The Fourth of July may reign supreme when it comes to fireworks, but fans of pyrotechnics shouldn't overlook New Year's Eve. Many cities splash out with free displays to welcome 2018, and many also host free or low-cost block parties with plenty of food, music, and fantastic people-watching. Parallel celebrations with the best views, dinner, and champagne toasts are plentiful but costly. And be sure to book early if you'll be traveling far. Hotels near the action may fill up fast, and prices will be higher in many hot spots.
NEW YORK, NY
The Times Square ball drop might be the most iconic way to experience New Year's Eve in New York City, but rubbing elbows with a million tourists isn't for everyone. Fortunately, the city doesn't skimp on fireworks, either. Two of the best-known displays light up the skies over Central Park and New York Harbor -- but don't forget Brooklyn. Head to Grand Army Plaza to enjoy music and hot cocoa before the midnight show, one of the Big Apple’s many free entertainment options.
The heart of Chicago's New Year's Eve beats at Navy Pier, where fireworks dazzle onlookers over Lake Michigan promptly at midnight. Visitors can celebrate all day at the Winter WonderFest (online price $27 for adults and $12 for kids, and $1 more at the gate), which boasts family-friendly indoor attractions, including an ice skating rink, climbing walls, and bounce houses.
Boston's free First Night celebration has been going strong for more than 40 years despite frigid temperatures. Highlights include a public parade to Boston Common, musical performances, ice sculptures, and two sets of fireworks: one at midnight and one at 7 p.m. for anyone who may want to turn in a little earlier. A full day's worth of activities leads up to the sparkling finale.
It wouldn't be New Year's Eve in Nashville without some big-name music acts. This year, Keith Urban and Styx headline the Jack Daniel's Music City Midnight bash, which includes a music note dropping down a 145-foot tower as midnight approaches. Confetti cannons and a light-up-the-sky fireworks show close out the party at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park.
Maybe Baltimore doesn't come to mind as party central, but the city puts on an impressive New Year's Eve fireworks show over the Inner Harbor at midnight. Revelers also can enjoy live music or go ice skating (fees apply) before a midnight champagne toast.
LAS VEGAS, NV
As if Las Vegas isn't glitzy enough on any given night, New Year's Eve is truly a sight to behold. The Strip is blocked off for roughly 300,000 revelers to watch a midnight pyrotechnics display choreographed jointly by the city's casinos. And, of course, visitors can choose among a dizzying array of special parties and over-the-top shows.
NEW ORLEANS, LA
Head to Jackson Square for some of New Orleans' famous music, a fleur-de-lis drop, and a dazzling midnight fireworks show. The Audubon Zoo and Louisiana Children's Museum host more family-friendly celebrations during the day.
Families can catch New Year's Eve fireworks from any of Orlando's three major theme parks: Universal Studios, Walt Disney World, or SeaWorld. To avoid park entry fees, head to Disney Springs for a clear view of Disney's show or find a perch along International Drive for sight lines onto SeaWorld's display. The city lights up with pyrotechnics on New Year's Eve, and options for free fun abound.
Party for free at Miami's Bayfront Park during Pitbull's New Year's Revolution, which features the Big Orange drop, a midnight fireworks show, and big-name music acts including the rapper Pitbull himself.
VIRGINIA BEACH, VA
Ring in the New Year in Virginia Beach during the free Last Night on the Town celebration. Parents with small children will appreciate the 5 p.m. kids' countdown and balloon drop, but the fun keeps going until midnight with live music, a laser light show, and fireworks, of course.
Instead of dropping a ball, Savannah raises a toast -- make that a 6-foot to-go cup -- as it counts down to midnight along the Savannah River at Rousakis Riverfront Plaza. Festivities also include live music and a digital light show. For the most impressive fireworks views, venture over to Tybee Island before midnight and watch the explosions light up the Atlantic Ocean.
SAN ANTONIO, TX
Head to the city's famous River Walk for free New Year's Eve celebrations, including music on three stages, carnival games, rides, and tons of food. A huge midnight fireworks show is part of the festivities, too. Need a place to stay? You're in luck: San Antonio's hotels are among the cheapest in the cities with big New Year's celebrations, according to Travel + Leisure.
