Spring is upon us. And while the weather is warming up here in the north, it’ll still be a while before we feel the summer sun. So while we wait, why not travel somewhere the sun is already shining? This is the proverbial shoulder season, when crowds are thinner and prices are lower. But where to travel in the springtime?
It sounds like a difficult question. But spring is a great time in some parts of the world, with mild weather and new life springing up all around. As well, there are good values on air fares and hotels this time of year. And if you’re a baby boomer, you probably have the flexibility to travel now and take advantage of them.
Here are five destinations that could fit the bill if you’re wondering where to travel this spring. I’ve been to four of them, so I can vouch for them — and the last one needs no introduction. (Note: the weather is never completely predictable, so always check the forecast before you finalize your spring travel plans.)
Europe is wonderful, but it can be a bit of a mob scene when the summer crowds hit. Why not go now? There are a few things that make springtime special on the continent. For example, there’s the annual tulip celebration at Keukenhof Gardens, near Amsterdam: the festival runs till May 21 this year. As well, May 1 means May Day celebrations all over Europe, combined with Labour Day in some countries. And VE (Victory in Europe) Day brings another round of festivities on May 8: there’s a cause for celebration.
The springtime weather can be iffy in Europe, true – even downright cold, as I found out on my Danube cruise in 2016. But it warms up pretty well everywhere by May, giving you warm days with a few rain showers. I had excellent weather in Budapest and Zagreb during my spring stay last year. And the weather is usually warmer in southern countries like Spain and Italy. If you’re the type who hates tramping around foreign cities in the sweltering heat, this may be the time for you.
It’s part of Europe, of course. But Paris has a magic all its own, and it’s at its best at this time of year – you know the old song about Paris in the springtime. With the flowers blooming and the trees in bud, it’s a wonderful time to stroll the city’s beautiful parks, like the Luxembourg Gardens and the Tuileries. It’s also a great time for a day trip to Versailles or Giverny, to see Monet’s famous gardens. Then there’s the annual Nuit des Musées (Museum Night) on May 20, when Paris’s amazing museums stay open all night.
The only problem with visiting Paris in the springtime is that other travellers know about it too, so it’s not really low season there. However, with many people nervous about going to Europe these days, the crowds are likely to be smaller, and the hotel prices somewhat lower than usual. And it will certainly be less busy than in mid-summer, when the tourist season is in full swing. So take a seat at one of the city’s famous cafés, order a café crème and watch the world go by.
I chose Mexico as my travel bargain of the year once again in 2017. That’s partly because the peso has fallen dramatically, producing even better values than usual. But it’s also because it’s a fascinating country with a lot to offer, from beach towns to colonial cities, mountain retreats to art and craft centres. And this is a great time to visit, while the winter snowbirds are heading home, leaving lots of room for new visitors.
You can get good hotels at good prices this time of year. And while the winter crowds may be gone, the attractions are still there for your enjoyment — though try to avoid Easter Week, when Mexicans flock to the resort areas. As for the weather, it stays hot and dry till June in places like Puerto Vallarta and Cancun. If you prefer cooler weather, try cities at higher elevations like San Miguel de Allende.
The weather in Cuba gets hotter in the spring, with daytime temperatures pushing 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit). And though it gets a bit rainy in May, this is still a good time to visit. Places like Varadero and Havana are sheltered from the spring storms that can hit the island in May. But there are other great places to visit, like Cayo Coco and the historic city of Trinidad.
There are fewer tourists around in the springtime, but there’s still a lot to see and do. And spring brings a few special things: Easter is a big event in Cuba, especially in Trinidad, which holds a famous procession on Good Friday. And while Havana is always worth a visit for its historic quarter and music scene, May brings a special event for fans of Ernest Hemingway. That’s the annual billfishing competition, dedicated to the writer of The Old Man and the Sea (seen here). On your way back from the docks, visit his hotel room at the Ambos Mundos Hotel.
These islands are known as a great winter destination, but April and May actually offer some of the best weather of the year. Temperatures are on the rise, reaching highs around 30 degrees centigrade (86 Fahrenheit) in late May. And if you get a little rain, it just helps to cool you off. As well, this time of year falls in between the winter tourist season and the summer holidays, so there’s fewer crowds. That means prices are lower, too – which is a bonus, since Hawaii is not a cheap place to visit.
Hawaii has eight different islands, so there’s lots to see at any time of year; you’ll want to visit two or three islands to really get a taste of what it’s all about. There are special events on all the islands throughout the year. However, you’ll find a good one in Hilo, on the Big Island of Hawaii, in the week after Easter (April 16 this year). That’s when dance groups from all the islands gather for the Merrie Monarch Festival, considered the world’s premier hula dancing event.
There’s five suggestions for where to travel this spring. They may include a couple you’d never thought of visiting at this time of year. But sometimes you have the best trips when you break with tradition and go somewhere at the “wrong” time. Travel is all about getting out of your routines, so go ahead and juggle the calendar a little bit. You could have a great experience, and even save some money.
If you’ve been to a great destination in spring and had a good time, leave a comment and let us in on the secret. And if you live somewhere that’s a great spring destination, do the same. I’m sure the merchants in your town will thank you.
Finally, remember to follow me as I embark on my third Viking River cruise in May: I’ll be visiting a number of beautiful and historic places along the Rhine. And with any luck, we’ll get some spring sunshine — though even if we don’t, I’m expecting to have a great time.