Beach destinations pretty much dominate the winter vacation scene—Florida is for the budget-minded, while the Caribbean, Mexico, or Central America offer a more exotic take. Golfers head for these same destinations, while skiers head for the mountains. But what if you’re not a golfer or skier, and you prefer your winter vacations free of crowded beaches?
Alternative Winter Vacations
Fear not: There are winter vacation options that don’t require you to wade through crowds or slog through slush. Here’s where to look.
Yellowstone National Park
Yellowstone National Park is an almost surreal winter vacation: Fields of snow are broken by towering geysers, boiling hot springs, and steaming streams. Old Faithful erupts year-round, and snowmobile explorations of the spectacular landscape are easy to arrange.
The Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel and Old Faithful Snow Lodge, both in-park hotels, remain open for winter. But much of the winter action is in the neighboring communities, where motels remain open and operators provide various sightseeing services: The busiest winter gateway city is West Yellowstone, but you’ll likely find options nearby. For details, see the NPS page on snow tours.
Want spectacular mountain snowscapes from a comfortable, warm seat? Try European winter vacations via train, like an all-day trip on the Glacier Express, an excursion on the Bernina Express, or just about any Swiss train that passes through the mountains. And after your day of sightseeing, head for a cozy chalet and enjoy a bit of fondue by the fireplace. Do it easily on your own, or locate a local tour provider that can show you the hidden gems.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Of the big U.S. cities where you can escape the worst winter weather, New Orleans is a standout: It’s far better for winter vacations than in summer heat and humidity. If you’d like to join a city-wide party, revel in Mardi Gras in February. If you want a bit more peace and quiet (and less expensive lodging options) head to the Big Easy before or after the holiday. Whenever you go, though, the city’s historic restaurants and hotels will welcome you, and you’ll find plenty of jazz along the way.
World-class theater, museums, restaurants, and a wide array of hotels are all in full-swing for winter vacations in London. Warmed by the Gulf Stream, the U.K. capital seldom encounters snow, and although you might encounter some rain, it’s not as cold or snowy as popular European spots like Munich or Vienna.
After many visits, I’ve concluded that London is much better for winter vacations; I’ll never again go back in crowded summer. Plus, airfares are wonderfully low in the winter: less than $400 on the low-fare lines, around $600 on legacy airlines from Boston, and anywhere from $400 to $700 from the West Coast. Similarly priced winter vacation alternatives in Europe include Portugal, Italy, and Spain.
All the main cities of southeastern Asia are (to be kind) warm throughout the winter—in fact, they can be hot and sticky. For Thailand, however, winter vacations coincide with dry season. Bangkok offers up attractive rates at luxury hotels, as well as some fascinating nearby attractions and any sort of cuisine you’d care to taste.
It’s a long flight, but you might frequently see some attractive fares: Sales for mid-February start at around $800 from the West Coast, and $900 from the East Coast—and you won’t be spending much once you’re there. Similar Asian hubs like Hong Kong and Singapore also welcome winter visitors, but they’re usually more expensive than Bangkok.
New Zealand’s South Island
Our winter is, of course, summertime down under—peak vacation season in Australia and New Zealand. But that shouldn’t be enough to deter you from one of the world’s great road trips. Skip crowded Australia and instead do a circle of New Zealand’s South Island.
Head from Christchurch across the mountains to Greymouth, then down the spectacular West Coast, back across the mountains to Queenstown (widely regarded as the most beautiful New Zealand city) and back to Christchurch to see it all. Excursions to Dunedin, Invercargill, Mount Cook, and Nelson punctuate the route. Small towns along the way provide lots of motel accommodations and restaurants, all to be done in a rental car. But if you’re uneasy driving on the wrong side of the road, look up a bus tour.
More from SmarterTravel:
- These Swiss Mountain Hotels Are Like Staying on Top of the World
- How to Do New Zealand’s South Island in Two Weeks
- This City Dethroned London As the Most-Visited in the World
Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuses every day at SmarterTravel.