We’ve searched the globe for top winter destinations and found everything from quintessential mountain ski towns to international urban getaways. Back-to-nature travelers will long for outdoor experiences that only Bali, Gran Canaria, or Oahu could provide, while winter sports enthusiasts will be drawn to Whitefish, Banff, and Niseko. Culture vultures will adore Macao, Cairo, and New Orleans, and spectacular parks like Arches National Park and Joshua Tree National Park will thrill adventure seekers. From Los Angeles to Melbourne to Nassau, the world is teeming with travel possibilities. You’re sure to find your perfect stay at one of these 25 spectacular winter destinations.
1.Arches National Park
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Five miles north of Moab, Utah, visitors will find a surreal experience at Arches National Park. Filled with over 2,000 naturally formed stone arches, the park offers a chance to see pinnacles, towers, balanced rocks and, of course, natural arches. All this red rock splendor dazzles beneath the perpetually blue skies. Most people visit the park by driving through it, but there are countless ways to experience it. Adventure travelers can backpack, hike, bike, and rock climb. Romantic types will enjoy horseback riding among the dream-like territory and stargazing into the vast night sky. Specific tours and ranger-led programs are both available. Devil’s Garden, Balanced Rock, Delicate Arch, and The Windows are must-see places.
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Bali conjures images of white sand beaches, lush jungles and colorful flowers, rice paddies, and underwater coral reefs in tranquil, turquoise waters. These characteristics are all true. Bali province includes a main island with a few smaller islands. Active travelers will want to make their ways to Kuta on the island’s south side, where they’ll find a lively beach bar scene. Families may find Nusa Dua, Seminyak, and Sanur more to their liking. The range of activities on the island is vast and varied, including an array of watersports from scuba diving to paragliding. There is everything from meditation and yoga to volcano treks to rice fields and cultural shows.
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Banff is a small town nestled in the stunning Canadian Rocky Mountains of Alberta, Canada. The Rockies bring their own magnificence with abundant wildlife, spectacular snowy peaks, and glacier-fed lakes, and there are lots of ways to enjoy them. Winters bring opportunities to ice skate, ski, snowboard, toboggan, and snowshoe. During summer, there is camping, biking fishing, kayaking, swimming, and more. Visitors must experience a few standouts – touring the lake, riding the Banff Gondola, and soaking in hot springs. There are art galleries and museums waiting to be explored and historic sites demanding to be examined. The Mountain Madness Relay Race, SnowDays winter festival, and A Taste for Adventure add to the fun during winter.
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A trip to Egypt must include the iconic jewel of the Nile – Cairo. The bustling mega-city is filled with cultural wonder both ancient and modern. Visitors will want to put a few select must-do activities on their list, because there is so much to see and do that it can be overwhelming. The Egyptian Museum and Coptic Museum are good places to start an exploration of the city. Khan Al Khalili, a 14th century medieval-style market has everything from souvenir pyramids to gold to colorful and fragrant spices. The Pyramids of Giza are by far the biggest attraction. This 4,000-year-old archaeological site includes the big four: The Sphinx, Pyramid of Khafre, Pyramid of Menkaure, and Great Pyramid of Khufu.
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Denver, also known as the Mile High City, is the cultural epicenter of Colorado. Visitors will enjoy the world-class Denver museums, plus the less formal art districts. There are seven districts in total, each offering monthly artwalks. Denver street art is a mix of murals, graffiti, and other art forms. There are countless ways to enjoy the fresh mountain air and scenic vistas of Denver. The tree-lined 16th Street Pedestrian Mall is a must with 28 outdoor cafés and evening horse-drawn carriage rides. Rocky Mountain National Park is just over an hour away, where visitors will find cascading waterfalls, snowcapped mountain peaks, alpine lakes, beautiful wildflowers, and historic Estes Park.
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As the third-largest island of Spain’s Canary Islands archipelago, Gran Canaria appeals to just about every traveler with year-round entertainment and leisure activities in near-perfect weather. Active travelers will appreciate opportunities for windsurfing, diving, climbing, fishing, surfing, and sailing. Sun lovers will find all manner of beaches on this small island, from seemingly endless stretches of dunes to hidden coves tucked away along 146 miles of coastline. The island’s interior offers hiking, cycling, climbing, and exploring. Those seeking a cultural experience should head to the historic capital of Las Palmas. The Roque Bentayga Visitors Center or the Vegueta neighborhood of Las Palmas are excellent starting places.
