Cold, wet, and dark sums up January in Wales. With around 22 days of rain, you’ll want to pack sweaters, waterproofs, and sturdy boots or wellies if you’re visiting this month as it’s often mae hi’n bwrw cyllyll a ffyrc, or ‘raining knives and forks', as the Welsh say. Average temperatures hover between 39°F (4°C) and 44°F (6°C), but it can feel much colder in the blustery mountains and on the coast of Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire when a storm is blowing. You might find snow in the high peaks of the Brecon Beacons or Snowdonia, where temperatures can dip below zero. Expect highs of 46.5°F (8°C) in the capital, Cardiff.
Crowds & Costs
With the countryside battered by winter rains and short days, January is very much a low season, with much of the country in hibernation in the post-Christmas lull. Some hotels, restaurants, and attractions, especially those in popular tourist areas on the coast, are closed until spring, and the more remote mountain roads can be off-limits due to snow, ice, and floods. It’s worth checking conditions before heading out.
That said, January is a time when you can really touch the soul of Wales because there are so few crowds. There are good deals to be had on accommodation if you choose wisely (aim for cities, larger towns, or country inns in mountainous regions like Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons), and you’ll often find yourself alone on the country’s fabulous walking trails and beaches. Look out for local events bringing sparkle to this dark, chilly month.
Where to Go
Pick and choose carefully where you go and January can be a wonderful month to discover Wales in all its mist-enshrouded, castle-topped, vivid green glory. The rivers and waterfalls are swollen with heavy rains, and when the sun does pop its head out, the country gleams as if made anew.
This is a great time to take in some culture in the capital, Cardiff, with a romp of the National Museum, neo-Gothic castle, and architecturally striking Cardiff Bay. Other cities with a low-key winter vibe include Aberystwyth in Cardigan Bay, with a flourishing café scene, Victorian pier, and the hilltop National Library of Wales, harboring millions of rare books and hosting engaging Wales-focused exhibitions. Or follow in the poetic footsteps of Dylan Thomas in his lively hometown of Swansea. Here you can delve into Wales’ maritime history at the National Waterfront Museum, lodged in a converted 1901 warehouse, and hang out in the pubs where Dylan was once a regular.
Chat with a local specialist who can help organize your trip.
What to Do
If holing up in a cozy B&B or low-beamed country inn is more your scene, make for the Brecon Beacons in the south or Snowdonia in the north. The mountains have their own magic in winter and, when the weather is kind, you can hit many a hiking and mountain biking trail, returning ruddy-faced for a pint by an open fire. Bring solid boots as it can get muddy. The Cambrian Mountains in Mid Wales are at their wildest and loneliest in winter: explore these forested valleys and high moors now and you’ll find yourself at one with nature, with just the odd red kite whistling overhead.
The coast is quiet in January, but that doesn’t mean it's out of bounds. On fine weather days, you’ll find the beautiful beaches and coves of Pembrokeshire and Gower empty and perfect for long walks. Big Atlantic waves break along these coastlines in winter, attracting experienced surfers.
The Welsh say their skies are bola buwch, or as ‘dark as belly of cow’ in January. Little light pollution and long winter nights make for ideal stargazing conditions. When it’s clear, you can see the Milky Way even without a telescope in the Dark Sky Reserves of Snowdonia and the Brecon Beacons.
Events in January
New Year’s Day Swim. If you’re mad enough to leap into the freezing sea in Wales in January, you’ll find fun New Year’s Day dips on Barry Island near Cardiff and in Saundersfoot in Pembrokeshire (come in bathers or fancy dress).
Saturnalia Beer Festival, Llanwrtyd Wells. Famous for its year-round roster of wacky events, the Mid Wales town of Llanwrtyd Wells hosts this winter beer fest on the second week in January, with plenty of real ales and walks on the old Roman road.
World Mountain Bike Chariot Racing Championship, Llanwrtyd Wells. In mid-January, Llanwrtyd Wells pulls out all the stops for mountain bikers, with this Roman-themed chariot race. Specially designed chariots are pulled by teams of two mountain bikers.
Hen Galan, Pembrokeshire. Deep in the heart of rural Pembrokeshire, the Cwm Gwaun valley is quite literally stuck in time. It celebrates New Year on January 13 according to the old Julian calendar. Children go door-to-door singing for calennig (gifts) in the form of sweets or money.
Dydd Santes Dwynwen. On 25 January, Wales puts its own riff on Valentine’s Day with St Dwynwen’s Day, an ode to the Welsh patron saint for lovers. For the ultimate romantic stroll, make for the wild, legend-steeped island of Ynys Llanddwyn on the Isle of Anglesey, home to the medieval ruins of St Dwynwen's Church.
Traveling to Wales in January? Check out this great itinerary
Legends of Wales - 6 Days. Explore the Fortress of Isca, hike in the Brecon Beacons, and discover the prehistoric landscape of the Preseli Hills and the Pembrokeshire Coast. Drive north to the rolling mountains of Snowdonia to explore King Arthur's legendary landscapes and politically rife Caernarfon Castle.