World's Craziest Party Towns
“Goths in black leather sit next to new-century punks with dyed Mohawks, who are talking to a group of ‘80s revival, thrift-shop girls on their way to a party that’ll be DJ’d by a transvestite,” says Peter Chow, 30, an American student living in Berlin. He’s describing what he sees on the subway coming home from carousing at 5 a.m. in this anything-goes party town (though 5 a.m. is of course way early to quit). “It’s impossible to be bored in this city.”
Revelers may converge on party meccas like Rio de Janeiro, Munich, and New York City for specific events like Carnival, Oktoberfest, and New Year’s, but a great party town is one that buzzes year-round. It’s an expectation that Berlin lives up to, night after night. And the same holds true for other hot spots around the globe.
Related: America's Best Cities for Nightlife
Take New Orleans. The Big Easy goes extra wild for Mardi Gras, of course, but the sultry, unabashedly debauched town that’s launched many a music career is a party that never stops. “New Orleans just has great odd things happening,” says resident Sally Asher, mid-30s, who loves eclectic music venues, like Rock ‘n’ Bowl, where Cajun dancing mixes with bowling.
It’s not a surprise that many of our party towns are in urban areas. Big-city vibrancy and sophistication permeates São Paulo, Brazil, often referred to as the “New York of South America” for its international culture and ethnic mix. The term “balada,” meaning “excitement, partying, and fun starting at midnight and lasting till noon,” began with Paulistanos, residents of São Paulo. And Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, is famous for its Nordic brand of nightlife, and even economic downturn hasn’t stopped the revelry—it just makes partying more affordable for tourists stopping after easy flights from the U.S. or Europe.
But cities aren’t the only places to find a party. Islands, too, often spur the urge to get up and dance. Greece’s island of Mykonos, for example, lures sun and song worshipers. “The whole hungover island dozes until around noon,” says Mark Guiducci, 20, a Princeton University student from San Diego, reflecting on his most recent visit. “Then the beaches and clubs become populated with beautiful people, and techno music again percolates across the island.”
And you know you’re in party-land when the nightclub holds 10,000 guests. That’s the claim made by Privilege, a club on the Spanish island of Ibiza (also home to the “foam party,” where cannons spray suds over exuberant dancers until they’re neck-deep in bubbles).
But great parties aren’t restricted to tropical climes. Ask Gable Richardella, a ski instructor in Steamboat Springs, in Colorado’s Yampa Valley. “Steamboat is a great party town,” he says, “because locals are pulled to like-minded people who enjoy life and want to have a good time—and end up staying in Steamboat longer than they thought they would.” He’s lived in the resort town 15 years.
Richardella cites the “Yampa Valley Curse,” which says, “Once you come to the valley, you are destined to return.” Maybe that’s the “curse” of all party towns—no one ever wants to leave.
The Scene: More “party isle” than just “party town,” Ibiza entertains a global crowd of revelers who romp in three villages: Ibiza Town, San Antonio, and San Rafael—a tradition that started in 1973 with the debut of the island’s first (and perennially popular) club, Pacha, in Ibiza Town.
Hot Spots: Spain’s manic party-till-dawn mantra is especially evident at the largest club in the world, the seven-story-tall Privilege (in San Rafael), which can accommodate some 10,000 celebrants and has an open, 65-foot-wide geodesic dome and a stable of DJs who spin while suspended over a dance-floor swimming pool. One mile away at Amnesia, partiers kick up their heels at the regular Fiesta de la Espuma, or Foam Festival.
Tip: Wear a swimsuit at Ibiza’s effervescent foam parties—the suds can get five-feet deep (and stain your clothes).
Airlie Beach, Queensland, Australia
The Scene: Along the central coast of Queensland, palm-fringed Airlie Beach—a jumping-off point for travelers (read: backpackers) sailing on charters to the Whitsunday Islands and Great Barrier Reef—has emerged as one of Australia’s top places to party.
Hot Spots: Near the boardwalk, popular Magnums has its own party formula: a beer garden with live music, cheap drinks, mechanical surfboard riding, jelly wrestling, and...you get the idea. After the bars close, the crowd tumbles over to Mama Africa’s, a DJ-centric club with zebra-striped dance floor and tribal motifs.
Tip: Chill at Fish D’vine rum bar, which serves 74 different kinds of rum—one for each of the 74 Whitsunday Islands.
The Scene: At Berlin Fashion Week in 2009, designer Michael Michalsky threw one of the season’s hottest after-parties—in a derelict swimming pool turned debauched nightclub, where bartenders sported priest collars. Anything goes in wild international Berlin.
Hot Spots: Beautiful people, globe-trotters, and creative change-agents flock to venues like 360° sky-bar lounge for German techno; sky-high 40Seconds (named for its only access: a 40-second elevator ride), or club-restaurant Felix, where tables are cleared at 11 p.m. to make room for an epic dance floor between two-story-tall lighted pillars.
São Paulo, Brazil
The Scene: The fourth largest city in the world, São Paulo beckons with New York City–style big-city sophistication doused with hot sauce. Sexy Paulistanos’ unrivaled joie de vivre make the Brazilian metropolis one of the most sizzling spots on the planet.
