When March hits, thousands of college students leave their campus for warmer climes, swarming top destinations from Panama to Cabo to Punta Cana. If wild partying on the beach amid a tipsy crowd of 20,000 isn’t your thing, avoid the throngs of people, score great deals, and check out one of these alternative spring break spots. Next
A quirky trend in spring break travel is to ditch the tropics and head north. With the relatively new direct flights from Boston through Icelandair, getting to Iceland is relatively easy. Just hop on an overnight flight and you’re there.
Where to go: Iceland isn’t the cheapest country to visit but it certainly has its fair share of free and cheap things to do. March is a great time to visit because the days aren’t too short, unlike in January when the sun stays up for around four hours. You’ll have from around 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. before the sun sets so take in the local culture with a walking tour of the downtown area. Check out the Church of Hallgrimur, explore the cute shops and boutiques, and work your way through the city to the Hotel Borg and Tjornin, roughly 16 minutes away.
Iceland is known for its breathtaking landscapes and dramatic scenery. Try getting out of the city for an afternoon and take a hike. The most popular is the Esjan, north of Reykjavik and just a bus ride away.
Grab a bite: Food in Iceland can get pricey so check out the smaller, more hidden places to save some cash. Solon Bistro ($1-$25) serves authentic Icelandic dishes, from fish to lamb. Café Babalu is a great choice for breakfast, brunch, or late-night cravings, offering cozy favorites like crepes, hot chocolate, and paninis.
Nightlife: Unlike Boston, Icelandic nightlight doesn’t get going until 11 p.m. or midnight. Drink with the locals at Ölstofa Kormáks og Skjaldar, a laid-back spot serving up their award-winning, house made brew, Brió. Bars stay open well past 4 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays so swing by B5 for another round. The liquor is stored on shelves behind the bar that light up with an infusion of bright greens, oranges, and yellows.
A fun must-do: An outdoor bath. It’s a local tradition and, with dozens scattered throughout the city, it isn’t hard to find. The most popular is the Blue Lagoon (pictured) which, with bus, admission, and locker use, costs $30 per person.
Stay for cheap: The best option for affordable lodging are the local hostels. Reykjavik Downtown has accommodations for two, including breakfast, starting at $80 a night and the Reykjavík Hostel Village has rooms for as low as $52 per night. The Centerhotel Plaza is also a good score, offering accommodations starting at $72 per night. Iceland Hostels .
Remember: Icelandic currency is the krona. One US dollar equals roughly 112 krona. Next
Have a romantic European-style break without the cost of flying to Europe. The second-largest French-speaking city in the world, Montreal is brimming with all things Paris, from sidewalk cafes to baguettes to wine and cheese.
Where to go: Tour the original city of Montreal, Vieux-Montréal, the center of the city’s culture. Immerse yourself in the romantic image of Paris with horse-drawn carriages, cobblestone streets, sidewalk cafes, outdoor markets, and street performances in nice weather. Place Jacques-Cartier is a popular place to shop. Just be aware of the tourist-trap souvenir shops.
Grab a bite: Nestled in the middle of a tree-lined residential area is Bistro Bienville, a small dining room with an exposed kitchen and constantly changing menu. Make a reservation and bring your own wine, or choose from a short wine list upon arrival. The French-inspired dishes included small plates like foie gras flan and family-style dishes big enough for two, from the whole fish of the deal to Angus beef.
Nightlife: Montreal is a world famous as the mecca of culturally diverse nightlife. Les Bobards, for example, is the place to be, offering live Latin American, African, and Caribbean bands and a diverse dance floor full of guests. The drink to try is a St. Ambroise Cream Ale, just $3.75, though they have a wide selection of beers and cocktails. Check out a complete list of bars and clubs here.
A fun must-do: Pay a visit to the Notre Dame Basilica, Montreal’s oldest Catholic church. The intricately designed interior features colorful stained glass displaying the history of the city. Admission is $5 and includes an optional guided tour for free. Definitely sign up and get an interesting look at the history and an entertaining experience with a group.
