Despite low temperatures across much of the Northern Hemisphere, January is the ideal time for a city break to get the year off to a promising start. Museums and galleries are quiet, sales start, tourists are happily thin on the ground, enchanting snowy scenes often take hold – and things become more affordable.
According to flight-comparison site Skyscanner, no other month averages such low return fares (£89) from our airports to major European destinations, while Eurostar has one-way fares to the Continent from £39. Hospitality data specialist OTA Insight reports that hotel rates are also considerably lower – dropping by 30 per cent from the previous month in Paris and by 35 per cent in Amsterdam.
Lights & tulips, Amsterdam
At the annual Amsterdam Light Festival, on until 22 January, 20 thought-provoking artworks render the city’s canals more magical than ever. Guided, blanket-covered cruises offer the best vantage points (€13/£11.20, amsterdamlightfestival.com). Saturday 21 January is National Tulip Day, with locals plucking the flowers at a pop-up Dam Square garden. Join them there, or on Museumplein’s large ice-skating rink (iceamsterdam.nl).
Doubles at Hotel Cornelisz from €98 (£85), hotelcornelisz.nl.
For more: iamsterdam.com
Ice skating & hot tubs, Budapest
Perfect winter days in Hungary’s capital involve whizzing around the 12,000 sqm, castle-crowned City Park Ice Rink (£5, mujegpalya.hu), one of Europe’s oldest – and reputedly largest – before a thermal-spa session. Factor in some hearty goulash in the Central Market Hall, an organ concert at St Stephen’s Basilica and a stroll among Margaret Island’s illuminated dragons and elephants (£8, luminapark.eu).
Doubles at Gerlóczy Boutique Hotel from €119 (£102) B&B, gerloczy.com.
For more: visithungary.com/discover-budapest
Hot chocolate and empty alleyways, Venice
Given an enigmatic quality by wispy fogs, Venice in January is both more tranquil and more affordable – at the contemporary Rosa Salva hotel, weekend nights cost 57 per cent less than in May. Those romantic alleys are empty; even the Rialto Bridge is, for once, becalmed, and you won’t queue for galleries, gondolas or hot chocolates in Caffè Florian.
Doubles at Rosa Salva from €103 (£89), rosasalvahotel.it.
For more: visitvenezia.eu
Balmy baroque concerts, Valletta
As the Valletta Baroque Festival stages opera and classical concerts in historical venues (11-29 January, festivals.mt), Malta’s capital remains awash in elaborate Christmas lights and nativity scenes. Further afield, with days likely to still average 12°C, crowd-free megalithic temples and Gozo gorges beckon. And everything down to pastizzi-serving pavement cafés is cheaper than in summer.
Doubles at The Vincent start at €100 (£86) B&B, thevincenthotelmalta.com.
For more: visitmalta.com
Movies & music, Tromso
Cast in a near-perpetual blue twilight, Tromsø thrums with Arctic Circle activity in January. After English-subtitled movies screen at five International Film Festival venues (16-22 January, tiff.no), a week-long Northern Lights Festival brings multi-genre music concerts (from 27 January, nordlysfestivalen.no). All the while, dogsledding excursions search for the lights themselves, while whale-watching cruises scrutinise nearby fjords.
Doubles at Enter Tromsø from £180 self-catering, entertromso.no.
For more: visittromso.no
Turner paintings & Temple Bar, Dublin
Dublin’s many cosy pubs excel themselves in colder months, a time when the Bowie Fest’s exhibitions and tribute gigs (10-15 January; dublinbowiefestival.ie) precede live Irish music around riverside Temple Bar (25-29 January; tradfesttemplebar.com). It is also only in January that the National Gallery of Ireland displays its fragile Turner watercolours (free, nationalgallery.ie).
Doubles at Marlin Hotel from £149 B&B, marlinhotel.ie.
For more: visitdublin.com
Sales & leafy light shows, Paris
Most Parisian shops can offer discounts only during official, twice-yearly sales periods. Starting on 11 January, the 27-day winter period promises eyebrow-raising reductions at boutiques, department stores, jewellers and more. Go early and you can also catch the Jardin des Plantes’ monumental light festival (until 15 January, from €15/£13, jardindesplantesdeparis.fr) before a cosy bistro dinner.
Doubles at the Mob Hotel from €103 (£89) B&B, mobhotel.com.
