While winter travel typically means holiday-inflated airfares, inclement weather and long delays, it can also be one of the best seasons to travel on the cheap if you time it right. From cities with epic Christmas markets to wallet-friendly beach vacations, these 10 winter destinations are both festive and affordable this year.
Sun Valley, Idaho
If you’re looking to hit the slopes but want to avoid the crowds and high price tag of Colorado and Utah, head to Idaho’s ski resorts instead.
Why it’s a steal: Sun Valley‘s airport is only 14 miles from the main ski resort area; round-trip flights from Los Angeles start at $189, or $312 from New York City-area airports. With non-stop flights from Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, Portland, Salt Lake City, San Francisco and Seattle, Sun Valley can be a hassle-free direct flight. Since winter is high season, look at vacation rentals for group travel instead of mountain resorts to save on accommodations.
Sun Valley is part of the Mountain Collective, which includes Jackson Hole, Squaw Valley, Aspen Snowmass and more, so consider a savings season pass if you’ll be skiing those other mountains this winter.
Don’t miss: Sun Valley is known for year-round sunshine, so skiers and snowboarders can enjoy the slopes without harsh conditions. Non-skiers can enjoy activities like sleigh rides, shopping, galleries, movies and plenty of live music.
Insanely cheap trans-Atlantic fares and the lure of the northern lights make Stockholm a top pick for affordable winter destinations this year.
Why it’s a steal: WOW Air has fares to Stockholm starting at $150 each way from Boston via Reykjavik for November through February flights, with average round-trip fares from Los Angeles for just $335. This winter, the average nightly rate at a four-star hotel is just $120. For even more savings, search hostels for simpler (but often private) accommodations.
Don’t miss: The best time to see the northern lights is between November and March, and while the northern part of the country boasts the best views, you can sometimes see them in the capital, too. Winter brings shorter days, but you can still enjoy the Swedish tradition of fika and incredible Christmas markets for a full-on cultural experience.
If you’re headed to Chicago this winter, you’re in luck. Flights are cheap and there are plenty of activities to help you escape the cold.
Why it’s a steal: According to KAYAK’s 2017 Holiday Travel Hacker, Chicago is the top wallet-friendly North American winter destination for flights. Median airfare from the U.S. and Canada for the winter months stays well under $300 round-trip, with prices averaging as low as $79 from New York City and $138 from Los Angeles. For accommodations, you should be able to snag a four-star hotel for under $150 all season long.
Don’t miss: Family-friendly weekend activities for this winter destination include the Shedd Aquarium, Art Institute, ice skating at Millennium Park, and a Bulls or Blackhawks game. Don’t miss the city’s Christkindlmarket from mid-November to Christmas Eve, or Chicago Restaurant Week starting at the end of January.
Record-breaking low fares and bucket-list tourist attractions mean now is the time to head to Cambodia.
Why it’s a steal: Winter airfares to Phnom Penh on ANA are about $600 round-trip from both New York City and Los Angeles. And thanks to the conversion rate, four-star hotels will only cost you about $40 per night. Intrepid Travel, whose trips to Cambodiaare less expensive in the winter than the fall, offers tours with prices starting at just over $1,000 for 10 days.
Don’t miss: The weather is at its best in December and January, so visit during these months for your dream trip to Cambodia’s best tourist attractions like Angkor Wat, Royal Palace – Phnom Penh, and Preah Monivong National Park.
Hawaii fares will soon be cheaper than ever thanks to Southwest’s entrance into the market. And you can also find other deals on the islands, depending on where you go this winter.
Why it’s a steal: Heart set on Honolulu? February will be your cheapest travel month. Trying to escape the cold of the Northeast? Consider Maui — with average airfare under $700 round-trip. West Coasters can find similarly good deals to Maui — think round-trip fares under $500 from Los Angeles. Keep your eye out for flash sales and deals as more details of Southwest’s flights to the islands become available. To save on stays, avoid hefty resort fees by opting for a hotel instead of a resort.
Don’t miss: The months of January and February are whale-watching season, so head out on a whale-watching cruise and enjoy the warm winter weather. Other popular activities across the islands include Oahu’s North Shore for surfing, Maui’s Wailea area for golfing, and Molokai’s Kahiwa Falls for epic waterfall views.