7.Joshua Tree National Park
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Joshua Tree National Park is at the junction of the Mojave and Colorado deserts in Southern California. Visitors can explore the two desert ecosystems independently, but to get a true understanding of the region, there are numerous tours on offer, from guided hiking tours to open-air Hummer tours. Joshua Tree is widely known for the climbing, scrambling, and rappelling opportunities scattered throughout the park’s surreal geologic landscape. Indian Cove is a rock climbers’ paradise. For those fascinated by Joshua trees, Covington Flats provides the best concentration. Black Rock Canyon is great for wildlife viewing. Designated a Dark Sky Park, Joshua Tree is the perfect place to see the Milky Way like never before.
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The best way to discover Los Angeles is through its neighborhoods, each offering a distinct experience from the others. Many travelers are drawn first to Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and Malibu, hoping for a glimpse of their favorite movie stars. Highlights of Hollywood include the TLC Chinese Theater and Walk of Fame, and the Dolby Theater, home to the Academy Awards. Beverly Hills has the luxurious Rodeo Drive shopping district and the iconic Beverly Hills Trolley Tour. Coastal communities like Malibu with 21 miles of spectacular beaches, Santa Monica with its iconic pier and popular nightlife, and Venice Beach with Muscle Beach and the historic Venice Canals are all coveted experiences.
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Macao, situated along the southern coast of China, has been dubbed the “Las Vegas of Asia” for its striking casinos along the Cotai Strip. Travelers can indulge in lavish gaming, nightlife, and shows in this glittering city. Macau Tower provides not only the best views of the city, but some of the most adventurous activities like the Tower Skywalk, Bungy Jump, and Tower Skyjump. This energetic city is equal parts futuristic and historic. Visitors will find more than 20 impressive monuments and squares in the Historic Centre of Macao, which is on the World Heritage List. There are also plenty of museums and galleries, churches, temples, gardens, and fortresses to explore. Local sightseeing tours are the best way to take it all in.
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The precincts of Melbourne offer visitors an eclectic array of cultural, historical, and outdoor experiences. Travelers to this city, located in Victoria, Australia, will love the artsy laneways of the City Centre, filled with bars, restaurants, and street art – especially found near Flinders Lane. Lively Bourke Street Mall offers great shopping and entertaining buskers, and haute couture shopping abounds on Collins Street. The sights and smells of Chinatown draw travelers to the many bars and restaurants. Catch sports fever at Melbourne’s sports precinct, and stop and smell the roses at Werribee Park and Mansion. Birrarung Marr, Yarra River, Melbourne Star Observation Wheel, Royal Botanic Garden, and Federation Square provide a chance to enjoy Melbourne outdoors.
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Montego Bay on Jamaica’s northern coast is a mixture of glitzy all-inclusive resorts outside the city and its gritty, bustling everyday life. Those interested in learning about Rastafarian culture should visit Rastafarian Village. Travelers looking for idyllic beach life outside the high-end resorts will find it at Doctor’s Cave Beach, where turquoise waters gently kiss white sand beaches. The National Museum West provides a history of Western Jamaica and Montego Bay. A trip to Montego Bay wouldn’t be complete without venturing into the Caribbean rainforest for a little ziplining with Chukka Caribbean Adventures. Visitors can experience the cuisine, music, and culture of Jamaica at Montego Bay.
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Nassau on Grand Bahama is the closest Caribbean paradise to the US. The Pirate’s Museum is a family-friendly attraction where kids can learn what a pirate’s life was once like here. Dolphin Encounters is another family favorite, where families can swim and play with the dolphins. Day passes to Atlantis Resort provide fun on exclusive beaches, marine habitats and, best of all, The Dig – an amazing aquarium. Adults can recline in lounge chairs on powdery white sand beaches sipping Bahama Mamas and enjoying the sparkling turquoise waters before them. Stuart Coves offers snorkel and dive trips to the beautiful coral reefs and sunken ships around the island. For authentic Bahamian food, visitors should make their ways to Fish Fry.
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New Orleans, also known as “The Big Easy,” is Louisiana’s most vibrant and well-known city. Situated along the Mississippi River basin on the Gulf of Mexico, it’s known for its jazz and blues music, exuberant night life, and tantalizing cuisine. There is no place on earth quite like New Orleans. A fusion of Southern, French Creole, and African cultures, New Orleans is one of America’s most fascinating cities. Any visit to the city must include Bourbon Street in the French Quarter – the city’s oldest neighborhood. Travelers will appreciate the eccentric vibe and the classic food like po’boy sandwiches, jambalaya, and shrimp gumbo. This rollicking city turns it up a notch during the famed annual Mardi Gras celebration, when locals and visitors alike join in boisterous costumed street parties and parades.
