8 sunny holiday destinations to beat the January blues

It’s the least wonderful time of the year, so give short days and long commutes a wide berth with our pick of the best destinations for winter sun

8 sunny holiday destinations to beat the January blues

After the sparkling highs of the festive season, it’s only natural to feel a bit lacklustre by the time the new year is in full swing. But post-Christmas colds and short-lived diets aside, it’s not all doom and gloom, because if any of your 2019 resolutions happen to involve seeing more of the world, we’ve got you covered.

In our professional opinion, the strongest antidote to the January blues is finding somewhere tropical to lay your beach towel. 

If it’s white-sand beaches and crystal-clear waters you’re after, look to Barbados and The Maldives, whose unrelenting beauty is at its very best at this time of year, or if the beach is just the beginning, head to Sri Lanka. Packed with history, cultural sites and exquisite scenery (not to mention incredible seafood), it offers the best of both worlds.

Wildlife-lovers and avid walkers are among the best catered to at this time of year, with the diverse cloud forests of Costa Rica at their best and quietest, and breeding pairs of birds, turtles and more descending on the breathtaking, immensely hikeable coasts of South Africa, whose summer is at its peak in January. 

Culture vultures, meanwhile, don’t need to go very far at all – the golden medieval city of Valletta is just three hours from the UK, while Portugal offers art galleries and cafe culture that feels a world away from the chilly winds of its more northerly European neighbours.

1. Barbados

Start the year off right with a visit to this colourful, laid-back island nation

January marks the start of the dry season in Barbados, with all of the sun and none of the sluggish humidity – so what to do with all that good weather?

Those looking to keep the decadence of the festive period going for a little longer should look to the west coast, home to beautiful beaches lapped by calm waters and Barbados’ most luxurious resorts, while surfers might want to head to the more developed south end of the island, where there are more significant swells to be found. Up for an adventure? Away from the coast, historic plantation houses, botanical gardens and dramatic caverns are waiting to be explored.

2. Sydney, Australia

Australia’s most iconic city is a truly versatile destination for winter sun

While most of us in the Northern Hemisphere are still scraping ice off our windscreens come January, our Antipodean cousins are all set to enjoy temperatures in the high twenties, and Sydney is our pick of the places to soak up all that winter sunshine.

Those who can’t choose between a beach break and a city break needn’t compromise, because there are sandy stretches of golden beach, world-class cultural experiences and great food to spare. It’s also an excellent base from which to explore the dramatic scenery of the Blue Mountains, a 90-minute drive from the city, or the verdant wineries of Hunter Valley, around two hours away.

3. Costa Rica

Our top destination for adventurers, this bucket-list-ticking destination is one for extraordinary natural beauty and exotic wildlife

This Central American gem makes for an envy-inducing holiday destination in any month of the year, but January might just be the sweet spot. While the crowds of December have dissipated, the landscapes are still lush from the much rainier autumn, showcasing those famous cloud forests at their verdant best.

With acres of ancient jungle, bursting with flora, fauna and cloud-nudging rope bridge trails, Costa Rica is the one for holidaymakers in search of adventure as well as a tan, especially those with a few species to tick off their field guides. On the other hand, there’s nothing to stop sun-worshippers heading to the golden beaches of Guanacaste, which is hot and dry from January until March.

4. South Africa

For walks, wildlife and top-notch wineries, try a South African summer

If you want to properly get away this January, but don’t feel like wasting precious time adjusting to a new time zone, South Africa is a no-brainer.

The appeal for all kinds of holidaymakers is evident. Incredible scenery and wildlife-spotting opportunities abound, with January seeing the arrival of nesting turtles and migratory bird species to the coast; attractions including Kruger Park tend to be quieter as the school holiday crowds subside; and Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban enjoy hot, sunny days and balmy nights. And if the height-of-summer temperatures get to be a little too much, why not sneak inside for a tasting at one of the region’s wonderful wineries?

5. Valletta, Malta

Saving up those holiday days? The Maltese capital is an exceptional setting for a short winter break.

Occupying an enviable position between Sicily and Tunisia, this little island offers arguably one of Europe’s most underrated breaks, and with a flight time of just three hours, it’s a lower-commitment option for a long weekend too.

Balmy rather than boiling, visiting compact capital Valletta in off-peak January means comfortable climes and fewer crowds, leaving you free to explore historic castles, ornate gilded churches and back streets lined with silver stalls. Plus, those milder days were made for enjoying a drink and a bite to eat looking over the beautiful, honey-hued vista of the Grand Harbour and the medieval city.

6. The Maldives

Warm, sunny and drop-dead gorgeous, try the Maldives for the polar opposite of a grey British winter

This smattering of Indian Ocean islands is firmly in its sunny season by January, making the first month of the year a great time to visit. Sensitively developed and breathtakingly beautiful, the Maldives is all about understated luxury (with the notable but excusable exception of a slightly bonkers underwater nightclub).

If you’re after something to take your mind off the looming threat of a post-Christmas return to the office, this is it – unbelievably clear waters and soft-sanded beaches, unbeatable dining and spas, and impeccable accommodation all ensure you’ll return to reality thoroughly refreshed.

7. Portugal and the Azores

Look no further than the Iberian Peninsula for a laid-back, short-haul break to ease you into the new year

If the heat of the Southern Hemisphere sounds a bit rich after the dark and cold of the British winter, try Portugal for something a little milder but no less magic.  Porto, Lisbon’s lesser-known (and lower-priced) cousin, is a superbly relaxed choice to follow the party season. Art Deco design, stylish hotels and and buzzy cafés appeal to off-the-beaten-track sensibilities, and there’s excellent dining and drinking to be found for a steal – wine buffs especially will appreciate the proximity to the Douro Valley, home to world-class Port vineyards.

Or, for something that couldn’t feel further from the rest of the continent, head to the Azores, home to intensely-coloured lakes, emerald forests, and some of the warmest temperatures in Europe at this time of year.

8. Sri Lanka

From adorable elephants to jaw-dropping ruins, Sri Lanka has it all – including winter sunshine by the bucketload

Sri Lanka’s monsoon season is well and truly out of the way by January, making it one of the best times to explore this beautiful, multifaceted destination. There are amazing beaches, of course, but those looking to get a little more out of their visit won’t have to look far.

Ancient caves swathed in devotional drawings, colourful temples and colonial churches, terraced tea plantations and lowland jungles, and some of the most scenic train journeys on the planet all jostle for attention. For its arresting mix of breathtaking scenery, rich culture, historical cities and gorgeous beaches, it’s our top pick for a January holiday that packs it all in.

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