Cooler temperatures, striking colors, smaller crowds—autumn is the perfect time to travel, and here are ten of the best fall trips, picked by National Geographic Traveler editors. Where do you want to go this fall? Share your travel plans—real or ideal—below. (See more trip ideas.)
Lavaux Vineyard Terraces, Switzerland
Photograph by Davide Erbetta, SIME
The Lavaux Vineyard Terraces blanket the lower mountain slopes along the northern shores of Lake Geneva. Each autumn, the 2,050 acres of ancient vineyards—established by Benedictine and Cistercian monks in the 11th century and protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 2007—attract hikers who walk and taste their way along the 21-mile Grand Traversée de Lavaux from Ouchy in Lausanne to Chateau de Chillon Castle. Yellow arrows mark the main path, which leads though working vineyards (Chasselas is the region’s predominant wine grape variety) and medieval villages, facilitating frequent refueling stops at local wine cellars, pubs, and restaurants. Saturdays through October 15, the Lavaux Panoramic wine tasting tourist train rolls—on tires, not tracks—through the villages of Chardonne, Chexbres, Rivaz, and St-Saphorin. A crisscross network of public and private railways makes it easy to explore the entire Lavaux region on foot or by bike. Or, if you’re up to the challenge, join the thousands of runners expected for the Lausanne Marathon on October 30, which follows the shore road between Lake Geneva and the terraced hillsides.
Pictured here: A couple walks through the Lavaux Vineyard Terraces along Lake Geneva in Switzerland.
Cannstatter Volkfest, Stuttgart, Germany
Photograph by Sascha Feuster and Thomas Meier
Munich’s Oktoberfest may be bigger, but Stuttgart’s Cannstatter Volkfest—billed as the world’s second largest beer-drinking event—is considered Germany’s more authentic celebration of local heritage and, of course, beer. Launched as an agricultural fair in 1818—a symbolic 78-foot-high “fruit column” pays homage to the past—the three-week festival (September 23-October 9, 2011) features live music, a re-created Alpine village, and carnival rides. The action centers on massive festival tents accommodating up to 5,000 revelers each. Between steins of pilsner, sample traditional Käsespätzle (Swabian noodles with cheese) and make time to retreat to the Stuttgart region’s terraced hillsides and natural mineral springs, as well as the nearby Black Forest. Recognized as a global car capital—both the Mercedes-Benz and Porsche museums are worth a visit—Stuttgart also is part of one of Germany’s largest wine growing regions. Sample this year’s vintage and homemade Swabian dishes at a cozy Besenwirtschaften or “Besa” (wine inn). Hosted by local farmers and vineyard owners in their dining rooms, kitchens, and gardens, these temporary restaurants only operate for four months between September and April, when they serve up some of the region’s freshest, homegrown fare.
Pictured here: A woman pours beer inside a wooden tent at the Cannstatter Volkfest in Stuttgart, Germany.
Emerald Coast, Florida
Photograph by Jim Vail, My Shot
Autumn along northwestern Florida’s 24-mile-long Emerald Coast brings fewer tourists and lower, “value season” rates to the wide, sugar-white beaches of Destin, Fort Walton, and Okaloosa Island. The summer-worthy temperatures (highs in the 80s, lows in the 60s) are ideal for swimming in clear, emerald-green Gulf of Mexico waters or for golfing the more than 1,080 manicured, championship holes. October’s monthlong Destin Fishing Rodeo draws more than 30,000 saltwater anglers to the self-proclaimed World’s Luckiest Fishing Village to compete for daily, weekly, and overall prizes. Watch the daily weigh-ins of king mackerel, marlin, sailfish, and other game fish on the docks at A.J.'s Seafood & Oyster Bar. Sample fresh-from-the-docks seafood at historic Staff’s Restaurant, the Emerald Coast’s first eatery, which is housed in a 1913 barrel-shaped Fort Walton warehouse and open daily for dinner. The signature Broiled Skillet—grouper, shrimp, scallops, and crabmeat stuffing drizzled with cheese—comes with baskets of fresh-baked wheat bread.
Pictured here:Boaters stop for a break in the green waters off Destin, Florida.
