Christmas and New Year have come and gone, and the darkest, coldest part of the winter is stretching out ahead of you. If your bank balance can accommodate it after a festive spending spree, this is the perfect time to treat yourself to a well-deserved holiday or short break to see you through until the spring. Here are some tips about where to travel and what to do in Europe during the month of January.
Where to Travel for Winter Sports in January
One of the best reasons to travel to Europe during January is for skiing. The Alps were the birthplace of modern skiing, and this is one of the best times to come and enjoy the continent’s classic ski destinations. By this time of the season, there is usually plenty of snow, and the colder temperatures mean that the runs stay in great condition.
From the middle of the month onward, after the New Year and Orthodox Christmas high season, prices are lower. The ski areas of many resorts are often practically empty on weekdays, so this is a great time to snag a good deal on accommodation and enjoy crowd-free skiing on perfectly groomed runs with no lift lines.
There are literally thousands of ski resorts to choose from in Europe, from the Pyrenees in the west, via the Alps, all the way to the Carpathians in the East. Here are just a few of our favorites:
The picturesque resort of Zermatt is situated at the head of a high mountain valley in the far south of Switzerland. The famous Matterhorn dominates the village, straddling the border with Italy, and is one of the country’s most iconic sights. The skiing in Zermatt is excellent and varied, with long pistes and big vertical drops, and plenty of off-piste terrain.
This is a high-end international resort and there is a great selection of accommodation, some of which is still relatively affordable. There is a wide range of restaurants and bars, including some of the best mountain restaurants in the Alps, and the nightlife is lively enough to keep party animals happy for the duration of their stay.
Situated close to the border with Switzerland and just an hour’s drive from Geneva airport, Morzine is a perfect base for a week or more exploring the enormous Portes du Soleil ski area. Linking a total of 13 French and Swiss resorts extending over the area between Mont Blanc and Lake Geneva, the Portes du Soleil has around 200 ski lifts and 650 km of marked runs, offering something for every level of skier, and far more terrain than can be skied in a single visit.
Morzine has plenty of affordable accommodation, as well as an increasing number of more luxurious chalets and apartments, and is popular with younger visitors and families. The après-ski and nightlife scene in the resort is very lively, offering everything from chilled-out bars to live music venues and clubs to dance the night away in.
St Anton am Arlberg, Austria
St Anton is the largest resort in Austria’s biggest ski area, Ski Arlberg, which connects it with five other resorts to create an interlinked system of 87 state-of-the art ski lifts, 300 km of marked run, and over 200 km of off-piste trails. There is something for skiers of all abilities here, from beginners to experts, and the off-piste skiing is extremely good. There are plenty of ski and snowboard schools offering high-quality instruction.
Each of the Arlberg resorts has its own distinct character. St Anton is famous for its extremely lively après-ski and nightlife, whilst neighboring Lech is somewhat more upmarket, with luxurious accommodation, classy restaurants and bars, and a well-heeled clientèle to match.
January sees some of the Alpine ski racing World Cup’s classic events taking place. The Lauberhorn, in the picture-perfect Swiss resort of Wengen, runs from 13 to 15 January, and the downhill course, at just under 4.5 miles, is the longest on the season-long circuit. The atmospheric Austrian town of Kitzbühel hosts the Hahnenkamm races on 21 and 22 January, and the downhill event on the terrifying Streif course is universally recognized as the premier downhill race of the season.
The Alpine nations go crazy about ski racing in the winter, and the top racers are major stars in their home countries as well as throughout the skiing world. Some of the biggest – and definitely the wildest – crowds of the winter turn out for the floodlit night slalom event in the Austrian resort of Schladming, which takes place this season on 24 January.
A visit to any of these events is well worth the effort. Not just for the spectacle of the races themselves: you can also soak up the atmosphere in the village and enjoy the non-stop party that surrounds each event.
