The 50 best destinations to visit during the winter
Snow or sand? AC or fireplace? Swimming or skating? Making the scene or going unseen? Winter travel caters to every vacation taste, with the 50 spots that follow covering all seven continents and ranging from buzzing hot spots to laid-back hidden gems.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Rio earns its nickname as the “Marvelous City” with a sublime combination of beaches, rainforests, verdant peaks and lively Latin culture. Then there are winter’s annual Carnaval celebrations, which see exuberant parades, dancing and samba music fill the streets.
Hobbiton, New Zealand
Think Middle Earth is made up? Think again: The village of Hobbiton that appeared in The Lord of the Rings films was actually built on a 1,250-acre sheep farm two hours south of Auckland by car. Guided tours of the movie set stop in at Bag End and other hobbit holes, and visit the Green Dragon Inn and Party Tree.
Playa Tamarindo, Costa Rica
Costa Rica’s life-affirming motto of “Pura Vida!” is the call you’ll hear in this popular Pacific beach town. Tamarindo is famous for surfing thanks in part to a starring role in 1994’s The Endless Summer II, but is also a hotbed for diversions such as dining, shopping and sailing.
Quebec City, Canada
With its European-flavored Old Town boasting World Heritage Site status and its Winter Carnival among the biggest snowy parties on Earth, few places are more appealing than the Quebec capital when the mercury dips.
Lying just off India’s southern tip, the small island nation has big winter appeal thanks to its beautiful beaches, wildlife-filled rainforests, eight World Heritage Sites, and perhaps best of all, budget-friendly prices.
Gran Canaria, Spain
The third-largest island in the Canaries’ archipelago offers incredible winter vacation variety, with dramatic peaks and valleys, plentiful white-sand beaches, a wide range of resorts, and a historic capital city.
Les Portes du Soleil, France and Switzerland
Encompassing a dozen Alpine villages near the Franco-Swiss border, one of the world’s largest ski areas offers everything from après-ski cheese tasting in Morzine to the stunning clifftop views of Avoriaz.
This famously rugged member of the Caribbean Lesser Antilles island chain is a hot spot for hikers, covered as it is in lush tropical rainforest surrounding gorgeous waterfalls. Dominica is also a literal hot spot owing to dramatic geothermal activity that culminates in Boiling Lake.
With the largest archaeological museum in the world set to open in the Egyptian capital, this winter could be the best time ever to visit the 480-foot-tall Great Pyramid of Giza, the last remaining Wonder of the Ancient World.
If you’ve got it, flaunt it. That’s the unofficial motto of Australia’s largest city, where 70 beaches—that’s right, seven-zero—buzz with bronzed bodies in the Aussie summer. Plus, there are more festivals, gardens, theme parks, museums and theaters than you can shake a boomerang at.
Mammoth Cave National Park, Kentucky
The weather outside may be frightful, but inside the world’s longest cave system the temperature usually hovers around 54 degrees Fahrenheit. But there’s a lot more to this 400-mile limestone labyrinth than natural climate control, with the U.S. National Park Service offering regular tours that explore spectacular illuminated chambers.
India’s smallest state is big on white-sand beaches, which range from hippie hangouts to luxury resort settings. Venture inland, and you’ll find ornate Hindu temples and Old Goa’s Catholic cathedrals that offer fascinating examples of how the Indian and Portuguese cultures have co-existed for centuries.
Park City, Utah
Park City is a lot like many former Winter Olympic sites. The area’s two large ski resorts—Park City Mountain Resort and Deer Valley—are top-notch facilities, while accommodations, restaurants, bars and boutiques abound, along with a ski museum and the Kimball Art Center. And who knows? You might even spot Robert Redford as he gears up for his annual Sundance Film Festival.
Providenciales, Turks and Caicos
This Caribbean archipelago’s most-visited island is home to Grace Bay, which is widely regarded as one of the world’s best beaches. There’s also a host of luxurious beachfront resorts, dozens of upscale restaurants and spas, and some of the region’s best snorkeling, scuba diving and deep-sea fishing.
Serengeti National Park, Tanzania
Pick an exotic zoo animal, and chances are it’s on the loose in this enormous preserve. It’s widely regarded as one of the best places on the planet to observe Africa’s “Big 5” animals—lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffalos—along with cheetahs, zebras, wildebeest and hundreds of bird species.
Honeymooners, beaches and Mai Tais are famously abundant in the Hawaiian capital, but look closer and you’ll find a colorful Chinatown, Victorian-era brick buildings, the world’s largest open-air shopping center at Ala Moana, and verdant hiking trails through the misty Koʻolau Range.
