They say new year, new beginning and so even though your end-of-year celebrations might have been quite exhausting — or perhaps because of that — here are some of our ideas to start your year with a bit of pep
Explore the volcanic chain, Nicaragua
Well into Nicaragua’s dry season, the month of January sees a lot of sunny days and mild temperatures. The country is becoming a popular — and more affordable — alternative to more touristy destinations in the region, such as Costa Rica or Panama.
Getting out from under its rough past, the country is a unique mixture of various influences, including folklore, music, cuisine, and particularly literature. From 5 to 18 January, the small town of Matagalpa in the heart of the country pays homage to Rubén Darío — one of the nation’s best-known poets and originator of the literary movement of modernism.
Every day of the festival involves different activities like recitals, performances, competitions and a whole bunch of other events.
The country is described as a land of lakes and volcanoes. In fact, with its 19 volcanoes, Nicaragua is somewhat of a geological hotspot, with its volcanic activity concentrated in a chain along the west coast.
Therefore, it’s great for hiking and other outdoor activities. One of them is volcano boarding and why not do it on Central America’s youngest volcano Cerro Negro, which appeared for the first time in 1850.
Surrounded by the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Carribean Sea on the other, enjoying a day at the beach or learning to surf is a perfectly fine alternative to the somewhat death-defying volcano exploration.
The country’s beautiful colonial capital — Granada — lies just a stone’s throw away from the west coast, relatively speaking of course. A must-see here is definitely the 16th-century canary yellow cathedral in the town’s historic center.
Ice City in Harbin, China
Even though Harbin shares the same latitude as Milan or Zagreb, January temperatures in this northern Chinese city can easily drop to -25C at night and -13C in the day. Quite cold, huh, so what’s the appeal?
For one, Harbin hosts the biggest annual ice and snow festival in the world officially starting on 5 January each year. The coming season of the festival is themed “Pearl on the Crown of Ice & Snow” and it will be accompanied by fireworks, processions, competitions, and other events in the park and across the city.
Local and international artists work day and night using chainsaws and picks and even cranes to create some of the most elaborate ice sculptures in the world. In 2007, a 250 meters long and 8.5 meters tall sculpture of the Niagara Falls and Bering Strait received a Guinness Record award for the largest snow sculpture.
You can walk on and slide down some of the attractions, cross over the ice bridges of Venice, enjoy the Great Wall (even if it’s just an icy fraction of it), look up the Empire State Building, visit Cinderella’s Castle, and many more.
Ice skating and sledding are both popular activities on the site and children can pet reindeer. As the sun goes down, the entire city comes to life as everything around lights up from the inside and out.
The festival isn’t the only thing Harbin has up its sleeve. Sometimes referred to as Moscow of the Orient, the eighth most populous city in China might surprise you with its European-influenced architecture in the baroque style.
Apparently, some 100,000 Russians moved to Harbin in the 1920s and both cultures combined. Nowadays, you can still buy Russian souvenirs or have a taste of kvass (Slavic fermented beverage from rye bread) here.
Shopping sales in Europe’s fashion capitals
January is a bit of an in-between month. All the big celebrations have just ended and it’s still a long way to spring. On the other hand, it’s the perfect time to combine a European weekend trip with some mid-season winter sales.
There are a number of recognized shopping hubs across Europe. Lisbon might not be an immediately obvious one when it comes to shopping but as the least expensive capital in Western Europe, it might just be the right choice while also having the chance to check out some of the city’s historic sites. Lisbon won’t give you any kitsch, rather, shopping there will be a cultural experience.
If you wish to explore yet another lesser-known shopping destination, head to Bordeaux in south-eastern France. The wine city prides itself on a 1.2-km-long pedestrian street called Rue Saint Catherine that is often considered the longest shopping street in Europe. The cozy strip features shops and boutiques of the most famous prestige names. There is also a plethora of restaurants and cafés to enjoy a short break during your shopping spree.
