A New Year. New possibilities. New commitments. New resolutions. Celebrations and customs may vary around the world, but in most places, New Year’s Eve is one of the biggest party days of the year. For many, simply spending the night with close friends and family is the best way to celebrate. While it’s certainly a great way to ring in the New Year, there are many people who like to turn it up a notch.
The following 10 places are by no means the best (as best of lists are all subjective anyway) places to watch the clock strike midnight, but this list does give any traveler and adventure seeker a starting point for celebrating this holiday in a unique and different way, providing great places on five of the seven continents to celebrate.
1. Sydney, Australia
The first and the largest major city to ring in the New Year, the Aussies know how to do it right. There’s something for everyone in Sydney, from families to backpackers to retirees to everyone in between. The fireworks display on the Sydney Harbour is the main highlight for anyone celebrating here, and the fact that it’s summertime in Sydney gives it a different feel for those in the northern hemisphere. The setting of the city, with the Harbour and Opera House, creates a wonderful backdrop. If massive crowds aren’t your thing, look into getting a spot on a boat and enjoy the festivities from a unique vantage point, the water.
Sydney Harbour is the place to be if you find yourself down under for the New Year’s celebration. The massive fireworks display is one of the main reasons people from all over the world come to Sydney to celebrate, so be sure to check out the vantage point map. The more popular viewing places fill up early, so planning ahead and arriving as early as afternoon is essential. There are plenty of restaurants and bars in the area hosting their own parties; check those out if you aren’t interested in battling the one million plus people that will be in and around the Harbour area.
2. Tokyo, Japan
If you plan on celebrating the new year in Tokyo, know that you’ll be celebrating for a while. In Tokyo, the New Year’s celebration can last up to a week, with festivities beginning on December 29 and lasting until January 4. One negative aspect visitors should be aware of is much of the city shuts down (most restaurants and a bars will remain open), but if it’s an authentic, local experience you’re looking for, you’ll find it in Tokyo. Fireworks, dancing, and singing are the norm, as well as the traditional eating of Toshikoshi Soba (New Year’s Eve noodle), whose long noodle symbolizes a long and healthy life, and listening to Juya No Kane (the Watch-Night Bell), which rings 108 times at temples all over the Japan, symbolizing a prosperous New Year.
The Tokyo Tower is the most popular place in the city with the largest gathering of crowds. But the cool thing about ringing in the New Year in Tokyo is that you don’t have to go to the most popular of places to have a unique and memorable experience. Because of the Japanese tradition of ringing the Watch-Night Bell, as long as you’re near a temple, you’ll be close to a celebration. In addition to the New Year’s Eve festivities, another major highlight of spending your holiday in Tokyo is that the gates to the Imperial Palace open to the public on January 1, one of only two days in the entire year this happens.
3. Koh Phangan, Thailand
If you’re into partying and dancing, there aren’t many places better to welcome a New Year than Koh Phangan. Known for its full moon parties and festive year-round atmosphere, Koh Phangan amps it up a notch for New Year’s Eve. Over 50,000 people descend on this Thai island for several days of debauchery, and if you’re young (or young at heart) and concerned with finding one of the biggest and wildest parties on Earth, this is your place. Celebrating with so many like-minded people should be reason enough to come, but the fact that attire is swimming suits and flip-flops, and down time can be spent lounging under palm trees on beautiful beaches with crystal clear waters, should put Koh Phangan over the edge.
Haad Rin is the center for the party, so if you have your heart set on staying here, plan and book in advance. If you don’t care about staying at party central, then you’ll have no problem staying at another beach. Planning transportation is another important part. Many Thais are on holiday during this time, so trains, buses, and planes book up early. Once on the island, you won’t have a problem finding where the party is.
4. Edinburgh, Scotland
Edinburgh has perhaps one of the most unique and longstanding New Year’s traditions, even having their own name for their celebration, Hogmanay. A fireworks display and torchlight procession through Edinburgh are just a few of the traditions still celebrated today, taking after pagan celebrations hundreds of years earlier. Many Scots still adhere to “first footing,” a tradition in which the first person to enter your house in the New Year should be male and dark (this tradition started in Viking times when a blonde visitor usually meant trouble). The guest is also expected to bring a few presents, usually whiskey and shortbread.
