Our 20 Top Holiday Destinations That Won’t Break the Bank
We make it easy to stick to your budget this festive season.
Published Oct 22, 2018 7:10 PM
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While it’s a fact that resorts and airlines notoriously jack up their prices for the holidays the minute Halloween wraps, we’re here to make sure you don’t sweat the high fares and rates. We’ve hand-selected a bunch of destinations that are both great and easy on your wallet.
Palma de Majorca, Spain
“With its white sand beaches and azure waters, Majorca is a popular summer destination for hordes of British and German tourists,” says travel writer Sarah Crosland. “But the island just off the coast of Spain is much quieter in the winter months—and its main seaside city, Palma, is the perfect base for exploring.” Flying into London, and then taking a discount airline such as Ryanair, will help offset airfare costs into Majorca. To stay, think small, boutique properties, which often run specials during the holidays. “Tucked in the city’s historic district, the Santa Clara Urban Hotel and Spa features airy, high-ceilinged rooms with original limestone walls, sleek furnishings, and luxe bath products, but comes at a price that still allows for plenty of time at the nearby posh shops.”
The City of Brotherly Love is loaded with holiday traditions that make this major metropolis feel cozy and Christmas-y. You can nab great hotel deals while in town, but be sure to stay near Rittenhouse Square: Towering trees are dressed with sparkling white-light balls that feel magical, and put you right in the Christmas spirit. Then, keep the freebies rolling by heading to Comcast’s Holiday Spectacular. The 15-minute, state-of-the-art holiday show—which takes place in the lobby of the Comcast Center—takes viewers on a magical journey featuring classic holiday music; not to mention a short snippet of The Nutcracker, performed by the Pennsylvania Ballet.
New Orleans, Louisiana
Sure, you could drop some serious cash in New Orleans—but the good news is, you can also see the city without going into debt. Book a room at one of the many hotels that line Canal Street, and score deals for under $100 a night. Walk the French Quarter—it has so many cool restaurants—and nosh on a classic New Orleans muffuletta sandwich or bowl of jambalaya for just $7. And although it might be a tad off-budget to actually stay there, it’s worth passing through the Ritz-Carlton’s Davenport Lounge, where you can listen to some authentic New Orleans music.
Italia is not off the table when it comes to budget-friendly holiday travel—you just have to plan strategically. Since Venice and Rome are quite pricey over Christmas, skip the bigger cities and head to Tuscany. “This is the perfect time to avoid the crowds of tourists that pour into Tuscany during the summer, and enjoy your resort’s incredible fare and luxe spa,” says Crosland. “Be sure to venture into the nearby town of Lucca for Christmas markets and celebrations.” Although you can certainly break the bank in Tuscany, opt for a smaller, budget-friendly accommodation where you can still take in all the gorgeousness Tuscany has to offer. “Perched on a Tuscan hillside, Renaissance Tuscany Il Ciocco Resort and Spa offers views of the villages and vineyards from its balconies and restaurant,” says Crosland.
It’s not as popular as, say, Riviera Maya or Cabo San Lucas, but that’s exactly why Tulum is one of the best semi off-the-grid destinations for the holidays: The crowds are smaller, and the feel is less touristy. We recommend opting for a boutique property, since they oftentimes run great deals for the holidays. Crosland loves My Way Boutique Hotel. “It doesn’t have the star power of some of the other upscale yoga retreats and luxury destinations in Tulum, but this bright and modern hotel is in the perfect location to enjoy everything the trendy Mexican beach town has to offer,” she says. “It’s beachfront and tucked off the main road, giving it a feeling of privacy. And the owners and staff may be some of the warmest and most welcoming in Tulum.”
Easily one of the most charming cities during the holidays, Savannah is chock-full of character and history—not to mention, budget-friendly places to dine and stay at. An easy flight to Jacksonville, Florida, will offset costs a bit with airfare, although you’ll need a rental car to get up to Savannah. Even so, you can still save loads on dining and accommodations while in town. There are bed and breakfasts abound in this Southern city, and (unlike hotels) they are affordably priced. Opt for walking tours (Historic Savannah and Haunted Savannah are ideal) throughout the city for just $2.99 per person, and be sure to wander the side streets: Window shopping the smaller, locally-owned boutiques is especially fun during the holidays.
