For many people, traveling in November means returning to the family nest for Thanksgiving. This sounds lovely in theory, but all too often involves sickeningly expensive plane tickets (unless you’ve read our guide to finding cheap flights) and awkward political arguments over dinner with your semi-estranged uncle (we can’t help with that one). But if you’re not set on returning to your roots, or you’ve got vacation days left over, November can be a uniquely beautiful and peaceful time to travel -- you just have to know where to go. Whether it's the food, leaves, crisp air, lack of tourists, or something else entirely, these travel destinations are at their very best.
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Blue Ridge, Georgia
You might be under the impression that fall foliage in this country is somewhat done by the time November rolls around, but that’s simply because New England has cornered the leaf market, PR-wise. Down south, foliage peaks later: more in the late-October-to-mid-November range. You can take it all in around the mountain town of Blue Ridge, either on scenic drives (do not miss the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway) or on the Blue Ridge Scenic Railway. If you can make it there November 1-3, you’ll want to be in Dahlonega for HemlockFest -- a music (and camping) festival where the proceeds go to restoring north Georgia’s hemlock trees as well as to saving the American chestnut tree. Single-day passes start at $15; three-day passes are $65. The festival is kid-friendly, too. Getting there later in the month? The annual holiday market kicks off November 16th and lasts through January, while the annual Light Up Blue Ridge tree lighting is November 29th and 30th. MORE: The best places to see fall foliage -- that aren’t in New England
Each November, the streets of Sydney turn purple as the jacaranda trees hit full bloom. Take a walking tour of McDougall Street, where they’re particularly magnificent, and set aside a morning for wandering around the jacaranda-laden University of Sydney campus. Peak season for both heat and tourists doesn’t fully arrive until December, so you’re in through Bondi before November 10, you’ll be there to catch the largest free sculpture exhibition in the world.
The week leading up to the November full moon (this year, the 3rd through the 12th) means the return of Myanmar’s famous Taunggyi Tazaungdaing hot air balloon festival in Bagan. The Buddhist festivities have grown to include fireworks, which two years ago led to one of the balloons crashing and the death of an unfortunate shop owner. But we’re telling you this in the interest of disclosure, not to dissuade you from going -- the balloon festival continues to be one of the most memorable sights in Southeast Asia, and an isolated accident shouldn’t scare you off. Bagan itself is breathtaking with or without balloons -- it’s home to the largest concentration of Buddhist temples and stupas on Earth. MORE: The most beautiful places in Southeast Asia
Chiang Mai, Thailand
Meanwhile, in northern Thailand, there are two iconic festivals that fall on the actual full moon -- this year, November 12. Release lanterns into the sky for Yi Peng, and baskets bearing candles into the gentle river for Loy Krathong. If you’ve still not blown out all your sensory neurons, stay on after the festivals and explore what is, in my opinion, the very best part of Thailand. Hit the many, many street markets, eat as many bowls of khao soi as you can physically fit into your tummy, and rent a scooter for the mountain roads of neighboring Chiang Rai.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee
Fall foliage here is just transcendent, especially early in the month. On November 6, Gatlinburg, Tennessee, rings in the holiday season with its annual Winter Magic Chili Cook-off. On November 22, Smoky Mountain Winterfest officially kicks off across the region, everything is draped in gazillions of lights, and the festivities get going for real. Beginning November 26, you can pick up unique, locally made handicrafts at the Great Smoky Mountains Thanksgiving Arts & Crafts Show. MORE: Photographic proof that national parks like the Smokies are best in the fall
It’s been two years since Hurricanes Irma and Maria, and Anguilla is vibrantly back in business. November is primetime for lounging around any of this under-the-radar Caribbean island’s 33 white-sand beaches. The sticky summer is making way for dry days that hold steady around 80 degrees, tropical flora is coming into bloom, and the island feels like its coming to life, like when you were a kid and could start to feel summer in the air. Hurricane season is at its end (Anguilla hasn’t been hit in November since 1999), but the tourist rush doesn’t start for another month or so -- which means you can still get cheaper rates on hotels, and you won’t face a fight over sun loungers.
New York City, New York
New Yorkers heartily complain about the weather through three of the four seasons, but that’s because they are carefully hoarding complimentary sentiments to be released in a gush come fall. Folks, autumn here is very, very good, and November brings an absolute embarrassment of riches. There’s the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, sure, but don’t limit yourself. New York Comedy Festival runs from the 4th through the 10th, the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights start right after Thanksgiving, and there are so many other art/music/craft/food/drink/holiday festivals that you couldn’t possibly run out. When you’re ready for a break, you can always escape the city and catch the tail end of apple picking.
Something special is happening here in November 2019. The beloved Baltimore Book Festival is fusing with the annual Light City festival to become Brilliant Baltimore. Hosted from November 1-10 in the city’s Inner Harbor, this first-of-its-kind festival will feature literary salons, live music, cooking demos, interactive art installations like dancing drones (yes) a Volkswagen bug composed of thousands of miniscule mosaic mirrors that you can spin around, and, of course, the 100+ booksellers and publishers and authors that have brought people to the Baltimore Book Festival for decades. Think of the whole thing a bit like Literary Coachella. MORE: The best things to do in Baltimore
Churchill, Manitoba, Canada
Why Churchill, and why now? Because Churchill is known as the polar bear capital of the world, and this time of year is when you’ll understand why. This town, located on the western Hudson Bay, is home to around 900 polar bears. Having migrated back from their summer homes in the tundra, in October and November the bears can be found hanging around, out in the open, along the peninsula as they wait for the Bay to freeze so they can get busy hunting delicious ringed seals out on the sea ice. It’s a rare chance to see these solitary creatures interacting with one another, making temporary friends and begrudging neighbors the way you do when stranded with someone waiting for the same bus. You can take your pick of polar bear tour operators that’ll guide you (safely) out on the tundra, or simply post up somewhere with a good view -- the town is on their migration route, after all -- as they bears journey past.
Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming (and Montana and Idaho)
Surprised? Understandable; this one isn’t for everyone. But if you’re of the outdoorsy persuasion -- the sort of person who enjoys long bike rides simply “for the peace and quiet” -- this is the November getaway for you. The park is largely empty of tourists, it’s peak season for brown trout fishing, and for part of the month the roads are closed to cars but remain open to bikes and foot traffic (check for updates here). If you’re not the hardcore backcountry camping type, you’ll still find plenty of places to stay, eat, and drink -- and it’s hard to do much better than watching the steam rise off the Mammoth Hot Springs in the crisp November air. MORE: Check out Thrillist’s ultimate guide to Yellowstone