Ultimate party cities

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Looking to bodyswerve the predictable party cities in favour of something a little more unexpected? Right this way.

Belgrade, Serbia

Back in 1999, Belgraders held outdoor concerts while undergoing NATO bombardment, a feat that bewildered many outsiders. The long years of bad press that kept Serbia and its energetic capital off the map have now passed, and foreigners are now realising what locals always knew – that Belgrade really rocks. With an exuberant population and its legacy as an intellectual hangout, Belgrade offers intriguingly varied nightlife, ranging from eclectic watering holes for those in the know, to the busy restaurants and bars of the Skadarlija district and the summer clubs in heaving barges on the Sava and Danube Rivers. Major international musicians hit Belgrade's Sava Center, and the summertime EXIT Festival, held an hour north in Novi Sad, is one of Europe's best.

Montréal, Canada

Not only underage drinkers from New England are descending on this dynamic francophone city in Québec these days. Easygoing Montréal is increasingly popular with other foreign travellers, who enjoy the joie de vivre of a place with bilingual ambience and good local beer. Montréal's irrepressible student population and atmospheric old quarter give the city a light-hearted, Bohemian air. There are Old World cafes, cool jazz clubs, packed discos and titillating late bars to choose from, plus a popular comedy festival each July.

Buenos Aires, Argentina

With its unique mix of European and South American cultures, and a native passion for dance (tango, baby!), the Argentine capital provides fertile ground for lively nightlife. There's an emphasis on fashion and a diverse range of entertainment in Buenos Aires' barrios (districts). Relax at a swingin' jazz club or dance all night by the waterfront; some clubs and cultural centres offer classes so you can learn to tango or salsa like (and with) a local. Variety is huge – there's everything from Irish pubs and local folk to industrial-strength house parties. Come in October for both the world tango festival and the international guitar festival.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates

For those who can afford it, the world capital of conspicuous consumption is unbeatable. Dubai's extravagance is way over the top, with ultraluxury hotels on artificial islands, slick modern malls and tonnes of precious metals glittering in shops. Yet Dubai is also a surprisingly cosmopolitan place, with workers coming from all over the globe. So if you're not invited to party on board the private yacht of a celebrity, you can always mingle with people from around the world in the swank bars and clubs of the Middle East's most decadent desert getaway.

Thessaloniki, Greece

Greece's second city has style, with plenty of fashionable shops and salons and a 1-million-strong  population fleshed out by a big university (80,000-plus students). Thessaloniki boasts great nightlife during those long months when more famous Greek destinations are deep in hibernation, from arty cafes to Latin bars; from discos pumping out house music to salacious bouzoukia (clubs featuring twangy, Eastern-flavoured Greek folk-pop). That's plenty to keep you occupied after you've traversed the city's sublime Byzantine churches, museums and scattered ruins. It's not cheap, but no Greek city save Athens compares.

La Paz, Bolivia

Don't forget that liquor goes to the head quickly in the Bolivian capital, which well over 3000m above sea level. Get hot and sweaty on a chilly Andean night in one of many slick nightclubs, which cater to chic locals and the foreign contingent. The natives are friendly and, with a steady stream of travellers, it's a town of many tongues. World-class bars, swank cafes and restaurants serenading with traditional Bolivian music round out the offerings. Buy traditional Aymara herbs at the Witches' Market (Mercado de Brujas) to ward off hangovers and bothersome spirits.

Cape Town, South Africa

With the 2010 World Cup bringing a global audience to South Africa, the partying will only get harder as travellers converge on a city already well known for nightlife. Luxuriate on some of the world's best beaches by day and kick back under the moonlight at suave cocktail bars by night. Two hours east, in the Indian Ocean, lies the elegant beach village of Mossel Bay, with more great beaches and chic flair. Visitors must try some of the wines crafted by South Africa's world-renowned vintners, either at a Cape Town bar or at one of several wineries nearby.

Baku, Azerbaijan

Since the 1990s, when it started taking off as a hub for Caspian Sea oil and gas, Baku has been transformed. It's left its former existence as communist backwater to become a buzzing hive of Western capitalism – all without forsaking the indigenous delights of its Turkic traditions. And this newfound economic stimulation hasn't failed to influence urban nightlife. The cash injection from energy projects, enhanced by the presence of thousands of international oil workers and wealthy consultants, has turned Baku into an oasis of excess in an otherwise fairly traditional Muslim country. You'll find the best bars, clubs and restaurants around Fountain Square.

Auckland, New Zealand

Myriad cafes, bars and dinner clubs cater to a hip young clientele. Try the glittering waterfront for smart bars, and hit the happening clubs (some stay open 24 hours). There are plenty of live shows on offer too, from folk in Devonport to louder sounds at Mt Eden. If you don't get drunk, you can always walk off the Sky Tower – the southern hemisphere's tallest structure – a 328m cable-controlled drop in which jumpers reach a speed of 85kmh.

Tel Aviv, Israel

Like elsewhere in the greater Mediterranean, Israel's capital of fun gets going late. The endless bars, pubs and cocktail venues start to fill up by midnight, from which point the nightclubs get revved up with dancing till dawn. Nowadays an international crowd joins native Israelis for a mixed bag of funk, pop, house and techno (in addition to live shows small and large) at the city's dozens of entertainment hotspots. Tel Aviv has a relaxed, hedonistic air, and prides itself on being gay-friendly and outgoing.

Find more wild things to do in Lonely Planet's 1000 Ultimate Experiences