11 beautiful cities in Europe to admire autumn foliage

Sep 24, 2019

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Autumn is finally on its way, and if you’d like to admire the changing colours of the leaves in an idyllic, magical setting, Europe is the place to be. The land of castles, scenic canals, ancient forests and truly beautiful city parks, these European capitals are all close enough to the U.K. for a 36-hour getaway. Of course, you can always spend a week exploring and taking in the stunning sights of the season.

Here are the best destinations to admire the changing leaves in Europe this season.

Amsterdam, Netherlands

Amsterdamin the Netherlands. (Photo by Christina Merkai/EyeEm/Getty Images)
Amsterdamin the Netherlands. (Photo by Christina Merkai/EyeEm/Getty Images)

While there are many rural areas of the Netherlands to admire fall foliage, Amsterdam has one of the highest concentrations of trees in Europe — hundreds of thousands of them. And, the city itself can give you the best of both worlds: nightlife, food and culture in addition to tree-lined canals, where you can gaze at the reflections of leaves mirrored in the water.

Getting there: Getting to Amsterdam (AMS) nonstop from the U.K. is exceptionally easy — and cheap. Fly on airlines such as EasyJet, KLM, British Airways, Vueling, Flybe or Level for as little as £15 one-way on select dates in autumn.

Madrid, Spain

Palacio de Cristal in Madrid. (Photo by Eve Livesey/Getty Images)
Palacio de Cristal in Madrid. (Photo by Eve Livesey/Getty Images)

Madrid’s Retiro Park is already one of the most gorgeous city parks in Europe, but even more so during autumn. The overhang along the Crystal Palace — a towering, regal structure made almost entirely of glass — is particularly stunning, as you can admire the leaves through the glass ceiling as the sunlight streams in.

Getting there: The U.K. is well connected to Madrid by a number of airlines, both full-fare and low-cost. But you may as well enjoy the less than 2-hour flight on Iberia’s A330, which flies back and forth between Madrid (MAD) and London (LHR) alongside the airline’s A319s and A320s — so make sure to check the aircraft before booking. And if you really want to fly in style, the British Airways A350-1000 operates the route between Oct. 1 and 7 (click here to view timetable).

With the new variable Avios pricing options, you can pay as little as little 17,750 Avios plus £0.50 tax or 6,800 Avios plus £70.50 tax — but the perfect compromise is 12,750 Avios plus £25.50 tax.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Edinburgh Castle in Scotland. (Photo by georgeclark/Getty Images)
Edinburgh Castle in Scotland. (Photo by georgeclark/Getty Images)

While the lowlands and the highlands have some seriously stunning foliage, it’s pretty incredible to see the Edinburgh castle surrounded by hues of orange, yellow and ochre. The Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh is especially charming during autumn, when many of its 3,500 trees are transformed into a blaze of colour.

Getting there: Ryanair, EasyJet, British Airways and Flybe fly frequent daily nonstops between London and Edinburgh (EDI). EasyJet flies from Bristol (BRS) and Flybe from Manchester (MAN).

Bern, Switzerland

Bern in Switzerland. (Photo by Markus Thoenen/Getty Images)
Bern in Switzerland. (Photo by Markus Thoenen/Getty Images)

Wandering along the tree-lined Aare River is perfect for leaf-peeping. And if you want a real woodsy feel, visit the Botanical Gardens of Bern. The trails weave through two hectares of land, covered with thousands of trees and rare Swiss flora of all kinds. A stroll over the Kornhaus bridge gives you sky-high views of all the orange and red hues of the season.

Getting there: Although Bern does have a tiny airport (BRN), it’s best to fly first to Zurich (ZRH) on an airline like Swiss or EasyJet, and then take a train (about an hour journey) to Bern.

Loire Valley, France

Azay-le-Rideau Castle in the Loire Valley, France. (Photo by Neirfy/Shutterstock)
Azay-le-Rideau Castle in the Loire Valley, France. (Photo by Neirfy/Shutterstock)

If you prefer to combine château visits with autumn foliage while sipping light, fruity Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé wines, take a road trip through France’s Loire Valley. The rolling hills, picturesque manors and sprawling vineyards are truly a sight to see this season. Make a stop at the Domaine du Chaumont-Sur-Loire to enjoy the autumn festival (every day from Oct. 19 to Nov. 3) to enjoy seasonal activities, plus wicker-making workshops and elaborate autumnal plant scenes.

Getting there: Fly from London (STN) to Tours (TUF) for as little as £10 one-way. Or, fly to Nantes (NTE) nonstop from London (LGW) on EasyJet. Trains from Paris take a little over an hour to get to the region. Once there, rent a car to ensure you see as much as possible.

