February travel doesn’t have to revolve around romance-though Valentine’s Day is the ideal excuse to whisk your beloved off on a surprise trip or treat yourself to a solo jaunt with the money you save on chocolates and flowers. It’s also the month when Carnival celebrations occur on almost every continent, which is the perfect time to party in a new place, whether sweltering in the Caribbean or wrapped up cozily in the heart of Europe.
1. Sapporo, Japan
February is great for: the fanciest snowmen you’ll ever see.
Come to the city on Japan’s northernmost main island, Sapporo, for the weeklong Snow Festival (or Sapporo Yuki Matsuri) there. The installations here are often crafted over months by large teams and include complicated frames on which the snow is sculpted. The main site is Odori Park, where a dozen or so masterworks will be on show-head up to the Sapporo TV Tower nearby for an aerial view-plus the family-focused Tsu Dome, complete with snow slides and rafting.
It emerged thanks to glorious happenstance: A cluster of schoolkids idled away an afternoon on a wintry day in 1950, making a half-dozen snow sculptures after an extreme blizzard-and they proved masterpieces enough to draw 50,000 spectators. From there, it snowballed into the massive, citywide event it is today; it will run February 4–11 in 2024.
Where to stay
- Book now: Stream Hotel
This hotel, which opens in January 2024, sits right at the heart of the city in Susukino Crossing on the top floors of a mixed-use building that also handily houses a movie theater and supermarket. Rooms have an industrial chic edge-think burnished bronze and exposed brick detailing.
How to get to Sapporo
Take your pick of flights to Tokyo, then connect on a domestic flight. Note that Tokyo has two airports, HND and NRT, so make sure that your connecting flight departs from the same one as where you land (they’re far from easy to connect between).
2. Rekjavík, Iceland
February is great for: neon winter wonderlands and natural wonders.
From February 1 to 4, the Icelandic capital explodes into midwinter color, via the Winter Lights Festival, which commandeers its windblown streets and installs light sculptures and projections in their midst.
On the evening of February 4, museums and thermal pools across the city will stay open late and allow anyone to visit-all events in this festival are completely free-so take your pick between engaging with high culture and grabbing a snapshot of everyday Icelandic life (or try to cram in both).
If you’re in the country this month, consider adding on a few days to try to see the Northern Lights-known as Norðurljós in Icelandic. The best time is when skies are darker, around the new moon (which occurs this month on Friday 9) and expect to see this all-natural light show between 11 p.m. and midnight.
Where to stay
Book now: The Retreat at the Blue Lagoon
Spend a night at arguably the city’s most famous sight, the man-made hot springs known as the Blue Lagoon. The bonus from a booking at this luxury boutique hotel on-site is access to a private section, a chance to idle in the waters without the crowds. (Note: The Blue Lagoon is currently closed amid volcanic eruption concerns.)
How to get to Reykjavík
You can take national carrier Icelandair to Reykjavík and disembark from 13 U.S. cities, including Raleigh-Durham and Orlando.
3. Central Highlands, Mexico
February is great for: seeing one of nature’s most beautiful, fleeting phenomena.
Look around this area in Michoacán in February, and the trees will be a shimmering orange-not from blossoms or leaves, but rather from the Monarch butterflies that migrate here over a 3,000-mile journey to their wintering grounds; some 250 million will take up temporary residence, mostly on the oyamel or native fir trees. On arrival, many occupy the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, a 139-acre site that is partially protected but also has areas that the public can roam to see these colorful insects up close.
It’s a marvel that the local Indigenous culture considered a sign of their ancestors returning, mostly because the butterflies begin to arrive here in November, coinciding with the Day of the Dead, and linger until early spring. If you want to learn the most about this magnificent natural phenomenon, travel with a guide, like those provided by Natural Habitat Adventures.
Where to stay
- Book now: Hotel Avándaro
The 81-room property was first built in 1960 and sits in Valle de Bravo. There are golf and tennis courts on-site, and exploring the cobbled streets of that colonial-era town is within easy reach.
How to get to Mexico’s Central Highlands
Head to Mexico City as the starting point, which has nonstop service to several cities including Los Angeles and New York. Look for the extensive, combined network of SkyTeam partners AeroMexico and Delta. From the capital city, the highlands are about a around 3.5 hours’ drive up to the mountains.
4. Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands
February is great for: a passport-free snowbird’s paradise.
If you’re caught short with an expired passport, don’t despair of your chance to get a midwinter sunshine break. St Thomas, like the rest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, is a territory you can visit passport-free.
St. Thomas offers eight hours of consistent sunshine and temperatures that hover comfortably in the low 90s, so no wonder the island cluster is expecting a 25 percent growth in visits over the winter versus the last comparable, prepandemic season. Come see the frigangs, the 18th-century step streets made of bricks. They were used as ship ballast to help Danish settlers scurry up and down the steep hills near the waterfront.
Where to stay
- Book now: The Pink Palm
The year-old boutique property, in the hills above Charlotte Amalie, has superb views over its harbor. It’s a reimagining of old guesthouse Smith’s Fancy, which dates back to 1948 and was one of the first spots to draw luxury tourists to the islands.
How to get to St. Thomas
There are direct flights from STT to more than a dozen U.S. cities, including Charlotte and Philadelphia (American), Atlanta (Delta), and Boston (JetBlue).
5. Sun Valley, Idaho
February is great for: cheering on cross country’s most impressive skiers.
With an average snowfall of 40 inches this month, the resort town is at its most skiable, with superb powder and upgraded amenities this year: There are new Warm Springs lifts opening at Sun Valley Resort, with 35 percent quicker rides and new runs that only make Bald Mountain more appealing. Come, too, for the Boulder Mountain Tour on February 3, when 800 Nordic ski racers will compete in a grueling cross-country race.
Make sure to spend time indoors at the July 2023–opened Wood River Museum of History and Culture, which explores the history of the area via two dedicated galleries: the Tribal Room, dedicated to the Shoshone and Bannock tribes that have long called the area home, and the Cabinet of Wonders, filled with man-made artifacts that tell the story of central Idaho’s more recent history.
Where to stay
- Book now: Knob Hill Inn
The 30-year-old boutique hotel downtown has 29 rooms, all with Sun Valley views from their balconies, bathrooms with heated floors, and on-demand transportation provided throughout Sun Valley and Ketchum.
How to get to Sun Valley
Take your pick of direct flights: Alaska connects to Seattle, Delta to Salt Lake City, and United has routes to San Francisco, Denver, Los Angeles, and Chicago.
6. Cape Town, South Africa
February is great for: African art in the rightful setting.
It’s the 11th edition of the Investec Cape Town Art Fair, which brings exhibitors from 20 countries to showcase work for three days, February 16–18. It’s Africa’s largest art fair, with an emphasis on work from the continent. This year’s theme for its curated section: unbound, intending to look at how the experience of art can liberate the mind.
The entire city embraces the arts at this time, with local galleries like THK and Stevenson offering late-night openings, and homegrown auctioneer Aspire hosting sales at its Cape Town location. All that, plus the chance to check out Zeitz MOCAA, the splashy reimagining of an old grain silo here into a cutting-edge art and hospitality complex, funded by the V&A Waterfront.
Where to stay
- Book now: Art House Collection
Art collector Elana Brundyn runs Art House Collection with an assortment of chic options around town. Try the two-bedroom Bantry Bay spot decorated with an impressive assortment of local artwork courtesy of collector Veronique Savigne.
How to get to Cape Town
Delta has a three-times weekly nonstops from ATL to CPT, while United operates from EWR and IAD with a similar frequency.
February is great for: Chinese New Year, with a twist.
Just over one in five Malaysians has Chinese heritage. It’s a reason to consider coming here during Chinese New Year to see how this festival is celebrated in distinctive ways among this diaspora. Yee sang, for one: This traditional dish combining pickled vegetables and raw fish, usually salmon, is eaten by Chinese Malaysians at this time; they will toss the ingredients together as rowdily as possible, since the messier and higher-piled the resulting salad, the greater the abundance of the coming year.
Since so many of the immigrants here came from southern China, they also retain traditions from that region, like Chap Goh Mei, on the 15th day of New Year. Think of it as a folksy riff on Valentine’s Day: Traditionally women would throw oranges into the ocean as an offering that hoped to bring good fortune (and a husband). Nowadays, they might hurl one or two with their phone number.
