The popping of corks, the boom of fireworks, and the strains of Auld Lang Syne as thousands of strangers join hands in celebration: the sounds of a New Year party are unmistakable. At least, that’s how the party should sound.
All to often we ring in the New Year with stale pretzels and insipid drinks, awkwardly counting down not to the turn of the calendar but to when we can politely leave the gathering.All too often we see the old year out, not with a celebratory bang but a beleaguered sigh, worn down from ‘the party season’ and the cumulative hangover that brings. It’s a sad, whimpering welcome for the incoming year, a poor omen for the next 12 months’ promise of luck and fortune.
Of course, you don’t have to attend the usual soiree of distant relatives or deathly dull neighbours. You can elect to travel the world in search of the perfect party, seeking out the foremost festival of the year.
So put the bubbly on ice, put on your party hats and join us in a run-down of the world’s best New Year parties.
© Angela K. Kepler
Kiritimati is the first place that gets the party started. The tiny island, formerly known as The Christmas Islands, only has a small population, but thanks to its position close to the International Date Line, it’s the first to usher in the New Year.
Sat out in the South Pacific as part of the Kiribati Republic, the atoll is located in the world’s most forward time zone. As a result the 5,000 residents pop corks and raise the roof a full 15 hours ahead of revellers in London, Lisbon, Dublin and Dakar.
But with a population the size of some NYE nightclub crowds, the party might not be the craziest of carnivals. In fact people are outnumbered three to one by the Central Pacific great frigatebird colony on the island, just one of 35 species that colonize the atoll.
Kiritimati might seem a serene place where there crash of fireworks seems out of place but the island has heard much bigger bangs. British hydrogen bombs were detonated here during weapons tests in the 1950s.
There is very little tourism to Kiritimati, with weekly flights from Fiji or Honolulu and only a small hotel for accommodation. Revellers can soothe hangovers with fishing in the lagoon, birdwatching or big wave surfing whilst waiting for the return flight.
© Bart Everson
The Big Easy is a world famous party town. Known for its Mardi Gras madness, New Orleans pulls out all the stops for New Year’s Eve.
The capital of Cajun packs partygoers into Jackson Square to watch the city’s symbolic ‘Fleur de Lis’ drop like New York’s disco ball. Once ‘baby new year’ hits the roof of the Jackson Brewery, a 15-minute fireworks extravaganza kicks off on the Mississippi River.
Rockets fill the sky as old paddle steamers host crowds of dancing revellers. Even when the skies empty of pyrotechnics, Bourbon Street fills up as the street party winds its way from jazz club to whiskey bar. Blues can still be heard rattling the windows of the Latin Quarter well into New Year’s Day.
A party this popular sells out fast, so book ahead for hotels close to the party centres as it won’t be easy to get across town through throngs of merrymakers. Flights are easy enough to sort from any big city, arriving either at Louis Armstrong International or the smaller Lakefront Airport.
© Ivan Ivankovic
Croatia’s Adriatic jewel is famous for its historic old city and azure blue bay. But the city throws one hell of a party, turning the Dalmatian coast into one great big disco.
Croatian musicians take centre stage to usher in the New Year, performing a mix of modern Euro-pop and folk classics before the night hits the dance tracks.
Visitors can expect invitations to join locals for smaller parties too. Dance competitions and prize draws are popular, and pigging out on a hog roast suckling is common.
The city has a fair choice of hotels overlooking the bay and there are lots of luxury B&Bs for those who know where to look. The ultimate way to see Dubrovnik at her best is from the deck of a cruise ship.
Whilst a festival afloat might mean to miss the boisterousness of the winding streets, it will give you front row seat to the fireworks spectacular. From the shore it’s impossible to look back across the historic city; from the deck of your floating carnival the display will reflect off the water and illuminate the spectacular cliffside architecture.
© Jonathan Hood
The Icelandic capital squeezes the most out of the last few hours of the year. With only four hours of December daylight in the northerly city, the party gets started early and runs late into the following day.
The city is dotted with giant bonfires, which symbolise the burning away of last year’s troubles. These become flaming focal points for local communities, with neighbours coming together to share drinks, sing traditional songs and dance their cares away.
Thanks to relaxed government restrictions, fireworks are set off all over the city, culminating in a mass display before the crowds head in out of the freezing cold.
A party town at any other time of year, Reykjavik kicks things up a gear on New Year’s Eve. Bars and clubs stay open until 5am with private parties raising roofs across town.
With all the hours of daylight, the party carries on going until the sun rises just above the horizon at noon on New Year’s Day. Things usually calm down as revellers head to hot springs to soak away the night and sober up.
© John Turner
The Big Smoke knows how to party. A quarter of a million Londoners gather on the banks of the Thames to watch the fireworks, thousands more will kiss their loved ones under Nelson’s Column, and hundreds of smaller parties will be in full swing.
