Top 10 things to do in Wales in January

What better way to shake off the January blues than with a winter holiday to Wales? The first month of the year can be dreary thanks to the dark nights, cold weather, and that flat feeling that follows all the fun of the holiday season. But it doesn’t have to be that way! Wales has got plenty to offer during the winter months, and its magical landscapes, beautiful sights, adrenaline-filled activities, and unique events might be just what you need to get your year off to a great start.

Though the weather might be cold, January comes with some beautifully fresh, crystal-clear days. And when it snows, Wales’ already stunning landscapes are transformed into something truly spectacular. Prices drop to an all-time low, as do the numbers of visitors, so you won’t have to worry about crowds and can experience empty walking trails, deserted beaches, and no queues at tourist attractions. Perfect!

So why not break up the first month of the year with a holiday? To help you plan your trip, here’s our list of the top 10 things to do in Wales in January!

1

Make a splash

Want an invigorating way to start the year? How about plunging into icy seas for a New Year’s Day swim? If you missed the many festive swims happening in December or loved them so much you want to do it again, here’s another chance!

These are a few of the most popular locations:

  • Saundersfoot New Year’s Day Swim: the pretty Pembrokeshire town is home to the original New Year’s Day Swim. It began with 17 people taking to the water in 1984 and has grown massively since then. Now well over a thousand people participate each year, with thousands more watching. Fancy dress is encouraged!
  • Barry Island New Year Day Swim attracts over 2000 swimmers each year in an assortment of speedos and fancy dress.
  • The Mayor’s New Year’s Day Dip in Pembrokeshire is so named because the mayor joins in each year. Hot showers, soup, and hot drinks are provided afterwards at the Newport Boat Club.
  • Whitesands New Year’s Day Charity Swim takes place on one of the most beautiful beaches in Wales and is run by a local charity, which holds events throughout the year to raise money and awareness for various causes.
  • Abersoch RNLI New Year’s Day Dip each year, this swim has a new fancy dress theme which is often interpreted in interesting and hilarious ways.

Unfortunately, all of these swims were cancelled during the pandemic. But we hope to see them returning strong over the next few years, as they are fantastic community events and raise a lot of money for worthy causes. Check their websites and Facebook pages for updates.

Each year thousands across Wales take to the water for New Year's Day dips. They're fantastic community events and raise a lot of money for worthy causes. In 2020 a record 2,048 swimmers and thousands of spectators braved the icy waters for the annual Saundersfoot New Year's Day Swim. The annual Barry Island New Years Day dip sees participants raising significant amounts of money money for children's hospice Tŷ Hafan.
2

Keep the Christmas spirit alive

If you’re not ready to let the magic of the festive seasons end just yet, don’t worry! Many of the Christmas events we mentioned in December continue into the first and second week of January. Perfect for giving kids a last bit of holiday fun before they head back to school.

In the first few days of the month, you can still catch the magical luminations in Margam Park, Neath, Fonmon Castle, Barry, National Botanic Garden, Carmarthenshire and Bute Park, Cardiff. Wrap up warm and wander the fairytale paths lined with otherworldly light displays. And be sure to stop regularly for hot drinks and toasted marshmallows along the way!

In addition, the Cardiff and Swansea Winter Wonderlands both run into the second week of January and offer fun fairs, ice rinks, alpine villages, and ice bars, alongside delicious food and mulled wine to keep you warm and festive into the new year.

3

See in the New Year!

Nope, we’re not confused. In Wales, it’s perfectly possible to see in the new year in the middle of January! This is because the people of the Gwaun Valley do things a little differently from the rest of the country. They still follow the ancient Julian Calendar – rather than the Gregorian calendar, which the rest of the UK adopted in the 18th century. And the Julian Calendar does not celebrate the new year until January 13th!

In this Pembrokeshire valley, people hold onto this tradition, and families often mark the day with a large roast dinner, while children celebrate by visiting neighbouring houses and singing traditional Welsh songs for Calennig – gifts of money and sweets.

So if you’re staying in a holiday cottage in the Gwaun Valley this January, be sure to keep some treats on hand for new year’s callers!

