Seasonal travellers are smart travellers. It’s all good booking your dream destination (for what seems like suspiciously cheap rates) only to discover that you’re travelling in the middle of a monsoon.
But seasonal travel can work to your advantage: pick a good shoulder month, roll those weather dice, and you can save big bucks. It’s all a matter of doing your research…and avoiding the Italian school holidays.
To save you some Googling, here’s our ultimate seasonal travel guide. Where to travel during each month of the year. Of course this isn’t a comprehensive list (some of these destinations, like Japan, are awesome year-round) but if you’re stuck for inspiration, consider this your starting point.
New year, new holidays you can’t afford. Equatorial and Southern hemisphere destinations are generally best in January. Unless you want some fresh powder. In which case, we know just the place…
Rocky Mountains, USA
Most experts consider January to early February the best time for skiing in the Rockies. Crowds, prices and temperatures are all very low. In fact you’ll probably freeze. But those crisp mornings are what bring the famous ‘Champagne Powder’. Spot moose in Kawuneeche Valley, snowshoe up to Cub Lake, or carve up the slopes on Aspen or Beaver Creek. Whatever you do, pack warm.
January is the middle of the Costa Rican dry season, so you won’t get those apocalyptic afternoon showers (the only exception being the Caribbean side of the central mountains, where you sometimes get back-to-back days of rain, known locally as temporales del Atlantico). Temperatures hover around 27ºC and wildlife is everywhere. To avoid the NYE crowds (and the worst surcharge prices), book toward the end of January, when most Americans have gone home.
January is party time in Rio: Cariocas (locals) are relaxed, and beach parties run all night on Ipanema and Copacabana. Of course there are a couple of catches. January tends to get hot: expect 30ºC during midday or early afternoon. It’s also the start of the summer tourist season, so prices can be a little higher (particularly around NYE, which is nuts, for obvious reasons). Speaking of crowds, if you want to experience Carnaval and Fat Tuesday, visit in February instead. You can check the latest dates here.
The northern hemisphere goes into hibernation during February, but there are still a few good spots north of the Equator. Otherwise point your compass due south to catch the last of the summer heat.
February is a great time to visit most of Australia, but Adelaide in particular. For one big reason: February marks the start of the Adelaide Fringe Festival. It’s grown from humble beginnings in the ‘60s to become the world’s second-biggest annual arts festival (after Edinburgh). The city pretty much explodes during this time, so you’ll need to book hotels well in advance. If you need to decompress, consider tacking on four days on the Fleurieu Peninsula.
February is technically winter in Israel, but if you book in the last two weeks, the weather should be starting to turn. Wildflowers begin to bloom, streams start running again, and temperatures sit around 15ºC. It’s brisk, but not too bad, plus you get the country more or less to yourself. February is still Israel’s off-season, which means the best hotels, guides and historical sites are all up for grabs. If you want milder temperatures (and a dip in the Dead Sea) visit in April or October instead.
It’s kind of crazy to just say ‘China’ in a travel guide. It’s a massive place, with dozens of climates, sub-climates, regions, cultures and geographic zones. We’re talking Yunnan province specifically here: spring is usually coming in late February, and you can catch Chinese New Year (usually early to mid-Feb). Photographers, check out the camellia blossoms and rapeseed fields south of Kunming.
March is such a flexible month. Europe and North America are beginning to thaw, and tropical regions are coming into prime time. We’ve got three destinations here, but you could really throw a blanket over any country within 20º of the equator.
Borneo tourism pretty much shuts down over December and January. Seas are choppy, the weather’s terrible, and animals basically hide. But in March you get migrating whale sharks (the whale shark migration peaks in April), calm seas for divers, and plenty of orang-utans in the jungles of Sabah. It’s the start of the dry season, but pack something waterproof—you’ll probably still get the odd afternoon shower.
March is the end of the dry season in Colombia, but it’s our favourite time to visit. Most of the summer crowds have gone home, the climate is pretty temperate and mild, and you get massive parties like Semana Santa (Holy Week). If you’re lucky, and Lent runs late, Carnival will also be rocking the country in the first week of March. Head to Barranquilla on the Caribbean coast—it’s the second biggest Carnival in the world.
