10 of the best New Year’s Eve celebrations around the world

Posted by Kati Auld on 31 December 2012
Each country has its own set of New Year’s Eve traditions. I’ve listed 10 of the best, so you can either plan a trip or incorporate something new into your own festivities.

1. Sydney

Sydney is the first city to celebrate New Year’s Eve, so naturally it should take first place on any list. The firework show that arches over the Harbour and Opera House is legendary, and about a million people gather each year to watch it. With so much competition, it’s definitely a good idea to get a map of the best viewing points and claim your space early. However, if you’re keen for a bit more elbow-room, you can rent a boat and watch the show from the safety of the water.


2. Edinburgh

Scottish New Year is unique enough to have its own name, Hogmanay, and it can last until 2nd January. Edinburgh’s Hogmanay festival is opened by a torchlight procession, where thousands of people take part in a tradition that has survived since pagan times. There’s a street party, a concert in the gardens below Edinburgh Castle, and even “Dogmanay”: a sled-dog race. 80 000 people took part last year, but if it’s not your cup of tea, why not take part in the Scottish tradition of ‘first-footing’? It’s really quite simple, and just means that the first person to enter a house in the New Year should bring a gift of whiskey or shortbread.


3. Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro

With two million people descending onto one beach, New Year’s Eve at Copacabana is second only to the great Carnival in terms of Brazilian celebrations. With a firework show that lasts for over twenty minutes, brightly illuminated hotels and restaurants on the beachside, and an amazing DJ line-up (David Guetta was the headline event in 2011) it’s a party of world-class proportions. Dress in white for prosperity, and bring flowers or candles as a token to Yemanja, the Afro-Brazilian deity of the sea.

jazz band

4. New Orleans

Nevermind Times Square: New Orleans is the American capital for New Year’s Eve. Every year, thousands of people gather in Jackson Square, waiting for the moment when an oversized object will drop from its illuminated perch. It’s traditionally been a gumbo pot, but after Katrina it was turned into a fleur-de-lis. (This tradition extends all over America, with each town having its own symbolic object to drop on the stroke of midnight. Others include a cherry, a crab, a French fry, and a bag of potato chips. Only in the States, folks.) The advantage of New Orleans over Times Square is that midnight is by no means the end of the party: the French quarter stays alive until the early hours with smoky jazz and crazy costumes.


5. Tokyo

Tokyo offers something a little different if wild partying isn’t your scene. On New Year’s Eve, it is Japanese custom to eat soba buckwheat noodles: their length symbolises a long and healthy life. At midnight, one can hear temple bells from all over the city ringing 108 times. This is the one time of year when most Japanese people will go to a shrine: Meiji, a Shinto shrine in Harajuku, will receive hundreds of thousands of visitors over the course of a few days. The first sunrise of the New Year is a particularly auspicious one, and the first rays of light are believed to have supernatural powers. Mount Takao is only an hour away from Tokyo by train: if you reach the summit by sunrise you’ll be rewarded with a ceremony to welcome the light, complete with chanting monks and shouts of joy.


6. Ecuador

Ecuador has a fantastic tradition of creating effigies, or años viejos, which are burnt at midnight to symbolise that the bad occurrences of the past year will not return. Some have a political bent, with politicians being routinely roasted, but there are also some that seem like pure fun, based on cartoon characters, animals or celebrities. It’s a very competitive pastime, with some effigies towering at over 10 metres high.


7. Reykjavik

Reykjavik is known for its breathtaking fireworks, but it’s not only the official show that deserves praise: purchasing domestic fireworks is legal, so everyone can put on their own demonstration in their backyard. These lights stretch as far as the eye can see, blanketing the city in stars. Bonfires are traditional (and necessary in the cold), and there’s even a chance that you’ll see the Aurora Borealis joining in the celebrations.

Italian new year's eve


8. Italy

Italians are famous for their ability to enjoy themselves, and the celebrations around New Year’s Eve tend to prove this point. After eating lentils for supper (apparently their coin-like shape is a good sign for the coming year), hundreds of thousands of Romans will visit the Piazza del Popolo to see the free music and fireworks display. Seeing as there aren’t any tickets for this event, people have been known to camp on the Piazza for days beforehand to secure a seat. Be careful of the flying champagne corks at midnight!


9. Honolulu, Hawaii

Honolulu is the last major city to celebrate New Year’s Eve, and it’s done in proper island style: people gather at Waikiki Beach to watch fireworks over the sea, and listen to music from the numerous beach-side restaurants and bars. If you’re interested in something a little more adventurous, consider taking part in the Quest for Father Time. This is a scavenger-hunt of sorts, where contestants must rush around their city finding and solving clues in order for time to continue progressing forward. It’s all quite tongue-in-cheek, but there’s nothing mystical about the champagne and prizes given to the three winning teams.


10. Cape Town

If you’ve accepted that international travel is out of your league this New Year’s Eve, there’s always the Cape Town Minstrel Carnival to raise your spirits. Around 13 000 minstrels transform the town centre into a street party that’s been celebrated for around 200 years. It’s held on 2nd January, so you have time to survive your New Year’s Day hangover, and the colourful outfits and cheerful music are a great way to start off the year.

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