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Traveling to Europe in the fall often means fewer crowds, shorter lines, idyllic weather and better deals – along with spectacular displays of autumn foliage. Many feel that it’s really the very best time of year to go. If you’re thinking about heading to Europe, these cities are some of the best to explore in autumn.
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Perthshire, often referred to as Big Trees Country, is one of the most glorious places in all of Europe for autumn colors in a country well-known for its breathtaking natural beauty. Here, lochs and rivers reflect the array of gold and copper of tree-covered hillsides, making it ideal for exploring and impressive photo-taking. You’ll find some of the most stunning spots near Loch Tummel, the Pass of Killiecrankie and Knock Hill. Take the steep but moderate walk to Knock Hill through mixed woodlands and scenic, heathery viewpoints, including jaw-dropping views from the summit of the Highlands to the north.
England’s Lake District is filled with incredible scenic beauty, with the autumn light making it all the more spectacular. It’s also a fabulous region for an inspiring walk with lots of lakes surrounded by gold and ruby covered hills. Cumbria is an ideal place to visit for fall colors with its beautiful woodland areas like Grizedale Forest Park home to green pines and copper beech trees framing mountain views. You’ll also want to duck into one of its pubs like the Kirkstone Pass Inn for a glass of local ale or cider.
The medieval city of Bruges becomes one of Europe’s most beautiful cities in the fall with crimson and golden vines covering historic buildings with rich autumn hues. The colors reflected in the canals create an especially romantic scene as well as picture-perfect photo ops. Be sure to experience some of the city’s open-air markets that are typically open through November. It’s also a perfect time to sip some of its famous chocolate in beverage form. Try a cup at De Proeverie, known for the best hot cocoa in all of Bruges.
In Southern Germany, you’ll find more of Europe’s most spectacular scenery with endless Alpine forests popping with color against mountains dusted with snow. This is the season for plenty of wine and beer festivals as well as outdoor activities like hiking in the Alps, taking a romantic ride on a horse-drawn carriage and sampling the local wines at a Bavarian winery. There are also some 25 historic castles and palaces to discover here, including such greats as Neuschwanstein Castle, Linderhof Palace, Nuremberg Castle and the Burghausen Castle.
A beautiful Croatian city along the Adriatic Coast, Dubrovnik makes a great place for an affordable vacation with lower prices than many other European coastal cities, particularly in the fall. At this time of year, the weather is still warm, but the big crowds of summer have dispersed. Enjoy magnificent beaches without bumping elbows with other tourists, and venture outside the city for outstanding mountain hikes surrounded by stunning scenery and splashes of fall color.
Ireland’s Wicklow Mountains are stunning all year round, but in the autumn, not only will you frequently find bright blue skies and trees covered with a brilliant golden hue, but you’re likely to see more waterfalls than other tourists. This is an amazing area for hiking as well as exploring historic sites like Glendalough, one of the most important monastic sites in the country, founded by St. Kevin in the 6th century. If a storm happens to roll in, just duck into one of the many cozy pubs and enjoy the warmth of a crackling fire with a pint of Guinness.
Autumn, and particularly October, is the peak season for food and wine in Italy. Truffles and mushrooms, chestnuts and chocolate all enjoy their own festivals during this time – and, it’s also vineyard harvest time. Piedmont is home to amazing fall scenery as well as a fantastic food and wine culture with the northwest region hemmed in by the Alps, so there are hundreds of roads and trails to explore the surrounding peaks set ablaze with color.
Autumn in Aragon, located in northeastern Spain in the heart of the Pyrenees bordering France, often means idyllic temperatures, ranging from highs in the upper 70s to mid-60s, depending on which part of the season you arrive. The Aragonese Pyrenees seem to define all the superlatives associated with the soaring Pyrenean Mountain Range with some of the highest and wildest peaks, and perhaps the most beautiful of the Spanish Pyrenees. This is also the home of Ordesa and Monte Perdido National Park, Spain’s first national park, where you’ll not only find an impressive array of fall colors but a dazzling variety of wildlife and cascading waterfalls.
Prague in the fall is especially amazing, with significantly fewer visitors but typically many beautiful days. The season’s golden glow provides a romantic feel to the historic cityscape, while Czech foods and brews seem to suit perfectly. Take a stroll just before dusk on Castle Hill where you’ll find a panoramic view of Prague’s red rooftops and thousand spires. In autumn, it’s much easier to appreciate the city’s iconic attractions without having to battle crowds, including tour groups that charge across the grounds of magnificent Prague Castle, resembling an invaded army. Flashes of copper, crimson, and luminous orange enliven the city as the trees begin to transform in early October. Head to public parks for the very best of Mother Nature’s display.
With the summer heat fading and high temperatures lingering around 70 degrees through the end of October, Budapest is also ideal in autumn. During this season Hungarians celebrate national beverages and food with annual festivals, though most of the tourists have returned home until next year. This is a great city for walking, and fall makes it ideal for wandering winding streets and exploring cozy cafes. Travelers can also visit nearby wine regions to experience the harvest in Eger, Tokaj or Villany, or take a drive to Danube Bend to enjoy the colors of fall.
