It’s no secret that we at Thrillist love to travel—in fact, it’s pretty much all we do. And with every new flight, mountain summit, cocktail bar, and hotel check-in, we always learn something new. That’s why we’re in the habit of turning to our team of seasoned editors and global contributors, each with extensive boots-on-the-ground experience, to help you plan your next jet-setting adventure.

Usually, getting out of town for a long weekend—at least without chewing up all your precious PTO—means a quick and easy trip. Some of us will happily head to some idyllic small town during a three-day federal holiday, or take advantage of a summer Friday by jumping in the car and hitting the nearest city that’s not our own. But why do any of that when you can plunk down on a white-sand beach in the Caribbean, island-hop through Latin America, or explore an overseas metropolis?

Look, nobody’s telling you to bounce off to New Zealand or the Maldives on President’s Day and be back for work on Tuesday. But that doesn’t mean coming home with a fresh tan and a new passport stamp is out of the question thanks to these 16 prime vacation spots, chosen by a crew of seasoned travel writers. 

From European gems to slept-on cultural hubs, these locations are all an easy jump from some of America’s biggest airports. Duck out a couple hours early if you can, hop on a red-eye, and enjoy the exhilaration of a trip abroad. We’ll see you on Monday.

town of nordeste san miguel island azores best weekend vacations
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São Miguel, Azores, Portugal

Travel time: Bostonians, rejoice! The quickest way to this lush island of natural beauty in the middle of the Atlantic is a less than five-hour red-eye with Azores Airlines from Logan International (depending on the wind, don’t be surprised if you find yourself in Portugal 30 minutes ahead of schedule). You can also fly direct from JFK in under six hours. For both, expect to shell out around $700 for a roundtrip ticket during peak travel times, but by late September, airfare dips to around $500.

Why you’ll love it: Hip, ever-trending Lisbon is less than seven hours from New York, but for a truly dreamy escape, São Miguel is unmatched. The largest of nine islands that make up the Azores, this naturalist’s dream combines fog-crowned lakes and relaxing hot springs along with slender waterfalls and colorful, Hydrangea-lined roadways.

To make sense of it all, sign up for a full-day tour with Holistika Azores, which takes a more contemporary, off-the-beaten-path approach to its itineraries. The eight-hour excursion might have you taking in eye-popping views of the Sete Cidades volcano, swimming under hidden waterfalls in Furnas, or hiking through the oldest areas of the island. Lunch, perhaps of lapas (a local shellfish delicacy best eaten with loads of butter) and beer in full view of the ocean, is included in the £100 price tag.

Fill out the rest of your stay eating anything and everything you can: Visit pineapple green houses at Plantações de Ananases A. Arruda, which also sells addictive pineapple chili oil as a must-have souvenir; learn about one of Europe’s only tea plantations; and then tuck into a bowl of meaty cozido, a stew that’s cooked for hours underground by the steam of the hot springs in Furnas. –Chadner Navarro, Freelance Travel Writer

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Cayman Islands

Travel time: You’re in Miami? Great! A direct flight for you is just an hour and a half. From Chicago or New York, it’s still under four hours. A roundtrip will run probably $300 to $550 if you aim for March or April, the sweet spot when hotel rates drop but the rainy season hasn’t quite yet kicked in.

Why you’ll love it: The Caymans span three islands, each with a different vibe. On a short trip, you’ll get the most out of your time on the biggest of the three, Grand Cayman. Spend your time swimming among and learning about sea turtles and other marine life at the Cayman Turtle Centre. For an absolute stunner of a shoreline—we’re assuming this is a high priority—head a few minutes south to Seven Mile Beach. And maybe feed a stingray while you’re there.

Not really an ocean person? Weird choice of vacation spots, but that’s cool—consider going to Hell (no, seriously), a surreal little whistle-stop village drenched in black limestone. It’s free, though it’s worth paying a small fee (meaning a gratuity) for a guide to give you a more thorough experience. Then keep walking, if you must, onto the renowned Mastic Trail, which cuts through a gorgeous nature preserve.

If you can make it down during the first week of May, you can catch the raucous annual Carnival festivities, known here as Batabano. And definitely don’t go back home without sampling the world-class jerk chicken. It’s ubiquitous, but East Ender’s is a cut above. –Kastalia Medrano, Deputy Editor, Filter

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Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Travel time: You can fly from LA to Cancún in about four and a half hours, or from Houston or Miami in just two hours. A roundtrip will probably run you $250-$400, and the ferry from Cancún is only a few bucks.

