9 ideas for a winter vacation to start planning now | CNN

The arrival of November means winter is quickly approaching. Temperatures are falling across the country, the clocks have turned back an hour and snow has fallen in some areas.

All of this means it’s time to plan your next dream vacation. Whether you want to escape the winter weather and head to the sun or you’re a fan of winter activities like skiing and snowboarding, wintertime is the perfect excuse for a vacation.

Of course, the winter holidays are one of the most popular times to travel throughout the entire year, so now is the time to book holiday travel to ensure you don’t get stuck paying exorbitant prices or find that everything is sold out.

From snowy urban adventures to hitting the slopes or escaping to the sun to work on your tan, we’ve put together a list of the best places to visit for a memorable winter escape.

Explore winter wonderlands and holiday markets

There’s an undeniable charm to exploring a city during the wintertime. Snow falling gently against the streets and green spaces causes a hush only interrupted by the sounds of holiday cheer. And, of course, cities across the world are famous for their holiday decorations, and some — especially in Europe — are known for expansive holiday markets that are sure to put everyone in a festive mood.

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New York City during the holidays.

Each year just after Thanksgiving, New York City turns into one of the most magical winter wonderlands in the world.

The decorations that go up across the city are some of the most iconic you’ll encounter. From the massive Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center to the window decorations at department stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman to ice skating rinks in Central Park, Bryant Park and Rockefeller Center, you’ll be overwhelmed with holiday cheer wherever you look.

Don’t forget to book a ticket to the Radio City Christmas Spectacular put on by The Rockettes, or visit one of the city’s numerous holiday markets in places like Bryant Park and Union Square. And if you’d like to venture outside Manhattan, you won’t want to miss the over-the-top display of holiday lights in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Dyker Heights, where some houses invest thousands of dollars in extravagant light and decoration displays each year.

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Chicago is a great city to visit in the winter months.

The Windy City takes the holidays very seriously, and every corner of the city lights up with holiday cheer, from the boutiques of the Magnificent Mile to the city’s vibrant neighborhoods.

Take a stroll through the famous Lincoln Park Zoo to take in the dazzling ZooLights display, which boasts more than two million lights. Dig out your ice skates or rent a pair and take to the rinks at Millennium Park, which features views of Chicago’s iconic Cloudgate sculpture — commonly known as “The Bean” — or at Maggie Daley Park and its relatively new ice skating ribbon.

Chicago also boasts a perennially popular holiday market hosted in Daley Plaza known as Christkindlmarket. Modeled after a traditional German Christmas market, you can find a whole array of holiday-themed gifts and treats.

The city’s world-famous museums don’t miss out on the chance to contribute to the holiday cheer. Visit the highly regarded Museum of Science and Industry between Nov. 17, 2021, and Jan. 2, 2022, and you’ll catch its “Christmas Around the World and Holidays of Lights” exhibit, which displays 50 Christmas trees decorated in the traditions of countries around the world.

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A traditional market in Vienna.

If you’re like many of us, it’s been a long time since you’ve hopped the pond to visit Europe. While summer is typically the most popular time to visit the continent, wintertime — especially around the winter holidays — presents a uniquely charming time to visit.

While many European cities are enchanting during the winter, Austria’s capital Vienna stands apart. It’s a gorgeous, historic city that gets even more beautiful clothed in lights and a blanket of fresh snow. And during the winter holiday season, Vienna’s ancient squares become the homes of Christmas markets selling all sorts of traditional Viennese and Austrian trinkets and treats.

One of the most famous annual events is known as “Vienna Magic of Advent,” and is set up in City Hall Park. If you have kids in tow, they’ll be in for a treat as the market has a carousel and craft stations and the surrounding areas are decked out in shimmering lights, setting the scene for a memorable experience.

According to the US Embassy in Austria, fully vaccinated Americans aged 12 and older or those who have recently recovered from Covid-19 are allowed to enter Austria without having to quarantine. Keep in mind that when you’re returning to the US, you must have a negative pre-departure Covid-19 test result.

Of course, one of the most popular vacations to take during the winter months is a sports-focused vacation in any of the premier ski destinations around the world. Majestic mountains provide excellent skiing and snowboarding, while cozy lodges provide the perfect ambiance for an après-ski cocktail or meal.

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Hit the slopes this winter.

Colorado is likely the first place that comes to mind when thinking about skiing in the United States. While the state is blessed with numerous premier skiing destinations, Vail is one of the most popular — and for good reason.

