23 best places to visit in October

When it comes to top travel experiences, bring on October. Golden leaves, reduced fares, empty trails and some of the world’s most spectacularly colourful festivals beckon.

Whether you’re looking to add on an extra layer or jet off in search of the last dregs of summer, we’re sure you’ll find something inspiring in our selection.

If you want to see the full list, keep scrolling. If you know your travel style, click to your chosen section using one of these handy links:

Here are 23 of the best places to visit in October…

The best October destinations for arts and culture

1. Albuquerque, New Mexico

Hot air balloons launching at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta (Shutterstock)

For nine days in October, part of the Rio Grande Valley is transformed into dreamscape, thanks to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta – the largest hot air balloon festival in the world.

From dawn until dusk, balloons of all shapes and colours fill the sky as festival-goers’ necks crane in amazement. The most popular event is the Special Shape Rodeo, during which animals, rockets and spacemen (not real ones) take to the sky.

2. Fiji

Fijian women performing a traditional Make dance (Shutterstock)

Fiji’s National Day is 10 October. In the week leading up to it, Fiji celebrates its cessation from the British empire, and the nation’s vast ethnic diversity. The run-up is packed with religious and cultural events, and culminates in a large military parade with canon blasts.

On the day itself, Fijians reenact the signing of the Deed of Cessation in period costume from 1874, and hear speeches from the president and others. For a glimpse of the different religions and cultures that make up Fiji’s vibrant tapestry, plan your visit around this week.

This is a good time to visit Fiji for more than the festival. The islands enjoy a nice climate this time of year.

3. Berlin, Germany

Berlin Cathedral illuminated during the festival (Shutterstock)

If you’re looking for an excuse to visit Berlin (aren’t we all?), then why not go for the Berlin Festival of Lights?

Enjoy a city break in Germany’s chic capital, while its iconic monuments in its historic streets are illuminated throughout the evening and night. The cosmopolitan city becomes a stage, using light to tell touching and emotive stories.

The festival is one of the largest light art festivals in the world, showcasing some of Germany’s brightest artists, alongside other global stars.

4. Austin, Texas

Austin City Limits Festival in Zilker Metropolitan Park (Shutterstock)

Head to Zilker Park in Austin, Texas for one of the world’s legendary music festivals: Austin City Limits.

Every year, over 400,000 people descend on the park to attend this iconic festival, offering a wide variety of musical genres: from blues and rock n’ roll to folk and hip-hop.

For many revellers, the food line-up is as eagerly anticipated as the tunes. Austin is a city known for good food, and festival-goers can expect a bounty of Texan classics. Grab a bratwurst from Austin institution Scholz Garten, or some organic Texas meats from Ranch Hand.

5. Dublin, Ireland

Ha Penny Bridge, Dublin (Shutterstock)

The Emerald Isle has long been home to novelists, poets and songwriters. Joyce, Yeats, Wilde and Beckett all called Ireland home, as well as songwriters Van Morrison, Phil Lynott and Bono. Both the Republic’s capital and largest city, Dublin has been a cultural hub for centuries.

The city is alive with activity in October. Kicking things off is Ireland Music Week, a music festival and conference dedicated to new Irish music.

After that, you can catch the end of the Dublin Theatre Festival, which runs from late September into October. If that wasn’t enough, there’s the Bram Stoker Festival, celebrating the spooky and supernatural at the end of the month.

October’s the month to get this city to yourself. As James Joyce writes: “Real adventures… do not happen to people who remain at home: they must be sought abroad.”

6. Alberta, Canada

Jasper Dark Sky Festival (Parks Canada & Ryan Bray/Alberta Tourism)

As the months begin to get darker in the Southern Hemisphere, the night skies get brighter. Jasper National Park in the Canadian province of Alberta takes advantage of this with its spectacular Dark Sky Festival.

The world’s second largest Dark Sky Reserve is extremely accessible thanks to a town located within it. However, little artificial light can be found within the park, making it perfect for stargazing and even spotting the aurora borealis.

Events during the festival involve drone light shows, musical performances from orchestras, science demonstrations and a selection of space experts and speakers to answer your burning questions.

The exciting event also has a strong focus on the indigenous communities who once lived here, with fireside chats with Warrior Women, a sunset ceremony and guided plant walks.

7. The Florida Keys, Florida

All dressed up for Fantasy Fest (Carol Tedesco, Florida Keys News)

The US island city of Key West bursts to life with revellers during its annual Fantasy Fest. Held every October, the festival takes on a different theme every year.

The 10-day celebration invites people to connect with their creative side by dressing up in dazzling costumes and joining in with the many events in this jam-packed festival schedule, including masquerade parties, costume competitions, live music and theatre productions.

The climax of the festival takes places on its final weekend, when thousands gather to watch Fantasy Fest’s lavish grand parade on Whitehead Street and Duval Street. Expect spectacular giant floats, exotic marching bands and plenty of colour.

The best October destinations for good weather and natural beauty

8. Armenia

The ancient Haghartsin monastery is located near the town of Dilijan (Shutterstock)

Armenia’s ‘Golden Autumn’ (as it’s known) stretches from late September until the end of November. It’s a time of incredible colours, with the Tavush region, in particular, erupting in wild splashes of reds and yellows. Be sure to head to Dilijan National Park, where tiny Lake Parz is encircled by a ruff of trees and trails that slink orange-tinged forests to a hilltop medieval monastery. The walk affords the perfect opportunity to soak it all in.

