Come December, these are the world’s three most beautiful cities, the cool kids at the back of Planet Earth’s bus. They all have pristine beaches basking in the glow of a gorgeous summer, fuelled by an urban population all shook up and ready to pop, not to mention thousands of foreign invaders with no other purpose than to party their tans off. In Rio, it is traditional to wear all white on the Copacabana, where around two million people gather to watch the fireworks. Cape Town has its own smaller carnival, as thousands flock to the streets and beaches for outdoor parties, raves, and live music. I’ve witnessed the fireworks spectacle in Sydney on New Years Eve, duplicated at various points along the inlet, observing how locals excitedly judge the annual theme and pyro performance. Hold on to your purse and wallets, take a deep breath, and dive right in.
Stone Town, Zanzibar
It’s New Years Eve, and I find myself at a traditional ceremony, in which I become the subject of a tribal mating dance. It’s awkward enough for me being at a club and watching girls do the bump and grind, but tonight, the intensity and eroticism of the ritual gives me the clear impression that if I react in the wrong manner, I might wake up with a wife, a chicken, and three goats. It was approaching midnight by the time I left the compound, shaken but not stirred, and I found myself walking alongside a thick iron gate. Making sure the coast was clear, my friends and I climbed over it, and walked quietly amongst the giant marble columns of this former Sultan’s palace. Coconut trees ushered in the warm sea breeze, the clock struck 12, and we toasted to health, peace and safe travel, on the stairway of the House of Wonders.
Millions will gather on this frigid, bone chilling night, celebrating the end of yet another year in which humanity somehow avoided destroying itself. It all looks very fun on television at home, where you can gather with your friends in comfort, refuel your eggnog from the kitchen, and use a bathroom without strategies and maps. My own memories of Trafalgar Square on New Years Eve recall extreme cold, overwhelming crowds, belligerent Scandinavians, and tons of garbage. Sure, it’s great to be in the world’s most hip and happening cities on New Years Eve, but as with all the suggestions on this list, your immediate company makes all the difference when the ball drops. Unlike the summer beach cities, it’s a more tense in the northern hemisphere, so dress warm, smile lots, and be sure to empty your bladder whenever you get the chance.
All the amenities and attractions that make cruise ships such a luscious holiday option double on New Years Eve. Together with the guests (and crew), it’s a massive floating house party, where every detail has been thought of, and every whim catered to. The food buffet, enough to feed a mid-sized town in Botswana, is stocked with festive treats, as are the various bars around the ship. For the crew in charge of entertainment, they’ve no doubt planned something special – confetti, balloons, bad 80’s music. Everyone’s dressed up, couples in their love bubble, singles relaxed by the fact they can always blame their behaviour on New Years shenanigans. Tropical skies and strobe-light stars are just a few feet away, and the best part of the whole lot: you don’t have to drive anywhere. In fact, in stark contrast to navigating the immense crowds and traffic of a major city, when it comes to a cruise ship on New Years Eve, you don’t have to worry about much at all.
This is a true story. It’s New Years Eve, I’m backpacking alone, with a horrific case of flu. Woe is the traveller who feels sorry for himself, so I haul my sorry butt over to Temple Bar, Dublin’s rocking entertainment district. Like many other bars, Eamonn Dorans has an incredible Irish band burning the roof, raising my spirits, confirming that it’s no accident U2 come from these parts. At midnight, a cute girl approaches and tells me that it is tradition for girls to ask guys to kiss them on New Years Eve. Then another. Then another. This is why Dublin has found its place on my list, even if I did wake up in a strange bed with a stranger woman, hours outside of Dublin, a demolition crew wrecking havoc in my skull, and no recollection of how I ended up there. Bless me leprechauns!
Your Friend’s Place / In the Lounge with Your Family
Much like our other commoditized joys for celebration, the spirit of New Years Eve has been waning in recent years. It is a time to come together with friends, reflect on the joys, sorrows, triumphs and highlights of the previous year, and make blessings for the year to come. You can find an excuse to go clubbing (or party to excess) on any night of the year, but tonight, as the 08 rolls into the 09, we have a closet to hang all we that have to be grateful for. We have an opportunity to share our thoughts and dreams with those who matter most. Take it from me: If you are with the people you love, you are not missing anything, anywhere on New Years Eve. Wherever you are is exactly where you’re meant to be.
Here's to another inspiring, fun and safe year of travel.