Best Places to Visit for Culture in January
Away from the snow and sunshine of the mountains, January in much of Europe can be wet, grey and dreary, with dusk falling in mid-afternoon in the northern countries. If culture is your thing, however, this can work to your advantage. With far fewer visitors heading to the continent’s top museums, galleries, arts venues and architectural sites, the peak tourist seasons’ long queues to gain entry and thronging crowds spoiling the views are a thing of the past.
Add in cheaper accommodation and travel prices and, if you don’t mind a bit of bad weather, this is a great time to visit many of Europe’s iconic cultural sites. Most major cities across the continent have museums and galleries galore along with thriving, multifaceted arts scenes, and the beautiful architecture to be found in many of them is testament to their long histories.
There is so much culture to experience in Europe that it can be difficult to know where to start, but here are a few of the best-known places to visit:
Most people have heard of the Louvre, home of the world’s most famous painting, the Mona Lisa. This is the planet’s most visited art museum, with around ten million people passing through its 60,000 m2 of galleries each year to view almost half a million works. It gets very busy in peak tourist season, so January is a great time to visit.
Other famous galleries and museums in Paris include the Musée d’Orsay, with one of the world’s largest collections of impressionist and post-impressionist works by the likes of Monet, Renoir, Dégas and Toulouse-Lautrec.
If modernism is your thing, the Pompidou Center has one of the largest modern art collections in the world. With an art museum, library, exhibition and performance space, and cinema, there is plenty to keep you occupied here, and the Pompidou is also a modern architectural marvel in its own right.
With stunning architecture at every turn and crammed full of works of art from the Renaissance period, Florence was an obligatory stop on the cultural ‘Grand Tour’ undertaken by the offspring of wealthy and aristocratic families in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Tuscan city remains just as popular with visitors from around the world to this day, and heaves with tourists throughout much of the year. January is one of the few quieter months here, making this one of the best times to visit if you want to appreciate the city’s many wonders.
The Uffizi is one of the world’s leading art museums, offering visitors the chance to enjoy works by the likes of Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli and Michelangelo. Built in the late 16th century, the gallery houses a priceless collection of paintings dating from as far back as the 13th and 14th centuries, as well as a collection of statues and busts, some of them dating back to Roman times, that was amassed by the cardinal Leopoldo de’ Medici. The long, narrow gallery spaces spread over two floors were never designed to accommodate up to 10,000 visitors a day, and waiting times to gain entry can be up to two hours or more in high season. In January, waiting times are generally much shorter, but it’s still a good idea to book your tickets in advance for a specific entrance time to avoid the queue.
The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore, otherwise known as Florence Cathedral, is one of the city’s most important landmarks. Designed in the Gothic style by Arnolfo di Cambio and with a soaring dome engineered by Filippo Brunelleschi, the cathedral took 140 years to build and was completed in 1436. It is widely considered to be one of the finest examples of Renaissance architecture in Europe, and is also full of works of art, including many wonderful frescoes dating back to the 14th century. Not to be missed.
Amsterdam, The Netherlands
The Dutch capital is known as the ‘Venice of the North’ thanks to the network of canals around which the city is built. Amsterdam became a major economic and cultural center in the 17th century during the Dutch ‘golden age’, which saw the country grow into one of Europe’s major economic and military powers.
Amsterdam is a beautiful city architecturally, with tall, narrow houses lining the canals and imposing public buildings such as the neo-classical Rijksmuseum, which was built in the 19th century. The 17th century Westerkerk, the country’s largest Protestant cathedral, is one of the most famous examples of Dutch Renaissance architecture.
The Dutch were also no slouches when it came to the arts, and the ‘Dutch Masters’ of the country’s golden age, such as Rembrandt and Vermeer, along with the post-impressionist Vincent Van Gogh, are some of the world’s best-known painters.
The Rijksmuseum is the biggest of Amsterdam’s many museums and galleries, and is an obligatory stop on any cultural visit to the city. Perhaps its most famous exhibit is ‘The Night Watch’, painted by Rembrandt in 1642.
