The signs may be small, but they're noticeable: The days are growing longer, the birds are singing louder, and fragrant blooms are filling the air with an earthy musk. There's no doubt about it--spring is on its way. But while nature takes its course on cue, ushering in pleasant temperatures, sunny skies, and gorgeous blooms, we often have a hard time moving on from the dark days of winter. Fortunately, there's an easy way to get our internal clocks up to speed: indulge in a little vacation.
Whether you're looking to fix your vitamin D deficiency with a couple of days on the beach or shake the snow off your clothes as you boogie to some fiesta -worthy beats, these vibrant spring retreats offer a variety of ways to help you thaw. From postcard-worthy sites to opportunities for heart-pumping adventures, here are 10 cities that are sure to help bring you out of your winter slumber to revel in exciting events, scenery, and springtime bliss.
Our nation's capital draws thousands of revelers at this time of year, thanks to its beautiful scenery: During March and April, the district's white marble monuments are accented by the bright pink cherry blossoms surrounding the Tidal Basin. But the flowering trees not the only reason to plan a spring visit. This sweet season follows icy winter winds and precedes summer's sweltering humidity, guaranteeing comfortable weather. Plus, D.C. caters to a variety of travelers thanks to its wealth of museums, monuments, restaurants, and nightlife venues. Although hotel prices rise as people flock to the city for the annual Cherry Blossom Festival, your vacation costs will be offset by the numerous free things to do here.
Washington, D.C. isn't the only country capital that springs to life with gorgeous pink blossoms during March and April. On the opposite side of the world, Tokyo's cherry trees proudly display their blushing blooms, luring thousands of spectators to the city's urban parks. And with March and April's pleasant temperatures hovering in the 60s and 70s, you'll have no trouble spending your days among the city's pink petals. Just be prepared to battle heavy crowds, as the cherry blossoms aren't the only thing drawing travelers to Tokyo at this time of year. Fans of Japanese art and animation swarm the city in March for the Tokyo International Anime Fair and Art Fair Tokyo. The end of April also ushers in a host of national holidays known as the "Golden Week," so be prepared for lower hotel availability and higher room rates.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
When winter starts to wane and Europe's on the brain, those travelers seeking a little wanderlust turn their thoughts to one city: Paris. However, savvy jetsetters who turn their attention to the north will find Amsterdam to be less crowded, yet just as enchanting as the City of Lights. That is, unless you visit at the end of April, when locals take to the streets to celebrate Queen's Day, the Netherlands' largest national festival. If you're in town on April 30, don your orange (in honor of the royal family) and join in the celebration. Though a jacket and an umbrella are certainly recommended for a spring trip to Amsterdam (temperatures stay between the 40s and 60s and rain is common), you can always warm up and dry off in one of the city's ambient cafés and cultural attractions, like the Van Gogh Museum. If you happen to catch a sunny day, spend it biking along the canals or watching the tulips burst into bloom in Vondelpark.
[See: Best Spring Vacations]
New Orleans, La.
Mardi Gras may be over, but the party is just getting started in the Big Easy. Before the sticky summertime heat sets in, New Orleans takes to the streets to showcase some of the many aspects of Crescent City culture. In April, on the heels of carnival season, the intoxicating aroma of NOLA favorites (like crawfish and jambalaya) and grooves to Zydeco and brass-band tunes waft through the French Quarter during the French Quarter Festival. If you're craving for tunes and tastes still isn't satisfied, stick around for the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience, which keep the good times rolling well into the summertime. But be warned: With all the rollicking festivals and parties going on, you should be prepared for higher hotel rates and lower last-minute availability.
