Fall is in the air, bringing with it the scent of change and horizons new.
With the school crowds back at base and airline flash sales in full flow, autumn is a golden time for adventure.
But when it comes to European city breaks, think beyond the obvious for the greatest treasures of all.
Sidestep the tourist magnets of Paris, Florence and Prague in favour of untapped cities off the mainstream trail, and it’ll be well worth the extra diversion.
For hidden squares, unsung views and secluded river bars, look no further than the these beauties for a long weekend escape:
Why go? Poland’s beating cultural soul is a delight to ramble around, with a rich sense of history, eclectic restaurants and a young, artistic feel to it. Wander through the cobbled alleyways of the Old Town to discover a land of ancient legends, with Baroque towers and Renaissance turrets looming on the skyline.
Pop by Rynek Główny, Europe’s biggest market square, to soak in the spirit of Kraków before rubbing shoulders with the creative crowds at Restauracja Pod Baranem over a warming bowl of goulash soup.
Don’t miss: A cruise through Nowa Huta, Kraków’s iconic communist district, in an old-school Eastern Bloc Trabant, with lunch in a nuclear bunker.
Why go? Forget the crowds atRome’s Coliseum – Sicily’s capital is the place to gulp down a gallon-load of la dolce vita minus the selfie-seeking hordes. This sun-dappled coastal city stays warm well into late October, with a sense of character that is markedly different from its mainland cousin.
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Mooch around the colourful squares and markets to get a feel for this friendly Mediterranean hub or head along the coast to the fishing village of Aspra for a beautiful beach and some of the best ice-cream on the island.
Don’t miss: A masterclass in the home of a Palermo chef, as you learn to make Sicilian specialities such as arancini and pasta alla norma with sauteed aubergine.
Why go? Harbourside Helsinki is less well-known than its Scandi neighbours Copenhagen and Stockholm, so you’ll have less competition as you stroll its handsome streets, complete with sleek design credentials and a burgeoning food scene.
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To cut straight to the action, make a beeline for the capital’s waterfront with its tree-lined avenues, yachts and bright neo-classical buildings. A taste of the city’s hipster vibe awaits at Bryggeri Helsinki, an artisan brewery with hand-crafted ales and delicious seasonal dishes.
Don’t miss: A warming bathe at Allas Sea Pool, one of Helsinki’s leading public baths overlooking the Baltic Sea with sweeping views of the cityscape.
Why go? Beautiful Bratislava is sandwiched between Vienna and Budapest but it’s much smaller than either city, with a laid-back vibe and plenty of bustling, atmospheric cafés where you can stop for a snifter of local honey wine.
The terracotta rooftops of the Old Town are a playground for explorers, peppered with castles, palaces and the elegant tree-lined Danube. Take a pew amid the rustic décor of Modrá Hviezda for a taste of bryndzové halušky, the national dish of gnocchi-like dumplings served with sheep cheese and a sprinkling of bacon.
Don’t miss: An out-of-town trip to Bešeňová, three hours north, for hot spring bathing and hiking in the Low Tatras Mountains.
Why go? The gateway to Norway’s spectacular fjords, hip and happening Bergen is well worth a trip in its own right. This UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy does a fine line in seafood; rock up at one of the restaurants lining the scenic waterfront to try smoked trout, gravadlax or mølje (cod served with liver and roe).
You can also browse the little boutiques of Bryggen, the Old Wharf district, sate your creative streak on Bergen’s “art street” or take the cable car up Fløyen mountain for the ultimate Insta snap of the city stretching out below.
Don’t miss: A pit-stop in Apollon, Bergen’s achingly cool bar/record shop with draughts brewed in birch sap, juniper branch and other experiential flavours.
Why go? Within easy reach of Croatia and the northeast coast of Italy, Ljubljana is perfectly placed for a long weekend with a beach hit either side. One of the world’s top green capitals, it is a leafy delight of a city with plenty of pavement cafés and the much-loved Tivoli Park.
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Make like the student locals and grab a bike to glide your way along Ljubljanica river, stopping at Čajna hiša CHA tea room in the Old Town for a warming cup of Oolong.
Don’t miss: A pub crawl by night is a great way to familiarise yourself with the Slovenia’s thriving microbrewery scene, as you hunt down off-radar beer dens and try wine from some of the oldest-producing vines in Europe (rarely exported and all the better for it).
Photos: Flash Pack, Shutterstock