January has always received bad press. The month was named after the two-headed Roman god, Janus, and those backward-looking eyes always had the unfair advantage of seeing all that fun and laughter disappearing over a lost horizon.
But looking forward is far more constructive than looking wistfully back. Instead, black out your rear-view mirror and take a clear-eyed view over the fair fields of promise that lie ahead.
Across Britain, that means that you can take your pick from festivals of light, music and film, vegan feasting, delicious mocktails, historic anniversaries and exhibitions, star-lit nights gazing into the heavens through high-powered telescopes, and comedy spectaculars. January is all about new opportunities, new projects, new challenges, new ideas to stimulate and entertain. It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for you. And you’re feeling good!
Laugh your way out of January in Bristol
Try not to die laughing at Bristol’s Slapstick Festival, which is back again for its 18th incarnation. Attracting new audiences for silent and visual comedy, the festival celebrates slapstick from the silent era of film (1895-1930) with live and online events at four venues around Bristol.
Appearances from modern descendants of the slapstick era include Bill Oddie, Barry Cryer, Sally Phillips and Ronni Ancona. David Mitchell, the comedian, writer and actor, will also be making his debut at Slapstick in the popular Top Comedy Moments strand. During the show, David will reveal his favourite and most influential moments of on-screen comedy with host Matthew Sweet. Around a third of the Slapstick events will be streamed live.
The details: Full Pass (26 events) £186; Silent Comedy Pass (17 events) £92; individual events from £4. Jan 26-30 (slapstick.org.uk). Stay at Hotel du Vin & Bistro Bristol City Centre (0844 736 4252; hotelduvin.com) for large loft rooms, bags of character and a handy location in the heart of the city. Double rooms from £111. Read the full hotel review here.
Hip Hip Pooh-ray in East Sussex
There’s one anniversary families with youngsters simply can’t afford to ignore. January 18 is the birthday of author AA Milne, the creator of Winnie the Pooh and his friends Piglet, Tigger and Eeyore. Pooh Corner is to be found in Hartfield on the edge of the Ashdown Forest in East Sussex near where Milne and his young son, Christopher Robin, used to live. The inspiration for the stories, including the famous Pooh Sticks bridge, can be found just a short walk away in 100 Acre Wood. So whether you visit the tea room or the free Pooh-seum and gift shop, you’ll find yourself busy doing nothing in no time. Afterwards, curl up for a cosy night in with a box set of Pooh movies and a hot honey drink.
The details: Pooh Corner is on High Street, Hartfield, East Sussex (poohcorner.co.uk). Stay at Ashdown Park Hotel (01342 824988; ashdownpark.com) a stately neo-Gothic hotel in the heart of Winnie the Pooh country that appeals to families and couples alike. Double rooms from £159. Read the full hotel review here.
Lark about on the Thames in London
Dig up a piece of history in the shape of archaeological artefacts under the muddy foreshore of the River Thames. Who knows what you may discover? Everything is possible, from smoking pipes to drainpipes, pottery and even bones. Almost anything that might have been dropped, thrown or accidentally knocked into the water during the past thousand years. This is a chance to find evidence of thousands of years of London’s history – who lived here and how they lived. Meeting by the glass obelisk under Millennium Bridge, you and your team will explore the foreshore from the bridge to Queenhithe Dock.
The details: This two-hour history hunt is suitable for both adults and families (children aged eight and over) and will be led by an experienced guide. Tickets cost from £25; runs throughout January (020 8742 0057; thames-explorer.org.uk). Stay at citizenM Bankside (020 3519 1680; citizenm.com) for a characterful pad in an enviable postcode within walking distance of the Millennium Bridge. Double rooms from £95. Read the full hotel review here.
Enjoy a sober sequel in London
According to recent studies, one in five alcohol drinkers now opt for an alcohol-free dry January. It’s the sober sequel to tipsy December. But that doesn’t mean we must deny our taste buds all the joys of a fun night out. After all, what, pray, was the mocktail invented for? So instead of a Knock-Out Punch, leave the kids at home and try a Winter Sangria (simmered cranberries, apples, orange, blueberries and ginger beer); a Ginger Peach Kambucha (green tea, cane sugar, peaches and ginger); a Lychee Blossom (lychees, jasmine tea, honey, strawberry and lemon); or even a 34 Virgin Colada (pineapple, lime, toasted coconut, cream and maraschino cherry). Thirsty yet? And with no hangover guaranteed.
