93 Fun, Free Ways to Celebrate New Year’s 2016
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93 Fun, Free Ways to Celebrate New Year’s 2016

new years eve
Getty Images
new years eve
Getty Images

Our list of fun ways to ring in 2016 around the world—without spending a dime.

You may be pumped to celebrate the New Year, but you’d be forgiven for watching the wallet after the holidays. Since no one should start the year off on the wrong foot, financially or otherwise, we’ve compiled our favorite celebrations in cities worldwide that won’t cost you anything. Whether you’re spotting the fireworks far from Chicago’s Navy Pier crowds or the dropping of the conch shell at Sloppy Joe’s in balmy Key West, you’re sure to make 2016 memorable with these fun things to do.

Read on for our list, or skip to the city of your interest: Amsterdam; Aspen; Atlanta; Chicago; Dallas; Hamburg; Houston; Key West; Madrid; Melbourne ; New York City; Philadelphia; San Francisco; Shanghai; Toronto; Vancouver; and Washington, D.C.

Herengracht and Amstel River, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, New Years celebrations
Richard Wareham

Amsterdam

There’s nowhere quite like Amsterdam on New Year’s Eve (or Oud en Nieuw, as they call it here). The whole city erupts into a gigantic, riotous street party, with crowds of revellers indulging in a massive DIY firework display—who knew so many Dutch people had pyrotechnic tendencies? Of course, you can spend a lot of money to go to an exclusive party, but New Year’s in Amsterdam is best enjoyed outside, on the street. The evening divides up neatly into two parts. Pre-midnight, when it can be preternaturally quiet (everyone is inside until then), you can feel almost as if you have the canals to yourself; and post-midnight, all hell breaks loose. To enjoy both on a shoestring budget, here are our top tips.

1. Get Walking

This is the perfect night to take a stroll along the canals. Later on, you’ll have little option other than to walk, anyway, as public transport stops at around 8 p.m. on New Year’s Eve.

2. Pay a Visit to the "Skinny Bridge"

It’s best to view Amsterdam’s most romantic bridge, the Magere Brug (Skinny Bridge) at night, when it’s beautifully illuminated. Later on, it’s a prime firework-viewing location.

3. Selfie Time

It’s a bit of a cliché, but taking a photo on top of or in front of the giant “I Amsterdam” sign on Museumplein has become a real tourist must-do. And Museumplein is another good firework-viewing spot for after midnight.

4. Hit the Water

The free ferry from Amsterdam Central Station to Amsterdam Noord is like a micro-cruise, with expansive views twinkling with glittery lights by night. Come straight back with the next boat, or stay and explore the city’s up-and-coming north neighbourhood for a while—but don’t forget that service is reduced on New Year’s Eve.

5. Midnight: Firework Frenzy

At midnight, Amsterdam explodes with fireworks, pretty much all over the city. You can see it all from the street. The best places to watch them in a crowd are the city’s squares, including Dam Square, Museumplein and Rembrandtplein. As the fireworks continue for an hour or more, you can visit a few different locations. Noordermarkt is always lively (and noisy), as it’s part of Amsterdam’s Chinatown, and boasts the city’s most deafening firecrackers. For a less hectic experience, station yourself on a canal bridge and enjoy the glittering reflections in the water.

6. Eat Oliebollen

They may not be free, but oliebollen (a kind of raisin-filled doughnut) won’t break the bank, and this is what all the Dutch eat eat on New Year’s Eve. You’ll find them widely on sale all over town. Ideally, enjoy with a glass of champagne for the full Dutch New Year experience.

—Jane Szita

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Fireworks over Aspen Mountain and the Winterskol torchlight parade on January 11, 2014.
Chris Council and Emily Chaplin

Aspen

Every year for two weeks at the end of December, during Aspen's winter "high season," the small mountain town of Aspen, Colorado swells from a population of 6,700 residents to approximately 27,000 people covering its mere five-block downtown.

Many come here for the swank parties, or the Champagne powder, but even the rich and famous—and certainly the locals—are amenable to a freebie now and then. Fortunately, the wealth of holiday cheer here is spread around with a variety of free activities on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. Read on for our list of what to do.

7. Wagner Park Celebration

On New Year's Eve in the city's downtown Wagner Park, there is a free outdoor party with a bonfire and DJ, followed by two displays of fireworks over Aspen mountain: one at 8 p.m. and one at midnight.

8. Snowmass Festivities

Aspen's neighboring town of Snowmass Village celebrates New Year's Eve with a torchlight parade at 5:45 p.m., followed by fireworks with musical accompaniment at 10 p.m. Skiers ages 8 and older are invited to take part in the illuminated parade, in which skiers hold torches while descending downhill in the dark. 

9. Party at the St. Regis

On New Year's Eve at the St. Regis Aspen Resort in the Shadow Mountain Lounge, there is a free party with a DJ beginning at 5 p.m., and a complimentary champagne toast at midnight.

10. Watch the Fireworks at Smuggler Mountain

The best seats in the house for fireworks viewing is atop Smuggler mountain. Join dozens of other outdoor enthusiasts for the 45-minute hike (dress warmly; poles and traction devices for boots recommended) to the Smuggler viewing platform.

11. Outdoor Winter Wonderland

The Aspen Recreation Center's outdoor Winter Wonderland features the "Whoa Nelly" Sledding Hill and outdoor skating rink, the ARC-tic Pond, free to use with your own gear. Open until 9 p.m. on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day.

12. Aspen Art Museum

At the Aspen Art Museum, featuring modern art, there is free entry on New Year's Day and every day throughout the year. Or visit the free exhibit, "The Legacy of Herbert Bayer" at Aspen Meadows' Resnik Gallery.

13. Special Ski Activities

Aspen Skiing Co. allows free uphilling on all four of its ski areas. Start your New Year off on a healthy note with an early morning or afternoon "skin" or hike up Buttermilk or Snowmass mountain, and then ski or ride the chairlift down for free.
Later in the evening on New Year's Day, after hiking up Snowmass Ski Area to Elk Camp restaurant, join a naturalist from the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies for a free Ullr Nights Snowshoe Tour, a one-of-a-kind nighttime exploration of the snow-covered forest under a brilliant winter sky.

