Autumn, or fall as my American friends have taught me to call it, has always been one of my favourite seasons for city breaks in Europe: schools are on, this time of the year, so flights are cheaper and crowds are thinner, but the weather is overall pleasant, with some destinations still offering a tail end of summer and others embracing early Christmas atmospheres.
The autumn is also a time when it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the long year ahead and weekends away are a fantastic way to introduce a bit of fun without breaking the bank or having to take days off school or work. As a family, we try to take a city break in October- November every year and find inspiration wherever we can: sometimes it is a seasonal deal from an airline, sometimes an unexpected and welcome offer for a home exchange and sometimes it is the always inspiring advice of blogger friends, an infinite and trustworthy source of ever-growing wanderlust!
This year I harnessed the travel expertise of some of these friends and asked them to let me know, in their own words, which cities are the best to visit in the fall and why. Here are their recommendations about the best family-friendly city breaks in Europe in autumn.
FAMILY FRIENDLY CITY BREAKS IN EUROPE IN AUTUMN
Richard from Life in Our Van writes: ‘As the Autumn leaves fall, do you fancy swimming in the crystal clear warm water of Dubrovnik. Gazing up at the imposing citadel made famous by Game of Thrones. If you do, you’ll love any chance you get to visit Dubrovnik out of high season. Either late Spring or early Autumn offers fewer crowds, cheaper prices, warm seas.
But more importantly, space to fully enjoy the amazing UNESCO old city without the throngs of crowds. An old city full of small cobbled streets that wind lazily upwards towards the imposing city walls. With a break from the summer heat, there’s plenty to offer families including magnificent city wall tours, escape rooms and even a new Star Wars walk. Outside the old city offers even more choice for families.
Sea kayaking to nearby islands or even jumping aboard the affordable ‘yellow submarine’ to see the marine wildlife between Dubrovnik and Lokrum Island. An island made famous by it’s tame rabbits and peacocks. The perfect place to spend a lazy day or grab a family adventure should you choose to brave the island’s Dead Sea. A salt-filled lake that allows you to float in peace or explore at your leisure.’
Jason from ‘An Epic Education‘ writes: With its perennial blue skies and warm Mediterranean air, Valencia is worth exploring year-round. Autumn, however, might be an ideal time for a first visit. Unlike most of Europe and North America, Valencia enjoys dry, sunny weather year-round, yet tourism slows down by early September. The result: warm breezes and more elbow room around the city’s wealth of kid-friendly museums, festivals, parks, and historical sites. Now you can visit Europe’s biggest aquarium, best zoo and most beautiful market — all in one city, and all without fighting the crowds. Still want the beach? You can swim here in November.
The city of Valencia is extremely flat, walkable, and stroller-friendly, but taxis and public transportation are also safe, convenient and easy to navigate. As for food, the city’s exceptional restaurant scene and al fresco dining options are made even better with a glass of local wine or cava.
Virginie from ‘Travel with my kids‘, entices us to visit Naples: Visiting Naples (Italy) and its surroundings in autumn is lovely. The worst of the summer heat are faded, and you can expect a very pleasant 22°C during the day. More of all, there is something special about the Italian light in fall: lower, softer, bringing a kind of magical golden glow!
You can stroll around Naples’ lively historic centre with the kids, enjoying its picturesque charm: the clean laundry drying up by windows, the beautiful crumbling palace’s inner courtyards, the garlands of dried tomatoes hanging up… Because Christmas is coming soon, don’t miss the famous Neapolitan’s handicrafts of crèche and Nativity figures, all along Via San Gregorio Armeno. The place to bring back home some specials Christmas decorations!
Hiking on Mount Vesuvius volcano (the famous one whose eruption destroyed Pompeii) will be effortless in fall. And there’s no better choice than visiting the archaeological site of Pompeii itself on a cool day, with fewer tourists!
Maria, from One Tiny Leap, writes: An Autumn city break in Lisbon can be magical. This is arguably the best season to visit Portugal’s capital – you can enjoy the delicious aroma of chestnuts roasting all over the city; tree-lined streets vibrant in hues of browns and orange, and best of all spend your days sightseeing with no need to wrap up. Lisbon sees wonderfully warm temperatures in Autumn, perfect for exploring the city’s colourful hills, sipping a few drinks by the river, or even fitting in a beach or mountain day trip.
Shobha from ‘Just go places‘ writes: ‘My favourite city to visit in the Autumn in Europe is Paris. Audrey Hepburn may have said that Paris is always a good idea but I think you will agree that some seasons in Paris are a better idea. During autumn, you still get the sunny days but the tourist hordes from the summer have gone home. You might actually be able to get into a museum without waiting in line half the day! The leaves are changing on the trees in the parks. It’s the perfect weather to sit at a sidewalk cafe and watch Parisian life in progress. There’s a little nip in the air which allows you to layer with jackets and scarfs – always a chic look and easier to hide any over-indulgence in baguettes and cheese. The autumn weather is also the perfect excuse to indulge in hot chocolates again. I find the winter days are much shorter and chillier. In addition, by December the crowds of tourists are back in Paris to shop for the holidays and to look at all the Christmas decorations.
Jen from Jenography adds: It’s no secret that Paris is beautiful, but autumn in the city is particularly gorgeous – you get crisp weather with cerulean skies, a lessening of tourists and great opportunities to sit wrapped up on café terraces having a chocolat chaud with your children, watching the world go by in that beautiful golden light. Walk around the Marais, explore the parks as the leaves slip off the branches and sip wine at the Montmartre wine fest or during Beaujolais Nouveau. It’s also an excellent time to get out of town to see Versailles or Fontaineblue. Check out my do’s and don’ts for visiting Paris with kids here.
