March is always a tough month to get through. The festivities of the holidays are over, the gleam of the new year has worn off, and the warmth of spring is not...quite...here yet.
No longer the undiscovered gem that it was just a few years ago, Istanbul is still under the radar for many American travelers. That’s why it is possible to experience this amazing city and its legendary hospitality for a fraction of what you’d pay in London, Paris, Rome, or any of the other more traditional European destinations.
Spring is the optimal time to visit since the mild climate is perfect for sightseeing, the tourist hoards of summer have not yet descended, rates are lower, and restaurants are not overbooked. Plus, you’ll avoid the mosquitoes that arrive around mid June.
Two airlines have direct flights to Istanbul from the U.S.: Delta (from JFK) and Turkish Airlines (from Dulles, LAX, and O’Hare). A roundtrip flight in March and April will run you around $700, a steal given that (a) many indirect flights on other airlines cost as much or more and (b) stretching the 9-hour haul into several layovers would waste valuable time exploring this historic metropolis.
One of the many beauties of Istanbul is that it's not cluttered with hotels, but two options include the posh and pricey Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet, where rates in March begin at $700 per night, and the charming Empress Zoe, where your $165 room includes a delicious buffet breakfast. (Bonus tip: Pay in cash and get a 10% discount off your room rate). Both of these properties are right smack in the middle of the historic center, a stone’s throw from the incredible Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, and the Marmara Sea.
Buenos Aires, Argentina
The birthplace of tango, Buenos Aires is all about stirring the passions. Gourmands will salivate over the food offerings, night owls will love the club scene, and history buffs will dive into the city’s treasures—all while keeping their bank accounts intact.
In the topsy turvy world of the southern hemisphere, the summer months of December through February are just giving way to autumn. The temperatures are in the mid 50s through the low 70s and it is still a few months until the rains of May. Although Latin America is no longer the absolute bargain it was in the early 2000s, Americans will still find Buenos Aires to be a great value, as hotel rates are down as much as 40% since 2008 and $1 buys 4 Argentine pesos. (To put that in perspective: a sumptuous cut of steak at a top-notch parilla will cost you about 50 pesos, or about $12.50).
In this case, it doesn’t pay to shell out more than $1,200 for a direct flight. A connection can shave hundreds of dollars off your expenses and provide some much needed relief from 11 hours in the unfriendly airplane seat. For example, Copa Air’s flights from New York include a one a half hour layover in Panama City for $850. TAM Airlines offers a similarly easy itinerary and price, with a connection through Rio de Janeiro.
Palermo Hollywood, as the name implies, is the neighborhood where you’ll find filmmakers, designers, and other hip, fashionable young things congregating in the chic nightspots that never seem to close. The stylish Home Hotel caters to this set with colorful rooms starting at $130. Their parents stay at the elegant Alvear Palace Hotel in Recoleta where a decidedly more grown up atmosphere (Hermes toiletries, Louis XVI furniture) and price tag ($400 per night and up) predominates.
A taste of Old World Europe in North America, Montreal is comparatively easy to get to for most American travelers. Known as a city best explored by foot, Montreal is home to the Notre Dame Basilica, the site of the 1967 World’s Fair (which is now devoted to green spaces and functions as a concert venue), and world-famous poutine.
The weather is particularly pleasant at this time of year, and prices are lower, since the major tourist season doesn’t start until late May. Plus, this transitional season provides the opportunity to walk the streets in comfortable weather or to catch the tail end of ski season in places like Parc du Mont-Royal.
Car rentals will be cheaper at this time of year, and driving is an option from the Northeast region of the U.S. Plane tickets tend to run about $450 from New York on Air Canada, Continental, or United Airways. As counter-intuitive as it might seem, if you’re flying from Florida, you can pay just $260 for a ticket on Canada’s low-cost airline WestJet.
One of the great things about this Old World city is its affordable accommodations that manage to be simultaneously romantic and modern. Three-time winner of the Best Montreal B&B Award, Alexandre Logan (1870) is a bed and breakfast near the lively Sainte-Catherine Street and Old Montreal, with prices ranging from about $130 for a king-sized room for two. Casa Bianca is a less touristy option located in the Plateau neighborhood, facing Mount Royal, which is a mountain in the middle of the city; prices range from about $120 to $200 if you go before the end of March. Auberge du Vieux-Port is a luxurious option that includes a full breakfast every morning and even a glass of wine, for about $150 to $240 a night.
Beata Santora is an Associate Editor at Condé Nast Traveler. She was bitten by the travel bug at age 3 while on a cruise of the Black Sea, and now she loves airports and hotels the way most people love chocolate.