Where will you be when the clock strikes midnight on December 31, 2012?
With the list of fabulous locations we've compiled, you can partake in have-to-do-it-at-least-once traditions, such as watching the ball drop at New York's Times Square, or you can do some serious street partying in Prague, participate in a "communal kiss" in Venice or watch fireworks in magnificent settings that include Niagara Falls and the Austrian Alps.
Las Vegas: Bacchanalia in the Desert
Reinforcing its status as a perennial party town, Las Vegas welcomes 300,000 revelers to ring in the New Year. Hotels, clubs and bars take it to the limit with special shows, but many lock their doors around the midnight hours, so you'll need to decide whether you want to be in or out. We recommend out, since the four-mile-long Strip becomes a vehicle-free promenade where you can drink, mingle and watch fireworks shot off from surrounding rooftops. For a rockin' good time, hit up The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel where the Black Keys will be performing. For something a tad mellower, enjoy the music of The Beatles with Cirque du Soleil's New Year's Eve performance of LOVE at The Mirage... what better way to celebrate the hard day's night that is New Year's Eve in Las Vegas?
Mexico City: End-of-the-Year Fiesta
Mexico's capital and largest city is sedate at the beginning of the night, as most denizens of "D.F.," as locals call it, lay low at home and eat dinner with family members. But as the night goes on, debauchery ensues for the final day of the calendar year. If you like crowds, gravitate to the Zócalo around 9 p.m., the city's main gathering point, where a street festival takes place. There are fireworks, dancing and music; tradition dictates that Zócalo attendees bring empty eggshells filled with confetti and colorful liquids. Likewise, the Zona Rosa neighborhood is similarly packed for plenty of partying. For something a tad less noisy and messy, have a late-night dinner at one of the trendy restaurants in the hip Condesa neighborhood.
Niagara Falls, Canada: Barreling into the New Year
Long gone are the days when the most exciting thing to do at Niagara Falls was keep your eyes peeled for a daredevil plummeting over the cascades in a barrel. The falls are now the site of one of the biggest outdoor New Year’s Eve parties in Canada. More than 30,000 people gather in Queen Victoria Park to eat, drink and enjoy the free New Year's Eve Concert Extravaganza, organized by the Niagara Parks Commission. Festivities take place against the stunning backdrop of Niagara Falls, which is illuminated as part of the 30th annual Winter Festival of Lights, a November 3 to January 31 display of more than three million lights on a four-mile route. Brightening the night even further, the 9 p.m. and midnight fireworks over the falls are so much a part of the country's New Year's Eve tradition that they are televised nationwide.
Prague: Charles Bridge Fireworks
With a hand-held fireworks free-for-all competing with an official midnight display over Prague Castle and the Vltava River, Prague is rightly known for its wild New Year's Eve. But this is a city that has something for everyone. All day long the Christmas Markets are still in full swing, as colorful wooden huts sell handicrafts, hot food and warm drinks in Old Town Square and Wenceslas Square. Culture lovers can take in the morning or evening performance of the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra at Rudolfinum and then attend the New Year's Eve gala ball at the Prague State Opera. As for those who like their festivities on the rowdy side, the action is in the bars, clubs and prime fireworks viewing spots: Charles Bridge and the town squares. For crowd-controlled celebrations, dinner cruises ply the Vltava River with music and dancing into the wee hours.
Kitzbühel, Austria: Heating up the Slopes
For New Year's Eve in a quaint fairy tale setting, Kitzbühel is our top pick. This ninth-century town has been attracting glamorous revelers ever since Kirk Douglas and Coco Chanel put it on the see-and-be-seen map. A romantic mood takes over as the clock ticks toward midnight, with restaurants and hotels hosting gala dinners and horse-drawn sleighs jingling past medieval houses on traffic-free, cobblestone streets. The big draw, though, takes place on the Hahnenkamm race course. Drinking hot wine and singing folk songs, crowds gather at the base to watch members of the Rote Teufel ski school. Beneath a fireworks display (one of the best in the Alps) choreographed to music, the skiers welcome the New Year with an unforgettable torch-lit performance on the slopes.
