Fall in Europe | 10 underrated destinations
What’s the first image that comes to mind when you think of fall in Europe? If it’s along the lines of red, gold and ocher against a backdrop of history and culture, you’d be correct. Many countries across the continent are blanketed in a myriad of color, making fall a pretty time to visit.
So, which are the prettiest, and underrated, places to see in Europe in autumn? From north to south, east to west, here are 10 underrated European towns and cities to experience the autumnal season.
1. York, UK
Visit a city with Roman roots, and Saxon, Norman and Viking heritage in the north of England. York has plenty of great history and scenery and makes for a great fall weekend getaway.
We visited in September, and had a wonderful time visiting the top attractions in the city. Must-see sights include York Minster, the ruins at St Mary’s Abbey, the free National Rail Museum and the city walls.
You may also be keen on booking a boat cruise in York. They run frequently on the River Ouse, and is a charming, and relaxing, way to spend a few hours.
The weather in York in September, like most parts of the UK, can be unpredictable. During our visit, the temperature was about 15°C (59°F), and with light rain. Because of this, I suggest bringing a raincoat and umbrella, because the chances of rain are usually high.
Where can I stay in York, UK?
We took a slight detour from our usual boutique accommodation and stayed at a charming B&B.
No.21 York is one of the highly rated B&Bs in town, and having stayed there, we completely understand why. Simon and Andrea are the perfect hosts, the rooms are inviting, personal, and the breakfasts are out of this world!
See the sun set over York Minster on a fall European break
2. Aarhus, Denmark
The Danish concept of ‘hygge’ is experienced best when fall arrives. And Aarhus in autumn is the ideal time to wrap up, get cozy and enjoy the changing colors.
Aarhus is the second largest city in Denmark and is right by the sea. It has a fantastic stretch of beach, which is just as popular in summer as it is in fall. Long autumn walks here are a must — as are woolly hats and scarves for when the temperatures dip.
Fall in Europe — things to see in Aarhus
The Old Town Museum (Den Gamle By) is a fun way to understand Danish life in the past. Walk through different districts — and periods of time — while learning more about how the Danes used to live. Periods in history include the 1900s, the 1920s, and the welfare state of the 1970s.
Tivoli Friheden is a theme park with rides, rollercoasters and playgrounds amidst the splendid green of the Marselisborg Forest. Its newest ride, ‘Hjertekig’ isn’t for the faint hearted. It involves an adrenalin-inducing free-fall jump from the 65m tower — the tallest in all of Denmark.
Coffee (and cake) culture is big in Aarhus, and is a cozy way to inject some hygge into your life. Visit some of the best cafes in the city, like La Cabra and Stiller’s Coffee, in simple, yet understated, surroundings.
Where to stay in Aarhus
Experience a touch of France in Aarhus by booking a stay at Villa Provence. All rooms are individually designed, and come complete with super comfortable beds and Molton Brown toiletries in the bathroom.
A French-inspired breakfast is served every morning, and the lime tree-lined courtyard is the perfect spot to take an aperitif.
Situated right in the city center, Comwell Aarhus promises a comfy and central stay for your fall break. It’s an eco-friendly hotel, and has a restaurant on site, as well as 2 fitness centers.
Rooms have views overlooking Aarhus and a little further beyond, and you can also hire bikes to explore the city.
A fall scene at Aarhus University
“Many countries across the continent are blanketed in a myriad of color, making fall a pretty time to visit.”
Map me: 10 underrated European towns and cities
3. San Sebastian, Spain
San Sebastian in the north of Spain is best known for its fantastic food culture, pintxo bars and Michelin-star restaurants. And when autumn arrives, so too does the variety of seasonal produce.
Wild mushrooms are seasonal this time of year, with the markets brimming with different varieties.
San Sebastian markets — fall in Europe
I adore browsing food markets whenever I travel. For me, it’s not just about discovering new produce, but it’s also about the energy you find while there.
Good food in San Sebastian starts with the finest raw ingredients — all of which you can find in its gourmet markets.