In a small wooded valley near Fishguard, the inhabitants of Cwm Gwaun are getting ready for their annual New Year celebrations on the 13th of January. In true Welsh tradition, in Gwaun Valley children go from door to door singing and are given 'Calennig' in return: sweets or money.
4

Feel the love

It’s not just New Year’s day that comes with its own timetable in Wales, but Valentine’s Day too! On the 25th of January, the Welsh celebrate St Dwynwen’s Day in honour of their patron saint of lovers.

St Dwynwen was a 5th-century princess who could not be with the man she loved because her father had promised her to another. Refusing to accept this, she instead became a nun, moved to Llanddwyn, set up a convent and spent the remainder of her days praying for other lovers’ stories to end better than her own.

It’s traditional to celebrate St Dwynwen’s Day by exchanging cards and gifts, spending time with loved ones and enjoying a special activity or romantic meal. But to make the most of the day, we recommend visiting the tiny island of Llanddwyn off the coast of Anglesey, where St Dwynwen lived most of her life.

Visitors to the island can enjoy the beautiful scenery and stunning views across the Menai Strait, explore the ruins of St Dwynwen’s Church and visit a sacred well, which according to legend, contains magic eels which can foretell the outcome of relationships!

5

Do as the Romans do

Llanwrtyd Wells, the town that brought you the world-famous Bog Snorkelling Championships and the hilarious Real Ale Wobble, is at it again with a wacky event to brighten up mid-January. The World Mountain Bike Chariot Racing Championships!

The race involves teams of three people – two on mountain bikes towing the third who rides in a custom-built Roman chariot. The teams race along a mixed terrain track in a series of heats, the fastest teams of each progressing to the final for a chance at sweet chariot victory! The race requires a fair bit of skill, courage, and excellent cooperation between the teammates. And, of course, wearing a toga, gladiator outfit – or any other costume – is highly encouraged!

The chariot races are part of Llanwrtyd Wells’ Saturnalia Beer Festival, inspired by an ancient Roman mid-winter celebration, which featured much drinking and carousing. In the Welsh version, it’s celebrated by sampling a variety of winter warmer ales while walking a stretch of the old roman road outside the village. Plus, the chariot races, live music, food stalls and plenty of family-friendly entertainment.

Llanwrtyd Wells - officially Britain's smallest town - hosts a toga-tastic weekend of Bacchanalian boozing and rigorous physical activity. Aspiring Ben-Hurs and Boudicas will race specially commissioned mountain bike chariots in teams of three (two pedalling bikes at the front, one in an attached rubber barrel). The revelries continue with a Saturnalia Wobble - a bike ride (sans chariot) through the Welsh countryside fuelled by free beer along the route.
6

Let it snow

The Welsh landscape is magical at any time of year, but in winter, with frosty mornings, clear blue skies and fresh snowfall, it becomes truly breathtaking. We can never predict snow with certainty in Wales, where the weather is notoriously changeable. But it’s most likely to occur between December to February.

If you want to hear the crunch of frost under your hiking boots, try winter ice climbing, or enjoy the endlessly photogenic winter landscapes, then avoid the coastal areas and head to the mountains and valleys for the best chance of encountering snow.

The Cambrian Mountains in Mid Wales, the Brecon Beacons National Park and the Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire are beautiful places to hike through fallen snow. Plus, there are plenty of cosy country pubs to warm up in afterwards.

Snowdonia National Park is the most reliable place to expect snow, and when it falls, you’ll find the north-facing valleys, and sheer rock faces transformed into an ice-climbing playground. Check out winter climbing companies Snowdonia Adventures and PYB to try the sport alongside experienced guides.