Stay here: Montreal has a variety of hotels and, with a little searching, you can score fantastic deals. The Celebrities Hotel has rates starting at $45 per night and featured celebrity-themed rooms. Best Western Plus starts at $80.
Remember: Travelers can use US currency in Canada but any change will be given back in Canadian currency. 1 US dollar equals roughly 0.9669 Canadian dollars. Next
When spring breakers head to Cali, they land in Los Angeles. Which is why San Francisco is the perfect alternative.
Where to go: South of the Bay Bridge is one of the city’s best kept secrets. The up-and-coming area features a wide promenade overlooking the San Francisco Bay. Explore for free or rent a bike for only $6 an hour at the Bike Hut. Or check out Crissy Field, considered the city’s outdoor gym, for a range of activities from dodge ball to trampolines.
Grab a bite: Sneak in to Chinatown for delicious options at super low prices. R&G Lounge offers traditional Chinese dishes with a focus on local seafood, including fried salt and pepper crab and their infamous Peking duck, for only $11-$30.
Nightlife: The best of San Francisco’s nightlife happens outside. Track down a beach bonfire at Baker Beach, where dozens of locals gather on warm nights for live music under the stars, free of charge and BYOB. If you want something a little more formal the city has plenty of bars and nightclubs to choose from, whether you’re in the mood for high-end burlesque at the Parlor or a casual, fun pub at Hemlock Tavern.
A fun must-do: Take a walk down Union Street, considered the shopper’s paradise, and wander through the locally owned boutiques and unique shops.
Stay here: Hostel International’s San Francisco City Center is a prohibition-era themed hostel filled to the brim with 1920s décor. They offer free breakfast, free guest activities (think local tours, pub crawls, festival outings, etc.), private bathrooms in every room, and both private and dorm settings for as low as $30 per night. Next
Vacations are moving from the seaside to the city. By the end of February, spring has sprung in in Seattle so visitors can walk around to their heart’s content and explore the vibrant local sights, restaurants, bars, and galleries.
Where to go: Free is the magic word. Check out the Volunteer Park, a colorful garden housing plants from around the world, completely free of charge. Climb the brick water tower rain or shine for amazing views of the city. The Pike-Pine Corridor is also a good walk, full of restaurants and unique shops.
Grab a bite: Swing by Zig Zag Café, where exotic ingredients meet comfort food in a delightful mix of American pub fare, local favorites, and southern European classics. You could start off with pancetta mousse ($9) for the first course and then switch gears to alligator gumbo ($15) for the entrée. They also serve a variety of sandwiches, salads, flatbreads, and desserts and offer what locals consider the best cocktail bar in the area.
Nightlife: From British bars to Irish pubs, there are a ton of great places to hang out after hours. 74th Street Ale House is said to have the best beer selections in Seattle. The atmosphere is welcoming and upbeat and they offer everything from local microbrews to interesting imports. They serve classic pub fare with a local twist, highlighting fresh and local products. Come dinnertime, the place fills up quick so get there before 7 p.m. and hang around all evening.
A fun must-do: Art fans will love the Chihuly Garden and Glass, considered one of Seattle’s top attractions. With eight interior galleries, an outdoor garden, and central Glasshouse, visitors immerse themselves in the colorful, abstract works of local artist Dale Chihuly.
Stay here: In the city, hotels are super pricey but the hostels are fairly reasonable. AAE Seattle Loyal Inn is settled right across from Denny Park and has rooms available for as low as $20, including breakfasts. Next
Arizona is considered the sunniest place in the United States. What better place to relax and recuperate?
Where to go: Step in to a “fairy tale dream house” with a visit to the Mystery Castle in South Mountain Park. The whimsical 18-room, three-story castle is built with everything under the sun, from stone to adobe to salvaged rail tracks and features a chapel, cantina, and even a dungeon. Tours runThursday through Sunday 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. and cost just $10.