La Bretza is a traditional food market where top chefs regularly visit to personally choose their produce. San Martin is another food market in the city, which is also next to a modern shopping center.
A few kilometers outside the city are the food markets of Ordizia and Tolosa. Here is where you’ll find top quality produce from Gipuzkoa, a historical territory of the Basque country. The Ordizia farmers’ market takes place every Wednesday, while in Tolosa, it’s every Saturday. Both are open (on the respective market days) all year round.
Fall European breaks — beaches to visit in San Sebastian
Being a resort town, San Sebastian is home to several beaches, such as Playa de la Concha and Playa de Zurriola. While temperatures are lower here than in other parts of Spain, an autumn walk on is the beach is doable.
Other must-see sights in San Sebastian include the beautiful baroque church, Basilica de Santa Maria del Coro. This 18-century church follows the classic Catholic baroque style, with an exterior that will blow you away.
To get a better understanding of Basque history and culture, you may be interested to visit San Telmo Museum. Inside you’ll discover old and modern pieces of Basque arts and history and its story within the European context.
Where to stay in San Sebastian
Lasala Plaza Hotel
Located in the old town, and just 80m from Calle Mayor is the Lasala Plaza Hotel. Rooms are beautifully made up, spacious and some have a sea view.
The location’s one of the best in San Sebastian, with a pool and rooftop terrace where you can enjoy the views.
Room Mate Gorka
Just 750 yards from the historic old town, and 650 yards from Calle Mayor is the wonderfully luxurious Room Mate Gorka.
No detail is left un-turned at this 4-star luxury boutique hotel in the city center district of San Sebastian. Rooms are elegant, understated and minimalist. Local attractions close to Room Mate Gorka include La Concha Promenade and Santa Clara Island.
Zurriola beach in San Sebastian – autumn breaks in Europe
4. Zermatt, Switzerland
The Swiss town of Zermatt is an Instagram favorite, and for good reason. A mountain resort in the south of Switzerland, it’s a destination popular with skiers, walkers and hikers.
As the colors begin to change in fall, Zermatt transforms into a scene taken from an oil painting. The peak of the Matterhorn stands proudly in the background, adding a snowy contrast to the town’s autumnal colors.
Fall activities to do in Zermatt
With a landscape as inspiring and as striking as the one in Zermatt, spending time outdoors is a given.
See the sights of Zermatt from above with a helicopter ride with Air Zermatt. The company mainly provides transport and rescue services, but they also take visitors on mini adventures around the Matterhorn.
The Forest Fun Park is ideal for kids, big and small. Situated at the end of the village, there are 5 parcours for adults, and the largest kids trail in Switzerland. Perfect for families, couples and adventure travelers, the sights from the zipline are some of the best in Zermatt.
Bahnhofstrasse is the principle shopping street in Zermatt, and a mecca for luxury goods. If your pocket doesn’t stretch that far, head to the bakeries and chocolate shops instead. There are bound to be something you can buy, and try, that won’t break the budget.
Where tostay in Zermatt — fall in Europe
Backstage Boutique SPA Hotel
When it comes to dreamy hotels in the Swiss mountains, it doesn’t get any dreamier than Backstage Boutique SPA Hotel.
Think uniquely furnished luxury rooms, with a cozy open fireplace and a private balcony. On site is also a luxury spa, complete with hot tub, sauna and massage room. It’s a top choice for Zermatt, and one hotel you’re sure to remember.
22 Summits Boutique Hotel
Wake up to glorious mountain views by booking your Zermatt stay at 22 Summits Boutique Hotel. Earthy tones, and wooden décor set the mood of this 4-star hotel. Its cozy interior also evokes the perfect ambience for the cooler temperatures of fall.
Inside is also a spa center and sauna to relax your muscles after a long day on the slopes. What’s more, the hotel’s just minutes from the Matterhorn Express Gondola.
A fall holiday in Zermatt, Switzerland
5. Lake Bled, Slovenia
Another photo favorite on the social media platforms is the ever-charming Lake Bled in Slovenia. This enchanting lake is popular all year round, but come autumn, it transforms into something truly special.
