Top Cities for New Year’s Eve Celebrations

So, which cities provide excellent celebration destinations for New Year’s fun-seekers?

Sydney

Fireworks bursting in air above Sydney Harbor, which is immediately recognizable due to the stunning iconic Sydney Opera House, is one of the visuals most associated with New Year celebrations aside from Times Square. In Sydney’s favor: It’s more spectacular and December 31 is summertime in Australia. Sydney also beats everyone else to the punch as the first major New Year’s celebration.

Revelers converge at the vibrant and touristy King’s Cross area, as well as Bayswater Road and Victoria Street, Oxford Street between Hyde Park and Taylor Square, and Cockle Bay Wharf in Darling Harbor, says Fodor’s editor Maggie Kelly.

There’s a smoking performance by indigenous Gadigal People, early fireworks at 9 and alcohol-free zones for kiddos and families, and specially lit vessels parade around the harbor. Then at midnight, there’s that world-famous fireworks display centered around and above the Sydney Harbor Bridge, which is known as the Bridge Effect.

Orlando

As a family-friendly domestic destination, Orlando has a lot of options: Disney World, Downtown Disney (no admission required), Universal Studios, Universal CityWalk (a 30-acre dining, shopping and entertainment complex, which is owned by NBC Universal, parent company of CNBC), Sea World, and for those 21 and up, ICEBAR (which is, as you might guess, is a chilly bar with furnishings made of ice).

Each spot has its own roster of entertainment and events for the last night of the year, from wholesome Disney parades, cruises, and parties to concerts (Bret Michaels will Rock in the New Year at CityWalk) and ice cage dancers.

As for that New Year’s tradition, fireworks displays can be taken in whether you’re within the Magic Kingdom or with a more local crowd at Lake Eola park.

Amsterdam

Some argue that New Year’s Eve in a walkable European city will beat an American First Night Out any first night of the year.

Do-it-yourself fireworks shows are fired off everywhere, and by the time midnight comes the smoky streets can sound and feel like a war zone. However, unfortunately for travelers, the last week of the year is a sleepy time in many European cities, when many businesses are closed.

Not so in Amsterdam, where Oudjaarsdag or Oudjaarsavond (“Old Year’s Day,” or “Old Year’s Evening,”) has become one of the canal-bound city’s busiest tourism times of the year, with hotels booked up by November.

On the big night, visitors gather in squares popular with tourists like Dam Square, Rembrandtplein, Nieuwmarkt and Leidseplein, or cram into bars to get extra gezellig (which roughly translates to cozy, warm, friendly). Those aforementioned independent fireworks displays will be in full effect, so wander about at your own risk (and maybe wear some protective armor and goggles).

Las Vegas

Sin City already brings to mind glitz, debauchery, and lavish indulgences, so it’s a natural destination for New Year’s Eve celebrations. Count on packed casinos, performances by the likes of Coldplay, Jay-Z, and Kool & The Gang, parties hosted by celebs like Rihanna, and dancing in the streets—The Strip, that is.

Each year, the Strip gets closed off to motor vehicles and thousands of pedestrians take over for America’s Party New Year’s Eve. The midnight fireworks show is fired from the roofs of the MGM Grand, Aria, Planet Hollywood, Caesars Palace, Treasure Island, The Venetian and the Stratosphere.

But that’s not the only game in town. In Downtown Las Vegas, less glitzy and more reminiscent of the classic Rat Pack era Vegas, there’s the Fremont Street Experience, featuring cover bands like Aeromyth, Green Date, and Fan Halen that we hope are better than their names, and midnight brings confetti and an electronic fireworks display on the canopy.

Edinburgh

At the turn of the New Year, Scotland gets quite chilly. But the vibe is warm, so is the Scotch, and there’s plenty to see and do in the capitol city.

Each year’s end, Edinburgh holds its Hogmanay celebration, which runs December 30 through January 2. (Hogmanay is the Scots word for the last day of the year.) It kicks off on New Year’s Eve-eve with a torchlight parade, followed by a carnival, film, concerts (this year featuring Billy Bragg, Charlatans, with local star K.T. Tunstall headlining), and of course a street party.

Even the world-renowned song of the New Year holiday, “Auld Lang Syne,” was written by Scotland’s national poet Robert Burns (which explains the use of Scots terminology such as “auld” “lang” and “syne”) and was first sung at the dawn of years long past here in Scotland, before spreading to the rest of the world.