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 just a few destinations that are every bit as engaging after the crowds have gone.
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 atPhantom 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. TheGrand 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.
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.
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.
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. 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 theMountain 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.
US 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 Two, De 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.