A symphony of trees and mountains surround the mesmerizing body of water, situated in the Julian Alps in northwest Slovenia.
Bled Island — fall in Europe
The main reason visitors come to Lake Bled is to see Bled Island. Standing solo in the middle of the lake, the small island captivates its many visitors that come to visit. A traditional boat called a pletna — similar to the shape of the Italian gondola — takes you across. It seats 20 passengers and gives you the chance to experience the lake from a different perspective.
Among the buildings on Bled Island, there’s one that stands out from the rest. The 17th century Pilgrimage Church of the Assumption of Maria has a 52m (171ft) tower and baroque stairway. There are 99 steps to reach the church doors, in which many weddings take place.
While here, make a point of visiting Bled Castle, which stands above on the north shore. The medieval castle is said to be one of the oldest in Slovenia, offering magnificent views of the lake below. Time pending, you may be interested to book a tour of the castle and the lake.
Bled cream cake
Fellow readers with a sweet tooth will appreciate the local pastry that’s a delicacy at Lake Bled. ‘Kremma Rezina’ is a heavenly cake, with a golden crispy topping, and a layer of freshly made vanilla cream.
Bled cream cake was invented by the former manager of the Hotel Park patisserie in 1953. In fact, the cake’s so popular, there’s even an annual festival to celebrate it! You can take home a piece of Bled (in the form of the cream cake) from the café opposite the hotel.
How to reach Bled from Ljubljana
There are several ways to get to Bled from Ljubljana, one being booking a tour. By bus, you can book a ticket with a tour company called Nomago. The journey takes around 1 hour and 15 minutes, and is an economical way to get to Bled.
The train takes you from Ljubljana to Lake Bled (1 hour). However, you still need to get another bus to reach Lake Bled, but it’s just a short 4-minute ride.
The third option is by car. Lake Bled is 55km (35 miles) from Ljubljana and should take no longer than 36 minutes.
Where to stay in Bled
ECO Boutique Hotel AMS Beagle
The clue’s in the name of this boutique hotel set in the glorious surroundings of Bled. ECO Boutique Hotel AMS Beagle has rooms overlooking the mountains or garden, with spa baths in every bathroom.
The family-run hotel also has a ski school on site, and serves up an impressive breakfast. Whether you choose to hike, bike or just relax, you can rest assure that you’ll be in good hands here.
A dreamy scene at Lake Bled in fall
6. Killarney, Ireland
Autumn plus Killarney equals a perfect fall destination in Europe. This Irish town sits in the county of Kerry in the south-west of Ireland. Full of attractions and charming locals, I challenge you not to be enchanted by its surrounding beauty.
Green is everywhere — Killarney National Park
Being Ireland, you can expect to be surrounded by the greenest of green landscapes. And when fall arrives, there’s no better place to witness the change in color than at Killarney National Park.
Stretching over 25,000 acres, the park includes the incredible Lakes of Killarney, woodlands and mountain peaks. There are 3 lakes in total, the largest of which is Lough Leane at 4,700 acres.
The largest body of water in the region is also where you can find Innisfallen Island. It’s home to the impressive ruins of the abbey of the same namesake, and was occupied for around 950 years.
The ruins are also where the monks that lived here wrote the Annals of Innisfallen. It details the early history of Ireland — according to the monks accounts. There are boats to reach Innisfallen Island from Ross Castle, but only usually during the summer season.
Different ways to see Killarney National Park
While walking is one way to explore the huge mass of land, there are also other options to consider. One such alternative is to do a bike tour. It’s a fun way to see the entirety of the park, and keep fit at the same time.
Hiring a bike also means you get to choose your own schedule. We could spend as long, or as little time, at the lakes or Ross Castle as we wanted.
A more traditional way of seeing Killarney National Park is to jump on board a jaunting car. It was a popular mode of transportation during the 19th century and is still used in Killarney to this day.
This carriage with horse and driver gives a whole new meaning to the term slow travel. Take in the views at a slower pace while enjoying some playful Irish banter from your driver.
