19 best places to travel for the spring of 2019

(CNN) — Choosing between a world-class flower festival, Argentine wine harvest or trans-Africa road rally may be tough for travelers, but spring is calling and it’s time to make a choice.

Spring travel, tucked between the sky-high rates of the winter holidays and the crowds and heat of summer, is one of life’s greatest pleasures.

No longer a season reserved for retirees and backpackers, the world’s low-cost carriers, burgeoning tourism development budgets and dare we say, Instagram, have put never-before-considered spring break destinations on this year’s map. Here are 19 of our favorites, in alphabetical order.

1. Aegean Islands, Greece

Celestyal Cruises is based in Greece, giving its guests an insider view of the region.

Celestyal Cruises is based in Greece, giving its guests an insider view of the region.

Courtesy Celestyal Cruises

Skip the crowds, the heat and the hot, dry Meltemi winds of summer when you cruise the Greek islands in spring. Many of the Aegean islands awake from hibernation in time to celebrate the Greek Orthodox Easter on April 28.

The award-winning Celestyal Cruises is the only cruise company based in Greece, giving its two mid-sized ships an edge over other international mega-cruise lines making ports of call in the Mediterranean.

Up to 1,200 passengers aboard seven-night Idyllic Aegean cruises this spring call on Mykonos, Milos, Santorini, Heraklion (Crete) and Kusadasi (port of Ephesus, Turkey) before returning to Piraeus.

The idyllic part? In Mykonos and Santorini, you overnight in port so you can sip retsina and party as late as you want without missing the boat.

All-inclusive pricing of $1,419 covers onboard meals of local cuisine, a standard unlimited drinks package, select shore excursions with more available for a fee, plus entertainment, port fees and gratuities.

It may be too chilly for a bikini but Greece’s sunny climate, the turquoise sea and the blooming oleander on shore will sweep you away.

2. Barcelona, Spain

Antoni Gaudí's Sagrada Familia has been under construction since 1882.

Antoni Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia has been under construction since 1882.

Frank Rumpenhorst/dpa/AP

Spring is the best time to avoid the overtourism that spawned “Tourists Go Home” graffiti throughout Barcelona in 2018. It’s also prime season to stroll the Flower Market along the city’s central promenade, La Rambla.

Return visitors will be surprised at how much work has been done on the sacred commission of architect Antoni Gaudí. Sagrada Familia has been under construction since 1882. By current estimates, the stunning cathedral known for its 18 sandcastle-like spires, undulating lines and brilliant stained glass windows will be completed, as close to Gaudi’s original vision as possible, by 2030.
There’s lots more Gaudi work to see, including the private museums Casa Batlló and Casa Milà (also called La Pedrera, or quarry, for its hewn stone façade) in the Gracià district off Passeig de Gracià.
When you tire of sunning along the mosaic paths of Gaudi’s Parque Güell, head to the waterfront revitalized for the 1992 Olympics. At Club Pati Vela de Barcelona near the metallic fish statue designed by Frank Gehry, visitors can rent or take lessons in single-handed sailing on a pati catala, catamarans traditionally used in Catalunya to explore the high seas.

3. Cancun, Mexico

Millions picture Cancun when they hear “spring break” thanks to “MTV Spring Break,” a show packed with skimpily clad spectators and good-natured debauchery that aired from 1986 through 2014.

Treat yourself to Cancun’s cheap prices, sand beaches and crystalline Caribbean Sea this spring, or party at home while tuning in to the MTV revival March 19-21 taking place at the Grand Oasis Hotel.

Visitors may want to skip the cheap liquor implicated in several 2018 tourist accidents, of course, and stick to Mexico’s many fine beers. All-inclusive rates at the Grand Oasis drop to about $215 per night for a family of four after MTV wraps.

Bird-watching, eco-activities and cultural tours that abound south of the city along the Riviera Maya are an even better choice for families. Barceló Maya Grand Resort has a built-in kid-magnet: the new Ventura Fly & Ride park designed by the creators of the Selvatica.

The supervised attraction comprises a zipline, bungee jumping, roller coaster, suspension bridges and more thrills right on the resort grounds. This five-star all-inclusive’s rates are competitive, too.

4. Grand Canyon, Arizona

Celebrate the Centennial of the Grand Canyon by rafting through it this spring.

