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I’m a big advocate of traveling in the off-season and reaping the benefits: lower prices, fewer crowds, a more local experience.
But as I sit here in Turkey, I’m disappointed at my decision to come here for three weeks in late November. Istanbul was great if a bit cold, Cappadocia was freezing cold and creepily deserted, and while I am enjoying chilled-out Fethiye immensely, I do wish I was able to enjoy nearby beachy destinations like Oludeniz and the Butterfly Valley.
Yes, off-season travel can often be worth it — but not always.
So I decided to evaluate a few destinations where I’ve traveled in the off-season and tell you whether or not it’s worth it.
Here we go!
Venice in Winter: Absolutely Worth It
Winter is low season for Venice, but as I tell anyone who will listen, Venice is at its best in winter. Cool, gray, misty and mysterious — this is exactly how Venice is meant to be seen! I think that Venice is most beautiful during these months.
A city as popular as Venice is never tourist-free, but there are far fewer tourists in the winter. You won’t be crashing into as many Japanese tour groups on Piazza San Marco, that’s for sure. Be sure to bring tall rain boots, because this is the time Venice tends to flood!
Jordan in November: Absolutely Worth It
In Jordan, the peak months are May, September and October. By November, most tour groups have gone away — leaving you with plenty of space to enjoy Jordan’s top attractions without a trip-altering change in weather.
Some areas do get a bit colder during the winter. It gets cold (though not freezing) at night in Wadi Rum and Ajloun. Bundle up if you’re camping — by day, it warms up again. Lowland places like the Dead Sea, the Ma’in hot springs, and Feynan, as well as beach resort Aqaba, remain just as toasty in the winter.
Paris, Anytime: Absolutely Worth It
I don’t think there’s a city better suited to travel any time of year than Paris! The winter here is less bitter than other European cities. Nothing’s better than strolling the streets of Paris, but there are so many great museums, cafes and restaurants if you need to escape to the indoors.
Whether basked in sunlight or underneath a fresh snowfall, can you really beat Paris for sheer beauty? I’ll be returning to Paris for the weekend in January, and I’ll give you full lowdown of visiting Paris in winter!
Bali in March: A Mixed Bag
March is the rainy season in Bali, and there are thunderstorms each afternoon, occasionally into the evening. The mornings are ideal for beach time until around 1:00 in the afternoon. If you’re on Bali solely to lie on the beach, though, this is not the time to come.
But if you’re visiting Bali more for the culture than the beaches, March can be a great time to visit, with fewer crowds and lower prices. Just one thing: in the rainy season, DO NOT GET ON ANY BOATS.
Las Vegas in Winter: A Mixed Bag
Vegas in January was a welcome relief from Boston. We escaped two-foot snowbanks to weather so warm, we could go outside without a jacket during the day. If you don’t do well in heat, this is the perfect time to visit Vegas. If you don’t like “kids in your Vegas,” as I like to say, you won’t see many of them. Winter in Vegas is perfect, huh?
Not if you’re here for the pool parties. I go to Vegas for the nightlife more than anything else, and pool parties are a big part of that. The pools are generally open from May through October.
Thailand’s Andaman Coast in November: A Mixed Bag
November is still the rainy season for the Andaman Coast, featuring islands like Koh Phi Phi, Koh Lanta, and Phuket, as well as Krabi. The rainstorms usually last for a few hours in the afternoon, and there is at least a few hours of beach time on most days, but some days are overcast all day.
If you’re planning a short trip to the Andaman Coast, I wouldn’t risk it in November. But if you have longer — say two weeks or so — and have more interests than just beaching it, this is a very pleasant, uncrowded time to visit this beautiful region. And I never miss a chance to plug my favorite island of all: Koh Lanta.
