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While some of us are still attempting to fit in as many warm-weather activities as possible, summer is officially done for the year, and fall is just around the corner. The leaves are turning a gorgeous colour, temperatures have dropped, and the crowds have subsided now that most kids are back in school, making fall a great time to travel. Are you thinking of heading to Europe for a fall getaway? Here are the 10 best European destinations to visit in autumn – from holidays with friends and family, with your significant other, or even those solo travelling, we have something for everyone!
When is autumn in Europe?
Unlike where I grew up in tropical Asia, there are four different seasons on the European continent: spring, summer, autumn or fall, and winter. Autumn begins on 1st September and ends on 30th November. During this time, countries that practice daylight savings also turn back their clock an hour in preparation for winter.
Having experienced a complete cycle of the four seasons in Germany, I’ve observed that we still get to enjoy the last bits of summer up till early October. Then it’s time to bring out the knitwear and sweaters and head to Starbucks for Pumpkin Spice Latte. The weather dips rather drastically in mid-October – well, at least that was what I experienced in Leipzig, Germany.
Autumn in Europe and spring are considered off-peak or shoulder seasons and a great time to travel for those looking to save some bucks. Flights are cheaper, and most hotels and accommodations may offer reduced prices to attract travellers who prefer exploring after peak summer holiday seasons.
However, with attractive prices comes the not-so-attractive unpredictability of autumn weather. Expect more cloudy days, rainfall, strong winds and snow in some parts of Europe. So it’s best to research the weather conditions at your destinations and pack accordingly.
Without further ado, here is the list of the best European destinations to visit in autumn. I’ve personally been to every single one of them on the list, so do look forward to “pro-tips” and learnings to better plan for your trips!
Best European Destinations to visit in autumn for the big cities and culture
The best time to visit Amsterdam is probably in early September till mid-October. Gone are the summer crowds, meaning less time queuing to get into attractions. Some attractions like the Anne Frank museum require advance booking, so don’t miss out. While it’s best to make reservations for the restaurants you want to try, sometimes, if you get in early enough, you’ll enjoy good alfresco seating by the canal. Since it was the husband’s birthday in November, we also treated ourselves to a seafood tower at The Seafood Bar.
During our trip to Amsterdam last year, we ventured out to Zaanse Schans, an open-air museum fun for kids and kids at heart. We visited a collection of historical windmills, learned the art of traditional wooden clogs, and enjoyed a scenic walk across the grounds, enjoying the cool autumn in Europe.
Athens was my first introduction to Greece, and boy, it was memorable! We only had a day to explore Athens, so what better way to do it than to hop on the Athens Hop-On-Hop-Off bus? We got to explore popular attractions like the Acropolis, Temple of Zeus and the likes for just €29!
The one learning point about autumn in Europe here is to check the weather and dress appropriately. I went on the day trip with a few colleagues, and I thought that denim or leather jackets were enough as it was a beautiful bright, sunny morning and 15 degrees celsius out. Then one came down dressed impeccably in her pink puffy winter jacket. We teased her, of course… but those were our famous last words. It was the perfect weather all through the morning, till after lunch, dark clouds rolled in, and it started raining. Puffy winter jacket was comfortably strutting around, now laughing at us denim and leather jacket crew getting wet and shivering from the cold.
Budapest in September is when food festivals come alive. We were delighted to try the various food trucks and stalls set up across the Pest side of the city while admiring the quieter Buda sights from across the Danube river. Our favourite snack was definitely the Kürtőskalács, a crispy chimney cake on the outside and soft and warm like a baby’s butt inside. There are too many toppings to choose from, like cinnamon or Nutella. We initially bought one to share among the five of us, but after the first bite, we scrambled to get our own.
It was in Budapest where I experienced one of the most interesting nightlife ever. Have you ever partied in a ruins bar tucked away in the Jewish quarters? While my three other companions decided to call an early night, I stayed on with a friend who knew a local. She introduced us to a ruin bar somewhat unique to Budapest called Szimpla.
Apparently, Szimpla began as a small experiment between friends, a bar set up in an abandoned building catering to the young and creative (at the time I was there, they were termed ‘hipsters’). The drinks were affordable, the music was loud, and there were people EVERYWHERE. But what made it unique was the graffiti on the walls featuring local artists. And the many, many rooms to explore filled with vintage, mismatched items – it was like we were partying in a home someone had left behind. Definitely, something to check out while in Budapest.
