We’re heading towards the end of the year, but there’s still a lot to do
Brr. It’s getting colder (in the northern hemisphere at least), and the days are getting very short. The weather’s closing in and what most people want to do is huddle up somewhere warm. But if you do want to get a bit of travelling done (and why not?) here are our top tips for places to go in November.
Golden Age glamour, Palm Springs, California, US
Maybe you feel like you need to treat yourself. It’s the last chance before the holiday season starts in earnest. Take yourself off somewhere glamorous. Somewhere that counted, among its regular guests, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and more, as November in the desert feels more like springtime elsewhere.
The dry heat coupled with the hot springs that give the place its name (along with the palms, naturally) meant that it was a popular destination in the 1900s for tourists looking for a healthful place to spend their winter. Ironically, due to travellers finding the summers in this part of the world oppressively hot, Palm Springs began to specialise in being the one place you might find some winter sun.
In the 1920s, as its fame grew, the city was filled with many of the elegant art deco buildings that you can see today: Lloyd Wright — son of Frank — Albert Frey and William Krisel are among the many to have left their mark on the place.
Nowadays, you can still experience all the luxury and style of its heyday by staying in one of the hotels designed in that period. Lounging by the outdoor pool, cocktails on the terrace, as well as dinner and dancing at places like Melvyn’s (a favourite Rat Pack hangout) are all the order of the day.
If all that relaxing sounds far too much like hard work then head out of town for hiking, cycling or golf in the surrounding area. There are nature trails as well, and trips to national parks such as Joshua Tree or the Agua Caliente Cultural Museum, focussing on the history of Palm Springs in the centuries before European settlement. All in all, you might go for the pampering, but you’ll leave with a lot more.
Sun Down Under, Adelaide, Australia
Of course, it’s not winter everywhere, so if you’re looking to escape the weather properly, how about heading to Australia? And not just anywhere in Australia: one of its lesser-remembered cities.
Adelaide suffers in comparison to the bigger brothers of Melbourne and Sydney, but there’s no reason why this should be so. In fact, Adelaideans are proud of their underdog status and the feeling of being in possession of one of Australia’s best-kept secrets.
The truth is, Adelaide is a very cool city indeed. Founded in 1836 on the principles of religious freedom, political progressivism and civil liberties, it has generally maintained this admirable trajectory ever since.
Despite slumping into having a reputation as something of a cultural backwater in the middle of the 20th century, in the 1970s Adelaide experienced a cultural and social revival, as it flourished into a centre for the arts (the Adelaide Festival of Arts is one of the world’s biggest and most important), and South Australia became the first state in the country to decriminalise homosexuality.
If you visit in November, Saturday the tenth is the date of the Adelaide Christmas Pageant. Sure, it seemsstarts on 10 a bit early, but it’s an Adelaide institution, the parade having been an annual event since 1933.
There are a couple of festivals as well: if you head southeast of the city on the same day to Langhorn Creek, you’ll find a laid-back festival in the vineyards and fields of Lake Breeze Wines. Chill out with a picnic and listen to the live indie and folk music, or browse the handmade arts, crafts, food and drink on sale.
Floating away, Thailand
On 13 November, the whole of Thailand will celebrate the festival of Loy Krathong, one of the most colourful festivals in a part of the world where that claim is up against some pretty stiff competition. Thais head to rivers, streams, lakes and ponds in order to float millions of tiny containers (known as krathong) upon the water in order to thank Mother Nature.
It originates from an ancient ritual designed to appease water spirits, but the boat-like containers are a recent addition, having only been introduced in 1947. They have, however, become a much-loved addition to the festival as almost all of them contain a candle, as well as three incense sticks and a few coins. This means that the sight and scent of thousands of them floating on the water at night is a truly lovely sight.
A slightly controversial point over the years has been the material that the krathongs are made of. After their introduction in the mid-20th century, a number were made out of styrofoam. Obviously, for a festival that’s supposed to celebrate the fact that we have clean water, this was a Very Bad Thing.
These are now banned almost everywhere, replaced by krathongs made of a type of heavy bread which maintains its shape, but eventually breaks up into food for the fish living in the rivers and ponds, or from banana leaves which biodegrade in the water.
Groups and organizations often build large krathongs and compete to see which is deemed the best or most spectacular, and the entire evening is often accompanied with spectacular firework displays across the country.
