Even if you don’t have a spring break to plan, March is still one of the most glorious travel months of the year. The freeze is starting to thaw in much of the country while warmer destinations haven’t gotten so hot you need to shower three times a day. Baseball starts up again, March Madness captures the country for a few weeks, and carefree college kids cram the beaches. Though you won’t exactly find light crowds in March, that shouldn’t deter you from getting away during one of the nicest times of the year. Whether you’re seeking out the northern lights or just a nice place to kick back and work on your tan, here are our picks for the best places to go this March.
If you thought your office NCAA Tournament pool was a good time, clearly you’ve never spent an entire weekend posted up at a sportsbook giving standing ovations because someone covered a point spread. Not only can you watch literally every March Madness game at once in any of Sin City’s finest casinos, but you can also make nine-team parlays on schools you’ve never heard of to pay for your vacation. But don’t plan on it. March is also one of the most pleasant times of the year in Nevada, so if sitting inside a dark casino gets old, you can go hiking, biking, and off-roading without getting scorched or snowed on.
2. Riviera Nayarit, Mexico
Spending spring break bopping around the surf towns near Sayulita and San Pancho has always been a fantastic option for March. It’s prime humpback whale migration season too, so if you’ve worn yourself out on the waves, you can sit back with a cold beer and watch the whales go by. This year you can get plenty of cold ones at the 1 Degree Mezcal and Craft Beer Festival on March 7-8, where there’ll also be mixology classes, food, and live music. Or come later in the month and watch the Banderas Bay International Regatta, which, beyond the boat races, brings some of the biggest parties of the year.
3. Orkney, Scotland
March marks the last part of the year when your odds of seeing the northern lights in Scotland are pretty good, and where better to watch them then from glass-fronted lodges that sit right on the edge of the ocean? This northernmost point of Great Britain is an ideal place to post up in your cozy cabin and wait for the light show to begin. Once you’ve gotten your fill of natural wonders, the island is one of the richest archeological sites in the world, with ruins like the Broch of Gurness and Standing Stones of Stenness dating back over 5,000 years. This sweeping Scottish island is also full of lighthouses atop rocky cliffs, long sandy beaches, and classic distilleries like Highland Park and Deerness. The weather may not always be accommodating, but that’s part of the charm of Scotland.
Ahead of the masses that come with Semana Santa in April, March is an ideal time to take in the Caribbean breezes and wall-top views of Cartagena. The weather is still perfect well into March, when you can climb atop the ramparts of the old city and enjoy a cold drink at Cafe del Mar. Go early in the month, and you’ll be just in time for the 60th annual International Film Festival on March 6-11, where names like Owen Wilson and Michael Shannon headline screenings all over town. March also brings ideal golfing conditions, the perfect opportunity to play South America’s only TPC golf course at the Conrad Cartagena. If you’re not feeling so active, you can explore the city’s vaunted cocktails scene or kill your afternoons at a private beach club on one of Cartagena’s many offshore islands.
4. St. Petersburg, Florida
Florida for spring break is pretty much a no-brainer, but lost behind the bright lights of Miami and the beer bongs of Ft. Myers Beach is possibly the state’s coolest city in St. Petersburg. St. Pete just debuted its new 3,000-foot pier, boasting the state’s only urban beach and a full-scale rum bar. For sports fans, the city is a short drive from spring training sites for the Pittsburgh Pirates in Bradenton and the New York Yankees in Tampa. Plus the Firestone Grand Prix will take over the streets on March 13-15. If the beach is more your calling, the grand Don Cesar — aka the Pink Lady — just finished the first phase of its massive redesign, opening a sparkling new lobby bar to kick off your night. Or if you’d rather wear nothing but flop flops, St. Pete Beach offers plenty of great toes-in-the-sand drinking at spots like the Undertow.
The world’s best destination for arts and culture this month is Taipei, which hosts the 12th annual Taiwan International Festival of the Arts from February 21 to mid-April. During the festival you can watch 17 shows from 10 different countries, spanning dance, music, and theater, plus 40 other lectures, lessons, and exhibitions. Outside the festival, Taipei is teeming with fascinating museums like the National Palace Museum, housing the largest Chinese art collection in the world, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei.
