America's Best Cities for New Year's Eve
As a former flight attendant, Beth Blair had been to Las Vegas countless times. A few years ago, she decided it would be a great place to spend New Year’s Eve: bright lights, cocktails, and an all-night party.
But it wasn’t what she’d hoped. “On the last day of the year, Las Vegas turns into a disrupted anthill—too chaotic and wild for me,” says Blair, now a travel blogger based in Minneapolis. “I was surprised Las Vegas could get any more amped up. It just brings out the wildest of the wild.”
Related: Best Places to Spend New Year's
Of course, that anthill level of excitement doesn’t scare everyone away. In the latest Travel + Leisure survey, Sin City ranked No. 5 out of 35 as the best American city for New Year’s Eve.
The best place to spend New Year’s Eve was just one part of the America’s Favorite Cities survey, where Travel + Leisure readers ranked 35 U.S. cities in 54 categories, such as the best luxury shopping, the best live music, and even the best coffee bars.
Finding a great place to celebrate New Year’s Eve is important. While many of us keep a standing New Year’s date with the TV and a pair of fuzzy slippers, more than 1 in 4 Americans plan to travel to welcome in the new year, according to a survey from LowFares.com.
Like Blair, not everyone who travels for New Year’s wants a raucous time. When we looked at the Top 25 for New Year’s in the AFC survey, a mix of great live music, good bars, and wild weekend potential helped bolster many cities’ rankings. But warm weather also seemed to play a huge role. Two of the Top 10 cities are on islands, two are in the desert, and one—San Diego—is the AFC voters’ winner in the climate category.
Many people also just have different definitions of what constitutes a good party. Memphis, for all its great music and good food, still came in at No. 25 for New Year’s Eve—perhaps because AFC voters found other things about staying in Memphis that dampened their spirits. Meanwhile, southern city Savannah—new to the AFC survey—shot to No. 4, even besting Vegas, proving that some folks would rather err on the side of charming for December 31.
And what about New York City, arguably the epicenter of New Year’s Eve? It made a mediocre No. 13 showing, perhaps due to cold temps, big crowds, and high prices. Shari Lynn Rothstein-Kramer, a native New Yorker, admits that she has spent more New Year’s Eves than she can count in Times Square. “Every year I swore I wouldn’t do it again,” she said, “but then a friend would come into town, or it wouldn’t seem so cold—but it was never really fun.”
Here’s where to go—and where not to go—to ensure that you do have fun on New Year’s Eve.
No. 25 Memphis
How could such a music-filled city (No. 8) rank so poorly for New Year’s Eve? Maybe it’s that AFC voters didn’t like the places to bunk down after midnight tolls: the city’s luxury, boutique, and even business hotels all rank in the bottom five. The city also doesn’t inspire much confidence after dark: it came in last place for feeling safe.
No. 24 Kansas City
Since the midwestern city ranks a ho-hum No. 31 for its wild weekend potential, maybe it’s no surprise that it doesn’t dazzle the masses for the biggest party night of the year. Plus, all those good barbecue places—the city ranks No. 2 for its ribs and such—probably close well before 12 a.m.
No. 23 Dallas/Fort Worth
If all you want from New Year’s is a nice dinner and an early night, Dallas may be your town: its big-name restaurants ranked No. 13, but its live music offerings ranked No. 34, and its singles’ scene No. 29. This is clearly also not the city to steal a kiss as the ball drops: the city ranks next to last for being a romantic escape.
No. 22 Atlanta
The fact that AFC voters’ favorite thing about Atlanta is its business hotels (No. 8) doesn’t bode well for a sparkling night out. And yet, those buttoned-down hotels are your best bet for access to watching the 800-pound peach drop at midnight in downtown. You probably won’t blow your budget, either: Atlanta ranks right in the middle of the survey (No. 19) for affordability.
No. 21 Santa Fe
For some people, the fact that Santa Fe comes in last place as a wild weekend spot, as well as No. 1 for peace and quiet, translates into an enticing New Year’s Eve. The No. 4 town for weather makes for good end-of-year shopping and gallery-hopping: it’s in the Top 5 for antiques, vintage shops, and indie boutiques, as well as museums and galleries.
No. 20 Salt Lake City
If you’re expecting a raging bar scene in this Utah city, you have no one but yourself to blame (it ranks last, at No. 35). But this city has fun in other ways: its downtown does offer three nights of family-friendly music and festivities at a low price—no surprise, since the city ranks No. 2 for year-round affordability and No. 3 for family vacations
No. 19 Los Angeles
L.A. ranks last for its public transit options, so your New Year’s outing here will require a designated driver. There’s also something of a mandate to do it up right: its locals rank No. 9 for being stylish, while its luxury hotels came in at No. 8 and its big-name restaurants at No. 6. Sound pricey? It is. Los Angeles comes in next-to-last for affordability.
No. 18 Providence
In the No. 2 town for theater and performance art, it makes sense that Providence’s New Year’s party, Bright Night Providence, is arts-driven. And if you don’t want crowds, this is a great town for hanging out in a hole-in-a-wall: the Rhode Island city ranks third for its neighborhood joints, and its burgers and pizza come in at No. 3, too.
No. 17 Houston
Several hotels here do big New Year’s Eve parties, which is probably your best bet in this Texas city—AFC voters rank it third for affordable hotels and fourth for its business hotels. Venture out for some good cheap eats, too: its burgers reign at No. 1.
