The European Destinations You Have to See This Fall
Ella Fitzgerald may croon about “April in Paris,” but for our money, the best time to hit any European destination is fall. With lesser crowds, lower rates, scenic outdoor activities, and hundreds of festivals—from wine harvests to truffle hunts—there are plenty of perks to flying across the pond for the autumn. Here are 9 European spots that have a fireside (or outdoor terrace) seat with your name on it.
While many of Switzerland’s ski hideaways won’t be open until early-winter, Zurich in the fall offers plenty of diversions in both urban sites and natural . Get a feel for the city’s past with a walk through the narrow, Medieval house-lined lanes of Old Town, checking out landmark churches like Peterskirche, with Europe’s largest clock face, and Fraumünster, with stained glass windows by Chagall. Then explore emerging areas like the Industrial Quarter, where new and former warehouse buildings hold trendy spots like the Les Halles (famous for its cocktails and moules frites) and the Viaduct Arches, a 1894 former railway viaduct now lined with over 35 restaurants, galleries, and boutiques; don’t miss the central Market Hall, where over 20 famers and artisans peddle their tasty wares. Savor more local treasures at one of the city’s many flea markets; standouts include the year-round Kanzlei market, featuring over 300 vendors. If the weather’s agreeable, take a day trip to hike on Mount Uetilberg, from where you can take in panoramic views of the city and the Alps, or enjoy a scenic cruise on Lake Zurich, which run all year. The spectrum of fall colors can also be enjoyed from the Jules Vernes Panorama Bar, a former observatory-turned-cocktail-bar that looks out over the city and mountains, and the hilltop Dolder Grand Hotel, a city icon that sits on acres of private parkland. Banish that fall chill at the hotel’s award-winning spa, which features an extensive water circuit, or at Thermal Baths & Spa Zürich, where heated thermal spring baths are set within the vaulted stone walls of the century-old Hürlimann brewery.
Once the summer crowds have thinned, Barcelona goes back to the locals—and the visitors who want to feel like one. The fall is all about the festivals and food: At the end of the month, the popular, design-focused 48H Open House BCN features two days of architect-led tours and special access to landmark buildings, while the foodie-favorite Mercat de Mercats brings several of the city’s top markets together for two days of artisan stalls, food and wine tastings, and cooking and cocktail classes. On All Saints’ Day (November 1), locals spend the national holiday by visiting the graves of departed loved ones, then gathering with friends and family for a night of eating sweet potatoes, hot castanyes (chestnuts), and panellets, small, marzipan-like cakes coated with things like coconut or pine nuts—all treats that, for a limited time, you’ll also find in street carts and on restaurants menus around town. Our favorite new place to stay in the city: the Cotton House, set in the former HQ for the Cotton Producers Guild. As a nod to its fabric roots, the hotel offers unique experiences like textile/ lace tours of Barcelona, and bespoke sessions with one of the city’s top textile makers; for an extra charge, expert tailors will come to the hotel to measure you for a custom shirt (men’s and women’s styles are available), then craft the perfect addition to your fall wardrobe.
Scotland’s breathtaking beauty is clear—just ask anyone who watches Outlander. But you don’t have to travel through time to take in its splendor: visit in fall, when the foliage is at its best, the sun still shines, and the whisky is waiting. Get your first glimpse of the autumn colors in Edinburgh’s Royal Botanic Gardens, which dates back to the 17th century, then wander through some of the city’s parks and green spaces for more photo-worthy backdrops. Warm up with a sumptuous classic Afternoon Tea service at Colonnades at the Signet Library, a gilded neo-classical setting in the heart of Old Town, then stock up on cozy cashmeres, tweeds, and tartans in the trendy shops of The West End, or the quirkier options along Grassmarket and Victoria Streets (the latter is said to have been the inspiration for Harry Potter's Diagon Alley.) Set right on the historic Royal Mile, the city’s main pedestrian shopping street, the design-forward G&V Hotel is awash in colors that might rival the ones outside—including at the lively bar, where mixologists are know for their creative cocktails, but are just as happy to serve you a homegrown whisky.
In summer, Dubrovnik’s shoreline brims with visitors jostling for a spot along the shimmering Adriatic; if only they knew that here, the water typically stays warm through October, and sometimes even November. You can soak up the last sunny days of the season in peace with a swim or kayaking trip, or stay on land to walk on top of the Old Town walls—the best vantage point for taking in the autumnal scenery and the Old Town’s vibrant red roofs—or to bike around the Elafati Islands, just a ferry ride away from the city. Croatian wines are gaining worldwide acclaim, and you can sample some of the best at Razonoda Wine Bar, a favorite of local winemakers that stocks close to 100 labels (about 60 are available by the glass) and serves a tasty small plates menu. One you’ve discovered some favorites wines, visit where they were made: many of the stellar vineyards of the Konval and Pelješac regions are less than a two-hour drive from Dubrovnik; stop by Saint Hills, which offers tastings, tapas, and (by reservation only) seven-course dinners. Back in the city, sleep well at the cliffside Hotel Excelsior, where the award-winning chef sources the best ingredients, from seafood and meats to olive oils, from this idyllic part of the world.