The details: Some of the finest mocktails can be found in the bars of London, such as Heads + Tails, West Hampstead (07926 968 33534; headsandtails.bar) and 34 Mayfair, Grosvenor Square (020 3350 3434; 34-restaurant.co.uk). Stay at The May Fair (020 7769 4041; themayfairhotel.co.uk) for a chic urban retreat with first-class service and eponymous bar that offers a couple of non-alcoholic cocktails. Double rooms from £262. Read the full hotel review here.
Enjoy the festivities of folk in Glasgow
Banish the January Blues for good in Glasgow, which is set to come alive with Celtic Connections – hundreds of performances, landmark musical collaborations, talks, workshops, film screenings, theatre productions, ceilidhs, exhibitions, free events and late-night music sessions. Europe’s largest winter festival is an 18-day programme of events spanning traditional folk, roots, Americana, jazz, soul and world music performed by more than 1,000 musicians.
Taking its title from the old Aberdeenshire love song popularised by the late Tony Cuffe, the ’Neath the Gloamin’ Star opening night event will showcase the new generation of young artists leading the Scots folk song revival. The line-up includes Fiona Hunter, Steve Byrne, Paul McKenna, Ellie Beaton, Cameron Nixon and Jenny Sturgeon.
The details: Tickets from £24.20. Opens Jan 20 at Glasgow Royal Concert Hall (0141 353 8000; celticconnections.com); until Feb 6. Stay at Dakota Glasgow (0141 404 3680; dakotahotels.co.uk), an old Works and Pension building that has been transformed into a stylish modern boutique hotel offering affordable luxury and excellent cuisine. Double rooms from £117. Read the full hotel review here.
Embrace Veganuary in London
With the Christmas turkey a distant memory, make January a dairy-free, animal-free vegan extravaganza. Veganuary is a non-profit organisation that encourages people worldwide to try going vegan for January (and beyond) and works with businesses to increase the amount of vegan food in shops and restaurants. During the 2021 campaign, more than 500,000 people took the pledge and embarked on a vegan diet. Start the journey at some of London’s top vegan eateries and cafés including Hackney’s WAVE (We Are Vegan Everything), Stem & Glory’s Bart Square restaurant and Rudy’s Dirty Vegan Diners in both Camden and Islington.
The details: More information: Veganuary (veganuary.com); WAVE Cafe (07734 253401; weareveganeverything.com); Stem & Glory (0203 990 2034; stemandglory.uk); Rudy’s (rudysvegan.com); visitlondon.com. Stay at One Aldwych (020 7300 1000; onealdwych.com), one of the capital’s foremost contemporary five-star hotels – with a delicious vegan tasting menu on offer. Double rooms from £333. Read the full hotel review here.
Find the light for free in East Sussex
In the heart of the bleak mid-winter, it’s time to celebrate the light. As darkness falls, Bexhill’s town centre comes alive in a celebration of the art of artificial light. The town’s annual light festival features illuminated installations, light artworks and an illuminated parade. Giant faces sing, acrobats twirl, a living snow globe glides, a light ship sways and buildings glow with colour.
Displays include the Beach Beacon with Bexhill’s De La Warr Pavilion turned into a lightbox of shifting colours and projections; an Ice Queen gliding through the streets; the Candle, an illuminated arial show performed to music; and Talking Heads in which members of the audience are transformed into giant animated faces. Visitors can expect the new, the spectacular, the playful and the uplifting.
The details: Free; Jan 29 (4.30-8.30pm) at Bexhill town centre (18hours.org.uk). Stay at The Driftwood (01424 732584; thedriftwoodbexhill.co.uk), a sleek boutique hotel that brings stylish rooms and authentic Austrian cuisine to this sleepy seaside town. Double rooms from £112. Read the full hotel review here.
Step into history in Kent
This year, the Queen will become the first British monarch to celebrate a Platinum Jubilee – 70 years after being crowned in 1952. Winston Churchill became one of the Queen’s most trusted advisers through the earliest years of her reign. To celebrate the occasion, an exhibition of archive photographs telling the story of the special relationship between the young Queen and Churchill will be on display at Chartwell, his family home. The enlarged photographs will be displayed on the fully accessible terrace lawn just outside the house, overlooking the winter gardens and estate. This is a free exhibition included with the National Trust admission charge.