America’s most renowned natural attraction and a UNESCO World Heritage site celebrated the 100-year anniversary of its national park designation on February 26.

Catch Native American cultural demonstrations each month at the Desert View Watchtower, the Earth Day festival April 20 plus many other special park service programs.

Award-winning adventure tour operator OARS begins six-day Colorado River whitewater rafting trips April 7. On the first 87 miles, ogle the canyon’s strikingly colored limestone cliffs as you float and paddle to Redwall Cavern and Nautiloid Canyon. Top-notch guides keep it fun and safe.

Moor your raft to hike to Nankoweap, explore Native American ruins and see ancient fossils.

In spring’s high waters you’ll raft 19 major rapids, many Class IV, before docking near Phantom Ranch. Then you can stretch your legs on a 9.7-mile hike up the Bright Angel Trail.

Whitewater rafting trips for ages 12 and older start at $2,755 per person.

5. Keukenhof Gardens, Holland

Landgoed Keukenhof gardeners work all year planting seven million bulbs for the show's eight-week run.

Landgoed Keukenhof gardeners work all year planting seven million bulbs for the show’s eight-week run.

Romy Arroyo Fernandez/NurPhoto/Getty Images

This spring, marvel at the colorful mosaics made by millions of tulips at Landgoed Keukenhof, a showcase for the Dutch floral industry.

On March 21, the latest designs using new floral breeds will inspire gardeners around the world. Forty gardeners work all year planting seven million bulbs, often in layers, so that fresh blooms will appear throughout the show’s eight-week run.

Additional pavilions feature a changing selection of 20 flower and plant shows — don’t miss the orchids and lilies — where blooms are in competition.

The 123-acre display is just a small part of an historic park dating to 1857. This year, there’s a focus on Tulpenmanie, the tulip mania craze that swept Europe in the 17th century.

During the world’s first speculative bubble, a single tulip bulb could fetch 10 times a craftsman’s annual salary or be traded for huge tracts of land before prices suddenly crashed.

Keukenhof — just 40 kilometers from Amsterdam — is easily reached via public transportation and private tours from all corners of Holland.

6. Lake Tahoe, California

With snowfall topping 620 inches already this ski season, Squaw Valley Alpine Meadows is staying open later for spring skiing than any other mountain resort in Lake Tahoe, perhaps through May. (Make sure to check the snowfall before you go.)

Squaw Valley’s Aerial Tram, which has served skiers, snowboarders and sightseers since 1969, is an awesome ride. The average 300 days of sunshine each year make Instagrammable views of the lake and surrounding Sierra Nevada Range almost guaranteed.

Disembark at High Camp, California’s top spring skiing playground at 8,200 feet, where live music, themed parties and the giant High Camp hot tub make swimwear and shorts de rigueur. (It’s currently buried by snow but will open this spring.) Throughout the day, the scene moves down to outdoor cafes at the base village and back up to cocktails at Umbrella Bar, scenically located beside the hot tub.

Want the sunshine to yourself? Ski down to the new Gold Coast Beach Bar, opening April 5 outside the upper mountain Gold Coast Lodge and get stoked on barbecue, sunbathing among the evergreens and people watching.

Insiders avoid the crowds by making tracks to Ice Bar at sister resort Alpine Meadows, off the Pacific Crest South Bowls. Wherever you land, don’t forget the sunscreen.

7. Las Vegas

Your welcome to Las Vegas is made even sweeter by spring temperatures.

Your welcome to Las Vegas is made even sweeter by spring temperatures.

Brian Jones/Las Vegas News Bureau

Since temperatures stay well below summer’s 100 degrees F (38 degrees C), spring is the ideal time for a last stroll along The Strip to take in the many attractions.

That singular piece of real estate will soon be undergoing a revolutionary change. The city has just green-lit Elon Musk’s The Boring Company to build an underground people mover using autonomous electric vehicles to connect downtown Vegas with the airport, convention center and resort corridor by 2021.

You can still see humans behind the wheel at the Denso Spark Plugs NHRA Four-Wide Nationals which take place April 6-8 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway Motorsports Complex. If you haven’t felt the heat and vibration from four race cars zooming by at a time, catch this one.
Off-road motorcycles roll out at Sam Boyd Stadium May 4 for the Monster Energy AMA Supercross, one of 17 roaringly loud races in the FIM World Championship.

If you’re craving a selfie, race to book tickets to the Supercross FanFest and mingle with drivers on the big day.

