Autumn, with its lower prices and smaller crowds, is the perfect time for a city break. Here is our list of the best European cities to visit now, as well as what to see and what to do.
Popular with tourists in June and July, a ghost town in August (when the local population heads to the beach), September is the perfect time to visit Bordeaux. The days are still warm, little shops that may have shut for the summer will be open again and evenings can be spent al fresco without a jumper. A beautiful place to wander and admire during the day, Bordeaux is also a city to be seen at night. Visit the Place de la Bourse where the illuminated architecture is reflected in the water mirror fountain, or try the cheese and charcuterie plates at Place Saint-Pierre where the terraces are lit by strings of lights. In the morning, take in the views of the whole city from the bell tower at Pey Berland.
Les Journées du Patrimoine (or European Heritage Days) take place over one weekend every September, when museums, galleries and historic buildings open their doors to the public for free. These ‘open doors’ days take place throughout France on the same weekend (16th-17th of September for 2017) and are a great way to see parts of the city that are not normally accessible. These events are popular, so get there early to avoid the queues.
The warmer Mediterranean climate of Rome is an obvious draw for visitors from Britain and other parts of northern Europe, particularly now as the light levels are falling and the evenings become chilly. However, the real reason to visit this Italian city is for its pulsing energy and the warm welcome of its vibrant streets. There is so much to see here, and plenty of people wanting to see it all, but if you arrive later in the year you can avoid some of the crowds and fit in more that Rome has to offer. Be sure to take time to do nothing as well; people watching from a bench at a piazza, sampling the local gelato, is one of the most enjoyable things to do.
RomaEuropa is a multi-sensory arts and performance festival running from September to December that hosts artists from all over the world. The festival showcases a huge selection of music, theatre, dance, visual arts, modern circus acts and new technology in some of the city’s most beautiful locations.
Home to some of Europe’s greatest works of art, whether it’s Michelangelo’s David, in the Duomo or at the Uffizi Gallery, Florence is a must-visit for its architecture, frescos and paintings. Even if the temperature in this Mediterranean city does drop, there is so much to see (opera, theatre, concerts, galleries) that you won’t notice. But the main reason to visit Italy at this time of the year? The food. Autumn is the perfect time for Tuscan truffles, porcini, grapes (and so wine), chestnuts and figs, and these culinary delights can be found ready to buy at the markets or taste once they have made their way onto your plate at the restaurant.
Food festivals of all kinds can be found in Florence at this time of year. Some of the best include the Boccaccesca in Certaldo in October (cooking shows, pastry lessons, markets, wine tastings), the Gelato Festival in September, the Chestnut Festival in October and the Sagra festival of White Truffles and Porcini Mushrooms in October.
Its months of endless sunshine, as well as an unbeatable gastronomic offering, easily make Barcelona a year-round destination. Known for its eclectic patchwork of architectural designs, Barcelona is ideal for a day spent wandering its streets and gardens, with an obligatory lunchtime break to try a selection of tapas. After a morning of sightseeing, spend the afternoon relaxing on any one of the city’s seven beaches. As night falls, head into the city where you can try one of the city’s expertly mixed mojitos or, if you’re more a G&T person, check out one of the popular gin bars.
Every September, Barcelona plays host to its biggest street party: La Mercè. This 5 day event is held in honour of the patron saint of the city and features events, parades and the Correfoc, or ‘fire run’, where fire-breathing dragons roam the street and devils with hand held fireworks skip around the crowds.
The much-underrated city of Munich in Bavaria offers an alternative city break for autumn getaways, with its beer halls, parks (where you can even surf in the fast-flowing streams), museums and architecture. In early autumn, the city will be ablaze in colourful foliage and you may well enjoy an Indian summer (or “Altweibersommer”). The autumn period is THE season for German wine and harvest festivals, so keep an eye out for any that may be happening nearby. Take advantage of the cooler weather with a bike tour around the city and, although famous for its beer, Munich has plenty to discover in terms of hearty cold-weather food, including prezels, pork chops with dumplings and Apfelstrudel.
