Forget London, forget New York and forget Sydney… if you fancy jetting off somewhere out of the ordinary this New Year’s Eve, then look no further than our top six lesser-known locations that celebrate the 31st with real panache.
Closer to home…
If you can’t imagine your New Year’s Eve without fun and fireworks, then Reykjavik is one of the best places to be when the clock strikes midnight. Renowned for its nightlife, this cosmopolitan capital knows how to throw a party; its New Year’s Eve celebrations have become legendary, attracting thousands of visitors from around the world each year. The main event sees around 200,000 locals unleash 500 tons of fireworks into the night sky, before parties begin – and continue into the early hours – at a number of the city’s best bars and nightclubs.
* Make like the locals and tune into the nation’s annual New Year’s Eve television comedy broadcast – Áramótaskaup – for plenty of laughs before you head out for the evening. A whopping 90 per cent of Icelander’s gather around their TVs to watch the programme, which has been broadcasting since 1966 and highlights stand-out news stories and events from throughout the year. Just remember to turn on the subtitles!
* Embrace the cold and take a Super Jeep Tour across ice fields, catching glimpses of nature’s very own firework display, the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights), as part of Nordic Experiences’ Reykjavik New Year Fire & Ice Tour. Perfect for adventurous types, the package also allows you to visit the Golden Circle (a trio of Icelandic sights), snowmobile across glaciers, or take a thrilling helicopter ride.
* Bathe under the stars in the soothing, milky waters of the Blue Lagoon. The geothermal spa is one of Iceland’s most visited attractions and one of the world’s most celebrated spas, thanks to its jaw-dropping facilities and unique health-boosting treatments. Don’t leave without trying an in-water massage and attempting a DIY Silica Mud Mask. Scoop as much of the white mud as you can into your hands (you’ll find it on the lagoon floor, so dig deep!), smother over your face, chest and arms, and enjoy baby-soft skin in minutes.
The Grand Hotel Reykjavik has long been a favourite among visitors, due to its central location and glamorous New Year’s Eve entertainment programme, which includes a four-course dinner, accompanied by traditional Icelandic folk entertainment, and dancing to live music in its Gullteigur Festive Hall. As part of Nordic Experiences’ Reykjavik New Year Fire & Ice Deluxe package, guests can also enjoy a New Year’s Day Festive Evening buffet at the hotel, encompassing a smorgasbord of local and international dishes. It’s also the tallest hotel in Iceland, making it a superb choice if you fancy watching the fireworks from afar. Head to the 4th-floor balcony for the best views.
Funchal’s 31st December fireworks display is one of the largest and most extravagant in the world. So big, in fact, that it has been officially recognised by The Guinness World Records. Each year, thousands of visitors flock to the city – the capital of Madeira – to be a part of the celebrations, which include the decorating of Funchal’s amphitheatre. The cove is adorned with over 250,000 coloured lamps, spread over the cliffs and slopes, transforming it into a grand stage for the famous firework display. As the clock strikes midnight, the sky is lit up in an explosion of light and colour so bright and captivating, it’ll have you mesmerised.
* Head to the streets and get amongst the crowds to really soak up the celebratory atmosphere. Many of Funchal’s roads, alleyways and byways are dressed up in a rainbow of twinkling fairy lights with locals gathering together at their very own street parties, complete with outdoor food stalls and live music from bands and carollers.
* Hop on the city’s popular New Year Fireworks boat cruise to take in the spectacular views from the ocean. Set sail from Funchal marina and admire the island’s glittering landscape, before toasting the New Year with a glass of champagne and a hot bowl of canja de galinha – traditional chicken soup.
* For those wanting to carry on with the festivities until the early hours, popular nightclubs such as the Copa Cabana, Café Teatro (an open air club) and Gloria Latina are all great spots for Latin dancing and cocktails.
The Belmond Reid’s Palace Madeira is a fine choice for couples and small groups looking for understated luxury in a handy, central location. Set in sub-tropical gardens, perched dramatically on the cliff edge above Funchal Bay, here guests can enjoy some of the best views of the island (and its firework display) from their very own balconies. The hotel also offers a fabulous New Year’s Eve package, including VIP amenities, a New Year’s Eve gala dinner and round-trip airport transfers in your very own Mercedes Sedan.
Boasting year-round sunshine, palm-fringed beaches and an atmosphere so laid-back it makes you sleepy, the Canary Islands are a smart choice for those longing for a gloriously lazy, fuss-free New Year’s Eve destination. Tenerife – the largest and most populous Canary Island – offers just the right amount of liveliness for families and small groups of friends, particularly in its capital city of Santa Cruz and the northern resort of Puerto de la Cruz. Expect some amazing fireworks, flowing sangria and mass salsa dancing in the streets.
* It’s a tradition to eat a grape with each bell strike at midnight, as Spaniards believe it leads to a year of prosperity. Buy yours in advance from local supermarkets, or tuck into the free ones given out at restaurants and bars.
* Nearly all restaurants, big and small, offer special New Year’s Eve menus, so shop around until you find something you like at a fair price. Traditional tapas always hits the spot, especially when Canadian potatoes and plenty of mojo sauce are included. Many places also offer free bowls of grapes and a bottle of cava or cider to get you in the party spirit.