London is the home of Greenwich Mean Time, the time zone from which all others are calculated. But that doesn’t mean anything; New Year only happens when Big Ben strikes. The 12 booming tones ring out across the city and herald the New Year.
Tickets for the riverside fireworks are sold to keep the display from becoming overcrowded. Revellers can also watch the pyrotechnics parties held in The Shard, Millbank Tower and a host of skyscraper soirees.
The party continues on New Year’s Day with a mass parade of marching bands, colourful floats and dancers. Over 8,000 performers from across the capital join the daytime party, which is the biggest of its kind in the world.
© Porto Bay Hotels & Resorts
Obviously there is only one way to celebrate New Year’s in Rio: on the beach.
Copacabana beach is packed with g-string sporting party people all day as live music kicks off a full day of festivities. A more mystical celebration happens at the same time: Réveillon sees Brazilians dressed in crisp white costume throwing flowers into the sea at midnight.
The ritual is part of Brazil’s unique mix of Catholic religion and African spirituality. The floral offerings are intended to please the sea goddess Yemanjá, so she will grant their wishes for the coming year.
Two million people will head to Rio for the revelries and caipirinhas, so book well in advance. The best spot to watch the fireworks is on a hotel balcony overlooking the packed beaches below, but these obviously book up first. Alternatively many hotels will host parties for guests as well as residents; just make sure you buy a ticket in advance and pack a swanky ball gown.
Staying close to the beach is a must. The city stays snarled with traffic for most of the following day, meaning it may be January 2nd before you get to bed.
© Anthony Quintano
For many, New York is the ultimate gathering of New Year carousers. NYC sees over a million people pack into Times Square to watch the giant shiny glitter ball descend and mark the start of the new year.
The televised event usually sees A-list performances, headlined in previous years by Lady Gaga and Justin Bieber. For anyone looking for a slightly more refined party, head to the Renaissance Hotel’s R Lounge. The party may be a 100-year-old tradition, but many revellers find the crowds get tiresome fast. Sitting in the hotel’s bar affords a spectacular view of the square, the fireworks over Manhattan, and a martini with which to toast the New Year.
For those with a smaller budget, try the city’s famous ferries. You’ll avoid being buried in tonnes of confetti and will have the clearest view of fireworks above lady liberty.
As one of the most famous parties in the world, everything books up fast. Shop around for flights; JFK is the most famous of New York’s airports, but La Guardia and Newark are just as convenient and often cheaper.
Aussies love New Year. Some Sydney department stores will start taking down Christmas decorations before Santa’s been in order to make way for New Year’s lights.
So it’s not surprising that this blowout in the harbour attracts over a million revellers each year. Dominated by the arch of the harbour bridge on one side and the unmistakable opera house on the other, the display area is packed with a flotilla of boats to make this the world’s largest fireworks display.
Proceedings kick off mid-afternoon with aboriginal smoke ceremonies to drive away bad spirits as crowds start to gather and pubs open their doors. Bands play on rooftops and flypasts zoom overhead in the balmy summer heat of the southern hemisphere.
Grab tickets for the best view, either from the opera house or the botanic gardens. Alternatively, head up the coast and join an epic dance party on Bondi beach. Camping on Cockatoo Island requires a booking, but offers an escape from the million-strong throng of excited Aussies.
Sydney and New York will always argue about who throws the bigger and better party, but the Australian city beats its American cousin to the punch by a full 16 hours.
© Michael Elleray
Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour already has one of the world’s most spectacular skylines. On New Year’s Eve the landscape is lit up with party boats, roof raves and a massive firework display.
Traditional junks are backlit by massive skyscrapers as a laser lightshow livens up the world’s most extravagant pyrotechnics. Hong Kong’s own Times Square is packed with revellers, so the best place to see the soiree is on the Avenue of Stars along the waterfront.
© Chris Combe
The Scottish capital’s three-day party is so much better than the average New Year knees up that the scots renamed it. Hogmanay brings people from around the world to participate in a festival that is unmatched anywhere in the world.
Festivities start with a torchlight procession from Parliament Square, winding through the ancient streets to a huge fireworks display on Calton Hill. New Year’s Eve proper is a day of folk music and the traditional ceilidh, a highland fling or barn dance in which even the most inept of dancers can spin a reel and sweep a partner off their feet.
This revelry happens in the open streets, with passers by swept up into the fun. There’s whisky galore and haggis aplenty as midnight nears. When the hour finally does arrive, the loudest chorus of Auld Lang Syne on the planet peals out and 4.5 tons of fireworks explode from the iconic castle ramparts.
There’s a brief respite before the fun continues all through New Year’s Day with open-air concerts, more ceilidhs, swimming in the icy River Forth, and cultural events all over the city.
Bonnie Scotland’s big booze up is truly second to none, so charge your glasses with a dram of scotch and cry ‘Slainte’!
What are your plans for New Year’s Eve? Is there a traditional party near you? Let us know in the comments!
Article by Andy Scofield, International Features Writer