Cappadocia in Winter: NOT WORTH IT
Imagine standing around a tiny fire, dancing in place, shivering like crazy, as you wait for your hot air balloon to be inflated. The temperature? 16 degrees F, or -9 degrees C. That was my experience in Cappadocia a few days ago, and as enjoyable as the hot air balloon ride was (I thank the crazy Aussies who weren’t creeped out by my clinging to them for warmth), the cold really ruined it.
Beyond that, the town of Goreme was a ghost town. Nobody was around, not even locals, and the streets were deserted. It made me uncomfortable. Cappadocia is amazing, but it’s best visited in the spring and fall, or the summer if you don’t mind super-hot temperatures.
San Antonio in Summer: NOT WORTH IT
Full disclosure: I LOVE hot, humid weather. But San Antonio in August was just too much, even for me. While there are lots of indoor attractions, most of San Antonio, from the Riverwalk to the Missions, is seen outside, and running around in 108-degree weather (42 celsius) is a unique form of torture.
I loved San Antonio, and while I had a great time there, I would much prefer to have visited during the winter, spring or fall. If you go in summer, don’t blame me if you don’t end up leaving your hotel pool the whole time.
Boston in Winter: NOT WORTH IT
This is one of the biggest reasons why I LEFT Boston — I couldn’t handle the winters anymore! Boston winters are truly awful, with about half a dozen major snowstorms each year and several smaller ones. The city is bitterly cold and extremely windy, and many portions of the sidewalk end up matted down with snow all winter. Boston is best seen on foot, but winter is not a pleasant time to walk around the city.
This goes for many northeastern cities — you don’t want to plan weekend getaways to Montreal or New York holidays in the dead of winter, either. If you’re a winter person, there are much better places to experience the season — like a mountain town with skiing, snowshoeing and sleigh rides. Boston is a fantastic city — but visiting in winter will keep you from seeing how great it can be.
Have you traveled in the off-season? Was it great or awful? Please add to this list!
44 thoughts on “Traveling in the Off-Season: Sometimes Great, Sometimes Awful!”
i totally agree with you on all of these!!! im more the person who wants to see a location at its most extreme…but i think that is in regards more to winter than summer (i cant take san antonio heat!) 🙂 i live in norway and despite the little daylight, it is worth seeing in winter, and summer. and washington DC is definitely a city worth seeing in the winter as opposed to the summer.
i think vegas is spectacular in winter…and not summer. love the cheap hotels and strip completely littered with tourists 🙂
Kate – Oludeniz SUCKS big-time. It’s built simply for package tourists from Britain and Germany. There were British pubs serving British food and overweight sunburnt loud-mouthed British twats (I can say that – I’m a Brit haha!) EVERYWHERE. The beach is all scratchy pebbles, too – not the sandy goodness I was expecting! Also, Butterfly Valley ain’t that special either – neither are the boat trips that go there from vile Oludeniz…
I always like places best as they’re winding up or winding down – so if peak season is July and August, I’d prefer June or September. Still lively, but not as expensive or crowded as whenever uber-high season is.
London is another “anytime” city I’d add to the list as the weather’s generally equally as dreary all year (again, I’m a Brit, I can say it!), as are Sydney and Kuala Lumpur. Great article!
I’ve traveled within Europe in all four seasons and my favorite is the fall. I was in Paris and London during the infamous Big Freeze two years ago, where temperatures dropped below -10 C! It was absolutely freezing, when mixed with the high humidity. Needless to say that my first visit in Paris was absolutely awful because of that.
I like to think that high-season is popular for a reason, and that more often than not, it’s most enjoyable during that period. But sometimes, in order to avoid queues, save a few bucks and enjoy a cooler/warmer weather, it’s worth going outside the high season.
Paris rocks in the winter! During college, my dad found $500 RT tickets for my mom and I to go to Paris on my long winter break–and thus started a tradition in which we went every January I was at school! The soldes were on, the lines at museums were short, and we spent much of the time huddled in cafes or museums or shopping anyway–very little time actually spent in the gray and cold weather! When I returned to study in Paris in the summer, I was so annoyed with the long lines and hordes of tourists everywhere!