Why you’ll love it: This island right off the tip of the Yucatán Peninsula is an excellent place to enjoy the best things about Cancún, without actually having to interact with the kind of people who frequent Cancún. In other words, this is where you go not to party for a weekend, but to laze. For a day at the beach, head to Playa Norte, where the waters stay waist-deep for probably as far out as you care to walk anyway. Jaunting around Isla Mujeres via golf cart is a popular move, but if you’re willing and able, rent a bike or moped. At four miles long and just less than half a mile wide, the island is small and relatively car-free, so you shouldn’t have to worry about the roads.

Don’t miss the Underwater Museum of Art, which comprises more than 500 statues and sculptures that are, as the name suggests, underwater. You can either view them from a glass-bottomed boat, snorkel, or scuba dive your way through the collection.

Visit during the summer, and you’re in the planet’s optimal time and place for snorkeling with one of the most noble and mysterious creatures: the whale shark. These gentle, school bus-sized creatures aren’t actually sharks, but rather the world’s largest fish. Though their migration patterns have stumped marine biologists for years, Isla Mujeres is where they’re most reliably known to turn up. –KM

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Hamilton, Bermuda

Travel time: Bermuda is an easy flight from the East Coast: two hours from New York, DC, or Boston, and about three from Miami or Atlanta. The quick flight and small price tag—you can often fly direct for under $300—makes it the stuff of weekend getaway dreams.

Why you’ll love it: Bermuda is a strange bird. It’s not tropical, but it is warm and sunny and has pink-sand beaches and sunsets over the North Atlantic. You can horseback ride on those colorful beaches, or even ride a jet ski into the Bermuda Triangle (don’t worry, it’s totally chill these days). Visit the historic The Swizzle Inn (est. 1652) for an iconic rum swizzle, and then seek out authentic local fare in St. George’s, where the signature wahoo fish sandwich on raisin bread is the way to go.

Bermuda’s tax status means there’s quite a bit of wealthy expats combing its shores, but even if you can’t spend hedge fund-manager dollars, you can enjoy the same beaches as the yacht crowd. Consider cruising the bicycle trails, trying a stand-up paddleboard, and walking around Hamilton’s Downtown. It’s quiet, relaxing, and a shorter flight home than some New Yorkers’ morning commutes. –Emily Zemler, Freelance Travel Writer

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Les marchés publics de Montréal

Montréal, Quebec, Canada

Travel time: Montréal is easy to travel to from just about any major US city, with New York, Chicago, Philly, and Washington, DC clocking the most flights per week and flight times lasting three to five hours.

Why you’ll love it: There’s a saying that Montréal is the closest you can get to Europe without leaving North America, but we call BS. It’s its own thing, and should be celebrated as such. Sure, there’s a certain je ne sais quoi to the charming cobblestone streets of Old Montréal, but the modern city is not content to stay in a single lane. Old and new combine here in fascinating ways, from the Mile End neighborhood, home to a large traditional Jewish population (not to mention the best bagels in town) to the edgy Gay Village near the city center.

The cultural soul of Quebec, Montréal is a city of festivals, hosting everything from international jazz fests to spectacular circuses—Cirque du Soleil may have gotten its start here, but it’s far from the only game in town. It’s also a food lover’s dream. International year-round markets like Atwater and Jean-Talon offer the best in cheese, pastries, and more, while world-renowned restaurantsJoe Beef and Au Pied de Cochon elevate elk, venison, and boar to soaring heights. Of course, you could always settle for a fried bologna sandwich from Schwartz’s Deli or Canada’s national dish, poutine.

Canada also offers legalized recreational marijuana, so if weed is part of your travel agenda, you’re in luck. Montreal’s laws are pretty straightforward, with cannabis stores now open for interested parties 18 and older. –Joseph Hernandez, Senior Service Editor, Philadelphia Inquirer

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Mexico City, Mexico

Travel time: Direct flights from most major US airports will get you into CDMX pretty quickly: two and a half hours from Dallas, three from Miami, four from LA, and five from NYC. Roundtrip fare usually ranges from $300-$500.

Why you’ll love it: Anything feels possible in these parts. Spend an afternoon wandering the tree-lined streets of super-trendy La Condesa or La Roma, and sip artisanal coffee while eavesdropping on local slang (no mames guey!). Get cultured in the Centro Historico, where grand colonial buildings and churches tower over the electric, modern murals that illuminate the thronged alleys. The top draft choices among the 150 museums in the city are the stunning Museum of Anthropology and the Casa Azul of Frida Kahlo. Then hit the city’s bustling markets to experience some of the best street food on the planet while surrounded by glorious buzz.

