We could probably guess at least a few of the items on your travel bucket list. There’s a good chance that it includes some of the world’s most popular cultural events and destinations, like Carnival in Venice, cherry blossom season in Japan, and Oktoberfest in Munich. Just about every traveler dreams of experiencing those destinations during those moments — and, as a result, crowds of explorers flock to Venice in February, Japan in April, and Munich in September and October.

In this guide, we’re outlining some of the world’s most spectacular destinations by month — but there’s a twist. These are the places that may not immediately come to mind when you start planning your travels for January, or February, or March, or… you get the idea.

So, if you’d like to discover a few of the world’s best-kept travel secrets, you’ve come to the right place.

Bon voyage!

A couple walking along the sand dunes in Cabo Polonio, Uruguay
Photo by Paz Arando

January

Celebrate the New Year with a completely new experience. If you’ve always dreamed of exploring South America or adventuring in the Alps, January is the perfect time to take the plunge.

Uruguay’s warm temperatures aren’t the only reason that travelers should consider heading south for the winter. The country is home to the longest Carnival celebration in the world, beginning in late January and continuing through early March. Uruguay’s festival is far less touristy than its counterparts in neighboring countries, and it brings music, dance, theatrical performances, and excited revelers to the streets of every city. If Carnival alone isn’t enough to persuade you to buy a plane ticket, Uruguay also offers incredible cultural sites (Colonia del Sacramento), lively beach towns (Punta del Este), and natural hot springs (Salto). You can even backpack to Punta del Diablo, a beautiful seaside resort graced with incredible sunsets. But be aware that even though Punta del Diablo remains unknown to the typical tourist crowds, thousands of South American vacationers flock to the town at this time of year.

If you’d prefer to embrace the cold, then the Italian Dolomites just might be the place for you. You’ve probably seen photos of these jagged peaks in the height of summer, when their alpine meadows provide a paradise for hikers, but ever since Cortina d’Ampezzo hosted the Winter Olympics in 1956, the Dolomites have been one of the world’s premier cold-weather destinations as well. The region’s dozen ski resorts are home to about 750 miles (1,200 kilometers) of pistes, often attracting high-profile celebrities and well-known public figures. That said, you don’t have to be rich or famous to ski in the Dolomites — this winter wonderland is fairly inexpensive and beloved by all who carve their way down its slopes.

Sigiriya, Sri Lanka, during Golden Hour
Photo by Chandler Borries

February

If Sri Lanka isn’t on your radar now, it will be soon. More and more people are venturing to the island, which Lonely Planet listed as its number one travel destination for 2019. And with its verdant jungles, rich culture, ancient temples, gorgeous beaches, healthy biodiversity, delicious food, and vibrant surf scene, it’s easy to see why the island is attracting attention. Of course, the increasing interest has meant that prices and tourist numbers are rising, too, but even so, the island is likely to keep its status as a (reasonably) budget-friendly and (fairly) off-the-beaten-path location.

The second month of the year is one of the best times to explore Sri Lanka, and if you stick to the southern and western parts of the island, you’ll enjoy warm waters and sunny skies — all while avoiding the daily deluge that monsoon season brings to those shores. You can (and should) also venture inland to can’t-miss spots like the Cultural Triangle, where you’ll find ancient ruins, Buddhist temples, tea plantations, and national parks.

Unfortunately, different monsoon patterns guarantee heavy rainfall in the northeast in February, but with so much to do, see, and experience on other parts of the island, you shouldn’t have an issue staying dry.

Sand dunes in Oman
Photo by Giorgio Parravicini

March

You may not have heard much about Oman, but it’s time to pay attention to this country. Oman is one of the most beautiful destinations on the Arabian Peninsula, and in March, you’ll hit the sweet spot of the shoulder season, allowing you to avoid both large crowds and suffocating heat.

Take a city-break in lovely Muscat, and spend your time touring mosques, forts, museums, and souks, or even watching dolphins play along the waterfront. When you’ve had your fill of Oman’s capital city, head to the country’s interior, where you’ll find everything from massive sand dunes to sparkling turquoise waterfalls. No matter what kind of adventure you’re hankering for, we guarantee that you’ll find it in Oman’s magical capital and wild landscapes.

The Salar de Uyuni, an unexpected destination in the spring.
Photo by Pierre Ricadat

April

Now that spring has officially sprung, you might want to make your way to Cyprus. The Mediterranean island is heavenly at this time of year, with its warm seas, blooming wildflowers, and impossibly green expanse. Spring also marks the beginning of Cyprus’ peak travel season, but its garden-like beauty is more than enough to make up for the thickening throngs of travelers.

