There is no better month to travel than September: it sees a remarkable confluence of happy circumstances around the world. In the northern hemisphere, prices and blood pressures plummet as sizzling days give way to a more temperate existence. In the southern hemisphere, the chills have all but disappeared as mountain passes reopen, frozen lakes thaw and wildflowers bloom.
Sadly, for many travellers, September marks the end of travel season. It's back-to-school, back-to-work, back-to-reality drudgery. But if you can buck the trend, you'll find that September is when those with the savvy and the means pack their bags and embark on adventure.
Europe saves its true charms for September. In popular destinations such as France and Italy, the hordes of visitors have ebbed away while the citizenry has returned from its August holiday, relaxed and ready to do business. Restaurants and hotels reopen, lines for attractions are short and prices begin to drop into 'shoulder season' discounts.
The weather in Western Europe remains pleasantly mild, and the beaches of the Mediterranean are as sunny as ever. In Eastern Europe, you'll find tempting deals on accommodation and have many tourist sights to yourself. The Baltic states, Scandinavia and Russia will be cooling down, but it's nothing a few warm layers can't handle. Turkey in particular will turn on the charm for you – you'll be able to walk long stretches of beach and hot-air balloon over Cappadocia to your heart's content.
North and Central America
The United States, Canada and Mexico are possibly at their most magnificent in autumn. The summer crowds have left New England and Nova Scotia, which means more lobster, seaside lounging and national-park exploration for you. Québec, central Canada and the American Midwest see an exodus of tourists during harvest season, so gear up for farmers markets and bountiful meals. The kids are back in school, so popular cities such as New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington DC and Vancouver are much more manageable than over summer or during the December pre-holidays rush.
Everyone knows about fall in New England, but what fewer people are aware of is that September is the best month for visiting Texas and the Deep South (those cooler nights are a godsend). California and the Southwest come into their own in September, with San Franciscans actually seeing the sun for a few days.
Mexico's beaches are suddenly deserted as the summer vacationers disappear. In the interior, the desert begins to chill out, making for much more pleasurable exploration.
Tourists depart Central America in September because that's when the rains are at their fiercest. However, the 'green season' can be paradise for you, if you do a bit of planning. Book accommodation well in advance (and negotiate – you may get a bargain) and then enjoy the display of wildlife that is brought out by the monsoon. It's also the best time for surfing some serious waves.
China and Japan are at their best in September. The nearly unbearable heat and humidity of the summer have ebbed; it's fresh and mild in the East. The high mountains and valley passes are still easily accessible, and virtually all tourist attractions remain open. Residents of Beijing are checking their wardrobes for sweaters, while those in Shanghai are still enjoying warm evenings.
South Asia has also been cooled – by the monsoon – and it's a great time to visit India or Sri Lanka. The oppressive heat of the Deccan plateau has moved over the Indian Ocean, leaving a subcontinent with a pleasantly cool north and a languorously warm south. It's shoulder season in India, too, so hotel and transport prices should reflect reduced demand.
In September, peak tourism season hasn't yet hit mainland Southeast Asia, which is gradually drying out from the wet season. On the islands, rainfall is easing and the birds are coming – meaning longer, clearer stints snorkelling, diving or sunbathing for you, without the crowds or peak prices.
Africa and the Middle East
Those western Europeans who didn't go to southern Spain in August went to North Africa instead. Now they're gone, there's more space for you on the beaches of Tunisia, in the markets of Egypt and the mountains of Morocco without elbowing past hundreds of fellow holidaymakers. September is a great time to visit Lebanon for hiking, while temperatures in the Arabian Peninsula are finally bearable again.
In September, travellers to eastern, western and central Africa avoid the blistering heat of the dry season but aren't subject to the downpours of the true wet season. It's a great month to spot wildlife throughout the continent. Speaking of wildlife, the Southern African region is moving into springtime in September. It's cool and dry – perfect for hiking – and couldn't be a better time for birdwatching and animal-spotting.
From the Darién Gap to Tierra del Fuego, South America blooms in September. In the warm north, the milder dry season is giving way to a few sprinkles; in the frigid south, the ice is melting and Patagonia is warming up to travellers. If springtime in Buenos Aires and Santiago de Chile don't inspire you to tango, check your pulse.
Australia and New Zealand
Most of southern Australia and New Zealand are emerging from winter in September. With a quick transition to spring, both countries enjoy significantly warmer temperatures and sunnier weather. In New Zealand's mountains, the snow hasn't melted yet – making for glorious skiing – while in Australia it's a great time to relax in the tropical north, drink wine in the temperate west or check out the springtime delights of Sydney and Melbourne.
First published June 2012, updated May 2019