Although he died in relative obscurity, Vincent Van Gogh is today recognized as one of the most important figures in the history of art. He was a prolific creator, so much so that an entire museum is devoted to exhibiting his works, which include the iconic ‘Sunflowers’, ‘Irises’ and ‘Harvest’, among many others.
As well as the museums and galleries, two other good reasons to visit Amsterdam in January are the Festival of Light, a free exhibition of light art installations throughout the city center, and the Dutch Ice Sculpture Festival, which runs throughout the month.
Where to Go in January for Retail Therapy
If you are looking for some bargains, the beginning of the year is the perfect time to hit the shops in Europe thanks to the January sales which happen in most countries across the continent. The dates of the sale periods vary from country to country, so it’s a good idea to check in advance: in the UK, for example, the sales start immediately after Christmas, and in Italy and France, they can extend into February.
Here are some of the best places to go shopping in Europe in January:
The January sales are a British cultural institution, and it’s not uncommon for eager consumers to camp overnight outside some of the major stores to be sure of landing the best bargains. The city’s famous department stores, including Harrods, Harvey Nicholl’s and Selfridges, carry extensive ranges of fashion, home goods, perfumes and cosmetics, and much more, and you can pick up some great stuff at big discounts during the sales.
There’s no need to limit yourself to the capital, though: wherever you go in the UK, pretty much every retail outlet will drop its prices during January, so, as they say, fill your boots!
The Saldi Invernali happen all over Italy, and in 2023 will run from 5 January until well into February in most parts of the country. Italy is rightly famous for design and style so, whatever you are after, this is the perfect time to add that essential item to your array of worldly goods at a knock-down price.
Milan’s most famous shopping district is the Quadrilatero d’Oro (Golden Square) centered around Via Monte Napoleone, Via Borgospesso, Via della Spiga and Via Sant’Andrea. The area is home to an array of upmarket shops and boutiques selling clothes, furniture and design pieces, but there are bargains to be had in the sales that make it somewhat more affordable to shop here.
Also not to be missed is the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Italy’s oldest shopping arcade, located in a four-story building in the center of town. Named after Italy’s first king following the country’s unification in the 19th century, it is full of luxury outlets selling designer goods of every kind. The Galleria is also an important venue for the Milanese to meet and socialize thanks to the many cafes, bars, restaurants and even a hotel that share the space with the retailers. The beautiful 19th-century architecture with its cast-iron and glass domes and vaulted roof is worth a visit in its own right.
Portugal is one of the lowest-cost economies in Western Europe, and shopping in Lisbon, especially for clothing, is less expensive than in many other European cities at any time of the year. The winter sales, which run from 7 January until the end of February, are therefore an especially good time to pick up consumer goods at very reasonable prices.
For the best bargains, follow the locals and head for the shops and outlet centers away from the city center.
Where to Go in January for Winter Sun
To find sunshine and warm temperatures during January in Europe, head south.
The hottest place in Europe at this time of year is the Canary Islands, which, although they are part of Spain, are situated off the coast of Northwest Africa in the Atlantic Ocean. The Canaries don’t have a winter as such, and January temperatures average between 15 and 22°C (59–72°F). You can comfortably sunbathe on the beach and enjoy water sports and other outdoor activities here at this time of year, just like you would in the summer months.
The southern part of mainland Spain is also very pleasant in January, with average maximum temperatures of 15 to 17°C and plenty of sunshine all along the Mediterranean coast from Barcelona to Gibraltar. Although it’s not really warm enough to hit the beach and swim in the sea, it’s a far cry from the snow and ice of central and northern Europe, and this is a great time to enjoy the outdoor life and visit the cultural attractions of historical cities such as Granada, Seville and Malaga.
The Balearic island of Mallorca is wonderful at any time of the year, but the mild winter months are the ideal time to come and enjoy some hiking.
The Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus enjoys average temperatures of 16 to 18°C (60–65°F) and is another wonderful location to escape the cold and wet during January in Europe. Most of the holiday resorts on the island shut down for the winter, but there is still plenty to see and do, with the ancient coastal cities of Paphos and Limassol well worth a visit to discover their artistic and cultural wonders without the crowds.