—Amiee White Beazley

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Ladybird Grove & Mess Hall Atlanta Southern Food New Years Eve
Courtesy Ladybird Grove & Mess Hall

Atlanta

Traveling to Atlanta to ring in the New Year? You don’t have to spend a pretty penny to have a peachy time here. After all, you’ve already endured the one-two punch of holiday shopping and peak-season traveling; give yourself—and your wallet—a break with these free diversions.

14. Chick-Fil-A Peach Bowl Parade

Whether or not you care about college football, you won’t want to miss this popular New Year’s Eve Day parade through downtown Atlanta. Expect huge floats, classic cars, marching bands, dance troupes, and lots of cheering revelers.

15. Watch the Sunset From Stone Mountain

Kiss 2015 goodbye with a New Year’s Eve trek to the summit of the world’s largest exposed granite monolith. After your one-mile climb (which is more taxing than it sounds) you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the sunset—and the shimmering Atlanta skyline in the distance. Note: Your climb is free, but unless you have someone drop you off, it’s $15 for a parking pass.

16. Party Like a Tenenbaum

Bar Margot, a groovy Midtown watering hole named after Gwyneth Paltrow’s character from The Royal Tenenbaums, welcomes walk-up guests with no cover on New Year’s Eve. Don’t let the bar’s location inside the Four Seasons Hotel fool you: You don’t have to pay a cent to dance to live music from 9 p.m. to 2 a.m. Of course, if you want to splurge, you can always opt for endless champagne, appetizers, and desserts for $85 a person. 

17. Hang Out with Atlanta’s Hipsters

From its perch on the Atlanta BeltLine, Ladybird Grove & Mess Hall stands as a clubhouse of sorts for the city’s cool kids (be sure to wear your bucket hat and oversized glasses). On New Year’s Eve, be a part of the city’s most relaxed party: no reservations required, no cover charge, and no prixe fixe menu to navigate—although there is an a la carte one if you’re so inclined. Enjoy hours of live music, and at midnight, raise a complimentary pony bottle of Miller High Life for a “Champagne of Beers” toast.

18. Hike with your Pooch Around The Hunger Games Set

Start 2016 off right by taking your dog on a free guided hike through Sweetwater Creek State Park, located 20 minutes outside Atlanta in Lithia Springs. At 9 a.m. on New Year’s Day, a ranger will lead you past peaceful streams, rocky bluffs, and the ruins of New Manchester Mill, which stood in for District 13 in The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1.

—Allison Entrekin

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Navy Pier Fireworks New Years Eve Chicago
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Chicago

The holidays are expensive, from the gifts and travel to see the family, to even the dining out and revelry. So why spend even more for a night out on New Year's Eve? It doesn't have to cost a ton to have a great celebration. Try these four free things to do in Chicago on the last day of the year.

19. Chi-Town Rising

Chi-Town Rising, Chicago's newest festival for New Year's Eve, hosts a free family event from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. in Wrigley Square at Millennium Park. The theme brings families to New Year's celebrations around the world through activity stations designed around each culture. The main (adult) party along the Riverwalk charges for admission, but start out at this free event, then find a lookout over the Chicago River to hear live music, watch a giant star make its way up 360 feet into the sky (directly opposite of that tired old Times Square dropping routine), and catch the fireworks timed with Navy Pier's display at the end of the night.

20. People-Watch on Public Transport

Miller Lite is once again enacting its Free Rides program this year, offering fare-free trips on the CTA from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. Join in the pre- and post-parties on the train, or just ride along and revel in the revelers. The brewing company has run this program in Chicago for four years now, helping residents and tourists alike get home safely after a night out celebrating.

21. See the ZooLights

Lincoln Park Zoo is always free, and on New Year's Eve, visit for the ZooLights experience. This popular annual event shows the animals among twinkling lights, sparkling ice sculptures, and rollicking live local music. More than two million lights brighten up the zoo in near entirety with multicolored displays, allowing visitors to catch a glimpse of the animals at night—something normally not allowed at the 35-acre property. Food vendors and kiosks selling beer and hot chocolate stand by to keep guests refreshed.

22. Watch the Navy Pier Fireworks

Instead of crowding onto Navy Pier for the fireworks display (which is free) with thousands of other people, go down toward the museum campus and watch the show from the lakeshore, about two and half miles south. It's one of the best vantage points in the city, and best of all, not as crowded. The fireworks start at midnight and last about twenty minutes (shooting off more than $20,000 worth of explosives), so be sure to bundle up tight against the wind and cold.

—Jennifer Billock

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Dallas Texas New Years Eve
© Thomas McConnell

Dallas

It's that magical time of year when guests flock to Dallas to make holiday memories with friends and family. While these trips no doubt leave hearts and stomachs full, the same cannot always be said about our bank accounts. With New Year's Eve just around the corner, sometimes the thought of spending another dollar to celebrate the start of 2016 is enough to send people into a panic. Worry not, traveling friends: here's a list of totally free things to do while visiting that may or may not have already been on your Dallas bucket list.

23. Artful Beginnings

Spend the day exploring more than 23,000 works of art from around the world at the Dallas Museum of Art. The museum is offering two additional free programs on New Year's Eve. The C3 Art Spot allows visitors to create take-home treasures based on inspiration gathered during their tour. The International Pop Cinema screens the self-titled film daily, which showcases a variety of works from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s that are rarely compared side by side. More information can be found here.

You can also explore one of the country's largest collections of African American folk art at the African American Museum of Dallas. Exhibitions include Facing the Rising Sun: Freedman's Cemetery, which explores what's left of the formerly thriving North Dallas Community; The Souls of Black Folk, a series of pieces from the collection of Billy R. Allen; a focus on Bayou Sculptors; and works by Caroll Harris Simms and Walter Cotton. Still hankering for art? The Crow Collection of Asian Art displays works from China, Japan, India, and Southeast Asia. Make sure to check out the special exhibitions by Jean Shin and Alexander Gorlizki. Keep in mind that the museum is closing at 4 p.m. over the holiday.

