What better way to spend a spring day than riding a retro tram in Lisbon?

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You could sit around waiting for summer to set off on your next big trip, but you’ll be bumping elbows and racking up peak-season-priced receipts the whole way. Springtime, however, affords a more laid-back, wallet-friendly appeal, as much of the Northern Hemisphere awakes from its winter slumber, with flowers—and deals—abloom.

It’s also a good time to look at fall finds below the equator, where cities like Sydney pair a full cultural calendar with the vestiges of beach season. Here are five top spots where terrific value, pleasant temps, and crowd-free atmospheres converge this spring.

Stop and smell the flowers (or go to a baseball game, or see art, or hang out in the park) in Chicago this spring.

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Giddy up to Chicago

With a world-class cultural and culinary scene bursting at the seams year-round, there’s never a truly bad time to be in Chicago. But wedged in between the bitter chilliness of winter and summer-season spikes in hotel rates, spring puts forth an especially perfect time to dig in on Chi-town’s treasures (plus, Southwest’s New Year flight sale has airfare from U.S. cities such as Atlanta, Boston, and NYC starting at less than $100 one-way if you book before January 24). See the city come out of hibernation as winter subsides and flowers come into bloom. The Chicago Botanic Garden has free admission, and from February 9-March 24, catch the Orchid show (only $12 for adults). While weather can be moody, warm spells invite (free!) frolicking in Grant Park or along the Lake Michigan shoreline; cooler/wet ones can be ridden out while dipping into the Art Institute or shops along the Magnificent Mile. Bonus: Baseball season picks up at Wrigley Field in spring, and it just doesn’t get more Chicago than catching a hometown Cubs game, tickets for which start at $20.

See opera (or theater, or comedy, or something else!) at the Sydney Opera House this spring.

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Sashay to Sydney

As autumn arrives to this Southern Hemisphere city, rates on hotels and airfare (as well as tourist numbers) take a dip, although warm daytime temps average in the comfortable 70s. Use those savings to explore Sydney’s world-class cultural and culinary scene: There’s programming aplenty at the iconic, white-sailed Sydney Opera House (catch Turandot before March 30), and life outdoors remains very much in full swing. In fact, you can still take a dip at the beach and spend your evenings (Thursday through Sunday until March 31, at least) watching new and classic movies under the stars at Moonlight, one of Sydney’s outdoor theaters. And if you’re there in May, you might catch the start of the humpback whale migration season offshore.

If you don’t mind a bit of chill, try Alaska in the shoulder season.

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Enjoy Alaska’s atmosphere

Summertime sees the bulk of Alaska’s annual visitors turn up by both land and sea, crowding national parks and tourist sites—and jacking up prices, too. Savvy travelers willing to brave slightly cooler temps (averaging highs in the mid-50s in the southern portions of the state) can enjoy Alaska’s vast wilderness and wildlife in relative solitude by planning a late spring trip here in May. All the major natural attractions are as awe-inspiring in spring, whether you’re looking for lush rain forests, soaring mountain vistas, or dramatic calving glaciers.

While nature is blossoming, skies are dry, days are wonderfully long (counting from 17 to 23 hours of daylight, depending on how far north you are), and hotels, cruise lines, and tour operators are ripe with “shoulder season” discounts. Keep in mind that access to the colder northern tundra regions might be hindered by yet-to-melt snow and ice this time of year, and Denali National Park’s tourist season doesn’t fully pick up until early June.

Portugal’s delightful capital attracts travelers with its history, music, and cuisine.

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Fall in love with Lisbon

Portugal is the current darling of the travel world, packing loads of appeal for adventurers, given its relative affordability compared to other European nations. And Lisbon is all the more tempting as a destination when you opt to dip in before the summer hordes arrive to enjoy the city’s many attractions. Plus, spring means discounts on hotels and airfare, too. Enjoy cooler temps (with highs hovering in the 60s and 70s) to set about surmounting the city’s storied seven hills, featuring stately plazas, domed churches, terra-cotta-roofed buildings, rattling trams, and historic sites like St. George’s Castle.
But don’t rush: Part of Lisbon’s appeal is its unhurried pace. Allow plenty of time to lose yourself in the winding alleyways of the Moorish Alfama quarter; in the melancholic fado sung at many of Lisbon’s restaurants; over a bica (espresso) on a sidewalk café; or while indulging in the city’s rich seafood-centric culinary tradition. Other springtime bonuses include flowering purple jacaranda trees and the return of lively street festivals—just avoid Holy Week (April 14-20, 2019), when rates spike as travelers from around Europe pour in.

View the Caribbean Sea through the Portal Maya sculpture.

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Play in Playa del Carmen

The appeal of a raucous Cancun spring break may be in your rearview, but springtime in more sophisticated Playa del Carmen? Now, that’s something we can all get on board with. Situated on the Caribbean coast, “Playa” is blessed with white sands and beach-ready temps year-round—but spring puts forth a particular sweet spot between the winter high season and summer/fall hurricane season, when the beaches are pleasantly unbusy, lodging is discounted, and dry skies are a surer bet. Conditions are prime for sunbathing, diving, shopping, dining, and imbibing; if you time it right, you might be able to tack on a day trip to the fascinating spring equinox festival at the Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá, too (about a two-hour drive away). Again, keep an eye on the calendar to avoid spring break and Holy Week crowds from April 14-20, 2019. >>Next: Where to Travel in 2019 According to Your Astrological Sign

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.

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