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The 6 Best Places to Travel in January

A lot of people dread January. The merriment of the holidays is over, winter is in full swing and all the TV ads are pressuring you to sign up for a gym membership. Instead of staying home and getting depressed, you could pack your bags and get away from it all with a fabulous January vacation.

To North Americans, January travel may lack the allure of a June getaway, but there are definite advantages to booking a vacation in the New Year. For one, the Southern Hemisphere is in the midst of summer during the first month of the year, so warm weather is just a plane ticket away. For another, the month features some truly unique festivals and experiences in both cold and warm climates. Furthermore, it’s a traditionally slow season in the travel industry, so flight and hotel deals are plentiful in certain areas. Finally, January is a time when you can have some truly incredible travel destinations all to yourself.

Don’t let the winter blues get you down. Start planning your escape with our list of the six best places to travel in January. From winter wonderlands to summertime paradises, here are five January vacation ideas for your bucket list:

1. The Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival – Heilongjiang, China

We won’t lie, winters in Heilongjiang can be brutal. The region, located in northeast China alongside Siberia, Russia, is known for its frigid temperatures and snowy landscape. However, it is also known for hosting the Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, which is one of the largest and most impressive in the world. And for those tough enough to brave the cold, the payoff is certainly worth it.

best places to travel in january harbin ice festival

For hundreds of years, Harbin residents have been making ice lanterns to gently light their city during the coldest months of the year. Over the centuries, this tradition became an annual regional event, highlighting creative lantern designs and ice sculptures. Eventually, it grew into a huge international ice and snow extravaganza that showcases some of the most innovative lantern and ice sculpture designs in the world. At night, the lanterns and sculptures are illuminated with brilliant colors, transforming the entire region into a surreal fantasy land.

Visitors can take in breathtaking displays at four area theme parks: Harbin Wanda Ice Lantern World, Harbin Ice and Snow World, Sun Island International Snow Sculpture Art Expo and Zhaolin Park Ice Lantern Fair. Be sure to take in the Harbin Ice Lantern Show, as it is widely considered to be the highlight of the festival.


2. Cape Town, South Africa

While it may seem a little daft to travel to Africa during its midsummer months, it’s actually one of the best places to visit in January. Cape Town is on the southern tip of the continent, meaning it doesn’t experience the sweltering temperatures of its northern neighbors. Instead, the weather is pleasantly warm, which makes it the perfect time to experience South Africa’s pristine beaches and amazing wildlife.

best places to travel in january cape town

While South Africa’s world-renowned Kruger National is a must-see, it isn’t as close to the city as some of the country’s private game reserves. The exquisite Aquila Private Game Reserve is highly recommended, offering visitors the chance to see hippos, giraffes and hundreds of wild bird species while on horseback. Meanwhile, those with wanderlust won’t want to miss a road trip along the famous Garden Route, which features some of the most beautiful landscapes in the world. If city-dwelling is more your thing, Cape Town has world-class restaurants, bars and museums to keep you entertained and cultured.

january vacation ideas cape town


3. Lake Como, Lombardy, Italy

This glacial lake situated in the alps of northern Italy is a beloved summer destination for Europe’s elite, whose beautiful vacation homes fill the tiny villages that line its banks. But while all the aristocrats are away celebrating the New Year in Milan, savvy travelers can have Lake Como all to themselves.

lago di como january vacation ideas

Winters in the Como region are mild, with daytime temperatures reaching the 70s and nights that usually stay above freezing. And with the towns surrounding Lake Como all but abandoned during the off season, you’ll be able to wander the winding alleyways and enjoy the gorgeous mountain views in serene quiet. Not to mention, you’ll have your pick of luxury villas through AirBnB.

best places to travel in january como italy

For the physically inclined, hiking in the Como region offers mind-blowing views of the lake from above, and nearby Madesimo offers excellent skiing for bargain prices. And though the region may not be abuzz during January, you will be able to count on the year-round residents to cook up mouth-watering Italian dishes in the many local restaurants. A tip for New Year’s travelers: find a pier to walk out onto as the clock strikes midnight for a panoramic fireworks display. As every town around the lake shoots off their fireworks at once, you’ll be surrounded!


