THE BLOG
10/27/2014 08:42 am ET Updated Dec 24, 2014

Which Winter Getaway Is Right for You?

Bryce Edwards / Flickr

Winter is coming. You have a few options: You can brave the cold weather, or you can book a ticket to somewhere tropical. You could also seek out an adventure or immerse yourself in the cultural offerings of a lively city. You might have a destination in mind, or you may be searching for something completely new this winter.

Either way, U.S. News can help: By relying on a combination of reader votes and expert opinions, we rank the best vacation destinations around the world. Whether you're seeking a sun-drenched beach, a snow-covered mountain or something else entirely, here are the top winter vacation spots (plus tips on what to do once you arrive).

See: Best Affordable Winter Vacations

If you want to bask in the sun, sand and surf ...
Beat seasonal affective disorder by getting some much-needed vitamin D. Or, just take some beach photos, get a tan and flaunt 'em both to friends who stayed home all winter. But one thing's for certain, you can't go wrong with these beach destinations.

Holding the No. 1 spot on the Best Winter Vacations list for the second-consecutive year, Kauai is a beach paradise that shows relatively little mark of Hawaii's commercial development -- there are only two major highways on Kauai, and much of the "Garden Isle" is only accessible by foot. Hike Na Pali Coast or Waimea Canyon, go kayaking off Kalapaki Beach or don a swimsuit and hit Hanalei Bay.

St. Martin - St. Maarten rank No. 2 on the Best Winter Vacations roundup and No. 5 on our list of the Best Islands in the World, offering beautiful (many clothing-optional) beaches and island sights with a unique blend of French and Dutch culture. St. Martin has upscale shopping and dining, and St. Maarten offers a lively nightlife scene with casinos and bars -- try visiting the flamboyant Casino Royale. Pleasant weather abounds and you can snag a good vacation package by booking a trip for November or December.

Ranking No. 2 on our list of Best Affordable Caribbean Destinations and No. 4 on the overall Best Winter Vacations list, Puerto Rico is an easily accessible option for U.S. travelers looking for year-round summer weather and island beauty to match. Check out the Spanish architecture of San Juan, hike El Yunque National Rainforest or watch little swimming organisms light up the ocean at night (literally) at Bioluminescent Mosquito Bay.

If you're looking to embrace chills and thrills ...
Looking for a getaway with weather that fits the season? Experience the frigid temperatures and hostile terrain of towering mountains, conquer them fearlessly like a fabled explorer and then retreat to the safety and comfort of your modern accommodations. Here are some destinations for skiers and snowboarders of all skill levels.

Host of the 1976 Winter Olympics and nestled amid the Austrian Alps, Innsbruck ranks No. 1 on our Best Ski Destinations list for the second year in a row. Ski some of the 170 miles of runs at Olympia SkiWorld Innsbruck by day and then explore the city's Old World charm by night.

Western Wyoming might not seem like an ideal winter vacation option, but it's a gem to savvy skiers. Jackson Hole surpassed Lake Tahoe, California, to claim the No. 1 spot on our list of Best Ski Destinations in the USA, and its yearly snowfall average -- about 400 inches -- helps explain why. Check out the 2,500 acres of ski runs at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, but note that this mountain is a favorite to in-the-know skiers for a reason -- many of the runs are geared toward the advanced crowd.

The small town of Telluride, Colorado, ranks No. 2 on our list of Best Ski Destinations and has something for everyone. Telluride Ski Resort boasts 1,700 acres of skiable terrain, with runs ranging from beginner to expert, and visitors tend to describe the views of the surrounding San Juan Mountains in superlatives. Not a skier? Take the free gondola to hang out or grab a bite to eat and a drink in Mountain Village while you enjoy the view.

See: How to Save Money on a Family Ski Trip

If you want to explore nature and your inner daredevil ...
Keep your blood flowing this winter by indulging your inner adventurer -- scuba diving the world's largest reef, bungee jumping more than 400 feet, or snowmobiling through a forest are all likely to do the trick.

Go swimming with sea turtles, whales and more than 1,000 species of fish in the world's largest coral reef system at the Great Barrier Reef, which ranks No. 1 on our list of Best Adventure Vacations in Australia and the Pacific. Visitors can snorkel or dive close to the mainland at the popular Cairns Reefs, or explore the more secluded Ribbon Reefs farther north. To learn about land animals, venture to the Wildlife Habitat Port Douglas, which houses more than 180 species. And for gorgeous views and a bit of history about the area, take a ride on the Kuranda Scenic Railway.

Although leisure can be found here, Queenstown is more likely to appeal to the adventure-oriented traveler. Choose from bungee jumping, whitewater rafting, skiing or skydiving. More laid-back visitors can sip sauvignon blanc at Peregrine Wines, or soak in one of the tubs at Onsen Hot Pools. This year, Queenstown is the No. 3 Best Adventure Vacation in Australia and the Pacific and also ranks No. 4 on our list of Best Winter Vacations.

For U.S. travelers looking to stay close to home, the mountain views and crystal-clear waters of Lake Tahoe make for a beautiful and convenient winter vacation. Although many visit Lake Tahoe to ski (it takes the No. 2 spot on the Best Ski Destinations in the USA ranking), there are plenty of other activities. Visitors can go snowmobiling, hike and camp at Emerald Bay State Park, visit Donner Memorial State Park and Emigrant Trail Museum or gamble at Harrah's Casino.

If you're ready to get in the holiday spirit ...
Try something new this year by spending your holiday exploring a city that goes all-out for the season.

Westerners primarily know Salzburg as the birthplace of Mozart and the filming site for "The Sound of Music," but the Austrian city has a lot to offer during Christmastime. With its snow-covered cathedrals, castles, forts and museums all built just north of the Alps, Salzburg attracts and entertains both the young and old. This year, it joins the list of Best Winter Vacations in Europe in the No. 9 slot. Be sure to check out the Salzburg Christmas Market near Hohensalzburg Fortress and the Salzburg Cathedral.

If you can handle the chilly temperatures (in the 30s and 40s), you'll save money and beat the crowds by spending the holiday season in Amsterdam. Ranking No. 6 this year on our list of Best Winter Vacations in Europe, Amsterdam offers plenty of winter fun -- from ice skating and exploring Christmas markets in Leidseplein to spending time at (and warming up in) cultural hubs like the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum. Extend your stay in Amsterdam through New Year's Eve to check out the celebrations: Museumplein, a large public space near the Van Gogh Museum, hosts an annual televised New Year's Eve Party with fireworks and live music.

Would you rather escape to a slightly warmer climate? Consider Nice. This city along the French Riviera ranks No. 10 this year on our list of Best Winter Vacations in Europe. Temperatures tend to hover around the mid-50s in the wintertime, so it's a bit too cool to swim, but the baroque architecture, picturesque beaches and the vibrant flower and fruit markets in Old Town are worth the chill. Plan your trip for February and you'll join the more than 1 million other visitors who flock to the city for the two-week Nice Carnival, which originated in the 13th century and now features extravagant floats, music and more.

See: Best Affordable Destinations in Europe

Visit U.S. News' rankings section for more inspiration for your wintertime getaway and discover the Best Caribbean Beaches, the Best Winter Family Vacations and more.

About the author: Stephen Johnson is an intern for the Travel section at U.S. News. You can email him at sjohnson@usnews.com.