Travel time from St Pancras: 2 hours 15 minutes
A trip to Paris is always a good idea, but autumn is one of the best times to visit, when the locals return from their summer holidays and the big tourist attractions aren’t as busy. During August and December, lots of restaurants and galleries close for the holidays, making September to November one of the best times to visit. On Saturday 1st October, the city is holding its annual Nuit Blanche event when several exhibitions and events will be open all night for free, Paris will be lit up with neon lights, and public transport will stay open until the early hours. During the day, once you’ve hit a street-corner coffee shop – you can typically find espressos or chocolat chaud for as little as €2 – visit Fontainebleau (the smaller sister to Versailles), which looks particularly beautiful in the autumn colour. The wine harvesting process also starts in September and October. Paris has dozens of vineyards dotted around the city, including Clos Montmartre hidden behind the Sacré-Coeur. The annual Montmartre harvest festival of wine takes place in early October.
AFFORDABLE: Hôtel Les Deux Gares
This four-star hotel is in Little India, in between two of Paris’s biggest stations – Gare de l’Est and Gare du Nord. Offering fantastic value for money, Hôtel Les Deux Gares was designed by Luke Edward Hall, hence the bold and bright interiors. Rooms are divided into three colour schemes: olive and lemon, blue and scarlet or lilac and pea green, with a few calmer shades thrown in. There’s a daily changing menu at Café Les Deux Gares, plus a bar for post-sightseeing drinks.
Rooms from £130 per night.
Visit HotelDeuxGares.com
LUXE: Hôtel Madame Rêve
Hôtel Madame Rêve opened at the end of last year and has already established itself as the place to see and be seen. Housed in a 19th-century post office building on Rue du Louvre, there are 82 rooms and suites offering views of the Eiffel Tower and Notre-Dame, as well as two restaurants and a rooftop terrace. The interiors are seriously slick – expect warm décor with oak furniture, floor-to-ceiling windows and modern decorative accents. 
Rooms from £330 per night.
Visit MrAndMrsSmith.com
Travel time from St Pancras: 3 hours 50 minutes
Filled with cultural delights, excellent restaurants and independent boutiques, as well as cycle routes and canal tours, Amsterdam has all the makings of a memorable trip. Its canals and gingerbread-coloured houses were made for autumn, when the city is covered in golden foliage. Whether you explore the city on foot, bike or boat, there are several sites to tick off the list, including the Canal Ring surrounding Amsterdam’s Old Town. It’s now a Unesco World Heritage site home to museums, monuments and beautiful architecture. Elsewhere, the Nine Streets are brimming with cool shops and cafés, as well as art galleries and vintage stores, while the vast 120-acre Vondelpark is one of the city’s most popular outdoor spots. Be sure to try a traditional slice of apple pie topped with whipped cream at one of the many cafés, and book tickets to Museum Night, which welcomes guests into the city’s most famous institutions after dark.
AFFORDABLE: Sonder Park House
Rental platform Sonder has a range of chic accommodation options for all budgets, including Park House in the in the upmarket Oud-Zuid neighbourhood. Choose from single, double and deluxe rooms, all of which are light and bright with simple, chic décor. Vondelpark is a two-minute walk away, as is P.C. Hooftstraat – which is lined with designer shops.
Rooms from £110 per night.
Visit Sonder.com
LUXE: The Dylan
In the Nine Streets shopping area, overlooking the Keizersgracht canal, The Dylan is ideally situated for a weekend of exploring. Rooms are simple yet stylish, with four types to choose from – Loft, Loxura, Amber and Serendipity – as well as your pick of a canal, atrium or garden view. For a leisurely morning coffee or pre-dinner drink, take a seat in the hotel’s brasserie courtyard and enjoy the summer sunshine. 
Rooms from £250 per night.
Visit DylanAmsterdam.com
Travel time from St Pancras: 1 hour 20 minutes
If you’d rather bypass the Parisian crowds, head to Lille instead. Whether you’re an art lover or not, an afternoon spent at Palais Des Beaux-Arts never disappoints. A fine arts museum, it houses an extensive selection of work by both established and lesser-known artists. History buffs should take a trip to the Citadel. A military base built by King Louis XIV, it’s open to the public on select days for guided tours. In Vieux-Lille, the streets are peppered with luxurious delis, charming boutiques and wine bars offering some of the country’s best bottles – Au Gre Du Vin also serves up platters of local cheese. Otherwise, Rue de Gand has some of the city’s best restaurants and cafés, as well as bars and the city’s opera house.
