Welcome to shoulder season – that magical time of year between peak and off- seasons when flight prices drop, crowds thin, and the weather is still pleasant. This is that secret, storied window of time that travel insiders wait for each year, when you can walk through some of Europe’s most popular destinations without working your way through the thick crowds of summer. So, which are the hottest European cities to visit this shoulder season? Read on for our top 10 picks.
London’s autumn temps are perfect for plenty of outdoor sightseeing. Pack a sturdy umbrella for occasional rain and you’re all set to enjoy shorter lines at some of London’s most famous attractions. Shoulder season is an especially good time for foodies to visit England’s capital as Taste of London, where you can sample dishes from London’s finest chefs, takes over the city in mid-November. Additionally, one of the UK’s biggest celebrations, Bonfire Night, happens on November 5. Plan your trip around this festive night and take in a dazzling fireworks display over the River Thames.
Is there anything more dreamy than strolling through Paris at night hand in hand with your loved ones bundled up against the crisp fall weather? And who says Parisian sidewalk cafés can only be enjoyed in summer or the joy of a baguette and wine in a park is limited by the seasons? We fully encourage partaking in these typically Parisian activities during shoulder season when the city will feel even more magical and will have returned to life as usual post-peak season.
Art aficionados and lovers of culture should set their sights on Istanbul during shoulder season. Some of the city’s biggest and best cultural events take place during this time, such as the Istanbul Biennial, which brings together a variety of artwork curated around one central theme. Those who love the stage should head to the Istanbul Theatre Festival, which offers visitors endless plays, dance performances, and shows to choose from.
We wouldn’t be surprised if whoever came up with Amsterdam’s colour scheme had autumn on their inspiration board. The rich reds, browns and brick colours of the city seem perfectly matched to the season. Explore the city by day as the locals do – by bicycle, of course. Then, explore Amsterdam’s cultural offerings, like the season’s many film festivals, by night. Time your trip right and partake in Museum Night, when the city’s best cultural institutions stay open until the wee hours.
Oktoberfest, Munich’s biggest draw, ends the first week of October, so take advantage of the crowds returning home and celebrate your own personal Oktoberfest in the capital of Bavaria. The city’s best beer gardens will feel even more special when you can actually take a seat and enjoy that world-renowned beer over lively conversation. Don’t leave Munich without taking a day trip to one of the jaw-dropping castles just a short drive away. Neuschwanstein Castle is one of the most famous (and most Instagrammable) in Bavaria. Think fairytale spires, lush forests, and scenic mountains – yeah, we wouldn’t want to miss that either.
It’s no secret that Guinness is the perfect accompaniment to crisp, fall weather, but did you know fall is oyster season in Ireland? One of the world’s most famous duos, Guinness and oysters, is enough of a reason in our book to visit Dublin during shoulder season, but if you need another, festival season is in full swing with innovative performances gracing stages all over the city. If you’re more often spotted in the great outdoors than in a pub, head to the sea for peak whale watching season or simply go outside for a walk. The fall foliage makes for even grander views (as if they weren’t already breathtaking enough) and you can even plan ahead with downloadable maps from Discover Ireland.
Head to Copenhagen this autumn and dive into the city’s many flea markets. Whether you’re on the hunt for the perfect vintage coat or are hoping to stumble upon a rare vinyl to complete your collection, Copenhagen’s flea markets pop up all over the city come fall. Vesterbro’s hip market fittingly features a DJ spinning tunes while shoppers browse. When you’re not browsing flea market stalls, try to snag a sought-after reservation at one of Copenhagen’s top restaurants or explore the city’s many world-class museums.
Escape to Dubrovnik in autumn and treat yourself to a break from the sweaty temps of summer. If you’re really lucky, the sea might still be warm enough for a dip. Added bonus: you’ll be able to explore those famous Game of Thrones stairs without crowds getting in the way and nab a seat at some of the city’s most beautiful restaurants without a wait.
Prague’s iconic Gothic architecture, historic beer halls, and hearty cuisine seem perfectly suited to the autumn months, don’t you think? Put on your coziest sweater and relish in the freedom of shoulder season. World music fans should check out the Strings of Autumn line-up. This international music festival brings a wide range of music, from classical and jazz to hip hop and world music.
Head to Florence for shoulder season and get ready to enjoy la dolce vita. Perfectly sunny days and little chance of rain mean dining al fresco will be your new normal. Did we mention it’s harvest season? Take a trip to one of Tuscany’s wonderful wineries for a harvest dinner and a tasting to enjoy the fresh flavours of the season.