And just like that, peak season has come to an end.
Around the world, travelers have returned home and resumed their everyday lives, keeping incredible memories and wanderlust-inducing photos as their souvenirs. We hope you spent some time on the road this summer — but whether you traveled or stayed close to home, we recommend planning another getaway soon. After all, the shoulder season is just beginning for many destinations around the globe. For the next few months, travelers will be spoiled by just-right weather, thin crowds, and/or affordable airfare and hotels.
While the phrase “shoulder season” often applies to spring travel as well, this guide focuses primarily on fall destinations. So, if you’re anxious to embark on your next adventure as soon as possible, this one’s for you.
If you have your mind set on Europe, we have good news — you can choose between several destinations that truly shine at this time of year. From Greece to Switzerland to Paris, here are Europe’s best-of-the-shoulder-season destinations.
The harvest season doesn’t just bring new crops; it also brings exciting new possibilities to travelers bound for Greece. During the fall, winemakers and farmers reap the fruits of their labors and harvest both grapes and olives, allowing for wine tastings, artisanal workshops, and entire festivals dedicated to the crops. And with divine temperatures on the country’s beaches, hiking trails, and ancient ruins, September and October transform Greece into a paradise fit for the gods. You’re most likely to bag a great deal on your accommodation and paid tours between September and November, after the summer tourists have gone home.
Most outdoor enthusiasts head to Switzerland in the summer or winter, depending on whether they prefer hiking or skiing. But early autumn is actually a prime travel season for this high-altitude heaven, thanks to lighter rainfall and significantly decreased foot traffic on the country’s most popular hiking trails. This includes the Haute Route — the classic trek from Mont-Blanc in Chamonix, France, to the Matterhorn in Zermatt, Switzerland — as well as many other alpine hikes. So, if your heart is set on exploring the Swiss Alps, you’ll find an exceptional window of opportunity from early to mid-September.
From mid-May to late August, Parisians share their streets with millions of travelers, but beginning in September, they reclaim their city for themselves. Granted, high-fashion aficionados return for Paris Fashion Week in late September, but in general, early fall is the best time to visit the French capital. If you explore the city in September or October, you’ll enjoy comfortable temperatures (with highs hovering around 65°F), and you’ll practically have the tourist hotspots to yourself. Welcome to your private tour of the City of Lights!
The Caribbean and Mexico
If you’d like to squeeze in some beach time or take a deep dive into Mexican culture, you’re in luck. Autumn is the optimal time to embark on either of those vacations.
In Mexico City, the tourist volume increases steadily throughout the year, with few travelers in January and peak numbers in November and December. That said, in the shoulder season of September and October, you won’t have to confront too many crowds. (You should also note that, if weather is an important consideration for you, you can avoid the rainy season by visiting between mid-October and November.) Of course, Mexico City comes alive with cultural celebrations in the fall, including Independence Day festivities on September 16 and Dia de los Muertos on November 1 and 2. So, if you can find travel dates that balance the competing interests of crowds, weather, and cultural offerings, you’ll be well rewarded for exploring Mexico’s capital in autumn.
The Caribbean always makes for a relaxing vacation, but that’s especially true if you plan your getaway for the shoulder season. From mid-November to mid-December, the region is inexpensive and fairly tourist-free, although you might notice a spike in the number of American sun-seekers around Thanksgiving. And while hurricane season lasts until the end of November, note that a few havens — like Trinidad and Tobago, as well as Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao — lie outside the zone where these storms typically strike. (If you’re interested in exploring a storm-prone island, you might want to check out this resource to learn how to navigate the Caribbean during hurricane season.) All things considered, late fall is a great time to catch rays and score deals in this beautiful tropical sea.
The United States and Canada
Whether you’re looking for a good city break or simply hoping to spend some time outside before winter comes, the United States and Canada both provide excellent opportunities for shoulder-season travelers.
Chicago is a destination made for the shoulder season. The Windy City puts its best foot forward in both spring and fall, and with concerts galore and colorful leaves aplenty, autumn is the ideal time to visit. And if that wasn’t reason enough to explore Chicago, there’s also an added bonus for budget travelers: an abundance of cheap, last-minute domestic flights in October or November.
But Chicago isn’t the only U.S. metropolis that’s perfect for your fall adventures — there’s also Boston. While the city is beautiful all year long, its parks and scenic walks are at their best when the colors begin to change. And in autumn, the nearby day trips are just as inviting as the city itself; try exploring spooky Salem around Halloween or Cape Cod after the summer crowds have dissipated.
Finally, Québec City is one of Canada’s best-kept secrets, particularly in the fall. During these months, the city and its environs come to life in brilliant reds, oranges, and yellows, and hotel prices drop dramatically. While you’re there, you’ll want to explore the Old Town, the parks, and the waterfront, then leave the city for autumnal adventures like apple-picking excursions and foliage tours. What’s more, the nearby Parc National de la Jacques-Cartier lets visitors take advantage of the cool temperatures and hike, bike, or even rent kayaks, canoes, and stand-up paddleboards. By the time you return home, you’ll be raving about Québec City in the shoulder season.
To the outside world, the African continent often seems inaccessible. But a few of the continent’s destinations are perfect for those who wish to engage with a new locale — and time their travels for the shoulder season.
South Africa is so large and diverse that its regions often have different optimal travel seasons. But, if you’re interested in seeing wildflowers, going whale-watching, or embarking on a safari, September is a great month to explore the country. (Keep in mind that, in the Southern Hemisphere, September marks the beginning of spring, not fall. Also remember that the ninth month of the year lies in the middle of South Africa’s dry season, when safari guides can readily predict where the wildlife will go.) Hopefully, if you book your journey far enough in advance, you won’t break the bank — but you should keep in mind that your airfare might still be pricey.
Morocco tops many travelers’ bucket lists, but planning the trip is often challenging, given the hot summer temperatures (and the high cost of summer visits). Luckily, Morocco is exceptionally traveler-friendly during fall, winter, and spring! In fact, depending on your preferred itinerary, you could venture on your dream vacation anytime from November to May. If you’d like to wander the streets of Marrakech, hike the Atlas Mountains, or roam the Sahara Desert, we recommend taking your trip in fall or spring. And if you’re an avid skier, you can hit the slopes at Oukaïmeden from January to March. Shop around for deals, and see what you can find!
Looking for more inspiration? Check out our article on where to travel every month of the year.
Header image by Samuel Ferrara