The best places to visit in January

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5 places in 5 countries
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Many travelers eagerly anticipate the arrival of January. While some are looking for the beauty of the Northern Lights, or enjoying the best time for skiing, others aim to participate in vibrant cultural festivals or wishing to swap their winter coats for bathing suits, craving the warmth of sun-drenched beaches in tropical locales.

This guide focuses on six cities offering these unique January experiences. Beijing in China vibrantly comes alive during the Lunar New Year celebrations.

Despite the chill of winter, Venice in Italy lures visitors with its distinctive charm, Venice Carnival, and the smaller crowds.

Tromsø, a Norwegian city located well above the Arctic Circle, provides an excellent vantage point for viewing the Northern Lights. For skiing aficionados, Chamonix in France is an iconic destination with its challenging pistes and stunning alpine scenery.

Lastly, Phuket in Thailand is a haven for those searching for a beach vacation. The destination boasts year-round warmth, azure waters, and ample opportunities for relaxation or water-based activities.

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Beijing

City in🇨🇳 Chinarated
3.9

In the depth of winter, while other places hibernate, Beijing, the capital of China, hums with anticipation. The reason is the Lunar New Year, also known as Chinese New Year or Spring Festival, which usually falls between January 21 and February 20. The time leading up to this event is rich in tradition and celebration, offering a cultural feast for visitors.

As January progresses, the city gears up for the festival with markets brimming with decorations, traditional foods, and gifts. Visit Ditan Park, where the annual temple fair offers a range of local snacks and folk performances. Alternatively, stroll through Wangfujing Snack Street, sampling traditional treats like tanghulu - candied hawthorn sticks.

Yet, it's not all festivity and frivolity. Beijing residents take the New Year seriously, engaging in deep-cleaning their homes to sweep away ill fortune and make way for incoming luck. Don't be surprised if you see red paper-cuts and couplets on doors and windows, a custom believed to bring good luck.

However, be aware that the period from 2 days before the Lunar New Year Day to 2 weeks after that is the time for family reunions. Many businesses close as employees return home. While this offers a quieter experience in Beijing, it also means reduced services and crowded public transportation. Therefore, the time leading up to the Lunar New Year in January is the best time to experience the tradition.

As the New Year approaches, do not miss the chance to witness the spectacle of the CCTV New Year's Gala, a Chinese variety show watched by millions, or witness a fireworks display that paints the sky with colors.

Beijing isn't alone in its fervor for Lunar New Year. Other places such as Shanghai in China, Singapore, Hongkong, Taipei in Taiwan, Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi in Vietnam also light up with equal gusto, their skyline punctuated with fireworks and streets echoing with joyous laughter and well-wishes for the coming year.

Explore Beijing

Venice

City in🇮🇹 Italyrated
4.4

Venice in January offers an experience that is more than just gondola rides and famous landmarks. It's the time of the Carnival of Venice, a traditional festival that drenches the city in a carnival atmosphere, dating back to the 11th century.

For a span of two weeks leading up to Shrove Tuesday (usually falling in late January or early February), Venice turns into a masked ball. Locals and visitors don lavish costumes and masks, parading around St. Mark's Square and through the city's labyrinthine alleys.

The highlights of the carnival are the extravagant masquerade balls. Keep in mind that many locals consider it a faux pas to wear a mask during the daytime outside of the carnival period.

While the festival is in full swing, Venice remains a city with a rich cultural tapestry. The Doge's Palace and the Basilica di San Marco offer glimpses into its past grandeur. Be sure to try fritole, a traditional Venetian carnival sweet found at every corner bakery during the festival.

Visitors should know that Venice can be chilly in January and occasionally experiences flooding. Despite these inconveniences, the Carnival of Venice provides a unique opportunity to experience this city steeped in history and tradition at its most festive.

Explore Venice

Tromsø

City in🇳🇴 Norwayrated
4.4

Tromsø, a small city situated in Norway, is known as a location most famous for the natural phenomenon known as the Northern Lights, or Aurora Borealis. Here, locals and visitors often bundle up in warm clothing to brave the chilly outdoors and witness this spectacular light show painted across the night sky.

Though it's certainly not the only place to see the Northern Lights, Tromsø's unique location within the Arctic Circle makes it a reliable hotspot for this visual treat. Numerous tour operators offer guided Northern Lights chases, making the experience accessible even for those unfamiliar with the area. Other notable locations for viewing the Northern Lights include Fairbanks in Alaska, Abisko in Sweden, and Luosto in Finland.

While January's cold temperatures can be daunting for some, the lack of sunlight, often referred to as the Polar Night, ensures an extended window for viewing the Northern Lights. However, travelers should be mindful that these weather conditions may cause disruptions to their travel plans. Winter storms are common and can lead to flight delays or cancellations.

Interestingly, with just over seventy thousand residents, Tromsø is considered the largest city within the Arctic Circle. This affords visitors an unusual blend of natural beauty and urban comforts that isn't found in many other places known for the Northern Lights.

Explore Tromsø

Chamonix-Mont-Blanc

Town in🇫🇷 Francerated
4.6

Chamonix, a small town tucked in the French Alps, is well-known to winter sports enthusiasts for its excellent skiing conditions in January. Noted as the site of the first Winter Olympics in 1924, this snowy haven's slopes offer challenges to both beginners and experienced skiers alike.

The main lure of Chamonix is its high-altitude slopes that provide consistent snowfall and optimal skiing conditions throughout the winter months. The slopes range from gentle beginner-friendly inclines to steep off-piste trails for the daring. The Vallée Blanche, an off-piste ski route covering 20km, is a thrilling challenge for experienced skiers.

Apart from its snow-clad slopes, Chamonix is also famed for its cable car ride to Aiguille du Midi, offering panoramic views of Mont Blanc and surrounding peaks. Despite its reputation as a winter paradise, visitors should be mindful of potential dangers such as avalanches and sudden weather changes.

Chamonix's charm extends beyond its slopes, with its traditional alpine architecture and a few hundred locals maintaining an authentic mountain-town feel. For food lovers, the town offers a variety of local dishes like tartiflette, a hearty potato and cheese dish perfect for refueling after a day on the slopes.

While Chamonix holds a special place in the hearts of skiers, other winter sports destinations worth considering in January include Aspen in the USA, Zermatt in Switzerland, Niseko in Japan, and Whistler in Canada. These locations also offer an exciting mix of challenging slopes, stunning scenery, and a rich winter sports heritage.

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Phuket

City in🇹🇭 Thailandrated
4.1

Phuket, the pearl of Thailand's southern provinces, entices winter-weary travelers with its warm, inviting climate. The island's coastal areas, famed for their calm and clear waters, are popular among those who enjoy water sports. Whether you're into jet skiing or peaceful paddleboarding, Phuket's beaches provide a suitable backdrop. For those interested in marine life, snorkeling offers a chance to observe vibrant coral reefs and exotic fish.

Away from the beaches, Phuket's local food is a highlight, with street vendors offering a variety of flavorsome dishes that combine Thai ingredients with Chinese cooking techniques.

Despite its popularity, Phuket does come with its own set of challenges. Over-tourism is a concern, and visitors are urged to respect local customs and environments.

While Phuket certainly deserves its reputation as an excellent January destination, other beach locales outside Thailand warrant attention. Australia's Gold Coast enjoys its summer during this month, offering surfing opportunities and a range of water sports. The coastal city of Cape Town in South Africa and Cancún in Mexico present stunning beaches alongside mountain hikes and wine tours. Whichever destination you choose, ensure it fits your interests and desires for a truly rewarding January journey.

Explore Phuket

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