Sights to see and insider tips for the best European vacation
On a Sunday afternoon in September, Ban Jelačić Square in Zagreb is practically empty. A statue of Josip Jelačić on horseback stands in the town square. It’s one of Croatia’s most iconic sights, and just a few weeks ago you couldn’t take a picture of it without battling throngs of tourists.
But with the end of the summer travel season, things are much calmer.
“We had a busy summer,” says tour guide Ivana Mudronja. “Not as busy as 2019, but much better than last year.”
And this fall?
“We’ll see,” she adds.
This is the third part of a series on autumn travel in Europe. Here is the first part with the outlook for autumn travel. And here is the second part on where to go and what to do.
This is good news for American visitors, many of whom have Croatia on their to-do list. Fewer visitors mean lower prices and more opportunities for an authentic experience when traveling through Europe. There are still Europe travel packages available to places you couldn’t see this summer – and yes, there’s still time for the perfect European vacation in 2022.
As far as destinations go, Europe is all the rage this fall. A report published yesterday by Bounce revealed that 8 of the top 10 fall destinations were in Europe. Amsterdam, Paris, London and Berlin top the list.
Can Americans travel to Europe now?
Yes. Most European countries have restrictions on books requiring proof of vaccination, recovery from COVID-19 or a negative test result when entering countries or areas with “high epidemiological risk”. However, no country was on this list as of September 17, 2022.
If you are planning a trip to Europe, there is one thing to know: next year the European Union will introduce the European Travel Information and Authorization System (ETIAS). It is an electronic system that tracks visitors who do not require a visa and works similarly to the US Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA). The ETIAS application fee is $7 and you can pay by credit card. Here is my free guide to planning a trip.
It’s still too early to tell how fall travel in Europe will go
At the Esplanade Zagreb Hotel, business is almost back to normal. The hotel, opened in 1925 as a stopover on the Orient Express, is one of the most luxurious in the city. Still, room rates this time of year are just $136 a night, meaning the centrally located property is also affordable for many American visitors.
Ivica Max Krizmanić, the general manager, says that the occupancy rate could reach the record levels they reached in 2019 for this year. But it is still too early to tell.
“It’s been a good summer here and the fall is looking good, but you can’t see too far into the future because booking habits have changed,” he told me.
Still, Krizmanić thinks the window for bargain hunters is small. Summer travelers stay later, pushing into the fall. And there’s no room at the hostel when Zagreb’s famous Christmas market starts on November 26. Krizmanić says he can’t be sure of availability but recommends booking as soon as possible.
Experts say that uncertainty and the likelihood of a shorter window for bargain hunters is widespread in Europe this fall. And this could be the grand finale of COVID pricing. In fact, one of the biggest trends I’ve been tracking for 2023 is a return to normal booking habits. That means the last-minute deals we’ve seen during the pandemic could all but disappear.
The sites to see in Europe this fall
I asked Claire Saylor, head of marketing at luxury agency Audley Travel, where to go this fall.
“Europe has long been one of Audley’s main destinations,” she told me. “And it continues after the pandemic.”
Among their first places this fall: Italy, Spain and Portugal.
“Our customers particularly enjoy cultural visits, meeting the locals and really understanding the character of a country,” she added. “The strong dollar is helping to offset some of the inflation-related price rises seen in the destination, making it an excellent choice for travel this year.”
Here are some of the Europe travel packages his company currently offers.
September in Spain
Spain in September is pleasantly warm and generally dry. Visitor numbers are lower than during the peak summer months and temperatures are more comfortable for hiking and sightseeing, says Saylor.
His company is offering organized trips to Madrid, San Sebastian and La Rioja this fall. Among the most sought-after visited attractions in Spain are its museums, including the Prado in Madrid and the Guggenheim in Bilbao. Spain’s historic capital, Toledo, and wine tastings in the Ribera del Duero and Rioja wine regions also top the list of his clients.
October in the UK
Saylor says nothing compares to a visit to England and Scotland in October. You’ll see vibrant fall foliage in city parks and in the countryside. Plus, temperatures remain moderate, so you can explore the cities without the summer crowds.
A typical autumn itinerary includes stops in London, Edinburgh, Bath and the Cairngorms. She says travelers enjoy exploring the mountains and lochs of Cairngorms National Park and having tea at the Roman Baths.
November in Italy
Thanks to its mild Mediterranean climate, Italy is the top destination choice in November, says Saylor. In southern cities like Naples and Palermo, daytime highs are often in the 60s, allowing visitors to spend time outdoors. There are almost no crowds.
Americans like to visit places like Florence, Rome and Naples in the fall. One of his best tours includes a Tuscan cooking lesson with a local chef in Florence, a visit to the Archaeological Museum of Naples to see original artefacts from Pompeii, and a tour of the Vatican Museums. The Sistine Chapel is much less crowded at this time of year.
Is there still time to plan a trip to Europe this fall?
Travel agents like Saylor say there’s still availability for his fall tours. But they fill up fast. I spoke with tourism insiders – hoteliers, tour guides and restaurateurs – and they all agreed: Right now demand is high for trips to Europe, but even experts aren’t sure if that will last. .
Back in Zagreb, it is still hot at this time of year. Finding a table at a popular restaurant is easy. There is no line for the Zagreb Funicular on Tomić Street, one of the shortest public transport funiculars in the world. If you wanted to plan a last minute trip to Croatia, that would be easy. A flight next week from Washington, DC, to Zagreb would cost you around $1,100.
But October and November are a bit murkier. The energy crisis in Europe could intensify, disrupting travel but lowering prices due to the favorable exchange rate. The war in Ukraine could escalate, scaring away some visitors. But it is also possible that other hotels will follow the Esplanade – a strong summer, followed by an equally strong fall.
And if that happens, you can’t book your European vacation soon enough.