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10 Best Places to Go in October

By AFAR Editors

07.30.19

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Venice’s Basilica Santa Maria della Salute shines at sunset.

Photo by Iakov Kalinin/Shutterstock

Venice’s Basilica Santa Maria della Salute shines at sunset.

Whether you’re doing last-minute planning or long-term brainstorming, here are the top spots to travel in the month of October.

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If you have the chance to travel in October, you should. The crowds of summer vacationers are back at work and school, the weather in much of the world is cooler—perfect for strolling city sidewalks or mountain trails—and cultural calendars are bursting with events. Here are 10 places that make for ideal fall getaways.

Hot air balloons rise over Albuquerque.

Albuquerque, New Mexico

October is great for: balloonatics

Sure, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (October 5–13) draws travelers from all over the world, but new offerings are putting this desert city on the traveler’s go list this year. A newly opened 50-mile trail for cyclists and hikers skirts the pink-toned Sandia Mountains, the Rio Grande, and downtown. (Travelers can rent bicycles from more than 41 locations via Pace, Albuquerque’s new bike-share service.) In the expanding Sawmill District—once the center of the city’s lumber industry—the 8,600-square-foot Spur Line Supply Co. is a symbol of the area’s revival. Founded in an Airstream trailer, Spur now offers space for New Mexican artisans, as well as rotating art exhibits, coffee, and classes from YogaZo, the city’s first mobile yoga studio. Elsewhere, long-dormant hotels dating back to the 1930s are getting a second life, including the remodeled 22-room El Vado Motel near Old Town, which was built in 1937 to cater to Route 66 travelers. In the Nob Hill neighborhood, the 80-year-old De Anza Motor Lodge is set to reopen after an $8.2 million renovation, which includes the restoration of Zuni Shalako murals. 

Flying into Albuquerque is also getting easier: Frontier Airlines, Alaska Airlines, and Delta have recently added nonstop flights to Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ) from cities including Los Angeles, Portland, Denver, and Austin. —Nick Pachelli, as seen in the January/February 2019 issue

Seeing distinctive architecture by creatives like Antoni Gaudí is one of the many reasons to visit Barcelona.

Barcelona, Spain

October is great for: architecture buffs, jazz lovers

Barcelona has been in the news a lot over the past few years as it has struggled with overtourism. Visit in October—shoulder season—when the weather is still warm enough to walk through Park Güell or enjoy a paella on an outdoor patio, and the hordes of tourists have waned. 

Architecture aficionados in particular should check it out in October. The weekend of the 26–27 marks the 19th annual 48h Open House, which offers free access to more than 200 buildings, including private homes usually not open to the public. See the wide variety of architectural styles that grace the city, be they Roman ruins, Catalan Gothic, or modernist. Note that some tours, while free, require advance reservation. Pro tip: For central access to some of the city’s most architecturally notable sites, book your stay in a boutique hotel like Almanac, which opened last year in the modernist neighborhood of Eixample Derecho, or the Mercer in the Gothic quarter.

If architecture isn’t your thing, go in October anyway. The first shows begin on October 19 for the Voll-Damm Barcelona International Jazz Festival, featuring an array of international musicians like Herbie Hancock and the Juan De Marcos Afro-Cuban All Stars. —Sara Button

Boquilla Beach in Cartagena

Cartagena, Colombia

October is great for: beachgoers, design hounds

Cartagena’s history is captured within the walls of the 16th-century Old Town, whose fortifications, monuments, plazas, and color-splashed colonial buildings are a UNESCO World Heritage site. But the best reason to visit Cartagena in October is the beaches. Daytime temperatures rarely dip below 85 degrees Fahrenheit, and the metropolitan area has almost 12 miles of beaches that line the Caribbean.

Head to Playa Castillo Grande, where an underwater wall built more than a century ago to deter English pirates, calms the waters. With fewer crowds and a relaxed vibe, it’s one of the best places in the city to view a sunset. Or catch a boat and take the 10-minute trip to the island of Tierra Bomba, where you can relax on the white sand beaches at Punta Arena.

Twenty minutes north of the city center is Playa La Boquilla, favored by moneyed Colombians from the inland cities. It’s a popular place for weddings and other events, but there’s plenty of space to spread out in the peaceful surroundings.

You can reach Colombia’s most popular national park, the Rosario Islands, on a 45-minute boat trip. Most of the beaches on the 30 islands that make up the archipelago are private, but Playa Libre on Isla Grande Colombia is open to the public. If you decide to stay on the island, you’ll likely have the beach to yourself after everyone else heads back to the mainland in one of the afternoon boats. —AFAR Editors

Fur seals lounge at Punta Carola beach in the Galápagos.