For more: parisinfo.com
Discounted shows, sights & meals, New York
When Central Park is at its most frostily beautiful, families go sledding and couples clench mittens. New York winters also entail the skyscraper-ringed Rink at Rockefeller Centre (rockefellercenter.com) and two-for-one deals offered by the city’s simultaneous Restaurant, Broadway and, covering attractions, Must-See Weeks – which each, despite their billing, run from 17 January until mid-February.
Doubles at The Benjamin from $182 (£149) self-catering, thebenjamin.com.
For more: nycgo.com
Dancing & coffee-house cake, Vienna
January is peak ball season in Vienna, as palaces or opera houses stage glamorous waltzes. Nor is there a finer time to sample that admirable Viennese tradition of cake – ideally, chocolatey sachertorte – amid ornate coffee houses. Back outside, Wiener Eistraum is a beautifully lit set of ice-rinks park trails by City Hall (from 19 January, €8/£6.90, wienereistraum.com).
Doubles at Max Brown from €111 (£95.50) B&B, maxbrownhotels.com.
For more: wien.info
Fika plus sauna, Stockholm
January is ideal for fika, that Swedish coffee-and-cake ritual enjoyed somewhere snuggly. When snow clogs its colourful buildings, cafés in the capital’s old town of Gamla Stan seem especially tempting. You won’t find Stockholmers there, though: instead, they’ll be tobogganing in Haga Park, skating frozen waterways or sweating amid saunas – a complimentary example of which awaits inside the chic Freys Hotel.
Doubles from £111 B&B, freyshotels.com.
For more: visitstockholm.com
Flamenco fun, Seville
If the delicious perfume of ripening Seville oranges doesn’t tempt you, other reasons for a January jaunt to Andalucia’s main city include nightly flamenco shows (try Casa de la Memoria for maximum authenticity; €22/£19, casadelamemoria.es), a comparatively empty Alcazar fortress and gardens (€13.50/£11.60, alcazarsevilla.org) and far fewer tourists creeping into your photos from atop the 104m La Giralda bell tower.
Doubles at Casa Romana from €105 (£90) B&B, hotelcasaromana.com.
For more: visitasevilla.es
Hot Belgian chocolate, Bruges
Bruges does January brilliantly. Its cute canals are wonderfully silent. Twinkling lights illuminate storefronts. Many restaurants on medieval Market Square have crackling fireplaces. And numerous choccy flavours can be enjoyed in hot liquid form at The Old Chocolate House (oldchocolatehouse.be). Have one as a reward after crossing the swan-lined Lake of Love to – so they say – ensure eternal amour.
Doubles at Hotel Bourgoensch Hof from €90 (£78) B&B, hotelbh.be.
More information: visitbruges.be
Sunsets and opera, Milan
Is Earth’s third-largest cathedral its most beautiful? You may conclude as much when burnt-orange January sunsets frame the riot of milky marble spires atop Milan’s Duomo. Elsewhere, opera and ballet shows ramp up at legendary La Scala, designer sales line the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II arcade and tickets to view Leonardo da Vinci’s mural The Last Supper (€15/£13, cenacolovinciano.org) are in greater supply.
Doubles at LaFavia from €115 (£99) B&B, lafavia4rooms.com.
For more: yesmilano.it
Do New Year again, Belgrade
Up for another party? As Serbia follows the Julian calendar, New Year celebrations reoccur in Belgrade on 14 January with concerts outside City Hall. Fuelled by cockle-warming Balkan stews and possibly some fiery rakija in an old-school kafana tavern, you could additionally skate on a river island or walk through the forested Kosutnjak park – gorgeous when dusted with fresh snow.
Doubles at Smokvica Dorcol from €76 (£65) B&B, smokvica.rs.
For more: tob.rs
Snow before sand, near Paphos
Ski in the morning, sunbathe on a beach later. Should the weather gods play ball, such a day is possible come late January in western Cyprus. Rental stations and lifts serve Mount Olympus’s all-level pistes; two hours’ drive away begins the pale-sand Coral Bay, where temperatures can still push 20°C. If it is less clement, retreat to the luxurious Annabelle Hotel’s heated rooftop pool in Paphos.
Doubles from €148 (£127) B&B, annabelle.com.cy.
For more: visitpafos.org.cy