8 Best Places to Visit During the Off-Season
Just because everyone on your Instagram feed decamps to the Hamptons in the summer doesn’t mean that’s when you have to go. Dare we say hot spots like the Hamptons, Rome, and Hawaii are far more fun when you don’t have to contend with crowds and can save big bucks on hotels, too. From Long Island in the wintertime to Botswana during wet season, these eight destinations offer just as much charm during the off-season.
An avid Italophile, Laura is always on the hunt for the next great travel trends, luxury hotels, best places to eat and drink, and hidden gems. Her writing has appeared in dozens of publications. She also co-wrote "New York: Hidden Bars and Restaurants," an award-winning guide to the city's speakeasy scene.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Botswana’s Okavango Delta is made up of marshy wetlands home to some of the world’s most endangered animals including lions, cheetahs, African wild dogs, and white and black rhinoceros. Most people go between May and October, when the area sees little rainfall but the delta is still flooded as a result of heavy rains filtering down from central Africa, making it easier to navigate by boat. You can, however, save on rates at safari lodges like the luxurious Belmond Eagle Island Lodge if you go during wet season (December to March), when rainfall turns the area into a lush green paradise. This is the season when many species give birth to their young, so you can still see incredible wildlife.
Summer in Rome sounds great—until you realize that temperatures can reach 100 degrees in July and August. Although the ideal time to visit the Eternal City is October and November, the weather typically stays warm until December, and rarely experiences snow. During winter months, the tourist crowds wane, so you’ll see shorter lines at major monuments like the Colosseum and the Vatican Museums as well as drops in hotel rates across the city. If you go after Christmas, you can even take advantage of massive sales at the city’s best stores. Book a room at the intimate Portrait Roma, owned by the Ferragamo family, and you’ll get the best of both worlds—think luxurious accommodations right near the Spanish Steps and discounts at the Ferragamo boutique nearby. The intimate rooftop terrace is exclusively open to hotel guests, so you’ll feel like you have your own private pied-à-terre as you sip wine by the fire after a day of shopping and cultural activities.
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Most guides will advise you to visit Beijing in spring or fall, when the weather is mildest, but if you don’t mind cold temperatures, winter has its own charms. January and February see reduced rates at hotels like the luxurious Peninsula Beijing, which recently underwent a palatial $123 million renovation that brought in an incredible collection of art by contemporary Chinese artists like Gao Xiaowu and Wu Quiong. Not only will tourist attractions be easier to navigate thanks to fewer crowds, but this time of year also offers the chance to take part in Chinese New Year festivities. After taking in the celebrations, warm up with a whiskey cocktail at Yan Whiskey Bar tucked away in one of the city’s quintessential hutongs. (Just be warned—pollution levels tend to rise in winter, when homes and businesses expend more energy on heat.)
If you plan to do a lot of outdoor exploring, you’ll want to visit Scotland in summer, but there’s something romantic about the Scottish countryside when winter comes. The light takes on a misty quality and, while temperatures will run cold, the weather is actually quite moderate. Buy yourself a wool hat and tartan scarf and plan a jaunt through the Highlands. Start in Edinburgh, where you can enjoy afternoon tea at the Balmoral Hotel before driving through the winding roads of the picturesque countryside and checking into Gleneagles, a historic country hotel built in 1924. From mid-January until mid-March, you can expect hotel room rates to dip nearly 50% lower than in high season. After an excursion to Glasgow's Glengoyne Distillery (just an hour's drive from the hotel) to learn how whisky is made, warm up with a Manhattan at the resort’s new Gatsy-inspired American Bar.
Hurricane season sweeps through the Caribbean from June through November, and as we’ve recently seen, storms can wreak havoc on the islands. But along with Bonaire, Curaçao, Barbados, Granada, and Trinidad & Tobago, little Aruba lies outside of the hurricane belt. While storms aren’t unheard of, they’re increasingly rare for this region, making this island a great place to go if you want to snag low-season deals. After soaking up some sun at the beach, going snorkeling and diving, and exploring the Ayo and Casibari Rock formations sometimes referred to as “Aruba’s Stonehenge,” check into the luxe Ritz-Carlton Aruba or any one of its excellent all-inclusive resorts.
The Hamptons and Montauk
It’s a myth that the Hamptons and Montauk are only open for business in the summer. Sure, some hotels and stores may shut down for the winter, but Gurney’s Montauk Resort & Seawater Spa is open year-round. While you have to book far in advance to get a room at Gurney’s during the high season, it’s much easier to plan a spontaneous weekend getaway in fall or winter. Autumn is particularly nice, since you can go leaf peeping and celebrate the harvest at vineyards like Wölffer Estate in the Hamptons and Croteaux on the North Fork, but there’s also something special about having the beach all to yourself in winter. Just don’t plan on swimming in the ocean; instead, stick to Gurney’s heated indoor seawater-fed pool and be sure to take advantage of the hotel's incredible spa, which features Roman baths, a Finnish rock sauna, and seasonal treatments like the pumpkin honey wrap.
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Sydneysiders are known to stay home if the weather is anything less than perfect, but even during Australia's winter season, the city hardly ever turns cold. In fact, you’ll still see dedicated surfers on Bondi Beach in May. Because it’s low season, you can snag deals on otherwise pricey hotels and take advantage of cultural offerings at the Sydney Opera House, from concerts by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra to backstage tours. Every year, the city organizes Vivid Sydney, a three-week-long festival of lights and music, which brings artist-designed light projections to buildings in the CBD and the sails of that famous Opera House. (The festival will celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2018.) Brave thrill-seekers can participate in the Harbour Bridge Climb before bar hopping at the city’s many cool cocktail bars, like the award-winning Baxter Inn, Palmer & Co., and Golden Age Cinema & Bar. We recommend spending some time exploring hip Chippendale while staying at the industrial-chic Old Clare Hotel.
Hawaii has two high seasons—Christmastime and the summer, when kids are off from school—but the truth is, the islands are lush and beautiful year-round. Try going in the spring or fall, when hotel rates are lower and there are fewer crowds to contend with. You can still soak up Honolulu’s booming culinary scene at hot spots like Senia and Scratch Kitchen & Meatery, learn the art of the fire knife dance at the Polynesian Cultural Center, and stay at one of the city’s new boutique sleeps like the Surfjack Hotel & Swim Club or the recently debuted Alohilani Resort Waikiki Beach. Because the weather is nice year-round, you can still enjoy plenty of outdoor excursions on other islands, from surfing and zip-lining on Kauai to exploring volcanoes on Hawaii Island.
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