April is also the last month of Bolivia’s rainy season, and given the amount of heavy precipitation, you may have a hard time accessing the country’s lowlands and rainforests. However, the rain transforms the Salar de Uyuni — the world’s largest salt flats — into the planet’s largest reflective surface, and the mirror-like wonderland is a sight to behold. Whether you take a dip in the natural hot springs, strike out in search of flamingos, or document your adventure with gorgeous photos, you won’t soon forget this one-of-a-kind locale.

Brighton is one of the U.K.'s best beach destinations, especially in May.
Photo by Joseph Pearson

May

You would be forgiven for believing that you should avoid British beach towns in May. But Brighton is no ordinary beach town. Sure, the city’s world-famous pier needs no introduction, but you’re probably less familiar with its eclectic neighborhoods, buzzing coffee culture, and abundant green spaces. You also might not realize that South Downs National Park — which offers fantastic hiking and cycling options — is located just outside the city. And Brighton is even home to an excellent art gallery and observation tower.

On top of everything else, England’s largest multi-arts festival sets up shop in Brighton every May, so if you stop by at this time of year, expect to be dazzled! This is a British beach town at its best.

A mountainside in Liechtenstein, one of Europe's least touristy destinations.
Photo by Dario Gartmann

June

June heralds the arrival of summer — and the beginning of the peak travel season in many places around the globe. To make the most of your summertime wanderings, you might want to head to a country where the travelers are (relatively) few and far between. Enter Liechtenstein.

Wedged between Austria and Switzerland, this near-microscopic state is one of Europe’s least touristy destinations. But thanks to its towering mountains, it serves up much bigger adventures than you might expect. Trek along the brand-new Liechtenstein Trail, or if you prefer to explore on two wheels, try cycling your way around the country via mountain bike. When you need a break from your high-octane activities, you can visit one of the country’s many castles or even tour a winery owned by the kingdom’s very own prince.

Sounds pretty dreamy, right?

A beach in Wales, one of July's unexpected destinations.
Photo by Sammy Leigh Scholl

July

If there’s anything we just don’t understand about worldwide travel trends, it’s the fact that Wales and Mongolia don’t get more attention on the global scene.

Wales is home to some of the U.K.’s most picturesque beaches, castles, mountains, trails, and views, but it’s often overlooked in favor of other destinations across the island nation. And although Welsh weather patterns are notoriously temperamental, you’re most likely to enjoy blue skies in July. Make the most of the summer sunshine by trekking along the country’s 870-mile (1,400-kilometer) Coastal Path, or take to the mountains (and stargaze) at Brecon Beacons National Park. Then learn more about the country’s human history by exploring a castle or two (we recommend Conwy, Caernarfon, and Carreg Cennen) or visiting ancient stone circles, cairns, mines, and burial chambers. Before you return home, be sure to stop in Cardiff to have a pint at a pub and walk along the waterfront.

On the other side of the world, Mongolia makes for another unforgettable July getaway. During this summer month, towns and villages across the country host the Naadam Festival, a competition that shines the spotlight on three traditional Mongolian sports: wrestling, horseback riding, and archery. (If you can, skip the Naadam in Ulaanbaatar and head into the country’s provinces for smaller, more authentic celebrations.) The Gobi Desert is hottest in midsummer, so you might want to avoid this region, but July also brings an abundance of rainfall to the country’s steppes, ensuring that they’re well watered, green, and at their most beautiful. This is midsummer travel done right!

Wildlife at a watering hole in Zimbabwe
Photo by Christine Donaldson

August

In much of Africa, August is considered peak season. With large groups of climbers attempting to bag Kilimanjaro, whale-watchers and wildflower-lovers migrating to South Africa, and safari-goers heading to Kenya and Tanzania for the Great Wildebeest Migration, the continent’s most beloved places can get a little crowded.

Though Zimbabwe is a wildly popular African destination, too, its wildlife reserves don’t feel quite as clogged as those of other sub-Saharan countries. Zimbabwe’s national parks are home to elephants, lions, zebras, giraffes, leopards, hippos, rhinos, crocodiles, and many, many more beautiful creatures living in their natural habitat. And since August marks the middle of the country’s dry season, it isn’t difficult for local guides to divine where the animals will go (namely, wherever they can find water), so you’ll have a good chance of spotting lots of magnificent wildlife during your trip.