Grab a bite: Try the local favorite, Matt’s Big Breakfast, which serves breakfast all day along with lunch. The name says it all: heaping dishes, all less than $10, like the hog and chick (eggs with choice of bacon or sausage) and griddlecakes (homemade cakes with sweet cream and real maple syrup). Get there early. The place is small, the line grows quickly, and waiting outside in the heat can be unbearable. Another neat place to check out is Garcia’s Las Avenidas. Enjoy tacos and margaritas with a live mariachi band floating from table to table. With generous portions, the meal is well worth it and prices average around $10.
Nightlife: Phoenix is a growing spot for cool bars and live music. Try Bar Smith for top local DJs, theme nights, and a rooftop bar and dance floor with no cover charge. If you’re in the mood for live music, pub fare, and local brews, check out Alice Cooperstown, named for the eclectic local rock star.
A fun must-do: It can be hard to tell in the middle of the city but Phoenix is surrounded by desert. Get a taste of the local nature without trekking through the hot, dry landscapes by visiting the Desert Botanical Garden. Students get in for $12.
Stay for cheap: Hotels in Phoenix are pretty expensive. The best deals are at local hostels, like the Metcalf House, which offer single sex dorm-style bunks as well as single and private family rooms for as low as $24 per night, including a free continental breakfast. Check out a list of hostels here. Next
Escape to the city known as a haven for the counterculture types, Austin, Texas, the perfect place for the anti-spring-breaker. The city is classy meets bohemian, drawing tech geeks, celebrities, and artists alike. Whether you’re in search of the best soul food, sunshine, or steam-punk, chances are you’ll find it here.
Where to go: Entertainment comes cheap in Austin, with a variety of live music and film venues within walking distance. Swing by the East Side Showroom for a steam-punk night complete with live music, the Marx Brothers, and a draft of 512 Pecan Porter ($5). Head further down Sixth Street to the Ritz Theater, one of five Alamo Drafthouses, for dinner, drinks, and a cult classic.
Grab a bite: Street food is super popular, which is a fantastic because it’s also super cheap. Swing by Gourdough’s on South First Street for their famous doughnut creations, like the mother clucker ($5.50, a giant glazed doughnut topped with fried chicken and honey butter) and the flying pig ($5.50, a plain doughnut topped with bacon and gooey maple syrup icing). You can’t go wrong with any of the Tex-Mex joints around, such as Tacodeli, which serves Mexican street eats made from local, organic products.
Nightlife: Donn’s Depot is a classic piano bar and saloon with an old-fashioned country vibe. Stop by for dancing and drinks and a taste of the local community. After, head out for a midnight drink a Lustre Pearl, a classy, artistic portrayal of the Lone Star State complete with Ping-Pong, hula-hooping, outdoor seating and a wide selection of beer and cocktails.
A fun must-do: Visit the Austin Museum of Art at Laguna Gloria. For a $3 donation, explore the Italian villa and garden paths and take in the beautiful view of Lake Austin.
This lively city boasts one of the greatest live music scenes along with unique theater, a wide range of world cuisine, and gorgeous outdoor walks.
Where to go: A truly unique experience is taking the elevator up the Willis Tower Skydeck (formerly the Sears Tower). For just $18, head to the 96th floor and take in the gorgeous cityscape and skyline. If you time it right, grab a drink at the bar and watch the sun set before heading to dinner.
Grab a bite: Chicago’s home bistro, HB Restaurant, is like a five-star restaurant without the five-star prices. It is BYOB, so pick up a bottle of whatever you’re in the mood for beforehand. The friendly and attentive service is paired with mouthwatering selections from house made Italian sausage to Amsterdam-style mussels to pan roasted duck breast. Prices range from $11-$30.