24. Get Outdoors

You don't have to wait until January 1 to kick off your new fitness routine. Grab your group and burn off those extra holiday calories together at the Katy Trail, which connects Uptown and Knox Henderson which are both home to some of Dallas' most happening restaurants and bars. You could also head to the JFK Memorial & Dealey Plaza, to stroll the Grassy Knoll and absorb this part of American history. Check out the John F. Kennedy Memorial monument on Main Street, which is an open tomb that symbolizes the freedom of Kennedy's spirit.

The 5.2 acre urban oasis known as Klyde Warren Park above Woodall Rodgers Freeway is the perfect place to bring the whole family (dog included) for a picnic, walk, or to simply enjoy the entertainment that is bound to surround you. There is are a children's park, dog park, and game area to help occupy the kiddos and four legged friends. And while the only thing that is on the calendar on New Year's Eve is the food trucks, this park is always packed.

Yet another great place to get your 2016 fitness regime started is White Rock Lake. Whether you are walking around the lake, kayaking, or simply hanging out, this is one of Dallas' true treasures that has you feeling miles away from the city lights. The White Rock Lake Dog Park is coming off of a near one-million-dollar renovation and features a dog launch, multiple water fountains, six shade structures, and a pavillion.

25. Window Shopping, and More

While the Highland Park Village luxury shopping center houses some of the most exclusive (and expensive) designers in Dallas, lucky for you that window shopping doesn't cost a thing. The real reason to visit during this time of year, however, is because of the beautifully lit trees boasting thousands of lights. It's equal parts romantic and festive.

It's no secret that the NorthPark Center mall is one of the most impressive shopping centers in the country. With that said, it is about so much more than clothes and accessories. View major works by Andy Warhol, Frank Stella, Joel Shapiro, Jim Dine, Jonathan Borofsky, and more. Don't miss the 48-foot Ad Astra by Mark di Suvero. This twelve-ton masterpiece is the only indoor public display of the artist's work in the world. Score a free NorthPark Art Tour map at the concierge desk on Level One.

26. Holiday Extras

Sure, going to the Cotton Bowl may cost you a pretty penny, but some argue that tailgating beforehand is more fun anyway. Whip up creative appetizers using all of your favorite Christmas leftovers, and find a place to congregate with other Alabama or Michigan State fans that are in town. Don't forget that the game is at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, and not at the actual Cotton Bowl Stadium at Fair Park. Kick off is at 7 p.m.

The 15-acre restaurant and entertainment destination Trinity Groves is nestled at the base of the Margaret Hunt Hill Bridge and is always bustling with locals enjoying the weather and atmosphere. Boasting one of the best views of the downtown Dallas skyline, this would be the perfect place to round the troops for one last family photo before everyone hits the road.

Whatever you decide to do this New Year's Eve in Dallas, keep in mind that everyone can ride for free on Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) and the Trinity Railway Express (TRE), courtesy of Miller Lite's Free Rides program starting at 6 p.m.

—Diana Oates

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Hamburg Germany New Years Eve
Courtesy of Hamburg Tourism Department

Hamburg

After all that holiday shopping, the mere notion of spending more to celebrate New Year's Eve might cause you a panic attack or two. But you don't need to break the bank on a fancy party with overpriced drinks to have an enjoyable one. Think outside the box and go big on fun without spending a dime for a cheap and easy New Year's Eve in Hamburg.

27. Stroll the St. Pauli Elbetunnel

Opened in 1911, the St.Pauli Elbetunnel was the first river tunnel on the continent and became a necessity with the growth of the Port of Hamburg. Stage your own photo shoot in front of this historical landmark, and then take a little stroll through the tunnel, ending with a panoramic view of the edge of the harbor, St. Michaelis, and the "Rickmer Rickmers" from the southern bank of the Elbe.

28. Walk Around the Reeperbahn

Notorious for its wild nightlife, saucy bordellos, and boisterous bars, the Reeperbahn is a great place to people-watch. Enjoy a few beers, go dancing, or just wander around and watch this hectic night go by in a blurry haze. Be on the lookout for some impressive street art that's hidden in area. Or better yet, stop by the INDRA Musikclub, an old Beatles haunt, for cheap drinks and live music.

29. Take Guided Tour

Discover the history and legend of this maritime city with a free walking tour by Sandeman's New Europe. Hear pirate tales and learn all about the WWII bombing of Hamburg while you pop by the city's top attractions—like St. Petri, Hamburg's medieval church, St.Nikolai church, and Trostbrücke—on this two-and-a-half-hour excursion. (While the tour is free, tips are appreciated.)

30. Fireworks Along Landungsbrücken

It's not really New Year's Eve unless you see some fireworks lighting up the sky. Head over to the floating docks of Landungsbrücken, Hamburg's glittering waterfront, and welcome 2016 with an impressive pyrotechnics show accompanied by acoustic signal horns from all the ships docked in the port. Dress warm and brings some earplugs—this celebration tends to get loud.

31. Christmas Market and Fireworks

For a quieter, less crowded affair, the Christmas Market in Jungfernstieg might be more your speed. Browse the craft and artwork stands while sipping on mulled wine, or take a ride on the historic Ferris wheel for a stunning view of the city. There's also a dazzling Christmas light show that ends at 2 a.m. with fireworks along the beautiful Alster Lake.

—Yolanda Evans

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bruce munro field of light
hustonianmag.com

Houston

They say everything is bigger in Texas. But bigger doesn't have to mean the most expensive—especially when it comes to your New Year's plans. If you'll be spending this holiday in Houston, you don't have to start 2016 in tears after looking at your bank account the next morning. Here are six ways to celebrate in H-Town—without breaking the bank.

32. The Square in Sugar Land

What would New Year's Eve be without brilliant, bright lights? Sugar Land Town Square will be enchanted with state-of the-art lighting effects, heart-pumping music, and a vibrant party atmosphere. To make this a family-friendly option for all ages, the night is split between two parts so everyone has a chance to celebrate. The Children's Celebration will take place from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and will feature walk-around entertainment, street performances, a live DJ, and a fireworks finale, while the Adult's Celebration, taking place from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m., will have a live DJ and main stage entertainment, a 3D midnight show with fireworks, and "adults only" beverages that are available for purchase.