Agreed! I studied abroad in Paris during off-season and it was awesome! Gerard and I went back during summer a few years back and it just wasn’t the same. Too crowded and touristy.
I love that tradition, Christine! I’ll be heading there in January myself.
I actually don’t mind travelling when it’s cold/snowy, as long as I’ve got the right boots/coat etc. I’ve done NYC in December, February, and March (twice with snowstorms) and two times in the humidity of summer, and liked the winter better – less people!
I’m headed to Boston this year just after Christmas, and am not daunted by the weather at all. I’m from Toronto, though, so I’m used to it. Can’t be any worse than what we get at home!
Also, if you want to experience the amazingness that is the German Christmas Markets, you have to be prepared for snow and cold (just warm up with Gluhwein!).
And I agree with you on Vegas – we went in March and were disappointed it wasn’t warmer. It was super cheap though, and a lot less rainy/chilly than Vancouver, where I was living.
Good suggestions. The 16F temp while waiting for the balloon sounds awful! I LOVE Florence in the winter. I went there 3 times in December-January and loved how much freedom we had to visit everything without the huge crowds. Prague in winter is a mixed bag– far fewer tourists but very cold. I traveled to a lot of cold places (Prague, Krakow, Munich, Slovakia…) in the dead of winter and it didn’t bother me, but I went to college in Minnesota, so I guess I was used to it. 🙂
Great little article Kate. People reckon that you go in the off season and it’s great – less tourists, cheaper, easier to get accomodation, blah blah blah. What you need is the shoulder season. But even then you need to be careful.
Greek Island in the ‘off season’or was it shoulder season? I went at the end of October. Still wonderfully warm, fine to dip in the med and wash off. But some of the islands just didn’t have anything on them… We went to a ‘resort’ in Mykonos at the behest of the bloke on the ferry port and to find no one there and and empty swimming pool as the season had finished!
As ever, plan carefully is the mantra here.
Places to avoid in the winter? The West of Ireland. Dark, lashing rain, super windy, cold, and miserable. Dublin was nice with Christmas lights, but a lot of sites are closed November-April.
I went to Zurich and Lucerne in March, and it was fun despite the chilliness. Same with NYC in January, but there wasn’t a ton of snow. Barcelona in late December rocked! Much shorter lines for La Sagrada Familia and the Picasso Museum.
After living in the South for 17 years, I’ll take a Boston winter over a Southern summer ANY DAY.
I was just thinking about this today because we’re visiting so many places this year in off-season. Right now, we’re in the Peak District in the winter and I’m not sure. It’s brutally cold and we can only stand being outside for so an hour or more. Luckily, there’s lots of nice big houses to see here, but otherwise it’s just plain chilly.
Rome, on the other hand, in off season, is TOTALLY worth it. In fact, I’d say it’s better in off-season than on because you can actually see things without getting shoved around.
I think it comes down to cities versus small towns. Small towns tend to be best in peak season or shoulder season. Cities are always fun, on the other hand, because they don’t need the tourism to keep them busy.
I totally agree with you. Off-season travel has it’s time and place for sure.
I absolutely LOVE our time in Cinque Terre during off-peak season. The weather, though a bit nippy is not too cold or unbearable. We went at the start of Fall and had the villages all to ourselves. Cheap accomo, no waiting at restaurants and a few tourists on the hiking trails in general. The villages and trails are so small I can’t imagine going any other time. It was perfect. One downside is we didn’t get to go cliff diving in Manarola. Too cold for that but the trade off was well worth it.
On the other hand, off season in Mykonos, or any other Greek island is a toss-up. I was never much of a party- gal so I enjoyed getting lost on the quiet, deserted streets of Mykonos. However, most come to party so obviously off-season is not the time to head to Mykonos if that’s what you want out of Mykonos.
Great post, Kate!