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Whether you’re into food or art, history or nightlife, Berlin has become a an affordable European hotspot—and fall is a great time to see what all the buzz is about. Rent a bike (available at almost every other corner for just 8 Euros a day) to get the lay of the city; if time permits, grab some picnic items and ride out to Tempelhofer Feld, an old airport that’s been turned into a popular public park. Dive deeper into the eclectic, creative Kreuzberg neighborhood with a walking tour by of/Berlin, which highlights local designers and indie businesses. If the weather turns, check out museums like the Hamburger Bahnhof, a converted 19th-century train station-turned-contemporary art space, or take cover at Markthalle 9, an indoor food market that hosts regular events like Streetfood Thursday, and festivals spotlighting cheese or coffee. For another unique taste of Berlin, join the crowds at Kanaan, a delicious Middle Eastern spot opened by a Palestinian chef and an Israeli restauranteur; the new winter terrace is the perfect spot for enjoying shakshuka and secret-recipe hummus all year long. As for where to stay, check in to the stylish 25Hours Hotel Bikini Berlin, with its buzzy rooftop Monkey bar and restaurant, chic rooms and lobby dotted with hammocks and airstream street food van parked right outside.
Make summer last a bit longer with a trip to Porto, Portugal’s second-largest city, and one of the oldest in Europe. Set along the Douro River, at the gateway to wine country, Porto boasts a UNESCO World Heritage Site old town that’s lined with colorfully-tiled, often-crumbling facades, and is full of both historic sites (like the Cathedral de Porto, San Bento Railway Station, and the Torre dos Clerigos tower), and independent shops, bars, and restaurants. Pay homage to back-to-school season at hangouts set in former bookstores: Restaurante Book presents its menus of flavorful dishes and Portuguese wines in old paperbacks, with literary quotes above each daily special, while Livraria da Baixa, occupying a nearly-century-old shop, is great for tea, tapas, and well-crafted cocktails (try the Porto Tonico.) Stroll along the water, stopping at the Ponte Luis I bridge for the best views over the river, then head to the Crystal Palace Gardens, where you can learn about (and sample) port at the Solar do Vinho do Porto. There’s more opportunity to sip local vintages at the chic Intercontinental Porto, which compliments its luxe amenities (like a rooftop pool and Caudalie Spa) with extensive wine-based programming and an award-winning wine collection. The in-house team can also help set up day trips to some of the top vineyards along the Douro.
Lake Como, Italy
George and Amal may be rumored to be selling their Lake Como villa, but the gorgeous Italian destination, set about two hours’ drive from Milan, will never lose its glamorous appeal. And it’s even more of a gem in fall, when the lower humidity and fewer crowds make it even more alluring. Settle in to the 100-year-old Grand Hotel Tremezzo, a family-owned five-star property on the lake, where you can soak up the remaining sun in the gardens or pools, indulge at the underground spa, then get cozy at the fondue-and-wine restaurant. The hotel also has its own dock and “water limo,” so you can ride off to key sites around the Lake, including historic mansions like Villa Balbianello and Villa Carlotta, the stone village of Bellagio, and the 11th-century fishing village of Varenna. (The hotel also offers a “Hollywood” tour highlighting Villa Versace and, of course, the Clooney hideaway.) Throughout the fall, you’ll also find a full calendar of festivals and events taking place in the towns and mountains around the Lake, from weekend food and wine celebrations and art exhibits to opera, ballet, and concerts at Como’s 19th-century Teatro Sociale.
Granted, this is a region, not a city, but there’s so much to take in in still-sunny Provence once the summer crowds have left, we couldn’t limit ourselves to just one town. Base yourself at a country charmer like Bastide de Marie, an 18th-century farmhouse-turned-boutique-hotel set among acres of working vineyards. Along with Provencal-chic rooms and stunning views, guests can feast on seasonal dishes and ingredients like local truffles; the hotel can arrange for you to join a truffle hunter (and his trained dogs) on a search through the forest, then set you up with chef-led cooking classes and demos. Once truffle season is officially proclaimed in the town of Richerenches in mid-November, you’ll find truffle markets and tastings popping up all over the region. Lookout for them as you drive around Provence, exploring the historic towns and hiking the scenic gorges. While you do, you might also spot fields awash in the bluish-purple of saffron, which is harvested in late-fall; saffron farms are found throughout Provence, and many offer tours by appointment. The countryside will also be ablaze with the reds, bronzes, and golds of the vineyards, and though harvest takes place earlier in the season, you can join locals in toasting the new Cotes du Rhones at November’s Millévin festival in Avignon, or stop by individual wineries mid-month to snag first tastings of the new vintages.
Serbia’s vibrant capital is one of Europe’s lesser-known gems (particularly with American travelers), but that might not be for long: with the recent launch of affordable direct flights from JFK (on Etihad Airlines-owned Air Serbia), access has never been easier. Though best known for its nightlife, the city has plenty to keep you entertained during the day, from visiting historic sites like the Nikola Tesla Museum, an ode to the genius inventor, to strolling along shop- and mansion-lined pedestrian Knez Mihailova Street, with stops in places like the indoor Katapult artisan market (Kneza Mihaila #5). Take in the fall foliage with a walk or bike ride around Ada Ciganlija lake, then get warm with some roasted chestnuts from a street cart, or a glass of mulled wine in one of the cafes that line the banks. If the wind kicks up, take shelter with an Underground Tour of the city’s ancient Roman roots, or a tour with Panajotovic Cellar, where visitors head underground to sample some of Serbia’s noted wines. Get your culture fix at the Bemus 2017- Belgrade Music Festival (October 11-20), which features both established and up-and-coming artists; the Belgrade Jazz Festival (October 26-30); or with an opera or ballet performance (tickets start at $5 US.) Come dinnertime, savor flavorful modern Balkan small plates at lively Manufaktura, or learn all about the beloved local spirit, rakia, with tapas and tastings at Rakia Bar—an ideal pre-game before heading for the clubs of the cobblestoned Savamala “creative district.” Stay at the historic Metropole Palace, a cushy base in the center of town with a pool and spa, or opt for a boutique option like The Envoy, perfectly situated for prime people watching near the main shopping arteries.
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