October is also harvest season. This means not only a bounty of fresh food to sample, but a busy time in the vineyards of one of the world

9. Hitachinaka, Japan

Kochia flowers in Hitachi Seaside Park, Hitachinaka (Shutterstock)

If you’re willing to embrace autumn, rather than fight it, then travel to Japan’s Kanto region to see some spectacularly colourful leaves.

Hitachi Seaside Park, a public park in the Ibaraki Prefecture, is famous for two seasons and two flowers. In the springtime, the nemophila flower, also known as ‘baby blue eyes’, is in bloom and paints the hillside a Maya blue. The flowers’ petals obscure all grass so that, on a clear day, the hills might be a reflection of the sky.

In the autumn, the magical kochia flower is the star of the show. This spherical plant sprouts in pom poms all over the hills and turns a vivid shade of crimson.

This natural wonder is all natural, but very intentional: the park’s planners carved a winding path along the hillside and planted an abundance of Kochia flowers on either side.

10. Marrakech, Morocco

Marrakech, Morocco (Shutterstock)

If you’re after a bit of hustle and bustle, Marrakech is the place to go. If you don’t want to combat ridiculous heat on top of it, then you’re on to a winner with October.

You’ll benefit from a visit during the shoulder season. Not only are the already-busy streets less blocked with tourists, the oppressive summer heat gives way to a more reasonable climate,

The city also makes a great jumping off point for exploring Morocco’s more natural landscapes. A couple hours’ drive will take you into the Atlas Mountains, where you can enjoy autumnal hikes surrounding the town of Imlil, nestled within Tubkal Valley. Alternatively, Agafay Desert is also easy to reach and offers a variety of unique glamping experiences.

11. Finland

Experience ruska in Finland (Shutterstock)

Up in Finland, they use the word ‘ruska’ to describe the period when the trees start to turn and autumnal colours paint the forests. It’s the Finnish take on the Japanese hanami, as locals escape into the outdoors for that brief period between the long days of summer and the endless night of winter, before the snows come and temperatures plummet.

As a general rule, ruska spreads north to south, with the forests of the Arctic turning in mid-September, while those further south change weeks later, at the start of October. The red maples and golden birch make for bracing companions on a ruskaretki (autumnal walk), with Lapland’s fells around the Saami village of Kilpisjärvi proving particularly popular. To the south, try exploring the Tiilijärvi Lakes Trail in Hollola, which loops around three lakes, some marshes and a hazelnut grove.

12. Ethiopia

The rock-cut churches of Lalibela (Shutterstock)

The rains of Ethiopia’s monsoon season can continue into September, but by the following month they should all have filtered away, leaving the highlands and northern circuit a mass of pristine green baize broken only by broad flourishes of yellow meskel flowers. It’s a great time to go exploring.

Up in the north, the rock-cut churches of Lalibela need little introduction. These medieval pilgrim sites are incredible creations (an attempt to recreate Jerusalem in Ethiopia), but just as interesting are the lush and lesser-seen islands of Lake Tana, where boat trips reveal richly painted, centuries-old monasteries that are still used for worship.

When it comes to walking, treks among the Simien Mountains, home to grazing gelada baboons, are spectacular. Or head south to the central Bale Mountains, where verdant slopes wrapped by low-hanging mists hide rare sightings of the Ethiopian wolf.

The best long-term travel experiences in October

13. Santiago de Compostela, Spain

Pilgrims walking beneath eucalyptus trees on the Camino de Santiago (Shutterstock)

The Camino de Santiago is a pilgrimage to the shrine of apostle Saint James, located in the grand Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in north-west Spain. Pilgrims have been travelling across the region for over 1,000 years, earning certain routes UNESCO World Heritage status.

Today, the pilgrimage is embarked upon by all kinds of travellers. If not for religious reasons, for self-discovery, personal betterment, or simply the joy of walking.

You may choose your own starting point, but to receive a certificate of completion you will need to walk the last 100km of the journey, so distance is a factor. Where you begin the trek will also be influenced by your route choice. There are a number of established routes to pick from, ranging from 100km to 1,000km. The town of Pamplona is a popular starting point.

October is a good month for this adventure. Established routes will see fewer travellers, and the weather is milder this time of year, resulting in pleasant hiking conditions. It’s not quite as wise to cross the Pyrenees, though, as temperatures on the mountain range can drop below freezing in autumn.

14. Rajasthan, India

Rajasthan by rail (Shutterstock)

Explore India’s largest state and ‘the land of kings’, Rajasthan, by rail. Ride the route from New Delhi to Jaisalmer, stopping off in Jaipur and Jodhpur.

As a passenger riding through this subtropical desert, you’ll traverse seemingly never-ending desert vistas, watch herds of camel pass your window, and see rural communities rarely visited by outsiders. Along the way, marvel at Jaipur’s incredible decorative walls. Enter the Pink City (old town) and explore the royal palace.

You’ll be relying on your train, so make sure you’re riding comfortably – if you can afford it. The Indian Railway sell eight classes of ticket, from unreserved third class to luxurious, air-conditioned private cabins.