33. CityCentre

Can't narrow down your options? You don't have to. CityCentre will have a live DJ in the plaza beginning at 7 p.m., and its numerous restaurants, retailers, and lounges are hosting site-specific events, so you can spend the evening hopping around the district. When the clock strikes 12, there will be a fireworks show in the Plaza, so find your loved ones and head there for a magical show to remember.

34. Field of Light

Looking for a bit of romance? Why not get a "spark" at the Field of Light, a dazzling art installation by English impresario Bruce Munro. As dusk falls over downtown Houston, the fiber optic is illuminated and the work lives up to its name. The vibrant display will remain along the Brown Promenade each day from dusk until 11 p.m. through February 21, 2016.

35. Museum of Fine Arts

Every Thursday, you have the opportunity enhance your cultural palate and enjoy free admission to the amazing Museum of Fine Arts. December 31 (New Year's Eve) is no different, as you'll still be able to take advantage of a variety of programming that is fun for the whole family. The museum is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and highlights include Family Flicks: Party Mix, Winter Break at the Museum (kids learn about Mark Rothko and sketch in the galleries), and Highlights of the Rienzi Collection in a one-hour docent-guided tour.

36. Children's Museum of Houston

The kids will be able to 'turn up' this New Year's too. The New Year's Noon Bash is a daytime party just for kids December 31. The event, which takes place every year at the Children's Museum of Houston, is complete with a countdown, ball drop, and parade featuring a New Orleans-style brass band. Museum admission is $10, which includes the Noon Bash and after party with a DJ, but if you want a completely free option, you can attend between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. for Family Night Hours.

37. Houston First Presents New Year's Eve

Here's your chance to ring in the New Year in the heart of downtown Houston. Featuring the "world's greatest party band," the evening will be a free and family-friendly night of music, food, fun, and a spectacular fireworks display presented by the City of Houston. Thousands of people will fill the streets of Houston's Theater District for a live-television broadcast and midnight countdown. It's sure to be an evening you don't want to miss.

—Kimberly Wilson

Want to know more about the above? Read the full scoop here.

Key West Bourbon Street shoe drop
© Jeffrey Willey / Alamy Stock Photo

Key West

Key West has long been known for its quirky flair, so it should come as no surprise that its New Year's celebration is appropriately off-key. There are three things you can watch drop come midnight: a conch shell, a pirate wench, and a drag performer in a life-size shoe. But before you have to make such tough choices, enjoy the annual Daschund Walk, and several other free and zany activities. Here's our list for where to go and what to see.

38. Historic Key West Cemetery

Thoughtfully maintained by the Historic Florida Keys Foundation, this cemetery—founded in 1847 after a hurricane washed out an older cemetery the previous year—does not have any free tours running on New Year's Eve, but the Foundation's website features an incredibly detailed map (complete with mini-bios of the noteworthy interred) and a guide to common gravestone symbols for your own perusal.

39. Florida Keys Eco-Discovery Center

Sponsored by the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (which begins south of Miami and stretches to the Dry Tortugas), the Eco-Discovery Center helps visitors of all ages interpret the rich ecosystem of South Florida—on land and on sea. It features a 2,500-gallon Living Reef exhibit as well as a mock-up of Aquarius, the only undersea research laboratory in the world.

40. Key West Wildlife Center

Located inside the Sonny McCoy Indigenous Park, the Key West Wildlife Center is a bird-lover's dream. The center tends to injured native wildlife, with a particular focus on birds. A paved nature walk through the park passes by two aviaries as well as a freshwater pond. It's the perfect place to spot wildlife.

41. Key West Garden Club

A former Civil War-era fort converted into a lush and free public garden, the Key West Garden Club features palms, waterfalls, at least one gazebo, and seaside views. Members of the nonprofit club donate the plants and maintain the gardens, which include blooming orchids, bromeliads, and water lilies.

42. White Street Pier

Locals joke that this extra-long pier (its runs 1,000 feet into the Atlantic Ocean) is an "unfinished road to Cuba." A popular fishing spot, visitors can see schools of fish flit about beneath the surface of the water. It's also a wonderful place to catch the sunrise or sunset. Both dogs and bikes are welcome.

43. Old Island Restoration Foundation Self-Guided Walking Tour

Set up by the nonprofit Old Island Restoration Foundation, the Pelican Path Self-Guided Tour of Key West provides an architecturally minded trip through historic Key West. The walk takes between one to two hours, and is full of delightful gems like the Otto House, where artist Eugene Otto "owned the notorious Robert, the haunted doll"—apparently the inspiration for the horror franchise Chucky.

44. Key West Dachshund Walk

Every New Year's Eve, Key West dachshunds (or rather, their owners) celebrate with a parade through town. No registration is required to join in, though donations of dog and cat food are encouraged for the Community Pet Pantry. It begins at noon on the courthouse steps. "Costumes and dachshund wanna-be's encouraged."

45. Sloppy Joe's Dropping of the Conch Shell

Although Sloppy Joe's charges a small cover to enter on New Year's Eve, their iconic 23rd-annual conch drop is visible from the street.

46. Schooner Wharf's "Lowering of the Pirate Wench"

The Schooner Wharf Bar doesn't charge a cover on New Year's Eve, so visitors can see their annual "lowering of the pirate wench" without breaking the bank. Cannon blasts accompany the pirate's drop from the tall ship America 2.0, and live music continues until 4 a.m.

47. Bourbon Street Pub Shoe Drop

Though VIP tickets to the balcony level of the Bourbon Street Pub's annual New Year's Eve Shoe Drop runs around $150 (it includes an open bar), the ground floor is free and open to the public. Drag performer Sushi reclines in a giant high heel for her 19th consecutive New Year's Eve drop.

48. Fireworks on Blackwater Sound

Ring in the New Year with fireworks over Blackwater Sound. It's free to view from anywhere with a bayside view, but the organizers suggest several area venues.

—Molly McArdle

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Puera del Sol Plaza New Years Madrid
© epa european pressphoto agency b.v. / Alamy Stock Photo

Madrid

Madrid, the capital city of Spain and center for fashion, food, and historical sights, is famous for its traditional New Year's Eve celebration—a gathering of young and old in Puerta de Sol—and it's free for all those who attend.

