The Best European New Year's Eve Destinations

Nick Nomi

Senior Contributor

No matter where one chooses to celebrate, NYE so often appears like much of the same: fireworks, parties, champagne, enhanced expectations, more fireworks and more champagne. But dig beneath the fiery skies and midnight countdowns, and one always finds that certain something that a certain somewhere excels at. Whether it's a show dinner in Courchevel, opera in Vienna or beautiful demonstrations of community spirit in Rejkavic, here is just a small selection of suggestions for the best places to spend New Year's Eve this year.

Reykavik: Best for Fireworks (and a good cause)

Reykjavik’s annual NYE fireworks display is a brilliant, uncoordinated community-led effort, generally centred around neighbourhood bonfires and family events where locals buy and display their fireworks in gardens, hilltops and parks creating a vast canopy of choreographed light that rivals even the most pronounced of auroras. But it’s not all about the lights and good cheer. Rather, Reykjavik’s annual NYE celebrations benefit ICE-SAR (Iceland’s national search and rescue unit), which sells fireworks and sprinklers as a fundraising project. And it works well, as the stats show that Icelanders buy more fireworks in a week than most Europeans do in an entire year, earning the organisation more than half its annual revenue.

The skies generally start to shimmer just after nightfall, and the first big displays appear around 20:30, after the Prime Minister's year-end speech. At midnight, the sky comes alive from all angles, accompanied by a cacophonous backing track of fire engines, docked ships and more, all ringing their horns and bells to welcome the new year. Some of the best places to witness it all include Hallgrimskirka (in downtown Reykjavik) and Vigholl in nearby Kópavogur, though fireworks cruises present an intriguing, if slightly chilly, way to see the lights from the water.

Venice: Best for Romantics

Venice’s crooked charm with its ornate palazzi crumbling into inky canals is perhaps elevated no better than when bathed in the light and celebrations of NYE. Promenade the city crossing arched bridges and busy squares to get a feel for the convivial atmosphere as the year ends, before descending on the international and yes, extremely touristy crowds gathering to watch the colourful fireworks display reflected in the dark wintery waters of the lagoon.

Those not interested in joining the countdown at St Mark's Square should catch a Vaporetto to find the best views from across the lagoon on pretty Giudecca. Alternatively, grab a room in the stunning Gritti Palace and watch the show from the hotel's terrace on the Grand Canal. 

London: Best for drinks and elevated views

London’s NYE celebrations, with the vast firework and drone show taking over the riverside, are iconic but it's tough to recommend joining the impenetrable throngs on the embankments when so many restaurants and bars offer a much better view of the fire-lit sky. The Shard has one of the best perspectives with skyline views across its restaurants: try Aqua Shard or Hutong for dinner and Gong for drinks, or head to the top to the View from The Shard for London’s highest NYE party.

Many Londoners prefer to stick to tried and true outdoor parties (before moving onto a club), with Primrose Hill in North London and Greenwich Park in South London both offering stunning vistas of the London skyline. Both are ideal for firework-watching from afar with a bottle of champagne flavouring the capital’s legendarily rambunctious NYE atmosphere.

Vienna: Best for Cultural Experiences

Horse-drawn carriages rattling along the cobbles at St Stephen’s Cathedral and delightfully traditional Christmas markets fragranced by Glühwein and Kartoffelpuffer enhance the winter season in Vienna, but the city’s busy NYE schedule is always ready to come alive with exhibitions, gala dinners, concerts, and operas.

Fireworks in Vienna are best experienced from the balcony of a concert hall or the windows of an opulent gala dinner (such as the annual New Year’s Eve dinner in the Rathaus). But a good central spot is St Stephen’s cathedral, where at midnight, the giant Pummerin bell tolls, ringing in the New Year and eventually giving way to fireworks launched from across Austria's capital. Train lovers should consider a tour aboard the Majestic Imperial Train, a working remnant of the Austrian-Hungarian empire, which stops on a bridge above the Danube to watch the fireworks illuminate Vienna’s ornate skyline.

Amsterdam: Best for Parties and street food

Amsterdam’s boisterous NYE celebrations begin with a tranquil build-up in the form of enchanting light displays across the city's already stunning streets and canals as a part of the Amsterdam Light Festival. But these relatively serene sights belie the mood that whirls through the city on NYE, as street parties and impromptu fireworks displays from the sides of canals take hold as soon as dusk sets in. China Town and the Red Light District are characteristically packed for the entire evening, though Madam at the A’DAM tower is the highest spot for fireworks watching.

Whether the celebrations lead you to a street party near leafy Prinsengracht or a 24-hour warehouse party in Amsterdam Zuid, there’s one element of Amsterdam’s NYE celebrations that is unmissable: Oliebollen. Oliebollen are a deep-fried street snack similar to doughnuts sold all over the city by bakeries and street vendors. Dutch tradition suggests that eating one (or 8) at midnight on New Year’s Eve will ward off evil spirits for the coming year… but they, like so much Dutch food, make ideal drinking snacks too. Try them from Gebakkraam Verwijk on Christiaan Huygensplein or Lanskroon bakery on the banks of Singel canal.

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