Whether you want to admire Japan’s iconic cherry blossoms or snorkel off the shores of Key West, March is the best month to travel to these 10 spots.
By March, spring has sprung in many parts of the world. The summer heat has yet to descend on the Northern Hemisphere, and early spring is a great time to celebrate some of the season’s festivals and holidays, be it Mardi Gras in New Orleans or St. Patrick’s Day in a pub in Philadelphia.
March is great for: flower fans
Despite its big city status, Osaka has no shortage of parks and gardens. Tourists descend in droves every March to see the famous cherry blossoms, so it will be crowded—but worth it.
Cherry blossoms appear throughout the city, including the Osaka Castle grounds, which has more than 4,000 cherry trees. Or check out the Expo 70 Commemorative Park with its over 5,000 cherry trees. While there, take time to marvel at the bright rows of tulips at the tulip garden and then get a foot bath in the forest spa.
Also packed with attractions is Tennoji Park, a huge expanse of green hiding the Osaka Municipal Museum of Fine Art, Tennoji Zoo, and traditional Japanese gardens. During cherry blossom season, all eyes and cameras will be on Kema Sakuranomiya Park, home to 4,800 cherry trees and magnificent views. The riverside setting, classical buildings, and pleasant jogging trails make it worth a visit at any time of year.
For a slice of real Osaka life, make your way just outside the city center to Nagai Park, home to two sports stadiums, the Nagai Botanical Gardens, and the Osaka Museum of Natural History. There are also some nice cycling and running trails and surprisingly few tourists.
March is great for: design devotees, spa-goers
A 1960s boom gave Palm Springs and her sister cities their signature midcentury modern style; secondhand stores still hide treasures of modern interior decor and fashion, and this obsession with design makes for a great art scene. Head there in March, during the height of Desert X, a new art biennial in only its second iteration. The event showcases installations across dozens of miles of desert from February through April.
Midcentury modernism is such a big deal in Palm Springs that it has its own category: desert modernism. This style means more than midcentury architecture; it’s also about the interior. Think desert plants, neutral tones, airy rooms, wooden furniture, and Latin American textiles for color and texture.
You’ll see this minimalist, low-to-the-ground style of building all over the city (which has the largest collection of U.S. midcentury architecture). For design and architecture lovers, there are notable examples worth seeking out, including the Ace Hotel in a former motor lodge and the Palm Springs Visitors Center. Stop in the latter’s 1965 flying wedge-style building and pick up an architecture guide. The Palm Springs Art Museum has a pavilion devoted to midcentury design, and the Palm Springs Modern Committee offers a map for self-guided tours.
The Palm Desert is also home to several natural hot springs, and local resorts have even tapped into the natural waters to fill their pools. The town of Desert Hot Springs is known as California’s “spa city” because of its natural mineral hot springs, so head there if you want to spend time relaxing in natural waters. There’s also the Well Spa at Miramonte, a luxury spa with saltwater pools and outdoor treatment areas.
March is great for: aquaphiles
Roughly four miles long and two miles wide, the island of Key West is the end of the road in the 113-mile-long island chain that makes up the Florida Keys. In March, you might spot some spring breakers, but you’ll likely avoid the crowds escaping chilly weather that abound in the area during the busy winter season. (You’ll also avoid high winter prices.)
If you do just one activity in Key West, head out for an underwater view of the magnificent reefs and marine life that belong to the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, part of the third-largest coral barrier reef in the world (the Florida Reef) and North America’s only coral barrier reef. Popular catamaran brands like Fury and Sebago provide all the gear for excursions into the water to find parrot fish, trumpet fish, jacks, and even the occasional sea turtle or moray eel.
You can also opt for one of the many catamaran tours or go with something more intimate like a sail on the 89-foot Appledore II windjammer. For something a little more expansive, check out Barefoot Billy’s, a popular island operator offering guided Waverunner trips to take you on a two-hour, 27-mile-long adventure around the entire island. Along the way, you’ll see spots like Sunset Key and the Southernmost Point, with a stop to cool off and snorkel at a location away from the masses. Meanwhile, tandem or triple parasailing adventures with Fury give you a bird’s-eye view of Key West, with the option for a dip in the ocean as part of your flight.
March is great for: outdoor adventurers, Game of Thrones geeks
Iceland’s popularity as a travel destination has skyrocketed over the past decade, but there are still plenty of reasons to go. March is early shoulder season, so you’ll escape the summer throngs while still having a chance to glimpse the aurora borealis. And Game of Thrones fans may want to check out some of the show’s filming locations before the final season airs in April.
Hot pool fans will love the Reykjadalur Valley, close to the town of Hveragerði. A popular and fairly gentle hike brings visitors to a collection of geothermal pools formed by the valley’s hot spring river. You’ll find rudimentary cabins for changing and several pools to dip into—just remember to bring a swimsuit!