Travelling in the Galapagos is a bit tricky. There isn’t one good season, perse. It all depends on what you want to see. Having said that, March is a beautiful time to go. Water temperature and clarity are both great, and it’s hatching season for Galapagos tortoises. One thing to remember here: Spring Break families usually swarm into the Galapagos during the second half of March, so visit early if you want to avoid screaming kids.
When it comes to April, you want to follow the flowers. Spring is sweeping over the northern hemisphere, and several big destinations are in full bloom. April is also a classic shoulder month for destinations like New Zealand unand Botswana. Good chance to save those dollars.
Japan is really a year-round destination, but April is your best chance of seeing sakura cherry blossoms. Bloom times vary year-to-year, so you’ll need to start checking forecast websites in December or January. Generally, the sakura bloom starts in the north of Japan in late March, then sweeps south in early April. It’s very temperamental: sometimes it’s early, sometimes late, and sometimes it’s over in a week. Good news is there's still plenty to do in this neck of the woods if you miss it.
Peru in April is perfect. Technically it’s a shoulder month (the peak trekking season kicks off in May), but Lima is generally sunny and warm, and there’s very little rain in the Sacred Valley. It’s also the time when spring flowers really take off: shades of yellow and pink, quinoa crops, lupines and orchids. If you want to hike the Inca Trail in April, make sure to book a permit well in advance.
April means tulips in the Netherlands, and it’s the busiest time of year for the famous Keukenhof Gardens. Obviously, crowds are kind of nuts during April (Amsterdam hotels and guest houses get notoriously expensive around this time), but the premium rates are totally worth it. Plus there’s the huge Spring Beer Festival in Posthoornkerk (AKA Meibock Lentebier). Visit for bulbs, brews and balmy temperatures.
May is another temperate, shoulder-style month. In the north, sizzling summer temperatures haven’t yet kicked in, and autumn leaves are colouring the forests of the southern hemisphere.
If you wait 'til June and July, Portugal starts to lose its charm. Temperatures soar, crowds swarm all over the Algarve, and every hotel room is booked for weeks in advance. May is much more chill. You get lush hills in the Douro Valley, lazy Madeira sunsets, and temperatures around 20ºC. It probably won’t be hot enough to sunbathe, but swimming isn’t out of the question (if you’re tough and stubborn). Check out Madeira’s May Flower Festival and Porto’s Rally de Portugal.
Similar story for Croatia. Dubrovnik, Split and Hvar get insanely busy from June to August, but May is your classic shoulder month. The weather won’t exactly be scorching, but you’ll still get 14 hours of sunshine each day, with temperatures around 21ºC (you’ll find those white-pebble Adriatic beaches surprisingly balmy). Basically, if you’re coming to Croatia for a tan, come in mid-summer. If you’re coming for history, sailing, sea kayaking or cycling the Dalmatian coast, you’ll get better value in May.
This one’s a little controversial because Iceland is good pretty much year-round (depending on what you want). September through to March is peak season for Northern Lights, but freezing. Summer months bring good weather, but also every tourist who’s ever watched Game Of Thrones. May is pretty perfect: it’s not hot, but it’s not polar either. Crowds are low, and there’s way more hotel availability. Expect temperatures around 9ºC. We suggest you hire some wheels and tour this stunning country.
For pretty much anywhere north of the equator, June is peak season. You’ll get the best temperatures, but also the biggest crowds. Surge pricing isn’t uncommon either. You’re faced with a choice: put up with the tourists and get a fantastic tan, or head south and shiver alone.
In June, Alaska pretty much turns into an episode of Blue Planet. Bears and other wildlife come to forage on the low tide line, and orcas, migrating humpback whales and harbor seals chase fish off the coast. The problem is, the cruise ships know this too. The first two weeks of June are peak season for Alaska’s famous Inside Passage. Consider heading for Denali NP instead: it’ll still be busy, but at least you won’t be battling mega-liners. The weather is mild too: most days will hang around 23ºC.
Two words: Dark Mofo. How much you like Tasmania in June will depend on how much you enjoy mass nude swimming, experimental gothic art installations and freaky 2am electronica shows. Dark Mofo pretty much takes over Hobart in June, booking out every Airbnb, hotel and motel for miles around. Lock down your rooms early to avoid disappointment. And consider hiring a car: you can road trip pretty easily to Bruny Island (oysters!) Port Arthur and Freycinet.
