Want the best of both worlds – an extended weekend in a city abuzz with history, art and food, but also the happy feeling of the sun on your back as you ebb from boutique hotel to cafe to cathedral square?

Head towards France, Spain and Italy, where summer still reigns. Or further to Croatia.

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Madrid, Spain

There is never a bad time to visit Spain’s urban kingpin, but a trip this September means a chance to go to the Prado (museodelprado.es) in its bicentenary year. Spain’s great art museum is going semi-Dutch at present. Its latest exhibition – which hangs work by Vermeer and Rembrandt alongside glories by Velazquez – will run until September 29.

Sun spot: El Retiro – one of Europe’s loveliest parks, with its fountains and monuments.

Valencia, Spain

Valencia, Spain
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Spain’s third-largest city is a superb alternative to its second – lacking the distinct air of overtourism that increasingly clings to Barcelona but providing plenty of attractions. The Llotja de la Seda, its Unesco-listed silk exchange, speaks of the rich trade links of the 15th century; the striking City of Arts and Sciences (cac.es) makes eyes only at the future.

Sun spot: Playa de la Malvarrosa, Valencia’s main beach, 5km east of the centre.

Marseille, France

Marseille, France
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Marseille is the swarthy antidote to the idea that France’s south coast is all luxe indolence. There are seafood eateries galore on the Vieux Port, its museum of European civilisation (mucem.org) is mulling the art of photography via a Fabrique des Illusions exhibition until Sept 29, and the Calanques gorges (calanques-parcnational.fr) are a taxi ride away.

Sun spot: Plage des Catalans, a small but popular beach on the south side of the harbour.

Bastia, France

One way to ensure French sunshine in September is to head to Corsica. Hitched to the north-east coast, Bastia, the second city, is an intriguing place to spend a few days

Sun spot: A table on the Vieux Port. Try Le Colomba (facebook.com/Lecolomba2b).

Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon, Portugal
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Portugal’s capital revels in culture at the Museu Colecao Berardo (which hosts works by Picasso and Pollock; en.museuberardo.pt) and the Museu Nacional de Arte Antiga (which looks back to the likes of Durer and Holbein; museudearteantiga.pt) – but you can also be at the seaside, at Cascais, in an hour by train.

Sun spot: Any restaurant with a Tagus riverside terrace – like Monte Mar (mmlisboa.pt).

Zadar, Croatia

Zadar, Croatia
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Think Dubrovnik – peninsula position, orange rooftops – but remove the crush of people, and you have Zadar, Croatia’s oldest city. Its history sings in its Roman forum – with the ninth-century St Donatus church next to it. Now you can also enjoy the present, via its open-air cinema festival (facebook.com/kinozonazadar; until Sept 22).

Sun spot: Zadar’s 16th-century walls – a Unesco site, perfect for an afternoon of ambling.

Pula, Croaita

Zadar’s Croatian colleague ups the dose of Ancient Rome by playing host to arguably the finest first-century amphitheatre anywhere outside Italy (ami-pula.hr). The joy of visiting this Istrian city in September is that the days are still hot enough to make a ferry ticket to the Brijuni archipelago – 14 islands just offshore – a worthy purchase (np-brijuni.hr).

Sun spot: Veliki Brijun, the largest of the islands – the beach at Verige Bay in particular.

Trieste, Italy

A city that has all the Adriatic seafront of Venice, but none of the crowds, Trieste can claim to be Italy’s coffee capital. Indeed, this year marks the 300th anniversary of the free-port status that placed it at the forefront of Europe’s 18th-century coffee boom. Caffe Tommaseo (caffetommaseo.it), its oldest coffee house (1830), is a place to sip at the story.

Sun spot: The Barcola shoreline, north of town, with the Castello di Miramare at its end.

Bari, Italy

Bari, Italy
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The Puglian capital is a merrily cluttered city with a 12th-century castle (musei.puglia.beniculturali.it) to check out. But if you’d prefer to keep things Italian, the region’s glorious coast beckons to the south-east.

Sun spot: The marina, where you can chill out at Zonno Ricevimenti (zonnoricevimenti.it).

The Sunday Telegraph