Second class AC is a good compromise. While not too expensive by western rail standards, this class allows the ability to book curtained sleeping bunks, complete with sheets and pillows. This is by no means a luxurious option, but it is a semi-authentic one.

Like other arid or semi-arid destinations on this list, Rajasthan benefits from the coolness of the autumn months.

15. Chilean Patagonia

Torres del Paine National Park, Chile (Shutterstock)

With some of the most dramatic national parks in the world, southern Chile is home to snow-capped blue mountains, lunar-like surfaces, yellow grasslands, cyan glaciers, majestic rivers, cascading waterfalls and more.

October marks the middle of Chile’s spring, on the cusp of Patagonia’s tourist season. Torres del Paine is one of the nation’s busiest parks, but with good reason.

The park is a beautiful display of Chilean Patagonia’s landscape, built around the Cordillera Paine mountain range. Brave the spring’s colder climate to enjoy this park without the crowds, before moving on to the lesser known parks.

16. Guangxi and Yunnan Provinces, China

A fisherman in Guangxi (Shutterstock)

You could spend a lifetime exploring each and every corner of China. So, if you’re planning an October visit, take advantage of the dry season in the Guangxi and Yunnan provinces.

South-west China experiences lower temperatures and much less rainfall from October onwards, making it a perfect time to visit these mountainous, rural regions.

Guangxi is known for its expansive caves, winding rivers and surreal karst formations. The Reed Flute Cave near Guilin, an ancient limestone cave famed for its vast quantity of stalactites and stalagmites, is well worth a visit. Yunnan is home to valleys like the Tiger Leaping Gorge, utterly magical to hike and explore.

17. Queensland, Australia

Brisbane, Australia (Shutterstock)

For a longer, more adventurous trip, fly to Brisbane in Queensland, Australia and work your way up the coast to Cairns in the north of the country.

Chase the sun along Queensland’s tropical west coast and enjoy the vibrant cities, diverse wildlife and picturesque beaches. This is not the hot, dusty Australia many of us think of: Queensland encompasses tropical, subtropical and equatorial climate zones.

October is a comfortable month in this part of the country with balmy days and cool nights. The sea is warm and perfect for water sports. As well as diving in the Great Barrier Reef, try kayaking and paddle-boarding – it should be easy to rent equipment up and down the coast.

While shorts and tees are acceptable, pack a light jacket and a pair of trousers. After a long, slow day on a sun-kissed beach, a loose pair of jeans will allow you to explore Queensland’s cities comfortably in the evening breeze.

The best October destinations for wildlife watching

18. Madagascar

Lemur Catta in Madagascar (Shutterstock)

December to March constitutes the rainy season in Madagascar, so your best bet is to visit during the local spring months. October hits the sweet spot, just as the island is warming up.

Expect a peachy average high of 26°C and a sea temperature of 25°C. The coastal waters are bright turquoise and dead calm, perfect for snorkelling.

A large tropical island with a relatively low population density, Madagascar is home to a diverse set of wildlife. To most of the world however, the island is recognised as the home of one creature in particular: the ring-tailed lemur.

Ring-tailed lemurs give birth in September and carry their young for the first few weeks. The pups (yes, pups) cling to the hair on their mother’s backs as they scamper around the forest. If that isn’t worth seeing, we don’t know what is.

19. Sweden

A female moose in the Swedish countryside (Shutterstock)

Trek to central Sweden to spot moose! Mooses? Mice? – The Swedes call them älg.

As a nation Sweden has the highest moose population per kilometer squared, however spotting them in the wild can be exceedingly difficult. So, it’s a trip suited best to the experienced animal tracker.

There are roughly 300,000 to 400,000 moose in Sweden, depending on the time of year. They’re extensively hunted in winter, keeping the spring population around the 400,000 mark.

The end of September and beginning of October is mating season. The bulls bellow loudly to attract a mate and if successful, will breed with several cows. This is the best time to see Sweden’s national animal as the bulls’ ostentatious behaviour make them easier to locate.

If you want to hedge your bets, there’s a moose safari company offering tours, with at least one successful sighting documented every year since 2003.

20. Madhya Pradesh, India

Spot tigers at Satpura National Park (Alamy Stock Photo)

With the monsoon rains consigned to yet another year, wildlife parks all across India reopen in October, having been closed for much of the summer season (Jul–Sep). A handful typically throw open their gates in the first week, but you usually have to wait until the middle of the month for the rest to follow.

There are pros and cons to this time of year. While the fresh greenery can make wildlife sightings harder (since the tall grasses and bushes haven’t yet burnt off), the lush scenery makes for better pictures when you do spot something. With that in mind, make the most of the new growth in Madhya Pradesh’s Satpura National Park on a walking safari – the only one in India.

Even if the bigger animals (tiger, leopard, sloth bear, etc) likely prove elusive, you will still have nature to draw upon as you stroll the dense sal and teak jungles, wander riverside meadows and learn the names of flowers and trees as you explore on foot with a naturalist guide.

21. Cambodia

A Sun Bear (Shutterstock)

Encompassing the Gulf of Thailand coastline, the Mekong Delta and the Cardamom Mountains, Cambodia is home to an abundance of wildlife.

The nation is currently seeing various large-scale conservation efforts take place, after years of civil war, illegal deforestation and poaching took a significant toll on indigenous animal populations.

