Autumn is almost upon us. And while the end of summer is no cause for joy, there is a silver lining. Especially if you’re a baby boomer with the time to travel when you choose, autumn is a great – and underappreciated – time to make a trip. So let’s take a look: what are the best places to travel in the fall?
In truth, almost anywhere that’s a good place to go in summer is probably also good in the fall. In fact, some places are better: cities that were sweltering and crowded with tourists in July and August are now cooler and less of a mob scene. And the sky-high prices of mid-summer have come down to earth, as airlines and hotels try to fill space that’s suddenly not in such great demand.
There are a few places that really come into their own when the leaves start to fall, however. Here’s a list of cities and regions near and far that I’d count among the best places to travel in the fall. For detailed information on these destinations, check out Tripsavvy.
New York City
The Big Apple is one of the world’s top destinations, especially in summer. But once the kids go back to school and the summer crowds leave, real life begins again. This is a good time to visit, with comfortable temperatures and shorter lines to get into the city’s attractions. And there’s no shortage of fall events to keep you occupied. For example, there’s the New York Film Festival, the New York City Wine and Food Festival, the New York Comedy Festival and a giant street fair called the Atlantic Antic.
There’s even the Zombie Masquerade Ball, if you like to see people staggering around in ghastly makeup. And of course, the Broadway show season is in full swing, the world-class museums run special shows, there are legendary restaurants everywhere, and the views of Central Park are beautiful in the fall. (A bonus for Canadian travellers, as well: right now the exchange rate on Canadian dollars is the best we’ve seen in years.)
It wouldn’t be fall without fall colours. And one of the best places to see them is Canada’s Niagara region. The area around Niagara Falls is beautiful at any time of year, but especially in autumn when the leaves turn colour (which tends to happen a bit later than elsewhere, due to the region’s mild climate). Visit the falls, then spend some time exploring the quaint Victorian town of Niagara on the Lake, and drive the scenic roads along the Niagara Escarpment.
There are culinary pleasures, too. Niagara is a major wine region, and when the harvest comes in, it celebrates. The Niagara Grape and Wine Festival runs from Sept. 8-24, and it’s always free to visit some of the area’s more than 80 wineries and sample a wine or two – many have good restaurants, too. If you like beer and schnitzel, Niagara also has its own Oktoberfest, Oct. 13-14 this year. Bring your lederhosen.
If you’re still seeking some heat, the Big Easy is a great choice at this time of year. The oppressive temperatures of summer are beginning to lift, but it’s still t-shirt weather in New Orleans, with highs around 27 Celsius (80 Fahrenheit). September is still hurricane season, so it pays to watch the weather forecasts. But October is a great time to sample some of the city’s rich offerings.
Celebrations are a NOLA specialty, and October is as busy as any time, with the Art for Art’s Sake art walk, the Crescent City Blues and BBQ festival, and the New Orleans Film Festival. As well, there’s free music in Lafayette Square every Wednesday. But then, music tends to break out just about anywhere in New Orleans. And then there’s the food, and the history, and the hurricane cocktails …
Montreal celebrated its 375 birthday this year, which means it was a magnet for tourists from around the world. But with the cooler weather, things should get a little less hectic in the fall – a good chance to see the city’s sights and enjoy its slightly European lifestyle. There’s lots of culture here: for example, September is Mois de la photo, or Photo Month, with exhibits featuring the works of talented local photographers.
As well, Gardens of Light, a stunning exhibit of Chinese lanterns, runs from September through early November. And Montreal has more restaurants per capita than anywhere else in North America, so there’s Montreal Restaurant Week, in early November. Once you’ve seen what the city has to offer, take a drive out of town and see the leaves turn in the Laurentian mountain range, just an hour away. There’s lots of resorts, inns and B&Bs, so can stay a few days.
The great thing about visiting London in autumn is that even if the weather turns cold and rainy, it’s hard to tell it from summer. Seriously, autumn in London can be pleasant, with September highs of 19 Celsius (66 Fahrenheit) and lows of 11 (51). Pack an umbrella, and explore the hundreds of fascinating sights that are now comparatively free of tourist mobs, from Buckingham Palace to Covent Gardens.
There’s a lot going on in the fall, as well. Just in September, there’s Open House London, which welcomes visitors into 700 notable buildings; Totally Thames, a celebration of the river with regattas, art exhibits and performances; BBC Proms in the Park; and something called Horsemen’s Sunday, where he vicar of St John’s Church leads a parade of horses through Hyde Park. As Samuel Johnson once said: “When a man is tired of London he is tired of life.”
Prague is the biggest tourist city in Central Europe. So it goes without saying that autumn brings a welcome relief from the hordes of tourists who descend on the city in summer. While the weather gets cooler, it’s still comfortable until mid-October. And the trees that surround the old city turn colour, giving the whole scene a warm glow.
Fall is a good time to put on a sweater and wander Prague’s cobblestoned streets, admire the Charles Bridge, and watch the 600-year-old glockenspiel in Old Town Square. And listen to some music: there’s the Dvorak Festival and the Autumn International Music Festival in September, followed by the International Jazz Festival in October. And if you’re there from October 12-15, you can catch Signal, a festival that lights up Prague’s historic buildings at night, making for a magical city walk.
Paris and the Loire Valley
There’s no bad time to visit Paris – and as a result, it really has no “off-season”. However, arriving in fall will let you avoid the worst of the tourist rush, and as with New York, the line-ups may be shorter and the prices slightly lower. As well, the Paris Autumn Festival runs through September and October, with dozens of arts exhibits and performances. October brings the Vendanges de Montmartre, a quirky celebration of an ancient Paris winery, with drinks and entertainment.
If you want to see more of Europe in autumn, take the two-hour train ride to visit the Loire Valley. This is France’s showcase, the place where nobles and royalty built majestic-looking châteaux back in the 16th century. They’re a sight to behold at any time of year, but the region is especially colourful in fall, with the trees turning and the wine harvest in full swing.
This well-preserved medieval city is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been, and by all indications, Bruges is even more beautiful in the fall. When the vines that cover the ancient buildings turn red and reflect in the city’s canals, it’s a brilliant photo op. And while you’re there, take an extra day to see Ghent, a nearby medieval city that some say is even more beautiful.
With Belgium’s mild autumn weather, this would be a great time to walk Bruges’ historic streets, and shop a bit at its outdoor markets – they’re open through the fall. Then, drop into one of the city’s many beer pubs for some of the famous Belgian beer produced by the city’s centuries-old breweries. Or stop for some hot chocolate and a steaming hot Belgian waffle: the perfect thing for a crisp autumn day.
Those are my eight suggestions for the best places to travel in the fall. I’m sure you have a few of your own: if so, leave a comment and share. But even if you pick somewhere that’s right off the map, I think you’ll find travelling in the autumn has a feeling all its own. Fall days can be beautiful, with clear skies and golden sunsets. And when you visit a city in the fall, you get a glimpse of life as the locals live it, rather than as the tour companies sell it.
And of course, you can sometimes get it all at a bit of a discount — which doesn’t hurt at all. Getting far from the madding crowd can have its advantages …