Escaping the cold is oftentimes a top priority for many during the holidays, which means heading south to warm, tropical weather. This explains why Miami is such a great destination over the holidays—not to mention the fact that it’s easy to do on a budget. “Miami offers relatively low airfare from a large number of cities, warm weather in the winter, competitively priced hotels, and a diverse menu of activities for all ages and tastes,” explains Jeff Klee, CEO of CheapAir.com. While airlines hike up fares for other destinations, Miami remains comparatively low, making it a wallet-friendly spot for both Christmas and New Year’s. And as a bonus, there is a plethora of hotels for under $200 a night—on the water, to boot.
Newport Beach, California
This coastal town is one of the best-kept secrets for a budget-friendly holiday. “Affordable flights, proximity to Disneyland, and easy beach access make Newport Beach a winning holiday destination,” says Klee. “Orange County is great for families or couples, and there are lots of free activities to keep you busy. The best budget hotels are near the airport, but the airport is only a 10-minute drive from the beach, and the dining is varied, with great budget options.” Get into the holiday spirit by wandering through the world’s largest small yacht harbor—a 14-mile stretch of canoes, kayaks, and multi-million-dollar yachts, all decorated for the holidays. Better yet, go early to get a good seat for the 109th annual Newport Beach Christmas Boat Parade, a free spectacle of holiday decor and spirit.
Charleston, South Carolina
The City of Churches is beautiful during the holidays, with its colorful, 18th-century row homes dressed in classic white lights, and wreaths with oversized velvet bows. A walk through Belmond Charleston Place scores you a cup of hot milk chocolate and a peek at the hotel’s stunning Christmas decor. Walk through the cobblestoned streets, home to small spots like goat.sheep.cow—and once you’re there, grab some goodies for a picnic at Middleton Place Plantation, a 65-acre former plantation overlooking the Ashley River. Wrap up with a horse-drawn carriage ride around the grounds, which are home to the country’s oldest landscape gardens and stunning, even in the middle of December. Score deals on an Airbnb while in town to avoid pricey rate hikes at the boutique properties.
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
You can score some seriously inexpensive deals when you book an all-inclusive resort on this popular Caribbean island. “Punta Cana is a popular holiday destination for travelers who just want a relaxing getaway near the pool,” says Day. “Right now, you can book a getaway at AlSol Del Mar, an inclusive resort on a white sand beach. With a variety of activities like beach volleyball and scuba diving, there are plenty of options to keep you busy in the sun.”
Belize, Central America
With islands like the Bahamas seeing a serious influx of travelers over the holidays, Belize is a great place to head over to during Christmas and New Year’s. With its tropical rainforest vibe and authentic Central American cuisine, Belize boasts the sun and sand of the Caribbean, but with the adventure of hot spots like Costa Rica. “With plenty of beachfront resorts, it’s the perfect option for an escape from the hustle and bustle of the holidays,” says Day. “In anticipation of holiday travelers, resorts have started listing deals early—sometimes offering travelers up to 50 percent off usual rates. Other snow-weary travelers might have the same idea as you, so book soon to lock in those budget-friendly rates.”
Palm Springs, California
Palm Springs is not just for the rich and famous: In fact, this popular holiday destination is ideal for sun seekers and adventure lovers on a budget. “Palm Springs is a great alternative to the popular Los Angeles,” says Day. “And if you book early, the holiday season can be the perfect time to get a great deal on stylish hotels and spa packages.” Hike or horseback ride through the nearby San Jacinto Mountains, and then, relax by the pool or at the spa. Another great budget-friendly activity? Hop on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, which—for $25 a person—takes you 8,000 feet into the San Jacinto Mountains, so you can get an incredible view of the entire city and beyond. Nab a suite at the 20-room Sparrows Lodge, a restored circa-1952 boutique property that boasts rustic, lodge-like decor in a classic, relaxed Palm Springs setting.
Asheville, North Carolina
This one-time sleepy mountain town has quickly become one of the top foodie destinations in the country, thanks to James Beard award-winning chefs like Elliott Moss of Buxton Hall—and that’s just one of Asheville’s best budget-friendly restaurants, where you can nosh on whole hog and authentic Carolina smoked ‘cue. Although the historic (and a tad pricey) Biltmore Inn might be off the table, nab seriously low rates at one of the city’s B&Bs—like the Beaufort House Inn and 1889 White Gate Inn and Cottage, both of which will be dressed for the holidays. The River Arts District is the heart of Asheville’s cultural center as well, where artists from all genres collide in one of the hippest spots in town. There, you can meet with artists and gain insight into their craft—all without paying a dime.
