As the warmer days of September transition into the brisk afternoons of October, leaves begin to change and coat the sidewalks, menus swap lemonades for pumpkin spice lattes, and tank tops and sandals are switched out for sweaters and scarves. October is a beautiful month to travel, when you can—and should—take advantage of the colors, smells, and sights of harvest season, festival season, and the chance to spend those last few comfortable days outdoors.
Fall foliage peaks in October, especially in the eastern United States. Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains is a favorite for road trippers—leaves here turn vibrant shades of red, yellow, and orange and the landscape exudes a golden glow. Acadia National Park, in Maine, is another great destination, where visitors can take hikes into the mountains to spot wildlife, colorful surrounding forests, and distant Bar Harbor.
But there’s more outdoor adventure to be had outside New England, before the winds of winter creep in. Queenstown, on New Zealand’s South Island, is a mecca for thrill-seekers thanks to nearby Lake Wakatipu and the surrounding Southern Alps—ideal for boating, hiking, biking, or even skydiving. Meanwhile, over in the British Isles, rainy Ireland is at its most lush, and visitors can take it all in on a drive down its scenic western coast.
October brings festival season to many of America’s beloved towns. California’s Napa and Sonoma Valleys kick into high gear with parties and food gatherings that celebrate the arrival of the harvest. Nashville, another favorite fall destination, is lauded for events honoring its musical roots. Further west, thousands of people gather in New Mexico for Albuquerque’s annual balloon fiesta. Of course, art is a hit year-round. Cities like Taipei and Istanbul are hot new destinations for checking out contemporary art shows and pop-up galleries.
An industrial metropolis once shrouded in smog, Taipei has emerged into a global city, with an efficient transportation system and restaurants, architecture, and an arts scene to rival Singapore’s. This 2016 World Design Capital is taking its designation very seriously: OMA is putting the finishing touches on the new Taipei Performing Arts Centre and galleries are showcasing more regional artists. Meanwhile, the cuisine is considered to be some of the best in Asia. Din Tai Fung is an institution for its legendary dumplings, while the unique presentations of traditional Taiwanese hot pot at Lau Jio are a favorite of director Ang Lee.
Skyline Drive, a leisurely route that winds its way past the pastoral Blue Ridge Mountains in Shenandoah National Park, is considered one of America’s best road trips, especially in the fall, when the creeper vines and dogwoods transform. There are a number of hikes along the way for those looking to get their blood flowing. After your fill of nature, head east to the historic capital, where brisk days can be spent touring monuments from the Civil War and the city’s numerous gastropubs and craft breweries, before bedding down at the art-focused Quirk Hotel.
The tropical city of Cartagena is warm year-round, and though October is considered its rainiest month, rarely does it pour all day. This beloved port town is famous for its Spanish-colonial architecture and local culture, from Caribbean music and dance to modern art and some of the best ceviche in Latin America. Head to Bocagrande, where design hotels and beautiful beaches draw attractive crowds, or take a stroll through El Centro’s cobbled lanes, lined with buzzy cocktail lounges, or along the 17th-century walls overlooking the sea. If you’ve got time, Cartagena is the perfect jumping-off point for exploration of this vibrant nation.
Acadia National Park, Maine
When it comes to seeking out autumn’s best foliage, Acadia National Park, in coastal Maine, is considered one of the best places to go. Bike the carriage roads or hike its many forested trails, which look out over the Atlantic, Bar Harbor, as well as the islands’ many inlets. The park is also known for its abundance of wildlife, from red fox to seals and the rare bald eagle. Through mid-October, bird-watching enthusiasts enjoy Hawk Watch season on top of Cadillac Mountain, where peregrine falcons can be spotted riding the air currents.
Everything comes together for Istanbul in October: low rates, fewer crowds, and spectacular weather. A blossoming contemporary art scene has recently taken hold of the city, from September’s Biennial to the gallery spaces popping up around the Beyoğlu district, not to mention the surge of high-end hotels. The place to stay right now: the glamorous Soho House Istanbul, occupying the former American Consulate, complete with three restaurants, a rooftop pool, and the exclusive Embassy Club, where the city’s starlets hold court.