SAN FRANCISCO, CA
Every year, San Francisco Bay lights up with a dazzling midnight fireworks display that can be seen from most spots along the city's Embarcadero. Arrive early to choose a premium spot (insider tip: Ferry Building along the waterfront side) and bring along a picnic.
Beat the post-holiday blahs by ringing in the new year in Hawaii. Honolulu's Waikiki Beach is the site of an impressive fireworks display at midnight over the Pacific Ocean. It's slated to include more than 1,800 aerial shells and musical accompaniment on a local radio station.
Washington, D.C., doesn't host a major fireworks display for New Year's, but nearby Alexandria fills the gap with its family-friendly First Night celebration. Festivities include midnight fireworks over the Potomac River as well as music, magic shows, face painting, and a city-wide Fun Hunt. Kids 12 and under get in free; adult tickets start at $15 but get pricier as the event draws near. The fireworks are free for everyone.
Fireworks are twice as nice in Philadelphia, which lights up the Delaware River with two free shows. The first, at 6 p.m., is ideal for families and others who prefer to turn in early. The second blasts off at midnight for New Year's traditionalists.
NIAGARA FALLS, CANADA
Queen Victoria Park, on the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, hosts a massive New Year's party every year. The bash includes a fireworks display at midnight and a free concert featuring four bands. Other can't-miss events include a Floral Showhouse, open during the day, and the Winter Festival of Lights, which illuminates a 5-mile route through the park and beyond.
Dallas used to host one of the region's largest New Year's Eve celebrations, Big D NYE. Unfortunately, the event went on hiatus two years ago and shows little sign of returning. Fireworks lovers shouldn't fret, though: A huge display will be launched from the 50-story Reunion Tower, complete with music and 4,000 pyrotechnic effects.
Denver's 16th Street Mall is the place to be for two free New Year's Eve fireworks shows. The first lets loose at 9 p.m. and the second at midnight. For visitors who want to catch both shows, there will be plenty to see in between, including balloon artists, stilt walkers, mascots, and comedians. For a twirl around the ice, head to Southwest Rink at Skyline Park -- it's free with your own skates, or $8 for skate rental for adults and $6 for kids.
Nab a good view of the Space Needle and you're all set. The city sets off a massive midnight fireworks show every New Year's Eve from the iconic tower, at 650 feet the tallest structure in the world to serve as a launching pad for celebratory sparklers.
Indianapolis may put the most creative twist on the New Year's Eve ball drop: Revelers at the free Downtown Indy's New Year's Eve celebration on Georgia Street watch an Indy Car descend in a countdown to midnight. Other highlights include musical acts, mounds of food and drink, and, of course, fireworks to mark the beginning of 2018.
Spanning all 14 blocks of Pittsburgh's Cultural District, the First Night celebration has a little something for everyone. Expect live music, dance, magic, theater and visual arts shows, comedy, kids' activities, a parade, and more -- all for $10 and free for kids 5 and under. The city will splash out with two fireworks displays: one at 6 p.m. and one at midnight.
QUEBEC CITY, CANADA
If the budget doesn't allow for a New Year's celebration in Paris, charming Quebec City might be the next best thing. This French-Canadian city's famed Grande Allée will be the heart of the celebration, featuring a Ferris wheel, music, heated restaurant terraces and bars, and even an urban zip line.
A popular warm-weather holiday escape, the Bahamas also has a New Year's party scene unlike anywhere else. Troupes of dancers take to the streets in Nassau until the wee hours on New Year's Day for Junkanoo, a street-carnival explosion of costumes, music, and movement. Expect to see plenty of fireworks, too. Staying at a big resort? Some, like Atlantis, put on their own fireworks shows.
MEXICO CITY, MEXICO
Mexico City's massive central square, the Zócalo, is party central on New Year's Eve and the site of a massive fireworks celebration at midnight. Expect all sorts of music, dancing, food, and drink. And put some thought into your undergarments. Per local tradition, red underwear on New Year's Eve means good luck with love in the new year, and yellow underwear means good luck with money.