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Niseko is primarily known as Japan’s “winter wonderland” and a must-visit for winter sports enthusiasts. Visitors can expect highly regarded ski resorts like Annupuri, Grand Hirafu, and Niseko Village, where they can ski 64 lift-supported courses. Other available winter sports include snowmobiling, tubing, and snowshoeing. During summer, travelers to Niseko can experience climbing and hiking, biking, rafting, and golfing. Another must-do experience is a visit to one of the area onsens – volcanic hot springs. It is the perfect end to a rigorous day of outdoor sports, whether cycling in summer or skiing in winter. For the ultimate mineral bath experience, hit up the 100-year-old Kombu Onsen.
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Oahu, dubbed “The Gathering Place,” is Hawaii’s most populous island. Visitors will find a fusion of cultures expressed through Native Hawaiian traditions on this bustling island. From the tropical glitz and glamour of Honolulu to the historic remembrance of Pearl Harbor to the North Shore’s world-renowned big wave surf, this island offers lots to explore. Those wanting to explore the off-the-beaten-path side of Oahu should head to the Leeward Coast for picturesque beaches and coastal villages. Kaena Point, also on the leeward side, offers the best views of the Pacific Ocean and a remote bird sanctuary. The slow-paced Windward Coast provides natural beauty of epic proportions, and a spectacular Buddhist temple in Valley of the Temples.
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Orlando could easily be called the theme park capital of the United States. With no less than a dozen to choose from, top park destinations include Walt Disney World’s Epcot Center, Animal Kingdom, and Magic Kingdom, and Universal Orlando’s Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios. A must-see for Harry Potter fans is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Beyond the theme parks, Orlando visitors can peruse the largest Tiffany glass collection in the world at the Morse Museum of American Art, take a scenic boat tour in Winter Park, and explore the four floors of exhibits at Orlando Science Center.
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Park City is located 45 minutes outside Salt Lake City, Utah. Three of the biggest attractions here are Deer Valley Resort, Park City Mountain Resort, and Utah Olympic Park. They provide year-round outdoor experiences like hiking, mountain biking, and scenic rides supported by chairlifts during summer, and world-class skiing and snowboarding on the same slopes as the 2002 Winter Olympics. Guardsman Pass, Provo Canyon, Alpine Scenic Loop, and Mirror Lake Highway provide the best scenic drives. Outdoor recreation isn’t limited to the resorts. Opportunities abound to go fly fishing, river rafting, hot air ballooning, horseback riding, snowmobiling, ziplining, and more.
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Penang Island is one of Malaysia’s five most popular islands among travelers, often referred to as the “Pearl of the Orient.” The island is located off the northern coast of Peninsular Malaysia and is part of popular West Malaysia. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the island is bursting with historical charm. George Town, the island’s primary urban center, is a cosmopolitan hub of diversity and culture. Outside the city, visitors will be enthralled by the nutmeg farms, mountain villages, coastal fishing towns, and pristine beaches. Must-see experiences in George Town include historic clan houses, Little India, and Chinatown for a strong dose of culture. A world-renowned culinary scene adds to the city’s allure. Other must-sees include Penang National Park, the Tropical Spice Garden, and The Habitat nature reserve.
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The Pocono Mountains have a long-held tradition of providing couples with the premier romantic mountain escape. Quaint bed and breakfasts and independent inns provide private and intimate settings that dot the mountainous natural landscape. This is the place for adults-only accommodations, grown-up activities like spas and wineries, and epic views, with each season offering an entirely different experience. Families have a place in the Poconos too, with outdoor adventure courses and waterparks. Bushkill Falls, aka the “Niagara Falls” of Pennsylvania; Jim Thorpe, a historic European-style mountain village; and Skytop, a dreamy destination with spectacular vistas, are three great places to start an exploration of the Poconos.
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San Antonio, Texas, is best known to most travelers as the location of the 1836 Battle of the Alamo. Visitors can experience this historic landmark at Alamo Plaza, where they’ll find a 300-year-old mission turned fortress, living history battlefield tour, and gift shop. Another highlight of this vibrant city is the River Walk. The pedestrian promenade is a network of walkways that stretch along the San Antonio River. Visitors can experience the fusion of Old Mexico, Native America, and the Wild West through the sights and sounds of restaurants, bars, shops, and historic missions along this central artery. As a UNESCO Creative City of Gastronomy, there is a surprisingly diverse culinary tradition in San Antonio that begs to be explored.
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Savannah, Georgia, conjures images of stately plantations, ancient oak trees draped in Spanish moss, and genteel Southern hospitality. This port city, located on the Savannah River at the Atlantic Ocean, is best known for its antebellum architecture. Must-see examples include the Historic Savannah Theatre, Mickve Israel Temple, and Harper Fowlkes House. Other points of interest to explore include 30-acre Forsyth Park, the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist, and the dazzling waterfront Historic District. The Moon River, Starland, and Victorian Districts also demand to be explored. Shoppers will love the boutique shops of Broughton Street. Visitors can experience city sightseeing from the water with Savannah Riverboat Cruises.
