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Top Five Off-Peak Destinations for Winter 2013/2014

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Before you grumble at the arrival of frigid winter weather, remember that the upcoming season heralds untold affordable off-peak travel opportunities. In many of the alluring destinations of the Northern Hemisphere, travel providers slash prices as the touristic crowds bid adieu until spring. If you want to save some coin while seeing the world, winter is prime time for wanderlust -- and we know just where you should go. Here are five awesome destinations where the colder part of the year bears off-peak affordability.

Russia

Admittedly, venturing to Russia in winter may seem like a daunting endeavor. But for hardy, well-prepared travelers who appreciate a hot bowl of borscht on a blustery, dark evening or find the idea of domed cathedrals covered in snow appealing, a winter itinerary yields benefits aplenty, one of which is that prices for airfare are wonderfully low.

We found flights from Boston to St. Petersburg for as little as $775 round-trip in March, as well as flights from Boston to Moscow in January for $749 round-trip. (Both fares are via Aeroflot.) Compare these very affordable prices to summer airfares to Russia, which almost never fall below $1,000 round-trip, even when on sale. (One of the cheapest U.S.-to-Russia airfares we spotted last summer was a $1,189 round-trip from Detroit to Moscow on sale from Lufthansa.)

Here's another good reason to head to Russia this winter: In a historic move to boost tourism, the Russian Ministry of Culture is allowing visitors from select countries (including the U.S. ) to visit parts of Russia for up to 72 hours without a visa. If you're already in Europe, you can take a quick flight over to Russia for a long weekend without the hassles of applying for a visa (you must be traveling with a major Russian airline to be eligible).

Nashville

With a packed schedule of swoon-worthy musical performances year-round, Nashville doesn't have the most distinct high and low seasons of all the destinations on this list. But overall, hotels and flights tend to get a little less expensive during winter, making a trip to this hip and vibrant American city a bit more affordable (and just as fun) during colder months. In our experience, we've found winter flights from the East Coast to Nashville to be roughly $100 cheaper than high-season summer flights on similar days of the week.

At the end of the year, Music City will play host to a budget-friendly but decidedly big-ticket New Year's Eve celebration on Lower Broadway featuring performances by artists such as Hank Williams Jr. and Blackberry Smoke. This totally free evening of live music will be capped with a celebratory Music Note Drop--a 15-foot-tall music note covered in lights will take the plunge at the stroke of midnight.

United Kingdom

The U.K. is a burgeoning cruise market. And cruising is, for the most part, a very economical way to explore international lands, especially for American travelers visiting destinations with unfavorable exchange rates. When much of what you would otherwise need local currency to pay for--from meals to entertainment to lodging--is included in your cruise fare, there's less of a need to trade your dollars in for stronger pounds or euros.

One of the best ways to save money on a cruise to the U.K. is to ply the waters during the low winter season. Luxury liner Cunard is selling transatlantic wintertime crossings (beginning in New York and ending in Southampton) starting at $799 per person for seven days at sea. Similar sailings during summer months cost nearly double the price. Those are some pretty significant savings.

Rome

Thanks to Pope Francis, tourism is up in Rome. According to various reports, the number of visitors to the city is up by almost seven percent this year--and one of the biggest draws is the overwhelmingly popular new pope.

Rome can get pretty packed as it is. But you can beat the crowds in this already popular travel destination by going in the off season. You won't have to wait in as many lengthy lines, and you'll save money to boot (pun intended). Nearly everything you'll have to book for your trip--from hotels to package tours--will be cheaper in winter. For example, this weeklong package tour from Monograms, which includes accommodations, some meals, and activities, starts at $1,285 per person in January and February, but the price jumps to $1,571 per person in spring and summer.

We saw a big jump when we compared winter rates at properties within Rome to warm-weather prices at the same properties. At the luxurious Portrait Roma, a TripAdvisor Travelers' Choice 2013 Winner, guests can grab a night in a studio room for €369 (about $495 USD) in January, but the cost goes up to €576 (about $773) per night in June. The Hotel Albergo del Senato Rome features a similar pricing structure, with nightly room rates as low as €175 (about $235) in February and as high as €265 (about $355) in July.

Kyoto

Unlike ultramodern Tokyo, Kyoto is an old soul, with abundant World Heritage sites (17 in total), an authentic geisha district, ancient temples, and peaceful Zen rock gardens. If the historical city's on your must-see list (as it well should be), you'll want to head there soon. As the yen continues to weaken and travel providers roll out low winter-season prices, now is an auspicious time for budget-minded American travelers to make the long journey to Japan's former imperial capital city.

In Kyoto, hotels generally have clear high- and low-season price disparities. You'll see this at properties like Hyatt Regency Kyoto, where a twin room sells for ¥22,950 (about $230 USD) in January compared to ¥27,000 (about $270) in July. Airfare, too, dips significantly during the off season, often by several hundred dollars: Sale fares from the West Coast to Tokyo for around $1,000 round-trip were available (but few and far between) last summer, compared to winter fares for as little as $820 round-trip in January and February.

--By Caroline Costello

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Read the original story: Top Five Off-Peak Destinations for Winter 2013/2014 by Caroline Costello, who is a regular contributor to SmarterTravel.