Five awesome autumnal encounters – Seasonal city breaks to 'fall' in love with
There are many reasons to love the autumn season: crisp mornings and cosy nights; vibrant hues all around as the foliage changes to gold, orange and red; the chance to let that beach bod go and indulge in comfort food; and being able to don a coat and scarf before a brisk morning walk in the park.
Autumn manifests itself in many different ways across the globe. It's, therefore, the perfect time of year to visit some of the world’s greatest cities, many of which have city-centric special events that take place in town every year. Below is our choice of the top five cities this time of year, along with some ideas of what to do in each.
Often unbearable in the summer, these metropolises can be hot and humid, packed with tourists on a mission and even lifeless as citizens escape to cooler climes – so now’s your chance – plan away.
The Big Apple can be a wretched place to visit in the summer, as the city practically melts in the unbearable heat, and the citizens, feisty at the best of times, reach new levels of irritability. Winter is another extreme, as the city is often brought to a standstill, either by brutal cold snaps freezing everything in sight or by the huge throngs of shoppers and tourists in town for the holidays, clogging up the streets.
Autumn (or fall, if you’re from here) is New York at its most magical. The blend of ochre, red and crimson colours of the season complement the architecture beautifully, making it perfect for exploring the city at its most picturesque (ideal for all Instagrammers out there). And should the weather turn sour, there are plenty of indoor activities and sights to enjoy.
New York’s autumn calendar is packed. Halloween is one of the top party nights in the year, as New Yorkers, known for their love of getting down, let loose wearing famously over-the-top costumes in clubs and bars across the city, or take part in the world's largest Halloween parade in Greenwich Village.
Thanksgiving is another highlight and is perhaps more family-friendly than the no-holds-barred PG-rated Halloween. The annual Macy's Thanksgiving Parade is a spectacular event, and its famous floats and giant balloons feature characters and friendly faces which will delight all ages.
Head to: the Village Halloween Parade; Macy's Thanksgiving Parade; Central Park; Art Museums (Check out our blog about unmissable art in New York here.)
Autumn is traditionally harvest season for many important crops, and often there are festivals devoted to the individual produce. But there's one crop harvest that's particularly dear to our hearts: grapes. The grape harvest is a time of celebration in winemaking regions across the globe, and where better than Bordeaux, home to some of the most distinguished wineries in the world?
Across the vineyards and fields of the region, thousands join in, picking the grapes before dawn or through the night. Dates can vary depending on the ripeness of the grapes, but September is usually the expected time. It’s a time of celebration, and there are festivities in the city and throughout the countryside.
Many wineries offer opportunities for visitors to join in the process, and a day of hard work is usually rewarded with a delicious meal, music performances and plenty of opportunities to imbibe the bounty of previous harvests. The biggest celebration is in Saint-Emilion, where a festival endures for the entirety of the harvest.
Bordeaux is a bountiful region in other respects, and the markets and stalls overflow with delicious produce. There is simply no better time of year to visit if you want to sample the region's food. There are plenty of other events, too, around this time. The Bordeaux International Arts Festival in October sees the city taken over by performers, shows and exhibitions. In November, the Festival of Gastronomy and Art-de-Vivre showcases the prowess of the region's chefs.
Head to: Saint-Emilion; Bordeaux International Arts Festival; La Cité du Vin
Bavaria (Munich’s the capital) is wonderful to explore during the autumn. Thanks to cooler weather and the rich arboreal colours, it’s the best time of year to go hiking along the pilgrim paths which criss-cross the countryside or visit the fairytale castles hidden in the forests. Neuschwanstein Castle, in particular, looks incredible during this season, with reds and golds contrasting beautifully against the white stone walls.
Thanks to its painstakingly restored and maintained old town, there are few German cities that are as picture-perfect in the autumn as Munich. With exciting markets, cosy cafes and beer halls serving hearty comfort food, there’s a lot to love. Munich makes for a delightfully romantic autumnal city break, rain or shine.
You won’t notice the weather, though, if you’re here for Oktoberfest. The world's largest Volkfest (a traditional German folk festival), it attracts over six million visitors from across the globe every year. While you might find a few who maintain the line that they're attending to celebrate Bavarian culture, music and food, chances are they're lying. They're here for the beer. You're here for the beer. Last year, nearly seven million litres of the stuff was consumed across sixteen days.
Head to: Oktoberfest; the Viktualienmarkt; Neuschwanstein Castle; The English Garden
Paris is famously void of Parisians in the summer as the city’s residents escape the heat and migrate to the coast and the south, leaving the City of Light to the crowds of tourists. The roles reverse in the autumn months, as the tourists evaporate and the locals return – a chance to experience true Parisian life.
Enjoy a leisurely café au lait and a croissant in the morning. Wander the beautiful streets admiring the foliage, and maybe nip into an art gallery or two before cosying up in a wine bar for the evening.
Throughout the autumn season, Paris hosts the annual Festival d'Automne, when theatres, arthouse cinemas and galleries feature exciting performances and exhibitions from across the globe. If you thought your previous visits to Paris were missing a bit of Japanese Kabuki theatre, Brazilian urban dancing or experimental opera about the life of a 15th-century astronomer using an invented language, then this is the time to visit the city.
On the other hand, it's also the time of year to visit the most prominent attractions as the queues are massively reduced. Take a trip on the metro to Versailles and marvel at the gardens, still gorgeous, before winter sets in. There’s the Louvre and Disneyland, amongst others, if you're so inclined, as the end of the summer holidays heralds the end of an excruciatingly busy season (before the Christmas crowds arrive).
Head to: Festival d'Automne; Versailles; art galleries (find our list of the best art to seek out here); Tuileries Garden
We love Barcelona, but it would take a lot to convince us to visit in the summer. The city heaves with tourists, and it's too hot to do anything but sit on the beach (which kind of defeats the purpose of visiting a city in the first place, you’ll agree). Give us Barcelona in the autumn instead – any day. The crowds are long gone, and the weather has cooled to a refreshing 20º Celsius (so if you thought our other choices sounded a tad chilly, this one’s for you).
And what a city to explore! See the Gaudi architecture without throngs of selfie sticks obscuring your view. Then wander up Las Ramblas without being blocked by crowds gawking at the street performers. Enjoy hot chestnuts from the street stalls – only in autumn.
There are also plenty of amazing events staged this time of year. La Mercè festival every September is one of the highlights of the Catalonian calendar when the local culture is vigorously celebrated. You'll experience the vast human pyramids, the castells and traditional dancers music and food, all topped off with an epic firework display at the Museu Nacional de Catalunya.
Barcelona Jazz Festival is a must for all jazz lovers. Or use Barcelona as a base to visit the village Sant Sadurní d’Anoia in early October for the Cavatast, the annual celebration of cava wine, accompanied by Catalonia's finest regional delicacies.
Head to: La Mercè festival; the Gothic Quarter; the Cavatast, Park Güell
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