8. Ledbury, United Kingdom

Eastnor Castle and Arboretum was founded by the first Earl Somers.

Eastnor Castle and Arboretum was founded by the first Earl Somers.

Ron Bozman

Live an aristocratic lifestyle among the rolling hills and historic market towns of Herefordshire, adjacent to the Cotswolds. Eastnor Castle and Arboretum, founded by the first Earl Somers and sustained by the Hervey-Bathurst family for the past 200 years, is a hidden gem outside Ledbury.

Destination weddings and hunting parties can book Eastnor’s four rental homes. The eclectic collection of armor, tapestries and medieval art in the manor is open for group tours and filming. And, like other Downton Abbey-worthy homes, seasonal special events help fund operations.

Day trippers can bring binoculars to the Easter Treasure Hunt and an appetite to the annual ChilliFest’s all-you-can-eat competition May 5-6. On select dates from April through September, the family opens its hundred-acre wood so guests can enjoy an adventure playground, treetop walkway and picnic spots while admiring the passing peacocks.
In June, Wild Food UK runs foraging classes that introduce foodies to the plants, flowers, fruits and mushrooms found in the wild. Stops during the 2.5-hour walk include breaks to sample wild food soup and elderberry champagne. A hearty lunch prepared from foraged bounty follows. Only if you’re lucky.

9. Malta

Enjoy Malta's historic structures before the beach crowds appear.

Enjoy Malta’s historic structures before the beach crowds appear.

Courtesy Viewing Malta

Explore the beautiful coastline, lavish churches, forts and historic sites of Malta before charter loads of beach-goers arrive. Spring may bring more sun and less rainfall (by May you can swim in the sea), but you’re here for figolli, a special Easter dessert.

Figolli are almond cakes flavored with orange blossom water and marzipan filling. Typically coated in vanilla royal icing, some are blinged out with a foil-wrapped chocolate egg for the holiday. While they’re mostly shaped like rabbits, butterflies or Easter eggs; food bloggers should watch for ones shaped like men or women.

Celebrate authentic Easter traditions in the luxurious ambiance of the Malta-based Corinthia Hotels. From April 15-May 2, the sophisticated Corinthia Palace Hotel & Spa adjacent to the Presidential Palace offers packages including breakfast, use of the Athenaeum spa’s indoor pool, Jacuzzi and gymnasium and more from €140 (approximately $158).
The seafront Corinthia Hotel St. George’s Bay is a more kid-friendly resort. Their Family Easter Escape has the same perks, plus a complimentary kids club program, from € 180 ($203). Both hotels are serving an Easter Sunday lunch with a choice of traditional fish or lamb dishes.

10. Marrakech, Morocco

Explore Jemaa el-Fnaa square in Marrakech's medina quarter.

Explore Jemaa el-Fnaa square in Marrakech’s medina quarter.

Fethi Belaid/AFP/Getty Images

Marrakech is trending again, with the recent opening of L’Hôtel Marrakech by British designer Jasper Conran and the MadJazz Marrakech music festival expected back in May.
Go this spring to be entranced by snake charmers in Jemma el Fna and daytrip to Berber country as wildflowers bloom in the Atlas Mountains. All without suffering heat stroke.
Even racier, watch out for the dust left behind by the Rallye Aïcha des Gazelles du Maroc, a women-only, off-road rally. Teams of “gazelles” in any type of off-road vehicle are challenged to hit the greatest number of predefined checkpoints in as few miles as possible. They left Nice, France, on March 15 and are expected to cross the Moroccan desert from March 21 to 30.

Note that some businesses and restaurants curtail hours and services during the Muslim fasting period of Ramadan, between May 5 and June 4 this year.

11. Mendoza to Patagonia, Argentina

Malbec -- a grape variety used for red wine -- grows easily in this part of Argentina.

Malbec — a grape variety used for red wine — grows easily in this part of Argentina.

Daniel Garcia/AFP/Getty Images

Pluck the last of the grapes in Mendoza and mountain bike, kayak or horseback ride in Patagonia this spring.

France’s Malbec grape thrives in the distinct climate and soil at the foot of the snow-capped Andes. Just an hour’s flight from Buenos Aires, the safest way to sample the distinct wines of Mendoza’s Central, Valley de Uco and Southern vineyards and bodegas (wine cellars) is by hop-on hop-off Bus Vinividicola.