The Gran Hotel Bahia del Duque Resort in Santa Cruz offers a jam-packed New Year’s Eve programme, filled with top-class food and family-friendly entertainment. The day’s events include live music to mark the last breakfast of the year at 8am, a special children’s buffet and party around 7pm, and a grand New Year’s Eve party for adults from 10pm onwards. Call us crazy, but the 3am post-party snack that all residents receive is the icing on the cake.
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
Guaranteeing glorious sunshine and oozing with vibrant Latin spirit, Rio de Janeiro is a fantastic destination to visit any time of the year, but there are a few special periods when locals – known as ‘cariocas’ – really let their hair down and party. New Year’s Eve is up there with the best as around two million partygoers shun indoor clubs and bars in favour of Copacabana beach for the city’s famous midnight fireworks display and carnival-style celebrations. The party kicks off around 8pm, complete with ferris wheels, dance performances and live music from traditional Brazilian samba bands.
* Do as the locals and stay outdoors. It’s the height of summer in Brazil by the time New Year’s Eve comes around, so be sure to don super light layers and take to the streets. If Copacabana proves too busy for your liking, it’s worth visiting other nearby locations, such as Ipanema beach or Flamengo beach, for smaller gatherings and festivities.
* Champagne is popular with the crowds, so don’t forget to bring your own fizz. You’ll find that many people will go as far as shaking their bottles, before dousing their friends and family with bubbles as a symbol of good luck – so prepare to leave your fancy clothes behind and embrace the Formula 1 style celebrations!
* Find your inner Brazilian and get involved with the traditions, which include wearing white top-to-toe and ‘cleansing’ yourself in the surf to ensure good luck for the year ahead. It’s also customary for locals to bring flowers to the seashore and toss them into the ocean as a tribute to Yemanja – the goddess of the seas. It’s the belief that if the blooms do not come back, your prayer or wish will be granted.
The Belmond Copacabana Palace (pictured top) may be on the pricey side, but you certainly get what you pay for. The elegant venue is situated right on the beachfront, providing guests with exclusive and unbeatable views of the action. It also hosts its very own New Year’s Eve party in its Noble, Golden and Reception Halls, complete with food and live music. At midnight, you’re able to watch the fireworks from its Noble Salon’s balcony.
Gisborne, New Zealand
Situated on the east coast of the island, Gisborne is the first major city on earth to witness the first sunrise of the New Year. Much like the rest of New Zealand, the city marks the New Year with bustling street parties and carnivals, before locals gather to watch the country’s famous fireworks spectacular on TV. The show takes place on top of Auckland’s Sky Tower – the tallest freestanding structure in the Southern Hemisphere.
* If you’re into your music, plan early and book tickets to Gisborne’s Rhythm and Vines music festival (rhythmandvines.co.nz). The annual three-day event takes place at Waiohika Estate Vineyard, usually between 29-31 December, and showcases bands and musicians from all genres of music, from jazz and funk to reggae, soul and hip-hop. The festival grows more and more popular every year thanks to its a-list line-ups, many of which have featured international acts, such as N.E.R.D, Chase & Status and Tinie Tempah.
* Hire an RV and take to the road. New Zealand holiday specialists, such as Anzrcro (anzcro.co.uk), are a safe bet for great deals, including a 17-day motorhome package. Combine with Gisborne’s New Year’s Eve festival, which has its very own RV site, and build an adventure around your celebrations.
If you think Gisborne might prove too busy, why not stay in Hawke’s Bay – one of New Zealand’s most picturesque regions. Recognised on the world stage for its award-winning wines, including Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc, and beautiful wine tours, it’s a great place to kick-back and enjoy a relaxed New Year’s Eve. For high-class comfort, check out the Mangapapa Petit Hotel. It’s a charming boutique spot, nestled in landscaped gardens, that offers just 12 chic suites. For those looking to really push the boat out, Glen Aros Country Estate promises fine dining and classic, luxury accommodation.
Koh Phangan, Thailand
Koh Phangan’s New Year’s Eve celebrations revolve around its famous full-moon party, which kicks off every year on Sunset Beach in Haad Rin, one of the island’s most popular beach towns. Described as “the world’s biggest beach party”, the event attracts up to 30,000 party animals every year and begins as soon as dusk falls before raging on well beyond sunrise and into the following afternoon. Highlights include live music, raves, beach volleyball and bikini contests, making it a great choice for young people and groups of friends looking for a good time.
* Add some calm by visiting the sunset side of the island for a spot of dinner and a celebratory cocktail or two, before heading back over to Sunrise Beach just before midnight for a swim at dawn with the revellers.
Haad Rin is home to many rustic beach huts (great for those on a budget), but if you’re looking for something a little more exclusive away from the twenty-somethings, you can’t go wrong with the stylish Anantara Rasananda Koh Phangan Villa Resort & Spa, or the Buri Rasa Village Resort. Both are on Thong Nai Pan Noi beach – one of the best in the whole of Thailand – and some distance from the party, but the beautiful boat journey back to the hotel at sunrise certainly makes up for it.
For more information about any of these destinations, or to book, call Travel Bureau on 0191 285 9321, email [email protected] or pop in and speak to one of their personal travel experts at 69 High Street, Gosforth. | travelb.co.uk for more holiday inspiration