AFFORDABLE: Mama Shelter Lille 
Regular SL readers will know we love Mama Shelter’s affordable accommodation for a fun weekend with the girls. Its Lille outpost is no exception – guests can stay in one of 112 rooms, complete with plush bedding and modern en-suite bathrooms, and hang out at the lively restaurant, bar and terrace with its fire pit. During the evenings, expect DJ sessions and live music. 
Rooms from £75 per night.
Visit MamaShelter.com
LUXE: Clarance Hotel Lille
Easily one of the smartest spots in the city, Clarance Hotel is housed in a former 18th-century mansion in the Old Town. There are 19 simple and elegant rooms with marble en-suites and luxury toiletries. Here, the main attraction is its fine dining restaurant La Table, which holds one Michelin star thanks to head chef Thibaut Gamba’s modern approach to French cuisine. 
Rooms from £150 per night.
Visit ClaranceHotel.com
Travel time from St Pancras: 1 hour 48 minutes
An underrated city break, Brussels is brimming with cool shops, restaurants and quirky bars, along with a decent dose of sightseeing opportunities. For a culture hit, head to the Grand Place. A Unesco World Heritage Site, this cobbled square is buzzing with events during the autumn months, including the Festival of Lights in late October. Shopping wise, explore the Galeries Royales Saint-Hubert – a 19th century shopping arcade – or make a beeline for one of the many flea markets dotted around the city. For some open space, head to Parc de Bruxelles, the largest urban park right in the city centre, or Tervuren Park which is particularly beautiful in the autumn. Belgium may be known for its chocolate, but don’t disregard dinner while in the capital city. Enjoy supper at Noordzee, a fishmonger which serves creative finger food, or for something a little smarter, book a table at Michelin-starred Comme Chez Soi. Every October, visitors also flock to the city for the MegaVino Expo wine festival.
AFFORDABLE: Hygge
Brussels has a range of affordable accommodation options, but we like Scandi-inspired Hygge for a chic city break. Cosy rooms range from singles to quadruple rooms – ideal for a fun girls’ trip – and most have lovely views of the hotel’s gardens or traditional Belgian architecture. There isn’t a restaurant on site, but there are plenty of brasseries in the Ixelles neighbourhood. 
Rooms from £70 per night.
Visit HyggeHotel.be
LUXE: The Hoxton
The Hoxton is set to open a hotel in Brussels this autumn. Housed in IBM’s former Belgian HQ just north of the city centre, it will have the brand’s signature 70s-inspired rooms as well as a bar and restaurant, and a rooftop terrace. Guests can take a two-minute walk to Botanique, Brussels’ botanical gardens, which hosts regular concerts. 
Rooms from £150 per night.
Visit TheHoxton.com
Travel time from St Pancras: 4hours, including one change at Brussels
Spanning the Rhine river, this 2,000-year-old German city is alive with history and culture. The world-famous Gothic cathedral with its gargoyles and twin spires is awe-inspiring – climb the 533 steps of the south tower for some incredible views. Fans of modern and pop art shouldn’t miss Museum Ludwig which houses Picassos and Warhols. Delve further back into history with a visit to the Roman-Germanic Museum, which is filled with statues, mosaics and jewellery from prehistoric, Roman and medieval times. If you fancy some shopping, Schildergasse is the place for high-street brands or head to the boutiques of Ehrenstrasse. Cologne has some of the best Christmas markets in Europe – most are open from mid-November if you want to sample glühwein and other German treats.
AFFORDABLE: Ruby Ella Hotel
Sandwiched between Cologne’s Old Town and the Belgian Quarter, Ruby Ella makes a great base for first timers. The hotel has cool, retro-inspired interiors and there’s a 24-hour bar in the lobby. Rooms are simple and modern, and you can also hire a couple of the hotel’s bikes to explore the city. 
Rooms from £85 per night.
Visit Ruby-Hotels.com 
LUXE: Excelsior Hotel Ernst am Dom
If you’d rather stay somewhere a little more upmarket, Excelsior Hotel Ernst am Dom is in an excellent location opposite Cologne Cathedral. Guests can choose from luxe rooms with cathedral views or spacious suites with separate living areas. You can also book a table at the fine dining restaurant Hanse Stube, or try Asian dishes at the Michelin-starred Taku.
Rooms from £190 per night.
Visit ExcelsiorHotelErnst.com
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