Spring is here. And while it’s a weird time to be thinking of travel, it’s still something that’s on our minds.
And while traveling abroad might seem like a daunting task, life around the world continues and the local guides and small tour operators that rely on tourism as their main source of income need you now more than ever.
So, while I’ve asked some of my favorite travel experts to weigh in on the best spring destinations to visit this year, there’s always spring 2021 to start planning and looking forward to. Fall is also a pretty incredible time to check a new, beautiful destination off your bucket list, if you need a trip to look forward to sooner rather than later.
Where: Hunza Valley, Pakistan
Recommended by: Chris Lininger, Adventurer and Photographer, EpicBackpackerTours.com
Why: Pakistan is one of the most underrated travel destinations anywhere on earth. Aside from being a world-class trekking and cultural destination, the Hunza Valley in Northern Pakistan is exceptionally beautiful in the springtime. Cherry blossoms are lighting up the valley with blankets of colorful hues, the bees are buzzing about, and the temperatures are generally perfect for being outside to enjoy the whole scene over a cup of steaming chai. Northern Pakistan is also home to the largest glaciers in the world outside of the polar regions. So, for those looking for a different sort of adventure, finding yourself in a valley filled with cherry blossoms, turquoise rivers, 7,000-meter peaks, friendly locals, and massive glaciers is a pretty awesome prospect.
Pro Tip: Traveling during the month of Ramadan is a good way to ensure that there are even fewer tourists around than usual. Restaurants are less crowded, hotels are cheaper, and the popular low-elevation treks in the area are becoming more accessible as the winter snow recedes to the high mountains. Stay with a local family! Homestay experiences are mutually beneficial as they provide a source of income for families in the area while providing travelers with the opportunity to sleep in a traditional Hunza house, interact one-on-one with locals, and feast on the delicious regional food (and homemade wine aka Hunza Water). My favorite homestay in the region is with my good friend Rehman Ali Khan in Ghulkin village. Tourism is set to explode in Pakistan in the coming years, so get here fast while the country remains one of the final frontiers of true adventure travel.
Where: Gyumri, Armenia
Recommended by: Aram Vardanyan and Megan Starr, Travelers and Founders, AbsoluteArmenia.com
Why: With new budget airline routes to Gyumri from Germany and Greece, Armenia’s second city is finally stepping into the spotlight for more than just its association with the 1988 Spitak Earthquake. Spring is a fantastic time to visit Gyumri as the harsh winters subside and flowers saturate the city as it prepares to celebrate Easter with juicy fruits and heaping plates of pilaf. Gyumri is home to hip cafes and concept shops like Konjelazia Tourism & Design, several cultural spaces, unique places to stay like Masters’ House Bed & Bar and Loft Gyumri, and Armenia’s most humorous locals.
Pro Tip: Stop into Gwoog Gastrohouse for a local taste of Gyumri and try their Panrkhash, a dish made from cheese and lavash. Local herbs create tasty tea at Herbs & Honey, a beautiful cafe located in the center of Gyumri and the perfect place to stop before checking out a show at the Alikhanyan Puppet Theater. And, if you’re looking for a souvenir to take home from Gyumri, look no further than HayAr Jewellery where all accessories are made from repurposed bullets by Gyumri artist Artak Tadevosyan.
Where: London, England
Recommended By: Taylor Tippett, Traveling Flight Attendant
Why: London in the spring is a dream come true. You can’t walk down a street without running into the blooming tulips, roses, or daffodils and there are so many incredible parks to see them all in full bloom as well. One of my favorite things to do in London is to check out the incredible markets and festivals all around. Check out Brick Lane Market or Portobello Market, and in the Spring, The Chelsea Flower Show.
Pro Tip: Take the adventurous hour and a half train ride over to York. There is so much history and so many things to see. If you are a big Harry Potter fan, there is a place called The Shambles in York that was the inspiration for Diagon Alley in Harry Potter. Not a big Harry Potter fan? That’s okay! There is a lot of other history as well. Check out York Minister or take a walk on the city walls that surround the whole city.
Recommended By: Maren Engh and Max Jallifier, Travel Bloggers, Voyager Guru
Why: Emerge from your winter hibernation to practically guaranteed sunshine and rock-bottom prices starting mid-April in Aruba, part of the Dutch Antilles. Aruba and her sister islands lie outside the hurricane belt, welcoming travelers to picturesque blue waters, dry weather and year-round adventure and relaxation. Springtime is a particularly perfect time to visit, due to the low-season hotel rates, typically 50% or more below peak season, and 89 degrees average temperature.
