Miriam B. Weiner
If watching the ball drop in Times Square is high on your bucket list, then sure, head to New York City. But if you prefer the bright lights and free-flowing Champagne without the tourist hoopla, steer clear of Manhattan: There are plenty of other cities ringing in 2013 in a truly memorable fashion. We've scoured the globe for hot spots where you won't just be another face in a televised crowd, but where you can really kick off an exciting new year in style. From dragons to cartoon characters to abnormally large pieces of fruit, here are 11 of the world's hottest places to spend New Year's Eve.
[In Pictures: Best New Year's Eve Party Towns]
While the Big Apple may drop a world-famous glittering ball, the Big Peach lowers exactly that: a big peach. Every year, thousands of spectators gather in downtown Atlanta's Underground for cook-outs and live music -- this year, one of the world's premier Beatles cover bands (Abbey Road LIVE!) will be saying "Goodbye" to 2012 and "Hello" to 2013 with some of the band's most beloved melodies. Then, as 2012 comes to a close, peel your eyes for the evening's main event: While counting down the seconds to the New Year, an 800-pound peach will slowly make its way to the ground.
You're guaranteed a wild night in this city down under -- after all, given its location, Sydney is the first city on our list to usher in the New Year. The Aussie metropolis plans to welcome roughly 500,000 more people than Times Square, with another billion spectators tuning in to watch the live broadcast. Start off your evening by watching the Harbour of Light Parade, when approximately 50 tall ships -- illuminated by colorful twinkle lights -- will glide past Sydney Harbour on their way to Clark Island in the eastern part of the city. Then, find yourself a waterfront seat and turn your gaze towards Sydney Harbour Bridge; once the clock strikes midnight, the bridge will become the epicenter of a fantastic fireworks display, comprised of thousands of colorful pops and crackles originating from barges, the bridge, and seven surrounding buildings. Sure, the spectacle won't last all night, but the celebration will. Take advantage of the warm weather (it's summertime in Australia) and enjoy some al fresco partying at The Rocks.
Long before Americans were celebrating New Year's Eve with Ryan Seacrest -- or even with the late Dick Clark -- Hongkongese were celebrating the annual event with vibrant parades and fire crackers. This year, as revelers bid adieu to the Year of the Dragon and prepare to welcome the Year of the Snake, they will fill their bellies with street food (particularly fried pastries) and have their fortunes told -- all while lion dancers sashay through the city during the Countdown Carnival. When 2013 arrives, wish everyone "kung hei fat choy" ("success and prosperity") as you gaze up at the fireworks exploding across the sky over Hong Kong's Victoria Harbour. But the festivities don't end once the New Year begins; parades and partiers continue to fill the streets for two or three days after the rest of the world has already given up on their New Year's resolutions.
If you want to ring in 2013 without inhibition, the Crescent City is the just the place to throw caution to the wind and partake in a rip-roaring music and party scene. While New Orleans serves as a wild party spot no matter the season, the city really bursts into life on December 31 (and Mardi Gras, of course). As the ball descends in Manhattan's Times Square, the Big Easy releases its own three-pronged Fleur de Lis (a symbol of its abundant French heritage), igniting the sky with dazzling fireworks over the Mississippi River. The Crescent City Countdown kicks off at 9 p.m. and lasts until midnight. But let's be honest, you're probably not in town for the ceremony. As the wee hours of the morning approach, the French Quarter's bars overflow onto the cobblestone streets, with New Orleanians reveling in New Year's wishes (and lax liquor laws).
Rio de Janeiro
Speaking of cities that love to party, you can celebrate the new year in a sea of white in one of the world's most notorious party cities. As 2013 approaches, several million people will descend on the Marvelous City's famous Copacabana Beach to catch an oceanfront fireworks display. Revelers don white clothes (said to bring good luck) and hit the beach around 8 p.m., when the airwaves vibrate with festive Brazilian samba music and the surf gobbles up red roses and white gladioli -- tossed into the waves by attendees as an offering to Iemanjá, Queen of the Sea. After the fireworks wrap up, the crowds disperse and reconvene in bars and nightclubs across Rio. But with all the champagne and intoxicating libations being passed around, don't expect your white shirt to stay crisp and clean. Your best bet is saving your fancy attire for another day.
