Weather-related airport delays and the holiday travel period notwithstanding, winter is a great time to travel. Plenty of destinations in the U.S. and around the world have their shoulder season or low-season in winter, and the corresponding lower prices make it more affordable to visit some normally pricey destinations. Of course, weather varies from mild to downright cold in winter, but the big savings may make up for it.
Best Off-Peak Places to Visit in December for Affordability
Napa Valley and Sonoma County, California
A slower pace of life settles over the Napa and Sonoma valleys after the grapes have been harvested and the new wines are safely tucked away to age in cellars and caves. Winter is dubbed “Cabernet Season” because chillier temperatures inspire a turn to heartier cuisine and bigger red wines. A visit during this cooler time of year still yields the many charms of both valleys, from wine tasting to soaking in thermal pools. But not only will you find a more intimate experience—one with fewer tour buses to battle and more room to linger over a tasting flight at a local winery—you’ll also be able to enjoy it all for less.
Winter is also yellow mustard season in Napa and Sonoma, a time when the valleys are blanketed in the vivid yellow blooms of wild mustard flowers. Restaurant Month—a time to sample world-renowned restaurants for a fraction of the usual price—takes over Napa in January and happens in Sonoma later in winter. And despite fewer visitors, Napa and Sonoma still offer a full schedule of events such as art shows and gourmet food tastings.
For more information about where to stay and what to do in Napa during the winter, visit the Cabernet Season section of Visit Napa Valley’s website. And check out Sonoma County Tourism for of winter-trip inspiration. To find air deals to San Francisco International, Oakland International, or the Sonoma County Airports, head to our sister site, Airfarewatchdog.
Check Prices for Napa Valley Marriott Hotel & Spa in Napa
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Although winter is ski season in Santa Fe, rates for accommodations still drop by 20 to 40 percent because summer attracts the most visitors and is considered peak. Restaurants, galleries, and museums stay open year-round, but Santa Fe is free from the crowds that can clog its streets at other times of the year. Plus, you can save up to 40 percent on accommodations while having the city essentially to yourself.
Skiers looking for options outside the pricy resorts of Colorado and Utah will find affordable lodging in Santa Fe and good runs at Ski Santa Fe in the nearby Sangre de Cristo mountains. If you’re not a skier, you can still find plenty to do in winter by touring the city’s art galleries, shops, and museums. Or, catch a performance of the Santa Fe Symphony, the Santa Fe Concert Association, the Santa Fe Pro Musica, or the Lensic Performing Arts Center, all in session during the winter.
Native American and Christian traditions are both celebrated in Santa Fe around Christmas. On December 24, Canyon Road and the Plaza are decorated with farolitos, small sand-filled bags lit by votive candles, and residents and visitors enjoy the lights with caroling and hot cider. Pueblos near Santa Fe perform annual animal dances around the holidays that visitors are welcome to experience. January, February, and March are also good times to visit the pueblos and experience the various dances and ceremonies performed there each year.
Check Prices for Bishop's Lodge Resort & Spa in Santa Fe
Tahiti and French Polynesia
Tahiti and the other 117 islands that make up the tropical paradise of French Polynesia are considered year-round destinations by many; but slightly warmer, wetter weather causes visitation to drop off somewhat between November and March. As a result, prices for airfare and accommodations also fall in the winter. Taking advantage of these deals won’t lead to a soggy vacation, however. Although afternoon rainstorms are common in winter, Tahiti still averages more hours of sunshine per day than Honolulu, according to research compiled by UCLA.
To get an idea of the savings you can expect by traveling to Tahiti in the winter, we researched rates for air-and-hotel vacation packages to the islands from three different providers. Overall, per-person rates for weeklong vacations in the winter months were about $100 to $200 cheaper than travel during the summer. Many hotels offer low-season rates, and tour providers and cruise lines may discount their services. For a list of current deals, visit the “specials” page on the website for Tahiti Tourism North America.
To learn more about travel to Tahiti and to find listings of accommodations and vacation specials, go to the Tahiti Tourism website. Find air deals by browsing the websites of airlines that service Tahiti, including Air New Zealand, Air France (a SkyTeam partner), Air Tahiti Nui (an American and Delta partner), French Bee, Hawaiian Airlines, Qantas, and United.
Check Prices for InterContinental Tahiti Resort & Spa in Faa'a
Bonus Destinations for Affordable Travel in December: Morocco; Chicago, Illinois; and the United Kingdom.