Pro Tip: Stay on Palm or Eagle Beach to soak up the sun, but don’t forget to explore inland Aruba, a desert landscape covered in stunning volcanic rock, a stark contrast to the pristine beaches. Book one of the many UTV tours or rent a UTV to explore the small island on your own.
Where: The Natchez Trace Parkway, USA
Recommended By: Kristin Luna, Travel Writer, Camels and Chocolate
Why: The Natchez Trace Parkway is 444 miles of national park-operated land stretching from the northern terminus just outside of Nashville all the way down to Natchez, Mississippi. A popular ride for cyclists of all skill level, the roadway is regulated to exclude commercial traffic and has strict guidelines for vehicles to safely maneuver around bicycles. Springtime this far south is particularly vibrant with greenery and flowers galore – the azaleas start blooming in March, and the dogwoods peak in April – in addition to abundant wildlife and birding opportunities. Consider driving the Trace from tip to tip, stopping over in Ridgeland, Mississippi for a weekend during the Ridgeland Fine Arts Festival (April 4-5), a celebration of wine, colorful art and cycling. In Natchez, the annual Spring Pilgrimage lasts from March 14 to April 14 and allows visitors to peek into some of America’s most exquisite antebellum mansions and plantations via guided tours.
Pro Tip: One of the most iconic stops along the route is the double-concrete arched Natchez Trace Parkway Bridge just outside of Franklin, which arcs over a picturesque valley, before continuing through woodlands for the drive south. The only official visitors center for the Trace is located in Tupelo, Mississippi; soak up the knowledge of the national park rangers and the comprehensive exhibits highlighting the Native peoples, then take some time to explore this vibrant town where Elvis was born and got his start in music before continuing on your way.
Where: Death Valley National Park, California
Recommended By: Michelle Halpern, Travel Blogger, Live Like It’s the Weekend
Why: Death Valley is one of the most unique and varied national parks in the US. Within just 45 minutes, you can be standing atop golden sand dunes that look straight out of the Sahara, watching the sun go down over the salt flats of Badwater Basin or admiring the colorful rainbow rocks of Artist’s Palette, caused by the oxidation of different metals in the ground. Death Valley, however, is known for being one of the hottest places on Earth, so summertime can be brutal to visit. Early spring (think late March) is a perfect time to plan your Death Valley trip as the days are warm but not excessively hot and the nighttime temperatures won’t be as chilly as during the winter months when temps can drop down to the low 40s.
Pro Tip: Unless you plan on camping or taking an RV, there are limited accommodation options within the park. Make sure to book in advance or reserve a cabin in Beatty, Nevada which is located about one hour’s drive outside the main park sites.
Where: Cusco, Peru
Recommended By: Meg Ten Eyck, Editor, EveryQueer Magazine
Why: Cusco is the ancestorial capital of the Inca kingdom, best known as the first stop for many visitors starting the journey to Machu Picchu. Nestled amongst the clouds in the Andes mountains, Cusco is home to some of the most impressive architecture in the world. The modern city was built on top of the ancient Inca foundations by the Spaniards which resulted in a unique fusion of Spanish colonial buildings on ancient Inca foundations creating a new form of design.
All around the city, you’ll spot rainbow flags but they’re not what you may think. The rainbow flag is the official flag of Cusco. Coincidently both the LGBTQ Pride flag and the Cusco flag were established in 1978. While Peru as a nation is far from perfect in terms of their stance on LGBTQ rights, it’s a great travel destination for the LGBTQ community. In fact, Out Adventures will be leading an all queer women trip to Cusco this year for the first time ever.
Pro Tip: LGBTQ or not – spring is the perfect time to visit Cusco because rain levels drop significantly, and the weather is cool enough to wear one of the famous Peruvian sweaters without feeling too hot during your explorations. Shoulder season is also ideal because the crowds will be significantly smaller and the waits to board the train to Machu Picchu will be much more manageable.
Where: Vancouver Island, BC, Canada
Recommended By: Colin Wiseman, Outdoor Journalist
Why: From the botanical gardens in BC’s provincial capital of Victoria to the wild coast of Tofino, everything’s in bloom. The lush greens and towering old growth in the temperate rainforest are vibrant and fresh as the Island emerges from winter storms. Plus, in springtime, you’ll beat the crowds – tourism doesn’t peak until August on Vancouver Island.
Pro Tip: Skip the ferries and take an incredibly scenic floatplane ride from Vancouver to Tofino. It’s not too expensive – Harbour Air offers one-way flights starting under $200 per person.