Val Gardena, Italy
Ortisei, Santa Cristina, Selva and the other alluring villages in this snowy Italian valley are full of woodcarving shops and quaint architecture, while the surrounding slopes comprise part of Dolomiti Superski, a 12-ski-area conglomerate with around 800 miles of runs.
St. Martin in French and Sint Maarten in Dutch, this is one of the smallest islands divided between two nations. And no wonder: With 37 white-sand beaches, endless duty-free shopping and refined European ambiance, who wouldn’t want a piece of this Caribbean gem?
Parc National d’Odzala, Republic of Congo
One of Africa’s oldest national parks is home to much of the vast Guineo-Congolian rainforest, which provides a leafy refuge for rare lowland gorillas and forest elephants. Creature comforts, meanwhile, are available at three luxurious park camps.
Key West, Florida
Part Caribbean paradise and part bohemian enclave, this seven-square-mile island at the western end of the Keys chain is an eclectic melting pot of literary festivals, vacation villas, tropical eateries, dusty dive bars and upscale art galleries.
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Australia
Around 3,000 individual reefs stretching more than 1,400 miles are included in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which protects thousands of species of whales, dolphins, turtles, fish, coral and more. Visitors looking to slip into the waters have dozens of options for doing so, from resorts to boat tours that let divers and kayakers experience the spectacular underwater scenery.
Kootenay Rockies, Canada
Outside the national and provincial parks crowding this mountainous region of southeastern British Columbia, seven world-class ski resorts deliver snowy diversions, quirky mountain towns like Nelson and Fernie mix good vibes with great dining and nightlife, and natural hot springs soothe tired ski muscles.
Cape Town, South Africa
Plentiful beaches offer fine sands and great surfing in South Africa’s second-largest city, while the Two Oceans Aquarium lets divers swim with rays and turtles, the V and A Waterfront offers up boutiques, eateries and hotels, and Table Mountain delivers unbeatable views of it all from summit lookouts and cable cars.
The mountainous, leafy north of this idyllic Caribbean island is home to charming French-colonial towns, while the sandy south features wide, palm-backed beaches such as Les Salines.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Year-long 300th birthday festivities will only enhance the city’s renowned party scene, which includes the parades of Mardi Gras, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, and the historic French Quarter’s myriad live music venues and dance clubs.
Luang Prabang, Laos
This World Heritage Site’s gilded wats and French villas-turned-boutique hotels are ringed by lush forested mountains overlooking the mighty Mekong River, with scenic waterfalls cascading nearby.
Isla Cozumel, Mexico
Some of the world’s best reef diving has turned this Yucatan island into a scuba hot spot, but you don’t need fins to frolic here. There are also Mayan ruins, spectacular windswept shorelines, and nightlife that isn’t an afterthought.
Hungry for the freshest food and drink? Australia’s “Apple Isle” serves up everything from craft beer, whisky and wine to seafood, cheese and honey, all of which you can burn off on an impressive network of hiking trails or by jogging along its many beaches.
Sea turtles and sea cows are right at home along the shores of this 400-mile-long archipelago made up of 1,700-plus islands, white-sand beaches, lagoons and coves. Inland, you’ll find monkeys, bear cats and zebras, as well as a navigable underground river beneath St. Paul Mountain.
South Beach, Florida
This Miami Beach strip is the epitome of retro coolness. Its many upscale nightclubs, restaurants, boutiques and hotels have embraced the art-deco architecture that arrived here in the 1930s, while nearby public parks offer everything from scenic paddles to top-notch birdwatching.
Few places are better for peeling off your parka and enjoying some pristine après-ski patio time than Banff’s aptly-named Sunshine Village, one of three ski resorts in Canada’s first national park. Down in the town of Banff, meanwhile, there are hot springs and plenty of shopping, dining and nightlife.
About 150 miles southeast of Florida’s southern tip, the Atlantic archipelago’s capital is awash in pretty pastel-colored buildings and bustling markets. But these quaint qualities soon give way to Bay Street’s upscale boutiques, the famous sands and casino of Cable Beach, and the over-the-top extravagance of mega-resorts such as Atlantis Paradise Island.
Who would have thought the world’s largest religious structure—bigger than any of Europe’s cathedrals or the mosques of the Arab world—could ever be “lost”? But for centuries after its partial abandonment in the 1400s, this gargantuan complex of walls, terraces, residences and temples, centered on the towering Angkor Wat, lay cloaked in jungle. As it turns out, this slow decay has somehow enhanced the site, with many temples left to crumble romantically and making visitors feel as though they have stepped into a Tomb Raider video game or movie.