Ahh, Paris in June. Summer days that last forever, cherry blossoms in the Jardin des Plantes, live music on the docks of Ile Saint Louis. The French Open runs into early June, and it’s the month for Fête de la Musique (21 June) and We Love Green Festival. Also consider a trip down to Provence: lavender is blooming and fresh produce is at its peak. The sun sets around 10pm, so you’ve got all day to stuff yourself full of salad Nicoise and steamy bouillabaisse. Living the dream.
It might be best to avoid Europe in July, unless your ideal Colosseum snap involves 10,000 waving selfie sticks in the foreground. But there are still a few choice destinations around—it’s all about picking your battles.
If you absolutely have your heart set on a European summer, consider Norway. July is definitely peak season, and the weather is awesome, but tourist numbers are still a fraction of those in Greece, Italy, Spain or Croatia. Our favourite spots were definitely the Lofoten Islands (try the stockfish) or the beaches around Vesterålen. Or you can head to the Bergen or Fjordlands for 24ºC days, the last of the spring waterfalls, and almost round-the-clock sunlight. For something really special, grab dinner at this under the sea eatery.
Want to ditch those euro crowds? July is a great month for Singapore. The shopping centres often run special deals and extended hours around this time (if you want to avoid the worst crowds, don’t travel during the Great Singapore Sale). Temperatures are stable, and there’s very little chance of rain. You can also catch the epic Singapore Food Festival. Depending on the sales, you might struggle to find good accommodation, so book well in advance.
July is prime time for Kenya and Tanzania, thanks largely to the Great Migration: a couple of million wildebeest making their way through the Masai Mara National Reserve. Even if you miss the wildebeest, July is Kenya’s dry season. Animals tend to congregate around watering holes, so you’ve got the best chance at a successful safari.
There’s a lot of options for travellers in August. Europe peak season is still booming, and it’s one of the best times to climb Mt Kilimanjaro, drink wine in Mendoza or hike the Kokoda Track.
August is probably the best month for the New Zealand ski fields. Over 35% of the South Island is covered in snow in winter. Experienced skiers should head to Treble Cone near Wanaka, but most people will just stay in Queenstown and ski at Coronet Peak. This is also the prime season for heli-skiing, if your budget can stretch for private helicopters.
Botswana’s dry season runs from June to October. This is probably the last good month for wildlife viewing in Chobe National Park and Moremi Game Reserve, not to mention one of your last chances for rafting down the Okavango Delta. The water levels will be high, but temperatures can get chilly, especially on the early morning game drives (don’t be surprised if the mercury drops to 6°C). Bring layers, binoculars and lots of polar fleece.
You may as well see the Great Barrier Reef while we still have one, and August is the perfect month for diving. Queensland’s winter winds tend to die down after July, so now’s the time for clear skies, good visibility and migrating marine life. Think dwarf minke whales on the northern reefs, manta rays off Lady Elliot Island and passing humpback whales. In fact, boat trips from Cairns to the reef in August are often delayed by breaching humpbacks. Water temperatures usually sit around 22°C.
September is when Asia, Europe and the Middle East move from sizzling to merely warm. It’s also a classic shoulder month for big destinations like France, Greece, Egypt and Portugal. Keep an eye out for cheeky hotel and flight deals.
The Maldives kind of shuts down in July and August—that’s the big monsoon season. But September is when the islands start to wake up. Rain can still be patchy (this is shoulder month for a reason), but you can also snag some amazing over-water villa bargains. It’s a bit of a gamble. Peak season is from November through to April, but then you’re also paying peak rates. Temperatures stay pretty constant, usually hovering around 28°C in September.
September is our favourite time to visit South Africa. It’s warm in the highveld, mild in Cape Town, and getting pretty hot in Kruger National Park. A lot of South Africans take a beach holiday in September, heading down to the Indian Ocean coastline of KwaZulu-Natal. September is also peak whale season at Hermanus on the Western Cape (grab a boat tour in Walker Bay).
Morocco is pretty mellow in September. The days are still hot, but you get those cool afternoon zephyrs blowing in over Tangier and Marrakesh. This is a great time for camel treks in the Sahara and hiking the Atlas Mountains. There’s also a couple of big festivals on: the Tangier Tanjazz Festival and the annual Berber Imilchil Marriage Festival (literally a three-day festival dedicated to love, which draws around 30,000 people to the Atlas Mountains each year).
