With the start of any new year, the travel-minded amongst us begin to look ahead to the calendar of incredible events and festivals on the horizon. January 2016 kicks the year off with a certain bang, even once the midnight fireworks of NYE have died down, and we're here to give you sneak preview of what's ahead.
Harbin Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival
Harbin, China | January 5 – February 28, 2016
This incredible festival transforms Harbin, the capital of the country's northernmost province of Heilongjiang, into an unadulterated winter wonderland. The city's coldest months in the year act as a natural chiller to preserve some of the most brilliant examples of ice sculpture you will ever see.
Fest300 reports that in a matter of paltry weeks, in excess of a mind-boggling 4 million cubic feet of ice is carved by a force of over 15,000 people. Coat and scarf up well, as there is an entire snow and ice world to explore, not to mention the ice lantern art fair, dog sledding and the sculpture art expo.
You can marvel at the Siberian Tiger Park, or shake your head in disbelief as some of the bravest souls charge into the freezing waters of the Songhua River. The best time to view this icy spectacle is undoubtedly at night, when the lights make the sculptures and structures glow in a rainbow of colours.
Quebec Winter Festival
Quebec City | January 5 – February 28, 2016
Continuing on the chilled theme, the marvellous Quebec Winter Festival is an annual event to celebrate the frozen season with joyous revelry. This picturesque place is laden with history, the walled city of Old Quebec having received UNESCO World Heritage status in honour of its 400 year past.
This largely French-speaking region of Canada had its first ever winter carnival in 1894, and was reincarnated as the festival people know and love today in 1955. Since then, it has continued to grow and diversify, turning into the world's largest winter carnival.
Today you'll find an outdoor amusement park, ice sculptures and energetic parades, not to mention dogsled and even canoe races! Don't miss the Ice Palace, painstakingly constructed with ice bricks and illuminated for visitors to enjoy.
Make sure you buy a small Bonhomme snowman figurine as a souvenir – he is the symbol of the festival and you will see his image everywhere.
Nara, Japan | January 23, 2016
An event unlike anything else, Wakakusa Yamayaki takes place in Japan's Nara prefecture, with Mount Wakakusayama as the star attraction. This slightly surreal day sees the grass on the hillside set ablaze, rising to a red-hot inferno against the black night sky each fourth Saturday in January.
Why, you ask? The roots of this practice are said to have originated from a boundary dispute between Nobori Oji-cho's Kofuku-ji Temple and Zoshi-cho's Todai-ji Temple, both in Nara City. Apparently, when the situation reached its height in 1760 during the epicentre of the conflict, Mount Wakakusayama was set on fire.
Now, the symbolic tradition of setting the mountain ablaze is continued by two Buddhist temples and a Shinto shrine, with a ceremonial parade carrying the sacred flame from the Kasuga Taisha Shrine to the foot of the mountain.
The best place to see this phenomenon take place is undoubtedly Nara City, but you'll need to arrive early to snag a good viewpoint of the mountain. Before the lighting, you'll be treated to a cracker of a fireworks display, but don't worry, once the monks set fire to the grass the 340-metre tall mountain will be a clearly visible (controlled) inferno.
Carnevale di Venezia
Venice, Italy | January 23 – February 9, 2016
This world-renowned event is one you simply have to experience at one time in your life. The swirl of ball gowns, gondolas bobbing gently on the canals and the glinting of ornate masks sees the floating city of Venice transformed into a mirage of intrigue and glamour.
Believe it or not, the inaugural carnival took place all the way back in the 11th century, when attendees would enjoy some two months of unadulterated celebrations in the lead-up to Shrove Tuesday and the beginning of Lent.
During carnevale, the nobility and the commoners could mingle and exploit the anonymity granted to them by their masks. Even today, you'll see some incredibly intricate, 18th-century costumes being worn around the city's narrow streets and in the grand spaces such as Saint Mark's Square.
All across the city, some of the most exclusive, high-brow balls and soirees will take place throughout the duration of the festival. However, everyone will be able to enjoy the open air events in Saint Mark's square on Giovedi Grasso and Martedi Grasso, the second Thursday and the last night of the festival respectively. It's here you'll witness live music and dancing, not to mention spectacular fireworks. Truly an experience of a lifetime.