New Year’s Eve – the one night a year when the whole world comes alive to celebrate the year just gone, the year ahead, and the people they love most.
Some people spend months planning an action-packed New Year’s Eve, while others prefer to retire to somewhere quiet and watch the festivities unfold with a blanket and a hot drink.
Business Insider asked 20 esteemed travel professionals – each of whom has travelled the globe and seen New Year’s Eve celebrated in all manners of ways – for the most breathtaking and under-the-radar places to spend New Year’s Eve.
The answers include everything from tried-and-tested retreats to dreamy tropical islands which have either been the setting for unforgettable festivities our experts have attended in the past or are lusted-after celebrations they dream of attending in the future. Regardless of their location, level of popularity, and score on the party scale, each entry on the list is distinctly one-of-a-kind.
Scroll on to discover 27 of the best under-the-radar places to spend New Year’s Eve, according to the world’s top travel experts.
Be one of the first people in the world to ring in the New Year in Tonga.
“If you’re going all out for New Year’s Eve, why not do it in one of the first places in the world to ring in the New Year?” said Alex Reynolds, co-founder and blogger at travel blog Lost With Purpose.
“The Polynesian island of Tonga is a place I’ve always dreamed of celebrating New Year’s. White sand beaches, azure water, and toasty tropical temperatures in December – what more could you need?”
Wade into the water of Alter do Chao, Brazil.
“Alter do Chão, in the northern Brazilian state of Pará, is regarded as one of the most beautiful freshwater beaches on the planet,” said Katja Wilde, Head of Didactics for language learning platform Babbel.
“On New Year’s Eve, it is traditional for those by the sea in Brazil to wade into the water when the clock strikes midnight. New Year’s Eve purists will jump over seven waves, making a wish each time they clear a wave.”
Ring in the New Year with a bunch of grapes at Puerta del Sol in Madrid, Spain.
According to Wilde, New Year’s Eve celebrations in Spain are amongst the greatest in the world.
“There is an emblematic place in almost every Spanish city or town where people gather to welcome in the New Year, and eat their twelve grapes, one each second, in the twelve seconds leading up to the stroke of midnight,” she said, adding thatif you are in Madrid on December 31, you might want to join the carnival celebration at Puerta del Sol.
“The eating of twelve grapes at the turn of the year is of Spain’s most-established traditions – and superstitions. Successfully swallowing each grape is supposed to ensure luck for its corresponding month in the year ahead.”
Watch the sunrise over centuries of history at Angkor Wat, Cambodia…
For travel bloggers, Instagrammers, and photographers Murad and Nataly Osmann, it has become a tradition to spend New Year’s Eve away from home in exotic and mind-expanding locations.
“We spent the celebrations at Angkor Wat temple – the largest religious monument in the world. Crowds of people – locals and tourists alike – gathered around a lake and the sun rose over its waters. Watching the sunrise over the historic monument made us feel immortal, like we’d travelled back in time through centuries,” said Murad.
…Or Shwegugyi Temple, Cambodia.
But Angkor Wat’s towering temples aren’t the only place that the couple have spent New Year’s Eve in Cambodia.
“Cambodia and Myanmar are our favourite countries for New Year’s celebrations,” Murad said.
“The Shwegugi Pagoda temple in Bagan is one of the most beautiful landscapes on Earth, in our opinion.”
Cosy up with friends in a Swedish cabin in Haparanda.
“As I’m getting a bit older, I’ve moved more towards spending New Year’s Eve with a smaller circle of friends,” said Neil James Cartwright, Travel Expert for travel search engine KAYAK.
“Last New Year’s, I was in Sweden in the middle of the countryside at a friend’s summer house. There were about 15 of us and we all helped to cook a delicious dinner, and then spent the evening dancing, drinking, and letting off fireworks as we brought in the new year.”
Be the first person to watch the sun rise in Kiribati.
If spending New Year’s on a tropical island sounds appealing, James Asquith, founder of HolidaySwap – a Tinder-style social media platform that lets travellers swap accommodation around the world – recommends the island of Kiribati in the central Pacific.
“The eastern beach is the perfect place to watch the sunrise,” said Asquith.
“There was quite a lot of tourism there during the year 2000 millennium as it’s the first inhabited place that witnesses sunrise each day. It’s a pretty special feeling welcoming in the New Year before anyone else.”
Sample some fine wines as fireworks burst over the harbour in Auckland, New Zealand…
Chris Zeiher, Director of Sales and Marketing for Lonely Planet‘s Asia-Pacific countries, believes that Auckland is the best place to ring in 2018.
