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7 Surprising Places to See Stunning Fall Foliage Overseas

Looking for a fall foliage getaway that’s a little less New Hampshire and a little more Japan? Shoulder season is a great time to snag a steal on international travel, and these bucket-list-worthy destinations are even more beautiful in leaf-peeping season.

Unexpected Destinations for Fall Foliage

Here are the most unexpected places abroad to enjoy autumn colors just as vivid as the ones in the States.

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Nikko, Japan

fall foliage in nikko, japan.

Want your fall foliage with a side of waterfalls? Nikko’s mountainous climate and terrain make for not only a lengthy leaf-peeping season, but also scenic highways (like Irohazaka Winding Road, pictured) swathed in fall foliage, and towering waterfalls to view it all from. The most famous waterfall in the region, Kegon Waterfall, even has a nearby 330-foot-high observation deck accessible via elevator, for sweeping vistas of the surrounding area sans the hike. Colors typically peak between mid-October and early November.

Where to Stay: At Hoshino Resorts KAI Nikko, a hotel that’s within walking distance to Nikko National Park.

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Uttarakhand, India

fall foliage and elephants in uttarakhand, india's jim corbett national park.

If India doesn’t come to mind when you think about autumnal getaways, the Himalayan peaks of Uttarakhand might change your mind. Fall foliage ranging from golden yellow to deep red makes a mountain-top or lakeside stay in Uttarakhand the perfect break from India’s bustling megacities. Visit Nainital Lake to leaf peep by boat, or head to wildlife sanctuary Jim Corbett National Park for the chance to spot tigers and elephants among the fall foliage.

Where to Stay: The Riverview Retreat is a top ranked property near Jim Corbett National Park. The hotel’s inviting outdoor spaces will keep you connected to nature throughout your stay.

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Transylvania, Romania

fall foliage at dracula's castle, romania.

The land of Dracula and Gothic castles exists in real-life Romania, a destination that isn’t on the average traveler’s radar—but is on many a Halloween lover’s. Bran Castle in Brasov, Transylvania, is said to have inspired the setting of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and thus referred to simply as Dracula’s Castle. The most-visited site in Transylvania, it’s nestled in a sea of red and orange fall foliage come leaf-peeping season.

Where to Stay: If a quaint hotel is your cup of tea, try the historic Bella Muzica located in Council Square.

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Nanjing, China

fall foliage in nanjing, china.

For a later fall foliage season that spans mid-November through December, Nanjing is a bustling city that’s home to a surprising number of vibrantly colored scenic areas. Among them is the aptly named Purple Mountain (named for its plum-tree foliage), home to the Xiaoling Tomb of the Ming Dynasty that’s guarded by life-sized stone sculptures of elephants, camels, and horses. Nearby Niushoushan Cultural Park is also a sprawling natural area hiding temples and pagodas you can access up and down the mountain via tram. A modern and college-centric Chinese city, Nanjing is also set to open a brand-new Ritz Carlton Nanjing in late 2019. And if craft beers are a fall staple for you, don’t miss Master Gao Brewery’s beloved green tea- and jasmine-infused options.

Where to Stay: The new Ritz Carlton is worth the wait. Or, have a delightfully historic stay at The Grand Mansion Nanjing, which was designed by the late I.M. Pei, the Chinese architect behind The Louvre.

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Budapest, Hungary

fall foliage in budapest, hungary.

Fall is perhaps the best time to visit Budapest. Fall foliage makes hilly Buda a canvas of color easily viewed from the Pest side of the city—where thermal baths bustle with use once again after the heat of summer settles down. The city rests on thermal springs that feed the city’s many spa options, from the famous yellow-painted Szechenyi Baths to the Art Nouveau thermal pools at historic Hotel St. Gellert.

Where to Stay: Aria Hotel Budapest is a property that has been racking up awards left and right. Who wouldn’t want to rest their head at a hotel that was named the #1 hotel in the world by TripAdvisor in 2017?

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Patagonia, Chile and Argentina

fall foliage in patagonia.

Turn leaf-peeping season upside down by heading to South America between late March and mid-April for peak autumn colors. The region is colder and wetter in these months, which makes hiking a challenge but also means smaller crowds. The fall foliage, however, is considered by many to be worth the weather: deep red, orange, and yellow leaves take over the mountains, and you’re more likely to see animals thanks to the reduced number of visitors.

Where to Stay: Inside the Cerro Alarken Nature Reserve at Arakur Ushuaia. This Argentinian hotel is a 2019 TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice winner.

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Melbourne, Australia

fall foliage in melbourne dandenong ranges national park, australia.

Traveling Down Under in late April to mid-May also yields dazzling Southern-Hemisphere colors in outdoorsy Melbourne, which sees a wide range from golden-yellow leaves to deep reds. Dandenong Ranges National Park is a favorite for waterfalls and bridges in a lush forest home to wildlife, like wombats and cockatoos. For the ultimate leaf-peeping experience, kick back on a train ride via Melbourne’s historic Puffing Billy steam engine, which meanders through the Dandenong Ranges peaks and fern gullies. 

Where to Stay: Enjoy the bustling restaurant scene around Treasury on Collins, a historic refurbished hotel in a prime area. Dandenong Ranges is a quick 25-minute drive from the hotel.

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SmarterTravel’s Shannon McMahon writes about all things travel. Follow her adventures on Instagram @shanmcmahon.

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By Shannon McMahon

Editor Shannon McMahon is always planning her next trip and often writing in her travel journal. Follow her on Twitter @shanmcmahon_ and on Instagram @shanmcmahon.

Shannon joined SmarterTravel in 2015. A former news reporter, she's lived in the south of Spain, spotted elephants in Sri Lanka, gone spelunking in the Caribbean, hiked Jordan's Petra Basin, interviewed Sao Paulo's Michelin-Star chefs, and explored China via bullet train. Travel trends, news oddities, and her visits to up-and-coming destinations are some of her favorite things to write about.

Her stories have also appeared online on USA Today, The Sun, Huffington Post, Business Insider, blog.TripAdvisor.com, Boston.com, and more. Her educational background is in journalism, art history, gender studies, Spanish, and film. She's been quoted as an expert travel source by CNBC, People.com, MarketWatch, The Washington Post, USA Today, and more.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: "Plenty of extra thick hair elastics. They tame my frizzy curls and come in handy in a surprising number of packing and hotel dilemmas."

Ultimate Bucket List Experience: "Climbing (yes, climbing, it's steep!) the Great Wall of China before it's gone."

Travel Motto: "Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness." - Mark Twain

Aisle, Window, or Middle Seat: "Window, of course."

Email Shannon at smcmahon@smartertravel.com.

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