Why spend another Thanksgiving watching football on the sofa in a tryptophan-induced food coma when you could be out exploring the world? Whether you want to experience the holiday in a different way or laze on a warm beach and forget about it altogether, late November can be a great time to get out of town and try something new. From warm Caribbean islands to wintry European wonderlands, we’ve rounded up twenty places where you can have a memorable Thanksgiving—with or without the turkey.
By Deb Hopewell
By the last weekend in November, nearly all of the European Christmas markets are in full swing, but no country goes all out quite like Germany does. Accordingly, Munich has one of the largest in the world, with about 80 markets spread around a city wreathed in holiday lights and decorations. Wrap your hands around a warming cup of hot, spiced gluhwein at one of the many stalls on the Alexanderplatz before exploring the markets adjacent to the square before moving on to the stalls at Gendarmenmarkt. On the East Coast, you can easily find non-stop flights from Newark (Lufthansa) and JFK (Air Berlin).
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Munich Travel Guide
In late November, this relatively small city looks more like a wintry fairy-tale town than an international seat of power (Brussels is the capital of both Belgium and the European Union). Follow the crowds to the centrally located “Winter Wonderland,” complete with about 240 holiday “chalets” selling handicrafts, ornaments, and toothsome treats; a skating rink, large Ferris wheel, and all kinds of entertainment round out the fun. Head to Rue de l'Étuve/Stoofstraat and Rue du Chêne/Eikstraat to find Brussels’ most beloved attraction, Mannekin-Pis (“little man pee”), a bronze statue that gets hundreds of costume changes each year. Several carriers offer non-stop flights from Newark, JFK, and Washington, D.C.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Brussels Travel Guide
Summers can be furnace-like in Madrid, but Spain’s capital has relatively mild winter weather compared to other major European cities: November highs are typically in the 50s, which makes for comfortable weather to explore El Rastro, the city’s 400-year-old flea market, or stroll the grand square at the heart of the old city, Plaza Mayor. Treat yourself to a meal at the world’s oldest continuously running restaurant, Casa Botín, opened in 1725; Hemingway is said to have been particularly fond of the suckling pig here. Iberia and American both fly non-stop from JFK, while American and British Airways offer non-stop service from Miami.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Madrid Travel Guide
Getting here isn’t seamless, since there are no non-stop flights from the U.S., but Tuscany’s capital (and birthplace of the Renaissance) is nice because it isn’t particularly cold this time of year (highs hover in the mid to high 50s), though it can be rainy. Still, this is a great time to visit Florence because many of the attractions and museums you want to see are inside anyway—Michaelangeo’s David at the Galleria dell’Accademia, the Uffizi Gallery, and the Palazzo Pitti, to name a few—and there’ll be fewer fellow tourists to jostle with. Late fall is also the season for opera, theater, and classical music concerts that are held in many of the city’s magnificent historic buildings and churches.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Florence Travel Guide
This isn’t the time of year to visit for its beach scene, but Lisbon enjoys the warmest weather of any other major European city in November, when temperatures in the high 60s or low 70s aren’t uncommon. Pack a good pair of walking shoes to explore the hilly cobblestone streets of the city’s Alfama district, and grand plazas in the Baixa district. If the weather is less than cooperative, console yourself with a glass of ginjinha (the local sour-cherry liqueur) and take in some Fado music. United and TAP Portugal both operate non-stop flights from Newark.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Lisbon Travel Guide
In November, the daytime temperatures in Iceland’s capital aren’t likely to reach 40 degrees, but there’s plenty to do—inside and outdoors—to keep you warm. Reykjavik is known for is its abundant geothermal pools, so don’t pass up a chance for a hot soak; if you have your heart set on the famous Blue Lagoon, be sure to make reservations well in advance. At night, stay warm the way the locals do: at any of the numerous bars and nightclubs, where the action doesn’t start heating up until midnight. From Newark, it’s less than a six-hour flight to Reykjavik on Iceland Air.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Reykjavik Travel Guide
San Miguel de Allende