Have you ever dreamed of seeing a statue of a naked boy pissing in a fountain? Despite its tumultuous history, the figure was a little underwhelming. But that’s not all there is to the Belgium capital! Take a walking tour around the city to admire the impressive architecture and learn more about the lesser-known history of Belgium. Take a walk in the city, admire the Grand Palace, or take a train down to see the magnificent Parc Du Cinquantenaire… or take the intercity trains on a day trip to Brugges or Antwerp.
My husband and I enjoy eating when we go to Brussels. He has a sweet tooth, so he’d be snacking on fresh Belgian waffles dipped in chocolate or sampling little morsels of chocolates from speciality stores and crunching on Maison J. Dandoy’s Speculoos. While I am more of a salty person (all puns intended) and enjoy the Moules-Frites, Belgian fries and the fish and chips from Bia Mara. I recently came across a local cafe and roastery called Black Potion, just a three-minute walk from the Grand Palace. The afternoon before flying back to Germany, we stayed at a hotel near the airport due to his work. I took a train to the city just for one last cup of iced latte.
I have to include Germany on this list of European destinations to visit in autumn, right? I live there! The capital of Bavaria is the place to flock to in autumn because it’s when Oktoberfest, the world’s largest beer festival, happens. People from around the globe into Munich to experience something uniquely German. Most non-Germans (including myself) thought the whole festival was about drinking beer in tents and merrymaking. However, it’s so much more than that! It’s a huge funfair with rides for both young and old!
Suppose you prefer a less boozy and rowdy trip. In that case, the nearby state of Baden-Württemburg is home to the Black Forest National Park or Schwarzwald in German. The Black Forest road trip is something that I recommend doing once in your life, so gather your friends and family, or even go solo and explore what the region has to offer!
Best European Destinations to visit in autumn for the alpine lovers
Switzerland boasts majestic alpine sceneries, luxury watches and milk chocolates. I was privileged to visit with my parents, conquering the Jungfrau, Titlis and Gornergrat mountains while we were there, by cable car, of course. They were the most beautiful (and expensive) trips I’ve ever been on.
The best time to visit Switzerland is early autumn when it’s still warm. When we went in October, it was rather chilly, but we enjoyed sunny weather and blue skies on the days we went to the mountain. Fun fact: My parents went to those mountains twice during the trip, once by themselves and the second time when I arrived later. On their first time on Mount Titlis, they were welcomed by heavy snow and piercing winds. The second time around, they got lucky.
One of the most unforgettable train rides I had was on the Gornergratbahn. It takes you up the Gornergrat mountain from the town of Zermatt on a cogwheel train in 33 minutes. The electric cogwheel rail was opened in 1898 and was the first electric rack railway built in Switzerland. The journey up was magical, as we got to see the landscape change from greens to orange and then white, all within that half-hour train ride. Gornergrat also offers magnificent views of the Matterhorn (lovingly coined the Toblerone Mountain).
On the train, I saw the landscape change from greens to orange to white, all within that half-hour train ride. I was overcome with child-like wonder as I peered out the window and got a glimpse of the Matterhorn (lovingly coined the Toblerone mountain).
Grossglockner High Alpine Road, Austria (Großeglockner Hochalpinestraße)
Named after Austria’s highest mountain at 12,460 feet, if you’re into scenic road trips, the Grossglockner High Alpine Road is one of Europe’s highest and most beautiful alpine roads. I recommend beginner drivers take the passenger seat, enjoy the ride, and let someone more experienced take the wheel. Not only do you have to navigate through 36 hairpin bends to climb to about 3,000 feet in less than 48 km, but you’d also have to keep a lookout for cars and Harley Davidsons whizzing by, alpine cyclists, and at times, herds of cows getting from one point to another!
The route leads you deep into the Hohe Tauern National Park, Austria’s oldest national park, which spans the counties of Carinthia, Eastern Tyrol, and Salzburg. It winds through verdant green alpine meadows and curves around the Austrian alps. We began our journey from Zell am See, south of Salzburg. We slowly made our way to the Kaiser-Franz-Josefs-Höhe to see the Pasterze, the longest glacier in Austria. There are many stops along the way to fill your belly with Austrian food. We stopped by for a dessert and refreshments at a quaint family-owned restaurant called Knapp Casa.