“This year, Silo Park in Wynyard Quarter hosts the Wondergarden festival, where bobbing yachts and the iconic SKY Tower will act as a backdrop for live music and DJs prior to a spectacular fireworks display at midnight,” Zeiher said.
“And for those wanting to escape from crowded downtown, the pyrotechnics will be visible from Cable Bay Winery on Waiheke Island, where jazz and dancing complement fine wine.”
…Where you can even celebrate New Year’s Eve twice.
“If you head to Auckland in New Zealand for December 31, you can ring in the New Year, get a few hours’ sleep, and then head to the airport for 9am – where you can hop on a four-hour flight to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands,” said Niamh Walsh, Chief Editor at travel search engine HolidayPirates.
“Because these stunning Pacific islands are across the international date-line, you actually go back in time and land at lunchtime on December 31, giving you ample time to have a nap and get ready to ring in the new year a second time.”
Ring in “Hogmanay” in your very own castle in Scotland.
“You can now hire out your very own castle for the night, with many options available online in Scotland such as Borthwick Castle near Edinburgh, Craigston Castle in Aberdeenshire, Forter Castle in Perthshire, or Kincraig Castle near Inverness,” said Walsh.
“These options don’t come cheap, though, and can run into the thousands per night. However, the good news is that there are plenty of bedrooms – so grab 15 of your mates and you could be lord of the manor singing Auld Lang Syne before you know it.”
“Every year, Honolulu unleashes a party,” said Alex Howard, Managing Editor of Lonely Planet Magazine.
“The city’s biggest celebration is the aptly named New Year’s Eve Party of the Year. Held at the Aloha Tower Marketplace, it features multiple stages of live music and DJs, food trucks, and fireworks over Honolulu Harbour.
“A free alternative is the Waikiki New Year’s Fireworks, which launch from a barge off Waikiki Beach; tune into Hawaiian 105 KINE FM for choreographed music,” Howard said.
Scale an active volcano in Bali and watch the sun rise over the New Year.
“Mount Batur is an active volcano on the Indonesian island’s northeast coast (don’t worry – it hasn’t erupted since 2000),” said Walsh.
“Every day, dozens of people rise at 3 a.m. to hike in the dark up to the volcano’s crater, to sit and watch daylight creep in over the island. It’s become an increasingly popular tourist activity for the more intrepid explorer.
“This is a particularly special experience on December 31, as you get to watch the first sun of a New Year wash across the island.”
Feast on lentils in true Venetian tradition in Venice.
Jessica Cole, Features Editor at Lonely Planet Magazine, recommends Venice for a truly unforgettable New Year’s experience.
“With its singing gondoliers, graceful bridges, and masked balls, Venice knows how to strut its stuff and pull the crowds,” Cole said.
“December 31 is celebrated across Italy as St Sylvester’s Feast Day – and feasting is the focus in homes across the country, where extravagant meals last for many hours; they always include lentils, to symbolise wealth and prosperity (since they look like little coins). Around Venice, meanwhile, restaurants and bistros serve up indulgent festive menus.”
Gaze down upon one of the UK’s most party-centric cities — Brighton.
“Brighton is a party town par excellence at any time, but it scales new heights of decadence on December 31,” said Lonely Planet‘s Editor, James Kay.
“And that’s literally true for those ascending the city’s latest landmark, the i360 Tower. The party starts at the base of this spindly structure, where guests will enjoy a slap-up meal followed by a spin on the dancefloor as live DJs pump up the volume. But the main event is a ‘flight’ in the tower’s pod, which will rise to 450ft, affording revellers gobsmacking views of the city as they sing Auld Lang Syne at midnight.”
Slurp noodles and sip sake in Hida-Takayama, Japan.
“Hida-Takayama is a beautiful small town full of picturesque 18th-century Japanese buildings, shrines, and temples,” said Paul Hopkinson, Marketing Director at Netflights.com.
“On New Year’s Eve, locals visit the Buddhist temple to ring a bell that welcomes in the New Year, before tucking into ‘toshikoshi’ soba noodles, which translates to ‘year-crossing’ soba. The long buckwheat it is made from is symbolic of longevity into the New Year and not finishing the meal invites bad luck.
“Visitors can then head to one of the many shrines where the miko (shrine maidens) offer the first sake of the year. As the Land of the Rising Sun, the first sunrise of the new year is of particular importance in Japan. Locals stay up to pray to the sun as it rises to ensure good luck for the year ahead.”
Party the night away in Victoria Harbour, Hong Kong.