Where stay in Killarney — fall in Europe
I had the most fabulous, and not to mention, comfortable stay at The Brehon. The rooms are generous in size, and there’s also a spa on site in case you fancy a treatment.
There’s a formal restaurant at the hotel, as well as a casual pub-style bar, which serves some delicious home-cooked meals. Staff at The Brehon are also very accommodating and reinforce the reputation of Irish charm.
A calming scene at one of the incredible lakes of Killarney
7. Siena, Italy
There’s nothing I don’t love about this Tuscan hill town in the central northern region of Italy. A destination with incredible art, history and cuisine, it becomes even more spectacular when paired with an autumnal backdrop of color.
The historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, featuring several main attractions, such as Siena Cathedral. Along with the cathedral in Noto, it’s one of my favorite duomos I’ve visited in Italy.
The city itself is 322m above sea level, set among a lush and hilly landscape. Upon entering the Piazza del Campo, your eyes won’t know where to look first.
Taking center stage is the magnificent Siena Cathedral (Cattedrale di Siena). This medieval church was completed between 1215 and 1263 and takes on the form of a Latin cross. Its exterior and interior is made from white and dark green marble, with red marble also noticeable on the façade.
Siena’s most famous attraction — fall in Europe
A grand horse race called the Palio (Il Palio) takes place twice a year in Siena. It’s a tradition that goes back to medieval times, with 10 horses and riders competing, and representing their respective districts.
The shell-shaped Piazza del Campo is where the action happens, with riders running for 3 laps around the course. Jockeys also ride bareback, making it common for them to be thrown from the horses when making sharp turns.
Also located in the Piazza del Campo is the Palazzo Pubblico (town hall), with the Torre del Mangia towering above. The tower’s the tallest in Siena (87m), and the third tallest in the whole of Italy. In brief, it’s one of the best places to catch a panoramic view of the city and the region beyond.
Though it’s possible to reach the top, it’s not an easy climb. There are 400 steps, and the space is narrow, which you may find to be a tight squeeze. If you’re up to the challenge, take your time, bring a bottle of water and take small breaks in between.
Where to stay in Siena, Italy
Check into a historic boutique hotel in the heart of Siena at Palazzo Ravizza. There are 30 rooms decorated in a classic style, some with views overlooking the gardens, or the surrounding hills.
This family-run hotel is just 750 yards from Piazza del Campo and a great choice for your Siena fall trip.
Residenza d’Epoca Palazzo Borghesi — fall in Europe
You can’t get any closer to the center of Siena than by staying at the Residenza d’Epoca Palazzo Borghesi. The 14th century noble building’s just steps away from the fantastic Siena Cathedral and the Piazzo del Campo.
There are just 4 rooms at this prestigious property, each one with different vintage furnishings from the other. That said, it’s one property you don’t want to procrastinate on, and booking in advance is essential.
Piazza del Campo in Siena – a perfect European fall break destination
8. Zagreb, Croatia
The capital city of Croatia often gets overlooked by its more southern counterparts like Split, Dubrovnik and Pula. However, if you’re looking for a fall break in Croatia, Zagreb may just be the destination for you.
Situated in the northwest of the country, Zagreb is the largest city in Croatia. It has a rich history dating back to the Roman times — a characteristic that’s evident as you explore the city. Today, the old blends with the new, in the form of fine restaurants, bars and cafes.
To kickstart your Zagreb fall break, first head to Trg Bana Jelacica. It’s the main square in the city, and the point where the upper and lower towns meet. While here, take a wander down the colorful Tkalciceva Street, taking a moment to browse the cafes and boutique shops.
What to see in Zagreb
Zagreb is conveniently divided into 3 parts, the first being Gornji grad (Upper Town). The 1000-year old quarter is where you’ll find the presidential palace, St Mark’s Church, and the Croatian parliament building (Sabor).
Gornji Grad evokes the sense of the past as you walk along the cobbled streets lit by gas lamps. The quarter’s also where you’ll find museums like the Croatian Natural History Museum, and the Croatian Museum of Naïve Art.