Tragically, the Indochinese Tiger, once native to Cambodia, is believed to be extinct, against a wider trend of tiger population decline on the Asian continent.

While a lot of its animals are endangered or on conservation lists, Cambodia is still home to many fascinating species, including the sun bear, leopard cat, river dolphin and elephant.

Make sure your trip to see them supports sustainable tourism. Koh Kong Wildlife Release Centre (in the province of the same name), for example, is in excellent choice.

The centre offers one to three day experiences, allowing you to see Cambodia’s creatures up close and personal. The centre receives rehabilitated animals that have been rescued from traffickers and poachers and release them into the wild.

22. Churchill, Manitoba

A Churchill polar bear (Shutterstock)

Touted as the polar bear capital of the world, Churchill is an extremely remote town situated on the Hudson Bay coast in northern mainland Canada.

There are no roads in or out of the 900-strong community, only a train that departs Winnipeg thrice weekly and takes about 48 hours in total. Luckily for polar bear enthusiasts, you can fly to a nearby airport by plane or helicopter fairly regularly.

The town sees a high amount of polar bear activity thanks to its position beside the bay on the Hudson Plains. The world’s largest land predators migrate through the region when the Hudson’s ice melts in the summer. The bears return to the coast in the autumn and wait for the bay to freeze over again.

Because of the migration, Churchill’s inhabitants frequently find themselves living alongside the mammals. Stories of polar bears roaming the streets and tapping on windows are common, and allegedly, the town enforces a law against locking car doors – in case a passerby needs to escape from a rogue bear.

October is the best time to see polar bears here, as they’ve returned to the coast but are not yet able to pass through onto the ice.

While polar bears are usually solitary animals, they often group together during the wait, presenting the opportunity to see multiple bears at once. Tours operate using large, raised tundra vehicles – although you may not need to leave town to spot one.

23. Zambia

Hippos in Busanga Plains (Alamy Stock Photo)

During the wet season, heavy downpours turn the Busanga Plains, in the north of Kafue National Park, into a giant wetland that is only accessible as the floodwaters begin to recede in June.

For five months only, it offers up wild safari encounters. It’s possible to spot red lechwe bounding among the dambos (shallow wetlands), spy over 500 species of bird, catch incredible lion sightings and catch rare glimpses of cheetah in this part of Africa. It’s not dubbed the mini Serengeti for nothing.

October is the last month that the rains hold off and the camps stay open, with wildlife easier to spot among the drier bush. There aren’t an abundance of stays, but look out in particular for the nest-like pods of Chisa Busanga Camp, which are unlike anything else. You can also take hot air balloon tours over the plains just as the dawn mists are evaporating.

Bettany Hughes: Exploring India’s Treasures

This is a different approach to your Treasures of the World series. How did it come about? 

We were asked to do this series by [commissioning editor] Shaminder Nahal at Channel 4, who is as passionate about India as I am; I’ve been travelling there for decades. She said India cannot be contained in a single hour so let’s have something a bit more narrative-based and regional. We’ve done North and South India in this series and the hope is we’ll do East and West next.

It’s got ‘Exploring’ in the title and the idea was to cover some of the household names, but try to do those in a different and unexpected way.

With the Taj Mahal, we started in its gardens, because if people think of the gardens they think of that formal stretch of green going up to the famous white building. But actually, it was conceived as a whole landscape involving the river as a replication of paradise. I found it very moving and emotional being in its overgrown secret back gardens, which are open to the public.

 

Bettany is passionate about India and has been travelling there for decades (Channel 4)

Then we wanted to bring in places like Hampi, which not many people know about and is incredible. It was the second biggest city in the world in its time. 

We also wanted to drill down to what connects us across space and time. How you can go to that back garden in the Taj Mahal and feel the grief of Shah Jahan. Or in Varanasi, where I went to look at the depth of antiquity of the rites but got caught up in a very personal experience.

It’s understanding on a very human level why we can still connect, even if we live in different places and different times. 

Bettany was shown places by local experts, curators, and archaeologists (Channel 4)

Varanasi must have been very difficult as you had recently lost your mother and we see your grief on-screen. 

Yes, it was full-on emotional. I’d never really thought about what that ritual is all about. It is specifically saying your ancestors are dissolving back into the cosmos, which sounds incredibly soulful and spiritual but scientifically, we now know that’s true. The atoms don’t evaporate, they just become something else. The crew are like family because we’ve travelled together for so long, and I could see them getting upset as well. It was an incredible honour to be able to grieve in that place. 

Although visiting before, many places in India still surprised Bettany (Channel 4)

India is a huge country with so many potential themes. What threads were you looking for?

Three things make this different from the other series. One is that, without exception, I’m being shown places by local experts, curators and archaeologists, and we spent a lot of time asking them: what’s important? What’s the thing you want to share?

For instance, Arjan in Hampi really wanted to show me the bazaar to see how incredibly hyper-connected, multinational and multicultural it was. So we were led by what people on the ground wanted to share.

Bettany was welcomed by the Toda women (Channel 4)

It was also thinking of themes. Running through both episodes is what we do with the gifts of nature and how that shapes human culture, whether it’s using alluvial river water for the mould for Chola bronzes, or how the earliest mosque in India came from Arab spice traders.

