It’s the end of the year. You’ve worked hard, and now it’s time to switch off and relax. Before you know it, the new year will creep in, and you will be back to the daily grind. Here are our suggestions of some fascinating experiences and places to visit in December and January that are sure to keep you sharing your travel stories for months to come. We have something for everyone – from those who want to venture to cooler climates, through to options for those who prefer the warmer weather. From cultural interactions to local festivals and places you didn’t even know existed!
Germany – Christmas Markets
Cute half-timbered buildings are festively lit in almost all German towns and villages with the aromas of mulled wine and cinnamon floating on air at traditional Christmas markets. Buildings steeped in history are illuminated by thousands upon thousands of fairy lights, and the scent of freshly baked gingerbread tempts your taste buds. The Christmas markets in Trier, Koblenz and Mainz are particularly famous and are quite large.
Lapland – Santa’s Village and Northern Lights
To really get into the Christmas spirit, why not cross the magical Arctic Circle and head to Santa Claus Village in Lapland, Finland, where you can meet Santa Claus! Pair this exciting experience with a deer powered sleigh ride and the opportunity to spend the night in an ice igloo, all topped off with the chance to witness the spectacular natural phenomena of the northern lights.
Harbin – Harbin Ice Festival
From early January to late February you can visit the world’s largest ice festival, offering a winter experience like nowhere else on earth. There are plenty of experiences to fill your time with ice and snow world, an international snow sculpture art expo, ice lantern art fair, winter swimming watching and dog sledding. Why not stay in an ice hotel for a one-of-a-kind experience?
Ethiopia - Timket Festival
Timket is a religious festival celebrated with much zeal in Addis Ababa, Gondar and Lalibela in Ethiopia. The festival is the Ethiopian Orthodox celebration of Epiphany and venerates Christ’s baptism in the River Jordan. In Ethiopia, this festival takes on a special significance as it is the most colourful event of the year in the country. The most fitting symbol of the festival is colourfully embroidered umbrellas, which are used to protect both the sacred Tabot and the priests carrying it.
Reveillon – New Years on Copacabana Beach
One of the best ways to see in the new year is to join the party on Rio’s mighty Copacabana beach, where the spiritual and the secular come together for one incredible night. From 8 pm, top bands perform on stages strung along the 4km beach, pumping out Brazilian and international music followed by a midnight firework display. This is also the ultimate white party, where revellers dress predominantly in white which symbolises purity, peace and renewal to bring in the new year.
Tamworth – Country Music Festival
All roads head to Tamworth, New South Wales, in January for the annual Country and Music Festival, the second largest country music festival in the world after Nashville. Each year around 50,000 people visit the festival each day with over 2800 scheduled events across 80 venues. The pinnacle event of the festival is the Golden Guitar Awards, the country music awards of Australia, where the who’s who of Australian country music stars gather with thousands of music fans to see who will be announced the winners.
Lake Baikal – Siberia
Beautiful in summer, but spectacular in winter. Holding around 20% of the world's fresh water, it is one of the largest and deepest lakes on earth. The water is so pure; you can see 40m below you – especially in December and January when the lake completely freezes over. You can explore the frozen lake on foot and by hovercraft as well as visit the stunning lakeside villages where you can tuck into some hearty Siberian cuisine to warm you up!
The Atacama Desert – Chile
With only 10cm of rain every one thousand years, this 956km expanse between Peru’s southern border and Chile’s Pacific coast is understandably mostly void of flora and fauna. Some parts of the desert are so arid that no plant or animal life can survive. Amazingly, more than a million people live in this region working in the mining industry. The best time to visit and take in the spectacular scenery is between December and January when temperatures are at their ‘mildest’.
Eben Ice Caves – Michigan
The Eben Ice Caves remain a mystery to many. Part of the 4000+ acre Rock River Wilderness area of the Hiawatha National Forest, these caves are only visible for viewing from mid-December until the end of January. The caves form when melting snow runs over the edge of a cliff and freezes, creating these unique cave-like structures. Come any other time of the year, and you will find nothing but rocks.
Mentawai Islands, West Sumatra, Indonesia
Looking for an island paradise escape? This island chain is made up of four main islands, and dozens of palm tree-covered islets in the surrounding waters. The sand is soft, the water is beautifully blue, and the waves come dangerously close to perfection. Also home to thick rainforest and vibrant Aboriginal culture, this hidden island paradise has something for everyone!