The end is coming! ⌛
The end of the year, that is — and while you’re probably still groggy from all that turkey, it’s time to start thinking ahead. Sure, there are resolutions to consider, but the more important question is this: Where will you be ringing in the new year?
You may not know what Auld Lang Syne means or give a Dick Clark about watching the ball drop, but celebrating New Year’s Eve in style is an absolute must. And scoring cheap travel to an awesome destination is where Wanderu comes in. With the cheapest prices on bus, train and plane fares across North America and Europe (and the ability to compare them against each other in a single search), we’re able to offer the very best deals to just about anywhere you want to go.
Looking for a little inspiration for where to pop the champagne? Using our own Wanderu data, we’ve pinpointed 12 of the most popular New Year’s Eve destinations over the past few years — spots that are known for ringing in the new year right. (Or if affordable beverages is your only goal, check out our rankings of the cheapest drinking cities in the U.S.)
So, scroll through our list to find the NYE destination that’s perfect for you!
1. New York, NY
We’ll start with the most famous New Year’s destination in the world, The Big Apple. While you’ve seen the bustle of Times Square on TV, we actually suggest skipping the scene of the ball drop entirely. Instead, lace up the ice skates at Rockefeller Center, a Midtown attraction that truly comes to life in winter.
And yes, New York is dense with rooftop bars, which are an excellent place to countdown to 2020. But those spots can be spendy with high-dollar covers. The fireworks are just as much fun from the ground, where you don’t have to pay a dime: Sites like Central Park in Manhattan and Prospect Park in Brooklyn light up every year.
Want a break from the cold prior to the big show? Why not hit up one of NYC’s numerous free museums — here’s our guide to some of the best.
2. New Orleans, LA
New Orleans is a blast year round, but New Year’s in NOLA even gives Mardi Gras a run for its money. You’re probably familiar with the city’s French Quarter and its myriad wrought-iron balconies, which become thick with partygoers on December 31st. Find the best along infamous Bourbon Street, where you can pay cover and enjoy the balcony-lurking fray, or just witness the antics from street level.
And who needs a ball when you have a fleur-de-lis? Every year, Jackson Square does its take on the Times Square tradition by dropping the city’s emblem at midnight. The event is free but gets just as packed as its NYC equivalent, so plan accordingly.
3. Philadelphia, PA
If you saw what happened after the Eagles won the Super Bowl, then you know Philly knows how to celebrate when the time is right.
Turn your gaze toward the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, where fireworks go off at both 6 p.m. (for the early birds) and midnight (for those in it for the long haul). We hear Cherry Street Pier is a great spot to watch, and there will also be a DJ so you can dance until you drop.
It’s easy to stay out so long on New Year’s Eve that New Year’s Day becomes an afterthought, but Philadelphia’s New Year’s Day Brunch Bar Crawl will make you want to wake up bright and early on January 1st. For the price of a ticket ($30) you’ll be granted a free drink, access to a brunch appetizer buffet, additional brunch drink specials, and more.
4. Miami, FL
All right travelers, roll up those jacket sleeves and turn on the Pitbull, because it’s time to head to Miami. (Seriously though, you can leave your jacket behind — Miami stays relatively warm year-round, even in late December when most of the country is in the midst of a cold snap.)
Of course, if you want to shell out for those shows, be our guest. But here at Wanderu we prefer cheaper events, which is why we’d rather direct you to Wynwood, which holds a free dance party to close 2019. Miami also puts a Sunshine State spin on that same ball-dropping tradition with the Big Orange. As the finale of a free fireworks festival in Bayfront Park, a 35-foot orange with sunglasses on it rises to the top of the InterContinental Miami hotel.
5. Toronto, ON
T-Pain once said something about a condo up in Toronto, and while we don’t know what your lodging situation will be in Hollywood North, we’re sure you’ll love what you find once you venture outside.
If you’re a sports fan, you could go see the reigning NBA Champion Toronto Raptors on your New Year’s adventure, who play the Cavaliers on December 31st.
But if getting out into the streets is more your speed, Nathan Phillips Square has an annual bash that includes live music, fireworks and “DJ skating parties.” Not to be outdone, Celebration Square in Mississauga has its own event, complete with food trucks, performances from Shopé and Jazz Cartier, and — of course — more fireworks.
6. Chicago, IL
Sure, Kanye West used to love singing about “Summertime Chi,” but a Windy City winter getaway is nothing to turn up your nose at.
Make sure to bring your parka, because Chicago has two epic fireworks displays at midnight that will require you to be out in the elements: one over the Chicago River, and another over Lake Michigan at Navy Pier. Both shows are free, so you really can’t go wrong in whichever one you choose.
And while there are galas and balls aplenty across the city, we’d rather direct you toward Zoo Year’s Eve — a rad event at the Lincoln Park Zoo, which includes tons of lights, a DJ, and access to the animal buildings. Best of all, tickets cost just $10.
