfocs (“fire runs”), during which locals dressed as devils and operating fearsome dragon puppets set handheld fireworks ablaze, often spraying spectators with sparks (stand back from the action if you don’t want to get singed). After the festival ends, Barcelona’s warm and sunny weather continues for another month or so—you can usually go swimming in the Mediterranean into early October. You will definitely encounter crowds, but competition from other tourists scrambling to sample the city’s Gaudí- and seafood-related delights should be less fierce than in summertime.
WHY GO IN AUTUMN? To hang on to summer
Speaking of Mediterranean spots where you can get an extension on summer, the archipelago of Malta, floating between Sicily and Tunisia, also enjoys beach weather into October. The islands’ lagoons, coastal rock formations, and stretches of reddish sand are certainly inviting, but the sunny climate pairs well with walks through historic towns and ancient temples as well. Malta’s seemingly endless series of invaders has resulted in an art history textbook's worth of architectural styles as well as hidden treasures such as the underground Hypogeum burial chambers and a pair of Caravaggio paintings stashed in the 16th-century St. John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta, the nation’s walled capital city. On the island of Gozo—which has inspired creative types from Homer (who’s said to have had Gozo in mind when he created Calypso’s tantalizing isle in The Odyssey) to Game of Thrones location scouts—renowned opera and symphonic performances take place in October and November as part of the annual Festival Mediterranea.
Pictured: the harbor in Marsaxlokk
WHY GO IN AUTUMN? To attend fêtes for jazz, wine, art, and more
The time of renewal following the long summer break is the perfect occasion for Parisians to get back to business—meaning fall festivals. Jazz à la Villette, an 11-day festival in September, schedules experimental music, tribute concerts, and kids’ programming in and around Parc de la Villette. The first Saturday in October is the Nuit Blanche (or White Night), a 7pm-to-7am arts extravaganza when galleries and museums stay open, dance parties thump, and playful installations create urban magic. The same month’s La Fête des Vendanges de Montmartre, or the Grape Harvest Festival, honors the fruits of the only vineyard in Paris (pictured). Located in the Amélie arrondissement, the five-day fest welcomes close to 500,000 people a year for live music, charcuterie, oysters, parades, fireworks, and, of course, wine. For generalists who don’t like time constraints, you can’t beat the Festival d’Automne à Paris. From September all the way to December, over 40 venues showcase the best in theater, music, dance, film, and visual arts.
WHY GO IN AUTUMN? To admire fall colors—er, "colours"
When it comes to fall colors, New England hogs the spotlight this time of year, but old England puts on an impressive autumnal display, too. The Wye Valley, straddling the border between England and Wales, has plenty of colorful leaves to peep during hikes through the ancient Forest of Dean and visits to castles and former hunting lodges in Gloucestershire villages like St. Briavels and Coleford. Equally eye-popping on the Wales side is Tintern Abbey, the 12th-century roofless ruin that got Romantic poet William Wordsworth all worked up. Elsewhere in the valley, the surfable Severn Bore, a tidal wave on the River Severn, tends to surge around the time of the equinox in September. Fall is also primetime at the hundreds of apple orchards along the cider route in Herefordshire.
WHY GO IN AUTUMN? To avoid the summertime throng
Like Barcelona, Amsterdam is stuffed with tourists for most of the year, but your best bet for encountering manageable crowds and decent weather at the same time is the period from September to November, after the summer rush has ended (show up in the spring and you’ll contend with tulip mania). Still, despite average autumn temps around 60°F (15.5°C), things can turn damp and chilly unexpectedly, so pack extra layers for cruises along the city’s canals or bike rides in Vondelpark. Notable fall entries on the fun-loving town’s busy calendar of events include the Amsterdam Music Festival (mid-October), the Afrovibes showcase of performing artists from Africa (early October), and the weekend in September when historic monuments, government buildings, and homes across Amsterdam are opened to the public, free of charge.
WHY GO IN AUTUMN? To hike the Alps the Swiss way
In the mountains of Switzerland, hiking trails can be covered with snow into the late spring and filled with tourists during summer, making early fall—before the winds pick up in November—the sweet spot for experiencing the Swiss Alps. And because outdoor ambles have been an ingrained part of Swiss culture for centuries, paths are well-maintained and accessible for hikers of all ages and fitness levels. You’d be hard-pressed to find an unattractive route in this landscape of peaks, meadows, forests, and lakes. But if you’re looking for a spot that has all of the country’s best attributes, base yourself in lakeside Lucerne. For an entirely different vibe, try Ticino in southern Switzerland, which has more in common with Italy than Heidi. The vista-rich Gotthard Panorama Express train connects the two towns from April into mid-October.
WHY GO IN AUTUMN? To live the good life at palaces and vineyards
With its classical music concerts, pastry-purveying cafés, orderly gardens, and elegant palaces housing Hapsburg treasures and must-see art museums, Vienna is always a rewarding choice if you’re into fine living. Several annual events make the city especially enticing in autumn. On one night in early October, just about every museum in town welcomes visitors for special exhibits, performances, and other surprises into the wee hours. Later that same month, moviemakers and cinephiles descend on the historic center for the venerable Vienna International Film Festival. And on Vienna Wine Hiking Day at the end of September, visitors are invited to explore the 700 hectares (1,700 acres) of vineyards within city limits, stopping along the way for wine samples and views of the Danube and Vienna Woods.
Pictured: Schönbrunn Palace