At night, the capital city truly comes alive—as will you, when you sample pulque (a traditional, fermented agave drink, flavored with strawberry or celery) and befriend the mariachi band busking on the sidewalk. Grab some mezcal and a midnight snack of tacos al pastor, then stumble off to dance until sunrise. Don’t forget a day trip to the epic, pre-Hispanic city of Teotihuacan, where climbing the steep steps of the ancient pyramids will leave you eager for a long lunch in a restaurant in the desert, right next to a cactus farm. –Laura Yan, Freelance Travel Writer

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Turks and Caicos

Travel time: A direct flight from Miami will put you there in less than two hours; from Chicago or New York, it’s less than four. You should be able to get a roundtrip ticket for under $500 (half that from Miami).

Why you’ll love it: Yes, Turks and Caicos (and its $33,000-per-night hotel) is a hotspot for celebrities. But just because you don’t have an agent doesn’t mean you should write it off as too exclusive or too expensive. There are hotels in the $200-$300 per night range that will feel luxe enough to scratch the vacation itch. And if you go during Hurricane Season—roughly June through November—they’re even cheaper and less crowded… provided there’s no actual hurricane approaching.

As activities go, there’s a beach full of puppies you can play with, which is a really good start. A massive barrier reef makes the waters ideal for swimming and snorkeling. Set aside at least one lazy morning on Providenciales to lounge around Grace Bay Beach, a stretch of white sand spanning more than three miles that has the unnerving, blemish-free aesthetic of a high-quality stock photo.

If you get there on a Thursday night, you can hit the weekly fish fry, where dozens of local artisans and food vendors collide alongside live, local music. For an even quieter, off-the-grid weekend than what you’ll find on Providenciales (often called Provo), catch a ferry to the North Caicos or Middle Caicos islands, or—where you conceivably might not run into a single other person—Salt Cay, the smallest of the main islands at around 100 residents. –KM

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Banff and Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada

Travel time: You can fly direct into Calgary from New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco, or Chicago, often for under $300 (sometimes even less, depending on season and departure city). It’s a two- to five-hour flight there, then a one- to two-hour drive into the mountains to get to Banff—all worth it the second you glimpse the views.

Why you’ll love it: Visitors of all stripes converge on this beloved mountain town—burly motorcycle dudes, international tourists, ski bums, grandmas, 20-somethings in toques (that’s Canadian for “beanies”)—to get a whiff of clean alpine air while gazing starry-eyed upon the preposterously scenic Canadian Rockies.

In town, folks fuel up on bison short ribs and cured steelhead at Bison Restaurant and sip housemade gin at Park Distillery, but the siren call of Cascade Mountain, which frames Banff Avenue as you look north, beckons adventurers away from the fireplace. UNLTD will outfit you for snow, and have you on the back bowl at Lake Louise, Sunshine, and Mt. Norquay lickety-split with the SkiBig3 pass. Mid-January brings the Ice Magic Festival to the grand Fairmont Lake Louise, where you can cozy up at the ice bar or slide across the most glorious ice rinks with a killer view of Victoria Glacier as a backdrop.

Or, you could come in the summer and drive the Icefields Parkway between Banff and Jasper; the highway offers sublime, unobstructed views of the craggy Rockies. Taste a bit of the Athabasca Glacier at the Columbia Icefield Adventure, hike into Banff National Park, or go waterfall trekking into Johnston Canyon and Ink Pots. Most importantly, don’t forget your bear spray, especially in spring and summer when the wild berries are ripe for eating. –Keryn Means, Freelance Travel Writer

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Belize City, Belize

Travel time: Flights to Belize City are quicker than you realize from hubs like Dallas-Fort Worth, Atlanta, and Miami (three hours) or Houston (two and a half hours). And ticket prices from those cities can sometimes get down to under $300 roundtrip.

Why you’ll love it: Lush tropical rainforest? Check. Ancient Mayan ruins? Not too bad. Those cayes? Spectacular. This little Central American country covers more than 200 small islands rolling out into some of the clearest turquoise waters and blindingly white sand you’ll ever see. And for roughly the cost of your flight, you can even rent an entire island for the weekend. It’s that kind of place.

If you’re into mingling with locals over endless daiquiris, the most popular islands are Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker. From there, you can take a short boat ride out to the world’s second-largest barrier reef to snorkel with a mind-boggling variety of stingrays, sharks, and fish. Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is bigger, but I can tell you from experience that Belize is better. Close the day with Caribbean vibes, jerk chicken, and coconut rice on the beach, and ask yourself how you’ve lived this close to paradise without ever finding time to visit before. –Katie Lockhart, Freelance Travel Writer

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Costa Rica

Travel time: Florida to Costa Rica clocks in at just under three hours. California and New York? About five. With two international airports, two coasts on two oceans, and a capital city in the thick of it all, Costa Rica’s pura vida is blissfully accessible. What’s more, flights can dip as low as $200 in the off season, which runs from May through November.