The Hogmanay celebrations last three to four nights, with the torch procession kicking off the celebrations on December 30. Upwards of 100,000 people join the street parties on December 30 and 31, keeping the celebration going with fireworks, live music and entertainment, and plenty of eating and drinking. January 1 sees several activities, including concerts and other cultural events. Anyone can take part in any of these celebrations, with the torch procession beginning on High Street in the Old Town and ending at the Edinburgh meeting ground of Calton Hill. Be sure to come back on New Year’s Eve itself and take part in the street party running the length of Princes Street. A massive fireworks display above the Edinburgh Castle rings in the New Year at midnight.
5. Paris, France
Because you’d be celebrating New Year’s in one of the world’s greatest cities! Dancing and clubbing, eating and drinking, or simply enjoying a quiet evening with friends, Paris offers it all for New Year’s. Several street parties, at the Champs-Elysees and Montmarte, are the places to go if large groups of people and large fireworks display tickles your fancy. If you’re in Paris for the food, then options abound to satisfy your taste buds. If entertainment is what you’re looking for, then you’ll have no problem finding plenty of cabarets. Or perhaps a more low-key dinner cruise is your cup of tea? Finally, Paris is filled with plenty of bars and clubs to drink and dance the night away and celebrate the coming of a new year.
Champs-Elysees is ground zero for the Parisian street party, with large crowds and an impressive midnight fireworks display around the Eiffel Tower. If this is what your heart is set on, make your plans ahead of time and arrive early. For a similar experience that is not quite as hard-core, consider heading to the Sacre Coeur Cathedral plaza in Montmarte for a more laid back street party. If it’s a clear night, you’ll have no problem seeing the Paris skyline and midnight fireworks display. Thousands upon thousands of restaurants, bars, cabarets, and clubs dot the City of Lights, and most all offer a New Year’s party of some sort, so be sure to check around and find the perfect celebration for you.
6. Barcelona, Spain
If you’ve ever been to Barcelona, you’d know it has an energy and style unlike any other, and its New Year’s celebrations dip into that uniqueness that is Barcelona. If dancing and partying until the first sunrise of the New Year sounds like it’s right up your alley, then you may want to celebrate with some of the greatest partiers in the world. The Spanish culture of late meals and even later nights out don’t change just because it’s New Year’s Eve. Unlike most other cultures around the world, the party in Barcelona doesn’t even begin until close to midnight, with the traditional eating of the twelve grapes during the twelve chimes of midnight. It’s typically family time when the clock strikes twelve, then it’s off to the clubs to celebrate in style until the sun comes up on the New Year.
Unlike many other major cities, there isn’t one major area of congregation in Barcelona to celebrate New Year’s. Because of the tradition of getting together with family for a meal around the stroke of midnight, people seem to scatter all over the city. If you’re traveling in Barcelona and don’t know a local family, you’ll probably be heading to a restaurant for a celebratory meal and drinks. Make plans and reservations in advance, as restaurants fill up early. Many will offer special New Year’s parties and set menus, with a higher price than usual, so be prepared. After dinner is when most of the city, especially the young folk, will hit up the clubs and bars for dancing and celebrating. Expect the celebration to continue all night long, until the early hours of the next morning, so don’t skip your siesta that afternoon.
7. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Like Barcelona, Rio is known as one of the party capitals of the world, so you know what you’re getting into if celebrating the New Year in Brazil. Like Sydney, you’ll find yourself in the middle of summer here in Rio, so beach parties, bikinis, and swim suits could be the norm for the night, depending on your preferred party location. While other cities on this list offer a myriad of entertainment options, if you’re going to Rio, you’re going to dance and party with some of the best in the business – Brazilians. These people know how to spend a night out, so attending the city’s second biggest annual party (after Carnivale) will have you boogying the night away on the beach.
Like many things in Rio de Janeiro, it begins and ends on Copacabana beach. Party central is located up and down this famous beach, with all different genres of music and plenty of activities to keep you up and dancing all night long. This year’s New Year’s celebration will feature the usual massive fireworks display (11 barges with 1200 fireworks) in addition to four different stages set up along Copacabana beach, each featuring different music. This decade is an important one for Brazil as they will be the center of the world by hosting both the World Cup (2014) and the Olympics (2016), and they will be celebrating their national pride by dubbing this the “Golden Decade.” Rio will surely be a fantastic, rowdy, fun, and unique city to ring in 2011.
