The chill is in the air… finally for some of us. A crispness that shows us autumn has truly come and the nights are getting longer, plants and trees are shedding their spring and summer foliage in glorious, rich hues, and we can now pull out our warm, comfy clothing to wrap ourselves in cozy bliss.
As much as we may wax rhapsodic about the joys of fall, it is frequently ranked as the favorite season for people in the U.S. and there’s actual scientific research as to why. Basically, autumn signals new beginnings and comfort — back-to-school, end of lazy summer and returning to a regular routine, cooler temperatures leading to warmer clothing, soothing drinks and foods, and nesting. It’s sort of a season long hug.
With that in mind, we came up with some escape-worthy places for the sole purpose of enjoying this wondrous season to its fullest, and thought we’d break them into three distinct categories for your adventuring pleasure: Celebrating Día de Los Muertos or Halloween, Harvest Festivals, and Watching the Changing of the Leaves. Enjoy!
Celebrate Día de Los Muertos or Halloween
Whether you’re looking to celebrate those who have gone before you or get spooked by them, there are places all over the world to indulge both sides of your late autumn wish list.
Mexico (Día de Los Muertos)
The OG of Día de Los Muertos celebration, Mexico is the land of honoring the dead with joy and felicidad in early November. Aguascalientes shows its love for those who have passed on for a whole week with the Festival Cultural de Calaveras (Skull Culture Festival). Michoacán is known for showing their reverence through food, especially the traditional sugar covered pan de muerto. And in early November, in the city of Guanajuato, the students at its namesake university build a huge altar to the dead that attracts thousands of tourists every year. Fun Fact: Guanajuato is the visual inspiration for the locations in the Pixar animated movie Coco.
Los Angeles (Día de los Muertos)
Mexico may be considered the home of this incredible holiday, but L.A.’s expansive Latino community keeps the tradition going at its highest level. Olvera Street, the oldest part of Downtown Los Angeles, celebrates for nine whole days with presentations including live entertainment, face painting, and community altars. The Hollywood Forever Cemetery enters its 23rd year of putting on a Day of the Dead festival, introducing a separate Día de Los Muertos event that features art exhibits and children’s activities during the day, and a Noches de Los Muertos gathering with cultural performers, food vendors, and altars at night.
Ecuador (Día de Los Difuntos)
In Ecuador, the day for celebrating the dead is called Día de Los Difuntos or Day of the Deceased. Traditionally, 01 November is their food prep day — most notably the whimsically shaped bread guaguas de pan and the deep pink drink colada morada. 02 November is when the families go to the cemeteries and show their joy and love for those who are gone. Hundreds of residents of Calderón and Otavalo flood the burial sites to pay homage to their loved ones and tourists are encouraged to enjoy the flower stalls and vendors that offer wares lining the streets outside. But be respectful. These indigenous celebrants don’t like their pictures taken. Ask first or simply be in the beautiful experience.
New Orleans (Halloween)
Is it any surprise that New Orleans is a great place to celebrate Halloween? It’s been named one of the 13 best places to be on that spooky holiday by Travel + Leisure Magazine and with all its history, it’s no wonder. Take one of the haunted tours in the French Quarter. Check out a couple of voodoo shops around the city. The LGBTQ+ community goes all out with the weekend long Halloween New Orleans party, and if you’ve brought the kids, you won’t want to miss Krewe of Boo, The Big Easy’s ultimate Halloween parade.
Hong Kong (Halloween)
Here’s a big “Did you know?”: Did you know Hong Kong is called the Halloween Capital of Asia? K’yeah! While embracing this spooky holiday is relatively new, the country has gone all in and it’s become quite the creepy, quirky spot to indulge your love of this autumn mainstay. Aqualuna, one of the last operating junk boats in Hong Kong, lights up its red sails in the colors of fall and its decks are traversed by ghoulish pirates and all sorts of scary passengers. Rula Live Bar claims the Ultimate Costume Party, and of course Hong Kong Disneyland sports its traditional Halloween best for the season.
Last and most assuredly not least is the mother of all Halloween scares, Transylvania. This Eastern European country is quite gorgeous in autumn with its changing colors, lush landscape, and impressive mountains. Medieval castles abound and they throw a wicked Halloween party every year in Bran Castle where Vlad the Impaler (aka REAL LIFE Dracula) hung his… well… you know. And if you have the time, check out his incredibly beautiful hometown of Sighisoara. As you walk its colorful, charming streets, you’ll find it hard to believe someone with the moniker of “Impaler” was born here.
Whether picking or shucking, dancing or dining, fall is a time of reaping and sowing. Sharing the bounty of the season is a time-honored tradition worth celebrating.
Harvest on the Harbor in Portland, Maine
This little slice of New England has become known as The Foodiest Little Town and Restaurant City of the Year, so why not show it off with a festival? Called Oyster Town, Portland, Maine, started Harvest on the Harbor to highlight the food and local culinary talents of its citizens, and it’s grown over the years to become a must see fall destination. Taking place in late October, there are parties, activities, tons of food events, and you can top it all off with OysterFest where shuckers are lined along the walls, releasing those sweet, salty mollusks for your slurping pleasure while music plays, drinks flow, and a good time is had by all.
