January is one of the wettest and coldest months in Wales, but it can also be at its most magical. It is a very peaceful time to explore as all the tourists and crowds are gone and you have the whole place to yourself. Wrap up and go roam the galleries and museums, grab a drink and hunker down by a roaring fire in a pub or gaze at the stars in one of Wales’ Dark Sky Reserves. Here are some of the best things to do in Wales in January.
The Light of Winter/Goleuni’r Gaeaf | Cardiff | 25th of November – 11th of February
This free art installation in St John’s Garden in the heart of Cardiff is open daily from 8 am-9 pm, Visitors are invited to immerse themselves in the responsive light and soundscape while the sounds of the Welsh folksong ‘Ar Lan y Mor’ fill the gardens. This installation is best enjoyed at dusk and after dark.
An ancient Welsh Midwinter celebration inspires it. The traditional feast, held on the shortest day of the year, was known as ‘Goleuni’r Gaeaf (The Light of Winter)’, and was a time to celebrate community and welcome longer brighter days.
During January there will also be free family storytelling and art workshops hosted by local author and illustrator Jack Skivens.
His Dark Materials Exhibition | Swansea | 2nd of December – 23rd of April
Swansea’s Glynn Vivian Art Gallery is presenting, in partnership with Bad Wolf, a look behind-the-scenes of BBC and HBO’s multi-award-winning His Dark Materials. Based on Philip Pullman’s trilogy of novels, visitors will be able to see costumes, concept art, visual effects footage, props, and more across all three seasons. The free major exhibition features key props such as the subtle knife and alethiometer. The majority of the series was filmed at Wolf Studios Wales in Cardiff. This exhibition is free to the public.
Calennig | All Over Wales | 1st of January
This traditional custom sees children knocking on doors and singing festive rhymes on 1 January in exchange for small gifts. Calennig events are staged around Wales on New Year’s Eve, usually with music and fireworks.
The Fan Dance Race, Winter Series | Pen Y Fan | 7th of January
The Fan Dance Race is a grueling 24km non-navigational race over two sides of Pen y Fan, the highest mountain in the Brecon Beacons. This infamous route is the oldest Special Forces endurance challenge and is used as the first indicator of whether a candidate has the physical and mental aptitude to complete the legendary selection process. For most, it’s a life-changing experience. Of those who participate, 95% make it to the finish line.
Hen Galen | Pembrokeshire | 13th of January
In the Gwaun Valley in Pembrokeshire, the New Year starts on the 13th 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. 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 neighboring houses and singing traditional Welsh songs for Calennig – gifts of money and sweets.
St. Dwynwen’s Day | Caerphilly | 22nd of January
To celebrate St Dwynwen’s Day, there’s a special event at Caerphilly Castle. Enjoy a custodian-led tour of the castle, plus talks about St Dwynwen. There are also craft activities and card-making.
Dydd Santes Dwynwen | All Over Wales | 25th of January
St Dwynwen’s Day is when the Welsh honor the Welsh patron saint of lovers. It’s the Welsh version of St Valentine’s Day – although they celebrate that, too. The day celebrates a princess named Dwynwen who was unlucky in love. She became a nun and established a convent on the gorgeous Llanddwyn Island off the Isle of Anglesey.
Saturnalia Beer Festival and Chariot Race Championship | Llantwyrd Wells | 14th of January
The Saturnalia Beer Festival is inspired by an ancient Roman mid-winter celebration, which featured much boozing and carousing. In the Welsh version, it’s celebrated by a weekend of boozing and rigorous physical activity. In addition to the beer festival, there is a chariot championship with mountain bike chariots in teams of three (two on mountain bikes towing the third who rides in a custom-built Roman chariot). The fun continues with a Saturnalia Wobble and Ramble – a bike ride and/or walk through the Welsh countryside fueled by free beer along the way. And there’s also a chance to sample rare Roman delicacies like roasted stuffed testicles.
There is also live music, food stalls, and plenty of family-friendly entertainment.
Dark Sky Reserves of Wales | North/South/Mid-Wales | All of January
The long dark nights of winter might not be everyone’s favorite thing, but they are ideal for star gazing. And, with low light pollution, three designated dark sky reserves, and around 30 dark sky discovery centers, Wales is one of the best places in the world to discover clear, starry nights.
Wales has three International Dark Sky Places (IDSP) within its borders, including two of only 18 ‘International Dark Sky Reserves’ (the geographically largest categorization of IDSP) in the world – Brecon Beacons National Park, Snowdonia National Park, and the Elan Valley Estate.
Drink Welsh Spirits | Penderyn/Llandudno | All of January
One of the best things to do in January is to find a cozy country pub with a roaring fire and hunker down for the afternoon or evening with a drink. Depending on your preference, one of the best is a Welsh spirit from the Penderyn Distillery. Started on St. David’s Day, 2004 in the village of Penderyn, the distillery produces award-winning single malt whiskies and spirits at the foothills of the Brecon Beacons National Park.
You can tour the distillery and even take a Masterclass at the Brecon Beacons facility or at the new Llandudno location. Book online.