In southern hemisphere, October is usually the month when people emerge from underneath a doona. In the north, Autumn starts its amber creep through the forests. It’s a month of transition…and travel bargains.
Nepal has two big trekking seasons. One in autumn (September to November) and the other in spring (March to May). By October, the Nepali monsoon is long gone, and you can expect mild temperatures (22°C during the day) and clear skies. Pack layers though—the mercury drops big time overnight, especially up past Namche Bazaar. Both Everest, Kathmandu and Annapurna will be pretty crowded, so book well in advance.
October is pretty much the last temperate month to visit Uluru. November is getting pretty hot, and December and January are out of the question (unless you want to travel in some sort of anti-radiation suit). Pro tip: don’t fly into Alice Springs (it’s actually a five hour drive from there to the rock). Fly into Yulara instead. It’s 29-minutes away, there’s a decent camp ground nearby, and Jetstar runs cheap flights all the time.
Mexico’s rainy season tends to finish around mid-October, but we’re not worried about that. We want to be in Mexico City for 1 November. Why? Because that’s Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead). To actually get a room in Mexico City for Dia de los Muertos, you’re going to need to fly in during the last week of October (at the latest). Hotels book up really early. You'll also want to check out Tulum and this epic road trip.
November is a sly travel month. A lot of people save their annual leave for December and January, so you can often grab a bargain by flying out a month early. Iceland tends to spike in November, as travellers plan a mission to see the northern lights.
November is when Patagonia trekking starts to really warm up. Summer is just around the corner, the winter winds have died down, and trekking routes are opening as the snow line creeps back up the Andes. You can usually snag a room in the Torres del Paine refugios without too much difficulty, and the meadows are covered in wildflowers. A very underrated month.
Summer in India should be avoided. Scorching temperatures and crazy monsoonal rains keep most of the tourists away. But Rajasthan and the Golden Triangle are dry and balmy in November (temperatures shouldn’t climb higher than 30°C, and humidity is fairly low). This is the month for spotting tigers in Ranthambore National Park and riding camels in Pushkar. In fact, November ushers in the insane Pushkar Camel Fair—it runs during the Kartik Purnima full moon and draws 400,000 people (and many camels) every year.
Most people reckon spring (April – June) is the best time to visit South Korea, but autumn has to run a close second. Temperatures are mild, there’s very little rain, and the autumn Gingko foliage is everywhere (check out Asan Gingko Tree Road or Nami Island for the best leaves). And you can't go past Jeju Island. November is also when the Seoul Lantern Festival lights up Cheonggyecheon Stream. Expect street food, music, parades and hundreds of giant, glowing lanterns.
Generally speaking, you want to avoid travelling in the last 10 days of December. Airlines, hotels and pretty much anything else remotely related to travel will hike up their prices. But the first two weeks are gold—Christmas-y vibes are strong (at least in the northern hemisphere), and you can often find a cheeky last-minute flight deal.
May to November is pretty rainy in Nicaragua, so December is usually the month when tourism picks up (the dry season runs until April). It’s considered a less pricey version of Costa Rica: lots of rainforest, active volcanoes and wildlife, and the landscape should be pretty lush after the winter rains. Head to Miraflor Nature Reserve, the Corn Islands or Granada now, before the real crowds arrive in January.
This is a sweet time to visit Germany, and not even for the beer (just FYI, Oktoberfest generally runs in late September). December is Christmas Market time, and Germany is pretty much ground zero for Christmas cheer. Nuremberg market is the most famous, but make sure to check out smaller markets like Dresden, Cologne and Hamburg. Pro tip: don’t eat a restaurant dinner. Just browse the wooden stalls and fill up on Thuringian sausages and garlicky knoblauchbrot.
Cambodia is great in December. Not as hot as April, and not as wet as August. This is a pretty good time to visit Siem Reap, although you might have to put up with busloads of Chinese and Korean tourists (this is their prime holiday time). Try and get in during the first two weeks of December, before the big crowds hit: you can still find some good hotel deals, although we recommend locking in accommodation and Siem Reap tours at least six months in advance.
Image Credit: Gyorgy Bakos, Raghu Nayyar, Shifaaz Shamoon, Hari Nandakumar, Geran de Klerk, Larry Teo, Jezael Melgoza, Willian Justen de Vasconcellos, Michael Barón, Sander Crombach