Winter is an especially good time to hit up some bustling cities around the globe, where temps cool down—but don’t get too chilly—while prices on hotels and airfare, along with crowd sizes, take a dip. Meanwhile, if you have your heart set on sun-kissed beaches or piste-carved mountain peaks, bargains can be had there, too, if you look beyond the most popular destinations. Here are five such affordable winter destinations to book right now.
Appreciate Athenian antiquities
If bathing in ancient beauty rather than warm Mediterranean seas is your speed, visit Athens. Deals abound in Greece’s ancient capital during its mild winter months, once the beach-beckoning islands have shut down for the season and the country’s urban hub slows. Temps averaging in the 50s make for comfortable exploration of Athens’s outdoor antiquities and indoor museums alike, from the Parthenon to the treasure-packed National Archaeological Museum. Plus, a booming contemporary urban arts scene awaits discovery, with emerging galleries in the hip Metaxourgiou neighborhood, as well as newer arts institutions like the recently reopened National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST).
Perhaps best of all, winter sees the city largely reclaimed by Athenians going about their day-to-day lives, an aspect that’s more easily lost during the high season. Many of the tourist-trap establishments are shuttered for the season, making the true local haunts all the more apparent, where you can eat and drink into the wee hours alongside actual residents.
Slow down in Slovenia
If you haven’t heard of Slovenia’s Julian Alps, that’s precisely part of its appeal. This relatively off-the-radar ski destination offers snowcapped, pine-forested mountain terrain that’s arguably just as impressive as the alpine regions of neighboring Italy or Austria, while ski trips here can be enjoyed for far fewer euros. Indeed, you’ll find plenty of comparative bargains—and generally uncrowded slopes—in great-value winter wonderland resorts like Kranjska Gora and Cerkno. It’s well worth extending any ski trip with an off-season stay in the pretty capital city of Ljubljana, too, where harmonious architecture and graceful bridges take on a snow globe effect under a dusting of fresh powder.
Fall in love with La-La Land
If you’re not intent on surf and sand, consider hitting Los Angeles come wintertime, when the city’s near-perfect year-round weather delivers pleasant sightseeing temps in the 60s (despite a chance of rain showers). It doesn’t cost a dime to window-shop along Rodeo Drive, strut the Hollywood Walk of Fame, dip into world-class museums like the Broad or the Getty Center, and listen to tunes on Sunset Strip—all the while keeping an eye out for Hollywood celebs. You’ll catch a bit of a break in the crowds (including on lines at area amusement parks) and on high-season rates at area hotels, too. Bonus: The city boasts plenty of outdoor skating rinks during the winter months, to put a fun spin on the typical L.A. tourist circuit.
Catch some waves (or spot critters) in Costa Rica
Winter is peak travel season in Costa Rica for good reason: Countrywide temps generally linger in the 80s, dry and sunny skies prevail, and lushness is at its peak following the rainy season. And while travel here during this time is priced at a premium and should be booked well in advance (especially during the December holidays), it’s a relative bargain compared with many nearby Caribbean islands, where the dollar doesn’t stretch as far.
Ecotourism adventures abound—whitewater rafting, zipline runs, rain forest hikes, and volcanic treks—in this nation known for its biodiversity and protected reserves, including spots like the toucan-, sloth-, and howler monkey–filled Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio. Or set out to the shores for surfing and sun worshipping (the latter of which is completely free). You can still snag tempting deals on Costa Rica’s less-developed Caribbean coast, where prices beat out the more popular Pacific-fronted tourism locales; try worthwhile spots like the beach town of Cahuita or Tortuguero National Park, known for its namesake turtles.
Say hello to Hong Kong
While cosmopolitan Hong Kong never truly steps back from its frenetic, big-city pace, winter sees a bit of a lull in the barrage of tour groups and conventions that pour through its jam-packed streets in fall and spring. Mild subtropical temps average in the comfortable 60s, good conditions for ogling the city’s dramatically vertical skyline and lush landscapes from a bobbing wooden boat in Victoria Harbour, digging in on traditional dim sum and more sophisticated global cuisine, trundling along on a historic double-decker tram, stocking up on wares at glitzy malls and lively street markets, or admiring the views from atop Victoria Peak. Tip: Avoid the Chinese New Year, when citywide celebrations mean businesses shut down and visitors arrive in force.
Elissa Garay Elissa Garay, modern-day explorer, perpetual seeker, and diligent travel scribe, has traveled to and reported on nearly 60 countries around the globe.