49. Dance the Night Away

Of course, there are other options. Partygoers can don their sparkliest of sequins and dance the night away at the seven-story nightclub Teatro Kapital. Bounce around the different floors, which offer several styles of music—and even one dedicated to karaoke. Don't miss spending time at the main stage, a full-size theater with multi-story balconies and stadium-size light displays. Your other alternative is Joy Eslava, a combination discoteca and nightclub that pull sin the masses on New Year's Eve. Although either option includes drinks galore, both can be pricey with entry starting around $50.

50. Hit the Puerta del Sol

Which is what makes the traditional celebration in the city center that much more special. It's simple and no-frills, yet fun and at no cost. There's no sparkly ball or ornate production as the new year rolls in and the clock strikes midnight. Instead, crowds form in Puerta del Sol (generally after a pub crawl that starts earlier in the night), the city center of Madrid. They face the Real Casa de Correos, an old post office, which is crowned by a grand clock—that for years was the sole marker of the official time all throughout Spain. Today, it commissions the start of the new year. Crowds schmooze all evening—the Mediterranean climate means you don't see anyone shivering or turning blue—and as the clock strikes midnight, Madrileńos put on colorful wigs and eat 12 grapes to usher in good luck for each of month that lies ahead. The grapes are supposed to be eaten in time to the 12 times that the clock chimes (denoting midnight). An elaborate fireworks display accompanies the revelry.

Many families also celebrate the holiday at home, eating a lavish seafood dinner and later watching the festivities in Puerta del Sol from the living room TV. Since in Spain the Christmas season begins on Christmas Eve (nochebuena) and lasts until Three Kings Day (Los Reyes Magos) on January 6, New Year's Eve is just another part of continued celebration.

Nneka M. Okona

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Spectacular fireworks along the Yarra River light up the night sky over Melbourne Australia.
© Ray Warren Creative / Alamy Stock Photo

Melbourne

Each year, the planning starts months in advance. It's practically mandatory, when you're talking about eight tons of pyrotechnics being set off during a 10-minute interval in perfect synchronicity with a soundtrack created for the event. Which is exactly what happens each year in the Victorian capital of Melbourne, to commemorate its New Year's. If you're in town for the holidays, we've got the scoop on where to go to see it all.

The city spends close to $2 million on an elaborate fireworks display to create a spectacle for not only the 550,000 or so people who arrive for the celebrations, but also anyone who has a view of the city skyline. A majority of the launch sites for the fireworks are at the tops of some of Melbourne's tallest buildings—Eureka Tower, for example—which means that on a clear night, the show can be seen from as far away as the Dandenong Ranges, about 20 miles east of the Central Business District.

51. See the Fireworks at Federation Square

There are four official live sites from where to enjoy the festivities for free: at Docklands, Flagstaff Gardens, Treasury Gardens and the Kings Domain, although unofficially, the crowds also tend to gather along the Yarra River, particularly near Federation Square—where there's a free concert featuring world music and soul artists—and neighboring Birrarung Marr. Entertainment starts at 9 p.m., with an early evening fireworks display, music, and food. Bringing a blanket and picnic is encouraged, but the official sites are alcohol-free for the entire night.

52. Watch Them From Farther Away

For those who can't be bothered with the hassle of the crowds (although there is free public transport in Melbourne all night), there are some great vantage points for watching the skyline bling. Northcote is one of the inner-north suburbs famous for its live music scene, and, at Ruckers Hills on High Street, it also offers one of the few elevations in this part of town.

53. Other Great Viewing Spots

Other places to head include Yarra Boulevard in Kew and, for a completely different experience, the Docklands fireworks are visible from Green Point at Brighton Beach. This is also one of Melbourne's more well-to-do neighborhoods, so there are often impressive pyro displays from private functions.

Those enjoying the holiday season on the Mornington Peninsula, 45 minutes south of Melbourne's CBD, should head to Arthurs Seat. From this peak 1,000 feet above sea level, there are views to the fireworks in Melbourne, Geelong, and Frankston.

—Carrie Hutchinson

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Free Things do do in NYC for NYE
New York Road Runners

New York City

Did you spend all your money on holiday presents, and you're now finding yourself dreading another New Year's Eve on the couch, watching a televised ball drop, or going deeper into the red with a pricey ticket to a big event? With these free events in New York City, you can kick off the new year without doing either.

54. Brooklyn Ball

Brooklynites are excited about their first New Year's Eve ball. This huge event is free, but requires a ticket for crowd control purposes. Starting at 6 p.m., Grand Army Plaza will fill with revelers who can listen to music, munch on food-cart fare, and watch the Brooklyn Ball ascend. The 4,418-pound ball measures 10 feet in diameter and is made of carbon, fiber, metal, and LED lights. It will rise 15 feet each hour starting at 7 p.m. until it reaches its zenith at midnight. As the clock strikes 2016, the ball will rain confetti and a special TBA surprise.

55. Ride the Ferry

Insiders know the cheap way to cruise the harbor is on the free Staten Island Ferry. Take it on New Year's Eve, and you'll see fireworks in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and New Jersey with spectacular water-side views. Bundle up and get there early to ensure a good spot.

56. Hang Out with Runners

While most New Yorkers will begin 2016 cozily inside, glass of something festive in hand, others take off running through Central Park at the stroke of midnight. If you can't afford the $60 to run with the New York Road Runners—even though the money supports causes like the Central Park Conservancy—you can support them as a volunteer. Organized runs need tons of volunteers to help out. Alternatively, just show up for the free DJ, live performers, and fireworks.

57. Peaceful Beginning

Recent events around the world are making many folks crave peace. Ever since Leonard Bernstein started the tradition in 1984, Saint John the Divine has presented a Concert for Peace on New Year's Eve. Bask in candlelight in one of New York's great cathedrals while listening to Judy Collins and Jason Robert Brown. The show starts at seven. Seating is first come, first served, so show up early.

58. Fashion-Forward Start

Join Fashion Avenue News Magazine for their fourth annual free party. These people are serious about fashion, so dressing to the nines is recommended. Men in tuxes go to the front of the line; anybody in jeans goes home. Tickets are free but limited, so order ahead.