Photograph by Shari Lewis, Dispatch Photos
Ohio’s capital and largest city celebrates harvest season with a bounty of traditional fall festivals, farmers markets, and corn mazes. Pick your own apples (September) and pumpkins (October) at Lynd’s Fruit Farm in Pataskala, and, the first weekend in October (contingent on the harvest), jump in the barrel to stomp whole grapes at Via Vecchi Winery’s annual grape crush. Enjoy east-central Ohio’s spectacular fall colors by walking, biking, hiking, or camping at one of the 17 Columbus-area Metro Parks. The largest, Battelle Darby Creek in Galloway, covers more than 7,000 acres of flowering prairies, restored wetlands, and forests, and is home to diverse wildlife, including six female bison introduced to the park in February. In October, Columbus also hosts thousands of migratory birds at the Grange Insurance Audubon Center. The 72-acre Scioto River oasis, built on a reclaimed industrial waste site, is a ten-minute walk from downtown. Other areas to explore on foot include the brick-paved streets of the historic German Village neighborhood—originally settled by German immigrants in the mid-1800s—and the Short North Arts District, home to galleries, restaurants, pubs, and one of the hometown-favorite Jeni’s Splendid Ice Creams shops.
Pictured here: Customers pack a Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams shop in the Short North Arts District of Columbus, Ohio.
Photograph by Paul Bruins
Sultans, sailors, slaves, and spice traders have all passed through this mystical Indian Ocean archipelago on East Africa’s Swahili Coast. Located 22 miles from mainland Tanzania, semi-autonomous Zanzibar consists of two main islands—Unguja (Zanzibar) and Pemba—plus numerous smaller islands. The diverse human history (dating back at least 20,000 years to the Paleolithic Age) and natural beauty (turquoise water, coral reefs, and white sands) create an exotic backdrop for a fall beach or diving vacation based at a small-scale resort like Chumbe Island Coral Park, a private nature reserve featuring palm-thatched bungalows. Skies typically are clear through the end of October, with “short rains” returning in November. Supporting the islands’ geotourism efforts includes respecting the majority Muslim population’s modest dress code, particularly when wandering the beguiling maze of cobbled lanes in Zanzibar's ancient trading port, Stone Town. Join a living history tour to learn the stories of this UNESCO World Heritage site. Top stops include the haunting slave memorial erected on a former auction block, and Beit al-Ajaib, a 19th-century sultan’s palace that's now the House of Wonders Museum of History and Culture of Zanzibar and the Swahili Coast.
Pictured here: Chumbe Island Coral Park's thatched-roof bungalows peek from lush vegetation in Zanzibar.
Churchill, Manitoba, Canada
Photograph by Paul Nicklen, National Geographic
No roads lead through the remote northern boreal wilderness directly into tiny Churchill, so plan to arrive by train or plane to see the area’s most famous fall residents—polar bears. More than a thousand of the world’s largest land carnivores migrate through the “polar bear capital of the world” during October and November, when the first ice forms on the edge of Hudson Bay. The frozen conditions make it easier for hungry bears to hunt for seals (by walking instead of swimming) and give super-size Tundra Buggies solid ground on which to carry small tour groups out to see the wildlife. Prepare for snowy, winter weather—insulated boots, jacket, and gloves; layered clothing; thermal underwear; and wool socks and hat are required. Stay in town at the cozy, trading-post-style Lazy Bear Lodge (and hop a sled dog ride next door at Wapusk General Store), or bunk among the bears in the bare-bones Tundra Buggy Lodge at Polar Bear Point. These module units are assembled annually in a Wildlife Management Area site chosen for optimal 24/7 polar bear viewing.
Pictured here: Two polar bears spar, or play fight, in Churchill, Manitoba.
Photograph by Raul Touzon, National Geographic
Birthplace of Beckett, Joyce, and Yeats, Ireland’s capital and largest city is a youthful arts, entertainment, culture, and commerce hub. Fall brings fewer tourists and lower temperatures (40s and 50s in October), ideal for walking the historic Georgian streets and cruising the River Liffey. Discover your own Irish history at The Shelbourne Dublin, where guest amenities include a genealogy butler. Pack a hooded rain jacket (just in case) to explore the city’s 4,900 acres of public gardens, nature reserves, and parks, including center-city St. Stephen’s Green, which borders Grafton Street, one of the world’s most expensive retail locations. Stroll to main stage productions and film screenings at the Ulster Bank Dublin Theatre Festival (September 29-October 16). Along the way, nosh on traditional, paper-wrapped fish and chips at Leo Burdock. Healthier eats will be on the menu October 31, when more than 10,000 runners are expected for the National Lottery Dublin Marathon, dubbed “the Friendly Marathon” for the affable crowds cheering on the pack.
