Post-holiday rest and relaxation are always a welcome thing. And what better way to get it than with some winter travel? Airfare and hotels tend to be cheaper, and tons of great destinations await. “With fewer crowds, you can enjoy a more intimate experience at some top attractions in a destination,” U.S. News & World Report notes, “which may be impossible during busy peak times.” Here are seven great winter travel destinations that may have escaped your notice:
1. LAPLAND, FINLAND
If don’t mind adventures in the cold, check out Lapland, Finland. The indigenous Sami people in this area have herded reindeer in this region for centuries. Part of the Arctic Circle, Lapland can be cover in snow for 200 days at a time. This makes snowmobiles and skis the preferred ways of getting around. There are many tours in the Lapland region, too. They offer reindeer safaris as well as farm tours. Plus, you’ll be able to have the rare and amazing experience of seeing the northern lights. Many lodgings in the area offer private saunas, traditional breakfasts and dinners, and an aurora alarm to alert you when the northern lights are visible. And you can enjoy such authentic native cuisine as sautéed reindeer and mushroom soup.
2. CENTRAL MEXICO
If you’re looking for a warmer winter escape, check out central Mexico. For most Americans, it is a convenient and affordable destination. The best part about visiting central Mexico during winter is that you’ll be able to witness the monarch butterfly migration; these colorful critters fly all the way from Canada down to Mexico to breed in colonies. There are butterfly sanctuaries in El Rosario, Sierra Chincua, Cerro Pellon, and Piedra Herrada. Check out Angangueo, a town nearly five hours outside of Mexico City. You can buy packages that include lodging, transportation, meals, and butterfly hikes. While there, eat authentic foods such as Mexican breakfast casserole, quesadillas, and la trucha.
Another warm weather winter escape, Aruba is home to the Arikok National Park, which offers natural pools, bat caves, and limestone cliffs overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Natural wildlife abounds, including owls and lizards. You’ll want to explore the region using an offroad vehicle; there are few, if any, paved roads in the park. Aruba is filled with high-rise resorts as well as casitas offering hot tubs, pools, and premium beach fronts. You can eat fresh seafood, such as mahi mahi, shrimp, and lobster, as well as traditional island foods like stewed goat.
4. MONTREAL, QUEBEC, CANADA
Although Montreal is cold in winter, it offers lively and colorful culture and events. In fact, during winter, Montreal hosts its largest arts, music, and food festival. Best of all, most events are free. Because Montreal is such an international city, there’s no need to rent a car; the public transportation system is extensive. Montreal also offers world class hotels right in the heart of the city. While in Montreal, take advantage of the culinary scene — poutine, Canadian cheeses, Montreal-style bagels, and maple syrup pie.
5. CALGARY, ALBERTA, CANADA
Montreal isn’t the only city in Canada worth visiting in winter. Calgary offers natural beauty, such as the Canadian Rockies, where you can ski, skate, and sleigh in the mountains. There are numerous luxury resort spas that offer cozy lodgings and saunas as well as fine dining. While in Calgary, take advantage of the traditional regional foods, such as caribou, bison, elk, and other lean game dishes. You’ll want to pack warm winter clothing and waterproof snow boots before your trip.
6. ALTA, WYOMING
Want to stay in the U.S. for your winter vacation? Then check out Alta, Wyoming. It hosts some of the best ski destinations in the country, such as the Grand Targhee Resort. This 2,600-acre ski area offers winter mountain biking and fat/snow biking. Check out the lively restaurants and microbreweries while there that offer an assortment of crafted beers and gourmet pizzas.
7. NOZAWA ONSEN, JAPAN
If you’re looking for a truly relaxing vacation spot, then check out Japan’s Nozawa Onsen Snow Resort. It offers both skiing and access to traditional Japanese bathhouses. This resort has indoor thermal spring pools that are great for soaking and de-stressing. While there, take advantage of the unique traditional foods and drinks, such as Japanese beers and pickled snacks made from turnip leaves.
Beat the crowds of other vacationers fleeing the snow by taking the road less traveled. “If your destination is somewhere with harsher weather in the off season,” the how-to blog Life Hacker cautions, “you should check to make sure you’ll even be able to get there.” If the way is clear, these seven lesser-known destinations offer tons of unique fun at great value and with few hassles.