If you’d rather get your art fix outside, check out the Ximending area in the city’s Western District. Its side streets and alleys have some of the best street art in Asia, and most tourists don’t make it out there. However you decide to spend your time in Taipei, make sure it ends with a nightcap at the new Kavalan Whisky Bar. This speakeasy-style bar hidden in the back of a Japanese barbecue restaurant offers several variations of the award-winning single malt Kavalan whisky on tap at cask-strength, as well as innovative cocktails. If you’ve never tried Taiwanese whisky before, there’s no better place to become an expert before the trend explodes stateside.
People used to say that coming to Austin during South by Southwest wasn’t seeing the real Austin, but as tech money and the people who make it have taken the city over, the line between SXSW Austin and regular Austin has blurred. So why not take advantage of the city’s biggest weeks of the year, and hit the technology and music festival headlined this year by Winter and Night Moves? If you prefer your music sans big crowds, Austin just welcomed its first Autograph Collection hotel at the Otis, which offers a massive vinyl library and record players in every room. Or you can relax above the fray at the hotel’s new rooftop bar, Otopia.
Mark your calendars chocolate lovers, as the world’s most renowned chocolate-making country will be devoting an entire week to your favorite confection during Chocolate Week from March 6-15. During that magical 10-day period you’ll be able to stroll through Antwerp, golden passport in hand, and sample chocolates from some of the world’s best chocolatiers.
If that’s not chocolatey enough for you, head over to Brussels and visit the Belgian Chocolate Village, about as close to a real-life Wonka factory as you’ll ever find, complete with mocked-up rainforest and a massive tasting room. Assuming you don’t steal fizzy lifting drink, you can wash down all that chocolate with that other stuff Belgium is known for: beer. Check out Delirium, where you can pick from over 2,400 different varieties, though no word on if they have a wall reserved for people who’ve tried them all.
Granted, India’s colorful dust-throwing Holi festival has spread so far it’s almost like St. Patrick’s day with bigger dry cleaning bills. But if you want to see the real deal, March is the time to go, where cities all over the country celebrate the beginning of spring by playfully dousing others in colorful powder. Delhi will offer you the biggest, craziest celebration. But if you’d like to see Holi in a less-tourist-clogged environment, consider Classic Journeys’ Holi Festival India tour, where you’ll begin in Delhi before moving on to Agra and the Taj Mahal, Jaipur, and two days for the Holi festival in the rural countryside of Deogarh, all while learning more about the cultural significance of the holiday and how the celebrations differ around the country.
9. Hella, Iceland
Though March tends to bring a bit of a lull in Iceland’s nonstop parade of tourists, it’s still always wise to get out of Reykjavik and find less-popular parts of the island. The town of Hella, set along the river Ytri-Rangá, isn’t exactly a bustling metropolis, boasting fewer than 1,000 residents. But it does offer a first-rate luxury hotel at the Hotel Ranga, the odd four-star jumping-off point for the remote ice caves, glacier hikes, and snowmobile tours in the southern part of the country. March brings with it the spring equinox, meaning you’ll have not only ample daylight to get out and do all those wintery things but also enough darkness to possibly catch the northern lights. And with few tourists — and locals in Hella who aren’t weary of them — you’ll get an authentic Icelandic experience without sacrificing any comfort.
You know you’ve got a pretty awesome city when people can come back from a summer trip to a lowland swamp and not mention a thing about the humidity. But awesome as Charleston can be, it’s still best visited in the spring, when the warm southern air isn’t yet thick as gravy, but you can still walk around in shorts. Those shorts should probably have elastic waistbands if you come on March 4-8, when the Charleston Wine and Food Festival takes over the city. You’ll get five days of celebrity chef dinners, epic tastings, and a grand culinary village to sample. Stay at the Hotel Bella Grace, and you’ll have a balcony overlooking the smorgasbord, as well as a convenient place to slip into a food coma. If you want to mix up the non-stop food gorging with another activity, consider hitting the Charleston Antiques Show, a gloriously Southern showcase of classic furniture on March 6-8.
11. Sonoma County, California
March brings the best events of the year to one of the state’s finest wine regions, starting on the first with the 29th Annual Santa Rosa Tattoos & Blues festival. Here you’ll find some of the world’s top tattoo artists and blues bands showing their best stuff at the Flamingo Hotel for a full weekend. If ink’s not your thing, come March 27-29 for the California Artisan Cheese Festival, which might not be the most fragrant event of the year but is definitely among the most delicious. Not into dairy? That’s cool, Charlie Palmer’s got your back with his Pigs & Pinot celebration on the 20th and 21st. Or if you’d rather just snack on popcorn with a good film, come for the Sonoma International Film Festival, which runs citywide March 25-29.