While peak season certainly exists for a reason, there are some great vacation spots that are still pretty exciting during their off seasons. Vacationing during off seasons is a great way to make your money go further, sometimes even saving a significant amount on travel to put toward exploring another desired destination. According to Just A Pack, traveling to the beat of your own drum and avoiding the crowds could save you up to 70% on accommodations alone. That just may be a fair trade for fun-filled, sunny days in popular destinations. Flights and food will also likely see a decrease in price during the less-busy season.
A budget vacation aside, traveling to desirable locations during their off seasons can have numerous advantages. The lessening of tourists crowding the locale is huge, allowing travelers to enjoy more flexibility with increased availability. Fewer tourists also make for a more authentic visit by making it possible to sightsee without as many obscurities, and interactions with locals are far more likely. Travelers on a budget don’t have to settle for a dreary low-season vacation — we’ve compiled a list of destinations that visitors will find thriving during their off seasons. These locations are just as lovely during the off season as they are when the tourist season is in full swing.
We’re starting our list off strong in Salem, Massachusetts, one of the top Halloween destinations in the world. It may be a kind of Mecca for witches and those with a soft spot for all things spooky during October, but the truth is that Salem is just as witchy and Halloween-centric during the rest of the year, too. Planning a trip into the historic city outside of the peak time of October will allow you to have a more relaxed and spontaneous trip without needing to book advance tickets for everything, wait in lines, or spend an hour finding parking on the weekends.
Outside of a couple of markets and extra Halloween decorations, pretty much everything that draws people in during October is still readily available to visitors of Salem during all other months of the year. In fact, according to Things To Do In Salem, the city hosts special events throughout the year, like the annual Salem’s So Sweet festival in February, where ice sculptures are placed all over the city.
The city, which is largely known as the site of the Salem witch trials, has a whole host of historic sites and museums — both related to witches and not — that remain open year-round. Travelers who are looking for a unique, peaceful, and history-rich vacation will find an off-season trip to Salem much more valuable than a visit around Halloween.
Italy is a popular destination for vacationers from May to mid-September, but those who schedule a trip a little earlier in the year are in for a real treat. If you plan your trip to spend Easter in the iconically Catholic country, you can pretty much throw a dart at a map and find an elaborate festival or tradition in whichever city it lands. One of the very best and oldest Easter traditions in Italy include the "Scoppio del Carro," or the "Explosion of the Cart" in Florence, where an elaborate and ornate 18th-century cart is guided through the city by white oxen with gold-painted horns. The cart, full of fireworks, later "explodes" for a spectacular display and is followed by a full-on street show with costumed performers. Rome, of course, goes all out for Easter as the Pope himself is a large part of the festivities in the city.
Even if your trip does not fall on Easter, traveling to Italy during the off season is seemingly a no-brainer. Though traveling throughout the large country is made simple and efficient with its public transport and train system, traveling from city to city is made even easier without the large summer crowd of tourists. Italy is home to a massive amount of history and art that tourists flock to, making the off seasons pretty much the perfect time to see some of the most iconic pieces in existence without too much of a crowd.
New York City
Although the warmer months from June to August are the most popular time for tourists to visit The Big Apple, it’s worth braving the cold and snowy weather in December to take a trip to the iconic city. There’s nothing quite like a Christmas in New York, and the city is decked out for the holiday from the end of November to the beginning of January. There’s a reason some of the most iconic Christmas films, like "Elf" and the "Home Alone" franchise, take place in New York City — no one gets lit up for the holiday quite like NYC. From tinsel-draped small businesses to the huge, stories-high decorations, there are countless instances of Christmas magic to see while you’re visiting.
There are plenty of holiday-only events and activities available during the short period of time the city is dressed up in its Christmas finest. Some of the very best things to do in New York City fall during the Christmas season and, per New York Simply, your itinerary should include seeing a 75-foot Christmas tree in all its splendor, visiting holiday markets, and drinking up some delicious hot chocolate. Visiting NYC during the holidays involves experiencing the city under a blanket of string lights and decorated evergreens. It’s somewhat of a bucket list trip that everyone should experience at least once.
There is plenty more to do in Bali than just hanging out on a beach, and traveling to the beautiful city in the rainy, off season from November to March is ideal for travelers wanting an affordable and peaceful vacation. Bali’s off season can be unpredictable, seeing as it is the rainiest time of year, but it does stay reasonably warm during this time, so visitors should plan to wear a light raincoat while they are venturing outside. This time of year is ripe with new year festivals, which can be an exceptional cultural experience for travelers.
The Ogoh-Ogoh parade, for example, involves men carrying huge statues through the streets with the purpose of scaring away bad spirits. This tradition is always the day before the Nyepi festival, which is also known as the Day of Silence. The Nyepi festival is a celebration of the Balinese New Year. Though the official date changes annually with the lunar calendar, the festival usually falls in March. The Day of Silence is an important and respected Hindu holiday and, according to Lonely Planet, brings a total stop to travel and happenings in the city, with no one even being allowed outside. While the Ogoh-Ogoh parade is certainly worth seeing, you’ll need to make sure you can respect local traditions the following day if you do opt to visit.
