7 Dazzling Fall Foliage Tours Around the World (Slideshow)
August 24, 2016
You’ll fall for these fall trips, no matter what part of the world you find yourself in
Oktoberfest isn’t the only reason to head to Germany in the fall; Bavaria is also the perfect place for leaf-peeping. So after downing beer steins for a few days, take a break from the urban atmosphere of Munich and get some fresh air in one of the smaller rural towns elsewhere in the state. Couple your foliage tour with a visit to the nineteenth-century Neuschwanstein Castle southwest of the city to see beautiful fall colors with one of the most impressive backdrops in the country. Alternately, consider starting in Munich and making the drive northwest through the medieval towns of Dinkelsbühl and Rothenburg ob der Tauber in the Franconia (or Franken) wine region, and ending at the famed Würzberger Stein vineyard in Würzberg.
Douro Valley, Portugal
As we’ve previously explored, there are a whole lot of things to do along Portugal’s Douro River, especially in the fall when the landscape turns to shades of bright red, orange, and yellow. The best way to see it all is obvious: a cruise! Viking River Cruises operates a 10-day route that starts in Lisbon and ends in Porto with stops along the way in Régua, Barca d’Alva, Pinhão, and Salamanca (Spain). August and September are by far the most expensive times to take this trip, but if you (and the leaves) can hold on until October, the prices drop substantially.
Contrary to popular belief, Iceland isn’t all ice. Also contrary to popular belief, it’s not the “real Greenland,” either. Like most places in the world, Iceland visibly experiences all four seasons, including the colorful changing of leaves in the fall. For one of the best spots on the island, set your sights on Hraunfossar, a series of waterfalls streaming out of the Hallmundarhraun, a lava field formed by an eruption of one of the volcanoes lying under the Langjökull glacier. (You’ll need to know all of this for the geography quiz at the end of this article.) The falls are surrounded by a collage of bright red, orange, yellow, and green leaves and landscape, which blend perfectly with the turquoise waters. While you’re in the area (which is located about 62 miles from Reykjavik), you might as well visit the Barnafoss waterfall, too, since it’s only a stone’s throw from Hraunfossar.
Jiuzhaigou Valley, Sichuan Province, China
China’s Jiuzhaigou Valley (“Nine Village Valley”) is beautiful year-round, but autumn has to be the absolute best time to visit. The skies are clear, the leaves are changing, and the endless number of lakes, ponds, and waterfalls reflect the colors and make the whole scene look like a painting. However, if you were to see this part of the Sichuan Province actually depicted in a painting, you might not believe it’s a real place. Plan to travel to this UNESCO World Heritage Site in late October for primo viewing. For the easiest access, fly into Chengdu (where you can also visit Chengdu Panda Base, the famous research and breeding facility) and then take another flight to Jiuzhaigou Huanglong airport. Otherwise it’s about a 10-hour drive from Chengdu, which tour companies will often break into segments.
You can’t spell “Kyoto” without koyo — the Japanese word for when the leaves change colors — and you can’t have a koyo trip without a stop in Kyoto. (Got all that?) Although not as famous as Japan’s cherry blossom season, the event is nevertheless just as beautiful. The colors start to change (with an emphasis on bright red) sometime in October, with the peak in November, and the leaves hanging on until mid-December. For specific locations, temples are usually a safe bet; Ginkaku-ji, Honen-in, Nanzen-ji, and Tofuku-ji are all popular. To avoid crowds, opt for the Shinyodo or Kurama-dera temples instead, or the Kyoto Gyoen (aka Imperial Palace Park), where there’s plenty of elbow room for everyone.
The actual peak only lasts for a few days, so if you miss the event in the city center, you can probably still catch it in the surrounding areas. Too early? Try heading up into the Kitayama Mountains. Too late? Go south to Uji or Nara.
St. Petersburg, Russia
St. Petersburg (Russia, not Florida) has come a long way since its founding by a ragtag group of conscripted peasants and Swedish prisoners of war in the early 1700s. It is now Russia’s most Westernized city, the second largest in the country, and the best place to visit in autumn. Sure, the temperatures are dropping and the amount of daylight is waning, but most of the tourists are gone at this point, leaving you to enjoy the bright golden leaves without having to fight for an undisturbed photo. After all, you don’t even have to venture outside of the city to see the season’s beauty; there are numerous parks between the buildings that showcase St. Petersburg’s gorgeous architecture. The most popular is the Summer Garden (ironic, right?), where visitors can stroll along the Fontaka River walkway and marvel at the various marble statues as leaves gently fall from above.
The Berkshires, Massachusetts
You didn’t think we’d do a whole list about fall foliage and not include New England, did you? Our pick of the region is anywhere in the Berkshires because it’s beautiful regardless of the time of year. It’s worth noting, of course, that fall is especially lovely. In fact, you might as well opt to stay in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, where they hold an annual Fall Foliage Festival (Sept. 23 – Oct. 2, 2016 this year). In between leaf-peepings, stop into Dottie’s Coffee Lounge for a cup of joe or a whole meal, or check out the Norman Rockwell Museum in nearby Stockbridge (even though his work totally creeps me out for some reason). As for more active pursuits, there’s also golfing, zip-lining, biking, and hiking. If your late-autumn trip plans are ruined due to unprecedented snowfall, don’t worry: The Berkshires are also a fantastic place for skiing, snowboarding, and other winter sports.