Escape the encroaching autumn gloom with a European city break — but where to go? If you’ve absorbed the cultural highlights of the continent’s big-hitters, you may be in need of a fresh take on the two-night city break. Happily, these eight alternative autumn destinations deliver cultural cool in abundance

1 Salzburg
Salzburg may be world-renowned as the birthplace of Mozart, but there’s more to the city than traces of Austria’s illustrious prodigy. With baroque architecture stretching to the city’s alpine suburbs, and a wealth of cultural highlights to discover including the dramatic Festung Hohanesalzburg and Salzburger Dom, Salzburg is a worthy contender for the crown of Europe’s prettiest destination. 

Steal a visit to Salzburg this autumn, and you can enjoy the Salzburger Kulturtage, a series of concerts and performances taking place at historic venues across the city. If you aren’t serious about classical music and theatre, don’t miss the unforgettable Almabtrieb ceremony, which takes place in early October.

Baroque architecture stretches Salzburg’s alpine suburbs

2 Cologne
If you can check Munich, Berlin and Hamburg from your list of German cities visited, Cologne ought to be your next port of call. Ancient and beautiful, this 2,000-year old city is a jewel of Germany’s celebrated Rhineland, and one that showcases its depth of heritage through countless cultural centres and historic sites — not least the imposing spires of the mighty Kölner Dom (Cologne Cathedral).

European river cruise specialists, Scenic, believe the best way to discover Cologne is from the Rhine, which dissects the city from south to north. Take a boat trip along the Rhine, and you’ll see all of Cologne’s historic highlights — including the Kölner Dom and the Old City — in a single trip. 

Ancient and beautiful, Cologne is a jewel of Germany’s celebrated Rhineland

3 Belgrade
Celts, Slavs, Romans, Ottomans and Byzantines have all contributed to the rich history of Belgrade, Serbia’s enigmatic capital. Lying on the frontier of the Orient and the West for a millennia, the city was once Europe’s most important strategic settlement, and traces of its past can be seen from Kalemegdan Park to Republic Square.

If history’s not your game, don’t worry. Belgrade excels in other areas too, and is fast becoming one of Europe’s favourite foodie hotspots. At the heart of this exploding culinary scene are the Belgrade Splavovi — a series of floating rafts housing restaurants, bars and nightclubs. The most popular ‘splavs’ are found in the Staro Sajmište district, on the banks of the Sava river. You can find out more about the Splavovi on the Belgrade My Way website.

Belgrade is fast becoming one of Europe’s foodie hotspots

4 Nuremberg
If you’re looking for a romantic autumn city break, forget Paris, Vienna or Rome and try Nuremberg. With its fairy tale good looks, the Bavarian capital evokes dreamy nostalgia in abundance, and boasts a lazy café culture that even the City of Light would struggle to top.

During the autumn months, and in the countdown to the festive period, several large seasonal markets and festivals transform the city. The best of these is the Nürnberger Altstadtfest, or Old Town Festival — a two-week event with an enviable concert programme, masses of delicious street-food and of course, keg after keg of Bavaria’s finest beers and ales.

Large seasonal markets and festivals transform Nuremberg in the autumn

5 Bratislava
Being a stone’s throw from one of the icons of Europe, Vienna, it’s easy to dismiss Bratislava in favour of its palatial Austrian counterpart. But dismiss it at your peril, as the Slovakian capital promises a continental getaway like no other.

For those that like to dine and drink alfresco, Bratislava is ideal whatever the season. Venture to any outdoor terrace in the city, and you’ll be given a heavy quilt to weather the cold warm and ensure you can enjoy the majestic sights and sounds of the city. During your visit don’t miss the jumbled streets of the Old Town, or a boat trip to the imposing Castle Devín on the banks of the Danube.

For those that like to dine and drink alfresco, Bratislava is ideal whatever the season

6 Saint Petersburg
Despite poet Alexander Pushkin referring to Saint Petersburg as the ‘Window to Europe’, Russia’s second city remains distinctly Russian — with bold architectural statements and all the pomp of the capital, Moscow. Yet the city has a charm and mystery that make it one of the most evocative destinations on the continent, thanks in part to its weird White Nights time zone.

Being sure to wrap up warm, start your tour of Saint Petersburg at the prestigious Hermitage Museum, arguably one of the most important heritage centres in the world. Next, make for the oddly titled Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood, before heading to the Money Honey bar to knock back a few shorts of that most Russian staple, vodka.

Saint Petersburg has bold architectural statements and all the pomp of Moscow

7 Lyon
Given its status as the culinary capital of the world, there’s no guesses what you’ll spend most time doing during a city break in Lyon. Gastronomy is taken mightily seriously in this charming French metropolis, so bring your appetite and prepare to feast on some of the finest cuisine France — nay, the world — has to offer.

Food should come top of your agenda during a Lyon city break, and we’d recommend starting your culinary sojourn in Café des Fédérations — provided you aren’t vegetarian, that is. This timeless Lyonnaise bouchon serves some of the meatiest fare in the English-speaking world, including a dish of pig fat, fried in pig fat and complemented by a pig’s brain. And for afters, how about a traditional French macaroon? You’ll find lots at the Quai Saint-Antoine market.

Food should come top of your agenda during a Lyon city break

8 Porto
Refusing to bid adieu to the warmth of the summer? Make for the ancient seaboard city of Porto, and revel in Portugal’s lengthy Indian summer. Located at the mouth of the Atlantic, Portugal’s historic second-city is too-often overlooked, and the perfect place to sightsee with none of the obligatory seasonal layers.

One of Porto’s greatest assets is its untouched antiquity, with vast swathes of the city centre evoking a sense of stepping back in time. During your visit to the city’s World Heritage designated Ribeira district, be sure to visit the historic Lello bookshop, which first opened in 1906. We’d also recommend taking an exclusive tour of Caves Ferreira, one of Porto’s oldest Port wine cellars, where it’s possible to sample the city’s world-famous export.

Make for the ancient city of Porto and revel in Portugal’s lengthy Indian summer

In collaboration with Scenic Cruises

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