Why you’ll love it: Costa Rica is the epitome of a peaceful haven: The country disbanded its military back in 1948, and the government doesn’t view its abundant natural resources as something to be capitalized on. Costa Ricans embrace pura vida holistically.

Fly into bustling San Jose and you’ll be central to everything: wild, verdant forests, swoon-worthy beaches, wildlife, and stunning resorts and hotels. Everyone’s Costa Rica trip is whatever they make it, whether that’s hanging poolside or trekking through the rainforest. Make life easier by renting a car: In Costa Rica, you can watch the sunrise over the turquoise Caribbean Sea, then see it set over the deep blue Pacific Ocean—all in one day, since the drive from the east to the west coast only takes about six hours.

Affordable and quick, chartered puddle jumpers are also available if you want to get further from civilization. Costa Rica boasts an incredible amount of biodiversity, so be prepared to see animals like hatching baby turtles make their way to the ocean, or even elusive ocelots. To the north, you’ll find the active El Arenal Volcano—the area, La Fortuna, is known for its rustic hot springs and chic spas. –Liv Lawson, Freelance Travel Writer

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Punta Cana, Dominican Republic

Travel time: You can find regular direct flights to DR from a ton of American cities, including Miami, Fort Lauderdale, and Orlando (two to two and a half hours); Charlotte (about three and a half hours); or DC, Philly, and New York (under four hours). Even better? Prices can drop as low as $190 roundtrip.

Why you’ll love it: Home to pristine white-sand beaches, gorgeous villages, and the tallest mountain in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic is the perfect place to spend some time exploring its unique island culture and dense jungle ecology. It’s also a fantastic place to simply plop down in the sun with a refreshing mamajuana and toil a weekend away… especially if you fly into the Caribbean paradise of Punta Cana.

No, this isn’t some hidden Caribbean gem shrouded in jungle, but there is a huge variety of activities here to help you maximize your time. Be pampered at an all-inclusive resort like Iberostar Grand Bávaro or Eden Roc at Cap Cana, or opt for an ultra-affordable hotel. Regardless, you’ll spend most of your time kicking it on golden sands or wading into crystal-clear waters. You’ll have the option to hike, snorkel, windsurf, kayak, golf, and more, but honestly, those beaches are pretty damn comfy, so you’d be forgiven for spending your entire day sprawled out in anticipation of a evening full of great music, strong drinks, and incredible Dominican cuisine. –Andy Kryza, Former Senior Editor of Travel, Thrillist

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Victoria, British Columbia

Travel time: Get there direct from Seattle for less than $300 and under an hour. Or, fly into Vancouver (YVR) and then hop across the Strait of Georgia to Vancouver Island (a bit confusing, but it’s where you’ll find Victoria, not Vancouver) via commercial flight, seaplane, or ferry. The whole trip will take you four and a half hours from LA, or six hours from Houston or Chicago. Or, drive and ferry from Seattle in about five hours.

Why you’ll love it: Vancouver—so sexy, so filmable—overshadows this smaller, harder-to-reach provincial capital. But the Garden City offers a mix of the bold and the British that makes its tourist-friendly yet genuinely cool Downtown one of the chillest little vacation nooks on the West Coast.

Stone-clad buildings like the grandiose Empress Hotel and British Columbia’s Legislature loom over seals splashing happily amid houseboats in the harbor nearby. Red Fish Blue Fish, a harborside fish-and-chips shack housed in a renovated shipping container, has eats that justify what will likely be a lengthy wait in line. And if the view inspires you to get out on the water, hop in a speed boat and chase some orca, taking a second to notice the snow-splattered Olympic Mountains rising in Washington State, still visible to the south. –Lewis Kelly, Freelance Travel Writer

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Cartagena, Colombia

Travel time: Three hours direct from Miami and Fort Lauderdale, or five hours direct from New York, with flights starting at around $250 roundtrip. Alternatively, you’ll find lots of connections through Bogota.