59. Reggae Revelry

Get 2016 off to a reggae and Afrobeat start at Angel of Harlem's "Kiss Me at Midnight" Party. The party features Superhero DJ Jon Quick, a complimentary champagne toast at midnight, and semi formal dress code. You must RSVP to get a free cover.

50. Bike and Skate Party

Bikers and skaters are invited to a bike ride and outdoor after party, with the ride kicking off at 9:45 p.m. on the Brooklyn side entrance to the Williamsburg Bridge, or at 10 p.m. at Manhattan's Washington Square Park Arch. The ride ends at Belvedere Castle at 11:45 p.m., where participants move on to a big dance party. Don't bike or skate? Then just plan to dance. Dress festively and bring food, drink, and noisemakers to share.

51. A Cultured Start

For a sophisticated beginning to the New Year, join William K. Trafka as he performs the works of Mendelssohn, Bach, and Widor on St. Bartholomew's grand Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ, one of the city's greatest musical treasures. At midnight, he'll play his own transcription of "Fanfare for the Common Man." Brought to you by the Mid-Manhattan Performing Arts Foundation at Saint Bart's.

52. Om Your Way into 2016

New York's many yogis can great the new year with asana and breath work. The famous and beloved Jivamukti yoga studio offers chanting of sacred mantras from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m., followed by three hours of silent reflection. This is a sure-fire way to avoid a New Year's Day hangover.

—Teresa Bergen

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Franklin Square Philadelphia Electrical Spectacle Light Show
Jeff Fusco for Historic Philadelphia

Philadelphia

In Philadelphia, it’s easy to celebrate New Year’s without breaking the bank. The city’s beloved fireworks show pulls double duty this year, with an early performance for the kids plus the traditional midnight celebration. During the day, you can do your own countdown as you check out museums, historic sites, and the last opportunity for free holiday shows before the grand party gets underway.

53. Comcast Holiday Spectacular

Screened on one of the world’s highest resolution LED displays, the Comcast Holiday Spectacular dazzles crowds with dancers from the Pennsylvania Ballet, music from The Nutcracker, and actors from the historic Walnut Street Theatre. Shows run at the top of each hour in the building lobby.

54. Macy’s Light Show

New Year’s Eve marks the final day of the Christmas Light Show at Macy’s in Center City, a Philadelphia tradition since 1956. The show—featuring 100,000 LED lights, narration by Julie Andrews, and sounds from the largest musical instrument in the world, the Wanamaker Organ—takes place every two hours.

55. Franklin Square

Philly’s most family-friendly park hosts a free Kids’ New Year’s Eve Countdown from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Music, crafts, and rides on the Lightning Bolt Express train lead up to the Square drop at 6 p.m. A dance party in the Pavilion follows. The holiday light show Electrical Spectacle runs every 30 minutes, and features a giant lit kite and a display of 50,000 lights choreographed to holiday music.

56. Tour the U.S. Mint

Tours are always free at this government facility that creates U.S. currency and is open on New Year’s Eve. You’ll see the live coining operation from 40 feet above the factory floor, the key to the first Mint, and the Mint deed signed by President Andrew Jackson.

57. Reading Terminal Market Holiday Railroad

The last day of Reading Terminal Market’s Holiday Railroad Display is New Year’s Eve. The 500-square-foot model railroad includes 14 working train lines throughout a miniature Philadelphia and its countryside. The famous indoor farmers market is also the perfect spot for an affordable lunch.

58. Chemical Heritage Foundation Museum

The always-free Chemical Heritage Foundation’s museum, open on New Year’s Eve, explores the ways in which chemistry shapes the world—in both historical and modern contexts. Even science novices will appreciate this world-class collection of instruments and apparatus, rare books, fine art, and the personal papers of prominent scientists.

59. Historic Sites

Philadelphia’s top historic sites offer free or cheap admission year ‘round. Bundle up on New Year’s Eve to see the Liberty Bell, Independence Hall, Benjamin Franklin Museum, Philosophical Hall, Elfreth’s Alley, and The Betsy Ross House, which hosts Betsy’s Birthday Bash from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., featuring family-friendly activities and free cupcakes from the historic City Tavern.

60. Mummers Parade

It’s on New Year’s Day, not Eve, but it’s a Philadelphia classic (and a popular but underrated attraction): the annual New Year’s Day Mummers Parade on Broad Street. This 115th anniversary event starts at City Hall and struts its way with 10,000 costumed men, women, and children to South Philly.

61. City Fireworks

Not just one, but two huge fireworks shows over the Delaware River on New Year’s Eve ring in 2016 for families at 6 p.m. and revelers at midnight. The SugarHouse New Year’s Eve Fireworks on the Waterfront show is visible from many spots throughout Philadelphia and New Jersey.

—Sarah Maiellano

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San Francisco New Years Eve
San Francisco Travel Association/Can Balcioglu

San Francisco

In recent years San Francisco has become notorious for welcoming visitors with deep pockets. With some of the most expensive real estate in the country, its restaurants, bars, and other activities have followed suit (like Saison, the priciest restaurant in the state). But not all of the city’s offerings are out to lure the upper echelons. If you’ll be spending New Year’s in San Francisco, you don’t have to start 2016 in debt. Here are nine ways to celebrate in this West Coast city—without parting with a dime.

62. Walk the Golden Gate Bridge

On most days throughout the year, the Golden Gate Bridge promenade is packed almost exclusively with fanny pack-clad tourists. But on New Year’s Eve, the iconic bridge is full with wayfarers and locals alike. Start on the San Francisco side and walk the 1.7-mile-long stretch across the gateway to Marin County. It opens at 5 a.m., so go early for the sunrise, marveling as the orange sky lights Alcatraz and the Marin headlands, and look for whales off the coast while you do.

63. Admire Art in SoMa

You need not pay a museum entrance fee to visit the lobby of Rincon Center, a historic Art Deco building that doubles as an oft-overlooked art museum, featuring a series of murals commissioned by the Works Progress Administration. Before heading into the new year, stew in a bit of San Francisco’s past by viewing the dozens of murals depicting Sir Francis Drake and other California explorers, as well as Native Americans.