Best Off-Peak Places to Visit in January for Affordability
New York City
Thanks to the tourism board’s NYC Winter Outing programming, there are major savings to be had in New York City in January, and the savings even continue into February. To start, the city hosts NYC Restaurant Week, NYC Broadway Week, and NYC Must-See Week during which select Broadway shows, attractions, museums, tours, and performing arts venues offer two-for-one tickets and more than 350 restaurants feature discounted prix-fixe menus.
For accommodations, the tourism board partners with over 50 hotels to offer special discounted pricing, upgrades, or other perks on stays in winter. And with three major airports as well as easy access via rail and car, getting to New York City can certainly be budget-friendly.
Wintertime is an exciting time to visit New York City, especially for shopping, museum-going, theater-hopping, and more
Check Prices for Fairfield Inn & Suites New York Manhattan/Times Square South in New York City
According to a study using data from the Japan National Tourist Organization, winter is the slowest season for tourist arrivals in Japan, with about 40 percent fewer visitors than during the peak summer season. As a result, winter airfares to Japan can be over 50 percent less than summer fares.
For lower-priced winter sale fares, keep your eyes on United, which often has discounted last-minute fares to Japan from several U.S. cities. You can also check for air sales to Japan on the websites of carriers that serve the country such as Japan Airlines and Delta. You can also use Airfarewatchdog to monitor fares to Tokyo, Osaka, and Sapporo.
Geographically a long, slender country, Japan reaches the same latitude as Portland, Oregon, in the north; while southern Japan is at roughly the same latitude as Florida. Which means that, similar to the weather in the U.S., Japan’s north is cold and snowy in the winter; its mid-latitudes are cold but sunny; and its subtropical south is warm all winter long.
Ski resorts, hot springs, snow festivals, and peak viewing of Japan’s national bird, the Red-crowned Crane, are draws for visitors to the north in winter. In the rest of the country, it’s still possible to see many of the usual cultural attractions, all with less competition from other visitors. Take Kyoto for instance, an old-soul city, with abundant World Heritage sites (17 in total), an authentic geisha district, ancient temples, and peaceful Zen rock gardens. In Kyoto, hotels generally have clear high- and low-season price disparities that work to your advantage in winter.
Check Prices for Cross Hotel Kyoto in Kyoto
Enjoy a slice of island life without paying the high-season prices of the Caribbean. Bermuda, which lies north of the Caribbean and east of the Carolinas in the Atlantic, offers mild winter weather (average of 70 degrees) and plenty of leisure activities, including sightseeing, tennis, and golf. However, since the water gets too cool for swimming (for most), travelers looking for a winter beach escape tend to overlook the island. And that translates to off-peak savings.
Lower-season prices on accommodations become an even better deal with the island’s Pink Sale promotion, which offers up to 50 percent off at participating hotels and resorts for travel between January and April (this promo also usually runs in the fall from September to December). With fewer visitors in the winter, rates for accommodations can drop by 40 percent or more, making this affluent British territory affordable for more budget-minded travelers.
Popular events throughout winter offer even more reasons to visit: The Bermuda Marathon weekend happens in January, the six-week Bermuda Festival of the Performing Arts begins in January, and whale-watching tours start in March.
Check Prices for Willowbank Resort in Somerset Village
Bonus Destinations for Affordable Travel in January: San Diego, California; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Best Off-Peak Places to Visit in February for Affordability
Yellowstone National Park, Montana
Yellowstone was the first national park in the U.S. and remains one of the most popular. It receives more than four million visitors per year, but only 83,00 of those come during the winter (December thru February). Winter offers smaller crowds, and rates for accommodations drop for the season, making it an appealing and affordable time to visit. However, be warned: Though the park spans parts of Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming, there are more closures in winter. Check the NPS website for the most up-to-date information.
Wildlife viewing is particularly good in winter. Visitors can easily spot gray wolves, bighorn sheep, pronghorn antelopes, moose, and bald eagles, among other animals.
Other wintertime activities include alpine and cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, ice skating, and touring the park by snowcoach. Equipment can be rented in the park or from providers and hotels outside the park.
Winter temperatures are very cold, from zero to 20 degrees in the daytime to sub-zero temperatures at night, with an average snowfall of 150 inches per year. However, plenty of warming huts are located around the park, some of which have snacks and hot beverages.
