Best cities in Europe to celebrate New Year's Eve

Best cities in Europe to celebrate New Year's Eve

Celebrate in style with our favourite festive cities to ring in the New Year.

We have all seen those impressive firework displays relayed around the world showing how various cities celebrate the new year. As a new year begins, you could experience one for real, taking a train to one of our favourite festive cities. Cities that also have other beauty spots on their doorstep, where you can reconnect with nature to breathe in new beginnings.

Celebrating New Year in Barcelona

Barcelona, is all about Cava, Catalan traditions and the coast at New Year, with fireworks reflecting across this magnificent city’s bay to ring in Cap d’Any in Catalan, or Nochevieja in Spanish. The fireworks are generally held at Plaça d’Espanya, with music, fireworks and artistic displays all around the Magic Fountain. It is free and gets busy, so get there early.

Revellers who want to keep on dancing until dawn head to nearby Poble Espanyol or to one of many clubs around the city. Rather quirkily, grapes are also a tradition in Barcelona at New Year, with people eating 12 grapes at the countdown to midnight, bringing luck for each month of the year ahead. Another good luck tradition at New Year throughout Spain is to wear red underwear and you will find it for sale everywhere.

There is no better way to wake up to a Barcelona New Year than by joining the traditional sea swim. Its proper name is Primer Bany de L’Any and it takes place at Sant Sebastià beach around midday. Presumably red bikinis are de rigueur as well.

New Year’s Eve in London

There is a spectacular fireworks display on London’s River Thames on New Year’s Eve which is ticketed. There are plenty of spots to take it in for free, however, such as Hampstead Heath where crowds gather at its highest points. Brave swimmers enjoy a morning New Year’s dip in the swimming ponds on the Heath too, with separate ponds for men and women, as has been the tradition for many years.

Travel further afield by train on New Year’s Day to blow off the cobwebs, with trains out to the coast at Whitstable or Deal, for example, or South Downs National Park at Lewes or Southease. All in under 1h 30m by train from London.

New Year fireworks in Paris

There is no better time to watch the City of Light sparkle. New Year’s Eve in Paris is all about watching fireworks and the light show at the Eiffel Tower, revelling with thousands of people on the Champs-Élysées or dancing the night away on a bateau-mouche down the Seine. There is also quite a party scene around the Sacré Cœur in Montmartre and nightclubs everywhere ring in the new year with Parisien cool. Most restaurants are open over New Year with special ‘Réveillon du Nouvel An’ menus. Oysters, or huîtres, are a traditional French festive food, washed down with Champagne of course.

To take some air the next day, and greet French people with ‘bonne année’, head to Fontainebleau Forest. This is the second national forest in France, and just 40m by train from Paris. Read more about Fontainebleau Forest and other day trips from Paris in our blog. 

New Year in Amsterdam

Amsterdam is always a party city and New Year is no exception. There is a build-up to the big night with a Light Festival which sees artists create installations along the city’s famous canals and bridges, from late November onwards. Fireworks on the big night have traditionally taken place along the River Amstel but have been at Kop van Java-eiland for the last few years.

Dutch enjoy their street and bar food at all times of the year, and eating the traditional deep-fried dough balls, or oliebollen, at midnight is said to keep bad spirits away for the next year. There are plenty of things to do on New Year’s Day in Amsterdam too, from hiring a bike and hitting one of many cycling trails, or Fietsroute. For example, Amsterdam Forest, or Amsterdamse Bos is three times bigger than New York City’s Central Park and is only a 20m cycle from the city centre.

There is also a New Year’s Day swim at nearby Zandvoort around midday, just 45m by train from Amsterdam, where there are over 30 beach cafés to warm up at afterwards.

Hogmanay in Edinburgh

Hogmanay is the Scots Gaelic word for end of the year. Scotland goes all out to celebrate Hogmanay with parties everywhere. In Edinburgh, there is a concert in the city centre’s Princes Street, a street party with parades, floats and plenty of festivities, and a giant ‘ceilidh’ or jig in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle. All paying events, Edinburgh’s parties are worth it though. Especially the fireworks at midnight, which illuminate the Castle and all around the capital. There is also a torchlit procession through the city centre on 30 December – literally a warm-up for the big night.

Edinburgh has plenty of day trips on its doorstep to ring in the New Year in nature. Take a 30m train ride to the beaches at Berwick, Peebles or Dunbar and treat yourself to a hot toddy afterwards to warm up. Read more about some of the best day trips from Edinburgh in our blog. 

New Year on Venice’s canals

Compared with Venice during Carnival time in February, New Year is a relatively quieter affair in terms of visitor numbers, although they do still come in their droves. However, winter is a time when local people really get to regain their city which makes New Year in Venice all the more special. Fireworks take place at Sestiere San Marco, illuminating an already magical city. The best viewing spots are not only in San Marco, which is packed, but also at Riva degli Schiavoni, Riva Ca’ di Dio, Riva San Biagio or Riva dei Sette Martiri.

Food is, not surprisingly, not only a feature of the Venetian ‘Capodanno’ but of New Year’s Eve throughout Italy, with restaurants open late to celebrate with some of the city’s finest fare. The most glamorous and famous event in Venice is the New Year’s concert at the Gran Teatro La Fenice. It is possible that the theatre goers are all secretly jazzing things up a little by wearing red underwear under their glam rags, because this quirky New Year’s tradition is a thing in Italy as it is in Spain. The concert books out far in advance, but there are also festive concerts during the build-up to New Year’s Eve – be warned though, they don’t come cheap.

You can splash out in a very different way, in whatever colours you like, at Venice’s lido on New Year’s Day with a traditional swim, or ‘Auguri di Capodanno sulla spiaggia del Lido di Venezia,‘ dating back to the 1970s. Head to Blue Moon Lido for midday and immerse yourself in Venice’s Adriatic coast.

You might also enjoy reading our blog on the best Christmas markets in Europe and the Rail Europe team's rail resolutions.

Image credits top to bottom: Park Güell iStock ©neirfy, London fireworks Flickr Commons (cropped) ©Yann Caradec, Alexandre III bridge in Paris with fireworks iStock ©extravagantni, Amsterdam fireworks iStock ©Olena_Znak, Edinburgh skyline iStock ©georgeclerk, Fireworks in Venice iStock ©SergeyZavalnyuk

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