This article was adapted from National Geographic Traveller (UK).
Is there a better month to feel a surge of travel spirit than September? As the summer holiday crush eases, Europe gets back to business and harvest time brings a bevy of the continent’s stellar produce to restaurant tables, from young wines to olives, Greek figs, British apples, Spanish almonds and so much more.
The change of season signals new beginnings and new adventures — perhaps a trip where you can try something to improve your skills or a hobby, or just to indulge some creative curiosity. From mindfulness courses to cookery classes, more purposeful travel can resume once the summer beach season is over.
Further afield, there are some stellar wildlife spectacles to see, from the big game that gather around dry-season watering holes in Africa to turtle spotting in Costa Rica, or watching humpback whales, blue whales and pods of orcas patrolling for sea lions along California’s coast. Here’s our pick of destinations for travel in September.
(Find out the best events in the US this month.)
Despite its title, Oktoberfest actually starts in September. Munich’s mighty festival of beer usually gets off to a frothy start in the middle of the month (this year it runs from 16 September to 3 October), with a 9,000-participant folksy parade flying the colours of local landlords, breweries and ale houses. This is followed by the Hunter’s Parade, another riot of traditional Bavarian costume with a 12-gun salute to declare the bars officially open. There are 34 tents selling every conceivable iteration of German beer; most with regional food to try, too, from Alpine cheeses and North Sea oysters to hearty breakfasts, vegan eats and all manner of charcuterie and sausages. Wine lovers are also catered for, but it’s worth noting that September is also grape-harvest season, and Germany’s picture-perfect wine country comes alive with tastings, tours and foodie events.
Responsible travel tip: It’s easy to get to Munich by train. The fastest route takes just over nine hours from London, with a change in Paris. More info.
It’s last call for hiking in the Alps, where the walking season winds down in autumn as weather reduces mountain access. September is a spectacular month to be at altitude, being still warm, dry and sunny, while the trees form a fiery seasonal display. Slovenia’s Julian Alps, at the mountain range’s easterly end, are defined by jagged limestone peaks offering an ever-expanding range of waymarked hiking routes. At the heart of the mountains, 9,400ft-high Mount Triglav is Slovenia’s loftiest peak, towering above the beautifully glacial lakes of Bohinj and Bled. The Juliana Hiking Trail is a recently mapped network of pathways across 168 miles of northwest Slovenia, taking in Triglav National Park and traversing some of the country’s most spectacular Alpine terrain in 16 10-mile sections.
Responsible travel tip: To find the most eco-minded hosts and campsites, consult Slovenian Tourism’s Green Scheme listings.
(The step-by-step guide to the Juliana trail in Slovenia.)
3. Cornwall, UK
September is a fine time to visit Cornwall, when sea temperatures are at their warmest, honeypot towns such as St Ives and Padstow are freed from log-jam traffic and summer crowds, and beaches are also far less busy. For two weeks every September, St Ives celebrates the arts with a festival of film screenings, art exhibitions, comedy and concerts — from folk to rock, classic to choral — as well as talks and guided walks in and around town, taking in everything from local history to megalithic tombs and Virginia Woolf’s Talland House. September is also the time of Heritage Open Days (8-17 September), when landmark buildings across the country that are usually closed to the public throw open their doors for tours. There are some notable addresses in Cornwall.
Responsible travel tip: Ditch the car and explore by bike. Cornwall has a growing number of coastal and rural cycle trails linking its many Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The latest trail opened in 2021: the West Kernow Way is a 140-mile looped route starting in Penzance and taking in such landmark spots as Land’s End, St Michaels Mount and Lizard Point.
(Cornwall on foot: clifftop hiking from St Ives to Penzance.)
Italy’s southernmost island sheds beach holiday crowds opening up for those looking for some late-season sun coupled with buzzy city breaks. The capital, Palermo, reanimates as residents return from coastal resorts, and some of the island’s best harvest fare starts making its way onto restaurant tables, including fresh figs, pistachios, almonds and mushrooms. September’s temperatures make a Mount Etna hike more feasible, while tickets for ferries to the volcanic Aeolian Islands become more readily available. It’s also a great time to explore the island’s little-known hilly backcountry.
Responsible travel tip: In recent years, the medieval hilltop villages of Sicily’s interior have been abandoned by youngsters seeking work on the coast and mainland. You can support these struggling rural economies and see some spectacular countryside while hiking the Via Magna Francigena. This long-distance route weaves across the middle of the island from the Tyrrhenian Sea at Palermo to the Mediterranean city of Agrigento, with a growing network of locally run hotels, hostels and homestays en route.
(Journeying through Sicily on a new coast-to-coast pilgrimage route.)
Dry season in Namibia (June to October) is a good time to spot the desert-dwelling elephants of the country’s northern Damaraland, which are otherwise somewhat invisible against the vastness of purple-red inselberg hills. But as the pachyderms gather at diminishing river systems and springs, sightings are more frequent. As temperatures rise, other animals are also found congregating around drying waterholes, including giraffes, rhinos, hyenas and sometimes leopards. Thanks to warm and sunny days — when cobalt blue skies contrast with orange sand dunes — and nights that are clear, star-studded but not too chilly, travellers will also appreciate Namibia’s dry season.
Responsible travel tip: Take a silent safari and ditch the game-drive vehicle in favour of e-bike tours available at select lodges. Or head to Grootberg, the first lodge in Namibia to be entirely owned and run by the local community. It’s a pioneer in Namibia’s progressive approach to conservation. And always look up; the night sky here is among the least light-polluted in the world.
(Desert hikes and camping under the stars on a budget safari in Namibia.)