Xanterra Parks and Resorts operates the in-park hotels, and two of its properties typically offers winter specials throughout the season. Hotels outside of the park—including the Gray Wolf Inn and Three Bear Lodge—tend to also offer winter packages that feature discount accommodations and winter activities. You can save as much as $50 per night on accommodations by visiting Yellowstone during winter instead of the peak summer season.
Check Prices for Gray Wolf Inn and Suites in West Yellowstone
By visiting Greece in winter, travelers can save big on airfare and accommodations, and also experience the country as the locals do. Visitation drops off in fall, and by winter, there are very few tourists, leaving hotels and archaeological sites such as the Acropolis nearly empty. Convinced? Check out fare deals to Athens from Airfarewatchdog.
Greece’s Mediterranean climate remains sunny and pleasant, with temperatures in the 50s in Athens and the islands—although it will be colder and even snowy in the mountains. Contrary to popular belief, the islands don’t shut down completely, though fewer hotels will be open.
Carnival, known as Apokreas in Greek, is observed in Greece as much as in New Orleans and the Caribbean. For nearly a month in January and February, Greeks celebrate nightly with eating, drinking, and dancing. Events heighten on the weekends, with outdoor music, dance performances, and float parades. Celebrations occur all around Greece, particularly in Athens, Patras, Tyrnavo, and the islands Skyros and Thassos.
Although it’s mostly overlooked by foreign visitors, skiing has become popular in Greece. The country has 19 ski resorts in destinations including Kalavrita, Pelion, Delphi, the Peloponessos, Macedonia, and Epirus. Downhill and cross-country skiing and snowboarding are all available.
Check Prices for Herodion Hotel in Athens
In general, the entire continent of Europe is considered to be in its off-peak season in winter, so you’ll see significant savings in comparison to peak summer prices around the region. Check out our article on travel to winter off-season travel Europe here.
Quebec Provence, Canada
Montreal and the surrounding destinations in Quebec make for an easy winter weekend getaway from the northeastern U.S. It’s a cinch to skip the airport security line (plus any possible winter-weather flight delays) and drive or take the train from the Northeast to the Canadian city. Monitor prices on Airfarewatchdog to Montreal or Quebec City for the latest air deals.
Nightly hotel rates at many properties are significantly more affordable during colder months. We spotted heavily discounted winter rates at the glitzy Ritz-Carlton Montreal on weekdays in January, February, and March. On top of those low-season rates, travelers can snag additional savings with deals offered on the tourism board’s website.
Here’s even more incentive to visit this season: There’s tons to do in Montreal during winter, from Montreal en Lumiere (including the famous Nuit blanche a Montreal) to the annual family-friendly Fete des Neiges de Montreal winter event. Nearby Quebec City also offers plenty of winter festival fun with the famous Quebec Winter Carnival.
Find abundant winter outdoor activities, including snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, dog sledding, downhill skiing, and more at nearby mountains like Mount Orford and Mount Tremblant. Plus, the Canadians do après-ski best with Nordic spas, warming yurts, mulled wine, fondue, and more.
Check Prices for Hotel Ambrose in Montreal
Bonus Destinations for Affordable Travel in February: Paris, France; Austin, Texas; and Iceland.
While this isn’t technically an off-peak destination, we’d be doing you a disservice if we didn’t mention the most popular and best time of year to book a cruise for value. “Wave season” runs from January thru March, and is typically when seasoned cruisers book their trip for the year. You aren’t necessarily guaranteed to get the cheapest price; but during this period, many cruise lines offer hard-to-resist incentives like free upgrades, onboard credit, reduced fares, longer booking windows, and other free perks.
What to Wear Traveling in Winter
You don’t have to sacrifice style when it comes to dressing warm and comfortably. Check out some of our favorite styles this season that’ll keep you looking stylish (and warm) all season long.
Women’s Winter Outfit for Fun
Editor’s note: This article has been edited from research and information from multiple older articles in order to give you the most up-to-date content. Ashley Rossi, Christine Sarkis, Jessica Labrencis, Molly Feltner, and Caroline Costello contributed to this article.
More from SmarterTravel:
- The 10 Cheapest Places to Fly Right Now
- 6 Reasons to Visit Europe in Winter
- 18 Winter Travel Tips for Flights and Road Trips