Northern Lights season, Iceland
“Aurora Borealis? At this time of year, at this time of day, in this part of the country, localised entirely within your visit?” “Yes!”
Stunning, rugged Iceland is a bucket-list destination for a lot of travellers, and no more so than as winter approaches, when the sun barely rises and the chances of seeing the Northern Lights increases. The wondrous greens, purples, whites and yellows that swoop and curl across the night sky can be elusive, but once seen, are never forgotten.
Check the weather forecast before venturing out (cloud cover will almost certainly mean you won’t see anything), and get away from urban areas. Admittedly, Iceland has very few, but craning your neck skywards in the middle of Reykjavik is not the way to go about it.
You can rent a car or a truck and head out yourself, or you can book a trip with one of the number of Northern Lights hunting groups. These are dedicated photographers who’ll show you the best places for seeing the Lights, as well as — if photography is your thing — giving you tips on camera settings, focus, perspective and everything else you need to know to get the perfect shot.
Also, you’ll have to be patient. Experienced hunters recommend a trip of at least four nights to make it as likely as possible that you’ll see a display. Indeed, a lot of the self-drive tours that are mapped specifically to visit places you’re likely to see the lights last around seven days.
Spring forward, Buenos Aires, Argentina
As spring erupts in Argentina, Buenos Aires comes out of hibernation. The rains of winter are over, and people are ready to really start having fun after months of grey skies. Flowers burst forth, the jacaranda trees are in full bloom, and the city really begins to flaunt itself again.
People invite their neighbours to barbecues, pool parties, or simply drinks on terraces, and locals start meeting in parks, at pavement cafes, and anywhere they can be social again.
Naturally, you’ll also want to immerse yourself in a city that combines a slightly faded air of old-world European glamour with the bubbling passion of the Latin temperament. Walk around the streets and soak up the daytime atmosphere before heading back for a nap. You’ll need it.
Restaurants don’t really start serving seriously until 9pm, and bars don’t feel like bars until midnight. Going clubbing? Expect to start heading where you’re going between two and four in the morning. Thinking about it, depending on when your flight lands, you might be able to maintain this rhythm and never have to face your jet lag!
November is also the month when Buenos Aires catches festival fever. 17 November is the Pride parade, with almost two weeks of events leading up to that manic Saturday. Combine what’s known as the most LGBTQ-friendly city in Latin America with the Argentinian ability to party, mentioned above, and you’ve got quite an event.
Otherwise, for something more traditional, you could try the Day of the Gaucho in San Antonio de Areco, around 100 km north-west of the capital. Horse displays, singing, dancing, polo and handicrafts are all here in a huge celebration of the lifestyle of the Argentinian cowboy.
For a spot of culture, mid-November also hosts the city’s Night of the Museums, during which institutions large and small throw open their doors to the public with a vast number of exhibitions, guided tours, art events, music and theatre, all of which are free.
Cosy corners, Bruges, Belgium
It’s almost a cliche now to recommend Bruges as a European city break destination, fawning as many travel publications are over its beautiful 14th- century buildings, picturesque canals and winding lanes.
But, as with so many stereotypes, there’s truth in it. Bruges is stunning, there’s no denying that fact, and if you want to avoid the worst of the crowds and take advantage of a city that becomes, in a way, more inviting when the weather isn’t great, November is a fine time to go.
The advantages of going in late autumn? Cosiness. Belgium is quite rightly known for its chocolate, coffee, beer, waffles… basically a lot of tasty things that can be consumed in small eateries when the weather isn’t particularly good.
Walk the streets and squares of the city and then, if it starts to rain, or the wind off the canals is starting to get just a bit chilly, pop into a cosy cafe, a local pub, a steamy-windowed brasserie, and sample something amazing.
Then, when you’re fully recharged, out you set again, in search of the next beautiful sight and, eventually, the next opportunity to try something delicious.
At night, no matter what the season, the city is equally beautiful thanks to its subtle but effective floodlighting, meaning that the shapes of the buildings in all their nook- and crevice-filled glory is emphasised even more.
If you happen to be lucky with the weather, there are night-time boat trips that explore the canals (only at weekends in November however), and walking tours looking into the history and the stories behind one of northern Europe’s most celebrated cities.