1. St. Petersburg, Russia
Before you dismiss the idea of going to Russia in the dead of winter, think again – St. Petersburg’s temperatures average at a mere negative 6 °C in January, and the city truly has a lot going for it this time of year. The “cultural capital of Russia” (as St. Petersburg is often referred to) celebrates New Year’s on a grand scale, complete with street performances, incredible fireworks and cheery crowds flowing through Nevsky Prospect (the city’s main artery) towards the awe-inspiring, grand Palace Square, whose gala-night ends in a blizzard of champagne corks shooting through the air at midnight. The Russian ruble is currently at an all-time low, making the exchange rate incredibly favourable for foreign visitors.
2. Bangkok, Thailand
The dizzying storm of lights, scents and sounds that is the Thai capital makes it an easy pick for welcoming the new year. Most action goes down in the Asiatique area by the riverfront – for those on a budget, the New Year night market is a great way to feast on street food and enjoy live shows featuring local celebrities, as well as a loud countdown and spectacular firework fanfare. Bangkok is also a great place for those looking to take it up a notch – the city boasts a number of spectacular rooftop bars with obligatory New Year’s Eve entertainment programs and multiple-course dinners for a classy experience, and several excellent dinner cruises along the Chao Phraya.
3. Valparaiso, Chile
There is hardly a better place to welcome the new year on the South American continent – coastal Valparaiso hosts a spectacular light and fireworks show at the year’s turn, launching shimmering bursts into the night sky from seventeen different points along the waterside. Temperatures are comfortable at this time of year, allowing for night-long in- and outdoor festivities enjoyed yearly by millions from the continent and beyond. The city’s affordability comes as an added bonus – with a daily Backpacker Index of slightly above 30 US dollars, a trip here will certainly not break the bank.
4. Hong Kong
Why fight through ravenous holiday crowds in chilly New York City, when intriguing Hong Kong offers an experience that is at the very least comparable – if not superior – to that of USA’s iconic New Year’s destination? Here, visitors are welcome to enjoy a reproduction of the famous midnight ball-drop and a nearly 10-minute spectacular firework show over Victoria Harbour, all in a comfortable temperature of nearly 20 °C. Prices for most consumer goods are pleasantly lower than those of the city’s American counterpart (although Hong Kong is known to have scarce accommodation, so do try and plan your trip in advance to get the best deals). China proper is only a subway ride away, with the city of Shenzhen within easy reach for a thrilling day trip.
5. Cape Town, South Africa
Our next pick lies on the southern tip of the African continent and is one to entice both nature-lovers and urban adventurers. The imposing Table Mountain towers over the city, offering the best spot to take in the fireworks over the V&A Waterfront, making it an easy pick for those on a budget – an experience complete with open-air mountaintop parties and prime views of New Year’s illuminations. Celebrations continue during the two following days – the bustling Cape Town Minstrel Carnival features thousands of street performers, and beaches in and around the city get flooded with festive holidaymakers.
6. Berlin, Germany
Of all European capitals, one that stands out in terms of the magnitude of its New Year’s celebrations is Berlin, a cosmopolitan city where one is never too far from an exciting happening – let alone on New Year’s Eve. “Silvester” (as the night is called in German) is celebrated throughout the capital, the most popular location being by the iconic Brandenburg Gate, where Berlin’s official countdown takes place. The entire stretch from here up to Victory Column teems with party crowds, live shows, street food stands, and all sorts of similar affairs. Other possible locations for a memorable night include on board a ship sailing along the Spree, at a traditional Christmas market (the Weihnachtszauber is still in full operation and with a countdown of its own), or one of the many busy bars and clubs.
7. Niagara Falls
Our last pick spans international borders: the spectacular fireworks show at Niagara Falls may be enjoyed on both US and Canadian sides, although the Canadian one certainly enjoys a higher level of popularity. Free-entry festivities start at Queen Victoria Park with live shows and illuminations in the early evening, only to culminate at midnight in a fiery explosion of sound and color over the glorious Horseshoe Falls. The celebration is enjoyed yearly by as many as 100,000 people on the Canadian side alone. Across the border, many choose to welcome the new year from atop the Observation Tower or the State Park.