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The top 5 cities to visit this fall

September 18th, 2013 by ,    photos by Shuttershock (pictured: Paris, France)

5 cities you should visit this season and how to stay safe in each one - from 'Travel + Escape'


Summer may be winding down, but that doesn’t mean the travel season is over. In fact, autumn is one of the best times for visiting many cities around the globe. Harvest festivals, Halloween celebrations and cultural events are calling, so book a trip to one of these top fall destinations.

1) Munich, Germany

Think parades, folk music, schnitzel and lederhosen. That’s Oktoberfest - and it’s the main reason you should put Munich to the top of your fall travel bucket list. This celebration of Bavarian culture is the biggest fair in the world, and one of the globe’s most famous festivals, with some six million people descending on Munich every fall for a 16-day event that runs from late September to early October.

Many think Oktoberfest is first and foremost an excuse to drink, but the event is actually a family-friendly party honouring Bavarian food, music and traditions. Known to the locals as die Wiesn (the name of the fairgrounds where Oktoberfest takes place), the event includes countless outdoor concerts, carnival rides, food vendors and, yes, quite a few festhallen (beer tents).

Safety tips: Oktoberfest is a family-friendly event, and as such, a fairly safe travel destination. But of course, when you have that many people in one area, it’s essential to keep aware of your surroundings. Crowded streets can make it easy for petty theft and minor injuries to occur.

The good news is that if you are injured during your travels, Germany is home to some of the best medical facilities in the world; however, healthcare is not free, so travel insurance is a good, practical precaution.

2) Hangzhou, China

One of the most widely celebrated fall festivals is the annual Moon Festival, or Mid-Autumn Festival, which takes place throughout China, Taiwan and Vietnam, and honours the harvest, the gathering of friends and family and, of course, the cycle of the moon. And while there is no shortage of destinations to choose from, the best place to join the festivities is in Hangzhou, China. This city in Zejiang province is famous for the Qiantang River Bore - the largest tidal bore in the world. As the moon pulls the tide in, this surging wave pours into the harbour, reaching as high as 30 feet and drawing mesmerized visitors from around the globe.

Safety tips: China is generally a safe destination, although you need to be aware of pickpockets and other scam artists who like to frequent train stations, markets and other crowded places where tourists commonly visit.

However, for most visitors, the bigger concern is their health. It may be difficult to find medications you regularly take at home, so bring enough with you - along with a doctor’s note should you run into problems at customs. Heavy smog can be a problem for people with respiratory or skin problems. In addition to carrying your medication for such ailments, it’s a good idea to purchase health insurance before you go should you need extra care.

3) Salem, Massachusetts, U.S.A.

Autumn means Halloween, and what better place to celebrate October 31st than in the town known as the home of the horrific witch trials in the late 1600s? While the trials aren’t something to celebrate - more than 200 people were accused of practicing witchcraft and 20 were executed - the town of Salem has emerged as one of the world’s top Halloween destinations. For the entire month of October, the city celebrates all that is macabre and supernatural, with everything from performances of Evil Dead: The Musical to past life regression workshops to authentic seances and ghost stories.

Safety tips: Salem is a fairly safe city, but during the month of October, it is overrun with tourists dressed in Halloween costumes, and pickpocketing and other petty thefts have been an issue in the past.

A larger issue to remember is that, as with all U.S. destinations, healthcare can be extremely costly, even if it’s just a quick consultation. A good travel insurance plan can protect you from the high costs in case you’re injured or fall sick.

4) Paris, France

Most people head to the City of Lights in the spring and summer, but if you visit in early October, you’ll not only miss the crowds, you’ll also be there for the famous Nuit Blanche, or White Night. For one night, the city celebrates art and culture by moonlight, with special exhibits on display at museums and galleries, in parks and gardens, at classic tourist sites, and generally everywhere and anywhere.

And while many cities around the world (including several here in Canada) have their own versions of White Nights, Paris is considered to be the home of Nuit Blanche, making it a must for art-loving travellers wanting to go to the birthplace of the movement.

Safety tips: In Paris, the big concern is pickpockets. The otherwise relatively safe city can be the perfect place for wily thieves to slip in and out of crowded sites like the Louvre - with your valuables in tow. To protect yourself, keep your bags tucked in front of you and never put your wallet or other valuables in an-easy-to-access back pocket.

As well, traffic in Paris can be intense for those used to North American roads (after all, this is the city that’s home to the famously chaotic Arc de Triomphe roundabout). If you’re walking, be careful when crossing busy intersections and if you’re driving, be prepared to tackle some very busy roads. And of course, some emergency medical insurance is a smart move, too.

5) Reykjavik, Iceland

It seems that Iceland has popped up on everyone’s travel bucket lists, and for good reason. This otherworldy destination is home to some of the most beautiful scenery you’ll see anywhere on earth, and the city of Reykjavik is both charming and trendy. And while most people head there in the summer when the midnight sun is at its peak, a fall visit lets you explore when the crowds are gone.

As well, the insanely popular Airwaves Festival happens at the end of October and beginning of November, and attracts musicians - and new music lovers - from around the globe. Iceland has long been the home for discovering some of the best up-and-coming artists, and the festival will have you out partying every night for five days straight.

Safety tips: Reykjavik, and Iceland in general, is arguably the safest travel destination in the world, thanks to its small population and extremely low crime rate. However, you’ll likely want to head off on adventure hikes over lava fields and volcanoes - prime places for twisted ankles and other injuries. Make sure you book travel insurance in advance of heading out on this adventure to ensure you’re covered in case of any medical emergency.

As well, remember that volcanic eruption that caused air travel chaos back in 2010? That was Iceland’s own Eyjafjallajökull, and its ash cloud shut down flights around the globe. We’re not saying it’s likely to happen again (one never knows with volcanoes), but travel insurance that includes trip cancellation couldn’t hurt.


This post was sponsored by American Express Canada. Original publication:

To learn more about AMEX Travel Insurance or to get a quote for your next trip, click here.