The beautiful city of Lugano is situated in the southern region of Switzerland, bordering Italy and on the shores of Lake Lugano, underneath the shadow of beautiful mountains just south of the Alps. This is one of the most picturesque destinations at any time of the year, but visiting in autumn means that summer’s scorching temperatures have given way to a milder climate in a choreographed setting of magnificent colors. A visit during the first weekend of October gives travelers a chance to attend the Autumn Festival, featuring folkloric music as well as celebrations of grapes and fine wines.
Puigcerda is the capital of the region of Cerdana and a picturesque village offering many boutiques and restaurants as well as historic sites in its downtown area. It offers numerous trails for hiking and exploring the surrounding region along with spotting brilliant autumn colors. One of the best places to start out for fall leaf-peeping is the Passeig dels Enmorats, a tree-line trail that heads out of the village, an easy walk and a great way to spend your morning or afternoon. Bring your camera and walk along the wooded banks of Puigcerda Lake as well as Schierbeck Park to experience some of the best the city has to offer this season.
The hamlet of Ukanc sits on the western end of Lake Bohinj in the Upper Carniola region of Slovenia. Here, visitors can travel via cable car up to the summit of Mount Vogel to take in some of the most dramatic views in all of Europe. In autumn, this extraordinarily beautiful place becomes even more stunning, with rich reds and golden hues reflected in the clear lake. Ukanc is also the starting point for a scenic one-hour walk to Savica Waterfalls. For those up for a serious hike, from here you can also take a day trip to the Valley of Seven Lakes.
Istanbul is an exotic destination that is perfect for autumn travel, with the season falling in between summer’s extreme heat and the brutal winds and cold temperatures of winter. This fairy-tale city with its stunning architecture is also made much more enjoyable without having to fight the crowds. Take a stroll down the Old Town Istanbul’s narrow, winding alleyways where you’ll hear the sounds of Turkish music around every corner. Sampling traditional Turkish fare like borek, a pie made with a flakey, mouth-watering crust filled with meat, cheese, or potatoes, pairs perfectly on a crisp autumn day in Istanbul.
Deep in the Scottish Highlands, the Bridge of Orchy is a village set among especially incredible scenery. Stay at the Inveroran Hotel and you’ll be in the heart of some of the best Scotland has to offer from towering mountains to whiskey distilleries and castles that seem to magically appear out of the mist – and vanish just as quickly. At Loch Tulla, a small isle filled with larches is transformed into a brilliant array of colors, reflected in the tranquil waters. The West Highland Way, popular for walkers, linking Milngavie, just outside Glasgow, to Fort William in the Highlands, passing through the Bridge of Orchy making it ideal for a stroll on a beautiful autumn day.
In the Loire Valley of France, you’ll find some 185,000 acres of grapevines that stretch far and wide across hillsides and valleys. When the pageant of colors peaks in late October, it’s truly a sight to behold. Vineyards are ablaze in gold, vivid orange and fiery red, with autumn’s kiss also illuminating the surrounding forests and fairytale chateaus. Some have compared this region to New England in the fall, noting it as one of Europe’s best destinations for colorful autumn displays along with plenty of fine wines.
Ahornboden, located near Innsbruck in the Silver Region of Austria, sits at some 4,000 feet up in the Alps among soaring rocky peaks. Here you’ll find a tranquil alpine meadow dotted with thousands of maple trees that are transformed to a luminous yellow hue each fall. These trees, some dating back more than 600 years, provide a signal warning visitors that this is the last chance to hike before the long winter arrives. The shoulder season sees tourism significantly dropping, which also means plenty of bargains for travelers on a tight budget.
Portugal’s Douro River Valley becomes a sea of flaming red, orange and vibrant yellow in autumn, with terraced vineyards sloping along the riverbanks prepare for winter. The region is another hot spot for food and wine in the fall. While Portugal may not be the first place you associate with wine, the Douro Valley is actually the oldest demarcated wine region on earth. Across the stunning landscape, you’ll find locals serving their wares like meats, fresh bread and produce from grocery vans. Be sure to enjoy a sample of the fresh and flavorful grapes as they may be the best you’ve ever had. Taking a cruise along the 125-mile river with a glass of this region’s famed local port is a wonderful way to top off your autumn holiday
The seasonal change in Northern Europe is particularly striking. As the leaves begin to transform, woodland areas take on new life, making Oslo an ideal place for evening walks or foraging expeditions while there is still quite a bit of daylight. The city is home to many picturesque parks that become even more stunning this time of year. Akershus Fortress and the Vigeland Sculpture Park make for a particularly colorful backdrop on a sunny fall day, or wander just outside the city to Oslomarka Forest where you’ll see some of the nation’s most vibrant autumn foliage
Transylvania has long been a place steeped in legend and magnificent imagery of medieval castles and misty moonlight. Take the 56-mile drive through the Fagaras Mountains, the highest mountains of the Southern Carpathians with over 20 peaks rising more than 8,000 feet, famous for its hairpin curves and breathtaking vistas of stunning autumn foliage.