The Best Places to Travel in Europe in January
If the New Year has you daydreaming of Champagne flutes in a remote Swiss palace hotel, or a thrilling car race set in the hills of Monte Carlo, you’re in luck: January is the perfect month for breaking with the typical itinerary and seeing a different side to Europe.
To find the best places to travel in Europe in January, we looked at popular annual events and noteworthy openings and sought out prime weather (whether you're in the mood for a winter wonderland or a winter escape).
You may also recognize some of these destinations from our list of the 50 Best Places to Travel in 2018, like the tiny — and totally underrated — nation of Malta.
From remote ski getaways to open-air concerts held in the piazza of a Mediterranean island, we’ve got 14 great ideas for trips to take to the continent this month.
Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy
Way up in the mountains of northern Italy (a two-hour drive from Venice), Cortina d’Ampezzo is something of a legend among ski connoisseurs: the spectacular views of the Dolomites combined with cozy, traditional lodging make it a vacation like no other. This month, book a therapeutic stay at Cristallo, the newest addition to the Luxury Collection (and the brand’s first-ever ski resort outside of the United States), which also has its own spa with relaxing, après ski treatments.
After the holiday crowds recede, January is a great time to soak up London’s bustling shopping alleys and centuries-old attractions. And while there’s always something new in this fast-paced British capital, travelers should bed down at Dukes Hotel in Mayfair, which is currently celebrating a top-to-bottom refresh of all rooms and suites. The hotel sits on the site of King Henry VIII’s 16th-century palace, though its newest attraction is an intimate all-day restaurant and wine bar named GBR.
At the sumptuously appointed Beau Rivage Palace in Lausanne (an hour train ride from Geneva), white-capped bellmen and sweeping marble staircases underscore the hotel’s roots as a hideout for dignitaries and heads of state from all over Europe. January is the last month to check out Ruinart Evasion: a pop-up Champagne bar erected in the hotel’s 10-acre gardens offering Swiss fondue and distant but dreamy views of the Alps.
Back in the early 1900s, the imperial city of Vienna was a thriving cultural center, with masters like Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele, and Otto Wagner calling the city home. Now, those accomplished residents are being honored in a new year-long exhibit celebrating a century of modernism in Vienna. Also of note? Close to the center, PhilsPlace — a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts — will be opening its doors in January with 135 stylish, serviced apartments surrounded by a massive city park and the convenience of an on-site Italian restaurant.
Each January, the town of Château-d’Oex, in western Switzerland, comes alive with a hot air balloon festival like no other. The nine-day festival attracts pilots from 20 different countries, not to mention a host of eager spectators, dazzled by the sight of the enormous, colorful shapes floating over snow-capped mountains. Even if you’re only in town to ski, the skyward vessels will make a nice backdrop as you go whizzing down the slopes.
Monte Carlo, Monaco
While Monaco’s Formula 1 Grand Prix doesn’t get going until May, winter travelers to Europe’s second-smallest nation can get a sneak peek of the action at the Monte-Carlo Rally, held from January 22 to January 28. The event is organized by the same folks responsible for the Grand Prix, and lets admirers get a closer look at the actual racing cars through an exhibit held at Monte Carlo’s Place du Casino. Glamorous receptions follow the event, including a party at the venerated Hôtel de Paris Monte-Carlo and an award ceremony with Prince Albert.
With a location that’s roughly equidistant between Sicily and Tunisia, Malta offers a more exotic take on the traditional Mediterranean island hopping experience. It’s no surprise, then, that Malta’s capital, Valletta (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) has been chosen as a 2018 European Capital of Culture. Kicking off the year-long celebration on January 14, there will be various pop-up theater performances, a Baroque Festival, and a one-night spectacle known as Erba’ Pjazez taking place in four squares throughout the city.
While summer can mean busloads of tourists and long queues at Oxford’s big attractions, January is a quieter time to enjoy places like the Ashmolean — Britain’s oldest public museum. Once you’ve tired of the Greek statues, Egyptian mummies, and Japanese woodblock prints, go warm up with spiced carrot cake and tea at Browns Cafe, one of the charming shops housed inside the Covered Market: an old-time European food market dating back to the 1770s, where vendors sell everything from hand pies and jewelry to locally produced cheese.
If it’s unspoiled nature and quiet seaside village vibes you’re after, head to the Azores — a Portuguese archipelago that’s situated in the middle of the Atlantic. This month, a brand new hotel opens with rates starting at just 150 Euros per night, making the Azores perfect for an affordable weekend getaway. Perched on the edge of the ocean on São Miguel Island, in the small town of Lagoa, White Villas & Suites features a pool as well as contemporary rooms with kitchenettes, private terraces, and sparse, oceanic-themed decor.
In Germany’s northernmost reaches, Hamburg is set along the Elbe River, which opens into the North Sea. The harbor town’s unique history is documented at places like the International Maritime Museum, though this month, many travelers will be flocking to The Fontenay. This brand new Leading Hotels of the World property opens on January 15 on the banks of the Alster. Marked by a curving, geometric exterior, the luxury spa hotel boasts an atrium that soars to 88 feet.
Opera season is already underway in Eastern Europe’s romantic capital, Budapest. With handsome 17th-century spires lighting up the skyline, and numerous szimpla, or ‘ruin pubs’ to warm up in, the city is simply breathtaking during the mid-winter months. With productions like Porgy and Bess, Tosca, and the Hungarian operetta The Gypsy Baron being staged throughout January, it’s a fantastic excuse to see one of Europe’s most treasured opera houses come to life.
Summer is undoubtedly high season for the Faroe Islands, but the winter months are no less magical. January is one of the best times to experience a cozier, more mellow side of this remote archipelago. (It's a particularly good time for home-cooked Faroese meals of fermented fish and lamb.) This month, locals are celebrating the opening of Mikkeller, a new Danish microbrewery and bar in the town of Tórshavn that’s housed in a 500-year-old building.
If you missed out on a white Christmas and are still yearning for a true winter wonderland, Tromsø should be at the very top of your January bucket list. With Norwegian Air offering some of the cheapest flights to Europe, getting to the Arctic Circle city isn’t hard. Furthermore, there’s plenty of snow on the ground this time of year, and a dog sledding tour is a must. With rates starting from $126 per person, the magical sleigh ride lasts four hours, and includes a traditional Norwegian meal of bidos (reindeer soup) as well as all the hats, boots, and gloves needed to keep you toasty.
Sierra Nevada, Spain
Parts of Europe may be cold in January, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a little Mediterranean sun. Sierra Nevada, Europe’s southernmost ski region, offers more than 65 miles of pistes that are ideal for beginner and intermediate skiers. What’s more, the main resort town of Pradollano sits only 30 minutes from Granada and 90 minutes from Malaga — both of which have international airports — so you can enjoy a bit of nighttime skiing before driving down to the sea and warming up on a beach the following afternoon.