Located fewer than 100 miles and about two hours by car from Denver, Vail is a quintessential ski town and home to Colorado’s largest ski resort. Vail Ski Resort is a paradise for winter sport aficionados, providing more than 5,000 acres of space to downhill ski, cross-country ski, snowboard, snow tube, ice skate and more.

The village of Vail is modeled after an Austrian town and provides visitors with plenty of options for eating, drinking, entertainment, high-end shopping and, of course, winter charm in spades.

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Stowe, Vermont, in winter.

While the East Coast may not get as much love as regions out west when it comes to skiing, there are plenty of fantastic destinations for those East Coast residents who don’t want to travel across — or out of — the country to get their ski fix.

Stowe is a charming town located at the foot of Vermont’s highest peak, Mount Mansfield. Stowe offers great skiing for all skill levels, whether it’s your first time on the slopes or you’re an experienced veteran.

After your day on the mountains, head into Spruce Peak Village and go for a stroll, taking in the cold mountain air while you window shop, grab a drink or share a meal with family or friends. While you’re in town, you can also go ice skating or even catch a show at the Spruce Peak Performing Arts Center.

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The valley in Swiss Alps, Verbier, Switzerland.

If you’re itching for a trip abroad and want to experience some of the best skiing in the world, consider a trip to Verbier, located in the Swiss Alps and home to some of the most famous peaks in the entire world.

There’s no doubt Verbier is on the expensive side, as it’s earned quite a glamorous reputation, but after almost two years of extremely limited international travel, this could be the splurge vacation you’ve been waiting for.

Located about two hours from Geneva, Switzerland, Verbier not only offers incredible skiing (and a variety of other winter sports), but the town itself matches the skiing experience with incredible bars, restaurants, nightlife, shopping and so much more.

According to the US Embassy in Switzerland, only Americans who can show proof of full vaccination against Covid-19 are permitted to enter. You must also complete an entry form prior to traveling to Switzerland. And remember, you must have a negative Covid-19 test result in order to return to the United States.

While skiers and snowboarders welcome winter with open arms, those who aren’t winter-sports junkies stuck in colder climes do whatever they can to escape the cold and get to the beach to bask in the sun’s rays and collect that all-important Vitamin D.

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The white sands and turquoise ocean of Miami Beach, Florida.

It probably comes as no surprise to see Miami on this list. While the state of Florida has hundreds of amazing beach towns and cities, Miami is a magnet for so many because it combines some of the best beaches in the country with a cultural, food and nightlife scene that’s hard to match in the United States.

Miami is a relatively easy flight from most places in the US, and even if you don’t want to spend the entire time relaxing by the pool or on the beach, this city offers plenty in the way of attractions. Explore the public art installations at Wynwood Walls, any of the city’s cutting-edge art museums or even the sights and sounds of the famous Calle Ocho in the Little Havana neighborhood.

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Castillo San Felipe del Morro along the coastline in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

If you’d like to get a little farther away but don’t want to leave the United States, Puerto Rico is a great option. Since the island is a US territory, you don’t need to take your passport to enter or depart, so long as you’re flying back to the United States.

The island of Puerto Rico offers so much to travelers, including amazing Caribbean beaches, a flourishing restaurant and bar scene, vibrant culture and more. Most travelers arrive in the capital of San Juan. You can choose to stay there for the duration of your vacation or explore other areas of the island that offer incredible surfing and relaxed, small-town vacation vibes.

Don’t miss a trip to El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rainforest in the national forest system. You’ll be treated to a breathtaking amount of natural biodiversity, stunning scenery and plenty of opportunities for hikes and other outdoor activities.

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Palm Beach in Aruba.

Putting the “A” in the ABC Islands (the other two being Bonaire and Curaçao), Aruba is a fantastic destination for anyone craving the sun.

Located outside the typical hurricane path, the island is great for the whole family, with numerous family-oriented vacation hotels and plenty of activities available for kids. It’s also blessed with agreeable weather year-round, with temperatures remaining remarkably consistent and a steady breeze to keep you cool at the pool or beach. Speaking of beaches, Aruba has some of the best around, with powdery white sand and stunning, calm and warm turquoise waters.

If you want to leave the hotel and explore, the island has plenty to offer, including Arikok National Park, home to an incredible range of wildlife and stunning desert terrain. Back in town, there are plenty of restaurants, bars and nightclubs to entertain even the most dedicated foodies and night owls.

Traveling to Aruba from the US requires that adults take a Covid-19 PCR test at least three days prior to travel. You must also get approval to travel to the country online via the government of Aruba, and you will need a negative Covid-19 test result in order to return to the US.