New Year's Eve: Laidback Alternatives to the World's Biggest Parties

by  Karen Gardiner | Dec 6, 2013
New Years' Eve - Times Square, NYC
New Years' Eve - Times Square, NYC / Simon Dux/istock

As the count down to the New Year approaches, so does the party-planning pressure. Most major cities throw vast, crowded spectacles for the occasion, but if you're not so keen on ringing in the New Year elbow-to-elbow with thousands of strangers, consider planning something a little offbeat this year...

Edinburgh, Scotland

The party: Edinburgh's Hogmanay party runs all night and even into January 2 (a national holiday in Scotland). Since being listed in the Guinness Book of Records for the world's biggest New Year celebration in 1996 and 1997, the city has limited crowds by requiring revelers to purchase a £20 ticket to enter the street party area. This year's event will include performances by the Pet Shop Boys and Chvrches, a traditional ceilidh with music and dancing, and the annual torch-lit procession leading to a sound and light show, and a fireworks finale.

The alternative: Scotland has an abundance of New Year's Eve fire festivals celebrating its pagan and Viking history. During the Stonehaven Fireballs Ceremony, locals ward off evil spirits by swinging 16-pound flaming firecages around their heads as they parade through the streets to the local harbor, where the fireballs are finally thrown. An even-lesser known alternative is the Comrie Flambeaux procession where young men, accompanied by pipers, drummers, and dancers, carry ten-foot torches, made from felled birch trees, through town. The torches are then extinguished by throwing them over the Dalginross Bridge into the waters of the River Earn, symbolizing the casting out of evil spirits.

Sydney, Australia

The party:  Over a million people gather around Sydney Harbour for the city's spectacular annual fireworks display that rings in one of the world's first New Year celebrations. Sydney takes its New Year's celebration so seriously it comes up with a different theme and a "Creative Ambassador" every year. This year's ambassador is the artist and musician Reg Mombassa.

The alternative: Take the scenic ferry ride from Sydney's Circular Quay to the beach suburb of Manly. At Manly Cove, you'll find a free, family friendly, and alcohol-free event with a circus, entertainers, and a firework display at the respectable time of 9 p.m.. Note that ferry services between Sydney and Manly shut down between 6 p.m. and 12 30 a.m., so bring a picnic blanket to hunker down while you're waiting.

New York, NY

The party: It takes the famous ball a total of 60 seconds to descend in the annual, 108-year-old ritual. But, if you want a good view, you need to choose your position in the middle of the afternoon. While entertainment will be provided, that still makes for a long wait without food, drink, or bathrooms, and in what will likely be freezing temperatures.

The alternative: Escape the crowds with a quiet, romantic bed and breakfast stay upstate. The Inn at Erlowest occupies a turn-of-the-century stone castle on the shore of Lake George in the Adirondack Mountains. Suites start at $235 on New Year's Eve and feature gorgeous lake views, fireplaces, and two-person whirlpool tubs. The next day you can join the Lake George Polar Plunge, if you dare.

Berlin, Germany

The party: At one of the largest open-air parties in Europe, live bands and DJs play to a million-strong crowd gathered along the Straße des 17. Juni, between Brandenburg Gate and the Victory Column. A massive firework display launches at midnight and, as you might expect of a city famous for its nightlife, the party carries on well into the new year.

The alternative: Eschew debauchery by checking yourself into one of Berlin's many spas. At Liquid Rom, in the Kreuzberg district, you can float in a 43-foot salt water pool to the accompaniment of soothing music and psychedelic projections running across the ceiling. You can also make use of the steam bath, Finnish sauna, Himalaya Salt Sauna, and Kelo Panorama Sauna. A full day pass costs €29.50 ($40) and the spa will be open from 10 a.m. -6 p.m. on December 31 and from 12 p.m. to midnight on January 1.

Istanbul, Turkey

The party: A relative newcomer on the New Year's Eve party circuit, Istanbul nevertheless pulls out plenty of stops with a grand fireworks display, crowds of revelers in Taksim Square and Bagdat Caddesi, tourist cruises on the waters of the Bosphorus, and scores of vehicles honking in the new year.

The alternative: Choose a quieter (albeit pricey) celebration by booking one of the Marti Istanbul Hotel's three New Year packages. The New Year Suite option costs €799 ($1,092) and includes accommodations in one of the hotel’s Turkish Suites, with hammam-style marble bathrooms, and tickets to the hotel’s Gala Dinner with musical entertainment. Guests will also enjoy in-room breakfast, or brunch at the hotel’s restaurant, a Turkish Bath treatment, and access to the private Lounge 11.

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