New Year’s Eve at the London Eye: What to Expect

New Year’s Eve in London, England, is one of the most exciting nights of the year.

As the clock strikes midnight, the bells of Big Ben ring out like a siren’s call through the streets of London. Each year, the sky above the Thames River comes alive with the glow of 10,000 fireworks. Not even the brightest evening stars can compete with the rainbow of colors that bursts through the darkness over the Coca-Cola London Eye as part of city’s largest annual fireworks display. Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about New Year’s Eve in London, from how to get tickets to what you can expect on the big night.

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

Plan Ahead

Many people think they can just show up on the day of the event and walk through the gates, but that simply isn’t so. You actually need to purchase tickets to the event, and you need to do it well in advance. In fact, tickets typically go on sale in late September and cost about £10 each. There are no guarantees you will be able to see the fireworks if you do not buy a ticket. Tickets sell out fast. I mean really, really fast. I bought my tickets the same day they went on sale, and already the prime viewing sections were sold out.

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

There are six viewing areas for the event, which is officially known as the Mayor of London’s New Year’s Eve Fireworks. Each one provides its own unique view of the fireworks. It’s recommended that you think about how you will be traveling to and from the event before you choose a viewing area. Most main streets are closed down to public transportation, so you may have to walk quite a distance to reach your destination.

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

When to Arrive

As noted previously, most streets are closed down to traffic, so plan to arrive early if you want to take public transportation to the main area. We chose to walk from our hotel. It was a lovely night, and the walk took only about 45 minutes. Based on my aforementioned Time’s Square experience, I was expecting massive crowds. As a result, I insisted we get to our designated entrance before the 8 p.m. opening time. I thought it would take hours to navigate the streets to our viewing area, but I was totally and utterly wrong.

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

The streets were utterly empty until we got about a block away from the entrance. Then, suddenly, we were swallowed up by a massive, but very friendly, crowd until the entrance opened a short while later. When it did open, the guards let in only a few people at a time. We ended up standing should-to-shoulder with some very friendly people for about an hour, and it felt like time was standing still. There was a lot of pushing and shoving as we got closer and people became less patient. I was with my 60-something mother, and I was a bit concerned for her safety. That said, the people around us were quite protective and did their best to keep us out of harm’s way.

Pro Tip: Dress in layers. In our case, the temperatures were unseasonably warm, so I peeled off a few layers to keep from melting. But the weather could just as easily swing in the other direction. It doesn’t hurt to come prepared for anything.

What to Expect Inside

Once we finally made it through the gate, the staff made sure we actually had in our possession tickets and that we were in the correct viewing area. We then passed through a security check before making our way inside…which was actually outside, of course! I was pleasantly surprised by just how spacious the area was. I had plenty of room to dance and stretch out. At first, I assumed the crowds would fill in around us as the minutes ticked by, but that wasn’t the case.

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

We didn’t wander too far from the gates, so I’m not sure how far our viewing area spanned in any one direction. There are no seats and no one tells you where to stand. It’s a free for all once you’re inside. A DJ spins tunes and pumps up the crowd, and there are a few vendors selling refreshments and souvenirs. We found a curb we could sit on for the next two hours while we waited for the official countdown to midnight. We chatted idly with the people around us and made a few new friends who were also visiting from other parts of the world.

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

Pro Tip: You are only allowed to bring small bags inside the viewing area. You can have food and drink, including small amounts of alcohol — only enough for you to consume so make sure your friends bring their own beverages. There are also portable toilets on site, and there are enough of them that you won’t have to wait long to use them.

When Sparks Fly

I’ve celebrated New Year’s in cities all over the world, including the ultimate New York Time’s Square experience, and I can honestly say that London is my top choice to date. When Big Ben begins to chime and the first sparks ignite over the London Eye, the wave of energy that rips through the crowd is truly contagious. The 12-minute pyrotechnics show lights up the sky in time to a specially crafted custom soundtrack that dazzles every bit as much as the visual display.

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

You’ll be blown away — literally and figuratively by the sheer volume of fireworks and quick clip of the fireworks as they explode across the sky. It’s a sight to behold and a memory to hold dear. I’ve popped in a few super poor-quality pictures to give you an idea of the experience, and while I am a professional photographer by trade, you would never know it. Admittedly, I was much more focused on watching the show and enjoying myself than getting the money shot. It was truly stellar. I’ve interspersed a few more impressive photos taken by others as well.

