12 Places You Never Thought to Ring in the New Year

Skip the all-you-can-drink hotel bash and ring in the new year in a far more memorable way this year.

Photo By: John Jones for Hurtigruten

Photo By: NYRR

Photo By: Nicola Bailey

Photo By: Kent Phillips

Photo By: Dora Miller

In a National Park

Summer may be the most popular time to visit our national parks, but there’s a lot to love about starting off the new year hiking, stargazing and generally being awed by nature in our national parks. Off the Beaten Path offers a six-day Grand Canyon New Year package that includes epic hikes, red rock jeep tours, colorful sunsets and a New Year’s toast at the historic El Tovar Hotel. Or, try the six-day Zion New Year’s Adventure from REI Adventures that allows guests to explore the landscapes of both Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks.

At the First Place to Welcome the New Year

Sydney, Australia receives the lion’s share of media attention for having one of the first celebrations of the new year. However, Tonga is the very first country to ring in the new year, a full three hours ahead of Sydney. Made up of more than 170 South Pacific islands, the main island and home to the Royal Palace is Tongatapu, a coral island with plenty of sandy beaches. Go for snorkeling, island hopping and sea kayaking in the protected lagoon. Hotels, like the Tanoa International Dateline Hotel, can be booked for under $100 per night.

At the Last Place to Welcome the New Year

Just 558 miles from Tonga, be among the last to welcome 2019 in American Samoa. Technically, the clock will last strike midnight on Baker Island in the South Pacific. However, Baker Island is uninhabited, so you’ll need to clink glasses an hour earlier in Pago Pago, American Samoa. Plan to snorkel and dive at the National Park of American Samoa, which is home to over 950 species of tropical fish. Two Dollar Beach is also a must-go for stunning coral reefs and underwater wildlife. Book a charter flight between Tongatapu and Pago Pago to celebrate New Year’s twice.

On a Cruise Ship

Leave all your meals, activities, and of course, your champagne toast, up to a cruise line as you sail the high seas to ring in the new year. Book an expedition cruise with Hurtigruten to enjoy wintry celebrations and fireworks all up and down the magical coast of Norway on New Year’s Eve. You’ll also enjoy colorful displays of the northern lights throughout your voyage. Or, go south to the Caribbean with an eight-day sail from Miami to Jamaica, Cayman Islands, Mexico and Bahamas on board the brand new 4,140-passenger MSC Seaside.

Running a Midnight Race

Lace up your running shoes and get ready to take your first steps toward reaching your fitness goals in the new year with a midnight race, like the four-mile Midnight Run in Central Park that’s put on each year on New Year’s Eve by the New York Road Runners. Or, sign up for the Beat the New Year 5K in Salt Lake City, a race that starts at 11:30 p.m. and encourages runners to, yes, "beat the new year" and finish the race before the stroke of midnight.

On Top of One of the Tallest Mountains

Yes, you can start off the new year on top of the world thanks to women-focused WHOA Travel, which offers a seven-day adventure to Ring in 2019 on the Roof of Africa. Travelers trek 5,895 meters up Mount Kilimanjaro, across five climate zones, to reach Uhuru Peak for the first wondrous sunrise of 2019. Closer to home, usher in the new year with fireworks in Colorado Springs from the top of Pikes Peak, one of the tallest mountains in Colorado.

On a Ski Slope

There’s nothing like starting a day with fresh powder on a mountain that’s just begging to be conquered, especially when that day is the very first of the new year. All the better if you can be out on the slopes at the stroke of midnight. Whitetail Resort in Pennsylvania will have fireworks and a ball drop at midnight, as well as skiing and snowboarding until 1 a.m. on New Year’s Eve. In Oregon, Mt. Hood Skibowl will be open until well after midnight for skiing, tubing and snowboarding.

At a Theme Park

Many theme parks, even those outside of warm climates, host magical New Year’s Eve celebrations. At Disney’s Magic Kingdom in Orlando, pick up party hats at the park and enjoy the "Fantasy in the Sky" fireworks spectacular starting at 11:50 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. Or, head to any Six Flags theme park for thrill rides, twinkling holiday lights and fireworks displays (though many will start as early as 8:30 p.m.). For families of young children, try LEGOLAND California where the countdown to "midnight" starts just before 6 p.m. with party hats and special glasses.

On a Bike

Start the new year on the right foot (er, pedal) with a cycling vacation to explore a new city or country you’ve yet to visit. Bike Division Tour Operator is offering an eight-day New Year’s Eve Thailand Cycle Tour that takes guests 300 miles by bike across country roads, rolling hills and national parks. See where wild elephants freely roam and make time for coconut-lined tropical beaches. Or, head to southern Spain for a week of hiking and singletrack mountain biking, as well as a New Year’s Eve dinner to remember in the mountains.

In Front of a Massive Bonfire

Home to the world's largest bonfire on New Year's Eve (made official by Guinness World Records), Scheveningen, Netherlands is the place to be to kick off 2019. Get there early since the locals begin gathering up and assembling wooden pallets a few days ahead of time to prepare for the massive conflagration. Enjoy musical performances and fireworks as you watch the fiery spectacle. Bonfires are also well-known in a Reykjavik. They’ve been a large part of Icelandic culture since the Middle Ages.

On a Train

Hop aboard Alaska Railroad’s Aurora Winter Train for a New Year’s Eve celebration complete with champagne toasts and northern lights sightings. Board the train in Fairbanks for a 12-hour journey south before exiting at the Anchorage Historic Depot in time to ring in the new year in the heart of downtown. For those who want to spend only a few hours on a train, look to a New Year’s Eve Dinner Train like the three-hour railway adventure on the Royal Gorge Route Railroad in Canon City, Colorado.

On a Remote Island

Skip the Caribbean and ring in the new year on a new-to-you island. The more luxurious, the better. Treat yourself to a getaway to the Maldives or Cook Islands for white sandy beaches, delicious tropical dishes and relaxing vibes. Book a stay in a secluded overwater bungalow at Baros Maldives for turquoise water views as far as the eye can see. Or head off the coast of New Zealand to the Cook Islands, which boast bucket list-worthy white sand beaches ideal for snorkeling, kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding.

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