Assam, in India, is one of six destinations that'll float your boat

From fire festivals on the Shetland Islands to scuba-diving in Mexican sinkholes, we round up the hottest destinations for a January jaunt.

For beach bums...

Short haul: Pembrokeshire, Wales

Something about the month of January rouses a hidden desire in the British public to strip off and jump into freezing water. During the festive period there are over 15 organised events throughout the country where courageous candidates endure the elements for charitable causes.

And if you’re feeling keen to take the plunge to welcome 2015, there is no better spot to get involved than the pristine white sands of Saundersfoot in Pembrokeshire, Wales, where more than 1,000 swimmers joined the fun last New Year’s Day.

For the complete experience, pair this winter dip with a New Year’s Eve in the nearby seaside town of Tenby, where locals still gather to sing Auld Lang Syne beneath the town’s clock tower at midnight.

Brits love to start the year with an icy plungeBrits love to start the year with an icy plunge
Creative Commons / Funk Dooby

Long haul: Assam, India

Each January the small state of Assam, one of the Seven Sister States of the lesser-travelled region of eastern India, spurs into life when it hosts the Brahmaputra Beach Festival.

In celebration of the end of harvest, hundreds of locals, and a few well-researched travellers, descend on the ravine beaches of the mighty Brahmaputra River to browse the makeshift stalls that line the sands and partake in the festival activities.

The primary spectacles are the sporting events, which range from modern games of beach cricket and volleyball to time-honoured traditions of water rafting and, most excitingly, elephant races. What’s more is that direct flights from Delhi take just two hours, meaning this isolated region is no longer quite so far off the beaten path.

The many festivities always draw a large crowdThe many festivities always draw a large crowd
Assam Tourist Spots

For culture connoisseurs...

Short haul: Lerwick, Scotland

Fire. It’s all about fire on the Shetland Islands come January, when the Scottish archipelago hosts the annual Up Helly Aa jamboree. Taking place in the capital, Lerwick, the festival kicks off with a torch procession and culminates in the burning of a Nordic longboat. Oh, and did we mention everyone dresses up as a Viking?

Dating back to 1880, this time-honoured tradition takes place on the last Tuesday of January and staggers into the wee hours of Wednesday as revellers cram into local boozers. Tourists can vanquish the inevitable hangover with a bracing stroll to the excellent Shetland Museum, followed by a hearty lunch at Monty’s Bistro & Bar, a Lerwick institution.

Fire? Check. Viking attire? Check. Let Up Helly Aa commenceFire? Check. Viking attire? Check. Let Up Helly Aa commence
Creative Commons / Vincenzo Fileccia

Long haul: Quebec City, Canada

Banish the post-Christmas blues with a trip to Quebec Winter Carnival, but don’t forget your long johns. The largest winter carnival in the world, this two-week jamboree starts on 30 January and features a varied programme of events – from dogsled races and parades to ice sculptures and snow baths.

Lashings of hot caribou – a winter drink akin to mulled wine – will stave off the chilly temperatures (the mercury dips as low as -20°C/-4°F in these parts), while the carnival’s ubiquitous food stalls send merrymakers home with stomachs full of local fare.

All the fun of the winter fair in Quebec City, CanadaAll the fun of the winter fair in Quebec City, Canada
Creative Commons / Jamie In Bytown

For thrillseekers…

Short haul: Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Pumped up tyres? Check. Tightened brakes? Tick. Parachute? Now hang on a second… If cycling to the office isn’t challenging enough, the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare in Ireland might oil your wheels.

Lurching up 214m (702ft) from the spittle of the Atlantic, the mighty rocks offer sheer, smudgy-saddle plunges, wet whipping winds and astounding views. Unpredictable January weather should mean you get the 8km (5-mile) route to yourself, just don’t look down with the cliff-ledges thin to 10cm (4 inches).

A wheely long way down: try cycling the Cliffs of MoherA wheely long way down: try cycling the Cliffs of Moher
Creative Commons / Giuseppe Milo

Long haul: Yucatán, Mexico

We’ve all seen photos of sinkholes swallowing cars and ingesting houses, but have you ever thought what might be down there? Well, slide aside ideas of satan and satyrs, because the underworld is a (w)hole lot better than that.

Intrepid divers can discover the Mayan’s sacred sapphire waters through a number of cenotes (water-filled sinkholes) in Yucatán, Mexico. Fossilised jaguars, mammoths and camels have been found among the forests of stalagmites and stalactites in recent years, but will you be lucky enough to find a VW?

Divers tackle a sinkhole in Yucatan, MexicoDivers tackle a sinkhole in Yucatan, Mexico
Creative Commons / dMap Travel Guide

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Visa and passport information is updated regularly and is correct at the time of publishing. You should verify critical travel information independently with the relevant embassy before you travel.