The first programme is about how our inner lives manifest in physical things, particularly different faiths so we touch on Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and Sufiism, and the second is about the gifts of nature.

One of Bettany’s favourite places to see was Hampi (Channel 4)

You already knew India well but what surprised you? 

The Golden Temple in Amritsar did. Everywhere we went, we checked whether we had permission because the temple authorities said yes, you’re very welcome, but come as a soulful or inner journey – don’t come as a historian or a blogger. They’ve had influencers and Instagrammers using it like a backdrop.

So I didn’t do any pieces to camera. It was just being there and allowing myself time to feel and to think. I usually talk a lot so to be forced not to was amazing. I probably had 20 cups of lovely masala chai with different people that day. 

The other interesting thing for me was to do with the Romans, because that’s my specialism. They were in love with India and talked about it as an incredibly rich country and, for once, it’s not the Romans being imperialists and taking over a country. It was really lovely during the research to discover the counterpart of the Tamil Kings talking about the Romans coming and saying they’ve got great boats and really nice wine. 

And hearing as we were there that new digs were finding beautiful Roman coins and amphorae. That felt really special.

There’s a wider range of people in this series, not just archaeologists. For instance, you meet with a group of tribal women in the mountains.

It was replicating how I’ve been to India as a traveller and researcher, looking at the stories of women and goddesses. With the Toda women specifically, we asked if we could go to them, because it’s their land, and they were incredibly welcoming. They were pleased I was a woman leading the team because women are very strong in their culture, and delighted I’m a lifelong vegetarian as well. I’ve got curly hair that goes frizzy in tropical places and they were saying: “We have the same problem, and we use buffalo milk to curl our hair.” So we ended up exchanging cosmetic tips. That was the thing we were trying to do: being shown around India by our hosts, the people of India.

You finish in Kerala talking about the spice trade and the cultural influence of spices.

I learned a lot there. I didn’t know chillies were from South America, brought in by the Portuguese. And that because so many men from the early Arabic and Muslim communities were away the whole time on the boats, it became completely normal for the women to run not just their households, but the communities and towns as well. I think it helps being a historian, because I’m forcing myself the whole time to think about this beautiful layer cake of history. 

If you had to pick just one place from the series that our readers should visit, where would it be? 

I’d say Hampi. It’s not easy to get to so the journey is quite exciting as well. Once there, it’s so huge you could spend two weeks exploring and there would still be more to discover.

It tells us about interconnectivity; for instance it has a lovely courtyard palace with carvings of Ottoman Turks, Turkics from Mongolia and local tribes, which tells you about the incredible, cosmopolitan nature of this place, which is now an abandoned ghost town.

It’s so atmospheric and magical. There’s so much you can learn from it and still so much left to explore. 


Exploring India’s Treasures with Bettany Hughes is a two-part series airing from Sunday 9 July 2023. Both episodes will be available to watch on All4.

International Colour Day: 15 of the world’s most stunning rainbow-coloured places

1. Kampung Warna, Jodipan, Indonesia

Colourful Rainbow Village in Jodipan, Malang (Shutterstock)

Just south of Malang, a city in East Java, Kampung is an explosion of colour in what was once a drab corner of Indonesia.

Management students from a nearby university came up with the idea of painting the houses. A local paint company donated the paint. And a previously unremarkable village was turned into a happy place of rainbow colours, suddenly receiving an influx of money from selfie-seeking visitors.

It also inspired locals to clean up their rubbish-strewn river, so there has been a positive environmental impact, too.

2. Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park, USA

Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park (Shutterstock)

Yellowstone’s Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest hot spring in the USA and the third largest thermal spring on the planet.

But it’s the rainbow-coloured bands of heat-loving bacteria that make it truly memorable. The sulphur fumes may burn your eyes, but it’s certainly photo-worthy.

3. The Bo-Kaap, Cape Town, South Africa

Kids sitting on steps in the Bo-Kaap quarter (Shutterstock)

Sitting at the foot of Signal Hill on the fringes of central Cape Town, Bo-Kaap was once known as the Malay Quarter, home to workers brought in from Malaysia, Indonesia and the rest of Africa to work.

Built in the 1760s and rented to the workers, the houses had to be white as per the terms of the lease. When the workers were eventually allowed to buy the properties, they painted them in bright colours to express their freedom and individuality.

4. Red Sea, Egypt

Coral and tropical fish in the Red Sea (Shutterstock)

The Red Sea boasts one of the richest and most diverse underwater ecosyems in the world, with over 1,200 species of fish, 10% of which can’t be found anywhere else.

This is largely due to the 2,000 kilometres of coral reef along its coast. Some of the coral is 5,000 – 7,000 years old. It’s lost none of its vibrancy, and coupled with the neon fish that call it home, remains one of the most colourful places on earth.

5. Rainbow Village, Taichung, Taiwan

Colourful graffiti painted on the wall in Taichung (Shutterstock)

What began as an attempt to save houses in the Nantun District of Taichung has turned into one of Taiwan’s most popular and colourful tourist attractions. Former soldier, Huang Yung-Fu, started painting houses in the settlement to stop them from being demolished.

Over the years he has added colourful artwork, including birds, animals and people, to most of the remaining houses in the village, gaining it the moniker ofRainbow Village.

