You don’t have to be a student to treat yourself to spring break. Whether you’re searching for art and culture, outdoor adventure or food and wine, here are six amazing vacations to take while you’re waiting for the summer sunshine to kick in.
Confession: Until we visited Budapest, we didn’t think much of it. But we were immediately enamored of this jaw-dropping city with its medieval castles, art-nouveau buildings and chain bridges glistening over the Danube River. Beginning in April, temperatures rise to the mid 60s—perfect weather for exploring the city by foot, climbing up scenic Buda Castle, dipping in the thermal baths (Széchenyi was our favorite) and sipping Tokaj wine alfresco. The best part of all? It’s insanely cheap, so you can feast on goulash and stuffed cabbage at Hungarikum Bisztro for pocket change.
While often overshadowed by Tokyo, Osaka, the third-largest city in Japan, deserves the spotlight…especially for foodies. It is, after all, the culinary capital of Japan, boasting everything from opulent, Michelin-starred restaurants to out-of-this-world street food (think: rice balls wrapped in nori, savory pancakes loaded with pork belly and vegetables and deep-fried meat skewers that will make your head spin). If you’re going to splurge, make it the 14-course meal at Fujiya 1935. And don’t leave without a visit to Kuromon Ichiba Market, where Osaka’s chefs buy ingredients like uni and Kobe beef.
DOURO VALLEY, PORTUGAL
It’s a bold statement, but the Douro Valley might be the most underrated wine region in the world (and also possibly the most stunning). Located in northern Portugal, just an hour east of Porto, the Douro River snakes through miles of lush, terraced vineyards. By July and August, the hot, dry weather can be oppressive, but springtime is gorgeous. Go wine tasting with a view at Quinta do Crasto and Quinta das Carvalhas, where you can try full-bodied reds like Touriga Nacional and fresh, fruit-forward white blends made from the native Rabigato and Viosinho grapes.
An Italian summer getaway sounds romantic and dreamy, but in reality, it’s a zoo: Hotels are exorbitant, the lines for gelato are endless and every beach chair on the Amalfi Coast is taken by 9 a.m. Our plan: Visit the majestic island of Sicily before high season hits. The island is a mishmash of cultures, and everything from the architecture to the cuisine shows Greek, Arab and Spanish influence. In Palermo, medieval streets and colorful markets meet lemon trees and terra-cotta-walled cafés, while in the undeveloped Aeolian Islands, you can hike volcanoes and snorkel in the dizzyingly blue Tyrrhenian Sea.
GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS, TENNESSEE
For outdoor enthusiasts and adventure seekers, Great Smoky Mountains are a dream come springtime. In April, the vistas of the Blue Ridge Parkway burst into color with wildflowers, and the weather is mild and breezy. Renting a place in the friendly town of Gatlinburg is a great option for budget travelers or, for a splurge, consider Blackberry Farm, a stunning wellness and culinary retreat just minutes from the mountains in the town of Walland.
The state of Oaxaca in southwest Mexico is a far cry from the busy beaches of Cancun or Cabo. Though still on the fringes, it’s a blossoming, culturally rich city, home to museums, colorful crafts, baroque churches and impressive Spanish colonial architecture. It also boasts one of the most exciting food scenes in all of Mexico. (Think: barbacoa, tamales and grilled masa cakes covered in mole sauce.) Want some downtime? The laid-back beaches of Mazunte and Puerto Escondido and the resort town of Huatulco are three incredible stretches of Pacific coastline.