Though Chi-Town's temperatures may be icy, New Year's Eve in the Windy City is one hot party. On December 31, Chicago buzzes with energy: Live music and DJ beats pour through the streets from hotels, restaurants, and nightclubs across the city. But the most extravagant celebration takes place at the most festive part of the Second City -- Navy Pier. As 2012 draws to a close, this fun-loving, family-friendly attraction transforms into the see-and-be-seen locale, hosting the city's top New Year's Eve soirée, the Resolution Gala. For $145 a head, you are invited to partake in an open bar, free hors d'oeuvres, and a premium spot to enjoy spectacular views of Lake Michigan and the city skyline.
It should come as no surprise that Sin City found its way onto this list. After all, Las Vegas never needs an excuse to party. But as 2013 approaches, expect the Entertainment Capital of the World to kick it up a notch. Get a jump on the heavy crowds and make your way to Fremont Street a little early. On December 29 and 30, the sidewalks fill with music fans gearing up for TributePalooza, which showcases some of the city's best cover bands like Fan Halen and Led Zepagain. Then, on December 31, hit the Strip and fix your eyes to the sky to witness a larger-than-life fireworks display signaling the beginning of one wild night. (The pyrotechnics are fired at midnight from the rooftops of hotels like the MGM Grand, The Venetian, and ARIA, and are best seen from Las Vegas Boulevard.) Head to the clubs (Pure nightclub at Caesars Palace and 1OAK at The Mirage are always popular) or hit the casino floor -- maybe a new year will be a lucky one.
One of America's hottest party cities goes all out for New Year's Eve, with hotels, restaurants, and nightclubs lining up top performers and top-shelf drinks. But before you paint the town, begin your evening in downtown Miami, where the InterContinental Hotel hosts the Big Orange Celebration, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last year. Alongside the famed Orange Bowl Parade (dubbed "the Times Square celebration of the South"), the festivities culminate with the raising of a massive Florida orange (sporting sunglasses, of course) 400 feet into the air in the midst of revelers and fireworks over Biscayne Bay. Then, make your way to Miami Beach for the Orange Drive Music Festival. Starting at 9 p.m., the sands along Ocean Drive transform into one massive dance floor, with music blasting until 2 a.m.
New Year's Eve is all about ringing in the new without forgetting the old. Nowhere is this philosophy more apparent than in Edinburgh, where the annual Hogmanay festival combines the holiday's usual revelry with time-honored tradition. On December 30, the Scots will prepare to bid adieu to 2012 the way they have for years: by carrying torches to the top of Calton Hill accompanied by bagpipe music. Then, on December 31, Edinburgh's sidewalks fill-up again -- only this time, the air will be saturated with DJ mixes (and a stimulating rendition of "Auld Lang Syne") and the sky will cast a gorgeous fireworks display come midnight.
Canada's city of superlatives prefers to go big or go home when it comes to celebrating the New Year. Toronto turns it upon December 31, with hotels, bars, and nightclubs throwing down like there's no tomorrow. But here's the kicker: How do you find the party that's right for you? Well, if you're single, consider starting 2013 with a hunt for Mr. or Miss Right at Toronto's Largest Singles Party. Or if you're not quite ready to step into the future, blast back to the past at the Back in the Day 90s-themed celebration. Looking for a more luxurious soirée? Toronto's largest, most extravagant party -- Grand 2013 -- takes place at the Liberty Grand Entertainment Complex at Exchange Place. Here, you can toast to 2013 with thousands of party-goers.
If you're looking to see stars this New Year's Eve, then you're best bet is Los Angeles. Home to some of the largest celebrations in the country -- from concerts to dance parties to magic shows -- you'll find plenty of thrilling ways to kick off 2013. Head downtown for outdoor music festivals and street revelry, or try one of the city's hotels (the W and the Beverly Wilshire are two extravagant hot spots) for rooftop fêtes. For a more low-key bash, nab tickets to the Los Angeles Philharmonic New Year's Eve Concert at Walt Disney Concert Hall. Just remember to hold on to some cash for the end of the night: L.A. does not provide accessible public transportation, and to keep the roads safe, you'll need to rely on a cab to get home.
[In Pictures: Best New Year's Eve Party Towns]