Best European Destinations to visit in autumn for the beach lovers
Nobody said you couldn’t explore the Amalfi Coast solo, so I did. As much as I enjoyed the experience, I would recommend that you go with someone else to share the beautiful views and all the delicious stuff I got to try while there. Capri is one of the bigger, more popular islands in the bay of Naples. Capri is probably best visited in autumn as the summer crowds have gone, but attractions and accommodations are still open.
I rode on the Monte Solaro chairlift, and for the next 13 minutes, I was treated to magnificent views of the Amalfi Coast and Mount Vesuvius. The ride is not for the faint-hearted though or squirmy children, though, as you sit alone and secured by just a bar that prevents you from falling out. Alternatively, you can take the less adventurous but family-friendly bus to the peak and down.
While there are many fancy accommodations in Capri, many come from the neighbouring Sorrento or Naples. I stayed in Naples the whole time during my trip and made day trips to Capri, Procida – the lesser known but no less beautiful island, and down the Amalfi Coast.
Check out our Italian destination guides:
- Procida travel guide: A gorgeous hidden gem in Southern Italy
- 10 Things that Venice is famous for
- Burano Day Trip: 5 reasons why you must visit the most vibrant town in Europe
- 24 hours in Milan: How to spend a fruitful and unforgettable day in Italy’s fashion capital
- 24 hours in Verona: How to spend an amazing day at Italy’s most romantic city
Nice is fecking nice place to go during autumn in Europe – pardon my French (alright, alright, I deserve the eye roll). Pronounced as Nees, Nice is the capital of the French Riviera or the Côte d’Azur. From crystal clear azure ocean waters to panoramic views on a hillside chateau, there’s something for everyone.
I went to Nice on a whim, back when travelling for me was much cheaper and accessible. My flatmate had to activate her EU visa and needed to enter by a specific time. We happened to have the same day offs in early October, and off we went! We enjoyed warm and sunny days in early October and slightly chilly nights, so pack a light cardigan.
We stayed at Hôtel Le Royal Promenade des Anglais and woke up to the views of Promenade des Anglais and the ocean. The city was walkable, so we hardly took any public transport to get around, except on the last evening when we splurged and dined at Le Plongeoir, a Mediterranean restaurant perched on rocks. We had a good walk at the Parc de la Colline du Château and were treated to panoramic views of Nice and the French Riviera.
Finally, the last on this list of best European destinations to visit in autumn is especially for you solo travellers out there. It was the end of November, and I wanted to go somewhere warm and pleasant in Europe. Impossible, I think not! The island of Tenerife in the Canary Islands is both the largest and most populous of the islands. I saw two sides of Tenerife – the warm, beachy south and the hilly, more urbanised north.
Deciding that I needed a break from chain hotels, I booked a 3-night stay at Los Amigos Hostel Tenerife. It’s a small hostel located south of the island and an 8-minute walk to the Playa La Maretas. It’s the first time I’ve seen and been in a natural pool at the end of November when everywhere else in Europe is probably freezing.
What are natural pools? In this case, a natural pool in Tenerife is an inset body of water surrounded by rocks in the Atlantic Ocean. I was terrified of deep and cold waters, especially when there were no lifeguards to save my ass should I drown. But I was with a great bunch of people from the hostel who kept egging me on, saying, “When else are you ever going to swim like this in the Atlantic Ocean?” Fine, I was sold. The water was freezing, but the sun’s warmth felt perfect on my skin. No regrets.
During my stay, I hitched a ride with a group heading into the small town of El Medano, where we had paellas and tapas and shared stories of our adventures. It was a solo trip to remember.
Looking for more solo travel content? Click on the links below!
- The Ultimate Guide to Solo Travel: How to travel safely as an Asian female solo traveller
- 10 useful tips to survive eating alone in a restaurant
- How to make friends and lasting connections while travelling solo
That wraps up our list of best European destinations to visit in autumn. I really hope you’ve enjoyed reading this and that it inspires you to venture down the road less travelled, learn about some fascinating cultures, and try some amazing cuisines!