Falling prices, good weather and the end of school holidays make September a top month to travel, says Pól Ó Conghaile
September is travel’s sweet spot.
It’s a month when peak prices are falling, crowds are dwindling and kids are back in school. At the same time, the sun continues to shine, airline summer schedules have several weeks left to run, and the Med is at its warmest and most inviting.
Here are 10 great tips for travel fans… and remember, don't leave it to September to book. Now’s the time to think about your next trip.
When: Early to mid-September
Why: September sees Toronto breathe a sigh of relief. The crowds and summer heat are dying down, but it’s still warm enough to visit the islands on Lake Ontario; Le Burger Week (leburgerweek.com; September 1–7) has restaurants all over the city compete to make the tastiest buns, and, providing it’s not too windy, you can literally live on the edge with the CN Tower’s stomach-churning EdgeWalk experience (edgewalkcntower.ca, top). Niagara Falls is just two hours away, too.
First steps: Air Canada (aircanada.com) and Aer Lingus (aerlingus.com) both fly direct to Toronto, and a new Norwegian route serves nearby Hamilton (norwegian.com). For a funky new hotel, try the 24-bed Annex in the hip neighbourhood of the same name (theannex.com).
When: Mid-to-late September onwards
Why: Peak season in the Maldives runs from December to March, when the archipelago sees the least rain, but savvy divers and snorkellers know September is the month to book for big fish. Manta ray and whale shark can be seen throughout the year, but September is a good bet for numbers in plankton-feeding sites like Hanifaru Bay in Baa Atoll, or the whale shark feeding grounds off the South Ari Atoll. Resorts nearby will do daytrips or excursions, or book a liveaboard to feel as if you have the Indian Ocean to yourselves.
First steps: Check diveworldwide.com for liveaboard diving trips, or the Four Seasons Explorer catamaran (fourseasons.com/maldivesfse) for a bucket-list voyage — it runs September expeditions with the Manta Trust.
When: August or September
Why: Hot, dry weather sees lighter vegetation and draws animals towards dwindling waterholes. In East Africa, that makes July to October prime safari season, with August and September sitting smack in the middle. This is when you’ll see the Great Migration in Tanzania’s Serengeti or Kenya’s Maasai Mara; stunning game (particularly elephants) in Botswana’s Okavango and Chobe areas, and great walking safaris in Zambia. South Africa’s Kruger National Park is also super at this time of year — a trip you can twin with southern right whale spotting along the Western Cape’s south coast near Hermanus.
First steps: Plan your vaccinations at least a couple of months in advance; don’t scrimp (you get what you pay for on safari) and check in with specialists like Mahlatini (mahlatini.com), The Safari Expert (thesafariexpert.com) or Trailfinders (trailfinders.ie) before booking.
When: Late September (barcelona.cat/lamerce)
Why: September unleashes some cracking festivals and events across Europe, from Cornwall’s St Ives Festival to Barcelona’s La Mercè (September 20–24), a street party celebrating the city’s protecting spirit, Our Lady of Mercy. It’s famous for gravity-defying human pyramids and papier-mâché giants, but don’t miss the closing fireworks show at the MNAC museum. It runs parallel to BAM (Barcelona Acció Musical) so you can get your fill of free live tunes, too.
First steps: Barcelona is easy to get to, with plenty of Aer Lingus and Ryanair (ryanair.com) flights from Ireland, but you’ll need to nail down your accommodation well in advance for this one. You may get lucky on Airbnb (airbnb.ie).
When: Early to mid-September (don’t leave it too late)
Why: Destination-wise, this is probably my all-time top travel tip: if you want to go island hopping in Greece, go in September. Why? Ferries are still running full schedules so offbeat islands like Sifnos or Amorgos are accessible; the Aegean is at its warmest, and, though summer crowds are thinning out, shops and restaurants remain open. By all means, hit up a must-see like Mykonos or Santorini, but be sure to go off-trail too. Naxos and Milos are magical.
First steps: Fly to Athens with Ryanair or Aegean (aegeanair.com) and plan your ferry routes from Piraeus port nearby (seajets.gr). Alternatively, several Irish tour operators, — including Sunway (sunway.ie) and TUI (tuiholidays.ie) — do Greek Islands packages to resorts like Kos and Rhodes, while UK tour operator Sunvil (sunvil.co.uk) is good for tailor-made itineraries.
