10 of the best autumn city breaks

Updated September 24, 2022
Published October 8, 2019

The end of summer may signal the end of your typical seaside stays, but it doesn't mean holiday season is over. In fact, plenty of places come into their own when autumn hits.

Even better? The cooler weather turns some visitors away and holiday prices plummet, leaving off-season travellers to bask in a quieter (and more Instagrammable) version of their destination.

So whether you're hoping to discover somewhere new or just revisit an old favourite, an autumn city break could be just what you need to stave off the post-summer blues. We've rounded up ten cracking cities that will do just that.

1. Paris

Paris is a classic city break destination, and after a hot and sleepy August, the city comes alive again in September and October. There’s plenty going on to keep you entertained, such as the Autumn Festival, which sees a variety of dance, music, film and theatre acts flood the city.

The Montmartre Wine Harvest will please foodies during its four-day run between October 5 and 9, while culture vultures can enjoy ‘White Night’ (Nuit Blanche en Francais!). Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2022, the event fills the streets of Paris with interactive exhibits, light shows and one-night-only dance and music performances. Galleries throughout the city also throw open their doors late into the night.

Of course, there are also all the classic sights to enjoy. Take your pick from world-class exhibitions at the Musée D’Orsay and the Louvre, river cruises down the Seine or a trip to the Eiffel Tower by night when it impresses in all its glittering glory. If you're travelling on a budget, Paris is packed with free things to do, too.

2. Ljubljana

Visit Ljubljana in autumn for the chance to see Europe’s former Green Capital turn a fiery golden orange, the same colour as Slovenia’s delicious signature wine.

Speaking of wine, Ljubljana tends to go a little crazy for the tipple during this period, with St Martin’s Day (a great celebration of wine) and the European Food Summit both taking place in November.

When you’ve had enough of being wined and dined – if that’s possible – take a brisk hike up to Ljubljana Castle to see this pretty little city in all its autumnal glory. If you’ve not had your fill of impeccable scenery at this point, fairytale Lake Bled is less than an hour away.

3. Vienna

Vienna is a magical destination as the festive season approaches. The Christmas Markets open mid-November so you can while away your days enjoying roasted chestnuts, punch and traditional gingerbread while admiring the stalls and picking up gifts for under the tree. You can also pick up gifts at one of the city’s autumn design fairs, with markets popping up throughout September and October.

In addition, Vienna has a stunning array of architecture to marvel at, such as the Hofburg Palace, the splendid Vienna State Opera House and Gothic St Stephen’s Cathedral. Be sure to finish your day by sampling some Viennese street food at a würstelstand (sausage stand) and, given you’ll be in the world’s largest wine-growing capital city, a relaxing glass or two.

True oenophiles should look out for Vienna’s wine hiking days in September, where some 140 wineries open to walkers for tastings. The event falls on September 24 and 25 in 2022, so it’s one to consider for next year.

4. Copenhagen

There’s a reason the Danes are so happy: hygge. Copenhagen's autumn chill creates the perfect environment to embrace this Danish concept, which means ‘creating a cosy atmosphere, drinking and eating with the important people in your life’ (there’s no equivalent word in English!)

Create your own sense of hygge by ducking in and out of Copenhagen’s trendy bars for a craft beer, escaping the sea breeze in the quaint cafes of photogenic Nyhavn, or taking a laidback stroll through the grounds of Tivoli Park.

As autumn ushers in the low tourist season, prices are also much more reasonable around this time.

5. Reykjavik

Prepare to be wowed by glaciers, waterfalls, volcanoes and bubbling mud pools on a city break to Reykjavik in magical Iceland.

If you’re lucky, a visit here between September and April may reward you with the sight of the famous Northern Lights, when the ethereal aurora borealis lights up the night sky in greens, blues, yellows and pinks.

Sporty types may want to tackle the dramatic landscape by heading out on a hiking trail, trying out white-water rafting or mountain biking. If that sounds too much like hard work, Iceland is in the top ten places in the world for whale watching, or you could simply take it easy in one of the city’s natural hot springs.

6. Budapest

Go on a city break to Budapest in autumn and you’ll find plenty to keep you entertained. One option is to take a river cruise on the Danube, which splits the city in two, while on foot you can explore the Castle Quarter in ancient Buda and admire Art Nouveau architecture in Pest.

The spectacular Hungarian Parliament Building is well worth a visit, and you should also look around the prestigious Hungarian State Opera House with its stunning Neo-Renaissance architecture. Better still, you can book to see a world-class opera or ballet in fabulous surroundings.

If all that sightseeing has tired you out, aching legs can be dealt with at one of the city’s thermal baths, such as the lavish Gellert Spa.

7. Krakow

Krakow’s magnificent Old Town square exudes charm all year round, but as the autumn months creep in across Poland, the city’s central masterpiece, Rynek Główny (the main square), becomes even more pleasant.

Among the many things to do in Krakow, you can marvel at St Mary’s Basilica, absorb the medieval charm of the historic Old Town or raise a glass in one of the seemingly infinite pubs and bars that line the streets surrounding the square.

The city is also known for its fantastic music scene, and jazz fiends will be spoilt for choice with its myriad bars and clubs.

8. Dubrovnik

As summer draws to a close, Dubrovnik’s weather remains warm but the crowds that cram its cobbled streets over the high season recede. Along with the tourists and the temperature, the prices also drop – how many more reasons do you need?

With fewer people clogging the famous walled city’s UNESCO-listed Old City Centre, strolling its pedestrianised streets becomes even easier to explore on foot.

Outside the city walls, you can take the cable car up above Dubrovnik for a breath-taking panorama of its fortifications and orange-tiled roofs or hop on a boat to explore the nearby islands of Elaphiti, Mljet and Korcula.

9. New York

New York has to be one of the greatest shopping destinations in the world, so when better to enjoy Big Apple city break than in the run-up to Christmas? You could spend hours wandering around Macy’s – one of the largest department stores in the world – while in trendy SoHo you’ll be able to pick up some unique gifts you won’t find elsewhere.

Other must-dos to tick off include visiting Central Park, trying out your ice-skating skills at the Rockefeller Centre and taking a trip on the Staten Island Ferry to see the Statue of Liberty.

Finally, why not take in a show on Broadway? ‘Funny Girl’, ‘The Book of Mormon’ and ‘Hamilton’ are just a few of the many great productions on offer.

10. Montreal

While it’s true that, with its curious mix of French and North American flavours, there’s no bad season to visit this city, you’re much more likely to get a cheaper deal in the autumn. And between September and November, Montreal’s green spaces start to explode with brilliant autumnal colour.

There’s no shortage of ways to keep busy in Montreal, either: wander around the magnificent Notre-Dame Basilica, explore the Botanical Garden or indulge in the city’s world-class foodie scene in the vibrant Latin Quarter.

Remember too that no visit to Montreal is complete without a visit to Schwartz’s deli, a city institution which has been serving hot meat sandwiches to hungry locals and tourists for over 80 years.

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