Most of Patagonia is a vast desert yet the isolated Andean-Patagonian forests, called subantarctic forests, burst into color along the steep slopes of the Andes.
Tierra del Fuego National Park is more than 2,000 miles south of Mendoza so you’ll need to put in a full day’s travel. Experiencing the Southern Hemisphere’s autumn this spring is worth the trip.

12. Munich, Germany

Munich is a long way from the ocean, but people come from all over the world to surf the man-made Eisbachwelle, a year-round surfing spot in the German city.

Surf’s up in Munich! Dive in and get amped with local surfers on Munich’s 1.2-mile Eisbach, a manmade tributary of the Isar River designed with waves and a thundering waterfall.

This unusual feature is located in Englischer Garten, a favorite Munich park designed by Benjamin Thompson in the British style 225 years ago. Surfing is just part of a chill recreational scene in an urban oasis larger than New York’s Central Park.

Eisbach’s three-foot wave is only conquered by experienced surfers, so you’ll want to join spectators on the shoreline.

Then grab a cold one at Chinesischer Turm, the Chinese Tower’s 7,000-seat beer garden, which opens when spring arrives. Their crispy roast pork and potato dumplings lunch is only about €7 and, from April to October, you can work it off at the historic children’s merry-go-round.

13. Naoshima Island, Japan

Explore Naoshima Island to spot French artist Niki de Saint Phalle's sculptures.

Explore Naoshima Island to spot French artist Niki de Saint Phalle’s sculptures.

Ron Bozman

Be reborn with a transformative journey to the Inland Seto Sea, where fishing villages shelter priceless contemporary art and architecture by modern masters.

Outdoor galleries and cherry groves seeded by Benesse Holdings and the Fukutake Foundation have inspired villagers on Naoshima, Teshima and Inujima to convert homes to guesthouses and tag doors and school buses with stunning graffiti.
Reaching Benesse Art Site Naoshima is an exquisite lesson in patience rewarded by a polka dot ferry to a port where Japanese visionary Yayoi Kusama placed an enormous spotted pumpkin. The legendary architect Tadao Ando’s Chichu Museum guides natural light onto four huge Monets and sculptures by James Turrell and Walter de Maria.

International artists have been commissioned to install projects in abandoned teak homes. There’s also a stunning gallery at Benesse House, the all-white luxury hotel where guests can commune with their own unique artwork overnight.

Scavenger hunting the art by foot, bus or bike is your creation; daytrips to Teshima and Inujima are a bonus.

14. Orlando, Florida

Among the millions of blooms are dozens of fan-favorite Disney-themed topiaries. If you’re headed to Soarin’ and don’t have time to, er, smell the roses, check out the ones near the park’s entrance.

This spring, topiary artists are using a wider variety of plant materials to represent Disney characters’ facial features in boxwood and verdant hues. If you’ve never seen a green Snow White, she’s standing near the Germany pavilion with the Seven Dwarfs.

Home gardeners appreciate the expert-led gardening seminars, which are included in the regular Epcot admission along with the daily Garden Rocks concert series; Outdoor Kitchens for sampling; and children’s play gardens illustrating nutrition and wellness.

15. Penang, Malaysia

Spring is the ideal time to viist Penang island before the rainy season arrives.

Spring is the ideal time to viist Penang island before the rainy season arrives.

Vincent Thian/AP

Get up close to a 130-million-year-old rainforest at The Habitat on Penang Hill. As the rains build from April to October, spring is the ideal time for an authentic tropical rainforest adventure.

Designed to be minimally disruptive, 4×4 vehicles and cable cars transport visitors up to the dense jungle. Everyone from thrill-seekers to elders finds their comfort zone on a nature trail, treetop walk or Aerial Trail to watch as Asian Fairy Bluebirds, Racquet-tailed Drongos, Brahminy Kites and other exotic species fly by.

It took a visionary government to protect this prehistoric ecosystem in 1910, when only the colonial-era ruins of a British Hill Station remained. A century later, the local Cockrell family began developing an eco-tourism attraction on land adjacent to the Government Hill Permanent Forest Reserve.

Scientists estimate the Malaysian rainforest hosts 20 percent of the world’s animal species and uncountable plant species. The Habitat’s canopy walk, home to Langurs or Dusky Leaf monkeys, provides access to rare wildlife and stunning views of valleys, headlands, the city of Georgetown and the glittering Andaman Sea beyond.

