Travel Begins at 40 rounds up the best festivals in January 2020 across the Globe, from the Cape Town Minstrel Festival to Up Helly Aa in the Shetlands, so wherever you are there is no reason to avoid celebrating in the first month of the decade.

Cultural Festivals in Janauary

Kaapse Klopse, Cape Town, South Africa – 4 January

We start our whistle stop tour of January festivals around the world in the Cape. Kaapse Klopse (or the Cape Town Carnival) is usually held each year on the second day of the new year, but in 2020 it is on 4 January. Traditionally 2 January was the only day Cape slaves had off each year. Some 13,000 minstrels congregate in the South African city playing the ghoema drums city and celebrating their freedom, in a festival as much about identity as partying. If you can’t make the day itself, don’t worry as competitions continue into February.

Uttarayan and its International Kite Festival, Hujurat, India – 7 to 14 January

International Kite Festival, Gujarat, India

Uttarayan, a major January festival in India, celebrates Makara Sankranti or the start of the harvest season and is held in the state of Gujurat. During this period an international kite festival is held over a week which sees millions of kites launched into the skies, drawing kite flyers from around the world. Each flying season more than 10 million kites are sold in Ahmedabad. During a typical day of kite flying, a participant can lose up to a hundred kites during bouts of kite fighting. Special food includes undhiyu (a mixed vegetable dish with beans and yam).

Voodoo Festival, Benin – 10 January

Voodoo Festival Benin

Benin’s Voodoo Festival or the Fête du Vaudou, celebrates the country’s traditional religion. Voodoo claims a prominent place in Benin’s identity where there are more than 300 deities. The belief that everything is spirit, including humans, is a central tenet in voodoo. During the festival, song and dance are preceded by the ritual slaughter of a goat to honour the deities while there’s also plenty of consumption of earthly spirits with gin a particular favourite.

Tsagaan Sar, Mongolia – 25 to 27 January

Tsagaan Sar Festival, Mongolia

For a totally different tack head to Mongolia for Tsagaan Sar. Mongolia’s lunar new year is the most important festival for ethnic Mongols and the people of the Arctic where age-old rituals combine with eating local delicacies such as dumplings, sweets and plenty of vodka. Meaning “White Moon” in Mongolian, Tsagaan Sar refers to the first day of the year in the Mongolian solar-lunar calendar when the new moon rises.

Chinese New Year – 25 to 30 January

Chinese New Year

Undoubtedly China’s pre-eminent and most intense festive period, Chinese New Year is characterised by loud parades, sumptuous family meals, the lucky colour red, paper lanterns and lots of fireworks. In China itself new year is called chunjie which means Spring Festival. Celebrated throughout all Asia and much of the West, this is the time when households are visited, debts are paid off and lions dance. 2020 will be the Year of the Rat.

Burns Night, Scotland, UK – 25 January

Burns Night Burns Supper festivals in january

Celebrated throughout Scotland, as well as by Scottish expatriates around the world, Burns Night commemorates the life and poems of Scotland’s poet laureate, Robert, or Rabbie, Burns who was born on 25 January 1759. Expect lots of toasting, especially to the haggis, kilts, dancing and whisky drinking, as the evening concludes with a rendition of Burns’ most famous poem, Auld Lang Syne.

Up Helly Aa, Shetlands, Scotland, UK – 28 January 

shetland festivals in january

If you want to see a horde of Vikings parading through the streets, before burning a galley boat and then making merry for 12 hours, Up Helly Aa is the festival for you. From January to March, a series of festivals is held around the Shetland Islands, Scotland to mark the end of Yule. However, the largest and most spectacular of these takes place in the capital Lerwick on the last Tuesday in January.

Chingay Parade, Singapore – 31 January to 1 February

Singapore Bicentennial Chingay Parade festivals in january

Singapore’s Chingay Parade sees dragon dances and stilt walkers as well as a dazzling display of floats. Literally meaning costume or masquerade in Hokkien, Chingay 2020 is based on the theme of Colours in Harmony, reflecting Singapore’s multiculturalism and diversity. Some 6,000 performers will volunteer to participate in the People’s Parade.

Music Festivals in January

Ocaso Festival, Tamarindo, Costa Rica – 9 to 13 January

If you are looking for a music festival in January, then head to the Costa Rica coastal town of Tamarindo for the Ocaso Festival, Glastonbury on the beach. Showcasing the Central American nation’s electronic music, this year’s headliners are Maceo Plex, Maetrix, Āme and Seth Troxler. If you like your music next to the beach with beautiful rainforest as the back drop then this is the place to be.

Film and Theatre Festivals in January
Broadway Week, New York, USA – 21 January to 9 February

Book of Mormon

One of the Big Apple’s most popular events, Broadway Week, takes place in late January to early February coinciding with a plethora of other offers, such as the Restaurant Week, making New York much more affordable. It is essentially a two-for-one offer, though you should check to see which shows are included. Those confirmed include AladdinThe Book of Mormon and To Kill a Mockingbird. So, if you fancy catching a show or musical this is a great time to visit America’s most vibrant city.

Slapstick Festival, Bristol, UK – 23 to 26 January

Slapstick Festival

If you fancy having a laugh this month, head to Bristol for the Slapstick Festival, a celebration of silent and vintage screen comedy. Now in its 16th year, Slapstick includes screenings, talks with celebrity guest events, as well as new musical scores to silent classics. Highlights include tributes to Keaton and Chaplin, the 50th Anniversary of the Goodies, and a screening of the  Cary Grant classic She Done Him Wrong, as a tribute to the 116th anniversary of Bristol’s most suave film star.

Sundance Film Festival, Salt Lake City, USA – 23 January to 2 February

Sundance Film Festival festivals in january

Concluding our round up of festivals in January, the leading January film festival is also probably the most famous Indie film festival around the world. The Sundance Film Festival aims at finding new talent in a range of categories including full length film, documentaries and shorter pieces. The name Sundance came from Robert Redford’s character in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as Redford played a major role in establishing this festival in Utah. Programme of films not available at time of going to press.


More Festivals in January 2020

For a full list of January festivals around the World, including those that started the previous month, visit our Events and Festival page.


Festivals Newsletter

If you wish to receive our monthly Festivals newsletter, simply click on this link to provide us with your name and email address. Sundance photo courtesy of Sundance Institute.