The ‘shoulder season’ – that magical window of time between peak and off-season – is the equivalent to “abracadabra” in the world of travel. It’s when destinations reveal their true essence, offering more authentic, crowd-free, and budget-friendly experiences. Whether you’re chasing the Northern Lights in Iceland in the winter months, savoring the flavors of Buenos Aires in early fall, or soaking in jungle hot springs during the rainy season, the off-season is where it’s at.
Here, we’re sharing our top bucket list destinations for that perfect time to visit. From less crowded national parks to European winter getaways, and incredible hotel rates that make your dream trips a reality, we’ve curated the ultimate list of off-season travel destinations to ignite your wanderlust.
Top 10 Destinations for Off-Season Travel
Fall (September – late October)
Explore the historic city and coastline of Dubrovnik without the summer foot traffic. Hotel rates and summer tourist crowds are on the decline, so you can enjoy reduced hotel rates and activity prices. Fall is harvest season in Croatia which means you can savor the fresh and local cuisine and catch lots of cultural events and festivals! And you can enjoy the swimmable Adriatic Sea in September because the summer months warmed the waters. I promise there will be less competition for the water sports and if you’ve stretched a little too far into Fall, cold plunges are all the rave! 😉
Do: Copy/paste this 10 day Croatia road-trip itinerary filled with stunning hikes, waterfalls, comfortable accommodations, and loads of travel tips and tricks.
Fall/Winter (September – January)
Paris in the fall and winter is a dream come true for romantics and culture enthusiasts. The City of Light takes on a different kind of charm as the leaves change colors, and a subtle chill graces the air. It’s the season of cozying up in charming cafes, sipping red wine (and/or hot cocoa), and strolling along the Seine as the Eiffel Tower sparkles. Paris offers a more intimate experience during these months, with fewer tourists crowding the iconic landmarks. If architecture and museums are your cup of tea, it’s the perfect time to explore the city’s world-class art museums and historic architecture.
But the real magic happens during the holiday season. Paris transforms into a winter wonderland, with festive markets, dazzling lights, and beautifully decorated Christmas trees adorning the streets. The aroma of freshly baked pastries and mulled wine fills the air, making the Christmas markets a delight for the senses. Paris in the fall and winter is a time when the city’s romantic ambiance is at its peak, making it the perfect romantic getaway. If romance is what you’re chasing this season check out these top-rated honeymoon destinations.
Do: Stroll through the Champs-Élysées and witness the grandeur of the city’s holiday decorations. Also, you can also enjoy ice skating in front of iconic landmarks or visit the famous Galeries Lafayette to see their magnificent holiday window displays.
European bonus: Okay you might be sensing that I love a European Fall and you’re right. We honeymooned in Italy in October and were oh so grateful to be in the shoulder season. The Dolomites in particular is the perfect temperature and far less crowded than May – September. I definitely recommend taking in the stunning Alpine landscapes and chasing the vibrant foliage. Pictured below!
Fall (September – November)
Like Disney world, the Galapagos is most popular in the summer because of American travel trends. When the early fall roles around so does the greatest vacation weather (highs of 80°F/26°C and lows of 70°F/20°C). The snorkeling is next level because the Humboldt Current brings rich nutrients to sea life during September and October. Cue: snorkeling with green sea turtles, sweet young sea lions, Galapagos Penguins, and Flightless Cormorants.
Do: Sail the Galapagos with the best in the business: Quasar Expeditions.
Fall/Winter (September – February)
It’s no secret that there’s always been a thing with Maui and me. So much so that Alex and I said I do mid-October 2022 surrounded by our American family, Australlian family, and the spirit of Aloha. As the beloved Maui heals from devastating fires, the drop in tourism has economic implications. Hawaii Governor wants to welcome back travelers to West Maui (not Lahaina) to start respectfully loving on the local business and fueling the local economy. The neighboring Hawaiian islands like Oahu, Big Island, and Kuai have their own allures and adventures to be had, too. So if Island hopping is calling you, off-season is the time to go. Note: Holiday times and long weekends tend to be more expensive.
