10 of the best autumn city breaks

October 8, 2019
(Updated July 16, 2020)

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

Credit: Chris Karidis | Unsplash

Paris is a classic city break destination, and after a hot and sleepy August, the city comes alive again in September. 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, while culture vultures can enjoy ‘White Night’ (Nuit Blanche en Francais!) . This event features a number of galleries, museums and other buildings throughout the city opening late into the night, showcasing special exhibits and events.

In addition, of course, there are all the classic sights to enjoy too. Take your pick from catching world-class exhibitions at the Musée D’Orsay and the Louvre, relaxing on a river cruise down the Seine or taking a trip to the famous Eiffel Tower by night when it impresses in all its glittering glory.

2. Montreal

Credit: Andrew Welch | Unsplash

Between September and November, mild temperatures settle in, hotel rates drop and 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 Gardens 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.

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.

3. 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 Gourmet Ljubljana 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, fairy-tale-like Lake Bled is less than 30 minutes away.

4. 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.

December also plays host to ‘ball season’ when hundreds of glamorous balls take place across the city.  

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.

5. New York

Credit: Oliver Niblett | Unsplash

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? 'Moulin Rouge! The Musical’, ‘The Book of Mormon’ and ‘Hamilton’ are just a few of the many great productions on offer.

6. 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.

7. Budapest

Take a trip to the Hungarian capital 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 take a 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 Thermal Baths or the stunning and ancient Kiraly Baths.

8. Reykjavik

Credit: Michael Held | Unsplash

A city break to Reykjavik in magical Iceland will enchant you with its abundance of natural wonders, so prepare to be wowed by glaciers, waterfalls, volcanoes and bubbling mud pools.

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.

9. Copenhagen

Credit: Nick Karvounis | Unsplash

The autumn chill creates the perfect environment to embrace the Danish concept of ‘Hygge’, which means ‘creating a cosy atmosphere, drinking and eating with the important people in your life’ (there’s no equivalent word in English!)

Whether it’s 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 laid-back stroll through the grounds of Tivoli Park, you can create your own sense of Hygge – there’s a reason the Danes are so happy.

And, once again, autumn ushers in the low tourist season, meaning prices are much more reasonable around this time

10. Krakow

Credit: Lucas Albuquerque | Unsplash

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.

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