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

New Year's Eve at the London Eye  

Pro Tip: Look for benches within your line of sight. People will stand on those benches once the show begins, and you will not be able to see around them. We sat in the same spot for two hours only to have to find a new location once the show started for this very reason. It was especially awesome when they started taking selfies and were not even watching the show. 

Getting Home

The entire ordeal lasts only mere moments, but it’s worth every minute. And when the show’s over, it’s really over. In fact, there’s nothing left to see. Most people beeline for the exits and begin making their way to their next destination, which for us was the hotel. Streets that were open to traffic on our way to the show were now closed down to cars. We were in shock and awe to find even Piccadilly Circus at a standstill. But the streets were abuzz no less with pedestrians and partiers. We walked the entire way back to our hotel near Paddington Station. And while the trek took more than an hour, there were plenty of exciting sights and sounds along the way.

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

For those of you wondering where I stay when I’m in London, it all depends on my budget. If money is no object —  which, let’s face it, is rare — I love to stay at Hazlitt’s Hotel in Soho. The upscale 1800s ambiance and boutique service is second to none, and the location near shopping, entertainment, and eateries is ideal. However, when I’m in need of a more budget-friendly accommodation, I turn to the Paddington Point A. Just a five-minute walk from Paddington Station, the location is perfect if you’re planning to take a few day trips by train to places such as Oxford or Windsor. The no-frills hotel is clean, the staff is friendly, and it’s only a 15-minute walk to the ever-popular Oxford Street.

Booking.com

Parade Day

As an added bonus, for the past 30 years on January 1, the city hosts London’s New Year’s Parade. Starting at noon, more than 10,000 participants ranging from cheerleaders to marching bands and cultural performers strut their talent through some of London’s most popular places, including Trafalgar Square and the aforementioned Picadilly Circus. You can purchase seats — yes actual seats in bleachers — in advance so you can rest your feet and stay covered in the case of inclement weather. Or you can take your chances on the weather and find a place to stand on the sidelines at the last minute. Either way, it’s a fun way to spend the day, especially since many stores and attractions do not open on New Year’s Day.

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

New Year's Eve at the London Eye

If you’re looking for a fun-filled New Year’s Eve experience that’s action-packed but not overcrowded, check out New Year’s Eve at the London Eye. You’ll be delighted and awed by the spectacular display. And if you’re up for it the next day, the London New Year’s Parade is worth checking out, too.

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New Year's Eve at the London Eye

New Year’s Eve in Paris: A Wanderlust Experience

What could be better than New Year’s Eve in Paris? It is the City of Lights after all.

 

Paris is one of the most beautiful, romantic, decadent cities in the world, so it’s a real treat to ring in the new year in this amazing place. Throughout the holiday season, the city is filled with festive lights and holiday cheer. There’s are even Christmas markets all about town, including one that runs along the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, where you can grab a cup of steaming gluhwein or a sweet boules de Noel to enjoy as you shop.

If you’re heading to Paris for New Year’s Eve, here are the top three things you need to know.

1. No Official Events

Believe it or not, there are no official New Year’s Eve events in Paris. The city does not put on a fireworks show or anything of that nature. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of fun things to do around town. Like any other big city, parties take place at most restaurants and bars—it all comes down to how much you money you want to spend and what you feel like doing.

If you’ve got a lean budget, you can make your way to the Eiffel Tower at midnight. Sacre Coeur is also a great place to take in a beautiful panoramic of Paris. for Many people head down to the Champs-Élysées, have a meal at one of the many restaurants there, and then watch the Eiffel Tower sparkle as the clock strikes 12. If you’re prepared to shell out the big bucks, the infamous Moulin Rouge. A table for two in the cheap seats will run you a cool 800 Euros. Alternatively, you could check out the show at the Lido, which also comes with a lofty price tag. On the low end, tickets for two come in around 600 Euro.

2. Book a Boat Cruise

If you’re looking for something special that won’t break the bank, a late-night sailing on the Bateaux Parisiens is a lovely idea. For as little as 65 Euros, you can take a quiet cruise along the Seine for a view of the city lights. The tour departs from the dock just below the Eiffel Tower or near Notre Dame Cathedral and includes a half-bottle of champagne, a packet of macarons, and party favors, such as a hat and horn. This is how I spent New Year’s Eve in Paris, and it was wonderful. Even if it’s cold outside, you’ll be toasty warm sailing along the Seine. We chose to depart from the Eiffel Tower, which is also where we docked at the end of the cruise. We returned just in time to see the tower twinkling in all its glory, and though I had seen it many times before, it seemed just a little more special this time round.