With turquoise Caribbean waters and sugary sands below and Mayan ruins perched high above on a clifftop, the Tulum area serves up some serious eye candy. If you want to explore as well as admire, there’s plenty of cave and cavern diving, cenote swimming, wildlife viewing and spicy Mexican dining to be had.
Milford Sound, New Zealand
This breathtaking fjord, the northernmost in the aptly-named Fiordland National Park, is lined with sheer cliffs, forests and soaring peaks. There are plenty of ways to take in these wonders, from kayaks and cruise ships to helicopters and hiking trails.
This quintessential Vermont village and valley offer classic winter diversions such as sleigh rides, dogsledding, ice skating, and more than 200 miles of cross-country ski trails, while nearby Mt. Mansfield is home to Stowe Mountain Resort’s 116 ski trails and 13 lifts.
Renowned for its many luxurious boutique resorts, this Caribbean isle is home to beautiful bays, historic plantations, quirky geothermal sites and secret beaches. Overlooking the luxury are the iconic Gros and Petit Pitons, two stunning rock pyramids rising out of the Caribbean Sea.
Victoria Falls, Zambia/Zimbabwe
Waterfalls often attract adrenaline junkies, so it should come as no surprise that the Zambezi River’s mind-boggling cascade—twice as wide and as high as Niagara Falls—is home to diversions like bungee jumping and whitewater rafting on both the Zambian and Zimbabwean sides.
This resort town on Jamaica’s western tip has a split personality: the north end of its acclaimed four-mile-long beach is home to sprawling all-inclusive resorts, while to the south are smaller, family-run hotels. As you move south down the coast, cliffs start to rise from the sea, culminating at the famous Rick’s Café, where locals dive for tips and adventurers do likewise for bragging rights.
Locally famous as a four-mountain ski resort and internationally famous as the host venue for the 1994 Winter Olympics, this laid-back lakeside town is surrounded by more than 1,400 miles of groomed cross-country ski trails suitable for all skill levels.
Pink sand beaches, azure Atlantic waters and golf galore—this is the real Bermuda Triangle in which visitors get lost. Sophistication comes to the diminutive Atlantic isle in the form of St. George’s museums and art galleries, while several centuries-old forts draw history buffs.
What does a mandatory minimum tariff of $250 get you on a visit to this Himalayan kingdom? Plenty: All your accommodations, meals, transportation and an official guide, but more importantly, the chance to explore snow-capped peaks and mysterious monasteries, shop for gorgeous textiles and handicrafts, and witness unique archery competitions.
This central-Florida city has truly earned its reputation as the “Theme Park Capital of the World.” It’s home to six of the 10 most-visited theme parks on the planet, with Walt Disney World’s various parks and Universal Orlando topping the list. Plus, over much of the winter, the crowds tend to be less thick.
Just over two hours northwest of Tokyo by (very fast) train, this former Winter Olympic venue is strewn with ski resorts, majestic peaks such as Mt. Asama-yama and Mt. Yokote-yama, nature preserves including Minami Alps National Park, and hot springs where monkeys bathe in the steaming waters.
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
If you somehow tire of the daybed-strewn beaches lining the Dominican Republic’s eastern coast, there are 10 top-notch golf courses in the area, along with other active diversions like ziplines, horseback riding, paddleboarding and snorkeling.
At the heart of this glorious collection of Islamic architecture and verdant parks lies Marrakesh’s World Heritage Site medina, a maze-like mixture of lanes, souks and the Djemaa El Fna square, where vendors, soothsayers, musicians and other esoteric performers vie for attention.
This slender island in the West Indies is a textbook Caribbean idyll: palm-lined white-sand beaches; beach bars churning out barbecue, rum punch and reggae; and just offshore, pristine reefs for superb diving and snorkeling.
San Marcos, Texas
If boutique bargains are your thing, head to this Texas town halfway between Austin and San Antonio. It’s home to the San Marcos Premium Outlets and Tangier Outlets, which together represent America’s largest outlet mall. The loot at the complex is generally high-end, with 240-plus luxury and brand-name boutiques like Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Gucci.
The Algarve, Portugal
Portugal’s southern coast is home to an alluring mixture of dramatic cliffs framing golden beaches, a wide range of holiday resorts, and charming castle towns and historic villages nestled on cork tree-covered hillsides.
Now, finally, comes the seventh continent. Nowhere do spectacular desolation and abundance collide so dramatically than at the bottom of the world. Gargantuan ice shelves meet snow-clad mountain ranges, glaciers calve into iceberg-strewn waters, and animal species ranging from penguins to whales to seals tend to be less wary of the human visitors who arrive by cruise ship.
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