Where to Skip the Holidays

Want to opt for a trip instead of presents? Avoid holiday prices and crowds at these off-peak destinations.

Photo By: Shutterstock

Photo By: Shutterstock

Photo By: Shutterstock

Photo By: Shutterstock

Photo By: istock/ narvikk

Photo By: Windstar Cruises

Photo By: istock / Adam Smigielski

Photo By: istock/TravisPacheco

Photo By: istock/ AlbertPego

Photo By: istock/Siempreverde22

For Island Life: Crete, Greece

Almost nobody travels to Crete during the December off-season, which means no crowds and great deals. True, it’s usually too chilly to sunbathe and swim, but it is warm enough to explore the island’s rich history. Highlights include the Palace of Knossos, the Heraklion Archaeological Museum and the Ancient City of Phaistos. Elsewhere, hike in Samaria Gorge National Park, or poke around the island’s picturesque towns. It’s also one of the only times when the iconic Elafonisi beach is devoid of crowds. The holidays are also the perfect time to score amazing deals on five-star hotels, from Casa Delfino Hotel & Spa to GDM Megaron.

For Skiing: Hokkaido, Japan

The second-largest island off of Japan’s coast is still under-the-radar to many Westerners. Its remote, untouched landscape encompasses volcanoes, lakes, forests and hot springs galore. Winters here are known for large amounts of powdery snow, perfect for skiers and snowboarders. Stay at Niseko Village, an international ski resort where staff members speak English. In between runs, recover in open-air onsen (hot springs) while watching the snow fall.

For Groups: Catalina Island, California

Catalina Island, a ferry ride away from Los Angeles, doesn’t get as much hype as the rest of California. And since summer is its high season, winters tend to be mellow. However, the weather remains pleasant, with temperatures in the 60s, allowing for year-round activities such as boating, hiking and golfing. Many businesses and restaurants remain open during the holiday period, including the Descanso Beach Club. Stay at the centrally located Pavilion Hotel, or truly drop off the grid by camping on the beach at Parsons Landing.

For a Tropical Trip: Goa, India

Endless miles of gorgeous beaches attract an international crowd during the holidays, so head to the southern portion of the state for a true escape. Arossim, Cansaulim, Agonda and Benaulim beaches are among the gems that provide a tranquil atmosphere. Or stay at Dwarka, a small eco-resort on its own slice of undeveloped beach. Enjoy both a lagoon and the Arabian Sea, along with locally sourced food, evening campfires, spacious rooms and access to a massage therapist and yoga teacher. Keep in mind that a strong exchange rate compensates any holiday pricing.

For Solo Travelers: Barcelona, Spain

The last weeks in December are actually the perfect time to visit Barcelona, since the weather hovers around 60 degrees, and stores, restaurants and attractions remain open without being too crowded. (Three King’s Day on January 5 and 6 is the bigger deal.) Take advantage of the non-existent tourist hordes by visiting the Picasso Museum, Sagrada Familia and Park Guell. For a social vibe, stay at Casa Gracia, an upscale hostel that provides plenty of communal areas for schmoozing, sans party scene.

For a Cruise: Windstar Cruises

Windstar’s luxe fleet consists of small yachts that hold no more than 310 people, a far cry from the floating mega-cities that will be packed during the holidays. Another major benefit of Windstar’s size is the ability to access smaller beaches and ports. In December, choose from week-long excursions to diverse destinations, whether it’s sailing Phuket to Singapore, San Juan and the Virgin Islands or Tahiti. Life onboard is low-key but high-quality, with guest lecturers and culinary demos. In fact, Windstar is the official cruise line of the James Beard Foundation. Book early for holiday discounts.

For Shopping : Marrakech, Morocco

Since Morocco is a Muslim country, you won’t experience overt Christmas marketing when planning a trip here. Other upsides are that businesses stay open, there are fewer tourists, and temperatures climb into the 60s. You can easily spend days wandering around the souks in the Old Medina, overflowing with leather bags, crystal perfume bottles, hand-carved boxes and more. Haul your finds back to the traditional Riad Malika, a great value in the heart of the Old Medina, or the more upscale Riyad Kniza.

For Wineries: Napa and Sonoma Valleys, California

These famous wine regions reach peak tourist saturation during the summer and harvest seasons, making the holiday season a fine period to visit. Each region offers more than 400 wineries, and Sonoma tends to get less crowded than Napa. That said, budget time to explore the former where you’ll find the classic Robert Mondavi and iconic Castello di Amorosa. Sonoma standouts encompass the famous Francis Ford Coppola Winery, and the somewhat less famous but equally worthwhile wineries of Jordan and Gary Farrell.

For Romance : Venice, Italy

Tourist season doesn’t pick up until Carnival in January, leaving Venice surprisingly empty during the holidays. Though it might be snowy or foggy, the weather lends a fairy-tale cast over the city. Just as in summer, spend days roaming hand in hand along the canals and over bridges. Delight over having Saint Mark’s Basilica all to yourselves, sip thick hot chocolate at the historic Caffe Florian, ice skate at Campo San Polo, and ride gondolas through misty waterways. It’s also the perfect time to take advantage of deals at four- and five-star hotels, from the historic Hotel Canal Grande to the lavish Hotel Metropole.

For a Bucket List: Machu Picchu, Peru

As one of the "new" seven wonders of the world, Machu Picchu is never deserted, but the crowds drop off considerably during the rainy season. Despite the rains, which are usually heavier in January and February, both Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail remain open in December. Just be aware that the latter can get muddy, while cloud cover sometimes obscures the ancient ruins. Despite that, if you book ahead you can find deals at places like the cozy Hostal Madre Tierra in Cusco.

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