We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: Every season makes a compelling case for planning a trip. While Aspen and Miami will always have a special place in the hearts of snow bunnies and snowbirds who flock to these hotspots each winter, not everyone wants to vacation somewhere so popular — whether that’s because of the crowds, sky-high prices, or been- there-done-that-ness of it all.
Yes, you could easily haul up in a luxury mountain lodge, escape to a sun-splashed resort on a buzzy Caribbean island, or soak in the spirit at a high-end hotel that goes all out for the holidays — and all of those would be stellar uses of PTO days — however, the novelty factor just might be missing. For travelers looking for a locale with a bit less notoriety, there are some surprising places that really wow in December, January, and February. Ever thought about escaping to a coastal New England town or wine country in the off-season? How about flipping the script on summer hotspots? It’s certainly worth considering a trip to a major city like Seoul or London during a slower period.
Scroll on for the underrated winter travel destinations that should totally be on your radar.
Dublin is synonymous with imposing landmarks, literary heritage, and a long-standing drinking culture. Many travelers steer clear of the winter months due to the dreary forecast. Between Dublin Castle, St Patrick’s Cathedral, and the National Museum of Ireland, there are actually heaps of indoor cultural attractions to check out if it’s too cold and wet to stroll around St Stephen’s Green and Phoenix Park. Then again, you could easily fill a large portion of the trip just touring historic distilleries and tossing back Irish whiskey at the cozy pubs in the Temple Bar district.
Where to stay: Many have called The Westbury, part of the Irish family-owned Doyle Collection and a member of Leading Hotels of the World, the most luxurious place to stay in Dublin. Featuring suites with clawfoot tubs and sumptuous beds as well as decadent afternoon tea, it’s certainly a strong contender for the title.
As far as major East Coast cities go, Philadelphia is perennially underrated — New York, Boston, and Washington DC, typically get the lion’s share of the limelight. But make no mistake, the City of Brotherly Love deserves credit for its heritage and having some of the best food in the country. The more low-key winter months promise a better shot at securing a hard-to-come-by reservation at Kalaya or Friday Saturday Sunday. It’s also a prime period to carve out a whole day to meander around the Philadelphia Museum of Art (and, sure, run up the Rocky steps), the Barnes Foundation, and Independence Hall at a more leisurely pace.
Where to stay: Situated on the edge of Rittenhouse Square — an emblematic public green space that’s lovely for ambling with a cup of coffee in hand — The Rittenhouse Hotel not only boasts an enviable address but also upgraded rooms that ooze understated sophistication and swish spa.
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Culture and tradition shine in New Mexico’s creative hub. Besides visiting the many museums, workshops, galleries, and immersive art installations, visitors can admire the pueblo-style buildings and dine at authentic local restaurants. In need of some R&R? Prioritize well-being with healing mind-body-soul rituals at restorative day spas. Love the outdoors? You’re in luck. Tucked in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Sante Fe provides easy access to snowy hikes along the Dale Ball Trail system and snowshoeing at Hyde Memorial State Park.
Where to stay: Striking the hard-to-find balance between rustic and refined, Rosewood Inn Of the Anasazi channels the spirit of Santa Fe through Native American artwork, Southwestern decor, wood-burning fireplaces, and earthen hues. Plus, you can’t beat the location in the heart of downtown.
Harvest season in wine country means big events and equally sizable crowds. Winter brings cooler albeit still pleasant temps that rarely dip below 60 degrees, making it the ideal weather for sweater-clad early morning walks as the mist rolls off the hills, swirling Pinot noir at the many biodynamic wineries in the Russian River Valley, and hiking in Healdsburg Ridge Open Space Preserve. The farmers market continues operating year-round. The field-to-fork restaurants, art galleries, indie shops, and tasting rooms in downtown buzz with a quieter yet still lively energy.
Where to stay: A stylish, contemporary, eco-oriented home base — that’s surprisingly halcyon given its address just steps from Healdsburg Plaza — Harmon Guest House offers minimally-minded suites with fireplaces and soaking tubs as well as a popular rooftop for sunset cocktails.