The details: Entrance to Chartwell costs from £14 for adults, £7 children. From Jan 15, 10am-4pm (01732 868381; nationaltrust.org.uk). Stay at nearby Hever Castle (01732 861800; hevercastle.co.uk), Anne Boleyn’s childhood home, now 28-room b&b set in the Tudor-style Edwardian wings. Double rooms from £140. Read the full hotel review here.
Look to the stars in Eastbourne
Beachy Head is classified as a Dark Sky Reserve, which means the night skies over the area have been recognised for their low levels of light pollution and easy public access. Now Eastbourne Astronomical Society and Heritage Eastbourne have joined forces to help the public observe the night sky through powerful telescopes under the guidance of expert star-gazers. Assuming the skies are clear, the moon, Venus, Jupiter and Uranus – as well as the Andromeda Galaxy – will all be on view. Once you’ve had your fill of heavenly sights, admire images of the night sky taken with the world’s biggest telescopes in a slideshow in the adjacent Beachy Head Story museum.
The details: Free public event. Jan 22, 5-7pm. Outside Beachy Head Story, next to the Beachy Head Pub, Eastbourne (01323 729926; visiteastbourne.com). Stay at the palatial Grand Hotel (01323 412345; grandeastbourne.com), a long-standing matriarch of English seaside hotels. Double rooms from £145. Read the full hotel review here.
Suspend your disbelief in London
London Short Festival is a Bafta-qualifying, internationally regarded independent short film festival – the perfect showcase to discover new talent and innovative new productions. This celebration of the short format showcases the best of UK independent films alongside some international contributions including dramas, comedies, documentaries, animations, low-budget shorts and experimental works. We could all do with a laugh and this year’s event begins with the traditional smorgasbord of the year’s finest comedy offerings at the Institute of Contemporary Arts. If your sense of humour is warm and observational, gallows and deadpan, trippy and crude or satirical and politically subversive, there’ll definitely be something on offer to make you LOL.
The details: Regular entry for Jan 14-23 available (shortfilms.org.uk). Stay at Haymarket Hotel (020 7470 4000; firmdalehotels.com), a wonderfully confident art-filled boutique, which plays with riotous colour-matching, prints and paintings. Double rooms from £489. Read the full hotel review here.
Turn to Turner in Edinburgh
For more than a century, the Scottish National Gallery has celebrated the new year by displaying the watercolours of JMW Turner throughout January. A stipulation of collector Henry Vaughan, who gifted 38 works to the gallery in 1900, the display has become a hugely popular tradition. The works range from the early wash drawings of the 1790s to the colourful, atmospheric and expressive late works painted during Turner’s visits to the Swiss Alps during the 1830s and 1840s.
Highlights of the bequest include a series of spectacular views of Venice, including The Piazzetta and Venice from the Laguna, which capture the drama and explosive skies of late summer Adriatic storms and demonstrate Turner’s mastery of atmospheric lighting effects.
The details: Free; advanced booking required. Until Jan 31, 10am-5pm, at the Scottish National Gallery (0131 624 6200; nationalgalleries.org). Stay at 23 Mayfield (0131 667 6833; 23mayfield.co.uk) for acres of mahogany panelling, stained glass and bespoke period furniture in an unassuming Victorian guesthouse. It’s dramatic, it’s sumptuous and it’s seriously good fun. Double rooms from £169. Read the full hotel review here.
Walk the line in Northern England
Hadrian’s Wall 1900 Festival promises a programme of events, artworks, performances, talks, walks and activities commemorating the 1,900th anniversary of the beginning of the construction of the famous wall – which is a Unesco World Heritage site. Hadrian’s Wall extends over 73 miles of rolling hills from Wallsend on the River Tyne in the east to Bowness-on-Solway in the west. The latter, with its epic scenery and views across the Solway Firth into Scotland, will be hosting the opening event with a collection of talks and live performances. Blue Badge Tour Guide, Anna Gray, will also be presenting a series of virtual tours along the Cumbrian section of Hadrian’s Wall between Bowness-on-Solway and Gilsland, on the Cumbria and Northumberland border.
The details: Virtual tours by Anna Gray from £6.50. Jan 24-26 at 7pm via Zoom (07557 915855; discoverlakeland.co.uk). Events Information: Hadrian’s Wall Country (1900.hadrianswallcountry.co.uk). Stay at Farlam Hall Country House Hotel (016977 46234; farlamhall.co.uk), a family-run, traditional country-house hotel that oozes comfort and relaxation without fuss and formality. Read the full hotel review here.
