Fall is the perfect time for a "once upon a time" adventure.
While anytime is the perfect time to take a European vacation, there is something special about Autumn. The backdrop of the changing leaves against quaint places that you may have only seen in Disney movies or storybooks of your youth brings out a sense of wonder, adventure, and awe that everyone should experience at least once in their life.
Even if you’re planning to make your way to some of the larger cities in Europe, there are still adorable fairytale villages close enough, or places in each city that can also make you feel like you’ve stepped back in time. However, if a real storybook adventure is what your heart and mind desire, several places stand well above the rest.
Here are a few places to consider when planning your own fairytale European vacation this Fall.
Top Picks for You
Old Town Marbella
If you’re looking for a taste of older, more traditional Spain, Old Town Marbella is it. Quaint, the area is filled with Renaissance-era whitewashed buildings while the plazas are overflowing with flowers and trees. The narrow cobblestone streets are full of history, including a stunning fountain from the 15th century. Visit the Church of Our Lady of the Incarnation, a majestic 17th-century church, and stroll through the bright, colorful Old Town, which is dotted with restaurants and unique shopping experiences. Check out the Marbella Club, even in the Fall, for a luxurious beachfront stay that’s heavy on Andalusian influences.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber
If fairytale is what you’re after, then look no further than Rothenburg ob der Tauber. This is one of the few remaining walled Middle Age towns in all of Germany and has been preserved so well, that you’ll forget it’s deep into the 21st century. Head to the Plönlein, Rothenburg’s landmark, and major photo opportunity, and then over to the Castle Garden for some more beautiful Fall scenery. With plenty of historical sites to see and traditional German fare, you’ll have more than enough to explore. Rothenburg is also the starting point of the charming Tauber Valley Cycle Route, which winds through 62 miles of the Franconian hillside past ancient castles, monasteries, and other stuck-in-time towns.
Just a short trip from the stunning tree-lined city of Amsterdam is Zaanse Schans. This storybook town is filled with historic windmills and authentic green wooden houses giving the look and feel of an 18th-century village. Explore the Zaans Museum, which showcases the area’s residential and industrial culture. Take in the Verkade Experience, where you will be transported back to the chocolate and biscuit factory of the early twentieth century during a very interactive experience. You can also explore other traditional industries like wooden clog carving, barrel making, and participate in cheese tastings, visit the home of a fisherman (selfies included!), and even check out a working windmill.
Engadin, a region of Switzerland, is one of the most sought-after regions to visit in the Fall. A beautiful Alpine Valley, the views are second-to-none and with so much activity, there is truly something for everyone. But, when looking to settle down and get to know the region, Celerina is one of the best choices. Not only is Celerina a charming traditional Engadin village nestled in the Swiss Alps, but it also gets the most sunshine in the entire region. Head to the mountain and ski area of St. Moritz-Corviglia via the aerial cableway to Marguns; visit Lake Staz; or immerse yourself in nature through easy mountain strolls and horse-drawn carriage rides. In fact, Celerina has its own “Fairytale Trail,” making this a true storybook visit.
Puglia is where stunning whitewashed hilltop villages meet the Tiffany blue Ionian Sea sparkling along the coastline. A treat for all seasons, it is especially beautiful in Autumn. Medieval streets and atmospheric alleyways line the breathtaking white-washed town of Ostuni, where you will feel like you’ve lept out of real life and into the pages of your own fairytale story. And, there are plenty of places to stay that will also make you feel like part of the story, too. Nearby Ostuni is Trullo Melograno, The Thinking Traveller’s remarkable 7-stone structure of trullis, beautifully restored and put together. The Thinking Traveller’s Palazzo Gorgoni is a luxurious 18th-century home situated in the gorgeous baroque town of Galatina.
Set in the Alps on Lake Annecy, the view of the mountains and the water itself is enough to pull you in. However, the Old Town is really where you’ll feel the charm and alluring appeal of a storybook scene. Named “The Venice of the Alps,” the bright homes and cobblestone streets of Annecy’s Old Town sit perched on canals. Add to it the picturesque flower boxes lining the canaled streets for a perfect fairytale vision. Visit the Palais de l’Île, take in a Farmer’s Market, and indulge in some of the most fabulous French cheeses ever. The best part? The Fall is the best time to visit, as the weather is the most enjoyable during that time.
WHERE: The Cotswolds, England
The Cotswolds is a stunning fairytale area that covers more than 800 miles and flows through five counties in the United Kingdom. While it may be extremely difficult to pick just one, Castle Combe should definitely make the list. Frequently named one of the prettiest towns in England, it’s been a popular location for film and movie sets. The backdrop of the honey-colored homes against the stunning fall foliage will be a view you won’t soon forget. And, with plenty of things to do in Castle Combe–as well as close proximity–you’ll be glad you spent time strolling through this real-life fairytale locale.
Hallstatt, Austria is the definition of a fairytale town. Situated on Lake Halstatt, the town itself was known for producing salt. But it’s also known for its beauty and has been named a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site. Start early at the town’s photo point to capture some of the most breathtaking shots of the location–and yourself! Take a “World Heritage Tour ” of the town, complete with a schnapps tasting; visit the historical churches and bone yard; take in one of the many museums, or check out the fairytale world in an ice cave. While perfect in summer and winter, Fall is dubbed “golden Autumn,” a sight you won’t want to miss.
Definitely a bigger city than a smaller town, Antwerp brings big storybook vibes, however. Kick off your trip to Antwerp’s Central Station, one of the most breathtaking train stations in the world. Then head back in time to Oude Koornmarkt 16, a hidden alleyway that’s been in the city since the 16th century, which houses shops and restaurants now. Walk the wooden escalators along the city’s river banks for an experience that’s authentically Belgium. And, don’t pass up an opportunity to eat at The Jane–one of the most beautiful, chic places to eat in the city that will also be a gastronomic delight.
A hub for both food and culture lovers, Trondheim’s cobbled pedestrian streets in the Bakklandet neighborhood feature colorful wooden houses, cafes, and shops. Beautiful walking trails with both mountain and seaside views are the perfect way to start a brisk Fall morning before taking in the scene at the K-U-K art gallery or a visit to the largest medieval cathedral in the North, Nidarosdomen. Finish up with a warm drink and a walk along the river, where you can spot colorful Scandi-style homes that have been converted from an 18th-century wooden wharf. Surrounded by countless small and large-scale food producers, Trondheim is the city in Norway with the strongest focus on local food, the true Home of Nordic flavors.
A golden-hued, walled city, Mdina has all the makings of a perfect storybook spot. With no cars allowed, the “silent city” has maintained an atmosphere of beauty and delight throughout time, and its mix of medieval and baroque architecture, including palaces, gives the feeling that you are truly traveling back in time. Steal moments of pure bliss in the cobbled, narrow streets that are almost frozen in time. Come for the photos and stay for the cultural immersion opportunities, food, and historical sights.