The Galápagos Islands

October is great for: wildlife watchers

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The 19 Galápagos islands, designated as UNESCO World Heritage Site, Biosphere, and Marine Reserve, are located about 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. The islands’ extreme isolation—along with their location where a trio of ocean currents meet—mean some of nature’s unique species call the area home. You can visit nearly any time of year to see the abundant wildlife, but each season brings a different stage of life for the many animals. October lands in the dry season, known as garúa. Cooler waters bring more fish, so divers might spot sea birds plunging straight into the water for a catch; Galápagos penguins hang out for the fishy snacks, too. Blue-footed boobies are raising their new chicks, and October is the best bet to watch Galápagos fur seal pups. Book a trip from October 6–12 with AFAR Travelers’ Choice Award-winner Classic Journeys, selected for “Best Wildlife Encounter in 2018,” or hop onto a cruise itinerary on the new Celebrity Flora. With its all-suite setup (including floor-to-ceiling windows), the ship was designed specifically for travel among the islands. —Sara Button

Pho is one of Vietnam’s most well-known dishes.

Hanoi, Vietnam

October is great for: gourmands

History looms large in Hanoi, Vietnam’s thousand-year-old capital.  Ancient temples and colonial architecture provide a rich backdrop to broad tree-lined boulevards and placid lakes. In October, you’ll escape the summer downpours and the crowds that arrive in the winter dry season, so there will be plenty of room and time to take advantage of one of Vietnam’s strengths: its food.

The city is home to one of Asia’s strongest indigenous culinary traditions, and the best way to dive in is to take it to the streets. For a start, try pho noodle soup, the country’s nominal national dish, which is available in beef and chicken varieties. Pho Gia Truyen Bat Dan (known to locals as simply Pho Bat Dan) serves a standout version with tender beef in a clear, rich broth.

Other signature dishes include bun cha (vermicelli with minced pork burgers), banh cuon (steamed rice crepes stuffed with minced pork, mushrooms, and shallots), and xoi (glutinous sticky rice). The place to try bun bo nam bo (vermicelli noodles and beef) is 67 Hang Dieu in the Old Quarter.

For a good sampler, consider a tour with Hanoi Street Food Tours. The company offers walking and scooter tours that cater to all palates, including vegetarians, seafood lovers, and culinary adventurers, who can snack on river snails and baby duck eggs. —AFAR Editors

Ostriches roam Marakele National Park in South Africa.

Johannesburg, South Africa

October is great for: safari seekers

The great outdoors is one of the main draws for visitors to South Africa, and Johannesburg—or Joburg, or Jozi, as the city is also known—is an excellent home base from which to explore some of the area’s national parks and wildlife reserves. October weather is very hot and dry, but that means the chances of animal viewing is even higher compared to other times of year, as critters make their way around to find water sources.

The good news is that you don’t have to drive five hours to Kruger National Park to see an array of wild animals. There’s a Rhino and Lion Nature Reserve in the Cradle of Humankind, about 45 minutes from Johannesburg, where you can join a guide on a game drive or take a self-drive tour to see more than 30 species.

About three hours from Johannesburg are several other options for watching wildlife. Birders will want to visit Marakele National Park, which has approximately 400 species of birds, including the endangered Cape vulture. The park is also known for its large number of black and white rhinos.

Pilanesberg National Park is situated in a crater of an ancient volcano, and you are likely to see Africa’s famous Big Five (lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, and Cape buffalo) roaming the park. Photographers will love the concealed hides, where they can sneak peeks (and shots) of some of the thousands of animals that call the park home. The park offers game drives, safaris, and even hot air ballooning if you want to get a true bird’s-eye view. —AFAR Editors

San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park is home to the peaceful Japanese Tea Garden.

San Francisco, California

October is great for: outdoor living enthusiasts

San Francisco gets enough fog that the weather phenomenon has its own nickname, Karl the Fog, and Twitter account. As charming as he is, the best time to explore the city is October, when the Bay Area typically enjoys moderate temperatures and sunny skies, and Karl is out of town.

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Golden Gate Park encompasses more than 1,000 acres and is the home of some of the city’s greatest attractions, including the SF Botanical Gardens, the popular (and a bit touristy) Japanese Tea Garden, the California Academy of Sciences museum, and the DeYoung art museum. Visitors can rent a paddleboat or a row boat at Stow Lake or search out the wooly-headed residents of the Bison Paddock. And every October, GGP hosts Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, a three-day free music festival where dozens of artists perform on seven stages. Past headliners have included Emmylou Harris, Nick Lowe, and Patty Griffin.