AppleJack Harvest Festival, Nebraska City, Nebraska
Apples are the star of this beloved gathering in Nebraska City, Nebraska. This quaint corner of the Midwest celebrates the humble, luscious fruit from mid-September through the end of October with the actual AppleJack Harvest Festival taking place over two September weekends. Autumn is devoted to apples here, however, and you can enjoy apple wine tasting, dive into desserts and dishes made with the forbidden fruit, watch a parade, ride carnival rides, or just travel through the city, falling in love with the beautiful colors and picking apples at the amazing farms where orchards abound. Named one of the Top 10 Harvest Festivals in America by USA Today, AppleJack in Nebraska City is worth the visit.
Lugano Autumn Festival, Switzerland
Basking beneath the shadows of the mountains just south of the Alps, Lugano boasts some of the most beautiful fall colors and welcomes all during the Lugano Autumn Festival. Presented during the first week of October and a celebration of grapes and fine wines, enjoy the gorgeous scenery while listening to folk music and tasting the different fare at the grottini, food stations run by local vendors.
Olivagando Olive Oil and Autumn Festival, Magione, Italy
Two days in November just for honoring olive oil? Oh, yeah. The Olivagando Olive Oil and Autumn Festival takes place every year to pay homage to the local olive oil harvest and the Feast of St. Clement. St. Clement is the patron saint of metalworkers and blacksmiths, so all those in the trades are given time off to enjoy the festivities — that includes great food and wine — along with everyone involved in the olive oil business. In addition to the different activities, you won’t want to miss the special mass where a priest blesses the new olive oil.
Black Food Festival, Tallinn, Estonia
Join the celebration of dark foods in early November with other Estonians at the Black Food Festival and indulge in this unique — and delicious — gathering. It’s the lovely town of Tallinn’s way of celebrating the lesser known black dishes — blackberries, dark balsamic vinegars, foods dyed with chocolate and coffee, and of course, black squid ink pasta — during the city’s “blackest nights”.
Oktoberfest, Munich, Germany
Just as Mexico is the OG of Día de Los Muertos, if you want authentic Oktoberfest celebrations, Munich, Germany, is the place to be. This traditional German harvest festival takes place from the third week in September to the first Sunday in October, and has been held in Bavaria for over 200 years. While, yes, it’s become known as the world’s largest beer festival, you can indulge in delicious German foods, carnivals, parades, live music, and dressing up in traditional garb right there where Oktoberfest got its start. After all, autumn wouldn’t be autumn without indulging in a day or two of Oktoberfest, now would it?
Watching the Changing of the Leaves
Sometimes you just want to bundle up and enjoy the scenery. These magical spots bring the glow of autumn in beautiful, wondrous ways.
Upper Peninsula, Michigan
The diverse landscape of the Upper Peninsula in Michigan is the stuff of visual legend. From beaches to forests to exquisite rock formations, it offers a view of fall colors and experiences that epitomize the season. Hike, bike, stroll along Lake Superior, do a day trip through Isle Royale National Park — simply indulge in all this incredible amalgamation of landscapes the area has to offer, and embrace its autumn splendor.
Whether it’s called fall, fire season, or Apple Days, autumn in Julian, California, is world renowned. This quaint little town plays host to thousands of visitors every season who come for the famous eye-popping vision of the changing of the leaves, to taste their apples, and to simply enjoy the natural scenery. It’s Mother Nature at her fall best.
Douro Valley, Portugal
Known for its wines and fall harvest, Douro Valley, Portugal, is as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the stomach. With its delicious food, drink, and exquisite views, the town considered the only place to produce the true sweet, unctuous libation “port” is proud to show visitors through the various vineyards that abound in this particular area, then treat all to a meal or a sail on the water while gazing upon the magic of fall.
You want Northern Lights? Lapland, Finland, in autumn’s got your Northern Lights. Throughout summer, this part of the world is perennially lit by the Midnight Sun, but as the season changes and the golden orb moves out of the way to let night come through once more, so too does the Aurora Borealis. And the rusts and deep crimsons of the changing leaves. And Arctic berries bursting forth on the bushes for the picking again. Lapland is more than Santa and reindeer. It’s an autumn welcome.
Hraunfossar Waterfalls, Iceland
Snowy and slippery during winter, autumn colors make the already extraordinary Hraunfossar Waterfalls in Iceland even more spectacular. Meaning “Lava Falls”, these are not just one waterfall but several, each dropping into the Hvita River to flow away surrounded by the incredible golds, reds, and oranges of the trees that line this extraordinary natural wonder.
Sleepy Hollow Farm, Woodstock, Vermont
Sleepy Hollow Farm is more than Ichibod Crane and the Headless Horseman. This beautiful property may be notorious but it is also one of the most sought after destinations to enjoy autumn in all its beauty. Only about ten minutes outside of Woodstock, Vermont (not New York), once a family-run business but now a privately owned home, Sleepy Hollow Farm is a favorite among photo enthusiasts and nature lovers with its beautiful, golden trees, serene pond, and iconic barn and farmhouse. You are welcome to stroll the road and take all the pictures you like. And then, drive that 10 minutes into Woodstock, Vermont (not New York), set your stuff down in one of their charming inns, and continue to revel in the area’s leafy fall wardrobe.
Savoring autumn’s kiss
These are just a little taste of all the world has to offer during this comfy, cozy season. You can even look right in your own backyard for the beauty of fall and discover even more ways to embrace this much favored time of year.
Or maybe just wrap yourself in a blanket, snuggle on the couch with your favorite human, furry best friend, libation of choice, comfort food, or take a few minutes just for you, and relax in the cooling temperatures.
This season is yours for the asking. Enjoy!