After the fun and excitement of Christmas, the following months in the new year can be a little slow and cold. Yet, January is the perfect time to escape to Europe for some many reasons; there are fewer crowds, there are a huge plethora of festivals and events on, and practical things such as hotels and flights are often far cheaper as there is less demand. Whatever your interests are, there will undoubtedly be somewhere, if not multiple places to visit in Europe in January that take your fancy, and are just waiting to be explored. Here is a list of some incredible festivals and events that are taking place this January, as well as some of the city’s other highlights:
Best Places to go in January in Europe
Hogmanay – Edinburgh, Scotland
30th December 2018 – January 1st, 2019
One of Scotland’s most anticipated events of the year, and one that attracts a wide variety of Scottish people and foreign tourists alike is Hogmanay, which is essentially a huge festival that takes over Edinburgh to celebrate the new year. There are a variety of bands playing in the streets, bars and pubs that open up, as well as a range of shops, rides and attractions. The city comes to life with celebration, light and colour, and is something that everyone should see. Aside from Hogmanay, Edinburgh is one of the world’s most beautiful cities, and there is so much to explore. For example, Edinburgh Castle is a great place to visit if you love history, and it also offers beautiful views of the city. Another great thing to do in Edinburgh in January is taking a winter walk through the Princes Street Gardens, where you can wonder through the gorgeous greenery and see some incredible monuments, such as the Scots Monument. The main thing to keep in mind when visiting Edinburgh at this time of year, is to make sure you wrap at warm, as it gets totally freezing!
Ice Sculpture Festival – Bruges, Belgium
24th November 2018 – 6th January 2019
Nestled inside an enormous, isolated ice building lights the Ice Sculpture Festival in Bruges, Belgium. Featuring over 500 tones of locally sourced ice, prepare to see something you’ve never seen before; lighted up with the most incredibly bright colours and sculpted into seriously unique shapes and styles, the Ice Sculpture Festival is a truly unforgettable experience. Merged with the use of 3D video, this experience is incredibly immersive, and great to do around Christmas time with friends, family, or for a romantic outing!
As well as this phenomenal experiences, Bruges is an amazing city with so much to do and is truly unique in the way it merges the old with the new. Make sure that you visit the Church of our Lady, which is built in the Gothic style, and is a strikingly beautiful architectural masterpiece. Also, make sure you check out the Belfry of Bruges, a huge Medieval tower that is now at the epicentre of the city’s activities. Bruges is one of the best places to travel to in Europe in January, because it has a beautiful frost to it, and far less crowds than usual.
Monte Carlo – Car Rally
22nd-27th January 2019
In what will be the Monte Carlo Car Rally’s 87thevent, prepare to witness one of the world’s most famous rallies in one of the most incredible locations in Europe. With its historic roots dating back to 1911, and its associations with Prince Albert I, the event is full of history and excitement; if you are someone who loves the thrill, speed and brilliance of some of the world’s top supercars, make a holiday out of your passion, and visit Monte Carlo. Monte Carlo is undoubtedly one of the best places to visit in January in Europe because it still offers visitors mild temperatures, and there are still lots of things to do. For example, visit the world-famous Casino of Monte Carlo, which has been open since the 1860s. Dive into the life of the super-rich, and step into the classic, glamorous world of this incredible city. Moreover, if cars aren’t your thing, make sure you visit the Prince’s Palace to marvel in its architectural splendour.
Amsterdam Light Festival – Amsterdam, The Netherlands
29th November 2018 – 20th January 2019
During the Christmas months, the city of Amsterdam lights up in beautiful artistic designs and colours, giving it a truly magical atmosphere. What many visitors do, is take a boat trip along the river, where the lights are really visible, and hung over the bridges that the boat passes under; this is an incredible thing to do if you are visiting the city on a romantic getaway. The Amsterdam Light Festival is a major European event, and attracts artists from around the world to partake in its magic; it also attracts a lot of foreign tourists who wish to try something different.