To enjoy another side of the city, head to Mission Dolores Park, which gets packed on warm days with picnickers, families hanging near the state-of-the-art Helen Diller playground, and sporty types playing tennis on new courts. By 2 p.m., the scene is in full swing, and you’ll think you’re at a party.

For city hiking, the 1,500-acre Presidio is flush with quiet trails lined with giant eucalyptus trees. The park also has a golf course that offers views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay. Nearby is iconic Land’s End, yet another park, where the Coastal Trail offers ideal sunset watching. Just remember to bring a jacket. You never know when Karl might roll in. —AFAR Editors

Hundreds of thousands of Pride participants celebrate in Taipei’s 2017 parade.

Taipei

October is great for: Pride paraders

Among the largest Pride events in Asia (and the biggest of its kind in East Asia), Taiwan’s annual Pride parade takes place in Taipei on the last Saturday of October. The event began as a political rally in 2003 but has since evolved into a lively commemoration of LGBTQ culture. In addition to a parade, which falls on October 26 this year, the celebration features a host of parties at Taipei’s top gay bars and LGBTQ-welcoming hotels throughout the weekend. [Editor’s Note: On May 17, 2019, Taiwan became the first country in Asia to legalize same-sex marriage.] —Adam Groffman, as seen in The World’s Biggest LGBTQ Pride Celebrations

Meet the Queen of Taipei’s Hippest Subculture
Lorenzo Quinn’s sculpture “Support” appeared in Venice during Biennale Arte 2017.

Venice, Italy

October is great for: art history aficionados

Avoid the crush of tourist crowds by traveling to Venice in October. With fewer people around, you can appreciate the city as a work of art in and of itself and take the time to explore its wonderful art museums and galleries. Art lovers who visit during this fall can experience La Biennale, a huge contemporary art show that takes place in various locations throughout the city from May through November. Founded in 1895, this “Olympics of Modern Art” showcases a global stable of artists who display thought-provoking, bold, and sometimes confusing pieces. Explore the installations on your own, or check out an expert-led private tour like this one from Context Travel

Beyond the Biennale, there are plenty more art options. Founded in 1750, the Gallerie dell’Accademia  was once the gallery of Venice’s art school. A highlight of the collection is Leonardo da Vinci’s famous sketch “Vitruvian Man,” but you’ll also discover fantastic paintings by Bellini, Giorgione, Veronese, Titian, and many more. Other classical museums to explore include the Scuola Grande di San Rocco, which has an exceptional collection of Tintoretto paintings. There’s also the Museo Correr, the roots for which began after Venetian aristocrat Teodoro Correr donated a building and his art collection upon his death in 1830.  

But as much as the canal city is steeped in art history, Venice’s art scene also has a modern edge. Peggy Guggenheim  lived in a palazzo on the Grand Canal for decades and was a great collector of modern art. At her former home, you’ll see works by Picasso, Pollock, Mondrian, Ernst, Dalí, and many others. —AFAR Editors

In October, the Blue Ridge Parkway stuns with its fall colors (and a wine trail isn’t far away).

Virginia

October is great for: wine drinkers, foliage fanatics

Folks outside the northeast might not immediately think of “wine” when they think “Virginia.” But Thomas Jefferson himself envisioned the fertile land of his native state as potential home for vineyards, working with his friend, Italian viticulturist and merchant Filippo Mazzei, to research the area’s terroir and begin the first commercial vineyard in the Commonwealth of Virginia in the late 18th century. Now, the state has almost 300 wineries and dozens of wine trails; October is Virginia Wine Month. 

Start your visit by checking into the new Draftsman, an Autograph Collection Hotel in downtown Charlottesville, an easy drive to the Monticello wine trail, where you can sip a nebbiolo at the 18th-century Barboursville Vineyards estate, or try a farm-to-table meal paired with award-winning wines at Pippin Hill Farm & Vineyards

Want to pair your wines with a road trip rife with fall foliage? Take a drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway and explore the 17 wineries nestled in the mountains. —Sara Button

Editor’s note: This story was first published in September 2018; it was updated on August 16, 2019, to include current information. Due to the current political unrest in Hong Kong, we no longer recommend it as an October destination, as seen in our original article. 

>>Next: The Sweetest U.S. Small Towns to Visit This Fall

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