10 Destinations Every Traveler Should Visit Off-Season

Visit these destinations off-season to avoid the crowds, save money and have a more relaxed and authentic experience.

By: Steve Larese

Photo By: Getty Images

Photo By: Steve Larese

Photo By: Steve Larese

Photo By: Steve Larese

Photo By: Steve Larese

Photo By: Steve Larese

Photo By: Steve Larese

Photo By: Steve Larese

Photo By: Sascha Kilmer

10 Destinations Every Traveler Should Visit Off-Season

Not a big fan of crowds, inflated prices and rushed schedules? Off-season travel is for you. Locals–and pricing–relax when the crowds go back to work and school, allowing for more authentic and budget-friendly visits. For travelers who have more flexible schedules and who don’t mind putting up with less-than-perfect weather, the economics and pace of off-season travel are well worth it. Here are 10 destinations that are every bit as engaging after the crowds have gone.

Northern Italy

Northern Italy is a popular destination year-round, but winter into spring is far more manageable for visitors. Florence’s usually packed Uffizi–if booked a few days in advance–has some breathing room, as do the narrow streets of Venice. Room rates are typically reduced, and it’s much easier to get a table at restaurants on the spur of the moment. Temperatures hover in the 30s and 40s, but Italian fashion and frequent bistro stops will keep you warm. In the South Tyrol region along the Austrian, German and Swiss borders, as the ski season ends Italians take a break before preparing for the summer season. Rent a bicycle and ride downhill on the Val Pusteria cycle path from San Candido to Lientz, Austria, then take the train back. Though some shops and restaurants may close for vacations, April and May are perfect months for renting a car and exploring the alpine towns of Auronzo di Cadore, Cortina d’Ampezzo and Sexten. In Sexten, pamper yourself like a local at the Mountain Resort Patzenfeld’s spa, and take advantage of the thin off-season crowds at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology where you can view Ötzi the Iceman and learn about the Bronze-Age history of the region.

U.S. Virgin Islands

Summer is off-season for St. John in the US Virgin Islands, but the weather isn’t the only thing to heat up. The Emancipation Day Celebration and Carnival on St. John in early July celebrates the culture and history of the USVI through flamboyant carnival costumes and body moving beats. The water is perfect and the beach crowds absent for kayaking and snorkeling at Virgin Islands National Park with Arawak Expeditions. Choice tables are open at Ocean Three Six TwoDe Coal Pot and Zozo’s At the Sugar Mill, highlighting St. John’s impressive island-to-table culinary scene. Ocean-view rooms at properties such as Estate Lindholm are discounted and much easier to find, too. With far fewer crowds, finding a primo beach spot or navigating the roads to truly explore the island is an ocean breeze.

Ireland and Northern Ireland

Spring and summer are Ireland and Northern Ireland’s busiest seasons. But the Emerald Island stays, well, emerald and the pubs just as cozy year-long. Late fall and winter see shorter days and moody skies, but temperatures hover in the high 40s and 50s. Airfare to Dublin is greatly discounted for the cooler months, and you’ll have popular attractions that have long lines in the summer seemingly all to yourself, such as Carrick-a-Rede, Giants Causeway, the Dark Hedges and Dunluce Castle in Northern Ireland and the Guinness Storehouse, Trinity College’s Old Library, Kilmainham Gaol and Newgrange Monument in Ireland. Holiday activities, such as Galway’s Christmas Market starting in November, give visitors a true look at Ireland.

Grand Canyon National Park

Grand Canyon National Park is synonymous with the classic summer American Road Trip, but also with shoulder-shoulder crowds. Spring and winter brings dramatic light and skies to the Grand Canyon, white snow against the red rocks and the feeling that you have this wonder of the natural world all to yourself. For hikers wanting to stay at Phantom Ranch at the bottom of the canyon, open bunks and the cooler temperatures of November and December make this the perfect time to check the trek off your life list. Limited year-round mule rides down to Phantom Ranch or along the East Rim Trail March through November are also much easier to schedule in the spring or fall. The Grand Canyon Railway that travels between Williams and the Grand Canyon South Rim Village offers holiday packages in the fall and winter, and rooms with sweeping views at the historic El Tovar, Kachina, Bright Angel and other historic lodges are discounted and much easier to reserve, holidays excepted.

Florida

The powdery white beaches along Florida’s coastline are a favorite of families in the summer and snowbirds in the winter. But with perhaps the nicest weather of the year, fall is relaxed and the water is still warm. Hatching sea turtles can outnumber people on the beach. South Seas Island Resort on Captiva Island offers fall packages that include daily buffet breakfast, deep room discounts and resort credits for use at the spa or golf course. At the tony Ponte Vedra Inn & Club, nightly rates drop September through February. The restaurants and shops of nearby St. Augustine are far less crowded than in the summer, as are its attractions such as the Castillo de San Marcos National Monument. October is the perfect time to take a ghost tour of the city, and St. Augustine is known for its brilliant light display in December.

New Mexico

New Mexico is a favorite summer road trip destination, but in the fall it can feel like you have the entire state to yourself. Cottonwood and aspen trees turn color, and the state’s famous chile harvest is in. Fall festivals take place, such as Santa Fe’s Zozobra in September, and truly show New Mexico’s unique blend of cultures and history. During the holidays farolitos–paper bags filled with sand and candles–illuminate plazas and street throughout the state including Albuquerque’ Old Town, Santa Fe’s Canyon Road and the village of Mesilla near Las Cruces. New Mexico's 19 Native American Pueblos conduct winter dances, many of which the public may attend, albeit without cameras. When the snow arrives in December, New Mexico’s ski areas provide excellent southern Rocky Mountain skiing and snowboarding.

Healdsburg, California

After the grape harvest in late summer and early fall, tourism in quaint Healdsburg in Sonoma County drops off. Sure, the vineyards are turning a little brown, but with pleasant temperatures and thin crowds, November is a great time of year to explore this premiere wine-producing area. Tasting rooms such as Longboard and Wilson Artisan wineries are open, as are local shops and restaurants surrounding the historic town square. Grab lunch at the Shed, take a cooking class at Relish or go on a bike and wine tour with Wine Country Bikes. Hotels rates, such as at H2Hotel, tend to be reduced for the off season, too.

Mexico City

At 7,400 feet above sea level, Mexico City enjoys spring-like weather year-round. March through May is its busiest tourist season, but temperatures range from the 40s to 70s into late fall and winter, earning the city the nickname “City of Eternal Spring.” Crowds at the ruins of TeotihuacanFrida Kahlo Museum and the Museo Nacional de Antropología are much lighter, and festivals such as October’s Alebrije and Day of the Dead parades are reason enough for a visit. Concerts and activities at Chapultepec Park take place year-round, and rates at hotels such as NH Collection Mexico City Reforma can be much lower as well.  

Iceland

Visitation to Iceland plummets in winter, but the season offers its own unique rewards, including thin crowds to Iceland’s most popular sites. On the winter solstice, daylight hours are from about 11:30 a.m to 3:30 p.m. in Reykjavik, which is decorated for the holidays. The light, though, takes on what photographers describe as a magical quality for capturing Iceland’s geysers, waterfalls and vast landscapes. Temperatures hover around freezing, but not drastically cold as some may think. Winter prices are much less than Iceland’s notoriously high summer prices. Perhaps most famously, auroras are active and visible this time of year, and a dip in a hot spring surrounded by a snowy landscape is a surreal experience.