It's every city's favorite excuse for a party. Here are ten spectacular ways to ring in 2011.
Bangkok: A fresh tradition
If Times Square's light show doesn't cut it for you, head to the capital of Thailand, where a 69-foot-high Greeting Ball Tower signals the arrival of midnight. Outside of the giant CentralWorld shopping mall, about 300,000 revelers join hands to count down to the New Year. Throughout the evening, events include seven concert performances by Thai stars. Grab a glass of Chang beer from an outdoor garden for about $1.50. Details:handsbangkokcountdown.com or tourismthailand.org. Hot tip:Catch traditional Thai dance and folk music by heading to Sanam Luang, the city's historic parade ground. At midnight, fireworks explode over the banks of the Chao Phraya River. Photos:1 of 1
Berlin: The best and the wurst
Despite temperatures of around the freezing point, Berliners host an open-air New Year's Eve bash, and the city claims that it is the largest such party in the world. Roughly one million merrymakers pack the nearly mile-and-a-quarter-long stretch between the Victory Column and the Brandenburg Gate. Colorful lasers illuminate the sky while music—mostly pop and dance—blares from giant speakers. Elsewhere in town, Germans are as law-abiding on Silvester (New Year's Eve) as always, lighting their private fireworks in designated spaces under the watch of "fire-workers". But they also cut loose with practical jokes, such as filling homemade doughnuts with mustard instead of the usual jelly.Details:silvester-berlin.de. Hot tip: If you need a breather, duck into one of the scattered party tents. Rest on free heated benches and munch on specialty sausages, such as bratwurst for around $4. Or else head to Unter den Linden Boulevard, which presents a clearer, less claustrophobic view of the fireworks. Photos:1 of 1
Cape Town: Where the Second is best
Why does Cape Town save the best for the second of January? One theory is that a slave's only day off in 19th-century South Africa was on January 2, and so it's on Tweede Nuwe Jaar (Second New Year) that Cape Town parties the hardest. Up to 13,000 minstrels paint their faces a variety of colors and storm the streets for the Cape Town Minstrel Carnival. Expect crowds of more than 80,000. Clad in bright colors, participants carry instruments (such as whistles) and umbrellas while parading from Keizersgracht Street into Bree Street. South African wares and local delicacies are hawked in designated places along the route, and troupes compete for titles like Best Dressed. Details:tourismcapetown.co.za. Hot tip: Pop into a café along the cobblestone streets of the Bo Kaap residential neighborhood, where the Malay Choir Parade leaves on Dec. 30. Watch from indoors as minstrels perform patterned dances past brightly painted houses.
Edinburgh: Scottish night lights
The Scottish capital toasts every New Year with a four-day festival called Hogmanay (pronounced hog-muh-NAY). Two days before New Years 2010, a torchlight procession that passes Princes Street whisks a giant wicker effigy—this year's is a massive X, the Roman numeral equivalent of the number 10—to Calton Hill, where it's torched. Then on New Year's Eve, indie rockers like Richard Colburn of Scotland's Belle and Sebastian blast away in the streets, while other musicians perform at the West Princes Street Gardens. Nearby, there's a ceilidh, a traditional Scottish party where locals dance gigs and reels to a piper's beat. Details:edinburghshogmanay.org and visitscotland.com. Hot tip: Practice the traditional Scottish song "Auld Lang Syne" in advance. Everyone belts it out when the clock strikes 12. Photos:1 of 2
Hong Kong: Reaching for the stars
The waterfront promenade Tsim Sha Tsui is a fine vantage point to take in the midnight pyrotechnics above the city's tallest building, 2 ifc. For an even more memorable view, jump aboard the Shining Star Ferry for a two-hour cruise of Victoria Harbour. It departs from the Tsim Sha Tsui pier, $24 per adult. Details:discoverhongkong.com. Hot tip: A carnival in Sha Tin Park will include Latin American music, Brazilian dance, magic, and games. It's a 15-minute tram ride from downtown (plus a roughly 7-minute walk). Photos:1 of 2
Las Vegas: The glittering Strip
Vegas lives up to its rep as a party town on December 31, with a massive light display and performances by well known entertainers. The Strip hosts the free portion of America's Party, an extravaganza with a fireworks display launching from various spots. On Fremont Street, folks pay $20 a head to see Tribute-Palooza, a set of eight bands that imitate major acts like U2, Aerosmith, and No Doubt. Pop diva Fergie will also be hosting the Vegas portion of Dick Clark New Year's Rockin' Eve broadcast. Details: For Fremont Street, see vegasexperience.com. For the Strip, see visitlasvegas.com. Hot tip: The Las Vegas Monorail runs until 3 a.m.; a special one-day pass costs $14. Photos:1 of 1
New Orleans: Gumbo and pigskin
As in years past, New Orleans puts its own twist on New York City's ball drop. Its spotlit giant gumbo pot drops from the Jax Brewery at midnight. Its fall prompts a nightlong bar crawl in the historic French Quarter. Come January 1st, the city's Sugar Bowl will match up the University of Florida Gators and the University of Cincinnati Bearcats. Details:neworleansonline.com.Hot tip:Hop the ferry from Canal Street to Algiers Point (friendsoftheferry.org), where you can get a comparatively peaceful view of fireworks. The free ferry departs every 30 minutes from 6:30 a.m. to midnight on New Year's Eve. Photos:1 of 1
Reykjavík: Fantasy and flames
Icelandic law allows a firework free-for-all on New Year's Eve, making for a raucous night in the capital city. Friends and neighbors sing folk songs at roughly half-a-dozen bonfires scattered across Reykjavík. Note that on this holiday, local bars and clubs open a little after midnight. Details:visitreykjavik.is. Hot tip: Temperatures typically dip to about 28 degrees Fahrenheit. The warmest way to enjoy the celebrations is to take a coach tour. Iceland Excursions' Gray Line stops at the largest bonfires for $72 per adult. A midnight toast of sparkling wine is included, of course. Photos:1 of 1
Rio de Janeiro: Beach party
The two-and-a-half mile stretch of Copacabana Beach plays host to more than two million partygoers decked out in traditional white. Cariocas (as the locals call themselves) make offerings of red roses and white gladioli to Iemanjá, the goddess of the waters, before an all-night whirlwind of dancing and live concerts. Head to majestic Sugarloaf Mountain for a somewhat quieter vantage point for taking in the fireworks display. Details: rioconventionbureau.com.br. Hot tip: Looking for passion? Wear a hint of red to send the right message. Photos: 1 of 2
Sydney: First to cheer
Because of its location, Sydney is among the first major cities to greet the new year. The city will synch up its pyrotechnics with colorful lighting effects on the arches of the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Revelers gear up earlier in the day. Waterfront events attract crowds of Sydneysiders in T-shirts and shorts—plus indigineous people in traditional garb, cleansing the harbour of negative spirits before midnight. Starting at 5 p.m., aircraft, some of them vintage, will perform aerial feats. After 9 p.m., more than 50 illuminated vessels circuit Sydney Harbour, foreshadowing the barrage of light and sound to come. Details:sydneynewyearseve.com.au ; the site lists dozens of vantage points and other info.Hot tip:Lay down a blanket at North Head at Sydney Harbour National Park, a relatively uncrowded hangout for gazing at the fireworks. Photos:1 of 2
Additional reporting by Alexis Sottile.