16. Puerto Rico

Post Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico is welcoming visitors to enjoy its lovely beaches, historic sites and natural wonders.

Post Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico is welcoming visitors to enjoy its lovely beaches, historic sites and natural wonders.

Ricardo Arduengo/AFP/Getty Images

Hit the beach in Puerto Rico, a heavenly slice of the Caribbean boasting seven Blue Flag beaches and travel bargains this spring.

After a painful recovery from 2017’s Hurricane Maria and attention to the island by “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda, the island came in fifth on an Allianz Global Assistance survey of top International Spring Break destinations.

The Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve is one of the most buzz-worthy new hotels. Transformed from plantation to resort by Laurance Rockefeller in the 1950s, the beachfront Dorado Beach upped its game during extensive hurricane repair and re-landscaping.

Now more relaxed and local in style, Taino-inspired rugs and bed throws, neutral tones and discreet private plunge pools let the surrounding turquoise sea and golden sand take center stage.

It’s a great deal because Americans don’t need a passport to get to this Caribbean island and can take competitively cheap flights or backpacker-style ferries from Santo Domingo and the US Virgin Islands to get there.

17. Queenstown, New Zealand

While it’s true that New Zealand is still grieving a terrorist attack at a Christchurch mosque on the country’s South Island, visitors are still welcome to enjoy this remarkable country. Take advantage of the southern hemisphere’s reverse seasonality to celebrate the fall harvest with food and entertainment.

It’s all part of the fun at the 35th annual Akarua Arrowtown Autumn Festival outside Queenstown, also on South Island, coming up April 23-28. Scheduled events include very popular children’s workshops, a village parade, photo competitions, gold panning contests, a dog show and even rubber ducky races.
From March to May, the local cottonwoods turn yellow along the Arrowtown River and the hills are ablaze with color. If you can keep your eyes open, bungy jumping is a great way to appreciate the region’s fall foliage.
Queenstown’s local hero A.J. Hackett invented the unlikely sport at the Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge. Strap into a full body harness, dive head first off the bridge and take a 60mph flight upside down across the Nevis Valley for spectacular views.

18. St. Louis Zoo, Missouri

Animals are having babies at the St. Louis Zoo.

Animals are having babies at the St. Louis Zoo.

Kari R. Frey/St. Louis Zoo

As central to the city’s image as the iconic silver Gateway Arch, Forest Park is home to many free attractions including Shakespeare in the Park, art and history museums and a famous zoo.
Voted into the world’s top 10 zoos by TripAdvisor readers, the St. Louis Zoo displays 600 species in realistic natural habitats and provides visitors with creature comforts including on-site guides, a vintage mini-railroad and trained animal shows.
Even if you miss the opening game of the Cardinals, spring is the season for zoo babies and 10 ungulate calves — think Bambi — are now on view. Look for three baby Speke’s Gazelles, two Addaxes, a Soemmerring’s Gazelle, two Lesser Kudus and two Lowland Nyalas. Don’t miss Nova, a Grevy’s Zebra foal born New Year’s Eve, who likes to appear in the Red Rocks exhibit when the weather is good.

19. Washington, DC

It's almost time to celebrate the National Cherry Blossom Festival in the US capital.

It’s almost time to celebrate the National Cherry Blossom Festival in the US capital.

Marshall Keys/AFP/Getty Images

America’s friendship with Japan dates to 1912, when Tokyo Mayor Yukio Ozaki gifted Yoshino cherry trees to the country’s capital.

Today, the annual National Cherry Blossom Festival celebrates spring with a nod to Japanese culture. March 20 — April 14 is the predicted blooming period around the Tidal Basin. The National Park Service forecasts that peak bloom — when 70 percent of the blossoms are open — will occur April 2, depending on weather.
Several local hotels are celebrating with blossom-themed packages. At the Capital Hilton, for example, guests receive breakfast, a welcome Bento Box filled with Japanese sweets, a kite to fly March 30 at the Blossom Kite Festival and access to the Petalpalooza family day events April 6.

Adults can toast the arrival of spring during the nightly Japanese Cherry Blossom Happy Hour, a Japanese whisky tasting with appetizer pairing at the Capital Hilton’s Statler Lounge.

This article originally appeared here