Off-Season: How to hit the world's great destinations when the crowds aren't there

Though it is not considered prime time, sometimes the best time to travel is when most stay home. True, the weatherman can’t promise perfection and it’s only wise to avoid extreme conditions, such as Palm Springs’ 115-degree summers. But off season is the time of year when the crowds are meager and the experience is pure local. Think about getting away when others don’t, because tourist season isn’t necessarily the best season to be a tourist. So, forget Paris in the springtime, and consider checking out these five popular destinations when it’s not popular to go there. 

Russia - Winter in St. Petersburg showcases romantic Russia, Dr. Zhivago-style. It’s complete with fur-snuggling, horse-drawn sleigh rides, vodka shots at the Grand Hotel Europe’s street side ice bar (the city’s first), a magical evening of ballet at the Mariinsky Theatre and having the Hermitage to yourself (summer crowds can mean multi-hour waits just to enter the building). Arrive at yuletide and you get two Christmas celebrations—Dec. 25 and the Russian Orthodox version on Jan. 7.  

South of France - When Brigitte Bardot filmed 1957’s And God Created Woman in the coastal town of St. Tropez, it transformed from a fishing village into a free-spirit zone. Since that time, the July/August high season translates to hard-to-get hotel reservations and colossal crowds (100,000 on any given day). But off season means body-free beaches, no-hassle dinner reservations and chicest of Riviera resorts exclusively yours.    

Switzerland - Crowds flock south of the Alps to Ticino, Switzerland’s Italian region, in summer.  But its generally mild year-around weather means local lake travel from village to village on Lakes Lugano and Maggiore, Alpine hiking and snow skiing amongst palm trees.  It’s seeing Switzerland with the Swiss, but with an Italiano twist – while eating pasta and parmigiano, sipping espressos on the piazzas and toasting with the local Merlot. 

Colorado - The haunt of jet-setting snow bunnies, Vail is a world-class winter wonderland that is summer sensational. Off season is the time of year that mountain activities are snow free but nevertheless appealing: biking, hiking and river rafting. Even golf is at the top of its game (balls fly 10% further at high altitudes). Festivals are as abundant as the wildflowers.  

Australia - Winter (June-September) weather rarely drops below the 40-degree mark in the Southern Hemisphere city of Sydney. Though most consider summer the prime time to visit a place with 70-odd beaches, low season has its definite highs.  It is the season of festivals (i.e. Cracker Comedy Festival and Hoopla Festival), culture (Sydney Opera House hosts the Sydney Symphony and Australian Ballet) and sports, including Aussie football. Nearby nostalgia is as close as the Blue Mountains’ annual Yulefest – roaring log fires, festive sing-alongs, traditional Christmas dinners and an occasional Santa sighting.

Cynthia Dial

Cynthia Dial is an admitted travel writing addict, and shares that she pinches herself each time she steps onto the promenade deck of a cruise ship, boards a train or settles into a plane seat to go to work. She's taken a city tour of Melbourne, Australia, from the back of a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, hiked the Austrian Alps and learned to surf in Waikiki -- all for a good story. A special corres...(Read More)

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