Why you’ll love it: You’d be forgiven if you forgot that Colombia is in the Caribbean—but it’s one of the area’s gems, with white beaches cushioning blue waters and all the ceviche, cocktails, champeta, and cumbia you could possibly want. Still retaining some fantastical charm, Cartagena’s Old Town boasts a tropical food scene, with plenty of opportunities for drinking rum and dancing exclusively with your hips in the local taverns. This is where romance seeps through the city’s historical walls, exuding warm, tropical beauty in every corner. And should that not be enough, there are boats waiting to take you to any spot within the nearby Islas del Rosario—otherwise known as paradise.

Though, you better hurry—in the past decade, Colombia has seen a huge spike in visitors, yet prices haven’t quite caught up. You can still eat fabulously well for under $20, with equally acceptable rates for lodging. All of this perched on the exquisite Caribbean coastline makes for the ideal sanctuary to find your 100 hours of solitude. –Daniel Cole, Freelance Music and Travel Editor

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Dublin, Ireland

Travel time: If you want to play hooky in Europe but only have a long weekend, this is one of the closest and most manageable destinations. Direct flights from New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and other major East Coast cities run about six and a half hours—and can be as cheap as $300.

Why you’ll love it: Dublin’s hardly a secret, but it’s one you can easily browse past if you’re planning a Euro trip. Look, it’s dense, walkable, culturally rich, and full of folks who will drink you under the table day or night—don’t overthink this. For a blowout three-day weekend, it’s ideal.

On these cobbled streets, you’ll meet street performers doing magic and making dog sculptures out of sand. Skip the tourist-choked joints around Temple Bar (but make a stop in the legendary bar itself) and instead hit up the art scene at the Irish Film Institute or The Temple Bar Gallery + Studios. Pop by the Leprechaun Museum and sit in a giant chair 10 times your size (best after pints and drams at the Guinness Factory and the Jameson Distillery). If you prefer to eat your alcohol, try some Guinness stew or stop in at Murphy’s for a rotating menu of ice cream flavors that includes Irish coffee.

Then, keep the party going. Hit the Brazen Head for live music or a pub on Harcourt Street. Your new friend (what’s their name, again?) might lead you into a bleary made-up game like “good bottle, bad bottle.” (Hint: It always ended in bottles breaking.) After two days soaking up the culture, history, and ethanol, head out for a tour of the stunning countryside and the cliffs to clear your head and lungs before heading back home to real life. –Hannah Friedman, Freelance Travel Writer

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Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico

Travel time: Mexico’s northwesternmost state is a 20-minute drive from the San Diego airport, so all you need to do is grab a cheap flight into California and tack on a car rental. Or, hell, just take the trolley into Tijuana, where the local airport is best accessed via a connection in Latin America.

Why you’ll love it: Butting up directly to the US-Mexico border and the Pacific Ocean, Baja California is a neighboring destination that will leave you feeling like you just got off a 10-hour plane ride (minus the 10-hour plane ride, of course). Tijuana, situated on la Frontera, is both safer and more dynamic than you might expect—a magnet for art, design, and, like its sibling San Diego, craft beer. The city’s also home to boutique hotels, alongside a glut of fine and upscale-casual dining restaurants serving internationally lauded Mexican cuisine.

Down the coastal highway is the port city of Ensenada, known for its second-to-none fresh seafood and the Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico’s version of wine country. With more than 150 architecture-forward wineries, inventive hotels, and restaurants helmed by Michelin-starred chefs, this less-explored food and drink oasis is a side of Mexico most people outside of Southern California haven’t yet experienced. –Jackie Bryant, Managing Editor, San Diego Magazine

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Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Travel time: It takes under two hours (and between $200-$300) to get there from New York, Chicago, DC, and Atlanta, but Toronto’s status as a huge international city means getting here from most anywhere is easy. Even better? If you’re in Buffalo or Detroit, you can drive.

Why you’ll love it: Home to Ramona Flowers, Drake, The Weeknd, and, sigh, Barenaked Ladies, Toronto has long flown under the radar. Canadian haters have written it off as a wannabe NYC. Americans have written it off as Montreal’s uncool cousin (again, Barenaked Ladies). But in the past few decades, something miraculous has happened: Toronto became cool as hell.

It’s not just the fact that Toronto is one of North America’s most diverse cities, a place where more than 230 nationalities come together to inform the culture, music, and exquisite culinary scene. And it’s not just the intensely awesome art scene that thrives from the shores of Lake Ontario to the alleys beneath the skyline, where street murals, world-class galleries, and cutting-edge venues routinely drop jaws. And it’s definitely not just the nightlife, which ranges from mixology-intensive cocktail bars to thumping clubs throughout one of the continent’s most LGBTQ-friendly cities. Taken on their own, any one of those factors would make Toronto worth a visit. Together, they represent a close-to-home international destination you really, really need to show some attention. –AK

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