On New Year’s Eve, the skies above Europe burst into a riot of colors and lights as its mighty cities celebrate the dawn of the New Year with fabulous street parties, wonderful traditions, and lots of hope and joy. Champagne flows, music fills the air, and everything shimmers in a festive glow.
Here are my suggestions for the best places to celebrate New Year’s Eve in Europe:
Madeira – One of the Best Fireworks Displays in the World
Year-round sunshine, lush tropical vegetation, and the greatest fireworks display in the world make Madeira one of the best places in Europe to spend New Year’s Eve. The most exotic and isolated island on the continent celebrates the arrival of the new year with a magical spectacle of lights on the skies of Funchal.
The best place to see Madeira’s staggering 10-minute pyrotechnical show is from the sea, and there are numerous boat trips available. The bay of Funchal and the hills around the city make for excellent vantage points, as well.
Edinburgh – Fascinating Traditions and Street Parades
The Scotts definitely know how to party, and Edinburgh’s Hogmanay proves it in spades. Widely regarded as one of the world’s greatest New Year celebrations, the 3-day festival kicks off on 30 December with the dramatic Torchlight Procession and culminates with the world’s biggest rendition of Auld Lang Syne, along with spectacular fireworks displays above the iconic Edinburgh Castle as the clock strikes midnight.
Edinburgh’s famous Hogmanay Street Party takes place along Princess Street and comes with live bands, giant screens, food stands, and lots of dancing. The morning after, do like the Scotts and enter the New Year with a splash in the freezing waters of Firth of Forth at South Queensferry, as part of the annual Loony Dook.
Berlin – Electrifying Atmosphere and Amazing NYE Countdown Show at Brandenburg Gate
Winters in Berlin can be cold, but Germany’s cool and creative capital puts on a festive display for visitors who come for the holidays. Charming Christmas Markets open up across the city; the streets glow with twinkling lights and joyful decorations; and New Year’s Eve parties are held everywhere.
On the very last night of the year, over one million people from all corners of the globe come to engage in the electrifying atmosphere at the Brandenburg Gate, where one of Europe’s biggest New Year’s Eve street parties takes place.
Spread over 2 km, between Brandenburg Gate and Victory Column, the festival area is packed with live music stages, party tents, as well as an assortment of food and drink stands serving delicacies from all over the world.
The fabulous fireworks display starts at midnight, but the fun lasts until the early hours of the morning with live DJ’s and spectacular light and laser shows.
London – Spectacular Fireworks and Ritzy Events
New Year’s Eve in London means swanky parties and stunning pyrotechnics along the Thames. From stand-up comedy and themed events to black-tie dinners and opulent burlesque performances, there’s nothing you can’t find in the capital. The only suggestion would be to make sure you book your tickets well in advance.
As for the best locations to watch the amazing New Year’s Eve fireworks in London, you can buy yourself a prime spot between Westminster Bridge and Embankment for £10; make a reservation at one of the bars in the area; or opt for a boat party with drinks, DJ’s, and fantastic views of the skyline exploding in a blaze of colors and sounds.
Nevertheless, there are plenty of areas where you can enjoy the fireworks for free, including Parliament Hill, Primrose Hill, Cannon Street, and Tower Bridge.
Don’t miss the flamboyant New Year’s Day Parade, a colorful mix of dancers, acrobats, musicians, and performers marching through central London (from Piccadilly to Parliament Square) on January 1st.
Reykjavik – Bonfires, Unique Customs, and a Chance to See the Northern Lights
New Year’s Eve in Reykjavik might not be as flashy and sophisticated as those in Europe’s major capitals, but it certainly is an authentic and fascinating experience.
First of all, there are no official fireworks displays in the city, but taking advantage of the country’s relaxed pyrotechnics laws, locals shoot around 500 tons of fireworks into the sky, creating one hell of a light show.
Additionally, it is a regular New Year’s Eve practice for locals to gather around bonfires. There are 10 of them organized throughout the city, and people come to sing, dance, and burn down everything that was negative in the past year.
Another interesting tradition is to watch Áramótaskaup, the national New Year’s comedy show. After midnight, Icelanders get together in bars and clubs to dance the last night of the year away with friends.
If you’re lucky, you may even see the Northern Lights during your New Year’s Eve break in Reykjavik!
Vienna – Grand Balls, World-Class Concerts, and Festive Street Stalls
On the 31st of December, Vienna comes alive with a dazzling assortment of events, from free concerts to glamorous balls and gala dinners.
The highlight is certainly Silvesterpfad (New Year’s Eve Trail), the city’s famous street party, which takes over the entire historic center, with a host of traditional stalls, food stands, and entertainment for all tastes. Adding to the festive mood are numerous live music concerts, including rock, pop, Viennese waltz, and operetta.
The Pummerin’s chimes at midnight are followed by splendid fireworks displays at Heldenplatz in front of Hofburg Palace and above the Wiener Prater fair. A boat trip along the Danube would be an excellent opportunity to enjoy the show, but the hills around Vienna are great vantage points, too.
Madrid – Twelve Grapes of Luck at Puerta del Sol and Flamboyant Three Kings Celebrations
Like many other European capitals, Madrid celebrates the turn of the year with fancy family dinners and lots of music and dancing, whether in bars and clubs or out on the streets.
What really sets the lively Spanish capital apart, however, is the unique tradition of eating 12 grapes at midnight, one for each month of the year. Madrileños (all Spaniards, actually) believe this will bring them prosperity and good fortune in the year to come. So, on the evening of December 31st, also known as Nochevieja, they put on their lucky red underwear, grab a bottle of cava, and flock to Puerta del Sol to swallow their 12 grapes of luck, one with each stroke of the clock. This is by far the biggest and greatest New Year’s Eve celebration in Spain and is broadcasted live on television.
For Madrid, however, the New Year’s Eve countdown in front of Puerta del Sol tower clock is only the beginning, as the party really gets started once the New Year arrives and the bars, pubs, and discotecas around the city fill up with tourists and locals looking for fun. The night culminates, like most white Spanish nights, with the traditional chocolate con churros.
If you are spending New Year’s Eve in Madrid, it would be a great idea to extend your trip a couple of days in order to experience Los Reyes Magos’ spectacular parades and festivities, including the colorful Cabalgata de los Reyes Magos (Three Kings Parade) on January 5th and the Day of the Epiphany on January 6th.