The Seltjarnarnes Peninsula, with its lava-covered beaches, picturesque Grótta Lighthouse, and numerous strolling pathways is a local favorite and the best spot only 10 minutes from Reykjavík to see the Northern Lights. Meanwhile, pretty Elliðaárdalur Valley is embellished with rivers and waterfalls with plenty of pathways in between, or you can traipse over the moss-covered rocks at Hvaleyri Beach in nearby Hafnarfjörður.
Instead of driving or touring around the crowded “Golden Circle,” head to the Reykjanes Peninsula close to Keflavik Airport, a UNESCO Global Geopark with geothermal craters, caves, and lava fields. Or check out the Borgarfjörður Eystri fjord in eastern Iceland. You’ll find plenty of solitude at the area’s isolated fjords and coves, known for its natural beauty.
March is great for: hep cats, party people
Laissez les bon temps rouler isn’t the city motto for nothing, and New Orleans knows how to “let the good times roll.” The city’s most famous festival is Mardi Gras, and while technically the holiday is only on Fat Tuesday (March 5 this year), parades begin as early as January and ramp up in the week before the 5th. While the origins of Mardi Gras go as far back as medieval times, this iconic city festival is a bit “younger,” first celebrated in 1699 when French-Canadian explorers arrived 60 miles downriver from New Orleans on the evening of Europe’s Boef Gras holiday and dubbed the area Pointe du Mardi Gras. Now, Mardi Gras is a month-long celebration leading up to Ash Wednesday—it’s New Orleans turned up to full volume, and when over one million visitors celebrate on the city’s streets.
While they take their festivals seriously, they also take their music seriously. Don’t miss a jazz performance, whether you find one in a packed bar on Frenchmen Street or at a show by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Or merge music with another of NOLA’s strengths—food. (If you don’t believe us, at least believe AFAR readers, who chose the city as this year’s food destination in our annual Travelers’ Choice Awards.) Commander’s Palace has been serving diners since 1893 and is still a beloved destination for its “jazz brunch.” Go for inspired Creole cuisine that’s won six James Beard awards; stay for the 25¢ lunchtime martinis.
March is great for: hip folks, artsy types
Taipei is establishing itself as a hub for the arts in Asia, with small independent galleries complementing wide-ranging collections at much larger museums. In March, visitors can attend the 11th annual Taiwan International Festival of Arts, which will take place between February and April in Taipei and Taichung.
In between theater and music performances, though, explore some of Taipei’s museums. Start at the world’s largest collection of Chinese art, the National Palace Museum. Included in museum’s collection are paintings, calligraphy, bronzes, lacquer ware, ceramics, jade, and religious objects—many once owned by Chinese emperors. Although there are myriad attractions in the giant building, the best-known artifact is the jade cabbage, a precious marvel that appears to change color from green to white. Look closely at its leaves and you might be able to see the locust and katydid hidden within.
Taipei doesn’t lack in showcases for contemporary creativity, either. Once home to a tobacco factory, Songshan Cultural and Creative Park now hosts visiting exhibitions, art workshops, and cool stores. Other galleries dedicated to modern art include the Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei (MOCA), where artists from Taiwan and China are represented; 1839 Gallery, which focuses on photography; and Aki Gallery, which reopened in the summer of 2018 following an extensive renovation.
Those who like urban art will want to explore the trendy Ximending area in the Western District of Taipei. You’ll need to poke around a bit—exploring side streets and meandering through the neighborhood—but you’ll be rewarded with some interesting street art. Noteworthy places to explore include “American Street” (Lane 96 on Kunming Street) and the Taipei Cinema Park, where it’s legal for street artists to showcase their pieces.
March is great for: history nerds, Hamilton listeners
Philadelphia is home to A-list institutions like the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Independence Hall, and it still rubs shoulders with truly unique sights, like Eastern State Penitentiary, a spooky old prison, and the Italian Market, where they debate the age-old Philly question: Pat’s or Geno’s cheesesteak? (Hint: They both rule.) In March, visitors will avoid the crush of summer vacationers (and the humidity) and there are nearly 2,000 bars to choose from if you want a drink on St. Patrick’s Day. But the real reason a lot of travelers put Philly on their to-see list is its status as the birthplace of the United States.
That may not be surprising given the city’s role during Revolutionary times—the Declaration of Independence and U.S. Constitution were both drafted and signed here. But you can really sense the depth of Philly history by walking around neighborhoods like Old City and Society Hill. So many historical nuggets appear, including the Betsy Ross House and Ben Franklin’s old newspaper office.
The most famous sites are clustered along several blocks of Independence National Historical Park, including Independence Hall, the modest red-brick building where the Founding Fathers declared independence. You’ll also spot the Liberty Bell Center, great for a close-up look at the icon from the 1750s. At the National Constitution Center, check out such important documents as Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and the Bill of Rights.