Jen of Jenography also recommends Bologna: This university town at the top of Italy’s thigh is the country’s gastronomic capital…and that’s saying something. When things get cold and drizzly outside, you’ll know inside waiting for you will be a bowl of tortellini in brodo – who knew little meat pasta parcels in broth could transport you to nirvana? My first taste was like experiencing my first kiss. Kids will love the lasagna and that dish on every children’s menu: spag bol a.k.a. tagliatelle alla Bolognese. When you step (or roll) back outside, you’ll have 40 kilometres of porticos to walk under, making it easy to stay out of autumn showers. When the kids need letting off the leash, visit the Piazza Maggiore where they can run around while you have an espresso, or climb the steps of the Tower of Asinelli through the tiny circular stairway.
London also tops the list of family travel blogger favourites, for its beautiful colours and romantic atmospheres.
Polly from Our seaside baby says: I’ve spent many years living in London, first for my degree than later for work and still visit often. One of the best things about this diverse city is the variety of beautiful parks and Autumn is one of the best times to visit. There’s a chill in the air but people are out as always, enjoying the fresh crisp atmosphere. From the larger Hyde Park and Regents Parks to the smaller St James Park or even Gordon Square Gardens, escaping from the hustle and bustle of the city and relaxing amongst nature is a welcome relief.
As the leaves turn to their golden Autumn colours and the sun sparkles through the trees, reflecting off from the various water features, London parks are filled with life & colour! Tourists photographing the sites, couples taking a romantic stroll, joggers catching up on exercise, students playing football, parents pushing their little ones along, people wandering & admiring the view, squirrels scavenging for food, birds singing in the trees and eldering folk sitting on the benches watching the world go by, there is never a dull moment!
Laure from FrogMom adds some of her favourite ways to enjoy London in the fall: Autumn is one of the best times of the year to visit London when the city enjoys a warm Indian summer and the art season is in full swing.
1) Take a stroll through leafy parks: Hyde Park is a must-see any time of year in London but come October, the royal park is host to hundreds of migrating birds that enjoy a welcome respite on the way to warmer climates. The Lido Café is a great spot for goose- and swimmer-watching. For some lovely walks through ancient trees, you can also head north to Hampstead Heath, grab a meat pie at Euphorium Bakery and wind your way through the heath to picnic on the immaculate lawns in front of Kenwood House.
2) Enjoy waterside pubs: When it’s cool enough to wear a sweater but not so cold that you need to tuck your hands in your pockets, that’s the best time of the year to hit waterside pubs with terraces looking out on the Thames River for a pint and a roast. Between Hammersmith’s popular The Old Ship or The Dove, Greenwich’s Cutty Sark Tavern, Limehouse’s Narrow and Wapping’s Prospect of Whitby, there are more than a few options to watch boats navigate the river’s waters while you enjoy heart pub grub.
3) Hit the Museums: Make autumn an artsy season without the crowds by visiting new exhibitions at London’s major museums, all of which are free and feature fabulous coffee shops. Take your pick between the Victoria & Albert Museum, the Modern Tate, the British Museum or the National Gallery.
COLOGNE AND FRANKFURT, Germany
Jennifer of Our family travel adventures invites us to visit Germany with not just one, but two cities connected by a beautiful waterway.
‘There is nothing quite like Germany in Autumn. The colours are amazing! We loved spending time in the Rhine River Valley in Autumn, especially around Sankt Goar and Boppard. The summer crowds have left, and the river barges are quiet. You can float peacefully up or down the river and stop at the charming river towns between Cologne and Frankfurt. It’s still nice enough to dine at an outdoor cafe on the town square. If you enjoy wine, there are vineyards all over the valley and plenty of tasting rooms.’
We couldn’t write about Germany in the fall without a mention of its most popular and famous event of the season if not of the year: the Oktoberfest! Find here all you need to know about it with this guide to the Oktoberfest
Last but not least, my very own recommendation
The overwhelming beauty of Rome knows no seasons, but the autumn, October in particular, is a special time to visit the Eternal City. The weather is usually dry and pleasant and the city slowly starts wearing its autumnal colours, treating its visitors to a beautiful palette of yellow and red leaves against the backdrop of a terse, blue sky. Romans are particularly fond of the city at this time and even have a name for these very special weather: Ottobrate Romane (Ottobre=October).
The city is a hive of activity, with the locals in the thick of the working year and museum, galleries and restaurants are open and buzzing with events, with many attractions offering longer visiting hours. Also, this is the time of year when the nutty perfume of roasted chestnuts fills the air: street sellers set shop on busy corners, their weathered hands tossing the autumnal fruits on iron roasters with expert gestures and the kids flock to them, coins in hand in exchange for a warm cone of autumnal delight. A fleeting image of a different time among the otherwise distracted crowd so used to its past.
I hope this whirlwind of Europe has given you enough inspiration for many a city break in Europe: don’t forget you can find more advice, inspiration and deals on the following resources:
For city guides in Europe, make sure you check our section about city travel with kids here:
Also, don’t forget to join our family travel inspiration facebook group, where you can talk travel with the family travel experts featured in this article and discuss plans and ideas with like-minded parents.