Donji grad is the Lower Town area of Zagreb. It dates back to the 19th century, and is littered with shops, both modern and traditional, restaurants, cafes and parks. Buy authentic Croatian ties for the man/men in your life at Croata, or browse the displays at Dolac open-air market.
The Botanical Garden (Botanicki Vrt) is also in Donji Grad, and is a top choice for a fall visit. Part of a series of parks, the grounds include an arboretum, around 10,000 plant species and an ornamental bridge.
The third quarter is the modern post-World War II area of Novi Zagreb. Meaning ‘new Zagreb’, it’s the residential part of the capital, consisting of high-rise buildings.
Autumn weather in Zagreb
When fall arrives in Zagreb, so too does more rain. It’s common to have rainfall in summer, so come fall, there’s no surprises. Despite the rain, temperatures in fall in Zagreb are mild.
In September, average lows are around 10°C (50°F), while average highs can reach 22°C (71.6°F). In November, temperatures drop drastically, with average lows of 1.4°C (35°F) to average highs of 8.9°C (48°F).
Where to stay in Zagreb?
There are plenty of great options for boutique hotels in Zagreb, and at affordable prices too.
Though the name sounds stately, the design of this boutique hotel in Zagreb is modern and minimal. There are just 7 rooms at Hotel President, so booking in advance is a must.
Each room has a garden view, and the location’s ideal for exploring the sights of the Upper Town. Hotel President is also close to Britanski Trg (British Square). It has a fabulous outdoor market that’s been here for almost a century.
With super soft comfy beds, and just 450 yards from the Old Town, Hotel 9 is an excellent boutique choice.
Individually-styled rooms, and with breakfast served on the roof terrace, you can start, and end, your day right here. Public transport is right by the hotel, ready to take you to the top attractions in Zagreb.
The skyline in Zagreb, Croatia – fall European breaks
9. Nice, France
The capital city of the French Riviera is typically associated with long, lazy days of summer. And while it has all the trappings of the perfect summer break, fall is a better time to visit.
It’s a place where you can get your dose of autumn sunshine and enjoy the sights — just without the crowds.
Temperatures in mid to late September can range from 20°C (68°F) to a very warm 25°C (77°F). It’s ideal weather for a stroll along the Promendade des Anglais or even a beach day.
The park at Castle Hill
Fall and parks go together like fine wine and cheese. And when visiting Nice in autumn, I’d base my starting point at Castle Hill (Parc de la Colline du Château).
The most famous public park in Nice can get busy, but don’t let that put you off from visiting. Views from Castle Hill are panoramic and far reaching, not to mention being surrounded by the different shades come fall.
There are 426 steps to get to the top, which can take its toll especially when it’s hot. As luck would have it, there’s an elevator — built by the Germans during WW2 — that will take you up.
It’s free to the public, but a little tricky to find.
First, go to the Promenade de Anglais, and walk along until you see the sign ‘castel’ on the wall. Follow the curve of the boulevard until you see some yellow and orange buildings. You’ll know you’ve found it when you see the orange red arches, with the ‘Ascenseur’ sign above. Beneath it is the door to the elevator.
Get lost in the old town of Nice
Just behind the east end of the beach is the historic quarter. Don’t miss visiting the Cours Saleya (marketplace) and the famous flower quarter while here.
Towards the eastern end is where you’ll find the former townhouse of renowned French painter, Henri Matisse. It’s not open to the public, but is a great testament to Nice’s most famous resident.
The historic quarter’s also where you’ll find the old town (Vieux Nice). The space significantly changes from the wide openness of the beach and the Vieux Port to something more enclosed.
Tall houses, painted in bright colors, tower over the narrow-cobbled streets below. It bears a striking resemblance to the style of streets you find around Italy.
At the heart of the picturesque Place de Rossetti is the 18th century Nice Cathedral (Cathedrale Sainte-Reparate). Constructed in baroque style, it was built in honor of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and Saint Reparata.
Where can I stay in Nice?
The French Riviera is abundant with beautiful boutique hotels. Visiting during fall is a quieter season, which means lower prices for some of the top hotels in the city.