64. Bonfire at Ocean Beach

New permanent fire pits have been installed at San Francisco’s biggest sandy swath, Ocean Beach. BYO wood to this sprawling seaside stretch, where surfers and Outer Sunset residents cozy up with blankets to bid the year’s final sunset farewell.  

65. Stroll the Mission District

This lively neighborhood is always buzzing, but especially so on holidays. Start at the epicenter, the intersection of 16th and Valencia Streets. Cruise down Valencia to 24th Street, popping into cool shops, patisseries, and galleries along the way. Loop back to the beginning by heading down on Mission Street.

66. Picnic on the Bay

If it’s not raining, take advantage of California’s winter sunshine at the recently renovated East Beach picnic area, near Crissy Field. It offers grassy knolls steps from the bay with close-up views of the Golden Gate Bridge, as well as communal tables and barbecues. Bonus: It’s a prime starting spot to set out and explore the long bayside promenade, Crissy Marsh, and the West Bluffs.

67. Pre-Party at Dolores Park

The scene at Dolores Park is never dull, and especially so on New Years Eve, when locals flood the park with champagne and beer starting at sunset, to toast the end of 2015 while watching the dusk settle over downtown.

68. A Buddhist-Style Celebration

Forsake the soused crowds and instead head to the Asian Art Museum, where you can take a swing at a 2,100-pound 16th-century Japanese temple bell. Buddhist lore says that striking the bell relieves you of regrets and bad memories of the past year. At midnight, the bell will ring 108 times to bring good luck to humankind. The ceremony is not at any additional cost to a museum visit.

69. Take the Westin St. Francis Glass Elevator

For the best view of festive Union Square before the midnight madness descends, veer from the main corridor and duck into the iconic Westin St. Francis. In the lobby you’ll find glass elevators that zip up and down the exterior of the building. You need a room key to access the elevator, so either make this your hotel of choice to ring in the New Year, or make a new friend in the lobby.

70. Fireworks on the Embarcadero

The dazzling crescendo of New Years Eve in San Francisco, and easily the evening’s best event, is completely free. Every year a firework display sparkles in the night air above the bay. While they can be seen from most vantage points along the Embarcadero, the best spots are to the north and south of the Ferry Building.

—Jenna Scatena

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NEY fireworks in Shanghai
© TAO Images Limited / Alamy Stock Photo

Shanghai

Shanghai will no doubt be cautious at the holiday this year, after last year's public fireworks show and countdown on the city's historic Bund Promenade was marred by a deadly stampede. This year, visitors and locals should stay updated on information regarding large-scale, public events, as new crowd control measures will likely be in place. If you don't fancy joining the masses, though, there is also a whole wealth of other free, low-key activities to enjoy during the New Year, and here's our list of where to go.

71. Former French Concession

Wander around the wide, winding, tree-lined streets of the Former French Concession in the evening. Hop in and out of trendy wine bars dotted around the area to warm up and soak in the lively atmosphere.

72. Shouning Lu

Take a stroll down this late-night street-food market and make a toast to the New Year with a cold Tsingtao beer. Enjoy delicacies such as crawfish, snake, and Chinese-style barbeque skewers.

73. Old Town

Unfortunately, the old-fashioned streets of the city are quickly disappearing to make way for fancy new residential or business developments, so make the most of them while it's still possible. Start at Yu Garden in the afternoon, before exploring ancient parts of the old city as darkness falls.

74. Bund Promenade

Normally, there is a fireworks and laser light show held on the Bund to celebrate New Year's Eve, but after the events of last year, it's wise to check beforehand for the latest information.

75. KTV

Karaoke is one of the city's favorite past times, with an excess of themed KTV bars around the city. It's always great to join a sing-along with the experts, and it is common for locals to invite visitors into their room to join the fun. If not, hiring a KTV room by the hour is not expensive. Try Haoledi, Party World, V-Show KTV.

76. People's Square

Experience local life in the city first-hand by visiting the city's largest public park. Watch tai chi experts practicing their art or join in with the happy granny's square dancing routines as the sun goes down.

77. Longhua Temple

Ring in the New Year, literally, at this temple. Not only is the architecture beautiful, dating back to the Song Dynasty, but the temple's ancient bell is also repeatedly struck at midnight on New Year's Eve to bring good fortune to all.

78. Le Baron

Celebrate the coming of the New Year in the city's most exclusive nightclub. Although there is no cover on the door, it is essential to be on the guest list (talk to your concierge or a local for help). Table minimum on the night is $155 per person.

79. Yong Kang Road

Soak up the celebratory atmosphere at the city's most popular bar street. This late-night watering hole will be bustling throughout the evening, with cheap drink deals in many of the bars.

80. Park Hyatt

Sneak into the bar of this luxurious hotel, 100 Century Avenue, to get a unique glimpse of the city from the 91 floor. Go for sunset and order a hot winter cocktail to take the chill off the bones if needed.

81. Xintiandi

Amble around this fashionable shopping and entertainment area, modeled after the city's traditional shikumen buildings, and take advantage of the New Year activities laid on by the shopping center. It's possible to eat dinner and enjoy drinks throughout the night.

—Nyima Pratten

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New Years Eve Toronto
Brian Medina

Toronto

The likely scenario is that you hear, "Let's go out for New Year's Eve in Toronto" and start to feel your wallet get lighter. It doesn't have to be that way, though. If you'll be in town for the holiday, there are a variety of free (or very inexpensive) ways to ring it in, whether you're visiting solo, with friends, or the whole family. Read on for our picks.

82. The Big Downtown Bash

For more than 30 years now, crowds of locals and visitors alike have converged upon Nathan Phillips Square on New Year's Eve. In the earlier part of the night, you can skate to the musical grooves of a DJ spinning, enjoy a game of street curling, or grab a snack or an impromptu dinner from a fleet of on-site food trucks. Closer to the countdown, you'll start seeing live musical performances, a countdown, and a shimmering, midnight firework celebration, choreographed to music—all free of charge. Even better? The city's transit also offers complimentary transportation around the city all night, too.