6. Vinicunca, Peru

Tourists walking on the Rainbow Mountain (Shutterstock)

A two-hour drive from Cusco, Vinicunca, Peru’s Rainbow Mountain, has become one of the country’s most popular tourist attractions. Formed millions of years ago, the ridges of sediment are made up of a variety of minerals, each providing its own vibrant hue of either pink, yellow, turquoise and burgundy.

Sitting at 5,200 metres, you’ll need to take time to acclimatise to the altitude – and the mix of colours.

7. Guatapé, Colombia

Colourful colonial houses in Guatape (Shutterstock)

A bumpy three hour bus ride from Medellin, the tiny traditional pueblo of Guatepé is full of brightly coloured colonial-era homes, embellished with delicate painting ofllamas, sunflowers, parrots and guitars.

The Plaza de Zocalos is rainbow-coloured, too, and the perfect place to have a drink and people watch.

8. Seven Coloured Earths, Chamarel, Mauritius

The seven coloured lands of Chamarel (Shutterstock)

A series of colourful dunes in the middle of tropical rainforest, the Seven Coloured Earths near Charamel in Mauritius is believed to have formed from the decomposition of volcanic rocks. It has settle into stripes of colour ranging from violet and red through to yellow and blue and is best viewed at sunrise, when the colours are at their most vibrant.

9. Cinque Terre, Italy

View of Vernazza from trail (Shutterstock)

Hugging the rugged coastline and tumbling down towards the Ligurian Sea, the five tiny villages that make up Cinque Terre are a riot of colour.

Walking the jagged coast path between them is one of Italy’s most treasured treks, rewarding hikers with fresh sea air and spectacular views, especially when you round a headland and catch your first sight of villages like Vernazza and Manarola.

10. La Boca, Buenos Aires, Argentina

El Caminito quarter in La Boca (Shutterstock)

La Boca is a working-class suburb in Buenos Aires that is famous for two things – La Bombonera, the home ground of Boca Juniors football team and Caminito, a narrow alley flanked by bright, zinc shacks.

The colours are a reminder of the district’s early immigrant days, when a splash of paint was the only way to show pride in the humble dwellings. Now the area is bursting with steakhouses, bars and cafes and the modern art museum, Fundación Proa.

11. Tulip fields, Keukenhof, The Netherlands

Keukenhof tulip fields (Shutterstock)

Between March and May every year, the fields around Keukenhof in the Netherlands are transformed into a kaleidoscope of colour as the country’s world famous tulips bloom.

They’re not just for show. These tulips will be picked and sent all around the world, an important source of revenue for this tiny country. That doesn’t make it any less spectacular, especially when framed with one of the Netherlands’ famous windmills.

12. Rainbow Row, Charleston, USA

A colourful row of historic Georgian row houses in Charleston (Shutterstock)

This row of historic houses in Charleston, South Carolina, is the longest cluster of Georgian row houses in the United States.

With their bright colours and mature trees, they are also amongst the most beautiful. You’ll find them on East Bay Street, north of Tradd Street, and south of Elliott Street.

13. Meenakshi Amman Temple, Madurai, India

Meenakshi Amman Hindu temple in Madurai (Shutterstock)

This ancient city on the Vaigai River in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu is dominated by the 14 colourful gopurams (gateway towers) of Meenakshi Amman Temple.

It’s festooned with thousands of rainbow coloured carvings of Hindu gods. It is also home to colourful celebrations, like the Chithirai Festival, held every April to celebrate Meenakshi and Lord Vishnu.

14. Santa Marta, Rio, Brazil

Colourfully painted buildings in Rio’s Santa Marta favela (Shutterstock)

Set on the the slopes of Morro Dona Marta, the rainbow coloured favela of Santa Marta is one of the steepest in Rio. It has over 8,000 residents crammed into its makeshift wooden and brick houses, each painted in an assortment of cheerful hues.

A popular location for both TV series and film, it most famously hosted one of the most spectacular chase scenes in Fast Five, the fifth instalment of The Fast and The Furious franchise.

15. Burano, Venice Lagoon, Italy

Colourful houses in Burano, Venice (Shutterstock)

Burano is an island in Venetian Lagoon, famous for its multi-coloured homes, beguilingly reflected in the waters of the canals.

There are plenty of bars and restaurants for visitors, but it’s very much a working town, with fishermen selling their catch straight from their boats, and old nonnas sitting on their verandas, making the island’s needle lace.

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Rajasthan trip planner: 4 crowd-free routes

The sun was low in the sky when the Manganiyar performers arrived. I could hear the tinkling of the women’s ankle jewellery and smell the smoke trailing from the men’s bidi cigarettes as they climbed up to the roof terrace outside the window of my Rajasthan hotel room. By the time I’d joined them on the roof, nursing a cup of tea laced with cardamom, the family were in full flow, instrumentalists cross-legged in the front row playing harmonium, tabla and flute; behind them, wives and sisters sat with veils pulled low over their faces, underscoring the rhythm on camel-bone castanets and finger bells. Topped by a scarlet turban, the lead singer raised his palms skywards now and again, or touched the tips of his fingers with his thumbs to emphasise the cycle of beats.

The song rose in cadences as the colours on the carved sandstone balconies next to us grew more intense. Beyond the musicians stretched an ocean of darkening desert, inky blue and ochre. The cooking fires of distant camel camps shone like trawler lights in the gloom.