Quebec and Montreal in the summer is awesome. Everything is green, green, green and people on the brick streets ramble around and it’s a city with some of the best people watching in the world. Bikers, tourists, locals, Americans, Europeans and beautiful old buildings. the weather is mild (mostly 70’s) and perfect for any activity.
I come from Montreal and even though our winters are tought, there are stiil some really fun things to do. We have the Montreal en lumière, a gourmet festival where the city pulls an all nighter, the igloofest and, in Quebec city, the carnaval (forth biggest in the world by the way) where the red bull crashed ice takes place. Come and have fun!!!
Hey very useful list!
Btw I can empathize about Turkey. I was in Istanbul 2 weeks ago and it was already too cold for me. But generally, I’m a big fan of traveling off-season as well (as long as it’s not too cold or rainy)
Thanks for the tips… Love your site! I’ve always wondered how your family feels about you traveling the world alone. I’m going to southeast Asia with my fiance & my cousin & my Mom is a nervous wreck!! I need to show her what you’re doing so she calms down …haha 🙂
I’m lucky enough to have a very supportive family, Deen. One thing that I do is email them every day — it allays a lot of their fears. I keep them up to date on my schedule as much as possible, too, and let them know when I’m going into areas where the internet might be iffy (like southern Laos). It took time, but they are a lot more used to it now. I think they’re also reassured that I’m not doing as many insane things as I used to.
Great guide. I usually don’t mind traveling in cold weather but some of those places sound awful. And I can relate to San Antonio in the summer – I went to Austin in summer and it was more brutal than Death Valley.
Awesome post, Kate! Now you’ve got me thinking of all the places I’ve been during either peak or low season…
New Zealand in the shoulder season is amazing (spring and fall), because the weather isn’t too cold, but you also basically have the country to yourself. Though, NZ in winter isn’t really too bad, either. The Southern Alps sure do look nice with a bit of snow on them!
China can also be a good place to visit off-season. I went to Beijing and Shanghai one year in November, and the crowds you typically see at places like the Forbidden City and Great Wall were essentially not there.
I can totally relate to San Antonio in the summer… my sister and I roadtripped across the U.S. this past summer, and certain places (like St. Louis) were absolutely unbearable in August!
Funny–I live in San Antonio, and I agree that this summer was ridiculous (and I was training for a half-marathon!), but it’s not usually that bad. It’s worth putting up with so I can wear tank tops in February (usually).
Also, agree about Beijing–the Great Wall on Christmas Day was freezing, but we were practically alone there.
Thanks for the post!
I agree about Boston! I also left Massachusetts for Spain because of the winters– now I’m living in Madrid which is also quite cold but it really doesn’t even come close to blizzard season! Great post I’m dying to go to Venice next November!
Great post! I’m a big advocate in traveling during the off-season as well. My favorite place to do so is Brasil.
its funny how you ended with Boston being an awful city and you are from there
Key phrase, Zablon — “in the winter.” Boston is lovely every other time of year.
I just love the beautiful alpen glow colors in winter. The air is cold and cleanly fresh. No smog here in beautiful Stowe Vermont. Winter is a great time to enjoy the outdoors. I snowshoe thru the silvery white snow, under a full moon and look forward to hot chocolate; beside a roaring fire. Now how would that be in the summer heat? We all have our favorite seasons. A New England foliage or a Maine summer fest, or 4th of July with the Boston Pops. I will not be visiting Antarctica in winter, any time soon. I may travel to Quebec City and enjoy a very cold martini at the Ice Hotel. Would you like to join me?
I will gladly join you for that martini, Auntie! Just be sure not to put anything valuable down on the ice bar…my camera slipped off and was destroyed.
Now, Stowe…that’s exactly the kind of place that you should visit in the winter instead of Boston!
Great site Kate. Think I would prefer sticking with a perpetual summer year round. Are there any bad places to be in summer? I don’t think so!
Sunburn, sweltering heat, suffocating humidity any day over it being a little chilly.