Otherwise, there are always the tried-and-tested locations to head to. London’s winter sales already begin the day after Christmas, on 26 December and extend towards the end of January.
The city is one of the best fashion capitals with all the major designer brands, but something for all tastes and purses can be found. West End’s Regent Street or Oxford Street are among the famous ones and close to pedestrianized Carnaby Street or Covent Garden.
In Milan, winter sales start when the festive period is over and go on for a few weeks until the stock is empty. La Rinascente, Milan’s first department store, in the city center and other designer outlets and luxury fashion stores will be flashing the sign saldi trying to attract potential customers to shop for haute couture at affordable prices.
Winter sports off the beaten track, Romania
As far as winter sports are concerned, a few years ago Romania seemed to have a reputation of a rather underdeveloped and overpriced destination. But these days, with its 33 ski resorts to choose from and beautiful scenery, Romania is a true rising star.
The country is cut in half by the Carpathian Mountains and not surprisingly, that’s also where you’ll find the majority of Romania’s ski resort — in total over 200 km of slopes. The Sinaia resort near the university town of Brașov is one of the largest in the country.
You’ll find the resort and its 18 km of slopes in the Bucegi National Park. The rugged area provides for some spectacular views and closeby there’s the castle complex of Peleș, which adds to its fairytale-like feel.
Poiana, allegedly the best and most modern ski resort in Romania some 35 km north of Sinaia, trails on Brașov and so besides the usual fun in the snow, you can take advantage of being so close (about 14 km) to a town and combine your stay with a bit of urban exploration.
You might not have any luck going celeb-spotting in Romania but you can be sure of a more serene and budget-friendly experience than in bigger resorts elsewhere.
Discover the American Wild West
Depending on where in the world you are, January might be a month to want to escape the winter cold and head south for milder temperatures. The legendary Wild West usually stays above zero and its turbulent past has a certain charm to it.
The land of the American frontiers officially lies to the west of the Mississippi River and with its untamed territories, it still inspires stories about cowboys and life in 19th century America.
Starting in southern Texas, head to a small town called Bandera, which received its name from the Spanish bandera meaning a flag or banner. This town saw many a battle back in the day and it’s certainly deserving of its “Cowboy capital of the world” moniker.
As you journey deeper and on into the setting sun, pop over into Arizona’s town of Tombstone. It was founded by Ed Schieffelin who was told he’d find nothing but his tombstone there and yet found a wealth of silver instead. In 1961, the whole town received the National Historic Landmark District status for its best-preserved specimens of the frontier.
A little further, close to Las Vegas, lies Oatman. Despite all the signs of Oatman becoming a gold rush boomtown, it peaked before it could develop. However, at least it served as the filming location of the Oscar-winning How the West Was Won and reportedly the Oatman Hotel became the honeymoon spot for Clark Gable and Carol Lombard in 1939.
Celebrate the Lunar New Year “Tết”, Vietnam
For those of us who enjoy saying goodbye to the old year and celebrating the arrival of the new one, January might be one of the saddest months of the year. Luckily, we won’t have to wait another 12 months to join in the fun as not every country celebrates at the same time. And Vietnam is one of them!
The Vietnamese New Year is based on the Chinese lunar calendar and falls on a different date every year and for 2020, the most important day of the holidays will be 25 January. As it is the country’s most crucial celebration, the Vietnamese carry out many preparations in the days leading up to the holidays. It marks the beginning of spring and many of its traditions follow the springtime theme.
A lot of Vietnamese nationals travel to their home villages for Tết and most stores and attractions close for a few days. On the other hand, the celebrating country becomes vibrant and colorful and this time provides for the perfect opportunity to get to know more of the culture.
Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, or Hue are among the top cities to visit during this time and enjoy the festivities which are part of the celebrations. There will be dragon processions, music performances, color and flavor in excess, and at midnight on Tết eve a countdown and fireworks.