Cooler months mean smaller crowds and more comfortable travel in many top destinations. And that means the autumn months are the perfect time to travel to popular spots in Europe and the UK for beautiful fall experiences while spending a bit less, thanks to the off-peak season or “shoulder” rates.
But bargains aren’t even the best thing about fall travel. It’s the beautiful foliage, interesting festivals, and the cozy climate around Europe that tempt us to pack our bags and book a flight. And these stunning European cities are some of the best places to experience a glass of wine by the fire or a reading nook on a windy evening.
1. Edinburgh, Scotland
Practically anywhere in the UK is going to be amazing in fall, but there’s something uniquely beautiful about Edinburgh, Scotland, once the leaves begin to turn and the fires start crackling in the grate. The foliage here is absolutely incredible and the sun is still shining, unlike in many other destinations made popular by the turning of their leaves. One of the best places to enjoy the fall colors is in Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Gardens, a dedicated garden dating back to the 17th century.
While in Edinburgh, you’ll want to visit Edinburgh’s other parks and green spaces for stunning foliage. Take a tour of the Edinburgh Castle and enjoy tea service if it’s available that day. Shop for some beautiful cashmere, tartans, and tweeds, and stroll the Royal Mile, which will treat you to history and bright autumn colors amid the shops and restaurants.
2. Zurich, Switzerland
When most of us think of Zurich, Switzerland, we picture ski slopes and hidden bank accounts. But Zurich is so much more than that. With enthralling urban streets and natural wonders nearby, there’s so much to see here — and autumn is the perfect time to visit. Enjoy panoramic views of fall colors from spots like the Jules Verne Panorama Bar, an observatory turned cocktail bar. Visit the Dolder Grand Hotel on the hilltop to enjoy the private parkland, and pencil in time for a treatment at the Thermalbad and Spa, Zurich’s incredible heated thermal spring bath set inside a century-old brewery with vaulted stone walls.
Visit Europe’s largest clock face at the Peterskirche church or the Fraumunster, which features stained glass windows by mosaic artist Chagall and sculptor and painter Giacometti. You can also explore the many galleries, restaurants, and boutiques in the former railway at Viaduct Arches — all in perfectly comfortable fall weather and minus summer crowds.
3. Amsterdam, Netherlands
For budget-focused travelers after some amazing spots in Europe, Amsterdam is a great choice for fall vacation time. September and October months boast super comfortable temperatures between the 50s and 60s, perfect for bike rides along Amsterdam’s canals. And since enjoying many of the famous attractions of the city — think the Rijksmuseum or Van Gogh Museum — isn’t dependent on the weather, you won’t be put off by the rainy afternoons in this Dutch city. Visit book shops and boutiques, designer stores, markets, and more, all without crowds of backpacking teens and college students to contend with.
4. Paris, France
Ah, the City of Lights. It’s praised in springtime, overcrowded in summer, and practically ignored in winter. But autumn is a wonderful time to visit this dazzling, magical city of love. Explore the Arc de Triomphe, the Louvre, the Jardin des Tuileries, the Eiffel Tower, and other popular attractions. Enjoy the backdrop of golden leaves and smoky chimneys, and lines much shorter than those you’ll have to stand in during summertime.
Airfare into Paris is also cheaper in the fall. Hotels are more affordable. And you’re more likely to rub elbows with local folks instead of tourists trying to snap Instagram-worthy shots outside the Moulin Rouge.
Even if the weather isn’t perfect — though rainy days are limited and temperatures average between 41 and 70 degrees — you’ll find the many indoor activities well worth your time. The museums are some of the greatest in the world, while the cafes and restaurants are worth the trip alone.
5. Lisbon, Portugal
If you’re looking for a sunny, mild climate for a fall getaway, then head to Lisbon, Portugal. There’s a greater chance of rain in this Mediterranean city, admittedly, but the rates are much lower and the temperatures higher than they are in many other locales around the continent.
Fall is the season for roasted chestnuts — find street vendors for the best and freshest choices — so enjoy some while you take in the sights of the beautiful capital. Ride the funiculars through the seven hills of Lisbon, stop in for a few hours at the National Museum of Ancient Art; explore life under the sea at the Lisbon Oceanarium (voted the World’s Best Aquarium 2018 by TripAdvisor’s Traveler’s Choice); relive the history of this beautiful country at the Jeronimos Monastery and the Torre de Belem. And, of course, be sure to experience the cuisine of the country with dishes like pesticos, tapas, and bifana.
6. Barcelona, Spain
Barcelona is loaded with festivals and food in the fall months when the backpacking crowds have returned to college. And though the younger tourists are gone, the city will still be humming with people from around the world. This is one of the most attractive vacation spots for folks looking for energizing crowds in the autumn months.
Food and wine tastings are everywhere. Tours and markets become more accessible and famous landmarks more navigable. Moderate temperatures reign and slightly lower hotel rates make it an enticing go-to Mediterranean spot where you can enjoy loads of nightlife. This atmosphere also makes it a fantastic spot for solo travelers. Be sure to visit Sagrada Familia church, meander Las Ramblas, dine on castanas and boniatos — chestnuts and sweet potatoes — from street carts, and catch a soccer game for an unforgettable cultural experience.
7. Prague, Czech Republic
Prague, Czech Republic, is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. In fall, you’ll be welcomed by fairy tale-esque castles and architectural gems, the Astronomical Clock, and the incredibly vibrant autumn golds, reds, and oranges of the changing Czech trees.
The temperatures dip into the chilly 40s and 50s in October and down to mid-30s on colder November days, and and this chases away the crowds. You won’t be alone in the city, but you won’t encounter families or backpackers nearly as frequently, so you’ll feel much more like you’re sharing the city with locals. And hotels are cheaper, of course, at this time of year, save during the Strings of Autumn Festival that runs from mid-October to mid-November. But if you want some beautiful and interesting music, this is the time to face the crowds.
Visit sites like Prague Castle, Old Town Square, and the Mala Strana neighborhood (just a short walk from the castle) for the best views and most interesting history in the city. Grab souvenirs like marionettes and the famous Czech glass at local markets and boutiques and take a food tour to gain an understanding of and delight in the amazing cuisine of this ancient city.
8. Budapest, Hungary
Horse-racing, wine tastings, music events, and art displays are all a part of what you’ll experience in Budapest in the fall. The beautiful city is filled with autumn festivals where you can try a host of delicacies – from sausages and chimney cakes to foie gras and chicken paprikash.
The city gets hot in the summer months, so autumn is the perfect time to visit the thermal baths, save big on lower hotel rates, and explore sites like the Fisherman’s Bastion, the Hungarian National Gallery, and Buda Castle and Castle Hill district. Temperatures range from the lower 70s to the lower 40s between September and November, making it a perfect vacation spot for short sleeves by day and bundling up for crisp evening strolls.