Where to go in January

Updated December 22, 2022
Published December 6, 2019

By Mary Novakovich

After all the madness of December and Christmas, a holiday in January is too appealing to ignore. You might want to escape to somewhere hot to let your body and mind recharge or enjoy a wintry break in a fascinating European city.

Whatever you decide, we’ve got some ideas to get you started.

1. Cape Verde

These ten volcanic islands fanning out from the coast of West Africa offer more than just the chance to flop on the beach.

Cape Verde’s cultural heart is the island of Sao Vicente and its buzzing capital, Mindelo, where live music can be heard practically everywhere. Adventurers who like a good hike make a beeline for steep gorges and jagged mountains of Santo Antao, or the volcanic peaks of Fogo.

Admittedly, the beaches really are beautiful, from the family-friendly powdery beaches on the liveliest of the islands, Sal, to the endless sand dunes on sleepy Boa Vista. If you’re looking for a quintessential Cape Verde experience, then you’ll probably want to stay in Sal, where smarter hotels have been opening up in recent years.

Whichever island you choose, you can savour the richness of the archipelago’s Portuguese heritage mixed with Creole culture.

2. Lanzarote, Canary Islands, Spain

Lanzarote’s lunar landscapes look like something from another planet, its volcanic peaks and solidified lava fields bringing a stark beauty to this Canary Island.

If you happen to be there on January 5 and 6, you can take part in the feast of the Epiphany, which celebrates the end of the Christmas festivities with colourful processions through the streets.

If it’s sand time you want, don’t miss two of Lanzarote's best beaches: Playa de Papagayo, tucked into a cove before the island’s southernmost point, and Playa de Famara set dramatically beneath jagged volcanic cliffs.

Elsewhere, stay dry on a tour of the wondrous Timanfaya National Park or discover the legacy of the architect and artist César Manrique, whose former house – located in the north of the island – is a now a captivating museum.

3. Cancun, Mexico

This Mexican hotspot on the Yucatan peninsula has moved on from its days as spring break resort of choice for North Americans.

On this part of the Riviera Maya, you’re within easy reach of some of the country’s most compelling archaeological sites, including the ancient Mayan ruins on the cliffs overlooking Tulum.

But the Tulum ruins are just the curtain-raiser for the even more dramatic Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s dominated by the enormous pyramid of El Castillo. Hop on a bus from Cancun for the day and combine the ruins with a swim at Tulum Beach.

4. Cuba

Cuba welcomes in the new year with a bang and it buzzes all throughout the month with the annual Havana Jazz Festival, which runs from January 22-29, keeping the party atmosphere alive.

Old Havana is as colourful and charmingly ramshackle as ever, enhanced by a growing art scene, cool cafés and many more openings going on in the districts surrounding the old town. If you can’t splash out on a stay at the Gran Hotel Manzana Kempinski, buy a day ticket to the spa and you’ll have the chance to use the rooftop infinity pool.

Combine a few days in the city with a stay on the coast at one of Cuba’s countless beaches. Varadero is among the most famous and the longest, with over 20km (about 12 miles) of powdery sands. Popular though it is, there’s enough room for everyone.

5. The Algarve, Portugal

January isn’t exactly beach weather in the Algarve – you’ll find temperatures somewhere in the mid-teens – but it’s a time for leisurely hikes along coastal paths in the sun. Head to Parque Natural da Ria Formosa in the region’s east and you can explore the nature trails that wind around these vast wetlands and coastal dunes.

While things will be quieter in the resorts, you’ll still have sunny café terraces and walks along the wild, dramatic beaches of the Algarve. Lagos is one of the liveliest towns, popular with surfers who come here to tackle the giant Atlantic waves.

Further west – about as far as you can go – is Sagres, one of the most appealing spots in the region. Fill up on fresh seafood including one of the staple dishes of the Algarve, cataplana. Named after the round copper pot it’s cooked in, it comes in various combinations – one of the loveliest is clams and pork.

6. Berlin, Germany

Bring full-on winter weather gear to get the most out of Berlin in January, as it will certainly be cold. But with fantastic museums, an efficient public transport system and some seriously cool bars and clubs, you won’t really notice the weather.

Don’t miss the East Side Gallery, one of the few remaining segments of the Berlin Wall. Covered with witty and bold graffiti and street art, it vividly recalls the days when the Wall was the physical embodiment of the Iron Curtain. From here you can get the U-Bahn to Kreuzberg, still one of the coolest of Berlin’s districts.

To get a lesson on Jewish-German history, don’t miss the Jewish Museum (Jüdisches Museum Berlin) in the Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg district. It’s hugely engaging and utterly devastating at the same time, as it delves into Jewish life from the Middle Ages to the present day, with a significant focus on history after 1945.

7. Milan, Italy

Italy’s fashion capital mixes sophistication with an arty feel that goes far beyond the usual tourist sights. Granted, the Duomo really is a magnificent place, as are the luxury boutiques under the glittering glass roof of the neighbouring Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

But away from the gloss, there’s the artistic Navigli district, where waterways used to carry boat traffic until the 18th century. Nowadays, the canals are lined with bars, restaurants and galleries.

Milan is thoroughly wedded to its tradition of the aperitivo hour, when every day from about 5pm to about 8pm, the city’s bars offer a plentiful free buffet of tasty snacks when you buy a drink. Such a civilised way to start the evening...

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