Along with its neighbor Spain, Portugal has some of the mildest temperatures in January in Europe, especially as you head toward the south of the country.
The Algarve region in the south-west has January temperatures averaging from 8 to 16°C (46–61°F) and is a wonderful place to come and enjoy hiking and boat trips around the beautiful coastline. You can also expect delicious seafood and great deals on accommodation at prices as low as half what you’d pay in the summer months.
Portugal also has two island territories in the Atlantic Ocean which have an even warmer climate in January than the mainland, and are both ideal places for a visit if you love nature and the great outdoors.
Madeira lies to the north of the Canaries, off the coast of Africa, and has beautiful landscapes to explore in January temperatures that can get as high as 18°C (64°F) at this time of year. And, if you fancy seeing in 2023 somewhere a bit different, the New Year’s Eve fireworks in the city of Funchal are some of the most spectacular in the world.
Even further away from the Portuguese mainland are the Azores, which are way out in the Atlantic Ocean and have temperatures between 12 and 17°C (54–63°F) at this time of year. You can explore the lush landscapes and beautiful coastline, or take a boat trip to see the teeming marine life around the islands, such as whales, dolphins and turtles. Oh, and the Azores, as volcanic islands, have lots of hot springs and thermal pools for a warm and relaxing soak. Which brings us neatly to….
Where to Travel in January for Spas & Wellness
If 2022 has left you feeling jaded and worn out, a visit to one of Europe’s many thermal spas could be just what you need. The ancient Greeks, Romans and Ottomans loved nothing better than a relaxing soak in the mineral-rich waters of baths fed by hot springs, and the pastime has remained just as popular right up to the present day.
There are hundreds of hot springs and thermal baths all over the continent, and medical facilities, wellness centers and even entire resort towns have grown up around many of them. You really are spoiled for choice if you’re looking for a spa break in Europe in January, but here are some of our suggestions:
The land on which the Hungarian capital stands has around a hundred hot springs, and this has been a center for spas and healing for 2,000 years. With over a dozen thermal spas, some of which date back to the time of the Ottoman empire in the 16th century, Budapest is deservedly known as the spa capital of Europe.
The city’s most popular facility is Széchenyi, which was built in 1913 and pulls in 1.7 million visitors a year. This is the largest spa facility in Europe, with its hot springs feeding no less than 18 pools. There are also ten steam rooms and saunas, and a range of traditional spa treatments are available.
The Gellért Baths complex in the center of the city opened in 1918 and is notable as much for its Art Nouveau architecture as for its ten pools ranging from 36 to 40°C (95–105°F), and a range of therapeutic treatments including medicinal massages and mud baths.
The site of the Lukács Baths is thought to have been used as a healing spa since the 12th century, and this spa remains especially popular with Budapest locals. The present-day establishment with its Moorish and classical architecture opened in 1880. There are four thermal pools, two outdoor swimming pools, a wave pool and an adventure pool.
The Black Forest resort of Baden-Baden has been a popular wellness destination since the 19th century, and its thermal springs have been known for their curative properties since Roman times.
The town has many expensive luxury hotels with their own private spas, but perhaps the best-known facility is the Friedrichsbad, a magnificent Romanesque public bath house that first opened in 1877. The full spa experience here involves no less than 17 stages including saunas, mineral baths, cold showers, and various scrubs and massages.
Iceland is situated at the junction between two tectonic plates in the north Atlantic, and the country is a hotbed of volcanic activity. All that geothermal energy means that there are plenty of hot springs, and bathing in their waters is extremely popular with the locals and visitors alike.
Probably the best-known, and certainly the oldest thermal swimming pool in Iceland is the Secret Lagoon (Gamla Laugin in Icelandic) which opened in 1891. The large outdoor pool is fed by hot springs whose waters are rich in sulfur and stay at 38 to 40°C (100–104°F) all year round. The whole experience is enhanced by an active geyser which spouts every few minutes.