Fall can easily be mistaken for a season of gloom, as temperatures drop and nights grow longer. But fall is actually an opportunity. An opportunity to dig out your cosiest sweaters and to eat warm comfort food by the bowlful. Most of all it is an opportunity to travel. Traveling in Europe in the “shoulder season” of September to November means lower prices, fewer tourists, Indian summers and fall colors to fill your photographs and memories.
Fall is the season when the landscape transforms into warm patchworks of magenta red, fiery orange and canary yellow. These fall colors are not just reserved for the forests of New England or the countryside of Japan. Europe also has plenty of sweeping fall scenery on offer in a variety of landscapes, from untouched countryside to urban avenues. We’ll tell you where you can see the best fall colors across Europe, and how to get there by rail with your Eurail Pass.
For fairytale castles
Head to Neuschwanstein Castle and you’ll feel like you’ve stepped right into a Disney movie. The fiery-colored trees surrounding the castle will give a distinctive flair to your photos of this classic view. All that’s missing is a dragon!
Getting there by rail: Take a 2.5 hour regional Bavarian train from Munich to Füssen, then a bus up to the castle. Visit between September 21 and October 6 to combine your trip with Oktoberfest, the famous fall highlight in Germany’s calendar.
Framing fall: Those classic photos of the castle are taken from Marienbrücke, which you can reach on foot in the hills to the south of the castle. It’s very well signposted so you won’t miss it.
Lake Bled, Slovenia
There are so many elements in Bled’s landscape which would be perfect on their own: a castle, a picturesque church, an azure lake, a horizon of mountains. In Bled they combine for a veritable feast for the senses. Shoulder season is a great time to visit Bled, not just for the fall colors reflected in the lake, but also because Bled is still a bit of a hidden gem, especially in the fall.
Getting there by rail: You can easily take a day trip to Bled from Ljubljana, the Slovenian capital. Catch a 50-minute train to Lesce Bled, then a short bus ride to the lake itself.
Framing fall: Take a 45-60 minute hike, up 645m to Mala Osojnica viewpoint to snap the lake with a backdrop of the Julian Alps.
For famous places
In fall, some of Europe’s most famous views are transformed by the changing colors of the surrounding trees. This is no less true for these 2 European cities.
Getting there by rail: Both are easily accessible by train from other European capitals and should be at least a little bit quieter out of season.
Amsterdam, the Netherlands
Amsterdam is magical in the fall when the 400,000 trees lining its famous canals blanket the streets with fiery-colored leaves. You can seek some warmth in a brown bar with Dutch fall staples: a slice of appeltaart and a cup of hot chocolate.
Framing fall: For gorgeous photos of canals, bridges and bikes, trimmed with Dutch orange, you should head to the Jordaan neighbourhood along the Prinsengracht.
Paris is romantic all year round, but fall is extra special. The fall scenery turns every view into an impressionist painting, and you can actually enjoy them (and the major attractions) without hordes of tourists in every frame. What’s more, the Parisians will have returned from their summer holidays, so you can really experience the city like a local.
Framing fall: Try to frame the Eiffel Tower with the yellow leaves in Trocadéro Gardens.
For far-off vistas
The Highlands, Scotland
If you’ve ever wanted to discover the magical settings of Harry Potter or Disney Pixar’s Brave, then the Highlands of Scotland are the fall destination for you. You will find untouched Celtic forests, endless mountains and deep, dark lochs. What’s more, the purple heather of Scottish moorland adds an extra color to the fall palette.
Getting there by rail: The Cairngorms National Park is at the center of the Highlands. You can access it from Aviemore, 2hrs 40mins from Edinburgh, or from Fort William, 3hrs 50mins from Glasgow.
Framing fall: Visit a loch in the morning for snaps of crisp air and wisps of mist over the water. Some of the best include Loch Ness, of monster fame, and Loch Linnhe, flanked by Ben Nevis, Britain’s tallest mountain.
If you want to visit a fairytale destination with a difference, then head to Dracula’s Bran Castle in Transylvania. After all, there’s no better time than Halloween for visiting the home of a vampire! Romania is still largely undiscovered by tourists, so you will get Transylvania’s harvest festivities and 100 castles all to yourself.
Getting there by rail: Take the 3hrs 25mins train from Bucharest to Brașov, then a bus to Bran Castle.
Framing fall: You can easily snap an imposing picture of Bran Castle from below. Alternatively, the surrounding hills offer you a number of great viewpoints.
For the full fall package
Lake Como, Italy
Of all the places on this list, Lake Como has the most to offer in fall. It has the lakes, the mountains, the fall-colored forests. But it also has a lot of sun, so you can enjoy the fall colors without having to wrap up warm. You could even enjoy a gelato on a promenade along the lake. The area also has plenty of harvest celebrations, including food and wine festivals.
Getting there by rail: You can reach picturesque Bellagio by taking a 1hr train from Milano Centrale to Varenna-Esino, then a 15 mins ferry.
Framing fall: Take a walk along the lake from the town of Menaggio to frame views of Bellagio with orange roofs hiding amongst the golden leaves.
If you have fallen for one or more of these European destinations in the fall, then you can do much more than enjoy our pictures. Get yourself a Eurail Global Pass and tour Europe in the fall, so that you can try framing Europe’s fall colors yourself!
If you like the idea of having Europe all to yourself, then read more about off-peak travel here: