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Countdown to 2014:  Best places to ring in the new year

As the clock ticks down to midnight, a crowd gathers in Times Square, waiting for a glittering ball to descend and launch the New Year. But this isn’t New York, it’s Hong Kong, where a ball drop has also become an annual tradition.

Around the world, locals celebrate the passing of one year to the next in similar ways: fireworks, street parties, dancing, and generous helpings of food and drinks. Still, each destination has its own cultural twists and distinctive setting. In St. Petersburg, Russia, for instance, folks bundle up to admire fireworks above the partially frozen Neva River — and send hundreds of paper lanterns up into the night sky.

Whether you’d rather cozy up by the fire with a fine wine in Sonoma, Calif., sing “Auld Lang Syne” on a torchlight procession through Edinburgh’s cobblestoned streets, or party until the sun comes up, there’s a destination that will start your New Year right.

See all of the best places to spend New Year's

Valparaíso, Chile
Why go: The biggest New Year’s Eve show in Latin America takes place in the Valparaíso harbor with a 20-minute fireworks show (launched from 17 different points along the coast between Valparaíso and Viña del Mar) and a dance party that lasts until the sun comes up. The festivities begin on the 28th, and by the 31st more than a million people have made their way to the city’s sandy shores for the beach party to end all beach parties. To ensure good luck in the New Year, do as the locals do and wear yellow underwear, eat a dozen grapes at midnight, and put a $1,000 peso bill in your shoe.

Where to stay: Each of the 14 rooms at Hotel Acontraluz overlooks the beach and comes with furniture made with reclaimed materials like adobe and Oregon pinewood once brought to Valparaíso as shipping ballast. hotelacontraluz.cl

Reykjavik, Iceland
Why go: Iceland’s capital has an outsize nightlife that belies its small size, and on New Year’s Eve the hard-partying locals throw a citywide celebration that lasts until the wee morning hours. The party starts with community bonfires, meant to symbolize the burning away of the previous year’s troubles, and thousands of fireworks lighting up the sky from every corner of the city. For the best view, head to the Perlan, or Pearl, which offers a fantastic view of the city and hosts a New Year’s Eve party with dinner, drinks, and dancing. If you make it to 5 a.m., join the locals queuing up for hangover-helping hot dogs, or head to the hot springs for a rehydrating soak.

Where to stay: With panoramic views over the festivities, the luxury apartment–style rooms at downtown’s Room With a View put guests close to the action but above the fray. roomwithaview.is

The Napa and Sonoma Valleys
Why go: While winter is the slow season in northern California wine country, it makes for a more laid-back, less-crowded holiday experience. On New Year’s Eve, many larger hotels and wineries offer their own wine-fueled parties in cellars and wine caves, including the Black and White Gala at Etoile at Domaine Chandon, a candlelit multicourse dinner in the Trinitas Cellars wine cave at the Meritage Resort, and a five-course dinner and masquerade ball in the Grand Barrel Room at Castello di Amorosa winery. The Napa Valley Wine Train hosts a Blackjack Ball in its restored Pullman cars as they make their way up and down the valley. For a more low-key celebration, make reservations at one of the area’s famed restaurants, such as Redd, Bottega, or Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc or Bouchon in Yountville, and then retreat to a luxury inn for a private midnight toast by the fire.

Where to stay: In Sonoma, the Lodge at Sonoma Renaissance Resort & Spa (marriott.com) offers an on-site restaurant and a free shuttle to the nearby Sonoma Plaza. Napa’s Hotel Yountville (hotelyountville.com) is an ultra-sexy oasis just steps from the dining options of charming Yountville, including the French Laundry.

Bratislava, Slovakia
Why go: New Year’s Eve in Bratislava is as unpretentious as it gets — the frat party to the black-tie balls of Vienna, just an hour away. The Slovak capital’s medieval Old Town hosts more than 10,000 people for concerts, open-air dance parties, and a fireworks show over the Danube River. It’s divided into a “concert zone” for those more interested in live local music and “party zones” for socializing. Jumbo screens broadcast the celebrations in other capital cities worldwide. Just be prepared: New Year’s Eve here is a noisy affair, as tradition dictates the use of a rehtacka, or wooden noisemaker, to chase away the negative energy of the past year.

Where to stay: The modern two-room suites at Penzion Virgo in Bratislava’s Old Town come with double beds, kitchenettes, private terraces, Wi-Fi, and continental breakfast — for roughly $110 per night. penzionvirgo.sk

Why go: Relaxing beach days give way to wild nights as the Bahamas gets ready to ring in the New Year. Most hotels, including the Atlantis, the Grand Lucayan, and Stella Maris, offer their own parties, while locals follow the Junkanoo street parades that lead to informal beach gatherings and fireworks shows around the islands. The Bahamian version of Mardi Gras, complete with music, masquerading street performers, and colorful costumes, these parades also take place on Jan. 1; you can check out New Year’s Day Junkanoos in downtown Freeport on Grand Bahama Island, along Bay Street in downtown Nassau, in Nicholls Town on North Andros, in Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay, and in Alice Town in North Bimini.

Where to stay: The Atlantis has the whole family covered with special New Year’s Eve events for kids, a masquerade ball for adults, and prime viewing of the Marina Village fireworks.

Why go: No city does New Year’s with as much enthusiasm as Edinburgh. The Hogmanay celebration lasts four days and includes a torchlight parade through the city, concerts, and a massive street party on Princes Street. “Auld Lang Syne” was written by Scotsman Robert Burns, and the song takes on special significance when sung in the streets of Edinburgh as glowing torchlights illuminate the happy revelers. The Scots practice the tradition of “first-footing,” in which the first guest of the New Year should bring gifts; popular offerings include whisky or Scottish shortbread. On Jan. 1, spectators gather at the River Forth to watch a group of brave souls splash into the freezing water in the annual Queensferry Loony Dook charity event.

Where to stay: The 13 rooms at Castleview Guest House offer the charm of traditional styling with all the modern amenities. The family-owned guesthouse provides visitors a sanctuary from the surrounding festivities but is just steps from Edinburgh Castle. castleviewgh.com

Why go: New Year’s Eve in Vienna is more than galas and storied balls, although there are plenty of those to be found. Revelers crowd the Silvesterpfad, or New Year’s Path, in the city center. The party, fueled by hot mulled wine and toffee apples, lasts from 2 p.m. to well after midnight, when the chimes of the Pummerin bell ring out from the tower of St. Stephen’s Cathedral and a fireworks show dazzles over the Prater park. The Majestic Imperator train, a “palace on rails,” takes guests into the New Year in luxurious style with a black-tie dinner and a stop on a Danube bridge at midnight for an incredible view of the city’s fireworks. For a more casual party, head to the Rathaus (City Hall) to watch the New Year’s Concert projected on a big screen. Be sure to eat some Glücksschwein, or good-luck pigs, which you’ll find in every form, from suckling pig to pig-shaped marzipan treats.

Where to stay: Offering 26 rooms in a 19th-century house right by St. Stephen’s Cathedral, the Hollmann Beletage mixes contemporary with old-world elegance. Its eight-seat cinema screens Austrian films nightly.

Why go: Sydney beats everyone else to the punch as the first major city to celebrate the New Year. It also hosts one of the largest parties; more than 1 million people attend the waterfront show, with more than a billion people watching it televised around the world. Sydney’s celebration lasts all day and into the night and is fun for the whole family, with an air and water show featuring thrilling aerial acrobatics and a fire tug water display, a Harbour of Light Parade (an illuminated flotilla of more than 50 vessels), and two fireworks shows — one at 9 p.m. and again at midnight.

Where to stay: You can’t sleep closer to Sydney Harbour than the Sebel Pier One hotel, which is built over the water. The hotel promises guests reserved pier space for viewing the Sydney Harbour Bridge fireworks. sebelpierone.com.au

St. Petersburg, Russia
Why go: The grand boulevards and bridges of St. Petersburg are at their most beautiful covered with a layer of snow and illuminated by holiday lights. The lavish Hermitage Museum is particularly striking on Dec. 31, when it’s surrounded by crowds waiting for the fireworks show over the partially frozen Neva River. As the clock ticks down, they drink champagne and send hundreds of paper lanterns up into the night sky. Russians celebrate both Catholic Christmas on Dec. 25 and Orthodox Christmas on Jan. 7, so visiting now means coming smack in the middle of the holiday season, when the city’s main drag, Nevsky Prospect, is decorated in Christmas lights and images of Father Frost (the Russian version of Santa) are everywhere. And Russians turn out yet again on Jan. 13 to celebrate Old New Year, a remnant of the Julian calendar used prior to the Revolution.

Where to stay: It won’t cosme cheap, but a New Year’s at the Grand Hotel Europe will be a night to remember. The opulent hotel, built in 1875, was the first in Europe to have electric lights and was Dostoyevsky’s preferred place to stay.

Hong Kong
Why go: Hong Kong’s New Year’s Eve celebration features one of the world’s best pyrotechnic shows, a sensory extravaganza of light and sound that includes an eight-minute fireworks show over Victoria Harbour and a Times Square countdown, complete with a replica ball drop at midnight. The show actually starts much earlier, with the Symphony of Lights display that illuminates 45 buildings in the Hong Kong skyline every night at 8 p.m. all year round. The best views of the Victoria Harbour fireworks can be seen from a boat; on dry land, head to the Avenue of Stars in Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon, or party in one of the many bars in the Lan Kwai Fong district.

Where to stay: The 93 rooms at Butterfly on Morrison are decked out in bright colors and floor-to-ceiling windows, many with harbor views. The hotel is just a few minutes’ walk from Times Square and offers free Wi-Fi. butterflyhk.com

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