Where: Tbilisi, Georgia
Recommended By: Stefan Arestis and Sebastien Chaneac, Owners, Nomadic Boys
Why: Tbilisi was a pleasant surprise for us. It’s the capital city of Georgia, with a charming old town. It has an otherworldly feel to it, with old crumbling buildings (there was a LOT of building restoration work going on when we were there) and cobblestoned pathways lined with restaurants, cafes, antique shops and boutique hotels. It’s also an excellent base to venture out on day trips to see more of this magnificent country – our favorite was a day trip in the Kazbegi region in the north of the country. Tbilisi is also an excellent place to discover the Georgian cuisine and wine. Whether you do this as part of a cooking class or in one of the local restaurants, this is one place you’ll be in foodie paradise with gems like “khinkali” (dumplings), “khachapuri” (cheese stuffed bread), and our favorite – “badrijani nightvzit” (fried eggplant stuffed with walnut and garlic paste). Tbilisi is also extremely inexpensive, which makes eating out such a pleasure!
Springtime is one of the most vibrant times to visit Georgia because of Easter. As a very religious Orthodox country, the Georgians make a big deal of their Easter, which includes the famous dyed red eggs, large crowded church ceremonies (you need to experience it to see what we mean) and of course, lots of grand hearty meals.
Other festivals to look out for in the springtime include the 4GB electro music festival in May, the “Tushetian Cheese Festival” in the last week of May and the New Wine Festival.
Pro Tip: Most will arrive at Kutaisi airport by the Black Sea coast, which is around four hours to Tbilisi. Don’t let this put you off. There is an efficient system in place whereby the Tbilisi-bound coaches coincide their departures with the time the flights land. We also recommend getting a SIM card when you land at Kutaisi airport – it’s super cheap, quick and you’ll have plenty of time to do it before the buses depart (the bus ticket office is next door to the SIM card office).
Where: Mexico City, Mexico
Recommended By: Nastasia Yakoub, Author and Founder, Dame Traveler
Why: I visited Mexico City during its peak Jacandra bloom season. When I say that Mexico’s colors and vivid culture was bursting into life, I’m not exaggerating. Petals rain on you as you walk the streets of this vibrant city. To catch the blooms, plan your visit mid-February to the end of March. March is also the perfect time to explore because you can take in the Festival del Centro Histórico de CDMX, Mexico City’s biggest cultural party of the year!
Pro Tip: We found the most concentration of blooms near Bella Artes… but it was so fun to get lost in the city and catch a massive tree on a random street! We were Jacaranda hunting! For photo ops, explore the Roma Notre, Condesa and Polanco neighborhoods, full of character for stunning facades and Jacaranda trees that frame each scene.
Where: Isle of Skye, Scotland
Recommended by: Yevgen Nikiforov, Documentary Photographer
Why: The Isle of Skye is an absolutely stunning and breathtaking landscape with dramatic skies and mind-blowing viewpoints. The isle is connected to the mainland by The Skye Bridge and lakes, mountains, hills, sea, small islands and hidden beaches are all a straight shot. Hiking up the beautiful Quiraing, Old Man of Storr, driving to Neist Point Lighthouse or reaching for the skies at Sgurr na Stri are just a few options for you to get lost on the largest and most northern major island in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland.
Pro tip: Try to get to one of the bothies, which were originally farm accommodations for workers/farmers. Today, a bothy is an open shelter where travelers can find a roof for a night surrounded by untouched nature. Many bothies are located a few hours by foot from the nearest parking. For a full list of bothies available in Scotland, the book Scottish Bothy Bible: The Complete Guide to Scotland’s Bothies and How to Reach Them is a great resource.
Where: The Willamette Valley, Oregon
Recommended by: MaSovaida Morgan, Travel Journalist and Guidebook Author
Why: Just south of Portland, the fertile Willamette Valley – home to Oregon’s wine country – is quickened from the gloom of winter thanks to fields of colorful flowers and springtime celebrations that take place in April and May. The Wooden Shoe Tulip Festival in Woodburn features some 40 acres of bold blossoms in muddy rows, a backdrop to activities like shoe making demonstrations, hot air balloon rides and more. From Mother’s Day until Memorial Day, Schreiner’s Iris Gardens in Keizer draws crowds to its fragrant fields of award-winning blooms. May is Oregon Wine Month, during which the state’s winemaking industry is celebrated with special tastings and promotional events.
Pro Tip: For more personalized attention at wineries, opt for a weekday afternoon visit. Many small, boutique wineries only operate on weekends, so check the website and call ahead before you go. If you’re flying to the region, try to book on Alaska Airlines – Mileage Plan members can check one case of wine for free on any domestic flight departing from Eugene and Portland, among many other West Coast destinations. The program is free to join and checking a case doesn’t count against your baggage allowance. Members can also enjoy a complimentary wine tasting at participating wineries when upon showing their inbound boarding passes.