The Greek islands are one of the most sought-after destinations for a beautiful and relaxing beach getaway. Santorini is one of the most well-known Greek islands, and the months of June, July, and August see tourists flocking there for the beautiful beach views and warm weather. However, the winter may just be the best time to visit the Greek islands, as visitors will enjoy the calm that the island has to offer without competing with thousands of tourists for views and room on the sidewalk. Some of the businesses may be closed during the off season, but travelers will have more freedom and flexibility to explore the island for hidden gems they might miss during busier months.
Since Santorini slows down quite a bit from November to March, tourists can use a more relaxed pace to fully immerse themselves in the beauty and culture of the Greek island. The iconic and picturesque blue-domed churches are available to peruse and the prehistoric settlement of Akrotiri tells a story of the island that is almost trapped in time, readily available for travelers to discover.
While it’s best to be prepared for a wide range of weather and temperatures in the off season, the absence of the scorching summer heat allows for comfortable walking trips throughout the island. A winter vacation in Santorini is ideal for the lone vacationer who wants to take it easy — those looking for fast-paced nightlife should stick to the packed peak time.
The Maldives has two seasons: dry season and wet season. Naturally, the dry season from December to April is when people flock to the lux islands, and the wet season of May through November tends to keep people off of the beaches. The truth of it is, though, that the wet season still offers a good amount of sunshine with a lot less traffic on the water, which makes the Maldives’ diving scene even more desirable than during the peak season.
According to Secret Paradise, the low season of the Maldives is ideal for diving, as the decreased water traffic from tourists and boats makes activity under the water flourish. Since there are fewer people diving during this time, prices tend to be lower for diving excursions. The Maldives is also home to one of the most mysterious places in the world, the Sea of Stars, which appears to be magical glowing waters surrounding Vaadhoo Island. The glow at night is caused by bioluminescent microorganisms, and it is a sight to behold. This phenomenon doesn’t happen all the time and can be kind of tricky to catch, but the timing can often overlap with the Maldives off season in June and October.
Denver, Colorado is a dream for anyone who loves the outdoors and everything nature has to offer. Tourists flock there in the summer and winter for awesome access to the Rocky Mountains, whether it’s to camp under the stars or ski down the peaks. The city, as a whole, tends to attract lovers of the outdoors, both as locals and as tourists year-round. Summer is the most popular tourism time, but winter comes in a close second as people from all over come to ski at some of the best resorts in the west.
According to Travel Lemming, the best times to visit Denver for low prices are the spring and fall, as tourists interested in extreme outdoor sports are more likely to be adventuring elsewhere. The most budget-friendly Denver vacation during this time of year will be full of more relaxing activities, like visiting the hot springs in surrounding cities or wandering through Meow Wolf’s Convergence Station and the jaw-dropping art scene in the city’s River North Art District (referred to as "RiNo" by locals). The off season is also a particularly good time to catch a concert at the Red Rocks Amphitheater, located about a half-hour from Denver. If you can’t find an artist you want to see, you can still visit the natural amphitheater and soak in the expansive views of the city and the Rocky Mountains.
Thanks to "Lord of the Rings," New Zealand is known throughout the world for its beauty, and its landscapes vary thoroughly throughout the country. The popular travel destination grew even busier when J. R. R. Tolkien’s novel went to the big screen, which is why it takes some skillful planning to get booked for a trip during the peak season. But winter months may be the ideal time for budget travelers wanting to get a good look at New Zealand. Not only are there more accommodations readily available during the off season, but the scenery is less obscured by crowds of tourists.
One of the many reasons to visit New Zealand during the off season is that the country looks wildly different than it does at other times of the year. Those who travel for the peak season of December through March get to see the country in all her summer glory, but they miss out on how breathtakingly beautiful New Zealand looks when it’s covered in fields of mixed flowers during the spring and the bursts of colors during the fall. The New Zealand winter months of June through August are ideal for off-season travelers, as the blankets of snow covering the country make gorgeous terrain for winter sports. Winter also boasts a number of festivals, including the Matariki Festival in Auckland that celebrates Māori culture.
While the off season in Crete doesn’t have the same sunbathing weather that the summer months of June, July, and August do, temperatures are still comfortable in the 50s and 60s. This, paired with the lower prices and less-crowded autumn and winter seasons, make culture-rich Crete a great get-away option in the off season. Despite colder weather, there are many festivals in Crete in the fall and spring, including the Chestnut Festival in the Elos village in October and World Tourism Day in September, where some great food can be discovered and explored. Crete’s Greek Carnival celebration, known as Apokries, takes place during February and March and features costumed dancing in the streets, which is fitting for a festival rooted in the worship of the wine god, Dionysus.
