RINGING IN THE NEW YEAR AROUND THE WORLD
New Year's Eve is one of the most exciting and colorful times to travel to a far-flung city, as it offers a unique glimpse into a foreign country's cultural traditions for the annual celebration. While most major cities offer fireworks and late-night parties, there are also some intriguing variations to discover, ranging from a freezing New Year's swim to donning all-white attire for good luck or lighting neighborhood bonfires. Here are some of the top international destinations to welcome 2019.
Ring in the year with the chimes of Big Ben, a uniquely British experience, and one of many festive happenings in London this year. Much of the partying takes place along the banks of the River Thames, including the legendary fireworks display from the London Eye. Meanwhile, numerous party cruises make their way along the river and plenty of clubs host celebrations, including a Studio 54-themed soiree at the rooftop Sky Garden. And don't miss the city's New Year's Day parade, replete with marching bands, floats, dancers, and a procession of the Queen's horses.
RIO DE JANEIRO
Brazil is known for throwing unforgettable parties, and New Year's Eve is no exception. "When people ask us where they should spend New Year, there's really only one answer: Rio," says Daniel Clarke, of Real World Holidays, a tour operator specializing in South America. "New Year's, known locally as Reveillon, is a huge deal in Rio and probably the biggest New Year's celebration anywhere in the world." The celebration includes partying with more than 2 million people on Copacabana Beach with giant stages for live music, dance performances and more. Locals dress in white from head-to-toe to bring good luck for the year ahead.
On New Year's Eve, Riga's enchanting and historic old town neighborhood turns into party central, says UK-based travel blogger Jill Bowdery, who created the site Reading the Book Travel. Highlights include live musicians, DJs, and a fireworks display over the river. There are also holiday markets selling gifts, food and hot drinks, including hot blackcurrant with local Black Balsam spirits. "The whole area is lit with Christmas lights over the New Year period, making it a beautiful place to wander," says Bowdery. "Snowfall makes it even more picturesque."
If you don't mind the cold, Reykjavik is another intriguing place to say goodbye to 2018. The massive New Year's Eve party includes neighborhood bonfires that represent the burning away of the previous year's troubles. There's also a pyrotechnics show involving 500 tons of fireworks, which can be seen from all over the city. Locals have also been known to dress up as elves and trolls. And if you're lucky, the Northern Lights might make an appearance. The holiday traditions continue the next morning with a soak in local hot springs.
Considering Paris is known as the City of Lights, it's no surprise that New Year's Eve here is unforgettable. The highlight of the evening is a fireworks show at the Eiffel tower (the pictures will be Instagram gold). There are also New Year's Eve boat cruises along the Seine, and Paris' legendary cabaret shows offer New Year's Eve performances, including multi-course gala dinners. Another memorable option is taking in a classical music concert at one of Paris' lovely Gothic churches, many of which offer special performances.
Who hasn't seen the iconic images of fireworks over Sydney Harbor? The city's New Year's Eve celebration is legendary, traditionally beginning with aerial displays and a water performance from tugboats. That's followed by a ceremony honoring the country's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with eucalyptus smoke released over the water to cleanse Sydney Harbor of bad spirits. Next there's a parade with dozens of illuminated ships decorated with white rope light. And at midnight, a 12-minute fireworks show ensues, firing from points on the Sydney Harbor Bridge, Sydney Opera House, and barges in the harbor.
Edinburgh's New Year's celebration, known as "Hogmanay," lasts for three days. The festivities begin with a torchlight procession through the heart of Edinburgh, where a sea of light illuminates the winter night accompanied by pipers and drummers. "Watching thousands of participants carrying flames … through the city streets leading up to Calton Hill, a high point in Edinburgh, is truly a sight to behold," says blogger Amanda Walkins, who writes about her travels on AmandaWalkins.com. Later there are street parties with music and a fireworks display from Edinburgh Castle. On New Year's Day the truly bold jump into the River Forth.
HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM
The vibrant, manic streets of Ho Chi Minh city reach an entirely new level of colorful chaos come New Year's Eve, says travel blogger Sheree Hooker, who writes Winging the World. "The streets flood with everything from street vendors selling silly hats to fire jugglers," Hooker says. Travelers and locals take to the streets as midnight approaches, waltzing and singing together while fireworks glitter overhead. Hooker says it's one of the most memorable places she has ever welcomed the new year.
Hong Kong is a favorite among travelers for New Year's Eve thanks to the city's picturesque backdrop for a stellar fireworks display over Victoria Harbor. The party happens throughout the city, which is crowded with people waiting for the countdown. Before the evening's main event, there are a series of "shooting stars" launched from rooftops around the city at 15-minute intervals. Revelers are encouraged to make a wish on the shooting stars when they see them.
DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
As a city that once made the Guinness Book of Records for the largest fireworks display ever, Dubai is certainly a great destination for a serious end-of-year party. This year the city will bid adieu to 2018 with its usual flair and grandeur. One of the best places to watch the larger-than-life show is from the footsteps of the Burj Khalifa (the tallest tower on Earth), in downtown Dubai. About 1.5 million people descend on downtown Dubai to catch the light and water show that takes place at midnight.
The Puerta del Sol is the place to be in Madrid on New Year's Eve. Thousands crowd the square to mark the year's end, participating in the unique tradition of eating 12 lucky grapes to the 12 chimes of the Real Casa de Correos clock. This unique tradition dates back to about 1909, when wine producers had so many extra grapes they gave them away to citizens claiming that eating them would bring good luck. The party continues with a fireworks and confetti show right after the New Year chimes.
Billed as one of Europe's largest open air parties, New Year's Eve in Berlin is celebrated on the 1.2-mile stretch of roadway between Brandenburg Gate and the Victory Column. Nearly 1 million people converge there for live bands, DJs, light and laser shows and a fireworks display at midnight — all of which is free. The party continues until the wee hours of New Year's Day.
All of Vienna takes part in the celebrations for New Year's Eve. The highlight of the evening is the New Year's Eve Trail in the Old City, which features gastronomers serving culinary treats, and live entertainment, including operettas, rock, pop, and even crash waltz dancing courses with Vienna's dance schools. And what would a New Year's Eve party be without fireworks? Those will be part of the evening as well. The city also hosts special holiday operas and concerts in other locations. And don't miss a ride down the Danube to celebrate the coming of 2019.
One of the biggest parties in the Bahamas will take place at Atlantis, the world-famous resort. There, The Jacksons and Fergie will be on hand to headline the weekend's festivities. The party continues on New Year's Day with the island's Junkanoo parade, the Bahamian version of Mardi Gras, during which people dressed in spectacular costumes fill the streets, blowing whistles, ringing bells and banging drums.
Ring in the New Year in Bratislava amid castles and medieval towers that date back centuries. The city's Old Town is the hub of the celebration where there's live music, bands, dancers, and performers of all types. Don't miss sampling some of the plentiful mulled wine while taking in the shows. At midnight, the crowd moves to the city's riverbank where there's a fireworks display over the Danube and Bratislava Castle.
CAPE TOWN, SOUTH AFRICA
Cape Town's striking geography provides a picturesque backdrop for celebrating New Year's Eve. Many locals pack a picnic and hike to the top of Table Mountain, which provides unobstructed views of the Victoria and Alfred Waterfront fireworks. Come New Year's Day, thousands head to the country's stellar beaches. The holiday has also been marked by the Cape Town Minstrel Carnival parade in years past, which brings out performers to dance in the streets. The parade dates back to the mid-nineteenth century when slaves in Cape Town were given one day off in the year.
NIAGARA FALLS, CANADA
The Niagara Falls are a stunning sight on their own. Add a fireworks display and a massive party and it becomes a unique place to say farewell to 2018. The party, which attracts about 40,000 people annually, takes place in Queen Victoria Park just steps from the falls. Entertainment includes outdoor concerts (past performers range from Demi Lovato to Nick Jones and Keith Urban), as well fireworks displays and a variety of food and beverage vendors.