Nightlife: While they have many bars, clubs, and restaurants that make up their night scene, nothing says Chicago like a good, old-fashioned dance party. Grab a beer Maria’s Packaged Goods and Community Bar, a fun store with a hidden bar in the back. They’re known for their monthly secret disco party and also host regular DJs on most nights. Lincoln Square’s Old Town School of Folk Music is also a good pick with dance classes followed by live performances and DJ events. If you’re looking for something open even later, hit one of the lesser-known clubs like River North. Select spots in the city can stay open as late as 5 a.m. on Sunday mornings.
A fun must-do: Russian Tea Time. Whether you go for a snack or full tea service ($29.95) this classy experience is both tasty and enjoyable.
Stay here: Try the Chicago Getaway Hostel, with rates starting at $24 for dorm-style accommodations and $35 for private rooms, including breakfast, weekly events, and discounts for attractions around the city. Next
This city has everything: top museums, stylish restaurants, and eccentric boutiques. Don’t be overwhelmed by the enthusiastic energy. Take time to enjoy a taste of just about every culture.
Where to go: If you’re in the mood for museums, the Philadelphia History Museum has it all. For just $10 per person, learn about the everyday life of the locals, starting over 330 years ago. The Barnes Foundation Museum is a little more expensive ($18) and offers world-class collections by artists like Picasso. Walking around the city can be a museum tour in itself and doesn’t have to cost a lot cash. Stop by the National Constitution Center for a taste of the 1920s or simply wander through the streets, shops, and markets.
Grab a bite: Try something different at Zahav, serving modern Israeli cuisine for moderate prices. Choose from starters like hummus a laffa ($8) and small plates like grilled duck hearts ($9). Try Al Ha’esh—meaning grilled over coals—dishes like chicken shishlik or rib eye cap (both $12) or sample dessert like white chocolate cake, tehina semifreddo, or carrot basboosa (all $8). If you have a little extra cash, splurge on the Tayim, a four-course taste of Zahav with salatim and hummus with laffa, two small plates, one Al Ha’esh, and one dessert for $39 per person.
Nightlife: Philly’s casual atmosphere holds dozens of bars, clubs, live music, and hipster hangouts, like Standard Tap, considered to be America’s first gastropub with microbrews and gourmet pub fare. Dock Street Brewing Company offers a wide selection of award-winning craft brews along with hand tossed, wood-fired pizzas. Triumph Brewing Company is also a lively place, with late-night hours and home-brewed lagers.
A fun must-do: Take an afternoon for a timeless tradition: a visit to the Liberty Bell. No explanation needed.
While some call Detroit the most depressing city in the country, the up-and-coming midtown and downtown areas are offering a range of new restaurants and entertainment.
Where to go: The Motown History Museum ($8 per person) offers great group tours with lively hosts and interesting musical exhibits, from Diana Ross to Stevie Wonder. Walking around downtown is also a must, especially on Saturdays for the six-block Eastern Market. Peruse the more than 250 independent vendors selling everything from food to souvenirs.
Grab a bite: Crepes are a must-have during your visit. At Good Girls Go to Paris, choose from over 50 delicious flavors, from the Vera ($7.50, made with bacon, Boursin cheese, and spinach) to the Tynysha ($7.50, made with heath bar, ricotta cheese, and chocolate).
Nightlife: Detroit is the place for laid-back nightlife, offering live music and a more artsy after-hours scene. Try Cliff Bell’s, the city’s oldest supper club, for live jazz and a menu featuring specialties like shrimp and frogs’ legs.
A fun must-do: Visit the Model T Automotive Heritage Complex. Believe it or not, Detroit was the birth place of the Model T and is now home to Henry Ford’s completely resorted first factory. Admission is only $10 per person.
Stay here: Housing and lodging is pretty cheap in Detroit so students are probably okay with staying at a hotel. The Comfort Inn has rates starting at $90 and Adoba Hotel Dearborn starts at $69. Back to the beginning
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