Aside from the festival, Amsterdam is the perfect city to visit in January in Europe, as there is an abundance of sights to see and things to do and experience. For example, outside the Rijksmuseum is a yearly ice-rink with an array of different festive stores and cafes surrounding it; if you are visiting during Christmas time or January, this is the perfect seasonal thing to visit to really get you in the festive mood!
You might also want to check out my 5-day Amsterdam itinerary.
Snow Bike Festival – Gstaad, Switzerland
24th January 2019 – 27th January 2019
If you are someone who adores alpine scenery, winter chill, and most importantly, mountain biking, what better place to visit in January in Europe than Gstaad in Switzerland for the annual Snow Bike Festival? This prestigious cycling event is heavily anticipated each year, and offers professional cyclists the opportunity to competitively race around the enticing, thrilling alpine landscape. If you are not into bikes or cycling, do not be put off, as Gstaad is a beautiful place to visit in Europe in January; there is so much to explore, and it is also the perfect place to relax. For example, you can actually go husky sledding, which most people think is something which can only be done in the arctic, but it is definitely available in Gstaad! Also, if you have a car, you can go village hopping, and see some smaller Swiss towns that are less famous.
Up Helly Aa – Shetland Islands
29th January 2019
Located in the beautiful Shetland Islands, the yearly festival of Up Helly Aa is a celebration of the Island’s Viking history and heritage, and involves theatrical performances, rituals, as well as lots of live music and friendly Scottish hospitality. There is singing, dancing, and an amazing amount of light and fire to provide locals and tourists alike with an incredible, unforgettable experience. Aside from Up Helly Aa, which is a popular with many foreign visitors, the Shetland Islands have so much to offer; make sure that you visit Old Scatness, which is a Broch and Iron Age Village located on the south mainland. Here, you can discover some of the Shetland Island’s earliest history; archaeologists date the site from being built between 400BC and 200BC. Today, you can come and visit some of the original buildings and artefacts, and it is amazing. Also make sure that you visit Stanydale Temple, a site dating back the Neolithic period that has baffled archaeologists, historians and tourists for years; it is definitely worth exploring.
The Artic Light Festival – Tromso, Norway
24th January 2019 – 3rd February 2019
The Artic Light Festival, sometimes known as the Northern Lights Festival, is an annual event that has been on for 25 years, and centres on the musical talent of a variety of different artists and styles. This artistic festival is appealing to some many different types of people, as it offers such an array of musical styles, from opera to jazz, all the way to pop and classical; Tromso becomes alive with music and life. Aside from performance, there are also a lot of other things going on, such as beer gardens, exhibitions and classes. Apart from the festival, Tromso is a great destination to visit in Europe in January, as there is so much to do, see and experience; for example, there are an array of different tour groups that will guide you into the Norwegian natural landscape in the hope of catching a glimpse of the breath-taking northern lights. Though it is never guaranteed that they will be seen, if you go with a tour group who will know the best places to travel to and the best times to go, you will more than likely witness the incredibly beauty of the natural phenomenon.
After the holidays
Before Christmas, as many of us know well, the shops are filled with gift-buyers and last-minute shoppers, and the atmosphere is typically very busy and chaotic. However, after the holiday season has passed, the shops open up their winter sales, and the crowds disperse. One of the best places to go shopping during this period of time is the wonderful capital city of London, located in the south of England. There are so many places in London that are perfect for some after Christmas shopping; if you prefer high street brands, head towards Oxford Street. If you are someone who prefers more unique and one of a kind items, head towards areas such as Camden Market, Notting Hill, Spitalfields and Brick Lane. As well as shopping, London is a city that has so much to offer; if you are someone who loves architecture, visit the Shard, where you can go to the very top and experience breath-taking views of the city below. If you prefer history, head to the Tower of London for an unforgettable experience.
As this list has highlighted, there are so many amazing things to do in Europe in January, and so many festivals to partake in. January is the best time to head to Europe, as there are far less crowds, cheaper flights, transport and hotels, and the winter chill provides it with a truly magical atmosphere.