83. If You're in the 'Burbs

If you're just west of Toronto, in Mississauga, head to Celebration Square by the Square One Shopping Centre, where the party gets started at 8 p.m. Live musical acts, DJs, gourmet food trucks, and a firework finale at midnight rings in the new year. There's also a Skate on the Square if you'd rather party with a side of exercise. In downtown Brampton at Garden Square there will be buskers, stilt walkers, and a marshmallow roasting for the young and young at heart. Live musical acts go on the main stage around 9:15 p.m. East of the city in Scarborough, at their Civic Centre, you'll find a few kid-friendly movie screenings along with face painting for the little ones, and live musical acts from 7 p.m. to midnight. All events are free.

84. Wild and Wonderful

If you're visiting with little ones and not likely to make it to the midnight countdown, consider taking the kids to the Toronto Zoo. Every New Year's Eve, they put together a family-friendly event from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., which includes a magic show, live music, a few animal visitors, and a countdown just before 8 p.m., because kid's just wanna have fun, too. General admission is $20 for adults, $12 for children three to 12, and free for kids under two.

85. Skate in the New Year

Skate to some DJ-spun tunes at the water's edge on the Natrel Rink at the Harbourfront Centre this year. From 8 p.m. to midnight, skaters bundle up, bring thermoses of hot chocolate, lace up, and hit the ice. Adults, families, and anyone who loves the great outdoors enjoys this most Canadian way of greeting the New Year, also for free.

—Mary Luz Mejia

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Vancouver New Years Eve
Courtesy of Canada Place Corporation and Port Metro Vancouver

Vancouver

It's a challenge finding ways to ring in the New Year without spending money. But don't despair, because it is possible in Vancouver. Here are several free activities that will ensure you don't miss out when it comes to celebrating this New Year's Eve.

86. Ice Skating

Take part in a Vancouver tradition by lacing up for ice skating at the Robson Square Ice Rink, which is open from 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. on New Year's Eve. It's free if you bring your own skates; otherwise, rental skates and ice cleats are available for a small fee. You can glide under a big skylight dome and take snack breaks at the concession stand on site.

87. Snow Acrobatics

Whistler, a famed mountain resort town about an hour-and-a-half drive from Vancouver, will put on its Fire and Ice show on New Year's Eve, and you don't need a ticket to catch it. Normally performed on Sunday nights during winter, the special New Year's Eve show at Skiers Plaza will feature the mountain town's best skiers and snowboarders performing acrobatic moves through a ring of fire. Fire spinners and a DJ will complement the main attraction. Plus, a fireworks show will go off at midnight.

88. Waterfront Celebration

There's a lot of anticipation this year about NYE Vancouver, a new annual tradition for the city that kicks off December 31 at 6 p.m. It will be the only waterfront New Year's Eve celebration downtown, with the scene of the action at Canada Place Way. The festivities will include live music and food trucks. If you'd like to ring in the new year early with your kids, there will be a short fireworks display at 9 p.m. to coincide with the midnight countdown on the East Coast. The full-on fireworks show at midnight will be launched from a barge in Coal Harbour, synchronized to music.

—Aileen Torres-Bennett

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New Years Eve Washington D.C. Zoo lights
The Washington Post/Getty Images

Washington, DC

New Year’s Eve is the biggest party night of the year—and also the priciest. But there are plenty of more affordable alternatives, even if your budget is set to $0. That includes fireworks, epic holiday displays, and even no-cover dance parties. So if staying in and watching the countdown from your couch sounds a bit sleepy, here are five lively—and free—New Year’s plans worth making in our nation’s capital.

89. Watch the Fireworks in Alexandria

What’s New Year’s Eve without fireworks? Just across the Potomac River, the city of Alexandria is hosting a fireworks display on its waterfront. Grab a chair or picnic blanket, and find a spot in Oronoco Bay Park or Waterfront Park for prime viewing. If you do have a bit of money to spend, consider buying a ticket to First Night Alexandria, an evening full of concerts, puppet shows, carnival fun, and more throughout Old Town Alexandria. Tickets are $20 for adults, but free for kids 12 and under.

90. Soak in Holiday Cheer at the Botanic Garden

Washingtonians know that the holiday seasons is the prime time to visit the United States Botanic Garden, where good cheer abounds in the “Season’s Greenings: Pollination Station” exhibit. They’ve got model trains, plant-based replicas of DC’s most famous landmarks, plenty of poinsettias, and what the Botanic Garden claims is one of the largest indoor decorated trees in DC—all surrounded by giant butterflies, bees, and flowers. Though the museum closes before the New Year’s Eve countdown, spend the evening strolling the National Mall to learn about America’s past as you stand on the cusp of its future.

91. Tie One on at Nellie’s Sports Bar

With prime corner real estate amid all of U Street’s nightlife, Nellie’s is hands-down one of DC’s most fun—and wallet-friendly—bars. This LGBT-friendly hotspot is hosting a New Year’s Eve party featuring a live DJ, champagne toast, party favors, $15 buckets of Budweiser until midnight, and $3 house beer and vodka until 10 p.m. Refreshingly, there is no cover for these festivities, making it a happy new year indeed.

92. Dance Like it’s 2016 at Gate 54

Once again, Café Saint-Ex is keeping it real on New Year’s Eve with a no-cover dance party in the restaurant’s basement party space, Gate 54. This dance floor is filled with sweaty young Washingtonians on a regular basis, meaning it is a stupid fun time. You don’t need to order dinner upstairs to get down, but just in case you do get hungry, Café Saint-Ex is replacing its regular dinner menu with snacking-friendly options like fried chicken and build-your-own-taco platters.

93. Recover with the Light Show at the National Zoo

Open every day of the year except for Christmas Day, the National Zoo is always a good way to spend a day. Though it’ll be open regular hours on New Year’s Eve—plenty of time to see the great apes and the elephants—you might want to save your visit for New Year’s Day. At 5 p.m., the grounds will transform into a magical land of holiday lights for the annual ZooLights celebration. In addition to the more than 500,000 LED lights that make up the holiday display, ZooLights also involves musical performances, snow-less snow tubing on Lion/Tiger Hill, and refreshments like eggnog, hot chocolate, holiday cookies, and gingerbread.

—Amy McKeever

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