October is the only month of the year with an entire festival bearing its name. So, obviously, when considering the best places to go in October, the cities with the best Oktoberfest celebrations are probably at the top of your list. But there’s more to this month than Bavarian bacchanals. There are fall colors to be seen, costumes to dress up in, and Halloween parties to attend. Or, if you’re in New Mexico, balloons to fly. From that very famous balloon fiesta to spooky parades to German beer fests — we couldn’t help ourselves, ok? — here are the best places to travel this October, many of which are a lot closer than you think.
One wouldn’t expect a windswept city in Oklahoma to host one of the biggest Oktoberfest parties in the world. But look at little closer, and you’ll see the strong German history rooted in Tulsa, so it won’t surprise you that the annual Linde Oklahoma Oktoberfest draws a robust 50,000 people to the shores of the Arkansas River. This year the festival runs from October 19 to 21 and will feature the Dachshund Dash, lots of chicken dancing, German beers, Bavarian cheesecake, and live German music.
October is prime time to find yourself in Charm City, with everything from beer to poetry to art filling the city all month. John Waters — of Hairspray fame — opens his first retrospective at the Baltimore Museum of Art with Indecent Exposure, featuring over 160 pieces of his unmistakable work dating back to the 1990s. If you’d like to see other kinds of art, Free Fall Baltimore runs all month with over 300 free events from 90 cultural organizations, including free days at museums and free shows from performing arts groups. Fleet Week also comes to town, and there’s an art to doing that right, too.
Baltimore Beer week runs from the 12th to the 22nd, highlighted by Das Best Oktoberfest on the 13th. That’s also an ideal time to check out the new Guinness Open Gate Brewery and Barrell House, which opened in August and is the first new Guinness brewery in the US in 60 years. As Halloween draws close, the city celebrates its favorite macabre poet, Edgar Allan Poe, with Poe-Tober and a series of events and celebrations at his house and museum. And the Ravens — the only NFL team named after a poem — will be home against the Saints on the 21st.
If the October wind starts biting a little too hard and dreams of Caribbean beaches start forming in your head, Barbados is the place to go. The annual Food and Rum Festival runs from October 18th to the 21st, during which events like island-wide cookoffs on the beach, rum-and-food-pairing dinners, celebrity chefs working with Baijan locals to create inventive fusion meals, and a massive closing beach party highlight the bill. Past participating chefs include Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Tom Aikens, plus breakout locals like chef Damian Leach.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
What began as a small gathering of hot-air balloon enthusiasts in a New Mexico parking lot has grown into the biggest hot air balloon festival in the world: The Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. For the first full week of October (and the weekend before), the biggest event in New Mexico draws over 850,000 people just outside the Sandia Mountains, where 500 balloons take to the air creating the most photographed festival in the world. The celebration also includes chainsaw carving contests, laser shows, flying competitions, and nightly fireworks displays. Combine this with hospitable fall temperatures in the unforgiving desert, and October is a perfect time to visit the Land of Enchantment.
It’s springtime in Australia, and while one might be tempted to enjoy the perfect weather in better-known cities like Sydney or Melbourne, Perth is especially alluring this time of year. A short trip out into the Pinnacles Desert at Nambung National Park has you in the middle of a stunning desert moonscape that is blanketed in colorful flowers. It’s a little like Death Valley when it had all those wildflowers last year. This hike is one of the most naturally impressive in the country and will also bring you face to face with kangaroos, koalas, and other Aussie fauna.
Beyond nature, Perth is also home to part of Australia’s biggest Oktoberfest celebration: Oktoberfest in the Gardens. It’s a four-city tour with all the classic Oktoberfest revelry, beginning in Perth on October 6 at Langley Park.
If you live out west and want to see the vibrant oranges, yellows, and reds saturating the countryside, head to this region, colloquially known as “Washington’s Playground.” Here, you can take in the fall foliage reflecting off Lake Chelan as vineyards run up hillsides against bright fall colors. Because the region sits on the other side of the Cascade Mountains from Seattle, it still has relatively warm and sunny weather this time of the month, and recreation on the lake will be cheaper and far less expensive.
Not far from Chelan you’ll find the Bavarian theme town of Leavenworth, which, as you might expect, throws one helluva Oktoberfest celebration. During the first three weekends of the month, it turns into a mini-Munich as four venues throughout the city teem with live music, brats, and plenty of beers. Plus, there’s a keg-tapping ceremony every Saturday where the mayor taps a ceremonial keg to get the party started.
