The Best Places to Travel in January
Related: See the 50 Best Places to Travel in 2020
Icy cold weather and unique experiences await in Harbin, China at the annual Ice and Snow Festival. Travel at the end of January to catch the Chinese New Year festivities in a megacity like Beijing or Shanghai during your trip to China (Chinese New Year is on January 25, 2020). For another snowy escape, visit the Brainerd Lakes area of Minnesota for the annual ice fishing competition. British Columbia’s mountains and ski slopes are a paradise for winter sports fans, with powdery snow and cozy lodges.
In Amsterdam, the annual Light Festival illuminates the city’s canals and streets with creations by local and international artists. The city also celebrates National Tulip Day in January, recognizing its beloved flower. The floral celebrations continue in the United States, as Los Angeles begins the year with Pasadena’s Rose Parade, featuring spectacular floats covered entirely with blossoms, seeds, and leaves. L.A.’s comfortable weather makes it a great place to be in January, and there’s so much to do in this California city.
If you’re seeking warm weather, consider Cartagena in the southern hemisphere (where it’s summer in January), or head to Barbados or the Florida Keys. Bangkok’s weather is ideal in January, and its impressive street food scene makes it a must-visit destination for foodies. Enjoy beaches and outdoor activities in Bermuda, located just a short flight away from the U.S. Whether you head for snow or sun, start 2020 in the best way by traveling.
These are our picks for the best places to travel in January.
This port city on Colombia’s Caribbean coast is perfect in January, with temperatures ranging from 75 to 87 degrees, minimal rainfall, and low humidity. Cartagena’s historic center, surrounded by miles of ancient walls, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1984. Home to exquisite colonial architecture, hotels, boutiques, and restaurants, “Old Cartagena” can be explored on guided walking tours or on your own. If you’re traveling to the southern hemisphere for sunshine and beaches, think about heading to the Rosario Archipelago, a group of islands about 60 miles off the coast, for superb diving and snorkeling. Cartagena hosts several festivals in January, including the annual Cartagena Festival de Musica International Music Festival, which will be held from January 4-12. At the end of the month from January 30-February 2, the Hay Festival will host literary events featuring writers, poets, journalists, and academics. The Fried Food Festival on January 20 will celebrate street foods, especially “fritos,” crisp pockets of corn flour filled with tasty meats and spices. Stay at the luxurious 5-star Conrad Cartagena for its private beach, pools, golf course, and spa. Alternatively, the boutique Casa San Agustin’s colonial-style building in the old city boasts a private beach, original frescoes, and historic atmosphere.
Originally formed from coral, Barbados offers white and pink sand beaches on its west coast and waves for surfers on the east. The weather is warm and dry in January with little rain and low humidity, ideal for exploring or relaxing on the beach, where water temperatures are around 80 degrees. This island destination doesn't just offer sand and surf — there are a ton of historical and cultural landmarks to explore as well. The island was inhabited by the indigenous Arawaks and Caribs before it was colonized by the Portuguese and British. Barbados remained a British colony until its independence in 1966 when it became a member of the Commonwealth of Nations. The Barbados Museum, housed in the former 1817 British military prison, displays artifacts of the colonial period such as furniture, maps, and genealogy records as well as information about the island’s coral. The St. Nicholas Abbey, built in 1660, is an example of a rare Jacobean-style mansion, with curved Dutch gables and beautifully preserved furnishings, portraits, and antiques. It’s a working distillery as well, creating a selection of rums made from sugar grown in its own fields. A fascinating tour of the home and distillery ends with a scenic steam train ride through plantation grounds and mahogany forests, ending at Cherry Tree Hill, one of the island’s most scenic overlooks. Looking for somewhere to stay? The Fairmont Royal Pavilion is located on a sandy beach, literally steps from the ocean. Its newly renovated rooms and suites face the ocean, and guests can dine al fresco at Taboras, Palm Terrace, or Beach Club.