Do: Stay at the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua. It is the place we said I do and I will never not sing it’s praises!
Fall/Winter (November – February)
I’m a huge fan of Europe in the Winter months for many reasons, but the enchanting Christmas Markets of Vienna really draw me in. Enjoy the city’s elegant charm during the holiday season with festive markets and winter palaces (Schönbrunn and Belvedere) with a backdrop of winter snow… brb looking into plane tickets.
Do: Ice skate at Vienna’s Ice Dream, Soak in the thermal baths (The Geinberg Thermal Spa and Bad Gastein), lean into coffee culture, enjoy festive decorations, drink warm drinks, and indulge in delicious seasonal treats. Pack layers and check weather conditions when planning outdoor activities!
Winter (December – February)
Iceland is a popular destination in the summer months, but Iceland transforms into a true winter wonderland with snow-covered landscapes, frozen waterfalls, and ice caves. The pristine beauty of the country is at its peak during this season. Expect to explore ice caves and see the northern freaking lights without the summer crowds.
Do: Look out for Christmas markets and reindeer!
Patagonia, Chile and Argentina
Spring (March – April)
If you follow me and our LimtiLes Travel adventures, it’s no secret that I’m drawn Patagonia period. But especially in March/April. There is not much that compares to the rawness of this region and if you’re lucky enough to catch the changing colors of the landscapes in this remote wilderness… well I can tell you it’s changed my life for the better.
Do: Venture into Torres del Paine, my favorite national park in the world. Unplug at the glamping yurts of Patagonia Camp or splurge at one of my all-time favorite properties in the world – Tierra Patagonia.
Spring (March – April)
I definitely recommend tacking on Buenos Aires to the front or tail end of your Patagonia trip in the Southern Hemisphere’s Fall. It’s tango season, the streets are alive, and it’s a comfortable time to explore the city without the heat of summer or the chill of winter. I spent the early days of The Road Les Traveled here crafting my business and dreaming about how to continue fueling my off-the-beaten-path dream. It’s a fun city full of inspiration and creativity called the Paris of South America.
Do: indulge in wine tasting and vineyard tours in the Mendoza region (which, by the way, is delicious all year long).
Yosemite National Park, California
Spring (April- May avoiding spring break)
The snow is melting which means the waterfalls are rushing, wildflowers are starting to bloom, and the wildlife is active (bears, deer, and various bird species). Hiking, white water rafting, and star gazing should be on the top of your list before the crowds come and hotel prices skyrocket.
Do: Bring a camera, pack layers, and stop at all the viewpoints: Glacier Point, Tunnel View, Lower Yosemite Falls, Swinging Bridge, Yosemite Falls boardwalk off Southside Dr. along the valley floor. Check out my Yosemite National Park For First Timers for the best tips/tricks for navigating this stunning destination.
Spring/Summer (May to June or in November during Green Season)
It’s technically the rainy season, but also when the vegetation is the most lush. This is when you catch the seasons in transition and the national parks are quieter. Costa Rica, a true gem of Central America, offers a unique experience during this period. The lush green landscapes become even more vibrant, and the wildlife, from colorful birds to exotic insects, becomes more active. While the occasional rain shower may grace your journey, it only adds to the tropical ambiance. It’s the perfect time for nature enthusiasts and eco-adventurers to explore the rich biodiversity and stunning landscapes that define Costa Rica’s appeal. Whether you’re hiking in the dense rainforests, spotting rare wildlife in the national parks, or enjoying the stunning beaches and coastal areas, Costa Rica in the green season provides an opportunity to connect with the natural beauty and vibrant culture of this captivating country.
Do: Consider going off the beaten path to the region of Pérez Zeledónand splurge on a night or a spa day at Hacienda AltaGracia Resort Costa Rica. And ya know if touching clouds, flying over sugar cane, pineapple fields and coffee plantations, is on your bucketlist then look no further.