Hot Spots: At restaurant-club Grazie a Dio!, cosmopolitan polish meets Brazil’s funky side when live samba or choro bands take the stage. D-Edge, one of the city’s coolest electronic-music clubs, attracts partiers with a wild dance room that makes you feel like you’re inside a giant Rubik’s Cube.
Tip: Head to Emporio de Serra tavern atop the Cantareira, overlooking São Paulo’s skyscrapers, to savor Brazil’s national cocktail, the caipirinha, made of lime juice, sugar, and cachaça (distilled from sugarcane).
Steamboat Springs, Colorado
The Scene: Serious skiing and serious partying sum up scenic laissez-faire Steamboat Springs, which is also hometown to 54 Winter Olympic athletes. Not surprisingly, winter and early spring are the small mountain resort town’s most raucous times of year.
Hot Spots: After a day on the slopes, skiers unwind at the atmospheric honky-tonk Gondola Pub & Grill, where a full-size gondola loaded with skis dangles from the ceiling over the dance floor. Later, the action shifts to laid-back local hangouts, like Mahogany Ridge Brewery & Grill, featuring house brew Olympic Gold and live bands on weekends.
Tip: Soothe dance-and-ski-exhausted muscles with a deep-tissue massage and mineral soak in natural stone-lined pools at nearby Strawberry Park Hot Springs.
The Scene: Just south of the Arctic Circle, Reykjavik has midnight sun in summer (a grand spectacle to celebrate) and only four hours of daylight in winter—an essential reason to party indoors, and keep up with the locals on nightly rúntur, or pub crawls. Their drink of choice?Brennevin (a caraway-flavored schnapps) and Coke.
Hot Spots: Although chilly outside, it’s still hot (after eight years) inside NASA, the supernova nightclub with a spacious stage, where a galaxy of gorgeous carousers can make live videos of themselves. Other hot spots du jour: stylish Kaffi Solon (known for its hypnotic electronic music) and the pink-hued gay boîte, Q-Bar.
Tip: Recover in Reykjavik’s plentiful “hot pots” and springs, including the Blue Lagoon, with 98-to-102-degree geothermal seawater that’s milky-blue from silica and other minerals.
The Scene: It was Jackie Kennedy Onassis who helped make the Greek island of Mykonos the place to be and party in the ‘60s. And Bacchus is still alive and well here; after dark, when the sun sets on the whitewashed Cycladic buildings overlooking the Aegean Sea, straight and gay celebrants paint the town red.
Hot Spots: Hedonism is honored at clubs like Space Dance, which can accommodate some 1,000 gyrating merrymakers. In a spectacular location overlooking Paradise Beach, Dionysus devotees at Cavo Paradiso Club romp around a pool.
Tip: Heading to the airport directly from the party?Bouncers at Paradiso will stash luggage.
New Orleans, Louisiana
The Scene: Sultry New Orleans—the southern town that launched music greats Louis Armstrong, Dr. John, and Wynton Marsalis—goes wild during Mardi Gras and JazzFest (April 24–26, April 30–May 3, 2009), but in truth, the party never stops in the cobbled 18th-century French Quarter and beyond.
Hot Spots: Buskers and bands blare from street corners year-round, and live jazz reigns, especially on swingin’ Frenchman Street, where every night DBA bar showcases local bands pounding out traditional N.O. jive like Dixieland, funk, and blues. Locals also love Mid-City Rock ‘n’ Bowl for its live Cajun, zydeco, and rockabilly.
Tip: Don’t miss stopping in Vaughan’s Lounge very late on Thursday night when local trumpeter Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers play—and when Ruffins is known to break in the middle of a set to serve barbecue from the back of his truck.
Punta del Este, Uruguay
The Scene: “There’s always time to sleep in winter” is the mantra of Punta del Este, the peninsular playground of South America’s rich and famous. During the south-of-the-border summer, the well-heeled from Buenos Aires and Montevideo crowd beaches, clubs, casinos, and polo tournaments that cater exclusively to the glitterati.
Hot Spots: In the early evenings (“early” meaning after midnight), the in-crowd hits laid-back Moby Dick. After 2 a.m., the party moves to New York–themed Soho. Four miles up the coast, Crobar creates a warehouselike party atmosphere, complete with multiple dance levels, disco balls, and strobe lights.
Tip: Always carry sunglasses—no one ever leaves the clubs before dawn.
Koh Phangan, Thailand
The Scene: Re-create free-spirited scenes from Leo DiCaprio’s The Beach (2000) at Thailand’s Full Moon Festival. Claiming to be the “world’s biggest beach party,” the all-night outdoor celebration on Haad Rin Beach, on the moonrise-side of Koh Phangan island, explodes every month with some 10,000 globe-trotters looking to cut loose to techno, hip-hop, and psy trance on a white-sand beach under the glowing night sky. Raves do still happen.
Hot Spots: Can’t make the full moon?No worries—the clubs rock daily, and in Ban Tai village, two miles northwest, you’ll find a biweekly Half-Moon Festival and a monthly Black Moon Festival.
Tip: Although it may be tempting with the balmy temperatures and free atmosphere, don’t go barefoot—broken bottles are not uncommon in the sand.