Beat Valentine’s Day to the punch in Pembrokeshire
If you simply can’t wait for Valentine’s Day – or just want to double down on romantic opportunities – then head for Wales on January 25 to celebrate St. Dwynwen’s Day. Santes Dwynwen was a fourth-century Welsh princess and the prettiest of King Brychan Brycheiniog’s 24 daughters. She fell in love with a local lad called Maelon, but her father had already arranged for her to marry another prince. After much shenanigans in which an angel turned Maelon into a block of ice to help her forget him, he was eventually saved and Dwynwen lived as a nun praying for true lovers to have better luck than she did. It’s the most romantic day of the year in Wales with cards exchanged, gifts given, and special meals with loved ones.
The details: Stay at The Grove (01834 860 915; thegrove-narberth.co.uk) which promises a thoroughly rural and peaceful spot near the pretty little town of Narberth, Pembrokeshire. An intimate overnight stay for two costs from £570.40 and includes a bottle of Billecart Salmon Rose Champagne, a dozen red roses, and a five-course tasting menu. Read the full hotel review here.
Hotels to hole up in and lift your (post-Christmas) spirits
Middleton Lodge, North Yorkshire
The lovely rooms at this Georgian country estate, set in 200 acres of undisturbed parkland, are scattered between the Dairy, Coach House, Walled Garden and Orchard. Indulge in holistic and calming massages in the hotel’s treatment rooms, wander through the Walled Garden, and enjoy estate-to-plate dishes in the Coach House restaurant. On Jan 22 you can join the lodge owners, James and Rebecca Allison, in their 16-bedroom Georgian home for a Burns Night celebration with Scottish supper, readings and music (tickets £65).
The details: Middleton Lodge (01325 377977; middletonlodge.co.uk) offers doubles from £200. Read the full hotel review here.
The Felin Fach Griffin, Powys
Tucked between the bare Brecon Beacons and the Black Mountains, close to the absorbing book town of Hay-on-Wye, the Griffin offers comfort and character in equal measure. Owner Edmund Inkin says: “People feel safer in more rural spots where the balance between precautions and hospitality is right.” Opt for the Winter Escape package (£190, B&B) and don’t miss the loin of venison and St Clement’s curd tart and satsuma ice cream, if it’s on the menu.
The details: The Felin Fach Griffin (01874 620111; eatdrinksleep.ltd.uk) offers doubles from £115. Read the full hotel review here.
The Compasses Inn, Wiltshire
In the beautiful, admirably unpretentious, part 14th-century Compasses, lost in a network of country lanes, you’ll find roaring fires, real ales and a warm welcome from a dedicated pub landlord. Upstairs: four Scandi-simple bedrooms, plus a self-catering cottage next door. An extra treat? Catch the Tallboys, a brilliant acoustic duo, at one of their regular gigs (Jan 27).
The details: The Compasses Inn (01722 714318; thecompassesinn.com) offers doubles from £120 including breakfast.
St Michael’s Resort, Cornwall
For an invigorating and relaxing start to your year, hike the South West Coast Path at the bottom of the garden, swim wild in the sea, work out in the gym or simply flop in the state-of-the-art spa and indulge in a rhassoul mud or hydrothermal experience. Arty Falmouth with its quirky shops and Maritime Museum is on your doorstep and the hotel itself is a cool, contemporary haven of Cornish good living with a bar, bistro, beautiful grounds and sea views.
The details: St Michael’s Resort (01326 312707; stmichaelshotel.co.uk) offers doubles from £140. Read the full hotel review here.
The Pierhouse, Argyll
There’s little more uplifting than the soaring mountain views as you coast along the shores of Loch Linnhe past enigmatic medieval Castle Stalker, and finally arrive at the Pierhouse, where log fires and blissful contemporary comfort await. As does the unmissable Pierhouse Platter, brimming with locally caught langoustines, smoked salmon, oysters, mussels and crab; or maybe you’d prefer a creel-caught whole lobster or North Sea sole. Take advantage of a three-night, reduced price Wee Winter Break (doubles from £300).
The details: The Pierhouse (01631 730302; pierhousehotel.co.uk) offers doubles from £125 including breakfast. Read Telegraph Travel’s complete guide to the best hotels in the UK.
This article is kept updated with the latest advice.