When: Late September or October
Why: Cycling holidays are having a moment, from MAMILs in Majorca and triathletes in Lanzarote to gentler spins on Ireland’s Greenways, or even a new tour through Northern California’s wine country (grandamericanadventures.com). Irish tour operator Adventure Holidays has almost 50 options, including self-guided tours of Italy’s Sorrento Peninsula, where you can weave your way along the Amalfi Coast, through small inland villages, wild mountain scenery and showstoppers like Positano and Ravello. September sees less crazy traffic, too.
First steps: The six-day tour includes four different bases and around four to five hours’ cycling per day, from €850pp ex. flights (adventure-holidays.ie). It’s described as “moderate”, so some fitness and bike experience will be necessary.
Why: Before this year’s Six Nations, Irish rugby fans were excited and unnerved by the weight of expectation heading into the 2019 Rugby World Cup. Now we’re back in familiar territory, with a lacklustre campaign making a crunch quarter-final clash against New Zealand or South Africa look scarier than ever. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to tour the Land of the Rising Sun, with autumn colours (starting in Hokkaido) adding to the atmosphere.
When: Ireland’s pool games are on September 22 (vs Scotland in Yokohama), September 28 (vs Japan in Shizuoka), October 3 (vs Russia in Kobe) and October 12 (vs Samoa in Fukuoka). The quarter-final clashes are on October 19/20. Late September to early November is the best of the weather.
First steps: Rugby packages are available from Stein Travel (steintravel.ie), Killester Travel (rugbytravel.ie), Club Travel (clubtravel.ie) and Rugby Travel Ireland (rugbytravelireland.com).
When: Early to mid-September
Why: There’s more to Irish Septembers than soggy Ploughing Championships and school runs adding six hours to the commute. West Cork is an ideal corner of the country to travel in search of an Indian summer — from the sandy expanse of Inchydoney to secret finds like the Dursey Island cable car. A Taste of West Cork food festival runs from September 6–15 (atasteofwestcork.com); there are storytelling festivals at Cape Clear and Courtmacsherry, and relatively “warm” water makes swimming and surf lessons an option. Don’t miss a Moonlight/Starlight experience with Atlantic Sea Kayaking (atlanticseakayaking.com).
First steps: For off-radar romance, check out the treehouses at Cottages for Couples near Skibbereen (cottagesforcouples.ie). Groups should look at Dunowen House, the former home of Jimi Hendrix Experience bass player Noel Redding, near Clonakilty (dunowenhouse.ie).
When: Late September
Why: New England gets all the love when it comes to “fall”, although its autumn colours don’t hit their groove until October or November. Alternatives? September is a super month to hit California, with harvest season in Napa Valley, and San Francisco’s idiosyncratic climate finally catching some reliable rays. Another option is the new Compass Rose Lodge in Huntsville, Utah (compassroselodge.com; rooms from around $199). The 15-bed hotel is built around a high-tech telescope, the Huntsville Astronomic and Lunar Observatory (HALO), making for some spectacular stargazing.
First steps: For US holiday packages, try touramerica.ie, americanholidays.com and americansky.ie. Utah is also home to Zion National Park, where the autumn colour usually runs from mid-September through November.
When: September 21 to October 6, 2019
Why: Like beer? And travel? This one’s a slam-dunk. Surprisingly, given Germany’s grá for rules and precision, most of Oktoberfest actually takes place in September (the traditional tapping of the first barrel takes place on September 21 this year). Munich’s main folk festival is about more than frothy stuff being sloshed around in steins, of course — with parades, amusement parks, brass bands and open-air concerts all complementing the craic in the tents. Don your dirndl dresses and lederhosen breeches, book accommodation in advance and don’t forget to try the ridiculously good käsespätzle (noodles with cheese).
First steps: The 186th edition of Oktoberfest (oktoberfest.de) runs for 16 days, so you’ve lots of opportunity to wet your beak. Ryanair, Aer Lingus and Lufthansa (lufthansa.com) all fly to Munich.
NB: This feature originally appeared in Lineout Magazine.