Traveling to Crete in the fall months of September through November will allow you to explore all that the island has to offer. You can spend time perusing shops and diving into the island’s authentic culture, or you can stroll along its many beautiful beaches. It’s worth noting that the less-busy seasons could lead to some local shops and businesses being closed for the season. However, with the rich history of the island, there are numerous other places you can go explore during your stay. History buffs can unravel the tales of the island by visiting archeological sites and ancient ruins around the city.
Big Sur, California
Big Sur is stunning all the time, but opting to visit during the off season makes the Californian prices much more friendly for the traveler on a budget. The weather might not be as perfect as it looks on TV during the winter, but it still stays relatively nice — Big Sur typically doesn’t even get near freezing, even on its coldest days. A lot of businesses don’t stay open as late during the winter months of January, February, and March, but that doesn’t mean the community will be completely shut down, either.
As a relatively sparse community located on the central coast of California, the majority of the attraction to Big Sur is its breathtaking views and natural beauty. The winding, cliffside roads will make for a thrilling drive through the area, and visiting during winter will only improve the crisp air quality of your red convertible, scarf-around-the-head movie moment, if you so choose. Men’s Journal dotes on Big Sur as a fantastic winter destination, saying the off season’s increased accommodations paired with the epic nature scene of hiking trails and views make it a bucket list trip. One must-see stop on the winding roads of Big Sur is Calla Lilly Valley, which is in full bloom during the winter and a great perk for off-season travelers.
The Florida Keys
For travelers who are a little more flexible and don’t mind the heat, traveling to the Florida Keys during the off season is almost a no-brainer. Prices for the high-demand vacation spot can almost be cut in half during the off season, and the weather is great, as it usually stays in the ’70s and ’80s. According to Trip Savvy, the best time to visit the Florida Keys is between March and May — right before hurricane season and after the peak tourist season. Most people migrate to the Keys for winter to avoid cold weather and soak up the sun, but waiting a little later just might make a better trip all around, considering the much-diminished crowd lets you get more for your money’s worth. Unique experiences like shopping at The Rain Barrel Artisan Village and catching a ride on the African Queen steamboat could be elevated even more if you plan your trip around one of the Keys’ Third Thursday events. Every third Thursday, even during less busy seasons, the Morada Way Art Walk happens, inviting visitors and locals to peruse local art exhibitions.
While it’s not typically recommended to plan a trip to the Florida Keys during hurricane season, which falls between June and November, prices are shockingly low during this time. It could make for an exciting, spontaneous trip for the risk-inclined, but we wouldn’t recommend it for anyone who likes to have all their ducks in a row before they head out for a relaxing vacation.
Mexico is a culture-rich country with a lot to offer. Luckily, Mexico’s low season months of April through November fall on two major holidays, Easter and Día de Muertos, or the Day of the Dead. While Mexico sees a lower tourism season around these two holidays, there is bustling activity from Mexico residents, with Easter being a time when locals head out on vacations to beaches and resorts, leaving cities and towns free for visitors to explore. Día de Muertos, which takes place at the beginning of November, brings with it unique customs and festivals that can’t be found anywhere else in the world.
Mexico’s Día de Muertos celebrations are world-renowned and a source of curiosity for many, making it an event that travelers should seriously consider scheduling their off-season trip around. In addition to the festivities of the holiday, Mexico is also the site of many ancient and culturally significant sites. Colorful and artistic festivals, like Festival Cervantino, celebrate this history with street theater and a variety of musical performances. Visiting Mexico during the off season boasts all of these happenings and activities, as well as the perk of cheaper prices and fewer tourists.
Budapest is an awe-inspiring, historic city with beautiful architecture and rich history to sink your teeth into. The marvels that make up the bones and structure of the city do not go away in the down season of November through March, when the city is much colder and less crowded. The off season does, however, allow visitors to take in the sights without the hindrance of crowds. Visitors can also expect to find accommodations and local fare at much lower prices.
According to Low Season Traveler, a winter walk through the city is a great way to see Budapest and its many artistically built buildings. The city features a number of thermal pools, and the best way to experience them is to take a dip and warm up from the cool weather during the winter season. This time of year is also when a substantial Christmas market in Vörösmarty Square pops up — it’s so big even the biggest Grinch could get suckered into celebrating the holiday spirit. Indulging in these off-season activities will allow visitors to connect even further with the local culture and customs than they could during the overcrowded months of June to August.
Iceland’s off season overlaps with the best time to see the Northern Lights. Of course, this means most of your days there will be blanketed by night, but the swirling colors in the sky more than make up for it. The Northern Lights are most visible between September and March due to the 19-hour nights, and the months that draw in the least amount of visitors are January through May, making April, March and May optimal visiting times for a budget-friendly vacation to witness the Northern Lights in person.
The long nights of the off season are lit up not only by the Northern Lights, but also by the volcanic activity that Iceland is built upon. While only erupting occasionally, the active volcano of Iceland is something to think about while visiting. For those who do decide they don’t mind a little lava with their beautiful skies, a trip to Iceland in March will have travelers met with the impressive Reykjavik Food and Fun Festival where, according to Iceland Trippers, notable chefs from around the world show off their skills.