Where: Maui, Hawaii USA
Recommended By: Jade Broadus, Travel Writer, Vagabond3
Why: Maui has it all, from hiking lush waterfalls on the Hana side to swimming with sea turtles on the Wailea side. Especially in spring, when winter crowds are gone and airlines are sharing spring travel deals, you can get to Maui for less than $250 round trip from the mainland west coast and have a truly magical, luxury experience. Make sure to stay at the Fairmont Kae Lani, where you’ll have daily cultural classes that are included with your stay, letting you learn about traditional Makahiki Hawaiian games, how to make leis and smoothies with all the fresh local fruit.
Pro Tip: If you want to road trip the famous Road to Hana, make sure to book a stay at Travaasa to break up the drive, and experience the sights in a much more relaxed manner. Don’t rush, you’re on vacation after all!
Recommended By: Dusty Sousley, Director
Why: Spring is the most ideal time to head to Morocco thanks to more agreeable weather. The warm sun yet cool air temperatures make for enjoyable conditions to explore the cities and surrounding areas. From the ocean and rugged mountain ranges to the iconic Sahara Desert you will never run out of terrain and architecture to observe. Not to fail to mention the bread and tea.
Pro Tip: Whether you’re into the “touristy” activities or not, the best activity I can recommend is to take the trip out to the Sahara Desert and ride camels out to the remote campsites and live as a proper nomad would.
Recommended By: Bex Shapiro, Senior Editorial Manager, Intrepid Travel
Why: Iceland in spring is perfection. Temperatures hover above zero, nature and sunlight (tentatively) emerge, and shoulder season really kicks off. But the true gift: you’re still in with a good chance of seeing the northern lights – and without any frigid winter weather! Personally, I loved driving the South Coast in April. Road conditions weren’t icy, and the crowds simply didn’t exist. So it was that much easier to really take in the grandeur of Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon. And then drive tiredly, happily back to Rekyjavik and catch a glimpse of the magical Aurora Borealis en-route.
Pro Tip: Catch Diamond Beach – which is just across from the glacier lagoon – as the sun begins to set. The volcanic black sand contrasting with the ice formations and beautiful colors in the sky make for an evening to remember. And the likely seal and orca sightings sure don’t hurt.
Where: Bacalar, Quintana Roo, México
Recommended by: Alberto Alcocer, Travel Photographer
Why: The seven colors lagoon, as Bacalar Lagoon is also known, goes from light turquoise tones all the way to deep blue and next to the lagoon stands this proud little town, the jewel of the Mexican Caribbean region. Bacalar is (still) far away from dense touristic main hubs, but offers all ranges of accommodations and facilities, from hostels to top tier boutique hotels. Warm waters make for ideal swimming conditions as well as water sports, from paddle boarding and kayaking to sailing. The peace and easy pace of this town will make you struggle to catch your flight back home. There is a lot to do in the surroundings; like Mahahual’s beaches, several cenotes (many of them hidden in the jungle) or archeological sites.
Pro Tip: To get there, fly to Chetumal and then grab a local taxi to your hotel in Bacalar (45 minutes, $20 USD). Main restaurants dot the shoreline but there are a couple jewels downtown, such as La Piña (The Pineapple) where regional dishes are served on large plates.
Where: Tucson, Arizona
Recommended by: Jacklyn Shields, Freelance Photographer, Writer, Get Lost With Jackie
Why: With average “high” temperatures between 75-82, virtually no humidity and the chance of only three rainy days between March and May – the weather in spring is reason enough to plan a trip to Tucson. Hikers and nature lovers alike can rejoice in the near perfect weather in Tucson and take advantage of the heaps of hiking and nature walks around the city (Sabino Canyon Recreation Area, Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway, Saguaro National Park and Catalina State Park are great places for hikes and trails). The close proximity to the border with Mexico also makes Tucson a great destination for foodies (in any season, truthfully, but the weather seals the deal in spring).
In December of 2015 Tucson was designated a ‘City of Gastronomy’ by UNESCO, making it the first city in the United States to hold such classification and one of only 18 globally. Some of my favorite bites, along with some things to do, can be found in my quick Tucson weekend guide.
Pro-Tip: If you can, plan your trip to Tucson in Spring around the Agave Heritage Festival (April 27-May 6). The Agave plant has had a huge cultural and historical significance on the Arizona-Mexico border and the Agave Fest celebrates the importance of the plant with spirits tastings, culinary events, seminars, trade shows and more.