7. Nashville, TN
Sure, the TV show named for this city kind of fizzled out when Connie Britton left, but we guarantee the real thing won’t disappoint!
While Nashville shows visitors a great time all year round, the Jack Daniel’s Music City Midnight celebration really kicks things up a notch. The free event is half festival, half party, all fun — and features some of the biggest names in country music (Keith Urban, Jason Isbell, and more) ready to rock in the new year.
And if country isn’t your jam? Tin Roof Nashville is holding a “Roaring into the 20s” bash, where you can don your Gatsby-era best and Charleston till the clock chimes 12.
8. Houston, TX
H-Town is quickly ascending into the top tier of American cities, and if you spend a weekend there (especially a big-time weekend like NYE), it’ll be all too easy to see why.
Trendy neighborhood CityCentre hosts a free party featuring music, confetti, and a 60-second fireworks show right at 12. Meanwhile, the House of Blues is hosting Five Minutes to Midnight, a celebration featuring hip-hop group The C.I.T.Y. Band and other performers.
Apparently 1920s-themed parties are in vogue this year: At the Omni Hotel you can attend Gatsby’s House New Year’s Eve Celebration. The gathering features a five-hour prepaid bar alongside some of the top DJs in Texas. (Whether the music they’ll be spinning is also from the Jazz Age is unclear.)
9. San Francisco, CA
Whatever you do on your trip to the Bay Area, don’t call it Frisco!
S.F.’s annual tradition is a 15-minute fireworks show launched from barges in the Bay. We hear the best views are from the Embarcadero waterfront, so get there early to secure your spot. Another popular locale on NYE is the Dolores Park lawn, where locals bring picnic blankets and their beverages of choice for a more relaxing evening.
But if you have something high-energy in mind, San Francisco’s go-to New Year’s Eve event is Massive 2020, high in the sky above the Hilton Union Square. With a fantastic panoramic view of the city’s Skyline, a live DJ, and a Moët and Chandon-sponsored midnight champagne toast, it’s sure to deliver everything you could want or need from your end-of-year extravaganza.
10. Phoenix, AZ
Spend a winter weekend in Phoenix and you may think you’re hallucinating, but no, that warm weather is the real deal. Thanks to its comfortable climate (the average high in December is 68 degrees), Phoenix’s natural attractions like the Desert Botanical Garden, Camelback Mountain, and Papago Park are still open in winter.
As for New Year’s itself, the biggest bash in Phoenix takes place downtown. For just $20 bucks you’ll get access to four different parties at The Crescent New Year’s Eve 2020 Block Party. (The music is different at each venue, and ranges from punk rock to hip hop to disco.)
Don’t feel like traveling with your club attire? Putting on your “going out” clothes can be a pain — from the shoes that are uncomfortable to the shirt that fits funny, it’s enough to make you want to curl up on the couch instead. But never fear: The Phoenix Flannel Ball is here! Featuring live music, a lineup of food trucks and, most importantly, comfortable clothing, this is the perfect way to turn the calendar.
11. Las Vegas, NV
Seriously, you didn’t think we were going to omit Sin City from a list of New Year’s Eve destinations, did you?
To state the obvious, Las Vegas really knows how to party. Go just about anywhere in this city and you’ll find a fantastic New Year’s blowout. In terms of free festivities, stroll along The Strip (which becomes a pedestrian-only zone) to take in themed fireworks, live concerts and more, hosted outside iconic Vegas venues like the MGM Grand, Caesar’s Palace and the Venetian.
Of course, the clubs will be poppin’ (as clubs are wont to do). Catch Gucci Mane at Drais Nightclub, Lil Jon at 1 Oak or Calvin Harris at Omnia. And if the club isn’t your scene, consider a show instead. Everyone from Lady Gaga to Shania Twain and The Blue Man Group will be performing on the 31st.
12. Seattle, WA
The Emerald City may not be known for partying down as much as some of the other destinations on this list, but don’t be fooled: Seattle does a proper New Year’s Eve.
At the stroke of midnight, fireworks stream out from the Space Needle in every direction, making this the most unique pyrotechnic experience on our list.
And while every city has a museum or two, Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture (or MoPOP, to those in the know) is one of the only museums to host a New Year’s Eve bash. Whether you want to boogie all night to the tunes of Seattle’s finest DJs, laugh until your stomach hurts in the Comedy Lounge, or visit the museum’s iconic exhibits, MoPOP’s New Year’s Eve bash is the place to be.
No matter where you decide to toast 2020, we hope you have an awesome (and safe) time doing it. Don’t forget to hydrate between champagne flutes! It’ll go a long way toward ensuring you start the new year on the right foot.
If you have another New Year’s Eve destination in mind beyond the dozen highlighted here, we applaud you! And after we’ve finished applauding, we recommend using Wanderu to book your tickets there. Whether you’re looking to travel by bus, train or plane, you can compare fares for all three in the same search to find the absolute best deals. Just head to Wanderu.com, or download the Wanderu app.