Gdansk, Poland

Oliwa Park in Poland. (Photo by nightman1965/Getty Images)
Oliwa Park in Poland. (Photo by nightman1965/Getty Images)

Autumn is the ideal time to indulge in some of Gdansk’s famous craft beer — a prize you can award yourself after walking the entire 10-hectare Oliwa Park, filled with more autumn shades than you might have imagined existed. For panoramic views of the Motlawa River, the rooftops of Old Town and autumn leafage, take a ride on the AmberSky, the 50-meter-high ferris wheel.

Getting there: Wizz Air and Ryanair both fly nonstop from London to Gdansk (GDN) from a few London hubs.

Black Forest, Germany

The Black Forest in Germany. (Photo by Funny Solution Studio / Shutterstock)
The Black Forest in Germany. (Photo by Funny Solution Studio / Shutterstock)

The site of many a Grimm fairy tale, the Black Forest is as mystical as it seems: endless, rolling hills, rushing rivers and trees galore. While many of the trees will change colour, these reddish, yellowed tones are juxtaposed with the deep evergreen of the fir and pine varieties, making for a truly breathtaking natural landscape. The Triberg Waterfalls shouldn’t be missed, as well as the picturesque towns of Calw and Freiburg.

Getting there: Eurowings, British Airways and EasyJet all operate nonstop flights from various London airports to Stuttgart (STR). From there, you can reach the Black Forest by car (about a two-hour drive).

Lake District, United Kingdom

Lake Districk in the Cumbria Mountains. (Photo by kodacrhome25/Getty Images)
Lake Districk in the Cumbria Mountains. (Photo by kodacrhome25/Getty Images)

You don’t have to stray too far from home to check out some of the most beautiful autumn colours in all of Europe The Lake District was recently declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, and you’ll avoid the summer crowds by visiting in autumn, which is an added bonus. Besides the medley of yellow, orange, red and brown foliage, make sure to look down at the red toadstools and fall fruits like crab apples or dark purple berries.

Getting there: The best way to reach the Lake District from various points in the U.K. is usually by train, especially if you are close to a metropolitan hub such as London. Driving is also an option. The closest airport is Manchester (MAN).

Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

Plitvice National Park. (Photo by www.tonnaja.com/Getty Images)
Plitvice National Park. (Photo by www.tonnaja.com/Getty Images)

Considering you can’t swim in the 16 lakes anyway, autumn is the most pleasant (and much less crowded and cheaper) time to visit Plitvice National Park. Seeing the rushing waterfalls surrounded by the autumnal tints of red, yellow and orange, as well as the changing foliage reflected in the lake water is truly a sight to behold. Make sure to spend time in both the upper and lower lakes, and go before November, when the higher lakes close for the winter season.

Getting there: Fly from London (LHR) to Zagreb (ZAG) on either British Airways or Croatia Air. EasyJet also flies from London (LTN) to Zadar (ZAD). From there, rent a car or take a bus to the National Park. Or, consider joining a group day trip.

Piedmont, Italy

Piedmont, Italy. (Photo by JuliaFlit/Getty Images)
Piedmont, Italy. (Photo by JuliaFlit/Getty Images)

Besides viewing the extensive mixture of copper, orange and red leaves gleaming through the morning fog, you can really go right into the fire of autumn by picking mushrooms in the Piedmont region, as well as other seasonal activities like chestnut picking and wine harvest festivals. Don’t miss the 89th edition of the International White Truffle Festival in Alba (weekends between Oct. 5 and Nov. 24), which features tastings, markets, parades and plenty of fall fun.

Getting there: Fly Ryanair from London (STN) to Turin (TRN) for as little as £10 one way. British Airways also flies to the Italian city from London Gatwick (LGW). Once there, rent a car to begin exploring the region.

Brugge, Belgium

Autumn in the canals of Brugge. (Photo by Berna Namoglu/EyeEm/Getty Images)
Autumn in the canals of Brugge. (Photo by Berna Namoglu/EyeEm/Getty Images)

Known as the Venice of Belgium, Brugge is picturesque in any season. But autumn is especially quaint, as the trees and plants in the Medieval city begin to change colour, and you can warm up afterward near a fireplace with hot cocoa in hand. (Brugge is known for its delicious chocolate.) You can see the city and changing leaves during a scenic canal tour, which carries you over the water past secret gardens and beautiful bridges.

Getting there: Brussels Airlines is the best way to get from London nonstop to Brussels (BRU). Once there, trains take about 40 minutes to get to Brugge.

Featured photo by DieterMeyrl/Getty Images.

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