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The West African coastal country of Senegal is nestled between Mauritania and Guinea on the Atlantic coast. Senegal, in the Wolof language, translates to “hospitality,” which is what visitors will find plenty of here. Travelers who come to enjoy Senegal’s sunshine should head to the southern coastal region of Casamance, where they’ll find beautiful palm-fringed beaches and great surfing. The southeastern Fouta Djallon region offers a different kind of beauty in a mountainous area dotted with cascading waterfalls. No matter where visitors travel in this small country, wildlife takes center stage, including migratory birds, hippos, elephants, rhinos, giraffes, and panthers. The culture of Senegal is equally diverse from the rich culinary experiences, with French, Portuguese, and Maghrebis influences to the tragic history of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
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Singapore is a self-described “City in a Garden” with its emphasis on sustainability and commitment to green space. One of the prime places to see this idea in action is the Singapore Botanic Gardens, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Another stunningly beautiful good bet is Gardens by the Bay – a futuristic outdoor park marrying the natural with the surreal. Singapore’s culinary scene is world renowned, with options from hawker street food to Michelin-starred restaurants to the culinary extravaganza of the annual Singapore Food Festival. Other must-see experiences include the Asian Civilisations Museum in the Colonial District, the tantalizing restaurants and hip rooftop bars of Keong Saik Road, and the Singapore Flyer Observation Wheel (a giant Ferris wheel).
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The essence of Sri Lanka lies in its warm-hearted people, their passion for cricket, spicy food and light tea, and their legacy of gemology passed down from generation to generation. Visitors to this island country in the Indian Ocean will find lush rainforests, endless beaches, and expansive plains – including the World’s End – to explore. Some must-see spots include enthralling views from hill country’s Ella Gap, the picturesque beaches of Tangalla, and the elephant herds of the Uda Walawe Reservoir. The flat-topped rocky outcrop of Sigiriya with its 5th century citadel ruins as well as the 2,000-year-old Buddhist ruins of Anuradhapura also beg to be experienced. The high point of a visit to Sri Lanka may very well be the Gal Vihara carved granite Buddha images in Polonnaruwa.
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Whitefish, nestled in the Northern Rockies of Montana, is a quintessential mountain ski town that’s long been regarded as a gateway to Glacier National Park. Named among the world’s top ski towns by National Geographic, this snowy Shangri-La along the shores of Whitefish Lake provides visitors proximity to spectacular winter skiing and snowboarding, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing, and fat tire biking. Summer brings fly fishing, swimming, kayaking, boating, and water skiing. Hiking, biking, and horseback riding are also popular. A great time to experience local culture is during the Whitefish Winter Carnival in February. Visitors may want to include a daytrip to Glacier National Park anytime of year.
25 Best Cheap Winter Vacations
- Arches National Park, Photo: Courtesy of verinize - Fotolia.com
- Bali, Photo: Courtesy of nuttawutnuy - Fotolia.com
- Banff, Photo: Courtesy of lucky-photo - Fotolia.com
- Cairo, Photo: Courtesy of Pius Lee - Fotolia.com
- Denver, Photo: Courtesy of malajscy - Fotolia.com
- Gran Canaria, Photo: Courtesy of Valery Bareta - Fotolia.com
- Joshua Tree National Park, Photo: Courtesy of garytog - Fotolia.com
- Los Angeles, Photo: Courtesy of jovannig - Fotolia.com
- Macao, Photo: Courtesy of Trusjom - Fotolia.com
- Melbourne, Photo: Courtesy of gb27photo - Fotolia.com
- Montego Bay, Photo: Courtesy of Sheri Swailes - Fotolia.com
- Nassau, Photo: Courtesy of Roman Stetsyk - Fotolia.com
- New Orleans, Photo: Courtesy of Fotoluminate LLC - Fotolia.com
- Niseko, Photo: Courtesy of Hew - Fotolia.com
- Oahu, Photo: Courtesy of Gang - Fotolia.com
- Orlando, Photo: Courtesy of Richard - Fotolia.com
- Park City, Photo: Courtesy of karagrubis - Fotolia.com
- Penang, Photo: Courtesy of nbriam - Fotolia.com
- Poconos, Photo: Courtesy of Christian Hinkle - Fotolia.com
- San Antonio, Photo: Courtesy of CrackerClips - Fotolia.com
- Savannah, GA, Photo: Courtesy of f11photo - Fotolia.com
- Senegal, Photo: Courtesy of djekker - Fotolia.com
- Singapore, Photo: Courtesy of boule1301 - Fotolia.com
- Sri Lanka, Photo: Courtesy of chalabala - Fotolia.com
- Whitefish, Photo: Courtesy of Nathan - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of marinzolich - Fotolia.com