Opened in 2017, the Museum of the American Revolution is a stunning newcomer with hundreds of artifacts, including the original headquarters tent that General George Washington used during the war. For a taste of colonial times, dine at City Tavern, where servers deliver meals and ales, 18th-century style. Forty minutes north of town, Valley Forge National Historical Park tells the story of Washington’s pivotal 1776 Delaware River crossing.
March is great for: ardent anthropologists
Mexico’s largest city and its capital is sprawling and chaotic, yes. It can even be overwhelming. At the same time, it’s wildly exciting, and in March the weather is just right for strolling the historic streets and marveling at the ancient architecture.
The National Museum of Anthropology, one of a number of museums ringing Chapultepec Park, is world-renowned and offers a window into the sweep of Mexican history, from prehistoric and indigenous (Aztec, Maya, Olmec, and others) times to the present.
Anyone interested in the city’s history should visit the Zócalo (also, Plaza de la Constitución), Mexico City’s main plaza and where the city’s cultural, religious, and social history yield story after story. On the north side of the plaza, you’ll notice the Catedral Metropolitana, the largest in the Americas, while the east side is home to the Palacio Nacional, one of the country’s main government buildings and where fascinating Diego Rivera murals are visible.
Worth a day trip is Teotihuacán, a massive pre-Hispanic complex 25 miles outside of the city that was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. Built by the Aztecs, Teotihuacán reached its peak likely around 450 C.E., stretching out almost 12 square miles. Its Pyramids of the Moon and Sun are its most significant features, but the Avenue of the Dead, its ornate Temple of Quetzalcóatl (the plumed serpent god), and the structured layout of the whole complex definitely impress. If you can, stay for the evening light show for a completely different experience.
March is great for: chocoholics, beer drinkers
Brussels is the administrative center of the European Union, but despite that rather officious responsibility, it’s a vibrant city full of history and modern life. Although its famous brews and bonbons taste good year-round, visit in March, when Chocolate Week takes place in nearby Antwerp from March 8 to 17, 2019.
If you don’t feel like making the hour-long train ride to Antwerp for the festival, there are plenty of places to sample Brussels’s best confections, including where it all started: the Neuhaus Chocolate Shop. Also visit Pierre Marcolini, who uses rare chocolate beans to create concoctions like traditional hazelnut praline or salted caramel with cardamom and dark chocolate. It’s the most sophisticated outfit in town; here, clerks only touch the decadent confectionary jewels with white gloves.
Meanwhile, the Belgian Chocolate Village is an entire museum dedicated to Belgium’s famous sweet. The interactive complex illustrates the stages of chocolate production, has an onsite greenhouse that simulates the tropical forests that grow cocoa beans, and a tasting room to sample the good stuff.
Want something a little stronger? Belgium beer has been added to the UNESCO World Heritage culture list for its centuries-long beer history, and with over 150 breweries in the small nation, the variety of beer in this country is incredible. The best way to appreciate Belgium’s unique beer-making history is to head to one of Brussels’s many beer bars. Start at perennial favorite Moeder Lambic Fontainas, which has a revolving tap menu and where you sip brews in an art deco space. Then head to Delirium, a craft beer bar with more than 2,400 beers, or indulge with a dose of history and atmosphere at La Porte Noire, a medieval tavern with approximately 200 beers to try.
March is great for: extroverted beach bums, sporty swimmers
Aruba is an all-purpose Caribbean destination. It’s appealing for kids and couples, has world-class beaches, and can easily match any other island for culinary choices and nightlife. It’s still pretty busy in March, but as long as you book well in advance, you can enjoy the perfect weather and take part in the island’s annual Flag and Anthem Day festivities on March 18. While celebrations take place in various ways across the island, head to Plaza Betico Croes in Oranjestad for traditional musical performances, local foods, and more.
If you miss the national holiday, there are still plenty of things to do in Aruba. You won’t need to walk far along Palm Beach, Aruba’s main high-rise hotel district, to find vendors renting Jet Skis, kayaks, Hobie Cats, and stand-up paddleboards. The Aruba Watersports Center offers all of the above as well as parasailing or rides on tubes and wakeboards pulled by speedboats.
For the adventurous, try flyboarding: aquatic boarding powered by water jets that can propel riders up to 50 feet into the air. You can test your nerves and mad boarding skills at Sunshine Water Sports. Steadily blowing trade winds make Aruba one of the best kiteboarding and windsurfing destinations in the world, and you can watch the pros speed by going up to 30 miles per hour at Malmok Beach or Fisherman’s Hut.
A day on De Palm Island will satisfying most of your water sports fun: admission includes snorkeling, unlimited banana boat rides, and a six-slide waterpark. You’ll also have the option to try Snuba, shallow-water scuba diving where the air tank stays on the surface, or SeaTrek, a walk on the seabed aided by a diving helmet that’s safe even for nonswimmers.