Don't expect April showers to bring May flowers in Melbourne; instead, Melburnians are gearing up for the arrival of winter. But this laid-back Australian city doesn't simply hunker down and wait for winter. In fall, gold-leafed trees set the city ablaze with color and a bevy of exciting festivals provide plenty of excuses to enjoy the great outdoors. To make the most out of autumn in Melbourne, plan to visit in March when 60-degree temperatures provide a pleasant atmosphere for partaking in the city's jam-packed cultural calendar. Wine aficionados and foodies will also want to get a taste for all the city's flavors at the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival, which takes place throughout the month of March and encompasses coffee and wine tastings, cooking demonstrations, and "World's Longest Lunch." Still craving more thrills? To fuel your need for speed, nab seats at the Australian Grand Prix Formula One race.
Sandwiched between prime proposal and wedding seasons, May and June serve as the best time to visit this far-flung Caribbean hotspot--that is, as long as you wait for the snowbirds to fly the coop. The key to avoiding heavy crowds (and subsequently lower hotel rates) is to wait out the winter thaw. If you can delay a March or April getaway by several weeks, you can easily nab a room in a four-star beachfront hotel for less than $200 a night. Late-comers will also see a different side of St. Lucia; every May, the island sheds its peaceful, romantic disposition in favor of a wild streak for its 13-day cultural event known as the Saint Lucia Jazz & Arts Festival. When you're not soaking up the sun, absorb the melodies at venues all over the island. But a word of caution to traveling beach bums: The closer your trip is to the summer months, the more likely it is you'll encounter rain.
[See: Best Caribbean Vacations]
Winter may linger in the Canadian capital, but that's how Ottawans like it. After all, it's the chilly temperatures that help the maple trees produce sap, and the prolonged thaw that allows the syrup producers to make the most out of tree-tapping season. You can learn all about the elaborate maple sugar making process at the Maple Sugar Festival in March. If you'd rather avoid the chilly temps, plan to visit Ottawa in May when temperatures hover in the 60s. This is also when the city shows its true colors, when thousands of blooming tulips drench the city in vibrant hues during the Canadian Tulip Festival. You can enjoy springtime's kaleidoscopic view as you stroll around Parliament Hill or sample beaver tail pastries at the ByWard Market.
The "Live Music Capital" welcomes the spring season with a flurry of festivals, including the famous South by Southwest (SXSW) gathering, which takes place in March. One of America's most popular music events, SXSW draws thousands of audiophiles to Austin each year. But that's not the only reason to head to this "weird" Texan city in the spring. If you're a fan of art, you won't want to miss the annual Austin Fine Arts Festival in April. Or, if you're a foodie craving gourmet culinary specialties (and a cool glass of vino) head to the Austin Food & Wine Festival, also held in April. Still not sold? Try topping Austin's overflowing cultural calendar with sunny, 80-degree weather--perfect for an ambient afternoon stroll through Zilker Park's botanical gardens.
If your ideal post-winter retreat involves hiking through verdant rainforests, lounging along golden sands, and mingling with exotic animals, consider planning a trip to Costa Rica. But you'd better act quickly--as April comes to a close, this small tropical paradise prepares for the rainy season, when frequent downpours can put a damper on a day in the great outdoors. But because the off-season is fast approaching, you'll have an easier time scoring deals on airfare and hotel rooms if you book soon. And without as many tourists clogging the misty rainforests, you'll feel as though you have the great outdoors all to yourself... well, and the Capuchin monkeys, of course. If you can tear yourself from the trails, make your way to San José and bask in floral aromas during the National Orchid Show in March.
Lake Tahoe, Calif.
Winter comes only once a year, and for some, that's not nearly often enough. If you're one of the many powder-hounds who wasn't able to make it to the slopes as many times as you'd hoped, you're in luck. The temperatures may be climbing, but on Lake Tahoe's mountains, the snow is there to stay--at least for a little while longer. Because the region sees nearly 500 inches of snowfall every year, the runs at popular ski and snowboard spots like Squaw Valley USA can stay open well into May. Have you ever skied in a T-shirt? Now is your chance. And because the powder hounds have mostly dispersed, you should find the slopes to be less crowded than they are at the height of ski season.
[In Pictures: 10 Places to Visit This Spring]
--Miriam B. Weiner