See an updated 2018 version of this post here!
Oh, February. It’s still dark, still gloomy and still, somehow, winter. Thankfully, we’ve discovered culture, carnivals and a wealth of sunny – and snowy – possibilities that are sure to make it the shortest and sweetest month. Prepare to be inspired.
From fast-growing festivals to spirited celebrations, here’s what’s fun in February.
Every February, the infectious sights and sounds of carnaval come to life in Brazil. While samba-fuelled celebrations may be synonymous with Rio, equally flamboyant parties also take place in the breathtaking cities of Salvador, São Paulo, Recife, Olinda and beyond. In fact, wherever you choose to celebrate, you’ll be embraced with open arms as you dance alongside the bold and the beautiful. Brazilians have joie de vivre in spades, and with the upcoming Olympics (and the Real$ at record lows) there’s never been a more exciting time to join the party.
When is it? Various dates in February
The origins of Mardi Gras can be traced to medieval Europe, passing through Rome and Venice in the 17th and 18th centuries to the French House of the Bourbons. Today, more than a million revelers swarm to New Orleans’ bustling French Quarter for beads, beignets and mind-blowing music. Here, you can dress up as anything imaginable and the people-watching is as fun as the parades. Be amazed by the imaginative floats, spirited attendees and colourful processions. And when you’re all partied out? Live like a NOLA local and sample some of the state’s best soul food at Jacques-Imo’s Cafe. You’ll thank us for it.
When is it? 9 February
Forget Valentine’s Day, this February is all about celebrating man’s best friend. Well, if Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is anything to go by. Hosted at New York’s iconic Madison Square Garden, this two-day event sees more than 2,700 pooches going tail to tail to win the coveted ‘Best in Breed’ title. But only one can be named ‘America’s Dog’. The suspense! Think of it as Crufts’ American cousin. With the pedigrees taking the same stage once graced by Elvis, John Lennon and The Rolling Stones, it promises to be a memorable occasion.
When is it? 15-16 February
Where can you see Oscar-nominated films and world premieres screened alongside innovative arthouse pictures? Porto’s Fantasporto International Film Festival, of course. As the name suggests, this globally-renowned event has a focus on all things Fantasy and attracts thousands of visitors for viewings, seminars, debates and debuts of the filmmaking world’s latest work. This year sees its 36th edition held at the art deco Rivoli Theater. Why not pair the thrilling programme with a trip to Portugal’s second city? With Porto in bloom, there couldn’t be a more enlivening time to travel.
When is it? 22 February-6 March
Fun fact: London’s Chinatown hosts the biggest Chinese New Year celebrations outside of China itself. So why not get involved in the action? The parade along Charing Cross Road and Shaftesbury Avenue begins with a bang at 10am, with ten lion teams performing the biggest dance in a European public parade. The festivities hit Trafalgar Square by midday, where you’ll find amazing Chinese acrobats and troupes. And let’s not forget the food, with the area’s 100-odd restaurants, bars, cafés and shops providing the best delicacies this side of Beijing. Because who doesn’t want a second shot at starting the year over? Book a rental and ring in the Year of the Monkey in style.
When is it? 8 February
No February list would be completed with a mention of that day. Why not whisk your loved one away somewhere different? Our pick is Prague. Not only is it affordable with a rental, but it’s just as pretty as Paris and a winter wonderland without the crowds at this time of year. Old-fashioned bars, snowflake-covered courtyards, candlelit restaurants and choir-filled churches… with this much potential for exploration, they’re sure to be impressed.
Design enthusiasts should head to the Californian desert this February. Sure, you can relax by the pool and soak up the winter sun, but there’s also local architecture to be exploring at Modernism Week.
In short, Palm Springs was once a playground for Modernist designers, who created revolutionary homes and hotels for the town’s frequent famous guests, including Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable and Frank Sinatra to name but a few. Fast forward to 2016 and Modernism is once again à la mode, with a resurgence of interest in its architectural appeal. Attend talks, parties, live music events and even the odd celebrity house tour. We also recommend visiting the Palm Springs Art Museum while you’re in town.
When is it? 11-21 February
At first glance, the French Riviera town of Menton may not appear to be much. But you’d be mistaken. Come February, this picturesque place is actually home to a citrus extravaganza that goes by the name of Lemon Festival. While floral processions and brass bands add a sense of ambience, the streets themselves are adorned with citrus fruits forming temporary sculptures in dazzling shades of yellow and orange. Some can reach heights of 10 metres and more. (Yes, you read that correctly!) We’ll let the numbers do the talking: 230,000 visitors a year, 300 professional sculptors and 145 tonnes of citrus fruits.
When is it? 13 February – 2 March
Rumour has it that the people of Segou know a thing or two about putting on a party. This is exemplified at the Festival sur le Niger, which is perhaps the fastest-growing music event you’ve never heard of. Created to shed light on environmental threats to the Niger and the livelihoods of its locals, the festival has a dynamic programme of films, theatre, dances and concerts by Mali’s top performers. The aim? To lay the foundations for social development through artistic and cultural expression. Here, music is a 24-hour affair where you can uncover a thought-provoking performance at any hour. Some are impromptu productions, while others are main stage spectacles – that’s what keeps it interesting.
When is it? 3-7 February
With its sparkling shores and sprawling hills, it’s easy to think of this coastal city as just a pretty face. But the Basque Country’s crowning jewel is a culinary destination in its own right, where local bars serve unforgettable pintxos and Michelin stars grow on trees. Just 2 hours from the UK, why not explore 2016’s European Capital of Culture for yourself? We hear it’s particularly lovely in February, with fewer tourists and milder weather. Just don’t forget your appetite.