Is there anywhere more quintessentially fall than the rolling, colorful hills of New England? Probably not, and nowhere in New England brings the fall charm quite as well as New Hampshire. It’s home to one of the most scenic and historic train rides through fall foliage at the Mt. Washington Cog Railway, an old wooden train that chugs to the top of Mt. Washington. At the summit, you’ll spend an hour basking in all the glorious fall hues in the valleys below before heading back down. For New England leaf peeping, it’s the best day trip in the region.
But no mention of New Hampshire in October is complete without talking about the Keene Pumpkin Fest, which in 2014 set a world record when it lit 21,912 jack-o-lanterns at once. It may have also ended in a riot, but after three years away, it returned in 2017 to a much more family-friendly atmosphere, reminiscent of a real-life Stars Hollow.
Few cities do Halloween quite as well as spooky, historic London. The city features nightly ghost walks through spots like the grounds of William Wallace’s execution and a churchyard said to be haunted by “The She-Wolf of France.” You can also take Jack-the-Ripper tours of the city this month, as well after-dark carriage rides through Richmond Park and strolls through the London Dungeons.
For Potterheads, London has special Halloween stuff for fans of the Dark Arts. The Warner Brothers Studio Tour London’s Making of Harry Potter will host two special costume evenings on October 6 and 7 where fans of Death Eaters, Dementors, and all the other evil stuff in the books are invited to dress in their favorite costumes for unique photo ops and giveaways.
Leaf peeping isn’t just for Yankees! Head into the mountains of North Georgia, and you’ll find some of the finest fall colors in all the land at the Amicalola and Unicoi State Parks. Those colors are best experienced by zip-lining through the mountains, and both parks are running a pretty sweet deal in October that’ll let you do just that. The Elevate Your View package gives you a night in the park’s lodge and two tickets down the zip-line in the Aerial Adventure Park for $99, making this one of the best deals we’ve seen for a fall colors getaway. If you live in the south and are looking for a weekend trip that doesn’t involve tailgating, these Georgia state parks are your best bet.
Fun fact: Halloween actually got its start in Ireland as an end-of-harvest festival called Samhain. Accordingly, the country is also home to one of the biggest Halloween festivals in the world with the five-day Banks of the Foyle Halloween Carnival in Derry City from the 25th to the 29th. It hits all the classic Halloween high notes, such as haunted houses, ghost-story contests, and ghost tours. It also features a giant Carnival Parade full of music, costumes, performers, and ultimately fireworks.
Ireland also affords you the opportunity to spend Halloween in a number of spooky old castles, and this year, you can even learn how to be a wizard in one. The 800-year-old Ashford Castle is full of hidden passageways and has a restaurant in the dungeon, offering a definitely-not-inspired-by-Harry-Potter Wizard School package from October 29 to November 3. It includes a treasure hunt through the “Forbidden Forest,” a visit with the castle’s owl, a cooking class from “house elves,” and private screenings of scary movies in the castle’s cinema.
Santa Barbara, California
Not a year after mudslides decimated this little slice of Southern California paradise, it’s back and ready to welcome another big-time harvest season. October 12-14 is the official Celebration of Harvest Weekend with events planned all over the region. The highlight is the Solvang Grape Stomp, where this Bavarian theme town in the Santa Ynez mountains is taken over by grapes, and locals join visitors in literally stomping them in the old-world winemaking style. The weekend also features small winemakers sampling stuff you won’t find elsewhere, wine dinners, parties, and other events that showcase Santa Barbara’s vinicultural prowess. If wine gets old, it’s never a bad time to hit the beach here either as temps in October are, like most months, absolutely perfect.
We didn’t really need to tell you this one, right? Ok, so technically Munich’s Oktoberfest starts in September, but there’s no reason not to catch the last week to start off October. The giant festival is held in a meadow just outside of town where tents housing between 100 to 10,000 people hoist beers from all over Bavaria. But bring your wallet; the cheapest beer costs around 11 euros, and the party goes from 10:30 AM to 10:00 PM.
But it’s not all about Oktoberfest in Germany in October. October 5-14 brings the Festival of Lights to Berlin, during which colorful lights reflect off the city’s most famous monuments. It has drawn light artists from all over the world, and in 14 years, it has become an annual destination for many in the art world. Even for non-experts, it’s the best way to see Berlin at night all year long.