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Reykjavik fireworks at New Year's Eve
Photograph: 4H4 Photography /

The 14 best places to celebrate New Year around the world

From offbeat local traditions to all-out New Year’s Eve parties, these places really know how to see in the New Year

Ed Cunningham
Written by
Ed Cunningham

Sure, New Year is just another day – a pointless way-marker in the relentless march of time. But it can also be damn good fun. All over the world, December 31 sees people getting together for a night of revelry, pushing one year into the past and welcoming in the next.

And it’s not just about parties and fireworks: plenty of places have distinctive customs that make them unique places to spend New Year. From giant falling potatoes to cramming your mouth with grapes, humanity has got some fabulous ways of marking a new year.

Hhere we’ve picked the top 14 places around the world to celebrate an unforgettable New Year’s Eve – whether that’s with offbeat traditions or flat-out partying. And as to spending New Year’s Day with an epic hangover? That bit’s entirely down to you.


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The world’s best places to celebrate New Year’s Eve

Best for: fruit fans

Like any buzzing European capital, Madrid boasts an impressive NYE display of fireworks and general partying. Focused on the Puerta del Sol public square, the party is broadcast to Spaniards across the country on all the main TV channels. But if you really want to get the full Spanish new year experience, you’ve got to get involved in an essential local custom. Spaniards typically cram 12 grapes into their mouth at midnight, one by one, as the Puerta del Sol bell tolls. And if you fancy doing it all again, just wait for an hour until 1am: since 2018, the bell has chimed again to mark midnight in the Canary Islands.


Best for: sky watchers

Chiang Mai in December isn’t just a magnificently cultural city with toasty daytime temperatures of 29C. It also has a really, really spectacular New Year’s Eve tradition which sees thousands of paper lanterns released into the night sky on December 31. Releasing a lantern symbolises new beginnings and supposedly brings good luck – but even if you don’t release one yourself, the sight is otherworldly.

Best for: charitable displays

Reykjavik doesn’t have an official fireworks display, but that doesn’t stop the Icelandic capital from having one of the world’s most spectacular pyrotechnics every New Year’s Eve. Virtually every one of the the city’s inhabitants buys fireworks from ICE-SAR, Iceland’s search-and-rescue department, and lets them off at midnight. It’s a way of both funding the institution for another year and having a marvellous time.


Best for: community spirit

There aren’t many odd or quirky traditions to be found with New Year’s Eve in London: it’s simply a very wholesome and visually spectacular affair. Revellers line the banks of the Thames and overload the bridges, everyone in the jolliest of moods and with a magnificent view of the UK capital’s skyline, before a countdown at Big Ben and fireworks around the London Eye. Simple, but tremendously effective. Just make sure you buy your ticket as soon as they go on sale.

Best for: jumping the gun 

Sydney has one big advantage over other major NYE celebrations: thanks to its easterly time zone, it’s one of the first big parties to welcome the new year. More than a million attendees gather on boats or on the shore, ready to gaze at light displays over the Harbour Bridge and Opera House. And with festivities taking place in the height of the Aussie summer, the weather is decidedly less chilly than most northern-hemisphere NYE parties.


Best for: wavy undergarms

Whether you’re partying on the beaches of Cancun and Playa del Carmen or amidst the street festivities of Guadalajara and Mexico City, you’d do well to join in with Mexico’s key NYE tradition: colourful underwear. The colour depends on what you’d like from the year ahead; red means love, yellow means money or luck and white means peace.


Best for: the culturally curious

When it comes to welcoming in the new year, Japan have no shortage of customs to fill an entire night. Even with Tokyo’s famous NYE celebrations having been called off for the past few years, the Japanese capital is a fascinating place to spend New Year’s, from tucking into a meal of toshikoshi soba (a special kind of New Year’s Eve noodles) to listening out for the temple bells, which ring out 108 times in the lead up to midnight.

Best for: crockery haters

Been a tough year? Looking to take out your anger on something – anything? Head over to Denmark, where there’s a new year’s tradition of launching plates and crockery at your neighbours’ doors. The more dishes you break, the better luck you’ll have over the next year. And Copenhagen, with its waterside fireworks, also makes for a very pretty – if rather nippy – place to spend NYE.


Best for: taking it all out on furniture 

While we’re talking about throwing stuff, it’d be rude not to mention Naples. It’s tradition in Italy’s third-largest city to throw household goods out of the window on NYE. That’s usually pots, pans and pillows rather than chairs or cupboards, but maybe watch your head anyway, or you could miss out on the spectacular city-wide fireworks display. Head up high to the city’s hills for the best view.

Quito, Ecuador
Photograph: Shutterstock

Quito, Ecuador

Best for: pyromaniacs 

Also getting in on the ‘destroying-stuff-to-welcome-in-the-new-year’ hype is Ecuador, where it’s a thing to burn scarecrow-like dolls filled with paper at midnight on NYE. Intended to banish the demons and unluck of the past year, the fires – combined with plenty of fireworks displays –  turn Ecuador’s capital Quito into a pyromaniac’s dream.


Best for: beach bums

The appeal of welcoming in the new year at Rio’s legendary yearly Copacabana beach NYE party is pretty self-evident, but it’s even more special if you take part in local customs, too. Be sure to dress in all white and, at midnight, jump over seven waves. Barefoot on an iconic sandy beach, dallying around in warm water as fireworks crash overhead: it’s quite a way to start the year.

Best for: spud fanatics

As America’s (and the world’s) potato capital, Idaho is home to a unique New Year’s Eve tradition: the ‘Idaho Potato Drop’. Here’s the lowdown: as the clock strikes midnight and fireworks light up the sky, a freakishly large polystyrene potato falls to earth in front of Idaho’s state capitol. With live music, snowboarders doing tricks and delicious food stands, this is something you definitely won’t see anywhere else. For the full spud experience, book out the Big Idaho Potato Hotel, which is also – you’ve guessed it – a giant potato.


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