Reykjavik, Iceland: Cold Temperatures, Hot Nightlife
In Iceland, New Year's Eve traditions offer the chance to brighten up one of the darkest days of the year. With little more than four hours of daylight and sunset before 4 p.m. on December 31, the celebration starts early, beginning with 6 p.m. mass at Reykjavik Cathedral. Locals attend or listen in on the radio, then share a meal with family and friends before heading outdoors for neighborhood bonfires. Visitors wandering the city may easily come across one of these flame-fueled gatherings, where drinking, folk songs and even people dressed up as elves and trolls are not uncommon. While all of this may seem somewhat sedate, don't underestimate a country where there are no restrictions on the holiday sale of fireworks. As for Icelanders wielding firecrackers, they're not the only complement to Reykjavik's official, spectacular pyrotechnics display. Sometimes the Northern Lights get in on the act as well.
Rhodes, Greece: All Rhodes Lead to the Celebrations
Throughout Greece, tradition plays a great role in New Year’s celebrations. But since you can only be in one place at a time, we recommend heading for the medieval district of Rhodes Town on the island of Rhodes. In this historic setting you can witness activities such as New Year's carols or card games, the latter an opportunity for locals to enhance their luck for the upcoming year. Luck, in fact, plays a significant role in ringing in the New Year. The first person, usually a child, who steps foot over your doorstep on New Year’s Day will determine the year’s luck, and in most households, a vasilopita cake is prepared with a coin inside — the person who gets the piece with the coin will have good luck all year long. Be prepared for parties all over the island, as plazas, cafés, bars and hotels host special events that run from midnight until dawn. Then, on New Year's Day, enjoy a ritual usually practiced on Christmas in other places around the world, as St. Basil (the Greek Santa Claus) delivers holiday gifts.
New York City: The City That Never Stops Partying
Cramming into NYC's Times Square for concerts and to watch the ball drop with fellow tourists from all over the world is something everyone should do once. But for a more local end-of-the-year experience, party in the always-happening Meatpacking District by buying a Meatpacking District All-Access Pass. The pass allows for access to normally exclusive clubs as well as buffet dinners and DJ'ed performances. For something more sedate, make a reservation at one of the many great restaurants in New York that serve up memorable meals on the final evening of the year.
Venice, Italy: Romance and Fireworks on the Canals
For La Festa di San Silvestro (New Year’s Eve), Venice knows how to do things right. The music, fireworks and toast in St. Mark's Square culminate with a communal kiss at midnight. Enjoy Concerto di Capodanno, the New Year's concert at La Fenice Theater, to start your evening; then join the revelry that lasts until dawn, when locals watch the sunrise and take a dip at Lido Beach. Or party all night and catch the concert on New Year's Day morning. Make sure to try a traditional lentil dish, which symbolizes good fortune, and beware of those few people still participating in the custom of throwing old things out windows to symbolize preparation for the New Year. If you're still in town on the sixth, don't miss the Befana races, where men clad like women race boats along the Grand Canal.
Goa, India: Stark Raving Mad under the Stars
Gaining notoriety as a turn-on-tune-in-drop-out hippie paradise in the 1960s, Goa seems to use New Year's Eve to keep its free-living reputation alive. Backpackers flock here for psychedelic trance raves in the open air — insiders tell us "The Hill Top" is the place to be. This Indian state is also a favorite destination for Bollywood stars, whose New Year’s Eve antics throughout Goa serve up plenty of fodder for the tabloids. As for the locals, they generally keep to their own traditions with New Year's balls in nearly every brightly decorated village. If you're lucky, you might be invited to share a glass of fenny, a regional brew made from guava, coconut or cashew nuts.
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