4. Yamayaki Festival – Nara, Japan

For those of you looking for once-in-a-lifetime January vacation ideas, Japan’s annual Yamayaki Festival could be the event for you. The annual ritual, which involves lighting an entire mountain on fire, kicks off the new year in the old capital city of Nara.

best places to travel in january nara japan

Photo by Jody McIntyre

The festival celebrates a rivalry between two local Buddhist temples that took place in 1760. The monks inhabiting the Kofuku-ji Temple and Todai-ji Temple couldn’t agree on the boundary lines separating the two groups, so they set Mount Wakakusa, the mountain that sat between them, ablaze.

This may seem like an odd way to settle a dispute, but it certainly makes for an amazing modern-day spectacle. Each year, the Wakakusa Yamayaki Festival begins with the ceremonial lighting of a sacred fire at Nara’s Kasuga Taisha Shrine. Traditionally dressed Buddhist monks then parade the fire to the foot of Mount Wakakusa, where a bonfire is lit and an amazing fireworks display is set off. This is not only an awesome thing to witness, but it also helps maintain the mountain’s ecosystem by burning away dead grass and chasing off bugs, bears and wild boars.

best places to travel in january nara japan

Photo by Kento Ikeda

The day leading up to the massive blaze is packed with fun and unusual events, including a rice cracker throwing contest to feed local deer, who, as you will surely notice, are incredibly tame and revered all over the city. At the end of the day, visitors can head to Nara Park for the best view of the burning mountain.


5. Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada

Yes, this is the jaw-droppingly beautiful park where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle celebrated their honeymoon. While the royal couple visited during the spring, Canadians know that Jasper National Park is one of the best places to visit in January. Located in the stunning Canadian Rockies, the park and surrounding areas provide world-class ski runs, diverse wildlife, intrepid hikes and repelling, and gorgeous scenery.

Jasper national park best places to travel in january

Photo by Terry Lawson

Inside Canada’s largest national park, Marmont Basin features 91 named ski runs with 3,000 vertical feet of drop. There are also 53 types of mammals wandering around, including cougars, black bears, wolves, bighorn sheep and moose. However, one of Jasper’s biggest thrills happens at night. The park is the world’s second largest dark sky preserve, which means visitors can take in the northern lights and other starry wonders in their full glory.

best places to visit in january jasper

Photo by Jeff Wallace


6. Porto, Portugal

If you’re hoping to take a trip across the pond this January, consider the sparkling coastal city of Porto in Northwest Portugal. The country’s second largest city, Porto has many claims to fame that make it a fabulous and underrated year-round travel destination. But with fabulously mild winters and an epic surf season, January may just be the ideal time to go.

porto portugal january

Porto’s beaches and colorful city streets see their fair share of tourists during the summer months, but you can have this dynamic city to yourself during a January vacation. The medieval facades of the Riberia port district, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are colorful and picture-perfect and offer incredible views of the harbor and olden-style wooden boats. When you’re done exploring, wine and dine to your heart”s content in one of the hundreds of cozy restaurants in the city that offer regional wines and freshly caught seafood. Your dollar will go far in Portugal, one of western Europe’s most inexpensive countries.

porto riberia january winter

But Porto in January isn’t just for those looking to wander through an idyllic medieval city. The cold January waters of the Atlantic are ideal for surfers, offering some of the year’s best swells and barrels. You’ll need a wetsuit in the chilly waters, but for the fearless, the thrill will be worth it. Beginners shouldn’t shy away either! Porto is home to many surf schools that are open-year round. Coming during January means smaller class sizes and more personalized, one-on-one instruction.

porto surfing january

Looking for more, out-of-the-ordinary winter vacation ideas? Check out our lists of the best places to travel in December and February. For even more bucket list ideas, read our complete breakdown of the best travel destinations for each month of the year!

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