Artists began flocking to this beautiful colonial city in the late 1930s, and it continues to draw expats and tourists charmed by the Mexican Baroque, Neoclassical, and Neo-Gothic architecture (most notably the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel), fine restaurants and galleries, classy boutique hotels and B&Bs. That’s not to ignore the pleasant weather: November highs are in the mid-70s. Your best bet is flying into Léon, about 70 miles away; there are non-stop flights from Dallas, Los Angeles and Houston). To get to San Miguel de Allende, arrange a ride with a shuttle service beforehand; don’t bother renting a car, there’s nowhere to park and the picturesque cobblestone streets weren’t made for automobiles anyway.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s San Miguel de Allende Travel Guide
November marks the beginning of the dry season here, so you can be reasonably assured of less rain, lower humidity, and 80-degree days—all the better for exploring Tulum’s Mayan ruins, pristine beaches, and world-famous cenotes, or sinkholes. Like the rest of the Riviera Maya you can find your typical all-inclusive resort here, but for the best experience, book a stay in one of the bungalows in the beachside “hotel zone,” where the thatch-roofed cabanas lack phones and electricity is limited to a few hours a day. Most major airports have non-stop flights to Cancun, the nearest airport; from there you’ll need to take a shuttle (book in advance), rent a car (it’s an easy drive), or take the ADO bus, which includes a transfer in Playa del Carmen.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Tulum Travel Guide
This international city is everything and anything you want it to be: It’s at the same time cosmopolitan and down-to-earth, cultural yet outdoorsy. Late November will undoubtedly be chilly, but take a cue from Vancouverites and embrace it by strapping on a pair of skis at Grouse Mountain, with its breathtaking views of the city below, or a take a brisk walk along the shores of Stanley Park. Gastown is the city’s oldest neighborhood, and it’s also the most hip; browse its offbeat shops and hip design stores before grabbing dinner at one of the many outstanding restaurants.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Vancouver Travel Guide
You’re likely to experience a little bit of rain on any of the islands in November, but your chances of dry weather improve markedly if you choose destinations on the dry side of the islands, typically in the southern or western regions: Poipu (Kauai), Waikiki (Oahu), Kailua-Kona (the Big Island), and Lahaina or Wailea on Maui. Temperatures are excellent, averaging in the 80s, and there are more hotel deals to be had at this time of year than other seasons. This is a relatively quiet tourist time, so it’s just a matter of finding the island that appeals most to you. And if you have a hankering for some tradition on Thanksgiving Day, you’ll have no problem finding a roast turkey dinner or buffet, because most resort restaurants do offer them.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Hawaii Travel Guide
If you have your heart set on a Caribbean island for Thanksgiving, Aruba is one of your best bets. Its location off the coast of Venezuela places it outside of the hurricane zone (the season is usually winding down by Thanksgiving, anyway). Though rainfall isn’t uncommon during this time, the showers are usually brief or at night. Northwest of Oranjestad is Eagle Beach, considered one of the finest white-sand beaches in the world, and Palm Beach, a perfect swimming beach. Aruba is only twenty miles long, so you can easily explore it all on a rental bike or scooter. Several carriers fly non-stop from New York-area airports, as well as Miami.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Aruba Travel Guide
WHERE: Cayman Islands
Because Grand Cayman is situated so far west in Caribbean, this popular scuba-diving destination avoids much of the hurricane activity in any given season. And though late November is still technically the very end of the rainy season, if it does rain, it’s only in short cloudbursts that are followed quickly by sunshine. Just north of Georgetown is Seven Mile Beach (and its many resorts), considered one of the very best beaches in the Caribbean. Jet Blue and Cayman Airways fly non-stop from JFK; American and Cayman Air fly non-stop from Miami.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Cayman Islands Travel Guide
Orlando’s theme parks do a brisk business during Thanksgiving Week, when most kids have several days off from school. Most parks (Disney World, Universal Studios, Legoland) offer extended hours, so it’s possible to visit more than one park a day, but there’s a chance you won’t be able to get back into a park once you’ve left if it fills to capacity. At the Disney World parks you’ll find many options for a Thanksgiving–style meal (reserve well in advance). However, this is really the kick-off to the Christmas holiday season, and the parks will already be covered in holiday decorations.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Orlando Travel Guide
New York City