London, United Kingdom
London doesn’t often land on a list of underrated destinations. But when it comes to the less busy winter season, the UK capital actually qualifies. Once the festivities and merriment of the holidays cease, the crowds thin. So it’s the perfect time to hit all the tourist attractions — from Big Ben to Buckingham Palace — without heaps of snap-happy tourists. Even the public parks have a certain allure in the cold, gray months. Had your fill of sloshy sightseeing? Tuck into a snug pub for a pint or Hot toddy and British staples like bangers and mash.
Where to stay: While London brims with fashionable boutique stays, we’re partial to Beaverbrook Town House because of the rich, modern aristocratic aesthetic that extends from the jewel-box bar to the bedrooms. Inspired by London theaters, each of the 14 suites brings the drama with bold colors and patterns.
Sprawling and sparsely populated Alentejo never feels too busy — even in the middle of the summer. During the winter, Portugal’s picturesque agrarian heartland exudes a true sense of peacefulness and solitude. Spend your days hiking on empty trails, visiting charming small towns, learning about the region’s most prized export on a cork safari, walking along the wide-open sandy beaches without another soul in sight, and sipping wine at local vineyards. Thanks to a mild climate, it’s really only necessary to pack a light jacket and comfortable walking shoes.
Where to stay: One of the best wine hotels in Portugal, Herdade da Malhadinha Nova, a Relais & Chateaux agritourism with a plush side, beckons guests to go horseback riding and tool around on 4x4s before afternoon vinho tasting and savoring dinner at the award-winning restaurant.
Seoul, South Korea
A vibrant metropolis with an endless parade of exciting things to do, Seoul never really slows down. However, it does see a dip in tourism in the winter. Travelers who are OK with bundling up get first pick of entry to historic sites like Jogyesa Temple and Gyeongbokgung Palace as well as futuristic attractions such as the Dongdaemun Design Plaza will be thrilled with the solo selfie prospects. The ultimate way to warm up after sightseeing? Korean barbecue. The city is also a K-beauty mecca with stadium-size skin care emporiums and facial spas galore.
Where to stay: Set in Seoul’s central business district, near the many shops in Myeong-dong, Lotte Hotel Seoul is a sleek hotel with two cloud-grazing towers that house 1,015 guest rooms, plus an indoor golf range with skyline views, multiple restaurants, and a serene Sulwhasoo Spa.
It’s no secret that the Caribbean is a tropical paradise that draws heaps of snowbirds during the winter months. While some islands tend to receive the bulk of the visitors, others remain a bit more low-key. St. John certainly falls into the latter category. Without an airport (vacationers fly into larger, more cosmopolitan St. Thomas and hop in a short ferry), flow to the smallest USVI remains pretty calm in comparison to its neighbors. That’s good news for travelers hoping to explore the natural wonders of Virgin Islands National Park — beautiful beaches, archeological sites, and an underwater snorkeling trail — without hordes of holiday goers.
Where to stay: Private island dreams come true at Lovango Resort + Beach Club, located a 10-minute boat from St. John. A departure from mass-market all-inclusive vibes, the sun-splashed property boasts a mix of breezy accommodations — from treehouses to cottages — to swimming pool steps from the sand, and serviced beach bungalows.
Newport, Rhode Island
For decades, Newport was best known as a summer resort for wealthy tycoons of industry. While the glamor of its opulent Gilded Age mansions endures, the city itself has transformed in certain respects. A lot of that hinges on its burgeoning four-season appeal. Travelers visiting the Seafaring Capital of Rhode Island in the winter will find plenty to do, from blustery cliff walks without another soul in sight to ice skating and seal watch boat tours. Keen to kick the cozy factor up a notch? Tuck into a harborside bar for a hot toddy.
Where to stay: A hidden gem right off Thames Street, The Vanderbilt, Auberge Resorts Collection gives off warm, cozy vibes. It’s quite homey — well, if your house happens to be a grand estate — thanks to a palate of jewel tones, rich wood, sumptuous fabrics, and walls covered in portraits.