Riviera Maya, Mexico
If you’re looking for an easy and inexpensive beach getaway this winter, Cancun is it.
Why it’s a steal: Riviera Maya (Cancun, Tulum, Cozumel and Playa del Carmen) has seen a dip in prices since last year thanks in part to the drop in the Mexican peso. And while CheapOair reports that the Cancun area is consistently one of its most popular international destinations, prices are still cheap — think average, round-trip fares like $484 from Boston and $368 from Las Vegas during the winter months. Save on accommodations by booking no-frills, three-star properties, which will cost you about $125 per night in areas like Tulum and Cancun.
Don’t miss: A winter trip to Riviera Maya serves one purpose: Escaping the cold. Find the area’s magical cenotes — swimming caves — in the Mayan Riviera for that perfect Instagram; opt to check out Chichen Itza ruins in Tulum; or visit Cozumel in February and March for Carnaval.
Editor’s note: The U.S. State Department includes the state of Quintana Roo in its Mexico travel warning. You can read more about the travel warning to Mexico here.
This national park area and its surrounding cities of Gatlinburg and Knoxville make for an unexpectedly festive and affordable winter destination.
Why it’s a steal: Expect round-trip winter airfares from New York City to Knoxville to hover under $200. Since the region is within driving distance from cities like Asheville, Atlanta and Nashville, you can save even more on transportation costs from those areas. Hotels are affordable as well. For instance, rates start just under $100 at the Hilton Garden Inn Gatlinburg, which has an ideal location at the entrance of the national park.
Don’t miss: Gatlinburg has nine ski runs, making it a cheap winter ski destination. The snowy season is a great time to visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park without the crowds — go for a snowfall hike, spot wildlife at Cades Cove, or discover frozen waterfalls. But the real attraction in this winter destination comes in November and December, when millions of LED-lights cover downtown Gatlinburg during the town’s Winter Magic celebration.
Inexpensive airfare and ultra-cheap accommodations make Costa Rica your perfect tropical winter destination.
Why it’s a steal: Average round-trip airfare to San Jose for the winter months from both Los Angeles and New York City is around $500, which is cheaper than many flights to the Caribbean during this time. Couple these lower airfares with inexpensive accommodations (the average three-star hotel in San Jose is $45 per night in winter) and you’ll have plenty of leftover cash for adventure activities. Check vacation rentals for savings on beachside bungalows on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts if you’re looking for a beach holiday.
Don’t miss: Winter is not only the dry season in Costa Rica, it’s also peak time for baby sea turtle and hatchling watching, as well as whale-watching, bird-watching and surfing. Head to Salsa Brava at Puerto Viejo along the Caribbean coast for beaches, surfing and other water activities.
While cold, Motor City is an affordable weekend getaway and offers family-friendly festivals that celebrate winter.
Why it’s a steal: Searches for a variety of winter dates on Airfarewatchdog show fares under $100 from cities like Baltimore, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Houston, Miami, New York and Philadelphia. Hotel prices at properties with convenient locations, like Doubletree Suites by Hilton Hotel Detroit Downtown – Fort Shelby are around $150 per night in the winter months.
Don’t miss: Embrace the cold with the family and enjoy a traditional Midwestern winter. Notable events this season include the Detroit Zoo’s Wild Lights Weekends, Meridian Winter Blast and Michigan Ice Fest. And Detroit’s bourgeoning culinary scene is a great excuse to enjoy eating out with all the money you’re saving.
This year, one of the best places to go for the holidays is also affordable. Savings will depend on your travel dates, but this is your year if a winter trip to Berlin or Germany is on your bucket list.
Why it’s a steal: Airfare to Germany is very affordable, especially to Berlin. You’ll find routes from Los Angeles for an average of $400 round-trip or $558 from New York during the winter months. Hotels are also less expensive, with four-star hotels averaging $100 per night. For extra savings, book a stay at Generator hostel’s chic Berlin Mitte location, within walking distance of the city’s main attractions.
Don’t miss: Berlin goes all out for the holiday season — from the city’s famous Christmas market, WeinachtsZauber, to its New Year’s celebration, Silvestre, you’ll have a festive time this winter in Berlin. You can also check out the city’s other holiday markets here.
This story originally appeared on SmarterTravel.com.
SOURCE: USA Today, by Ashley Rossi