Wherever you happen to be in January, you’re likely to start the month by celebrating the New Year. There are hundreds of different events and traditions to take part in, and that’s just the first day of the year!

Later in the month, there’s a bit of snow and ice, some fire, and heaps of other festivals to enjoy.

New Year’s

Where: Everywhere
When: January 1

There are so many places to choose from to celebrate New Year’s, it’s hard to pick just one to mention here.

If we could be in one European city for New Year’s, you’d find us in Edinburgh, Scotland once more. We were there for a massive storm in 2006 and although the rain dampened our spirits and the high winds closed down the outdoor party and fireworks displays, we’d still go another round with this friendly, stone-worked city.

Edinburgh Castle Scotland
Edinburgh is a great place to see in the New Year.

In South America, you’d find us at Copacabana beach, Rio de Janeiro. An energetic city, saying it knows how to party is just a sad cliché: but it’s so true. Big ocean, big bands, and a big New Year’s celebration that runs all night.

I don’t know if we’ll ever be in North America for NYE, but there are two cities we hear about time and time again: New York and Las Vegas. New York has the iconic ball dropping in Times Square — although we’ve heard the crowds are so big you should arrive after lunch, and maybe that’s not the best use of time for any visitor.

Las Vegas’s nightlife doesn’t need to be discussed, but you can be sure the casinos don’t hold back with A-list bands and celebrities each year. Outdoors, the Strip is closed to cars and a huge fireworks display is launched from almost every resort. Fireworks fan? Get here.

And fireworks brings me to the end of our New Year’s city wish list: Sydney, Australia. It’s summer down here, so you’d find us near a harbourside bar in shorts and a t-shirt waiting for the fireworks — including the spectacular denouement as the Harbour Bridge explodes with colour.

Sydney Harbour Bridge with fireworks at New Year
If you can visit Sydney at New Year, even better.

Up Helly Aa!

Where: Lerwick, Shetland Islands
When: 2019: January 29, 2020: January 28

January will continue to roll on, and by the end of it, you might miss playing with fire. Fear not, just pack your warmest kilt and head up to Lerwick, capital city of the Shetland Islands, on the last Tuesday in January. It’s time for the Viking festival, Up Helly Aa, with bonfires enough for everyone.

Up Helly Aa
A bit more fire at Up Helly Aa. CC by-sa Vicky Brook on Flickr

Another New Year’s Festival

Where: Kham-Ti, Myanmar
When: 2019: January 12-18,

The Naga celebrate their New Year in mid-January, so if you didn’t get enough at the end of December, you can start all over again. In Kham-Ti and the surrounding region, celebrations start during the day and continue until nightfall, when bonfires are lit and the party keeps going.

Expect costumes, expect sports, expect dance and music, and be ready for a feast.

Carnaval de Blancos y Negros

Where: Pasto, Colombia
When: January 2-7 every year

It started with a moon festival and turned into a celebration of multi-culturism, but the “blacks and whites carnival” is everyone’s party these days. In an attempt to turn everyone either black or white, on one day the face-paint comes out and on another, talcum is thrown. Think of Songkran — Bangkok’s massive water fight — or Holi — that colourful Indian celebration — but turn it all two-tone.

On other days of the festival, you’ll see a lot more colour — this is Colombia, after all!

Carnaval de blanco y negro by Nicolás Argoti on Flickr
Carnaval de Blanco y Negro — it’s not all black and white! CC by-sa Nicolás Argoti on Flickr

Harbin International Ice & Snow Festival

Where: Zhaolin Park and Sun Island Park, Harbin, China
When: 2018/2019: Dec 24-Feb 28

If you’re after something a bit more restrained, Harbin’s fabulous winter festival starts up at the end of December and continues right through to mid-February. Held in the depths of winter, the festival revolves around an amazing array of fanciful and elaborate ice sculptures, including re-creations of famous buildings and structures.

Harbin ice fest
Harbin ice fest


Where: Pernik, Bulgaria
When: Jan 26-28 every year

Every year, the town of Pernik in Bulgaria hosts Surva, the International Festival of the Masquerade Games. Processions, masks, and cowbells all play their part in this ancient celebration.

Parade at the International Festival of the Masquerade Games in Pernik, Bulgaria
The parade begins! (Photo by Dianne Thomas)

Dinagyang festival

Where: Iloilo, Philippines
When: 2019: Jan 25-27, 2020: Jan 24-26

Dinagyang Festival, a religious and cultural event, is one of the most popular and most anticipated festivals in the Philippines. Celebrating Santo Nino and commemorating the arrival of the first settlers to the region, this festival is an explosion of colour and flavour. It usually takes place over the last weekend of January.

Dinagyang festival philippines
Dinagyang Festival Philippines (photo by Gem Muzones)

This list of the top January festivals is in no particular order, and is also completely subjective — they’re the festivals we’ve most enjoyed, or would most like to take part in, of all the festivals that take place in January. Let us know if there are festivals you think we should add to this list!

January festivals pin
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