Photo by Kylie Nicholson/Shutterstock
Photo by Matej Kastelic/Shutterstock.com
Snow tops buildings in Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia and an underrated winter spot.
Looking for some Valentine’s Day trip inspiration? We’ve got you covered.
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For lots of folks, February maybe doesn’t feel like the most intuitive time of the year to travel. But it should be—beach towns in certain parts of the world are buzzing, world-class restaurants and bars may be easier to book if you’re not traveling in peak season, and it’s the perfect time to travel with your sweetheart for Valentine’s Day. What are you waiting for? Here are the 10 best places to travel in February.
February is great for: shoppers, intrepid travelers
February is prime time to go to the Middle Eastern sultanate of Oman, a peninsular country of 4.6 million residents bordering the Arabian Sea. The weather is dry and warm, but not too warm, with highs typically in the 70s and low 80s. From late January to mid February every year, the country’s most important cultural festival takes place. During the Muscat Festival, locals and visitors alike can take part in myriad events around the capital port city. All ages can enjoy the traditional customs and traditions on display in the form of games, food stalls, and a marketplace selling artisan handicrafts, including the country’s famed frankincense and rosewater perfume, as well as a carnival, fireworks, theater performances, and even fashion shows. When you’ve grown tired of urban life, head to the historic city of Nizwa, where a 17th-century fort looms next to the souq and merchants sell silver daggers, spices, food, and crafts. And though you’d be too early for the summer khareef (monsoon) season that infuses the southern city of Salalah with green vegetation, it’s still a great under-the-radar destination for pristine beaches and archaeological sites (like Al Baleed, a UNESCO World Heritage site). —Sara Button
February 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 (February 25 this year), parades begin as early as January and ramp up in the week before the 25th. 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 1 million visitors celebrate on the city’s streets.
While the locals 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 2019’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 seven James Beard awards; stay for the 25¢ lunchtime martinis.—AFAR Editors
February 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. February is still low season, so you’ll escape the late spring and 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 iconic show’s filming locations.
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.—AFAR Editors
February is great for: wine aficionados, nature nuts
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Located on the North Island of New Zealand, Auckland is that country’s biggest city, but it’s still small by global standards. February brings summery weather, with little rainfall and highs averaging in the 70s. New Zealand’s landscape is jaw-droppingly beautiful. Soaring mountains, gorges carved out by glaciers, thundering waterfalls, and dormant volcanoes offer awe and adventure in equal measure. To really get a sense of the country’s amazing nature, you’ll need to head out on some day trips from Auckland.
On the North Island, visit Rotorua’s geothermal landscape, with its boiling mud pools and gushing geysers. The limestone caves of Waitomo are a natural wonder, with glowworms creating eerily beautiful underground galleries. It’s also an excellent place to learn about Maori culture. New Zealand’s fertile volcanic soil, cool climate, and abundant sunshine also produce some of the world’s best wine. Waiheke Island, just a short ferry ride from the city, produces world-class chardonnays and syrahs. Head to Cable Bay Vineyards for wine tasting and dining with produce from its organic garden. West Auckland used to be the center of New Zealand winemaking and is home to some of the country’s oldest winemaking families. Sample excellent rieslings and chardonnays at West Brook Winery and stay for a picnic on its lovely grounds. —AFAR Editors
February is great for: romantics, fans of fresh alpine air and lake breezes
Sophisticated Geneva oozes Swiss elegance. Surrounded by France on three sides (much of it alpine terrain with snowcapped peaks), the city faces magnificent Lake Geneva, making for a wonderfully romantic, wintery retreat for Valentine’s Day.
To add some fairy-tale romance to your February, there are more than a few castles near Geneva, and all are easy to reach by train. First stop should be Chillon Castle; located on a small islet on Lake Geneva, the fortress has thick walls, watchtowers, a drawbridge, 14th-century paintings, and dungeons straight out of legends. Teetering on a hill above Lake Geneva, Nyon Castle is known for its characteristic white walls and dramatic charcoal-colored turrets. A local history museum is now on site as well as a porcelain collection, and its terrace offers some of the best views of Mont Blanc. For easy slopes right outside Geneva’s doorstep, head to Zermatt, a mountain resort town home to the iconic Matterhorn. It’s a solid two- to three-hour journey, but well worth it to ski around the majestic peak and explore the chalet-filled, car-free village. And, of course, when you’re in Switzerland, you must buy chocolate. To tote the dreamiest varieties home, stop by family-owned Auer in Geneva’s Old Town, where house specialties are created by hand (it’s famous for its dark truffles and chocolate-covered almonds). —AFAR Editors
February is great for: wildlife fans, train buffs
Last April’s Easter bombings in the capital of Colombo killed 263 people; they also had a devastating effect on Sri Lanka’s growing tourism industry—so much so that the government had instated free tourism visas for passport holders of 48 countries. But travelers are beginning to return to Sri Lanka, and February is a good time to go. On February 4, 2020, the country celebrates National Day, marking 72 years of independence from British colonial rule. Locals welcome travelers in festivities that include parades and cultural performances. Other reasons to travel in February? The weather is warm and not terribly rainy, so beach time is a go, and if you make it to Kalpitiya Peninsula, you can watch dolphins (and, at the tail end of the month, maybe even a blue whale). Exploring by train is getting easier and has always been scenic—you’ll be regaled with views of lush green tea fields and rain forest from your window, especially on the trip between Ella and Kandy (book tickets in advance, though, especially on weekends). Yala National Park is the place to go for leopard and elephant spottings; eight UNESCO-inscribed sites include sacred Buddhist sanctuaries and ancient cities. —S.B.
