Kate Bevan   29 December 2017

Times Square

New Yorkers gather to watch the ball drop in Times Square. Picture credit: Anthony Quintano / Flickr

Whether you’re wrapped up in coats and scarves in the northern hemisphere, or basking in summer warmth south of the equator, it’s tradition to greet the new year with a blaze of fireworks – and cities around the world compete to put on the most dazzling displays.

The first place on earth to welcome the new year is Kiribati, a nation of 33 coral islands in the south Pacific. However, it hasn’t always been the first: thanks to its history as a British colony that gained territory in the form of islands east of the International Date Line when it became independent in 1979, the country straddled both sides of the line.

Then in 1995, Kiribati decided to bring all its islands on to the same time zone rather than having part of the country a day ahead – or behind, depending on your location – the rest of the nation, which in effect moved the International Date Line.

kiribati flag

Kiribati's flag reflects its position on the International Date Line, which makes it the first place to welcome the new year. Picture credit: Steve Conover / Flickr

Auckland in New Zealand is next, with new year arriving there a full 11 hours ahead of GMT. The city’s Sky Tower is the focus of the display, and homesick Kiwis can watch the fireworks via a Facebook livestream on the night.

Next up is Sydney, which uses its spectacular harbour as a backdrop for its display. City authorities reckon that more than a million people turn out to watch along the harbour foreshore.

From Sydney, the focus moves to the northern hemisphere as Tokyo and Seoul take up the baton. In Tokyo, the new year officially starts for many with hatsumode, a visit to the temple, where the bell is rung 108 times. While there are individual fireworks displays, there isn’t an official citywide event  - it’s the South Korean capital Seoul that has the biggest show in this time zone.

As in Tokyo, Seoul’s new year officially begins with temple bells – the Bosingak Bell is the focus here -  but for many South Koreans, the new year begins at a sunrise festival, such as the one at Pohang beach, the most easterly point in the country.

Over the next two hours, the Asian powerhouse cities of Beijing, Hong Kong, Manila and Singapore celebrate, followed by Jakarta, Bangkok, Hanoi and Phnom Penh, with Yangon and Mandalay in Myanmar half an hour later.

Beijing isn’t the place to go for fireworks, however – those are saved for the lunar new year, which is February 16 in 2018. Head instead for Hong Kong, where fireworks will light up the city’s harbour and backdrop of glittering skyscrapers. In Singapore, which has a large guest worker population, the fireworks are centred around the Marina Bay development.

Manila, the capital of the Philippines, has been acclaimed for the most spectacular display, with a video capturing the sight of every corner of the city seemingly exploding into sparkling fountains of fire as it greeted 2015.

The hour between GMT+5 and GMT+6 is a busy one for celebrations: Dhaka, Almaty, Bishkek, Thimphu and Astana celebrate at GMT+6, with Kathmandu joining in 15 minutes later and India and Pakistan welcoming 2018 15 minutes after that.

Never a city to be outdone, Dubai, which is home to guest workers from all over the world, puts on spectacular firework displays four hours ahead of GMT. Local experts recommend that the best place to see them for free is Downtown, to be close to the Burj Khalifa, one of the tallest buildings in the world and a focus for the fireworks. Or head for Jumeirah Beach to see the fireworks at the Burj al Arab, the distinctive sail-shaped luxury hotel.

With between 20m and 30m Russians living abroad, many eyes will be focused on Moscow from overseas on new year’s eve, where fireworks explode over the spectacular onion domes of St Basil’s cathedral in Red Square. In the same time zone but 5,300 miles south, Nairobi also puts on a fireworks display above the CBD.

New year arrives in eastern Europe as well as in southern Africa in the next hour, where the Cape Town V&A waterfront with its views of Table Mountain host fireworks.

Western Europe comes next, where the capital cities of Paris and Berlin make the most of their iconic landmarks such as the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower in the French capital, and the Brandenburg Gate, a potent symbol of reunification, in the German capital.

From there the celebrations move across the Channel to the UK, where London throws a huge party with fireworks along the ancient River Thames lighting up the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. London’s famous clock has been silent for much of the end of the year for a restoration project, but its huge bell will sound to mark the arrival of 2018.

Two hours later, Rio de Janeiro, a city that redefines partying, welcomes the new year with fireworks over Copacabana Beach, with the statue of Christ the Redeemer looking down from Mount Corcovado over the rather less than godly crowd on the beach.

Five hours after GMT, New York’s celebrations kick in, and you’re spoilt for choice: watch the ball drop in Times Square, or walk over Brooklyn Bridge to see the fireworks explode above the skyline or head for Prospect Park in Brooklyn which has its own spectacular display.

If you’re in Mexico City on December 31, head for the street party on Zocalo, which starts during the day and carries on long after the midnight fireworks have died away.

On the west coast, San Francisco’s beautiful bay is the backdrop for the city’s fireworks, where locals advise that the best place to see them is between the Ferry Building and the Bay Bridge. If you want to see fireworks and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge, the best place for that view is from the water, so look for a boat trip.

London Eye

Londoners gather along the river to watch the winter skies light up. Picture credit: Veselina Dzhingarova / Flickr / Tourist Destinations in London

One of America’s smallest cities, Anchorage in Alaska, celebrates an hour after San Francisco, where visitors stand a good chance of getting the most amazing fireworks of all – the Aurora Borealis. In case they don’t materialise on new year’s eve, there’s also a human-made fireworks display in the Town Square.

From mainland north America, the next landfall is Hawaii, where the new year arrives an hour after Alaska. The authorities in the 50th US state launch their fireworks from a barge off the iconic Waikiki beach, which has the Diamond Head mountain forming a spectacular backdrop.

The last places on the planet to see the new year are the tiny US Outlying Islands of Baker island and Howland Island – where there are no parties because they’re uninhabited, so the final new year’s eve parties are actually one time zone behind, in American Samoa.

If you’re a really dedicated party animal, you could hop on a flight to American Samoa when the celebrations in Kiribati wind down – it’s only two and a half hours away.

Where will you be for new year’s eve – at home with family, or far from loved ones? Wherever it is, we hope you have a happy and safe celebration.


The most spectacular fireworks of all are the Aurora Borealis, which you stand a good chance of seeing on New Year's Eve in Alaska. Picture credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center