How does a modern boutique hotel in an 18th century building sound? Palais Saleya is well located for your stay in Nice, and just minutes from L’Opera beach and the Cours Saleya.
Rooms are big, bright and beautifully decorated at this fabulous property in the historic old town. Other nearby sights to Palais Saleya include Place Messena and the Coulee Verte.
Hotel Villa Victoria
Wake up to a garden view in one of the exquisite rooms at Hotel Villa Victoria. This period building’s within easy walking distance of the main sights of Nice, and has a serene floral garden.
Start your day with a freshly prepared breakfast on the terrace in the garden, and enjoy the villa’s peaceful surroundings.
Take a walk along the Promenade des Anglais in Nice in fall
10. Cluj-Napoca, Romania
Take a trip to the unofficial capital of the Transylvania region. Cluj-Napoca is the fourth largest city in Romania, located in the northwest of the country. Surrounded by forests and grasslands, fall is a great time to visit Cluj-Napoca.
Best attractions to see in Cluj-Napoca — fall in Europe
St Michael’s Church captures your attention as you enter the largest plaza in Cluj-Napoca, Unirii Square. This Gothic-style Catholic church is the second largest in Transylvania, boasting the highest tower in Romania (80m with the cross).
In front of the church is the statue of Matthias Corvinus on horseback. It’s a tribute to the locally-born King of Hungary, who ruled during the time of the Kingdom of Hungary. In fact, almost 50,000 Hungarians live in Cluj-Napoca, making it the second largest Hungarian community in Romania.
You can’t visit Cluj-Napoca in fall without making a trip to the Botanical Garden. Along with being a visitor attraction, the gardens also serve as a research and teaching centre for a university.
Spread across a mass of 14 hectares are around 10,000 plants from all over the world. There’s also a Japanese garden with a brook and Japanese-style house, plus a Roman garden with archaeological remains from Napoca.
Fall in Europe — Bánffy Castle
There are several castles in the surrounding countryside of Cluj-Napoca, which were built by rich medieval families of the time. The renowned Bánffy Castle, constructed by the Hungarian Bánffy family, encompasses renaissance, baroque, neoclassical and neo-gothic styles.
Bánffy Castle, in the village of Bontida, is around 20 miles (32km) from the city center. The castle opens every day from 10am to 8pm* and tickets costs 3 RON* per person.
What’s the weather like in fall in Cluj-Napoca?
When autumn arrives in Cluj-Napoca, temperatures can vary from 9°C (48°F) to 15°C (59°F), depending on the time you visit. Rainfall is also more frequent in autumn, so make sure to pack accordingly.
Where to stay in Cluj-Napoca
A modern hotel decked out in sleek and stylish décor, Hotel Platinia is my recommendation for Cluj-Napoca. Rooms are large with elegant furnishings, beds are spacious, and the service is first class.
It’s around 15 minutes to the historic old town on foot. Hotel Platinia is also close to Simion Banutiu Central Park and Cluj Arena.
Grand Hotel Italia
Swaying more towards luxury than boutique is the 5-star Grand Hotel Italia. This luxury hotel furnished in Italian Liberty style is a top choice for Cluj-Napoca. Marble flooring, and lavish bathrooms with mosaic tiles are just some of the features you can expect when booking here.
Grand Hotel Italia is located above the center of Cluj, giving its visitors unspoiled views of the city. The icing on the cake is the swimming pool that’s also on site.
The statue of Matthias Corvinus in Cluj Napoca, Romania
Which of these cities are you most drawn to? Are you inspired to book a fall break in Europe soon? Let me know in the comments below!
Till next time, happy boutique travels x
Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, which means I may receive a commission if you click a link and purchase something that I’ve recommended. Thank you for your support.
*prices correct at time of writing
Welcome to my site! I'm Lisa, founder of Following the Rivera. I write primarily for a ‘flashpacker’ audience, a demographic (late 20s onward) that enjoys glamping over camping and staying at boutique/luxury boutique hotels. Flashpackers also like to indulge in the local food and wine, cultural activities, as well as a spot of wellness on their travels. Want to know more? Read on....