While the rest of Europe heads south to the Mediterranean for the holidays, head west toward Portugal—the crowds are slim, but the sun is warm. “Lisbon is extremely affordable and sunny during the holiday seasons, so it’s an ideal getaway,” says Tom Meyers, editor of budget travel site EuroCheapo.com. “The city is stunning—it’s hilly and beautiful.” Bonus: Head to Portugal’s coast with wineries abound, and take in the breathtaking ocean views while drinking crisp, white Portuguese wine.
Get in the holiday spirit—for less—by booking holiday travel to Berlin. “Berlin is one of the cheapest capital cities in Western Europe,” says Meyers. “A four-star hotel in Berlin costs the same as a two-star hotel in Paris, Rome, Venice, or even Amsterdam. Berlin is young and edgy and cool, and the price point is great for young-minded travelers.” Plus, the city knows how to get into the holiday spirit—there are hundreds of Christmas markets with carolers, as well as authentic German food and drink (read: mulled wine galore) throughout Germany, but Berlin has the largest. In fact, it boasts at least one market in each of the city’s 12 districts.
While its Central American neighbors Panama and Costa Rica have been getting serious press this past decade, the often overlooked Ecuador should be high on one’s shortlist for inexpensive holiday destinations. “It’s off the beaten path, but it has a rich history, beautiful mountains and beaches, and is very affordable in terms of lodging and food,” says Roshni Agarwal, co-founder of The Vacation Hunt. “A nice hotel in the heart of Quito will only run you about $70. There is public transit to get you to the other main attractions as well, and the delicious food is about $5 to $10 a plate. Because it’s near the equator, it doesn’t get too cold, but there is usually ice and snow on the nearby mountain ranges.”
Newport, Rhode Island
Contrary to popular belief, this New England coastal town is doable on a budget—which makes for an even better reason to visit over the holidays. Head to local favorites like Diego’s Huevos, where you can score a $5 breakfast, and Easton’s Beach Snack Bar, where the $17 twin lobster roll sandwiches are a steal. Plus, the month-long City-by-the-Sea holiday event has the whole city illuminated in white lights that are meant to represent candlelight from days gone by, when families would wait for their loved ones to return home from seafaring adventures. Stay in nearby Middletown, where you can score much cheaper hotel rates.
Riviera Maya, Mexico
Pack your bikini and sunscreen: A jaunt below the border to Riviera Maya, Mexico, is a great option during the holidays. “Skip the all-inclusive resorts, and instead stay at boutique hotels for around $60 a night,” says Agarwal. “Getting around the country—or even from town to town—is very affordable, with bus tickets only costing $1 to $5 a person. Every region of the country has its own specialty food, and it’s all delicious and very affordable, with typical plates between $5 and $10. There are jungles, beaches, cenotes, and Mayan ruins to explore, so there’s something for everyone.”
San Antonio, Texas
There’s good reason San Antonio was ranked the second highest affordable domestic destination for winter travel (just behind the Grand Canyon) by US News & World Report. Chockfull of historic sites (the San Fernanado Cathedral is a must), San Antonio lights up for Christmas with numerous parades—including Light the Way, the Ford Holiday River Parade & Lighting Festival, and the Ford Fiesta de las Luminarias. Plus, the city boasts seriously affordable accommodations, like Hotel Havana. Located on a quiet stretch of San Antonio’s River Walk, Liz Lambert’s Hotel Havana is a 27-room historic property that’s been restored from a 1914 upscale residential hotel, and is a total score when it comes to staying on budget.
New York, New York
While the rest of NYC heads out of town for the holidays, take advantage of the less-crowded tourist sites. “From Broadway shows to Times Square celebrations and some of the best holiday shopping in the world, NYC is at its best during the holidays,” says Rob Day of Secret Escapes, a luxury travel flash deals site. “Nightly rates are usually low and on sale right now. So, you’re able to get more bang for your buck and stay at a four or five-star hotel, giving you an opportunity to experience luxury travel at an affordable price.” Head across the Brooklyn Bridge to the Tillary Hotel in Brooklyn, for example.
This story was originally published on November 10, 2017. Updated with new information on December 22, 2017.
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