8 top places to celebrate New Year’s Eve

A glass of champagne, a fireworks display, a midnight countdown - we all know the New Year's Eve routine. But look beyond our shores and things can get a little more interesting.

For example, you better pack your grapes if you're celebrating in Spain, and don't forget your white clothes if heading to Copacabana!

Whether your idea of a great New Year's Eve is fireworks with the family, dancing until sunrise or experiencing something new, you'll find your perfect party in one of these eight destinations.


1. Edinburgh, Scotland

Best for: A distinctly Scottish celebration steeped in local tradition

Dust off your kilts for three days of concerts, Ceilidh (a traditional social gathering) and cheery processions - Scottish New Year celebrations are a strong contender for the best in all of Europe. Hogmanay, what the Scots call the last day of the year, has a distinctly local flavour, with traditional dances, Viking-inspired bonfires and the ceremonial singing of Auld Lang Syne.

The Edinburgh Hogmanay event is the epicentre of the celebration and features end-of-year classics like the traditional torchlight procession, which attracted around 40,000 participants and spectators in 2019. Other Hogmanay traditions include the idea of ‘first footing’, where the first houseguest of the new year is thought to bring good luck to the family - so long as they’re not red-headed!

Insider tip: Many of the Edinburgh Hogmanay events are ticketed, and some sell out early in the year. Book well in advance to avoid disappointment, especially if you’re planning on joining the unforgettable torchlight procession.

2. New York City, USA

Best for: A quintessential countdown in the city that never sleeps

New Year’s Eve countdowns don’t get much more iconic than the famous ball drop in Times Square. Every year, over one million revellers gather in the heart of New York City to mark the occasion with concerts, a traditional New Year’s kiss, and of course, the 60-second descent of the New Year’s Eve Ball down the pole at One Times Square.

The crystal-encrusted ball has roots dating back to 1907 when an iron version began heralding in the New Year. However, the concept of a ball dropping to signify the passing of time dates back to 1833, when it was used by sailors to set their navigation instruments. Today, the Times Square tradition is all about community spirit, concerts and confetti.

Insider tip: There are no public spaces for sale for the Times Square Ball Drop, so be wary of websites claiming to sell tickets to public viewing areas. If you want to join in the New York City celebrations without the often-chaotic crowds, a cruise could be a more relaxing affair.

3. Cape Town, South Africa

Best for: Thumping parties, family-friendly shows and everything in between

Whether you’re looking for lively parties, family-friendly affairs, fine dining experiences or just some classic New Year’s Eve fireworks, you’ll find all of that and more in Cape Town, South Africa.

For lovers of late nights and thumping dance music, there’s Alcazar; the famous New Year’s Eve party at the base of the breathtaking Table Mountain. Alcazar is 12 hours of electronic music, circus performances, fire dancing and live art. This year’s theme is ‘Disco Amazonia’, so prepare your costume accordingly!

For a slightly more relaxed celebration, the V&A Waterfront is bursting with free live performances, great food, family-friendly activities and excellent fireworks.

Insider tip: Taxis come at a premium during New Year celebrations in Cape Town, and many unlicensed operators take advantage of this influx of tourists. Remember only to book with a licensed taxi service.

4. Madrid, Spain

Best for: Unique traditions, incredible food and festive plazas

Picture thousands of revellers packed into Madrid’s main plaza, each eating a grape for every one of the clock tower’s 12 strokes at midnight - Spain’s Puerta del Sol New Year’s Eve celebrations are sure a sight to behold. This “lucky grapes” tradition dates back over 100 years and hopes to bring a prosperous year ahead.

Madrid is renowned for its incredible culinary delights, and New Year’s Eve is a fantastic night to indulge in a special set menu from one of the city’s many fine dining restaurants. Why not cap it off with a traditional flamenco music show?

Insider tip: You don’t usually associate Spain with freezing temperatures, but New Year’s Eve can be bitterly cold, so dress warm and check the weather.

5. Prague, Czech Republic

Best for: Dazzling fireworks above picturesque architecture

Like other global cities on this list, Prague offers all of the pyrotechnics, club nights, fancy dinners and concerts usually associated with New Year’s Eve. But dig a little below the surface and you’ll find older traditions unique to Czech culture.

Locally known as Silvestr, New Year’s Eve is traditionally a relatively reserved celebration compared to the fanfare in Prague’s Old Town area. Many Czechs take the opportunity to travel to a ski cottage out of the cities, where they spend time relaxing with family.

Insider tip: If you’re in Prague during New Year’s Eve, don’t miss your chance to find your fortune at the centre of an apple. If the cross-section shows a star, you’re in luck for the year ahead. If it shows a cross, take care.

6. Tokyo, Japan

Best for: Ancient customs among modern celebrations

Japan is an exhilarating blend of ancient tradition and modern culture, and New Year celebrations are no different. Among the Times Square-inspired Tokyo Tower countdown, fireworks displays, and dance parties are traditional observances steeped in ancient beliefs.

In Buddhist temples all over the country, ringing bells toll peacefully for the first few hours of the New Year, in a celebration called Joya no Kane. In houses, families come together for the “big clean”, or Omisoka, to enter the New Year with a fresh mind. At the dining table, soba noodles are served in a tradition dating back to the Edo era.

Insider tip: New Year’s Eve isn’t all about fireworks and glasses of champagne. Local traditions like those in Japan offer a unique way to experience a global celebration.

7. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Best for: Ushering in the New Year on the shores of Copacobana

New Year’s Eve in Rio De Janeiro is all about sun, surf and sand. Copacobana, Rio’s answer to Bondi Beach, is bustling at the best of times. But during New Year celebrations, locally called Reveillon, it transforms into a mind-boggling festival of singing, samba and striking white clothing.

White clothes are traditionally worn during New Year’s Eve, to usher in a year of peace and prosperity. Other traditions include:

● Loading small handmade boats with offerings to Iemanja, the goddess of the water.
● Hopping over seven small waves while making a wish for the coming year.
● Eating lentils at midnight to bring good luck.

Insider tip: More than 2 million revellers descend on the shores of Copacobana during New Year’s Eve, so minding your safety is essential. Remember to take care of your valuables and leave unnecessary items locked in the safe in your hotel room.

8. Moscow, Russia

Best for: Scenic parks and incredible architecture

Moscow’s celebrations are a stark contrast to the balmy shores of Brazil. The Russian winter is brutally cold, with temperatures in Moscow falling well below freezing over Christmas and New Year. However, experiencing the historic Red Square dusted with snowfall, as fireworks illuminate the brisk night sky is a magical sight to behold.

It’s not only the Red Square that lights up when the clock strikes midnight. Many of Moscow’s picturesque parks also host official fireworks displays and dance performances, like the popular Gorky Park, which also features an ice rink.

Insider tip: The Russian winters are truly bone-chilling. Remember to pack thermal wear, hand warmers and plenty of layers.

Do you have a favourite destination to spend New Year’s Eve that isn’t on this list? We’d love to hear it! Please send us an email at stories@scti.com.au and tell us more.

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