7

Gaze at the heavens

The long dark nights of winter are not everyone’s favourite thing, but why not make the most of them by doing some world-class stargazing? With low light pollution, three designated dark sky reserves and around 30 dark sky discovery centres, Wales is one of the best places in the world to enjoy clear, star-strewn night skies. Here are some of the best locations:

  • North Wales – the Snowdonia International Dark Sky Reserve is one of only 18 such reserves in the world. You can also enjoy stunning skies in remote areas of the Llyn Peninsula and on Anglesey, where if the conditions are right, you might even see the Northern lights.
  • Mid Wales – in the Cambrian Mountains, you’ll find several dark sky discovery sites plus the 45,000-acre Elan Valley International Dark Sky Park, the only such place in the country. Similarly, the Brecon Beacons boast many stargazing spots, and the Usk Reservoir Dark Sky Discovery Site is one of the best.
  • South Wales – Pembrokeshire is a recognised dark sky region home to a string of dark sky discovery sites. Head to the Western tip of the Pembrokeshire National Park to enjoy seeing the milky way without needing a telescope.

9

Go where the action is

January might come with low costs and even lower crowds, but that can mean a lack of atmosphere in smaller towns and villages where some hotels and restaurants close for the month. To avoid disappointment, head to larger towns and cities where you’re guaranteed to find open venues and plenty of life.

And where better to head than Cardiff? The country’s capital never closes and always has something going on. Plus, when the weather turns nasty – which is a real possibility in a Welsh January – there are plenty of choices for indoor activities.

Here are some of the best ways to pass a cold or rainy day in the capital city:

  • Soak up some history and culture at the city’s museums and galleries.
  • Eat and drink your way through the many excellent cafes, restaurants, bars, pubs, breweries and clubs.
  • Tour the iconic Principality stadium for a backstage glance at the home of Welsh Rugby.
  • Shop the January sales in Cardiff’s indoor markets and shopping centres.
  • Get active at the many indoor activity centres. There’s a trampoline park, mini golf course, climbing centre, indoor go-kart track and even an indoor surfing centre.
  • Visit Cardiff Castle or Castell Coch, two of Wales’s most incredible castles, with plenty of indoor spaces to explore.
10

Sample something warming

Touring a whiskey distillery and sampling the amber spirit is a great way to warm up in the cold winter months. Especially since Welsh whiskey is often made in some of the most beautiful parts of the country.

Whiskey has been made in Wales since the middle ages, but the art of distilling it had been almost lost by the end of the 20th century. Luckily, a group of Whiskey lovers brought it back with Penderyn Whiskey, the first distillery to open in Wales in over 100 years. Since 2004 this whiskey has gone from strength to strength and is now an award-winning spirit with an international reputation.

Penderyn’s flagship location is tucked into the foothills of the Brecon Beacons. The stunning location means you can pair a distillery tour with a walking holiday or romantic break in the National Park. And, thanks to their success, Penderyn recently opened a second distillery in the coastal town of Llandudno, North Wales and is planning a third near Swansea.

Though they were the trailblazers, Penderyn is no longer the only show in town. The world of Welsh Whiskey has grown to include several more distilleries worth visiting, including Aber Falls beside the Menai Strait in North Wales and Coles in Carmarthenshire, where you can also enjoy a meal at the on-site 600-year-old pub.

8

Challenge yourself

Start the new year off with a challenge by completing the legendary Special Forces Fan Dance Race Series. This gruelling endurance race began as a SAS selection route, used as one of the first tests to see if a candidate had what it took to join the Special Forces team. Now, competitors from all over the world use it to prove their mental and physical capabilities.

The 24 kilometre race tackles a punishing route over Pen Y Fan, the tallest mountain in the Brecon Beacons. The course is all-terrain, switching between scree-covered slopes, steep inclines, forestry tracks and stream crossings. You have two opportunities to tackle it annually, once in the summer and again in January, when ice, snow, and freezing winds take the already demanding race to a whole new level.

Despite its tough nature, the race is renowned for having a wonderful atmosphere of camaraderie that makes it a memorable thing to be a part of. It has a 95% completion rate and the competitors all celebrate their victory together with a post race meal and drinks.


There you have it

See what we mean? There’s no reason to let January get you down! Visit Wales and make the most of the month with snowy walks, starry nights, lingering festive cheer, cultural quirks and wacky events. Book your accommodation ahead of time to ensure you have the perfect base to enjoy all that Wales has to offer in January.

What about next month? Here’s our guide to the top 10 things to do in Wales in February.

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