Pictured here: Crowds fill the streets in downtown Dublin, Ireland.
White Mountains, New Hampshire
Photograph by Pat and Chuck Blackley
While peak fall foliage varies annually, the 100-mile White Mountain Trail typically delivers brilliant fall colors from the end of September through the second week of October. Yet, even after the leaves have faded and the leaf-peeping crowds have gone home, meandering this National Scenic Byway reveals classic New England fall scenes—historic covered bridges, granite mountain peaks, dramatic gorges, rushing cascades, and bucolic Colonial-era farmhouses and barns. Each section of the loop displays a unique personality. Drive the 37-mile Kancamagus Highway—“the Kanc”—for mountain vistas, moose sightings, and bird-watching; visit North Conway for tax-free outlet shopping, the trail’s largest concentration of restaurants, and Conway Scenic Railroad train trips; and travel the Crawford Notch-to-Bartlett stretch to ride the Mount Washington Cog Railway to the 6,288-foot summit of New England’s highest peak, or drive to the top via the Mt. Washington Auto Road. The iconic New Hampshire tourist attraction celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2011 and, weather permitting, is scheduled to remain open for passenger car travel until October 23 this season.
Pictured here: The Swift River runs through Rocky Gorge, next to the Kancamagus Highway in New Hampshire.
Shoreline Highway, Marin County, California
Photograph by Greg Lato
Shoreline Highway—Marin County’s winding, two-lane stretch of Highway 1 from Sausalito to the Sonoma County line—snakes through the Marin Headlands, hugs stunning coastal bluffs, and passes through Stinson Beach, a classic California beach community. Off-road mountain biking was born here—and on-road cyclists are ubiquitous—so take it slow, preferably in a hybrid vehicle to limit emissions and avoid running out of gas. Temps can be 10-to-15 degrees cooler than in nearby San Francisco, so bring a jacket, even on hot days. To enjoy the most expansive Pacific views, wait until the morning fog clears before making the drive north from the Golden Gate Bridge. Fuel up in Sausalito, and then stop at Muir Woods National Monument to walk among thousands of giant, old-growth redwoods. Before nightfall—since the scenic curves can be deadly in the dark—check-in at the Inn at Roundstone Farm, located within Point Reyes National Seashore. Spend a day exploring the seashore’s dramatic rocky headlands, 150 miles of hiking trails, and 2,600-acre tule elk reserve, where the fall rut (the late-summer to early-fall breeding season) inspires magnificent bull elks to bugle, battle, and butt antlers for affection.
Pictured here: The Point Reyes Lighthouse in California's Point Reyes National Seashore first shone in 1870.
Day of the Dead, Puebla, Mexico
Photograph by Russell Gordon, Aurora Photos
There are better-known Día de los Muertos celebrations in Mexico, but spending the extended holiday (October 31-November 2) in the Puebla state capital puts you in close proximity to the elaborate Day of the Dead ofrendas (offerings) in tiny Huaquechula. Families here spend thousands of dollars erecting towering, multistory altars (typically a cardboard foundation draped in satin) adorned with wax candles, a photo of the deceased, and a sampling of his or her favorite food and drink. Hire a local guide in Puebla to make the bumpy, 35-mile ride west, and then follow the trails of marigold petals to homes where guests are welcome to pay their respects (and, perhaps, share a tequila toast to the dearly departed). Bring along a few coins or a sugar calavera, or skull—available from village vendors—to place on the ofrenda table. Back in Puebla, head to the Casa de la Cultura to view the indigenous and modern altar-building contest entries and visit with the artists.
Pictured here: Family members visit the graves of relatives on the Day of the Dead in Huaquechula, Puebla, Mexico.
Looks tranquil. I would love to sit on the edge of that hill until nightfall and feel the warm sea air while sipping a glass of wine. It ought to be so peaceful.
A magnificent walk to take visitors to the area. Finish the walk with a well deserved meal accompanied by local wine in one of the villages, while admiring the breath taking scenery
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