New Year’s Eve, usually a time of celebration and merriment is definitely looking different this year. The pandemic has already changed the way we live and travel, including the types of destinations we choose to visit. The biggest night of the year won’t be an exception, and the ever-changing safety restrictions and regulations* have left many of us scratching our heads wondering where the heck to celebrate the arrival of 2021. We’ve picked five destinations that comply with COVID-19 regulations or are remote enough to not jeopardize anyone’s health.
Bern, Switzerland, isn’t your typical capital city. While Zürich earns its cosmopolitan reputation, Bern is more of a throwback to Switzerland’s past, with cobblestone streets, a medieval old town and red-tiled roofs dotting the skyline. The Swiss city is quite empty on New Year’s Eve on a regular December 31st—as partygoers prefer more bustling metropolises such as Zürich and Geneva—so we can only imagine how quiet it will be this year.
Watch the dazzling pyrotechnic display on nearby Mt. Gurten from the safety of your hotel balcony or toast with locals outdoors on the Munsterplatz, the main square. If you’re looking for a safe and socially distanced dinner spot, the iconic Kornhauskeller, a Bernese restaurant situated in a frescoed, vaulted cellar, normally welcomes a small number of well-heeled guests.
Haparanda, Sweden–Tornio, Finland
Celebrating New Year’s Eve twice in one night? In Scandinavia, you might! The twin cities of Haparanda and Tornio, located in Sweden and Finland, respectively, are separated by a bridge, just a few minutes away but in different time zones.
After dinner with their families, locals head to Victoria Square in Tornio where the first socially distanced countdown with music and fireworks takes place. After midnight, it’s time to take a bus or walk to Haparanda to repeat the process—hot chocolate in hand, natch—with the knowledge of the new year you just left in Finland. Finish off the double celebration by heading back to Finland to witness the breathtaking Northern Lights.
Located 255 miles from Athens, Ioannina is the largest city in the Epirus region, and is famous across the Greek isles for its New Year’s Eve celebrations. Locals flock to the streets to celebrate all day and night on December 31.
Try some shish kabobs grilled on makeshift barbecues set up on the picture-perfect sidewalks, dance to the traditional music and delight at the festive decorations on display. If you want a more relaxed holiday, walk along Lake Pamvotida and marvel at its tranquil waters. Ioannina was once an Ottoman stronghold and sites such as the House Matei Hussein or the Ottoman mosque of Veli Pasha attest to its turbulent past. The Castle of Ioannina, built in 528 by Emperor Justinian, is the oldest surviving Byszantine fortress in Greece.
The small medieval town of Kitzbühel has one of the best ski resorts in Austria, and its après-ski festivities are so world renowned that you might come across a celebrity or two. The resort offers everything from bunny hills for beginners to black diamonds for pros (it’s here you’ll find Streif, one of the most famous runs in the world).
For expert skiers, Gaisberg Mountain is floodlit on Thursday and Friday nights, ensuring a magical downhill experience with the moon as your guide. Celebrate with your loved ones by renting one of the charming, private mountain lodges, which feature floor-to-ceiling windows, wooden accents and sun terraces. If you want to stay in but don’t want to miss the fireworks, rest assured—they take place on New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day!
Cities always have great firework shows but the sea is the perfect backdrop to pyrotechnics. Ostend, Belgium, on the North Sea is known for its impressive firework displays during the summer and New Year’s Eve is no different.
Adolf Buylstraat, the main thoroughfare in town, is transformed into an illuminated gateway with thousands of LED lights on display. Once they make their way through the “tunnel,” locals head to Ostend Promenade on Groot Strand Beach to watch the fireworks. The best vantage point is near Casino Kursaal, an impressive modernist building erected in 1953 by Leon Stynen to replace the previous casino, which was bombed during the Second World War. If you stay past January 1, you can join other brave locals who make a mad dash into the North Sea for the town’s annual polar bear plunge. Brrr!
*Since the pandemic, travel regulations are in constant flux. Borders and businesses may close temporarily or permanently. Please travel safely and check out the Open Travel Index for up-to-date information on restrictions and regulations.