New York City’s Thanksgiving Day parade isn’t the oldest—Philadelphia holds that title—but it’s by far the best known, with thousands of participants and more than three million spectators. If you don’t want to throw yourself into the fray, there are a number of hotels along the parade route offering packages that, while pricey, are convenient for viewing the festivities. A number of attractions are open on the holiday, including the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, Top of the Rock, and the 9/11 Memorial. If you plan on having Thanksgiving Day dinner at a restaurant, be sure to make reservations at least six weeks ahead of time.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s New York City Travel Guide
Sure, the weather is bound to be a little nippy in late November, but affordable hotel deals and tons of free holiday attractions and activities make it worth your while to bundle up and head to the Windy City for Thanksgiving Weekend. Festivities kick off on Wednesday evening at Daley Plaza, when the mayor turns on the lights of the official Christmas tree. Get to State Street early the next morning for the kickoff of the annual Thanksgiving Day parade, one of the largest in the country. On Friday morning, head to the Art Institute of Chicago for the “wreathing of the lions,” when the museum’s two bronze lion statues on Michigan Avenue are adorned with evergreen wreaths, followed by a party inside. Later that day, Millennium Park hosts free caroling and ice-skating.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Chicago Travel Guide
The city that has given us po’ boys, cotton candy, and the Sazerac is also the birthplace of a modern Thanksgiving tradition: turducken (that’s right, a chicken stuffed into a duck stuffed into a turkey). You can savor this triple-poultry creation at a number of local restaurants, but try to catch some of the Bayou Classic Thanksgiving Day Parade (starting at 3:30pm) beforehand. The next day, hit the opening of Celebration in the Oaks at City Park (purchasing tickets and printing them in advance is strongly recommended), where the trees are swathed in hundreds of thousands of lights, and a train winds for two miles through twenty-five acres of light displays.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s New Orleans Travel Guide
Tucked between the dramatic Santa Ynez Mountains and the sparkling blue Pacific—and blessed with a mild Mediterranean climate year-round—Santa Barbara is the undisputed jewel of what’s been dubbed the American Riviera. There’s an abundance of great restaurants serving Thanksgiving Day dinner, most of which feature local wines from the area’s notable vineyards. Come the weekend, stroll State Street with its upscale boutiques and eateries, making sure to wander over to the adjacent Funk Zone for wine tasting and gallery browsing. Or take a leisurely walk along the beach—try Arroyo Burro Beach at low tide.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Santa Barbara Travel Guide
WHERE: New Mexico
In most of the country, Thanksgiving is synonymous with the Pilgrims. Not so in Santa Fe, where Native American culture is part of the fabric of this mission town, renowned for its art galleries and museums. The Friday after Thanksgiving kicks off the annual three-day Winter Indian Market, with more than 200 artists featured, as well as music and native dance groups. On Friday afternoon, gather with the locals at the historic plaza to enjoy holiday entertainment before the sun goes down and lights are thrown on the official Christmas tree. On Saturday, visit the famous Santa Fe Farmers’ Market, or better yet, enroll in a class at the Santa Fe School of Cooking to learn how to prepare dishes with red and green (as in Christmas) chiles.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Santa Fe Travel Guide
WHERE: South Carolina
The mild weather in late November (daytime highs around 70) is perfect for soaking up Charleston’s genteel charms. For years the annual Turkey Day Run & Gobble Wobble has been a favorite way to kick off Thanksgiving for locals and visitors alike, as it winds through the Historic District and the Battery before ending with a party at Marion Square. Black Friday shopping seems less urgent and a lot more civilized while wandering through the shops on King Street or at the popular City Market, which stays open until 10:30pm on Fridays and Saturdays during the holiday season. And each year, James Island County Park is ablaze with two million lights during the Holiday Festival of Lights.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Charleston Travel Guide
With an average November temperature of 79 degrees and Gulf waters that stay practically Hawaii-warm, Sarasota is a perfect stateside destination for beach lovers and sunset connoisseurs. A short drive to Siesta Key will put you on one of the highest-rated beaches in the country, Siesta Beach, celebrated for its baby-powder-like quartz sand, and a popular place to watch the sun dip below the Gulf. Back on the mainland, don’t miss a tour of Ca’ d’Zan, the stunning Venetian gothic mansion built by circus titan John Ringling and his wife in 1926, and the palace he built as a gift to the people, which now houses the John & Mable Ringling Museum of Art.
PLAN YOUR TRIP: Visit Fodor’s Sarasota Travel Guide