First, a truth: Autumn is my favorite time to be in Europe.
Summer is lovely. Hot and bustling and full of food festivals and outdoor patios, bright green parks and busy cycle paths. But summer can also be very crowded, especially in Europe’s most popular spots, and southern Europe can be stiflingly hot.
Winter is charming, too, with its Christmas Markets and snow-capped peaks. And Spring, when the buds burst into bloom and the warm weather activities slowly start to ramp up, can be lovely.
It’s the season that has my heart. With its rapidly cooling evenings, painting-bright colors, cooler days, and thinning crowds. Attractions are still open. Days are still warm enough to spend outdoors. But the crowds drop by at least half and the heat seeps away.
In case you, too, love Autumn and want to plan a European adventure as the leaves change and the nights chill, here are a few of my favorite Autumn destinations.
If cobblestones littered with leaves, fairytale carriage rides, and crispy sweet waffles sound like a dream vacation, Bruges, Belgium, is your place. Crowded in the summer because it’s so darn charming, this pretty town built over canals gets quieter and easier to navigate in the fall. Give yourself at least a couple days to wander the cobblestone alleyways and try the local chocolates.
Perhaps it’s cheating to recommend Freiburg for the fall, since I’ve only been in the summer. But it’s one of my favorite city-meets-nature spots in Europe. It also happens to be Germany’s sunniest city (with over 300 sunny days a year, I believe) and one gateway into the fabled Black Forest, where Conifers grow so tightly together that they block out the light, leaving walkways spooky and mystical.
If you go, don’t miss the fresh market near the main church (where you should try the rote sausage), Black Forest hikes, or the lovely cobblestone old town.
Nearby spots worth visiting if you’ve got more time: Colmar, France.
If you want to visit Europe in the fall, but you’re also craving warmth and sand, may I suggest France’s lesser-known southern coast? The Basque Coast stays warm late into the year (it was still quite hot when I arrived in late October and didn’t cool and start to rain until late November) and its beaches are lovely and clean.
If you go, my favorite seaside town was Saint-Jean-de-Luz–a small surfing haven not too far from the Spanish border. For those who need a more bustling town, Biarritz, just up the coast, is glitzy and gorgeous and full of amazing, affordable crepe shops.
Nearby spots to visit if you have the time: Bayonne (home of France’s first whipped hot chocolate) + Biarritz (for glitz and city amenities).
This is another spot I’ve only hit in summer, but oh am I longing to get there when the leaves turn! (Just look at those photos!)
I love Bled for its pretty lakeside walks, its sweeping castle views, and its quiet, relaxed, zen vibes. It’s a popular spot to visit in summer (though not overly crowded even then) and I’m guessing in the fall it becomes sweetly uncrowded and nicely cool.
This is the Swiss village I love so much that I applied for a visa and lived there for two years. And like much of Europe, Autumn is a spectacular time to visit. Prepare for golden-turning trees, mystically foggy mornings, and that sharp Autumnal chill in the air. And expect to have hiking trails and cafes mostly to yourself.
Nearby spots to visit if you have the time: Thun, Murren, + Wengen.
I’m not a city person, but even I have to admit that Paris is something special, especially in the fall. The city is popular with tourists year-round, but outside the summer it’s a bit more manageable in terms of crowds. And, of course, there are endless things to do–everything from museums to foodie adventures.
Nearby spots to visit if you have time: Azay-le-Rideau + Bruges, Belgium.
One of my top two favorite European capitals, Ljubljana is hip and gorgeous and still relatively undiscovered by the tourist throngs. Visit in fall for Friday food festivals, changing colors, and the extreme livability of one of Europe’s smallest big cities.
Nearby spots to visit if you have time: Bled + Postojna.
Perched on a hill above Lake Thun, Thun has some stunning views to offer. Not to mention their charming shopping area, nearby Alpine hiking, amazing castle museum, and pretty lake- and river-side walks. When I recommend Thun, I often call it the less touristy version of Lucerne. It’s very much worth a visit.
Nearby spots to check out if you have time: Lauterbrunnen, Bern, + Murren.
For Autumn visitors who prefer less chill in the air and more foodie charm, head south into Italy! My favorite northern Italian town is Modena, a foodie paradise home to Italy’s top restaurant, a thriving fresh market, and real balsamic vinegar (which should be on your bucket list).
Now, to you, friends: What are your favorite European spots to visit in the fall?