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6 cities in Europe you need to visit this autumn

The best places to explore this season

As autumn draws near, temperatures across Europe begin to drop, leaves take on a golden hue and the bustling tourist crowds of summer begin to disperse – it’s the perfect time for a city break. Here, we’ve rounded up 6 of the best European cities to visit in fall.

Nyhavn's pretty waterfront at night, Copenhagen © Dreamstime.com/Mapics
1

Reykjavík, Iceland

Iceland has many charms year round, but spring and autumn offer the fullest experience. In September and October, you’d have a better chance of catching an elusive northern lights display (nearly impossible in the long, bright days of summer), but the bitter cold of winter has yet to set in.

Use Reykjavík as a base for exploring the natural wonders a stone’s throw from the city. Choose a Golden Circle tour, which takes in rugged Þingvellir National Park, the Geysir Hot Springs area, the beautiful Blue Lagoon and the gushing two-tiered falls of Gullfoss.

Despite its compact size, the coastal capital itself has plenty to offer, too. Wonder at the futuristic façade of Hallgrímskirkja church, and venture inside to see its 15-m (50-ft) organ. Take a dip at the man-made Nauthólsvík Geothermal Beach, or simply wander the streets, drinking in the colourful clapboard houses and stunning coastal vistas.

The famous Blue Lagoon near Reykjavík, Iceland © Dreamstime.com/Surangaw
2

Munich, Germany

If you love nothing more than a pint, Munich is the place for you this autumn.

The city’s world-famous beer festival, Oktoberfest, kicks off at the end of September. This annual celebration attracts more than 6 million visitors, and comes complete with 1.5-million gallons of beer and folk bands galore. Embrace the crowds and sip a pint or two shoulder-to-shoulder in Bavarian-style makeshift tents.

Away from the merriment, this region also has its share of beautiful natural attractions. The Bavarian Alps are a hiker’s paradise, hugging the Austrian border and exploding in crimson and copper in September. If you’re lucky, you may experience Altweibersommer – Indian summer – which is common here throughout September and October.

Make sure you visit Neuschwanstein Castle. This bewitching white fortress towers over the Hohenschwangau valley, offering splendid panoramas of the autumnal Alpine scenery from its height.

The bustling Loewenbrau beer tent during Oktoberfest © iStockphoto/tichr
3

Valletta, Malta

If you haven’t visited this year’s European Capital of Culture yet, autumn is the time to go. While the weather remains balmy, the summer crowds have disappeared, allowing you to explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site in peace.

Fall also sees Valletta play host to an array of exciting festivals. At the end of September, the streets come alive for Science in the City, with everything from music and art installations to live experiments and talks. In October, the dramatic Grand Harbour will fill with over 100 colourful boats for the start of the Rolex Middle Sea Race, now in its 50th year.

If there’s one celebration you shouldn’t miss, it’s Notte Bianca, Malta’s biggest annual arts and culture festival. For one night only, Valletta’s streets and piazzas become venues for theatre, dance and musical concerts, while the city’s state palaces and museums open their doors free of charge. Make sure you’re well rested for the evening – festivities have been known to continue into the early hours.

One of Valletta's picturesque streets © Dreamstime.com/Liseykina
4

Copenhagen, Denmark

Autumn is the perfect time to visit Denmark’s quirky capital.

During September, Copenhagen’s many parks turn gloriously golden. Take a stroll around the expansive Botanical Gardens, home to over 12,000 different plant species, or wander along the peaceful tree-lined paths of Frederiksberg Gardens. Then embrace the Danish spirit of hygge (cosiness and comfort) in one of the quaint cafes that line Nyhavn’s colourful waterfront – sampling a delicious Danish pastry is a must.

If it happens to rain, there’s plenty to discover indoors. Copenhagen boasts a wealth of museums and art galleries, including the elegant Glyptotek, home to traditional Danish artworks. There’s also the ivy-covered Kunsthal Charlottenborg, filled with fascinating contemporary installations. Try to time your visit for Culture Night on 12th October. This annual event sees hundreds of the city’s museums, art galleries, churches and cultural institutions – otherwise closed to the public – open their doors for one night only.

No visit to Copenhagen would be complete without a trip to Tivoli, the world’s first theme park. It’s the perfect place to visit once the night draws in, when its fairytale gardens are blanketed by thousands of twinkling lights and its vintage rides are beautifully illuminated. Throughout October the park is dressed for Halloween, with pumpkins and lanterns strung throughout the gardens.

Nyhavn's pretty waterfront at night, Copenhagen © Dreamstime.com/Mapics
5

Budapest, Hungary

Hungary’s capital has an entire festival dedicated to autumn: CAFe Budapest Festival, brings together music, dance and performance art in an explosive cultural medley which lasts for two weeks.

Autumn also sees the summer crowds which formed throngs around the main attractions disperse, leaving you free to discover them in peace. The Neo-Gothic Parliament and UNESCO-protected Castle Hill are two of Budapest’s best sights, but don’t forget to stop in at one of the city’s many thermal baths for a bit of rest and relaxation.

Central Market Hall, Budapest’s main produce market is the perfect spot to sample seasonal treats – feast on sausages dusted with paprika, washed down with pálinka (Hungarian brandy). The Budapest Pálinka and Sausage festival dedicated to this pair of delicacies takes place at the beginning of October.

View of the Hungarian Parliament and Danube in autumn, Budapest © Dreamstime.com/Botond
6

Edinburgh, Scotland

It may surprise you to hear that sunshine levels in Edinburgh are much the same through early autumn as they are in June and July – though the odd shower may be more likely.

The city’s impressive autumn foliage is best enjoyed by taking long walks. Wander beneath amber-coloured leaves in the Meadows or take a stroll through pretty Princes Street Gardens, watched over by the Gothic Scott Monument. Those willing to make the trek up Arthur’s Seat will be rewarded with panoramic views of the golden expanses below.

Back in the city, make a beeline for Edinburgh Farmers’ Market. Held every Saturday on Castle Terrace, this collection of bustling stalls offers the best of Scottish seasonal produce. Shop for venison or homemade jam with Edinburgh Castle as an impressive backdrop.

Edinburgh Doors Open Day, now in its 27th year, takes place at the end of September. Here, many of the city’s most important, and usually off-limits, buildings invite visitors in to discover their secrets. Most offer talks, exhibitions or behind-the-scenes tours – all for free.

Wherever your trip takes you, pack some gloves and a rain mac – this is Scotland after all.

View over Princes Street Gardens and the Scott Monument during autumn, Edinburgh © Dreamstime.com/Photoprofi30