Oktoberfest needs very little introduction; this world-famous beer festival is celebrated throughout the world and draws in huge crowds of tourists every year. Held annually in Munich, where it first originated, this 16 to 18 day festival runs from mid or late September to the first weekend in October.
Originally two cities, Buda and Pest, divided by the river Danube, Budapest is a fascinating mix of old and new. To the west, Buda, the ancient city of the Kingdom of Hungary, offers up a palace and castle to be discovered between in the leafy hills and natural hot springs. Pest, to the east, is home to the unmissable gothic parliament building on the banks of the Danube, as well as the impressive architecture of Heroes’ Square, the Jewish Quarter and its more modern-looking boulevards. Visit the Ruin Pubs, doomed building that have been converted into cheap bars, and enjoy the huge amount of choice at the many farmers markets and the Great Market Hall.
Budapest is well known for its natural hot springs and has many thermal baths that can be visited during your stay. During the summer and autumn months, one of the most famous of these baths, the Széchenyi Spa Baths, host evening Bath Parties where you can enjoy cocktails at night in the warmth of the pools.
Stockholm, with its patchwork of islands, bridges and boats, is beautiful in its autumn colours and, now that its residents have returned from their holidays, there is even more to do than in the summer. Farmers markets, concerts and shows take over the city and, if you tire of all the excitement, there are plenty of castles and palaces waiting to be visited. Stockholm has plenty of different museums, and with the colder weather round the corner you can enjoy all that they have to offer without worrying about missing the sun!
The Stockholm Fringe Festival involves 2200 artists, 700 odd projects and 80 or so countries which have applied to become part of its annual arts festival. This six day multidisciplinary arts festival for local and international artists is held in September and focuses on ‘alternative’ and out-of-the-box works that may not be featured elsewhere.
City of Lights, City of Love… Paris has a reputation as one of the world’s most beautiful cities, known for its magnificent palaces and wide boulevards, but there are plenty of beautiful and more intimate places to discover, hidden around in the city. The lesser known Saint-Chappelle is a stunning church with huge, intricate stained-glass windows and can be found in the middle of the court of the Palais de Justice. You may even brush shoulders with the stars if you find the restaurants tucked away among the flea markets in the outskirts of Paris in Saint-Ouen. With the summer crowds gone, you have a better chance of experiencing Paris as a local, and the autumn colours make the gardens more beautiful than ever.
On the first Saturday of every October, Paris is taken over by exhibitions, street art, installations, light and sound shows, performances and concerts for an extraordinary night of contemporary art. The Nuit Blanche, as it is called, offers visitors the chance to view Paris in a different light, and is held from 7pm to 7am.
There is always something going on in London, and this year-round destination will never be boring to visit, but autumn in the capital is also quite a special time. For such a big city, full of so many people, London has a fair share of green space that is beautiful to see in the colder weather. Wrap up warm and take a stroll along the River Thames, watch the leaves fall in Hyde Park or see the deer in Richmond Park. In case of rain (and this is London…) take refuge in any of the amazing and free galleries and museums such as the British Museum, the Imperial War Museum or the Tate Modern.
If you love cocktails, then the London Cocktail Week is for you. This seven day event is the world’s biggest cocktail festival and takes place in over 250 bars across London every October. A £10 ticket gets you access to limited edition and bespoke cocktails for the week – a great way to discover new flavours and visit different bars in the city.
If our recent obsession with the concept of “hygge” is anything to go by, we love the Danish image of a cosy autumn, made cosier by enjoying good things with good people. So, where better to enjoy autumn than in Denmark itself, and the Danish capital is a good place to start. Copenhagen is small enough to explore on foot, ideal for a city break, and is very much geared towards the pedestrian, with cars having very little right of way. Its colourful harbourside buildings are a match for the autumn leaves and for a small city it has a high ratio of castles and palaces to visit.
Kulturnatten (Copenhagen’s Culture Night) falls on the second Friday in October and spans the entire city for a magical night of free activities. Everything from galleries and churches to local businesses open up their doors to teach campfire cooking, woodcraft, cider pressing and even how to prepare cook a whole venison on a wood fire, with the sound of choral music floating out from the churches.