The Florida Keys, The United States of America
Pleasant temperatures in the mid-70s and sunny skies make the Florida Keys one of the best places to travel in January. Key West is Florida’s southernmost point, and it's only about a four hour drive from Miami on the Overseas Highway. Getting there can be part of the fun, whether you opt to take a scenic road trip or a Key West Express boat ride from Fort Myers or Marco Island. The Florida Keys Seafood Festival, featuring the fresh seafood, chef demos, boats, and all day live entertainment, will take place January 18-19. Look for more delicious food at the Key West Food & Wine Festival from January 26-February 2 — wine pairing classes, tours, cooking demonstrations, competitions, and tastings are among the festival events. On January 26, the Master Chefs Classic culinary competition will see an array of local restaurants competing to win the best appetizer, entree, and dessert awards in this annual fundraiser held at the Margaritaville Resort. It’s not all about food, although Key West’s cuisine is a major attraction. Talk a stroll down lively Duval street, or go snorkeling or diving to admire the island's beautiful sea life. Boating, fishing, and water sports of all kinds are available, and sunset cruises are an excellent way to relax after a busy day. Lodging on the island ranges from quaint cottages to luxury hotels. The recently renovated The Reach Key West features balconies in every room, a beachfront restaurant, direct ocean access for jet skiing, and an oceanfront pool. Consider also the Gates Hotel, Ocean Key Resort & Spa, or Parrot Key Hotel & Villas. In the Upper Keys, Bungalows Key Largo is an adults-only, all inclusive resort and spa.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Sure, it’s cold in Amsterdam in January, but it rarely gets below freezing, and daytime temperatures are in the low 40’s most days. Dress for the weather, and you’ll enjoy touring this Dutch city without the crowds of spring and summer. The eighth annual Amsterdam Light Festival continues through January 19, and it’s worth the trip just to see the twenty-five light displays throughout the city. A canal cruise is the perfect way to enjoy Amsterdam, especially during the Light Festival. January 18 is National Tulip Day, celebrating the beginning of the tulip season with music and the massive tulip garden at Dam Square, where visitors are invited to pick twenty tulips as part of the festivities. Amsterdam’s many museums, with subjects including art, film, history, science, and nature, are more than just a reason to come in from the cold. The Van Gogh Museum’s collection of the artist’s paintings, drawings, and letters highlights both his art and his life in fascinating detail. The Anne Frank House is a tribute to the courageous young woman, and advance tickets are recommended. Equestrian fans and visitors seeking a unique experience will not want to miss the annual Jumping Amsterdam event held January 23-26, featuring horse jumping, dressage, and exhibitions along with food, drink, entertainment, and shopping at RAI Amsterdam. The winter temperatures are a perfect excuse to stop into cafes for hot chocolate or coffee along with the country’s famous stroopwafels, oliebollen (fried fruit-filled dumplings), and poffertjes (powder sugar-covered pancakes).
For lovers of winter weather and international festivals, Harbin’s 36th Annual Ice and Snow Festival is the place to be in January. Officially opening on January 5, 2020, with a procession, fireworks, and fanfare, the festival takes place in four venues. In Zhaolin Park, the Ice Lantern Art Fair and Ice Sculpture Competition are held, and at night, light, sound, and color create fantastic scenes throughout the park. The Snow Sculpture Art Expo and Snow Sculpture Competition are held on Sun Island (along with the Group Wedding Ceremony) on opening day. Ice and Snow World’s enormous, colorfully illuminated buildings are made from blocks of ice taken from the Songhua River. The river is also the venue for the Ice Swimming Competition, which surprisingly attracted about 600 swimmers last year. To fully enjoy the spectacular sights of Harbin’s festival, it’s critical to be prepared for the frigid temperatures of this northeastern China province. Layers of warm clothing, long coats, comfortable boots with thick, non-slip soles, hats, gloves, and sunglasses are suggested. Keep cameras and phones safe from exposure because it could damage their batteries. Harbin is a two-hour flight from Beijing, and train service is also available. Within Harbin, you can take taxis, buses, and trains to get from place to place. Enjoy a 5-star stay at the J. W. Marriott or the Shangri-La in Hardin, and hang around until January 25 to enjoy Chinese New Year festivities.
Comfortable temperatures, sunny days, and lower humidity make January a good time to visit Bangkok. It’s a popular time as well, especially with Chinese New Year festivities in the city’s vibrant Chinatown area. Also known as Spring Festival, Chinese New Year celebrations begin on Spring Festival Eve, with dragon dancers and special dinners leading up to the new Lunar Year, the Year of the Rat, beginning on January 25. Major temples in Bangkok will see parades, acrobatic acts, and drummers starting during the day, and Chinatown’s Yaowarat Road will be the center of festivities. If you’re not there to celebrate the new year, plan to visit Bangkok’s stunning sights and make time to cruise the city’s canals or take a luxurious evening cruise on the river. The Chao Phraya River Express is both a way to explore the city by boat and a convenient means of transportation that avoids the city's hectic street traffic. The color of the boats’ flags tells you whether it’s a local, commuter, or tourist vessel, and an orange flag indicates that it stops at main tourist sites, including temples, palaces, and more. The Wat Pho Temple is a must-see cultural attraction, featuring a 151-foot-long golden Reclining Buddha (and nearly 400 other Buddhas throughout the complex). Across the street you'll find the Grand Palace, an ornate complex that once served as the royal residence. It can get pretty crowded, so plan to arrive early, and consider taking a tour to fully appreciate its art, architecture, and history. Visit the famous Chatuchak Weekend Market for clothing, art, handcrafts, food, and more. Pamper yourself with a stay at the Mandarin Oriental, Bangkok and be one of the first to enjoy the newly restored River Wing, set to reopen in December. The Banyan Tree Bangkok in the Sathorn/Silom neighborhood also offers luxury rooms, plus rooftop cocktails and dining.