No. 16 Denver
While AFC voters would rather come here when it’s warmer (it ranks No. 6 for summer visits), you can still celebrate New Year’s downtown while watching the annual fireworks show. You might forgo the champagne, though: the best bubblies in town are the microbrews, which rank No. 2.
No. 15 San Francisco
You can see the city’s New Year’s fireworks from almost any high perch—the city ranks third for its city views. Or you could opt for the annual silent-film screening at Grace Cathedral—a classic in the city that is also in the Top 5 for cultural getaways. Just budget yourself well: San Francisco is in the bottom 10 for affordable trips.
No. 14 Orlando
AFC voters find the theme-park metropolis more appealing this time of year than they do in the crowded summertime (No. 30). At the very least, a sizable portion of visitors that week have bedtimes well before midnight. In the city that’s No. 1 for family trips and for all-in-one resorts, a good New Year’s might mean living it up and ordering late-night room service.
No. 13 New York City
The prospect of standing in Times Square to watch the big ball drop didn’t entice as many AFC voters as one might think. Granted, there’s the whole rest of the city to enjoy, including those big-name restaurants (No. 1 in the survey) and cocktails (No. 3). But on the biggest party night of the year, the last-place city for affordability doesn’t offer too many bargains.
No. 12 Nashville
Seems that “Auld Lang Syne” sounds even better on a steel guitar. If your idea of dressing up for a night out means putting on your favorite Stetson and your Lucchese boots—or even if it doesn’t—it’s hard to argue with Nashville. The city ranks No. 1 for live music and for affordability.
No. 11 Miami
Though it comes in at No. 3 for a wild weekend and No. 6 for its bar scene, this sizzling city couldn’t crack the Top 10 for New Year’s Eve. But then, it’s also one of the least safe-feeling cities (No. 31) and home to some of the least friendly locals (No. 32). Perhaps, as the song goes, some acquaintances should be forgot.
No. 10 Charleston
In the No. 3 city for peace and quiet, you won’t get a raucous New Year’s Eve, but so much the better. The No. 1 town for B&Bs, boutique hotels, and antiques shops offers a civilized holiday, and its locals (No. 1 for friendliness) ooze charm.
No. 9 Austin
You can always find a party on the city’s bar-filled Sixth Street—it’s probably why AFC voters ranked the capital of Texas the No. 4 town for wild weekends, and No. 2 for its live music and singles scene. Just don’t forget to recycle your empties: it’s the No. 4 town for environmental friendliness.
No. 8 San Diego
The hotel and nightclub–sponsored parties in downtown seem all the more accessible when it’s barely jacket weather. In the mild-weathered San Diego—AFC voters’ favorite place for climate—you’ll also find an overall laid-back vibe. It ranks No. 6 for romance and No. 7 for a relaxing vacation. Turn in early so you can get up for a New Year’s Day jog on the beach: the city ranks No. 5 for its access to the great outdoors.
No. 7 San Antonio
The city’s Riverwalk is always a magnet for revelers, and especially so on New Year’s Eve, when there is free music during the evening and fireworks at midnight. Of the Top 10 New Year’s cities, San Antonio wins as having the most affordable hotels (No. 4), and you can count on a big dinner—it’s No. 5 for ethnic food and No. 7 for barbecue. It’s probably just fine to loosen your belt afterward too: San Antonio ranks a dowdy No. 29 for style.
No. 6 Phoenix/Scottsdale
The snowbird appeal of this desert city may explain why it ranks so well for New Year’s Eve. The No. 5 city for winter visits means there’s a big audience looking for fun. Plus, there’s no need to stray far from your well-furnished base camp. The city ranks No. 2 for all-in-one resorts and No. 6 for luxury hotels.
No. 5 Las Vegas
In the No. 1 city for wild weekends, you can count on a raucous New Year’s Eve—and one that may last until well after midnight, or even after the bowl games. Whenever the party ends, have your best hangover remedy ready—the city ranks dead last for peace and quiet.
No. 4 Savannah
This quaint coastal city offers a carefree New Year’s Eve —it ranks No. 2 for being pedestrian-friendly as well as being just plain old friendly. There’s plenty that’s free and easy here on December 31: fireworks at Tybee Pier and a free music festival at City Market. If you’re up for it on January 1, you can also do the annual Polar Bear Plunge into the chilly Atlantic.
No. 3 Honolulu
December 31 offers up a luau in the night sky: fireworks over both Waikiki Beach and the Aloha Tower Marketplace. A kid-friendly place for the holiday—it ranks No. 2 for being family-friendly—the city also won top marks from AFC voters as the most relaxing and the most romantic city any night of the year,
No. 2 San Juan, Puerto Rico
Warm temps (No. 3) and plenty of cocktails (No. 4) helped propel this capital city to No. 3 for winter visits and a party-hopping second place for New Year’s. Even without the coquito—a Puerto Rican version of eggnog popular this time of year—San Juan ranks in the Top 10 for looks, style, and friendliness.
No. 1 New Orleans
As the No. 1 champ for cocktails, the singles scene, and friendly neighborhood joints, the Crescent City is a natural winner for a memorable New Year’s Eve. And if you’re not the life of the party? So much the better—you can still have a great time checking out everyone else: New Orleans also ranks No. 1 for people-watching.