“Hong Kong is known for its fireworks along Victoria Harbour,” said Anton Diaz, the blogger and founder behind the Philippines’ number one food and travel blog Our Awesome Planet.
“Watch the festivities explode over the skyline then party the night away at Lan Kwai Fong – the tiny district in the city’s centre known for its bars, clubs, and restaurants.”
Sit back and unwind in peaceful Boracay, Philippines.
Diaz said: “Spend New Year’s Eve in Boracay in the Philippines – the best island in the world – and party until sunrise.
“Known for its beaches and resorts, bars and restaurants scatter the beaches, open all night long.”
Experience New Year’s in every timezone from the comfort of Ko Olina, Hawaii.
“My wife and I usually go to Hawaii for New Year’s Eve since it’s so beautiful and warm,” said travel blogger JohnnyJet.
“It’s also one of the last time zones to ring in the new year. We love to sit on our hotel balcony and watch the final sunset of the year over the Pacific. At 7 p.m. (which is midnight ET) we watch the craziness of Times Square on TV. Then we call our friends and family (most of whom have already rung in the New Year on the east and west coasts) to wish them a Happy New Year, then head to dinner and watch the spectacular fireworks show over the Pacific.”
Stay in an off-grid Scottish bothy.
India Dowley, Digital Editor at Suitcase Magazine, recommends staying in a traditional Scottish bothy – a small hut or cottage in a rural area, usually reserved for farm labourers – for a tranquil celebration away from the dazzling fireworks and hectic parties.
“There are more than 100 bothies scattered around some of the most remote parts of the country – deep inside leafy glens, hidden away in quiet bays, or at the foot of towering mountains.”
Experience New Year’s Eve twice without having to do more than walk across a border.
“For the time travellers, head to Tornio in Finland and Haparanda in Sweden. You first get to celebrate the New Year in Finland, then you can walk the short distance over the border to do it all again in Haparanda,” said Dowley.
Drink and sing with Spanish locals in Plaza Nueva, Seville.
“The bells ring out and locals eat a grape for each chime. The streets are full of parties, people, and lights,” Dowley said.
Get romantic at Piazza San Marco in Venice.
“Watch the spectacular fireworks and light show as they fill the air. It’s such a romantic setting, and the whole crowd welcomes the new year with a New Year’s Kiss and a toast.”
Sky into 2018 in Are, Sweden.
“I would love to visit Åre in Sweden for New Year,” revealed Srin Madipalli, Accessibility Product and Program Manager for Airbnb.
“In the mountainous far north of Sweden – a bit of a local secret – Åre is supposed to be very chilled out and atmospheric (it’s close to the Arctic Circle, so the sun sets extremely early there!). A friend recommended it as a great place to try adaptive skiing, which is something that’s been on my bucket list for years.”
Watch the fireworks flicker over Torre de Belém in Lisbon, Portugal.
For Tricia Pimental, International Living‘s Portugal Correspondent, there’s nowhere better to see in the new year than Lisbon.
“Musical performances and dancing take place at the Torre de Belém, the ornate stone tower built to commemorate Vasco da Gama’s explorations, which overlooks the Atlantic Ocean,” Pimental said.
“You’ll get a fine view of the midnight fireworks from there, reflecting on the Tejo River, but why not join the thousands who gather in Comercio Square, the largest square in the country?”
Take in the surf in Roatán, Honduras.
“New Year’s Eve on the island of Roatán in Honduras is always exceptional,” said Dan Prescher, Senior Editor of International Living, adding: “especially the resorts around West End and West Bay.
“I was there for the Millennium celebrations in West Bay on New Year’s Eve 1999 which featured dancers painted gold doing dance routines in the surf with torches.”
Join the fun and friendliness of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
“As the sun goes down on the 31st of December, my plan is to be in same place that I was last year: sipping Champagne at the rooftop bar of one of Phnom Penh’s tallest skyscrapers surrounded by friends as I watch fireworks light up the night skyline of the city,” said Steven King, Cambodia Correspondent for International Living.
“This is a country where ‘sabai’ or ‘fun’ is part of the national character – right next to friendliness – so expats here are pretty much guaranteed a chance to join a ‘Cambodian style’ party thanks to invites from friends and neighbours.”
Burn away 2017 in Cotacachi, Ecuador.
“One Ecuadorian ritual on New Year’s Eve, called Año Viejo, involves burning effigies that represent all the rotten stuff that happened last year,” explained International Living‘s Senior Editor, Suzan Haskin.
“The first place I experienced this was when living in Quito, but it happens everywhere in the country, including in our little village of Cotacachi.”