Where to stay
- Book now: Eastern & Oriental Express, a Belmond Train
Take a tour round the country with the newly relaunched luxury train-the first new itinerary kicks off on February 19, heading from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, chugging through rice paddies and rural villages, and including a trip to the Pulau Payar Marine Park.
How to get to Malaysia
There is no nonstop service to the capital, Kuala Lumpur, from the USA. Consider, instead, routing via the Middle East on a carrier like Emirates. It’s a 26-hour journey, including a 4-hour layover in Dubai, from Washington D.C., for example. Otherwise, Singapore Airlines has a nonstop from EWR to Singapore, currently the world’s longest flight, at nearly 18 hours; it’s a short hop from there to Kuala Lumpur.
8. Zurich, Switzerland
February is great for: an off-kilter approach to Carnival.
ZuriCarneval is centered around the oompah-heavy Guggen marching bands, which perform from February 16 to 18 in a heated marquee in Hirschenplatz, right in the heart of the Old Town’s Niederdorf quarter. Expect a brass-heavy soundscape, playing an assortment of Caribbean and Latin American music-the highlight is the aptly named Monster Konzert on Saturday night. If you’d rather have a little New Orleans–style slickness, head over to Münsterhof, where bands focus more on jazz.
Locals will often mark the festival by wearing intricately designed masks, much as they might in Venice, so make sure to pack something that allows you to join in as the parade unspools around the city center on Sunday afternoon. Families can participate in the kids’ carnival on the Rathausbrücke bridge on the Saturday afternoon before.
Where to stay
- Book now: La Reserve Eden au Lac Zurich
The Belle Epoque–era palace was rebooted as a luxury hotel via a Philippe Starck–driven overhaul three years ago; the French designer intended for it to evoke life on a yacht, a nod to Lake Zurich nearby. Note the blue and white balcony awnings and red wooden detailing inspired by boat hulls.
How to get to Zurich
There are direct flights from New York, Boston, and Chicago on Star Alliance stablemates United and Swiss. From the West Coast, consider American, which has connecting service from San Francisco.
February is great for: classic Caribbean Carnival with a bonus beach vacation.
This year is the 70th anniversary of Carnival on the island. Though the festivities kick off in January, they climax this month with the so-called Grand Carnivals, which take place on February 10 and 11 in 2024.
Events are centered on the capital Oranjestad: Expect a steel band soundtrack, lots of sequins, and an assortment of street food stalls. The last event is the burning of King Momo, the effigy that’s a staple of many carnivals around the region, a rotund trickster inspired by the Momus, the Greek god of satire.
If you want to idle on the beach to sweat out last night’s overindulgences on Carnival Monday, February 12, head to the north, where most of the best sand spits are.
Where to stay
- Book now: The Aruba Marriott Resort & Stellaris Casino
The 414-room resort complex is the ideal hideout from the hubbub of carnival, with 10 on-site restaurants, several pools (the family-friendly option has a swim-up bar), and pickleball courts.
How to get to Aruba
This is one of the easiest Caribbean islands to reach, with nonstop flights from most major hubs-Southwest from MCO, for instance, or JetBlue from BOS.
10. Providence, Rhode Island
February is great for: spotlighting artistic talent.
Celebrate the annual Black History Month with a trip to Providence, where the Rhode Island School of Design opens a landmark exhibition on February 17 (and running through early August). It’s dedicated to Nancy Prophet, an under-recognized sculptor who was the first known woman of color to graduate from its classes, in 1918. The modernist-influenced Prophet’s work and life will be explored via this show, Nancy Elizabeth Prophet: I Will Not Bend An Inch.
With both Black and Native American heritage, she lived and worked mostly in Montparnasse, Paris, an artistic hotbed in the 1920s and 1930s. Undeniably talented, she still struggled for recognition, both as a result of her race and her gender-she used the name Eli Prophet sometimes when entering competitions. The show will include everything from painted wood friezes to watercolors and many of her marble or wood sculptures.
Where to stay
- Book now: The Beatrice
The 47-room boutique hotel downtown is housed in the former Exchange Bank Building, a four-story Queen Anne masterpiece built in the 1880s-hence the airiness and high ceilings in every room.
How to get to Providence
Delta connects PVD with Atlanta, and there’s also United-operated service to Chicago’s ORD.