8. Niagara Falls, Ontario, Canada
A unique celebration completely different from any other on this list has Canadian revelers celebrating amidst the gorgeous scenery of the famous Niagara Falls. So much goes on at Queen Victoria Park that it makes this one of the busiest nights of the year at Niagara. Live music, two rounds of fireworks (at 9pm if you want to bring little ones and the obligatory midnight display), and 30,000 of your closest friends will ring in the New Year in style. And the best part of this whole party? It’s absolutely free.
The festivities kick off at 8pm at Queen Victoria Park with the aforementioned live music. This year’s lineup features rock legend Styx. If freezing outside in Canada isn’t on your list of ways to celebrate the New Year, keep in mind that there are plenty of options in the area. Casino Niagara and Niagara Fallsview Casino Resort offer entertainment for those in the mood for a more adult atmosphere, and families not wanting to brave the crowds at Queen Victoria Park might have a better time at Clifton Hill, an amusement park of sorts offering plenty of activities for everyone. The Niagara Skywheel, a Dinosaur Park, and glow in the dark mini-golf are just a smattering of activities on offer at Clifton Hill. Come celebrate in a way that may not be typical of New Year’s Eve celebrations but is sure to be memorable.
9. Las Vegas, NV, USA
An entire book can be written about the entertainment options that await you in the world’s biggest and best adult playground, Las Vegas. And while it’s true that Vegas is a great place to celebrate just about anything and is raucous and fun year-round, New Year’s Eve does offer a different and interesting way to see this crazy city. The strip is closed down to vehicular traffic, with a midnight fireworks display shot off from the roofs of seven different hotels and casinos. In addition to the street party, obviously the clubs and casinos will all be offering plenty of parties and activities to whet your Vegas appetite.
All the clubs and bars in town will have special plans for the night, and there are countless shows and concerts being put on all over the city (including the biggest one this year-Jay Z and Coldplay at the brand new Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas casino and resort). But the biggest party in Vegas on New Year’s Eve is on the streets itself. The strip is closed down to traffic, and partiers are encouraged to take to the streets to celebrate. Beer stands and port-o-potties are all over, so enjoy wandering around with drink in hand (casinos will also pour your drink in a to-go cup). One thing to keep in mind if you do plan on partying in the streets is that casinos close their doors to anyone who is not a guest, and once the fireworks end shortly after midnight, it can be a mad rush to get in the doors of the nearest bar or club. Like with anything New Year’s Eve related in a busy city, plan ahead and be organized.
10. New York City, NY, USA
No list of places to celebrate New Year’s Eve would be complete without mentioning a trip to New York City. One of the largest celebrations in the world has seen the giant ball drop over historic Times Square for over 100 years. More than 1 million people attend the free event, with millions more watching on TV from all over the world, as 1 ton of confetti will be dropped over the city at the stroke of midnight. If the giant crowds and hype aren’t your idea of the best way to celebrate, it’s a good thing you’re in the city that never sleeps. Offering perhaps the most varied restaurant and bar options on the planet, you’re sure to celebrate in any style you want if visiting the Big Apple.
Most people who bother coming to New York City for New Year’s Eve are coming to celebrate in one place, Times Square. With this major event come crowds – large ones – so planning is essential to get the most enjoyment possible out of this historic celebration. It’s necessary to get there in the afternoon to stake out a good spot. After that, it’s all about waiting in your “spot” for the ball to drop. No backpacks or alcohol are allowed, so if boozing it up is on your itinerary for the evening, you may want to start checking out restaurant, bar, and hotel options. If you’re staying and celebrating in Manhattan, there are several restaurants and hotels in the area that allow a glimpse of the famous ball dropping on the New Year. New York City truly does have entertainment for everyone on the final day of the year, so take the opportunity to be part of a celebration like no other.
New Year’s Eve is a special night for people all over the world. This day means something different for everyone, and parties and celebrations reflect those differences. Each city and country has their own way of doing things, so if you have a chance to take part in a celebration unique to what you’re used to, take advantage and embrace it.