Brr. When Old Man Winter comes to town, it's easy to get down. But a visit to any of our favorite will have you forgetting about the slush, snow boots, and dreary days of the long dark season in no time. This year, why not pack your bags and head to the slopes of Banff, the aquatic playgrounds of Belize and the Red Sea, the sands of Búzios, the quirky town of Key West, or even your own private villa on St. Barths? If it takes more than surf or snow to stimulate your senses, head out on a sophisticated city trip to Los Angeles or Melbourne, where sunny climes and attractive lifestyles beckon or, go even farther afield, on a trip of a lifetime to Rajasthan or Antarctica. Indeed, the icy waters at the bottom of the globe become passable only when the temperatures drop in the Northern Hemisphere, allowing adventuresome travelers a rare annual opportunity to spot the season's coolest sights – penguins, icebergs, and glaciers.
An Antarctic winter is far from a tropical paradise – imagine a continent surrounded by densely packed ice, near-perpetual darkness, unpredictable blizzards, and temperatures that dip as low as -90º F. With the seasons flipped, winter here in the Northern Hemisphere means that it’s as close to summer as it will ever be at the White Continent, and more than 20,000 tourists now head to the south pole each year to witness its monumental glaciers and icebergs, comical penguins and seabirds, and majestic whales and marine creatures.
With its backdrop of waterfalls, caves, cliffs, canyons, and glaciers, it's no wonder Banff attracts visitors from around the globe. The famed mountain resort is centered on a spectacular stretch of land preserve, Banff National Park, which is not only Canada’s oldest national park, but one of the nation’s most persevering tourist draws. Its snow-powdered Canadian Rocky Mountain peaks are its crowning glory, providing some of the world's best skiing and snowboarding conditions – any die-hard skier or nature-lover will tell you that the Rockies’ pristine surroundings will take you to new heights.
This Central American up-and-comer – about the size of Massachusetts – is packed with potential. The tiny English-speaking country fronts the Caribbean Sea and offers sunny, warm weather all winter long and loads of adventurous and exciting travel opportunities. Case in point: The longest continuous barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere borders the coast of Belize making the waters here outstanding for snorkeling and diving. Inland, the Maya Mountains are swathed in thick rainforests laced with thousands of cascading streams and rivers – ideal for jungle treks and nature-lovin’ tours.
For a ritzy St. Tropez-like escape in the dead of winter, you can’t beat Búzios – located at the tip of a long beach-fringed peninsula just 60 miles north of Rio de Janeiro. Much beloved since the days Brigitte Bardot strolled the shores of the area's Ossos Beach, this former fishing village retains much of its old-world charm but now boasts a slew of glitzy boutiques, restaurants, and beachfront mansions to complement its fantastic string of 20+ beaches, rugged coastline, and darling town.
For the perfect winter escape, set out to Key West and bask in its tropical-Victorian-fantasyland feel, Jimmy Buffett/Margaritaville vibe, and hedonistic laissez-faire attitude. Indeed, this southernmost bit of the United States has plenty to tempt visitors, whether you're interested in snorkeling – North America's only corral barrier reef is found here, and you can swim with dolphins or discover shipwrecks – or into history, culture, and art – of which this quirky beach town has plenty. However you spend your day, rest assured that local priorities are where they should be – fun comes first.
Where else can you drive with the top down all year round, rub elbows with celebrities at the supermarket, delight in glamorous escapades by night, and go for a morning surf in the Pacific? Only Los Angeles offers all of these sun-kissed splendors come winter. The incomparable weather mixed with the allure of Hollywood has been attracting visitors for decades, yet this second-largest of US cities maintains its cool with a collection of inventive hotels, cutting-edge restaurants, and posh nightclubs. From celebrity spotting at sidewalk cafés to window-shopping on Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills, you’ll quickly become part of the scene and get a taste of Angelenos’ laidback lifestyle.
Australia’s second-largest city is quite arguably second to none, with in-the-know locals and avid Aussie visitors declaring Melbourne the more sophisticated, savvier sister of Sydney. A cosmopolitan melting pot, Melbourne (pronounced Mel-bun) is the cultural capital of the continent, with a magnificent array of eateries, boutiques, and nightlife options reflective of its fashionable and worldly patrons. Its vibrant riverfront attractions, fine European architecture, central squares, renowned zoo, botanic gardens, and galleries add to the allure of a winter visit – all augmented by the fact that while we’re mulling about in the dead of winter here, summer is in full swing Down Under.
The second-largest state in India derives its name from a term meaning "land of kings,” and today tourists can discover the very essence of a regal India, with its fairy-tale architecture, colorfully turbaned men and sari-covered women, rich folk traditions and religious festivals, and desert landscapes of sun-kissed plains and glimmering lake oases. An expansive and exotic region, loaded with forts, palaces, gardens, temples, and other monumental relics of the high-society aristocrats who have occupied Rajasthan for centuries, you’ll need at least a week to sample its highlights.
We’re all familiar with Egypt’s ancient wonders, pharaoh-filled history, vast pyramids, and boundless desert, but the world-class beach resorts lining the Red Sea are still somewhat unknown, even to savvy travelers. Yet, where the eternal (and actually crystal blue) Red Sea laps the desert shore is where you’ll find a truly beautiful and exotic destination with much to offer during the cold winter months.
Ironic that a tiny, rocky Caribbean island ill-suited to agriculture and populated only by poor Norman and Breton fishermen should wind up luring Rockefellers and rock stars, real and reel royalty. But St. Barthélemy, affectionately known as St. Barths or Barts (both are correct) with its exquisite coves, gingerbread-trimmed Creole cazes, and low stone walls trimming emerald hillsides became the bi-continental set’s playground, separating true chic from chicanery.
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