In this series, Lonely Planet's team of writers and editors answers your travel problems and provides tips and hacks to help you plan a hassle-free trip. This week, Lonely Planet senior editor AnneMarie McCarthy – much-traveled in Europe – shares her pick of the best destinations to ring in the New Year.
Question: What’s the best place in Europe to spend New Year's Eve (besides Amsterdam)?
AnneMarie McCarthy: Everyone wants to start the new year right and it can often be a pressure to decide on the best place to be when the clock strikes twelve.
While we can’t guarantee you’ll have your perfect midnight kiss when you ring in 2023, we are confident that any of these three destinations will provide an unforgettable 2023 New Year’s experience (or any year for that matter).
Edinburgh, Scotland: a raucous party with pagan roots
If you’re looking to combine a once-in-a-lifetime experience with an incredible party, Edinburgh is the place for you.
Hogmanay kicks off shortly after Christmas, heralding a week-long party. The main event is on New Year’s Eve. Early in the evening grab a torch (you'll need to book a ticket for this) and join a procession of thousands of people wandering through the picturesque Old Town in a modern-day interpretation of Scotland’s pagan festivals. Later, the party continues on the streets, leading up to a spectacular firework display above Edinburgh Castle and carrying through into the early hours of 2023.
The biggest festivities will be in Edinburgh but if crowds aren’t your thing, you can experience Hogmanay traditions anywhere in Scotland. If you decide to go, our complete guide to the festival has accommodation tips, info on where to pick up tickets and what to do with your hangover the morning after.
What to see in Edinburgh's best parks and open spaces
Madrid, Spain: drink cava with the locals and hit the clubs
Another city that goes all out for New Year’s Eve is Madrid. While elsewhere in Spain, people often ring in the new year in their homes, thousands of people will descend on the city's main square - Puerta del Sol - to celebrate. This is Spain's de facto official countdown as the party here is broadcast into homes across the country.
You’ll need to arrive early and queue for a bit to get access but you can bring your own alcohol (in plastic bottles). And don’t forget a bunch of grapes! For the last 12 seconds of 2022, the clock in the square will chime and you’ll see people putting a grape in their mouth for each second – the goal is to eat all 12 grapes before the new year lands. To improve your chances, get de-seeded grapes and peel them beforehand. If you succeed, it’s said it will bring you luck but even if you fail it’s a lot of fun and adds to the convivial, electric atmosphere.
After the fireworks and confetti display at midnight, it’s on to Madrid’s famous nightlife with its countless great bars to explore. If you’d like to dance the night away, Madrid’s clubs are always worth checking out but entry can be pricy tonight - €40-50 is not uncommon and you should book in advance. There are also plenty of big club nights on January 1 if you have the energy for it.
Madrid vs Barcelona? I live in both cities but my heart loves this one
Tromsø, Norway: a picture-perfect wintry landscape under the Northern Lights
If you’re looking for a more unusual New Year’s Eve experience but still want the option of celebrating with fireworks, consider going 200 miles into the Arctic Circle and visiting Tromsø.
If you want to stay in the city, do as the locals do and get to a high spot before midnight. Many people hike or get the cable car up to Mount Storsteinen to find an incredible viewing spot of the town lights and the firework display. Once the lights go out, you may even be able to see the northern lights. Although many locals go to house parties after midnight, there will be plenty of bars and restaurants open to carry on the celebrations, though you should consider booking your dinner in advance as not everywhere will be open in the period between Christmas and New Year's.
Alternatively, use Tromsø as a base and spend New Year’s Eve out in the Arctic wilderness, just over an hour from the city. There are plenty of tour companies who will run northern lights and dog sledding tours during the New Year’s Eve and you could see in 2023 with an unforgettable display from the aurora borealis which beats humble fireworks any day.