I am such a baby…
Wayne, I must agree…I had perpetual summer last year — it was fantastic. Hard adjustment back to cold in England and the States.
Great post idea! I often seem to end up traveling during the off season. I always have the worst expectations but end up lucking out with weather. Somehow I manage to avoid too much rain!
I guess it goes to show different strokes for different folks… I was in Cappadocia in January (and will be again this January) and I LOVED how deserted it was and how mysterious it looked with the snow everywhere… and then sitting by a fire drinking salep! I did not take a hot air balloon ride though so I imagine that wouldn’t be fun…
Definitely different strokes for different folks…I think sitting in front of a fire would have made a difference. And I do love me some salep!
Totally agree with you about Venice in winter Kate. I went there in February this year and there was barely anyone around. It was cool, but not cold and I had at least one good sunny day to enjoy the canals and winding laneways.
Glad to hear that, Justin — I’m convinced it’s a great secret nobody knows.
You’ve got me thinking about our upcoming trip to London now. I love going in the winter because it’s so festive, but at the same time a lot of the tourist attractions close earlier, and of course it’s cold. It all depends on what you want to see in a place and how many crowds you’re willing to battle to see those things.
I agree with you for most of these as well, I was in San Antonio the same time of year and luckily I was visiting family so we just stayed inside & played games and went out to play later in the evening.
Paris of course is great anytime! I went in November and there wasn’t any snow but I could wear a jacket the whole time, but it was surreal to be there and get to see the beautiful fall colors. It’s a magical city every day & all year!
Concur with all of these! Especially with the Paris is just fine in the winter and Boston is NOT! I love being in Texas in the winter (no need to shovel snow here) and in Newport, RI in the summer.
The calendars are a neat addition to your website. I am curious to know if they are “your” calendars with photos you have taken or if they are outsourced and merely advertising with your site?
See you on the 23rd of Jan in Paris, right?
Thanks so much,
Oh, these calendars are ALL me!
I always shoot for the “shoulder season” if I can help it – I try to avoid summer travel anywhere. Went to Boston during leaf-peeping season, which I assume is one of the peaks and that was totally worth it and very hard to time – it was green when we arrived but as we drove further and further north, the leaves changed dramatically. Perfect!
I am from Chicago, known for its brutal winters. However, if I recommended off peak, I’d say visit close to Christmas. There are all these neat window displays and outdoor ice skating rinks etc.
I visited Denmark in October. Totally worth it, HOWEVER our guidebook said Tivoli was open all year. This isn’t true and it was closed, which was really disappointing. But I think that’s why it was so cheap, so, we weren’t that disappointed.
Fall is my favorite time to travel, when all the families go back to school, leaving everything empty for me 🙂
This is a question I always come up against when I’m advising people about Russia.
On the one hand, summer can be beautiful (particularly in St. Petersburg when the sun barely sets), but on the other, in huge cities like Moscow and particularly further South, the hotter temperatures can be stifling.
Of course, winter is beautiful and feels like the authentic Russian experience, but how exactly do you go for nice long walks in -20?
It’s all just a balancing act, I suppose.
Well, some people are into that cold! I have two friends (interestingly, both Chicagoans — coincidence or not?) who have happily braved Russia in the cold! Katie of katieaune.com and Ed of thepolarroute.com.
Moscow & St petersburg – stay out in November till late December, then second half of January through March.
I always tell people “DO NOT GO TO NEW YORK IN THE WINTER!” (or any other city in the northeast). You’ll sit inside freezing your butt off and if you go out, it’ll just be to sprint to the cafe across the street for a warm drink 😛
After falling in love with Turkey in the summer, I almost went back in the winter. Now I’m glad I waited until May to make my return (headed back there in two weeks)! And hey, you forgot one on your winter to-do list: Central America! Perfect time to go because it’s dry season, so no rain, perfect beach weather, and it’s not humid there like it is in Asia in the summer!