That Nashville was voted 2015’s Destination of the Year by T+L readers speaks to the city’s endless appeal. Music City is beautiful any time of year, but October might be best to enjoy its cooler temperatures, colorful leaves, and fall festivals such as the Independent Music Fest, which spotlights both emerging and established bands and songwriters. Seasonal events aside, Music City has endless opportunities to entertain, from restaurants like Husk and Hattie B’s to music meccas including the Country Music Hall of Fame and the legendary Bluebird Cafe, where Taylor Swift was first discovered.
Peru’s coastal capital is a study in contrasts, where pre-Columbian heritage coexist with a contemporary art scene, high-fashion boutiques, and progressive restaurants churning out some of South America’s most exciting dishes. October signals the tail end of Peru’s dry season as well as the Lord of the Miracles annual procession, one of the largest in the Americas. Honoring the Peruvian image of a black Christ painted in colonial times (which survived an earthquake in 1746), believers clad in purple process through the streets as vendors peddle food and candy. Another must: a Pisco sour and ceviche at any picantería in Miraflores.
Napa and Sonoma Valley, California
Fall is the perfect time to visit California wine country, when the summer crowds have finally dissipated and harvests have just begun. Take stock of all that’s happening in Sonoma to celebrate the season, from October harvest parties to hikes and pig roasts. Over in Napa, a new scene has emerged, where wineries and hotels have been reinvented into next-generation spaces of design. Cases in point: the LEED-certified Odette Estate, with its glassed-in visitor’s center and living roof; Snøhetta’s new Modernist touch to Thomas Keller’s venerable French Laundry; and Charlie Palmer’s new Harvest Inn, complete with a restaurant and bar.
Festival season overtakes Ireland’s cities come fall. In October, Belfast hosts its International Arts Festival; Cork hosts a Guinness Jazz Festival; and Dublin, the capital, celebrates its annual Theatre Festival. However, rainfall is also common this time of year—but what better way to take a tour of Ireland than when it’s at its most green and lush? The scenic Wild Atlantic Way road traces the western coastline, passing some of Ireland’s most bucolic regions like Connemara and the picture-perfect Dingle peninsula. Just be sure to bring your jacket.
October’s rising temperatures drive away many tourists from Botswana, but those that brave the heat will be duly rewarded. Dry season is prime time for big game safaris, when vegetation is sparse and the Okavango Delta’s floodplains recede to concentrated watering holes, where high densities of wildlife—elephants, lion, giraffe, zebra and buffalo, to name a few—gather. As for where to say, we love the intimacy of the four-tent Selinda Explorers Camp as well as San Camp, overlooking Makgadikgadi Pans National Park (a Taylor Swift favorite.)
Santa Fe, New Mexico
It doesn’t get more American Southwest than Santa Fe, awash in clay-colored adobe homes, boutiques selling pottery and art, and quirky locals. The sweet spot to visit is between September and November, when the temperatures are comfortable, chile harvest season gets underway, and the festival circuit is at an all-time high. October, especially, packs a double-whammy: the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival highlights New Mexican and American films (past guests have included George R.R. Martin and Gena Rowlands), while, a quick drive south, over 700,000 spectators gather for the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta—the largest of its kind.
Queenstown, New Zealand
Spring has sprung in the Southern Hemisphere, and the ski crowds are wrapping up their season on New Zealand’s South Island. You’ll still see snow on the mountains that frame this resort town edging the Southern Alps, but flowers will already be in full bloom, especially in the Queenstown Gardens. In Queenstown, often referred to as the adrenaline capital of the world, visitors bungee jump, skydive, canyon swing, mountain bike, and paraglide. For a more relaxing experience, spend a week at the Aro Ha Wellness Retreat, where yoga and meditation classes are held against a Lord of the Rings backdrop.