Moments like this are commonplace in Rajasthan. With its sublime scenery, ubiquitous traditional dress and exuberant architecture, it’s no surprise this north-western state – boasting a hefty chunk of India’s Pakistan border – attracts the lion’s share of first-time visitors to India. But the area is also big enough to ensure that you don’t have to venture all that far off the beaten track to discover bucolic corners where the 21st century has made little discernible impact. Whether fairytale palaces, hidden tigers or Manganiyar music are what you’re hoping to experience in Rajasthan, the following itineraries will offer plenty of pointers.

The Grand Tour

Red sandstone and marble colours glow on Amber Fort (Dreamstime)

Duration: 15 days

Best for: Pilgrimage sites, desert forts, walled cities, markets

Route: Jaipur – Pushkar – Ajmer – Nagaur – Jaisalmer – Jodhpur – Udaipur

Why go? Tick off the classics in one focussed fortnight – or longer – of varied travel. Perfect for first-timers to the state.

When to go: October–March, when the skies are blue, nights (often very) cool and daytime temperatures pleasant.

No one goes on holiday to Rajasthan for just a week – unless they live in Delhi. To tick off the state’s must-see sights, you’ll need at least two (or ideally, three) weeks. Slotting together seamlessly on the end of a ‘Golden Triangle’ tour through Agra (home of the Taj Mahal), this itinerary traces a loop around the highlights, passing a handful of lesser-known sights along the way. Extend it with any of the shorter routes featured later in this article.

Starting point is the Rajasthani capital, Japiur – the ‘Pink City’. The name derives from the regulation salmon colour of its historic walled core, whose bazaars (great for gemstones and block-printed textiles), havelis (courtyard mansions) and royal palaces offer endless scope for exploration. Visit Amber Fort, on the northern outskirts, first thing in the morning, when the ochre walls and richly decorated apartments look at their most resplendent.

Next up is Pushkar, where a belt of whitewashed Hindu temples enfold the shores of Pushkar Lake, on the fringes of the Thar Desert. Join pilgrims for a pre-dawn puja prayer ritual on the ghats (the sacred steps leading to the water), then climb to the hilltop shrines overlooking the town for views across Nag Pahar mountain. Lots of people skip nearby Ajmer, but that would be a mistake: the Dargah (Sufi tomb) at the city’s heart is the most sacred site in Islamic India and a particularly atmospheric spot on Thursdays, when qawwali music is performed live.

From Pushkar, continue north-west to Nagaur – another often-bypassed jewel and the site of one of India’s most beautiful fortress-palaces as well as a scattering of ancient Sufi shrines. Then press on to Jaisalmer, the honey-hued citadel in the far west of the state, near the Indo-Pak border, where you can savour the distinctive atmosphere of the desert through camel treks and rooftop music recitals.

A long day’s journey takes you south-east from Jaisalmer to Jodhpur, the ‘Blue City’ famed for its cobalt old town and fort, Mehrangarh. Be sure to visit the Bishnoi minority villages in this area, where local people worship a species of antelope known as the ‘black buck’, before continuing south to the Aravalli Mountains. There, you might wish to pause for a night at Kumbalgarh Fort, so as to tackle a dawn trek around India’s most extensive set of medieval ramparts – a hike into a forgotten world of ruined shrines and astonishing vistas across the plains.

Your final destination on this trip is Udaipur, Rajasthan’s serene lake city. Boat cruises, palace tours, souvenir shopping and sessions exploring the rooftops as the sun sets over Lake Pichola bring the trip to a suitably chimeric conclusion.

Top tip: Staged jointly by Jodhpur and Nagaur forts every February, the World Sacred Spirit Festival gathers together top Sufi musicians to perform in superbly evocative settings.

The Lost Silk Road

The old city gate at Bikaner (Dreamstime)

Duration: 5 days

Best for: Antique havelis, folk art, desert villages

Route: Jaipur – Nawalgarh – Mandawa – Bikaner

Why go? Experience a less-visited region that’s close to capital Jaipur but feels a world away culturally. Usefully, it can also be an alternative route to Jaisalmer.

When to go: October–March

Centuries ago, a spur of the Silk Route would send traders west across the Thar Desert all the way to Sindh and the Indus River. This ancient artery, in use since the time of Alexander the Great, closed abruptly with the creation of the Pakistani border in 1947, but numerous vestiges of past splendour survive in the towns and villages dotted along it – notably in the region of Shekhawati, just north of Jaipur, where a wonderful crop of painted havelis (courtyard mansions) rise proudly from tangles of old, sand-blown streets.

Base yourself either in the market town of Nawalgarh or – for a swanky heritage option – in the castle hotel at Mandawa. Either way, a wealth of superb historic properties, forts and temples lie within easy reach of day trips in this area. Shekhawati’s painted havelis are famous not merely for their religious imagery, but also folk-art depictions of the wonders of the early colonial era – steam trains, hot air balloons, motor cars, red-coated armies and topi-wearing British officials feature prominently among the usual array of many-armed deities. Hotels and guest houses in Shekhawati also offer eco-friendly camel cart trips out to local villages and traditional textile or pottery workshops.

