All Articles 8 places to celebrate New Year's Eve (that aren’t Times Square)

8 places to celebrate New Year's Eve (that aren’t Times Square)

Forgo the ball drop for outdoor concerts, boat parades, black-tie galas, and more.

Caitlin Morton
By Caitlin Morton13 Nov 2023 5 minutes read
Fireworks over Edinburgh, Scotland
Fireworks over Edinburgh, Scotland
Image: georgeclerk/Getty Images

While most holidays call for home-cooked meals and quality family time, New Year’s Eve is all about the parties. Sure, it’s also an opportunity to pause and think about your goals for the year ahead, but the hours leading up to midnight are typically devoted to revelry.

If you’d like to take your NYE festivities outside of the house this year, there are plenty of destinations that really know how to ring in the new year in style—and we’re not talking about the chaos that is New York City's Times Square. Whether you want to watch fireworks over Dubai’s skyline or dance all night on a Thai beach, here are nine of the most exciting New Year’s Eve celebrations around the world.

Cape Town, South Africa

Not willing to brave the winter temps just to watch the ball drop? Consider venturing to Cape Town this New Year’s Eve, where December is one of the hottest months of the year. Adults should check out Alcazar, a Cirque du Soleil–like extravaganza that starts at 4 p.m. on December 31 and lasts until 4 a.m. on January 1. If you’re traveling with your family (or don’t want to watch trippy performances for 12 straight hours), head to the V&A Waterfront for food trucks and fireworks. And be sure to schedule an afternoon ride on the Table Mountain cable car to catch the last sunset of 2023 from one of the world’s most scenic overlooks.

Tip: Wait times for the cable car are notorious long on NYE, so be sure to book a ticket in advance to avoid standing in line at the ticket office and come prepared to be patient. Don't be afraid to make conversation with those in line around you, too—reviewers said making friends while waiting helps the time pass quickly.

Travelers say: "The hiking trails at the top [of Table Mountain] are good but wear decent trainers and take a protective layer or two as it can be quite cold, especially when you wait in line (again) to go back to the base station. This can take another hour or so...and there is no shelter from the wind or cold. We went near sunset, which was spectacular and well worth the waiting."—@Masterspy

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Edinburgh, Scotland

Ferris wheel at Hogmanay festival in Edinburgh, Scotland
Ferris wheel at Hogmanay festival in Edinburgh, Scotland
Image: Kathy Collins/Getty Images

There are few parties—New Year’s Eve or otherwise—that compare to Edinburgh’s Hogmanay festivities. This Scottish version of NYE lasts for three fun-filled days, torch procession on December 29, followed by a disco-themed bash on December 30 at the West Princes Street Gardens. December 31 is packed with the biggest events, including an outdoor concert (headlined by Pulp this year) and a massive street party with live DJs, food vendors, and fireworks over Edinburgh Castle. If your hangover isn’t too bad, you can continue the fun with even more live music and free shows by some of Scotland’s finest musicians on January 1.

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Sydney

Given its location on Australia’s east coast, Sydney is one of the first major cities in the world to welcome January 1—in fact, revelers here ring in the New Year a full 16 hours before New York. As if the head start isn’t appealing enough, the destination also offers warm weather and city-wide celebrations. Sydney Harbour puts on a spectacular light show all evening, starting with a dazzling boat parade and ending with a fireworks display over the Harbour Bridge and Opera House. There are more than 50 designated fireworks viewing points set up around the harbor, with ticketed, free, and even BYOB options guaranteeing a raucously good time.

Locals say: "[As a Sydney resident,] the best options to view the sensational New Year's Eve Fireworks [are]: Taking a harbour cruise, which would provide you with unobstructed views of firework displays; booking a harbour-view hotel room, where you could share these precious moments with family and friends;... [and] Darling Harbour, [which] is a good place for family with small children."—@130helenafun

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New Orleans

While New York tends to get most of the attention when it comes to U.S.-based NYE celebrations, you shouldn’t sleep on the all-night affairs in New Orleans. The main event occurs in Jackson Square in the historic French Quarter, complete with live music, fireworks over the Mississippi River, and a Fleur De Lis drop at midnight—an appropriately French version of the Times Square ball drop. Afterward, keep the good times rolling at one of the many dance parties, cabarets, or drag shows along Bourbon and Frenchmen streets, or enjoy a two-hour river cruise (open bar and live entertainment included) aboard the Paddlewheeler Creole Queen.

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Ko Pha-Ngan, Thailand

Full Moon Party on Haad Rin Beach, Koh Pha Ngan, Thailand
Full Moon Party on Haad Rin Beach, Koh Pha Ngan, Thailand
Image: 4FR/Getty Images

For buckets of alcohol, body paint, and techno music that encourages dancing over talking, check out Ko Pha-Ngan’s infamous full moon parties. This island off the coast of southeast Thailand holds beach blowouts tied to the lunar calendar every month, as well as a New Year’s Eve bash that routinely draws around 30,000 guests. Accommodations across the island book up far in advance, but you can also stay on one of the surrounding islands (like Ko Samui) and take a ferry or speedboat charter to Ko Pha-Ngan for the festivities. Dancing until dawn with tens of thousands of other people and watching fireworks over the ocean is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience for a very extroverted type of traveler.

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Rio de Janeiro

Carnaval remains the biggest party in Rio de Janeiro, but Réveillon is a close second. This Brazilian NYE blowout attracts between 2 and 3 million people every year (typically dressed in all white), with folks setting up shop on Copacabana Beach early on December 31 and remaining there until the legendary fireworks show at midnight. The hours in between are filled with bands performing samba and Brazilian pop, beachside restaurants offering prix-fixe menus, and locals placing gifts in the ocean for the sea goddess Lemanjá.

Travelers say: "Fireworks show beyond expectations, I’ve never seen or experienced something like this! Highly recommend going to the water and [jumping] over seven waves as locals do for a good luck."—@Ipopchenkova

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Nassau, The Bahamas

Junkanoo Festival in Nassau, Bahamas
Junkanoo Festival in Nassau, Bahamas
Image: 2tamsalu/Getty Images

Nassau’s biannual Junkanoo Parade—held every year on Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) and New Year’s Day—is a vibrant display of costumes and musical acts that takes months to prepare. You may want to sleep a few extra hours on the nights leading up to the parade, as the fun starts at 2 a.m. and lasts well past sunrise. But even if you don’t, you’ll be energized by the kaleidoscopic procession of floats moving down Bay Street, not to mention the continuous pulse of drums, cowbells, and horns accompanying the spirited dancing.

Tip: Before the parade kicks off, be sure to spend time at the Junkanoo World Museum & Arts Centre, where you can learn about the celebration's history and get an up-close view of the elaborate costumes and headpieces (you can even try some on).

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Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Dubai is a city of superlatives (home to the world’s tallest building, biggest shopping mall, and more), so it’s no surprise that it also hosts some of the world’s best NYE celebrations. The Burj Khalifa fireworks are by far the most popular event, lighting up the sky with hundreds of thousands of sparks, as well as a laser show synced to the Dubai Fountain at the base of the tower.

While you can catch the display from several vantage points around the city, try to score tickets to the Dubai Opera’s New Year’s Eve gala for something really special. The party includes live performances in the stunning auditorium, a three-course dinner, and unobstructed views of the fireworks from the building’s promenade.

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Caitlin Morton
Caitlin Morton is a travel writer based in Kansas City. Over the past decade, she has covered everything from boutique hotels to horror movie fashion, with bylines in Travel + Leisure, Condé Nast Traveler, Vogue, AFAR, Real Simple, and more. Follow her adventures on Instagram @caitlinmorton23.