February is great for: festival freaks, winter lovers
In February, the New Jersey–sized country that shares borders with Italy, Croatia, Hungary, and Austria is usually a snowy wonderland. And that’s precisely why you should go. You may get Ljubljana’s landmark castle practically to yourself (don’t forget to catch the views from the ramparts) and a likely glimpse of the famous Dragon Bridge with a beautiful dusting of powder; restaurant reservations at culinary hot spots like Hiša Franko in the Soca Valley might be a little easier to come by (at least, before Michelin releases its first Slovenia guide in March 2020); and, if you’re lucky, go ice skating on Lake Bled (you can always skate at the rink next to it, too).
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But perhaps best of all is that February is also the opportunity to celebrate Kurentovanje, a festival whose activities are on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity list. A combination of Mardi Gras and ancient tradition representing demons scaring away winter to make way for spring, Kurentovanje features parades of people dressed in fuzzy costumes clanging tons of bells, along with other characters making mischief. To experience it at its roots, go to Ptuj for festivities that stretch from February 15 to 25, with the main Carnival parade on February 23. —S.B.
February is great for: sunset watchers
Dominica, the tiny island nation sandwiched between Guadeloupe and Martinique, is ready to receive visitors again after Hurricane Maria caused $1.3 billion in damage in 2017. Its tropical climate means it’s hot and humid year-round, but the winter month of February is cooler and drier compared to the rest of the year, with highs in the low 80s. Known for its volcanic mountains, abundant waterfalls, hot springs, and top-notch snorkeling and diving, the island has implemented an ambitious post-hurricane comeback effort focused on sustainability. The government has established a new Climate Resilient Execution Agency for Dominica (CREAD) devoted to hurricane-proofing the island’s infrastructure, and has restored natural attractions including Boiling Lake, the world’s second-largest hot spring.
Many major hiking trails and dive sites have been cleared of debris, and for sites that are still damaged, visitors can pitch in on the cleanup effort. The capital city, Roseau, has fortified and reopened its restaurants, and the weekly farmers’ market is hawking locally grown tropical fruits such as pawpaw and genip (a type of lime) once again. Most of the island’s hotel rooms have reopened, too, including the romantic villas at the cliff-top Secret Bay and the riverside cottages and lodge at Citrus Creek Plantation. In October, the new Cabrits Resort & Spa Kempinski Dominica, a seaside-meets-jungle retreat opened next to Cabrits National Park in the northern part of the island, and Rosalie Bay Eco-Resort is slated to reopen. —Devorah Lev-Tov, as seen in the January/February 2019 issue
February is great for: skiers, snowboarders, read-by-the-fire-at-a-lodge folks
Jackson Hole itself is the entire 42-mile long, seven-mile wide valley in northwestern Wyoming, while Jackson is the valley’s cowboy cosmopolitan main town, complete with wooden sidewalks and a town square with an elk antler arch at each corner. In February, the popular ski destination offers plenty of deep powder to play in.
There are three ski resorts around Jackson Hole: Snow King Mountain, Jackson Hole Mountain Resort (JHMR), and Grand Targhee. Grand Targhee is a no-frills resort with ample intermediate terrain, deep powder, and lift tickets for less than $100. Meanwhile, Snow King Mountain rises right above downtown Jackson and has three chairlifts, night skiing, and inexpensive private lessons. This is Wyoming’s first ski resort, with 400 acres, three lifts, and 32 runs. The resort area also has snow tubing, which is a lot of fun for kids (although adults enjoy it, too).
When people come to Jackson Hole for a ski vacation, though, they usually come for the aforementioned JHMR, which is about 12 miles from downtown Jackson in the small community of Teton Village. Reserve a table for lunch at the restaurant Piste, eat some confit duck wings and watch skiers and snowboarders drop into Corbet’s Couloir, a narrow chute that requires a 15-foot jump at its start. —AFAR Editors
February is great for: chill vibe seekers
Surrounded by tropical farms, jungle, and the turquoise waves of the Pacific, Byron Bay is a coastal paradise just two hours south of busy Brisbane. Hippies and surfers have known this for decades, but Byron’s “cheer up, slow down, chill out” mantra has recently attracted a new generation of artisans, chefs, and entrepreneurs who are reshaping the small beach town. In February, the tail end of Australian summer, the seasonal crowds die down, just in time for the Byron Bay Surf Festival (February 14–16), a soulful celebration of surfing, music, and art. Besides the festival, visitors can try on the Byron life at Rowie, a clothing boutique that emphasizes beachy styles made from natural fibers, and Pop and Scott, stocked with minimalist furniture, ceramics, and clothing by Australian designers.
But what’s really turning eyes to Byron Bay is the food and drink scene, which puts Byron Bay’s acclaimed local produce to creative new use. The team behind the farm-to-table restaurant Harvest Newrybar has created a mini dining empire that includes Chupacabra, a taquería that prepares Mexican dishes from regional ingredients. (Order the Yucatán-style grilled fish taco and a mango-chili slushie.) The vegetarian restaurant Folk, a local favorite for its plant-based dishes, recently added a sister café, Woods, 20 minutes away in the town of Bangalow. In early 2019, the Byron craft brewing company Stone & Wood will unveil a new community brewery, and Cape Byron Distillery will lead tours that begin with a cocktail made from Brookie’s gin, flavored with native aniseed myrtle and finger limes. And the masterminds behind Three Blue Ducks—a restaurant on an 80-acre property known as the Farm—recently opened Locura, a late-night weekend bar perfect for epic dance parties. —Serena Renner, as seen in the January/February 2019 issue
This article was originally published on December 18, 2018. It was updated on November 19, 2019, to reflect current information.