Summer is drawing to a close, but that doesn’t mean holiday season is over. Here’s where to go for the perfect autumnal break in Europe
Written by Rebecca Ann HughesThursday 28 September 2023FacebookTwitterPinterestEmailWhatsAppAdvertising
With summer travel losing its sparkle, we’d argue autumn is actually the best time of year to travel in Europe. You can still catch some warm weather without being uncomfortably hot, the tourist crowds are abating and the foliage puts on a spectacle. In this shoulder season, Europe has something for everyone. Scotland satisfies leaf-peepers with russet forests, northern Italy prepares an autumnal food feast and Crete has late summer sunshine for those not ready to welcome winter just yet. These are the best places to visit in Europe this autumn for warm weather, culture and seasonal festivals.
The best autumn breaks in Europe
1. Lisbon, Portugal
Best for: beautiful streets
Lisbon may be built on lung-busting hills, but it’s well worth packing your walking shoes. Stroll the Baixa district downtown for wide boulevards, monumental squares and elegant tiled townhouses, which were built after a devastating earthquake in 1755. Then hike up the steep streets of the Alfama district, home to historic, pastel-coloured buildings and small squares crowded with cafés. Soak up the city in golden hour as you watch autumn’s early evening sunsets from the Miradouro de Santa Luzia or the Miradouro das Portas do Sol, viewpoints that overlook the city’s red-roofed houses and the River Tagus glinting beyond.
2. Crete, Greece
Best for: late-season sun
Those not ready to relinquish summer just yet should look to Greece’s largest island Crete. In autumn, the crowds have departed but the temperatures remain balmy and the sea is still like a warm bath. The west and south coasts of Crete are not as over-developed as the east, so you’ll find tucked-away tavernas grilling seafood and keeping the raki glasses topped up. If you tire of lazing on crowd-free beaches, the mild autumn weather makes for comfortable hiking. In the east of the island, you can follow part of the extensive E4 hiking route from pano (upper) Zakros through the lush Zakros gorge, passing the archaeological remains of the once-sumptuous Minoan Palace of Zakros.
3. Budapest, Hungary
Best for: atmospheric views
Instead of chasing the late-season sun, embrace the onset of winter in the bohemian, culture-rich city of Budapest. The Hungarian capital is in its element in the autumn months when mists create moodily atmospheric views across the River Danube – take a river cruise in the evening to see the soaring neo-Gothic parliament lit up in the fog. If you visit the historic Art Nouveau thermal baths like Széchenyi, you’ll sit in 35C water which envelopes you in steam as it rises into the cool air. After visiting the hilly Buda side with its grand castle and richly carved Matthias Church, warm yourself with paprika-spiced goulash in a bread bowl.
4. Perthshire, Scotland
Best for: leaf-peeping
The country of Perthshire, Scotland’s gateway to the Highlands, is one of the best places in Britain for brisk walks through vibrant autumn leaves. Head to the Hermitage, a stretch of forest that was once an eighteenth-century pleasure ground for the Dukes of Atholl, now owned by the National Trust. Delve into the 33-acre forest along the four-mile signposted route for some of the tallest giant Douglas firs in the country and the thundering Black Linn waterfall. Look out for red squirrels scurrying between the flame-coloured foliage.
5. La Langhe, Italy
Best for: autumnal food
Le Langhe is a hilly area in Piedmont, a region in northern Italy. In the autumn months, the vine-carpeted hillsides explode in bronze and orange foliage which, shrouded in morning mists, make for some pretty beautiful views. This is also the season of the prized white truffle, a pungent fungus that can sell for hundreds of euros a gram. It’s sniffed out by talented dogs and their owners in the dense woods. From October to December, the city of Alba hosts an international white truffle fair where you can eat dishes like cheese fondue and buttery pasta flavoured with the lauded truffle. Pair it with the region’s renowned full-bodied wines like Barbaresco and Barolo. Squisito.
6. Istanbul, Turkey
Best for: vibrancy and culture
Straddling two continents, Istanbul is a bright, buzzing city layered with thousands of years of history. In autumn, the weather is pleasant without being too hot, so you can sightsee or shop without breaking a sweat. Take in Istanbul’s grand buildings, from the glimmering golden dome inside Hagia Sophia – built in 537 AD as a church and converted into a mosque under Ottoman rule in the fifteenth century – to the sweeping Bosphorus Strait lined with lavish palaces. Swap grandeur for charm in the Çukurcuma neighbourhood crammed with antique shops, vintage boutiques and pocket-sized cafes.
7. Lower Saxony, Germany
Best for: Halloween spirit
The 100-kilometre-long Harz Witches’ Trail winds through the Harz mountains from Osterode to Thale in Germany’s Lower Saxony region. The area is steeped in myth and folklore, and when you hike the route in autumn all the spooky legends seem to come alive. Smoke curls from the chimneys of crooked, half-timbered houses, the forests darken and the fog settles in the deep canyons. The route takes you through woods, along the atmospheric Bode Gorge, past Germany’s largest wooden church and up the 1,142-metre-high Brocken peak.
8. Perugia, Italy
Best for: a seasonal festival
Each year in autumn, the Italian city of Perugia is filled with the sweet, fragrant aroma of chocolate. From October 13-22, the capital of the Umbria region plays host to the biggest chocolate festival in the world, EuroChocolate. This year is its 30th anniversary and it’s set to draw nearly a million visitors. Sweet-toothed travellers can gorge on everything from chocolate-covered fruit, chocolate liqueur, giant slabs of nutty chocolate and chocolate moulded into cameras, tools, shoes and paintbrushes. There are chocolate art displays – recently there’s been an igloo constructed from 3,600 kilograms of chocolate bricks – and chocolate sculpting competitions.
9. Zermatt, Switzerland
Best for: early-season skiing
Those who can’t wait for ski season to begin can head to the slopes around the Swiss village of Zermatt in autumn. In the shadow of the mighty Matterhorn, you can ski down a continuous 21-kilometre-long run that arrives straight into the flower-bedecked Alpine village of Zermatt. The season gets underway in earnest in November when the place is often blanketed by real snow thanks to its high altitude. If the weather is too warm, a powerful snow canon ensures the ski slopes stay open. You might have many of the ski runs to yourself, as the crowds only begin to descend from February onwards in this part of Switzerland.