From Mandawa, continue west along the old caravan trail to Bikaner – a Rajput oasis city sculpted from chocolate-coloured sandstone. As well as another assemblage of palaces and havelis, you can visit the ‘rat temple’ at Deshnok, where thousands of holy rodents swarm around a marble-lined shrine dedicated to warrior-prophet Karni Mata.

Top tip: The town of Jhunjhunu, in northern Shekhawati, is home to the Rani Sati temple, dedicated to the titular victim of ‘sati‘ – ritual self-immolation – who threw herself on her husband’s funeral pyre.

The Alwar Detour

Moosi Maharani Chhatri, Alwar, Rajasthan, India (Dreamstime)

Duration: 5 days

Best for: birding, crumbling palaces and beautiful boutique stays

Route: Bharatpur – Alwar – Bishangarh

Why go? An off-the-track alternative to the standard Agra-Jaipur stretch of the Golden Triangle, taking in two deserted palaces and some fabulous countryside.

When to go: October-March

Following the well-trodden ‘Golden Triangle’ route from Agra along National Highway 21, most travellers approach the Rajasthani capital Jaipur from the east. A more interesting alternative, however, detours north through the wooded hills of the former princely state of Alwar, home to a couple of outstanding royal palace complexes where you probably won’t encounter a single tout or tourist.

Your first stop after Agra and Fatehpur Sikri will be Bharatpur. Although it is itself the site of a rugged fort (which repulsed a long siege by the British in 1805), the town is of interest primarily for the UNESCO-listed Keoladeo Ghana National Park on the outskirts. Even if you’re not a confirmed wildlife enthusiast, this reserve should be a compelling stop in the winter months, when its wetlands teem with birds and reptiles, including giant sarus cranes and pythons. Safaris are typically conducted by bicycle and are a joy after the mayhem of the big cities.

An hour’s drive further north, Deeg is where the Bharatpur Maharajas used to spend the summer months luxuriating in ornately decorated palaces beside a pair of shimmering ornamental lakes. Few bother to visit the monuments these days, but their pierced-stone marble screens, filigreed pavilions and fountains are straight from the pages of a Mughal miniature painting.

Continue from there to Alwar, site of an even grander palace and fort, set against a backdrop of craggy peaks. If you like your Rajput monuments dilapidated and atmospheric, rather than crowded and polished, this superb pile should fulfil your expectations. An added incentive is the chance to stay in a particularly delightful heritage property called Dadhikar Fort, hidden deep in the nearby hills.

If your budget can stretch to it, the ultimate place to wind up this itinerary would be a couple of nights at the recently opened Alila Bishangarh – a Rajput palace that took nine years to restore and now boasts some of the most stylishly converted royal apartments in India, with sleek, contemporary interiors and cusp-arched windows framing glorious rural views.

Top tip: Wildlife lovers may wish to extend this trip west to Keechen, near the town of Phalodi, where thousands of demoiselle cranes gather in the winter months, attracted by a supply of free grain donated by local Jain priests.

The Southern Escape

Ranthambore National Park remains one of the planet’s best destinations for tigers (Dreamstime)

Duration: 8 days

Best for: Tigers, crocs, medieval murals, royal homestays, far-flung forts

Route: Ranthambore National Park – Bundi – Bhainsrorgarh – Jhalawar

Why go? To experience the wild landscapes and rarely visited monuments of Rajasthan’s far south-eastern districts.

When to go: October–March

Sidestep the crowds in the little-visited south-eastern corner of Rajasthan. This is a great route if you’ve travelled in the region before but want to venture further off-piste for a taste of what the country was like 30 or more years ago. The obvious difference between then and now is the presence – tucked away in beautiful hilltop or riverside locations – of some outstanding heritage hotels where you can experience life in small market towns and rural villages from the comfort of a bona fide, functioning Rajput palace.

The trip begins at Sawai Madhopur, springboard for Ranthambore National Park, one of the country’s foremost tiger reserves. If you haven’t yet seen a tiger in the wild, you might be tempted to linger here in the hope of sighting a big cat or two lounging in the ruined lakeside pavilions, or stalking herds of chital deer on the edge of Ranthambore’s forest. The park is also serviced by a crop of safari lodges and camps offering the last word in retro colonial chic. Otherwise, continue south to Bundi, a traditional Rajasthani market hub whose old town sprawls from the foot of an imposing 17th-century palace.

Early the next morning, climb the hill to see the murals in the palace’s former zenana, or women’s quarters, which depict episodes from the life of Krishna in vibrant blues, greens and reds. Later, press on south to Bhainsrorgarh, where another ancient royal complex crowns a cliff top overlooking a bend in the Chambal River. Make the most of the views from the domed cupolas on the roof, where you can dine by candlelight in the evening. Orchards of guava and papaya line the far banks, reachable by rowing boat – a treat in the early morning sunshine, though be sure to keep a careful eye out for gharial crocs basking in the shallows.

Your final destination will be the town of Jhalawar, in the south-east corner of Rajasthan on the edge of the Malwa Plateau, where you can stay as a guest of the local Maharaja, Rana Shri Chandrajit Singhji Dev Bahadur, and his family. Encircled by a lotus-filled moat, Prithvi Vilas Palace is well placed for explorations of the area’s remote temples and forts, foremost among them the citadel at Gagron, spectacularly sited at the confluence of two rivers.

Did you know? Ranthambore was a private and exclusive hunting reserve of the Jaipur royal family until 1955.