Brainerd Lakes Area, Minnesota, The United States of America
Central Minnesota’s lakes region offers cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, or snowmobiling, perfect for travelers who want to get out and enjoy the winter weather. The Paul Bunyan Trail boasts more than 120 miles of groomed snowmobile trails weaving through forests, parks, and towns, with places along the way to explore or stop for lunch or dinner. Snowmobiles and other winter sports equipment can be rented locally. Mt. Ski Gull is the place for tubing, skiing, and snowboarding, with night skiing and cozy fireplaces for apres ski. Nearly half of the runs at Mt. Ski Gull are ideal for beginners, and there’s a high speed rope tow, bunny hill rope tow, and a triple chair lift. Gull Lake’s Ice Fishing Extravaganza on January 25 attracts more than 10,000 competitors vying for $150,000 in prizes. Hole in the Day Bay is home to the world’s largest charitable ice fishing contest, with 20,000 holes carved into the frozen lake (some with ice houses to provide shelter from the cold). For warmer shelter, book a stay in one of the cabins or villas at Grand View Lodge along the shores of Gull Lake. Their new boutique hotel features a Japanese soaking pool, expansive spa, and more. Enjoy ice skating, hockey, and sleigh rides, or indulge in a day at the spa. Delta Air Lines has flights to Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport, and Minneapolis-St. Paul is about 130 miles away.
Ring in the new year with the "onion drop," Bermuda’s version of the New York City ball drop, where a giant lit onion drops at midnight in King’s Square in St. George. Once a staple crop on the island, the onion still has a special place in the hearts of Bermudians who were once nicknamed “Onions.” January temperatures in the 60’s may not be beach weather, but there’s more to do in Bermuda than lie on the pink sand (so save that for spring and summer visits). Turtle Hill Golf Club at the Fairmont Southampton features 18 challenging par 3’s, most with views of the Atlantic, ideal for a leisurely round of golf. Rent a Twizy electric vehicle from Current Vehicles for a safe, environmentally-friendly, and fun way to explore the island. Bermuda’s history dates back to the early 1500’s when the island was discovered by Spanish explorer Juan de Bermudez. The island was later settled by survivors of the shipwrecked British Sea Venture. Today, Bermuda is a self-governing territory of Great Britain, and you can explore parts of its history by visiting several well-preserved homes. Verdmont, built around 1710, is filled with antiques, portraits, furnishings, and a captivating child’s room with books, dolls, toys, and a canopy-covered crib. A climb to the top of Gibb’s Hill Lighthouse provides a bird’s eye view of the island. Take advantage of Bermuda’s Restaurant Weeks, January 16-February 2, 2020, for locally-inspired menus at great prices. Top Chef contestant Eric Adjepong will prepare a special meal inspired by the island’s African influences, hosted by the Newstead Belmont Hills Golf Resort. The historic and superb Waterlot Inn restaurant is housed in a three hundred-year-old house on the dock at the Fairmont Southampton. Just over 2 hours from New York City by plane, Bermuda is an easy trip from most major U. S. cities.
British Columbia, Canada
If you want to go skiing or snowboarding this winter, head to British Columbia, home to more ski resorts than any other Canadian province. Whistler Blackcomb boasts more than 8,100 acres of snow-covered slopes with at least 200 marked trails. For expert skiers and snowboarders looking for a new adventure, heli-skiing or heli-snowboarding is available at Whistler. Everyone, even non-skiers, should experience the Peak 2 Peak Gondolas, the longest continuous lift system in the world and highest gondola of its kind, reaching nearly 1,500 feet above the valley floor for 360 degree views of the mountains, lakes, glaciers, and village. The Gondolas operate year-round and close only for maintenance in spring and fall. Big White is British Columbia’s second largest ski area, located in the Okanagan Valley, offering 15 lifts, great powder, and sunny weather. A variety of lodging is available, and there’s night skiing, snow tubing, ice skating, cross country skiing, dog sledding, and sleigh riding. The Village Walk, Dine & Wine self-guided tour will direct visitors to curated dinners paired with local B.C. wine. Grouse Mountain offers skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, and snowshoeing just a short drive from Vancouver, making it the perfect place for a ski weekend getaway.
Los Angeles, California
January kicks off with the New Year’s Day Rose Parade in Pasadena, just northeast of downtown Los Angeles. Temperatures are usually in the 60’s, and sunny days are the norm, making outdoor activities ideal (although there is plenty to do indoors on the occasional chilly or rainy day). There are several impressive museums worth visiting in L.A., including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The Petersen Automotive Museum features Hollywood Dream Machines including cars from Back to the Future, Batman, Blade Runner, and Robocop. After checking out some museums, head to one of the city's famous beaches. Ride a bike for more than twenty miles between Torrance and Pacific Palisades on the Marvin Braude Bike Trail, and stop for a while at the Santa Monica Pier, Venice Beach, or Manhattan Beach Pier. Downtown Los Angeles offers history, great dining, and lots to see. Explore on a bike or walking tour or head on your own to the Grand Central Market, Olvera Street, or Chinatown.