10 Perfect Alternatives to Popular Holiday Destinations

December 22, 2017

There’s a reason why everyone flocks to destinations like New York City, South Florida, and Cancun in December and January—between great weather, fun activities, and festive atmospheres, they’re popular around the holidays year after year. But, you can still have all of that without the large crowds or high prices. Here are 10 great alternatives to traditionally popular holiday destinations. Happy holidays, indeed.

Popular Holiday Destinations and Where to Go Instead

cape san blas

Instead of South Florida Go to Cape San Blas

Popular South Florida spots like the Florida Keys, Miami, Orlando, and Palm Beach get crowded during the holiday season. Hotel prices for a three-star property are close to $250 per night in Downtown Miami for December holiday dates, according to CheapTickets.com. However, you can beat the high prices by opting for Florida’s “Forgotten Coast,” the area around Cape San Blas near the Panhandle. According to experiential travel company Natural Retreats, three- to four-bedroom vacation homes are about $600 less on average compared to Miami in winter.

Temperatures might not be as warm as they are in the south, but you'll still enjoy plenty of sunshine and water activities. Visit the Cape San Blas Lighthouse, take a hike in Dead Lakes Recreation Area, fish at Indian Pass, or enjoy dinner along Port St. Joe Marina. The area is also dog-friendly, so it's a great destination for the whole family.

church on lake

Instead of Switzerland Go to Slovenia

Not only do the Swiss Alps and picturesque Swiss cities like Lucerne attract European winter crowds, Switzerland is also the most expensive country in the world to visit, according to last year's World Economic Forum Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report. For a cheaper alternative ski destination that’s on the euro, look east, to Slovenia.

Slovenia—tucked into Central Europe just south of Austria—is known for its mountains, ski resorts, glacial lakes, and Gothic churches. Slovenia has 10 major ski resorts sure to be less crowded than other popular European skiing destinations around the holidays. Head to Maribor or Bled for skiing, culture, natural sights, and castles.

mayan temple

Instead of Cancun Go to Costa Maya

Cancun is predicted to be the most popular holiday destination this year, according to booking data from CheapOair. If you have your heart set on a Mexican getaway, look beyond Cancun to Costa Maya, about three hours south of the Yucatan Peninsula. This area is less developed, but thanks to a newer cruise port, it's getting better tourist services and infrastructure. And it’s far less pricey: According to Shore Excursions Group, the average four-star hotel stay along the Costa Maya in December can be up to 25 percent less expensive than Cancun.

Costa Maya has a coral reef, pristine beaches, and a rich history, with access to some of the lesser-known Maya sites like Chacchoben, Kohunlich, and Dzibanche.

abode lodges

Instead of Aspen Go to Taos

Skiers flock to Colorado's mountains during winter, especially Aspen, and that means expensive lift tickets, accommodations, and airfare. For fewer crowds and lower prices, look toward Taos Ski Valley in New Mexico. Natural Retreatsreports that ski condos are about $400 less per night in Taos than Aspen, and three- and four-bedroom homes are close to $1,000 less.

Less than two hours from Santa Fe, you'll find the brand new village and base area in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, close to the New Mexico-Colorado border. Outside the ski village are Ojo Hot Springs, the oldest hot springs in the country, and the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge. Just 30 minutes away is the town of Taos Pueblo, a 1,000-year-old adobe city and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

aerial view boracay

Instead of Bora Bora Go to Boracay Island

If you're looking for an exotic and far-off getaway, avoid popular tropical islands like Bora Bora, Bali, and Phuket unless you want to deal with crowds and inflated holiday prices. Instead explore to the Philippines, in particular Boracay.

Named one of Travel + Leisure's Best Islands, Boracay is still relatively undiscovered and has bargain prices. December temperatures stay around 80 degrees and hotel prices are well under $100 per night for comfortable accommodations.

palm trees lake

Instead of Los Angeles Go to Palm Springs

Los Angeles is one of the most popular holiday destinations this year for Christmas, according to CheapTickets.com. On top of the crowds, L.A. has expensive hotel prices, with average nightly rates at $250 for three-star properties. Instead, look at Palm Springs for a less crowded California holiday retreat with a huge vacation rental market to help save on accommodations.

You'll be able to avoid the city crowds and have perfect temperatures in the desert to enjoy golfing, pool lounging, spa going, and hiking. And, with the vast inventory of vacation rentals, it's the perfect place to rent a house for the extended family; check out some options on FlipKey.

philadelphia in snow

Instead of New York City Go to Philadelphia

New York City is at its best in early winter, with festive decorations and plenty of shopping. It’s a particularly popular destination this year, according to liligo.com, and that will mean jammed-packed streets and sky-high prices. Instead, go to nearby Philly, which offers the same urban-holiday feel with smaller crowds and lower prices.

The City of Brotherly Love rings in the holiday with a "winterized" riverfront park overlooking the Delaware River and a skating rink next to City Hall. There's also the Christmas Village at Love Park, Chestnut Hill Stag and Doe Nights, Macy's Christmas Light Show in the Grand Court, and countless holiday markets around town.

new orleans at christmas

Instead of Las Vegas Go to New Orleans

Looking for the glitz, glam, and gambling, but don't want to deal with the expensive hotel suites or big crowds of Las Vegas? Try New Orleans this upcoming season for similar excitement, great food, and holiday fun.

You may see some rain, but mild temperatures and fewer crowds make the holiday season a great time to go. You'll be ahead of the Mardi Gras crowds, but will still get to enjoy the festive spirit that starts in the Big Easy during the holidays with caroling and light festivals. If gambling is more what you're looking for, head to Harrah's Casino downtown or go all out on a Riverboat casino.

sagrada familia

Instead of Paris Go to Barcelona

France took third place in the Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report, and Paris is always a popular European destination around the holidays. Instead, explore a warmer, less-crowded option that still encompasses the euro-holiday spirit. Marina Manasyan of Barcelona Eat Local Food Toursrecommends the Catalonian capital as an alternative.

December in Barcelona sees temperatures in the mid-50s; and with the summer crowds gone, you can enjoy city walks, famous architectural sites, and outdoor restaurants without freezing temperatures. Manasyan estimates an average hotel nightly price to be around $135. Food is also inexpensive compared to Paris, with an average meal costing around $20 (including alcohol). Don't miss the Santa Llucia Christmas Fair and life-size nativity scene for the holidays. 

rincon coast

Instead of San Juan Go to Rincon, Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico is always a popular holiday destination, and San Juan in particular is a top-booked spot this year, according to liligo.com. If you want to avoid the crowds of San Juan but still go to Puerto Rico, head to Rincon, which is west of the capital. Tom Spagnola, CheapOair Senior Vice President of Supplier Relations, recommends this less-visited side to Puerto Rico.

Rincon sits along the coast that spans from Aguadilla to Cabo Rojo, and is well known for big waves and surfing. In Rincon, you'll find smaller hotels and laid-back bars and restaurants along the beach, all without the crowds of San Juan. Off the coast you'll find Mona Island, which boasts a variety of wildlife that rivals the Galapagos.