Of course, Zimbabwe’s most famous natural wonder — Victoria Falls — does get crowded in August, but it’s so spectacular that you might not even notice the other people around you. And since the water levels are relatively low, you’ll enjoy unbelievable (read: not-overly-misty) views of the falls. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can even go swimming or whitewater rafting in the river below!

A sailboat in a calanque near Marseille
Photo by Matthieu da Cruz

September

Every midsummer, the fields of southern France come to life in brilliant purples and yellows, courtesy of the region’s famous lavender and sunflowers. But the magic doesn’t end just because summer comes to a close. Provence is perhaps the most idyllic destination in France, and travelers can find plenty of reasons to explore the region during the shoulder season.

By early fall, both the temperatures and the crowds have cooled off, but the fairytale landscape — complete with Roman ruins, tiny villages, and fruitful vineyards — is as bewitching as ever. Cities like Aix-en-Provence retain their appeal, and menus across the region feature aromatic spices and seasonal ingredients like chestnuts and wild mushrooms. Just outside Marseille, the Parc National des Calanques (a series of limestone inlets that have formed bright-blue bays) makes for an unforgettable day trip and a perfect way to end your adventure.

A lake in a national park during autumn
Photo by Elyse Turton

October

While you may feel inclined to stay inside as the weather cools down, don’t! Many of North America’s national parks are at their best in autumn.

In the U.S., Acadia and Great Smoky Mountains dazzle visitors with their colorful displays of foliage, but the nation’s lesser-known parks put on a show, too. Shenandoah, Cuyahoga Valley, and North Cascades are all stunning as the leaves change. Or, if you’d rather trade red leaves for red rock, parks like Arches, Bryce Canyon, and the Grand Canyon become much more tourist-friendly come fall, as crowds thin out and temperatures drop.

To the north, Banff and Jasper usually get the lion’s share of attention, but several less popular Canadian parks (including Pukaskwa, Elk Island, Cape Breton Highlands, and Prince Edward Island) are well worth a visit. With their exciting cultural events, gorgeous autumnal colors, and quiet beaches and trails, fall is the perfect time to explore these off-the-beaten-path parks.

A dock in Belize, one of the world's most beautiful destinations
Photo by Michiel Ton

November

By the time November rolls around, you’re probably longing for warm weather in a tropical setting, and Belize definitely fits the bill. With its jungle scenery and underwater adventures, the Central American nation is an exciting destination for the outdoorsy travelers among us. Try snorkeling on the Belize Barrier Reef or hiking through the rainforest (though you should keep an eye out for iguanas, toucans, and howler monkeys!). Or, if you prefer, you can venture to Maya ruins to learn more about the country’s fascinating cultural heritage.

The eleventh month is divided by Belize’s rainy season (continuing through mid-November) and peak season (beginning around American Thanksgiving). That said, there’s very little hurricane risk in November, and if you time your trip for the middle of the month, you’ll enjoy fairly light rainfall and thin crowds. Have fun!

Skyscrapers in Dubai, one of the world's best December destinations.
Photo by David Rodrigo

December

At the end of the year, many people dream of exploring Europe’s most festive markets or catching flights to visit their relatives in distant cities. It’s often difficult to separate December travel from the holidays, but in Dubai, the winter experience is truly unique. Say goodbye to the powdery snow of your hometown and get ready for the perpetual sunshine of the glitziest emirate, where the world’s most extravagant man-made sights await.

It’s peak season, though, so note that prices are high — but even so, this excursion is the trip of a lifetime. Walk along the waterfront, take a hot-air balloon ride in the desert, get your holiday shopping done in world-famous malls and souks, and take an elevator to the observation decks in the Burj Khalifa. And if you really can’t imagine a winter trip without some ski runs, well, the city has that covered too. If one thing is certain, Dubai doesn’t disappoint.

No matter where your adventures take you this year, we hope you’ll enjoy the ride. Happy travels!

Which unexpected destination would you most like to explore? Let us know in the comments below! And if you’re looking for more travel inspiration, check out our top 19 destinations for 2019.

Header image by Kyle Sterk
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Whitney Brown
Whitney Brown is a recent journalism graduate and travel writer based in Utah. She has lived in France and Ireland, and she's always planning her next big adventure. In addition to her passion for travel, Whitney loves archaeology, photography and floral design.