3. Midnight Kisses

Whether or not you’re looking for a midnight kiss, be prepared to get one. Strangers will walk up to you on the street and plant a peck on your lips or cheek. They don’t mean any harm—they’re just a little drunk and a whole lot excited. No one seemed to understand what I was saying—or maybe they simply didn’t care. I’m a happily married woman, but it seemed a lot easier to go with the flow than to cause a ruckus. It’s all in the name of fun after all.

These are just a few things to keep in mind if you’re planning to spend New Year’s Eve in Paris. Have other tips you’d like to share? Head on over to the Wanderlust Wayfarer Facebook group.

9 Things You Need to Know About New Year’s Eve in New York City

So you want to spend New Year’s Eve in New York City?

 

It feels like 2016 went by in a flash, and with 2017 just around the corner, now is the perfect time to start planning your New Year’s Eve activities. Maybe you’re considering a trip to New York to ring in the New Year by watching the ball drop in Times Square. I had the good fortune to do just that a few years ago. And there is so much more to it than you can even imagine from watching New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest.

I consider New Year’s Eve in New York City one of my top ten travel experiences. I LOVE everything about New York—the people, the food, the buildings, the smells…everything! So it was truly a dream come true to take in this time-honored tradition. But this post isn’t for the faint of heart.

If you are looking for a fairy tale about counting down to zero and singing Auld Lang Syne, you may want to skip to number 9. But if you want to hear the nitty gritty of what to actually expect and how to plan for the evening, here’s what you need to know before you make your way to Manhattan on December 31st.

New Year's Eve in New York City

1. Incredible Crowds

You have never been in a crowd like the one you will be in on New Year’s Eve in New York City. I don’t care if you’ve taken a train in India or waited in line to meet your favorite boy band—you’ve never seen anything like this. If you have even a hint of claustrophobia, this is not the event for you. The crowds are a vortex you get sucked into.

I arrived at Times Square around 7 p.m., and it was almost impossible to move. This is a time when there is strength in numbers. Latch onto your group and form a train to snake your way through the crowd. If there are only two or three of you, find another group headed in the same direction and let them know your plan. If you try to move one at a time, you’ll likely lose each other in the chaos. Hold on tight and forge ahead as a group. You’ll feel like you’re pushing against a tsunami, but baby steps and perseverance will get you there. Be patient and friendly. Getting mad at the guy next to you won’t get you anyplace but kicked out (see point 5 for more on that).

2. It’s Not Like on TV

You know how everyone is cheering and happy and they all have a bunch of blue Nivea swag? It’s not like that at all. Unless you are very near the heart of the action, you won’t see any balloons or get a party hat. There are no streamers or confetti. You won’t even hear the performers singing. You’ll just be standing outside in a huge crowd looking at the sky. And you’ll be doing it for hours.

3. Expect to Wait

If you want to be really near the stage where all the hot stars perform, you need to arrive well before the crack of dawn to claim your space. Keep in mind that once you’re in place, you can’t leave or you risk losing you spot. Because security is high, you’re not allowed to bring in any bags, which means no food or drinks. That may be a blessing in disguise because sneaking out to use the facilities is not an easy task. Pretty much, once you’ve claimed your stake, don’t expect to do much else. You’re there for the next 18 hours or so.

4. Buy an Event Ticket

This should maybe be number one…If you don’t want to sit outside for hours waiting for a glimpse of the ball dropping at midnight, buy a ticket to a nearby event. Even if you don’t want to go to an event, purchase a ticket to something…anything. Why is this so important? Well, if you have tickets to a specific event, the authorities will help you get there…if you can get to the authorities (see point 1). If you get close enough to someone with the power to move a barrier so you can get to your venue, wave your tickets in the air. They are watching for you and will hail you over.

But getting through the crowds faster is just one of three advantages to having an event ticket. The second is that you are pretty much guaranteed to see the ball drop. If you are simply hoping to get someplace within view, so are millions of others. And there is only so much space on the streets of New York. I suspect thousands of the people I passed on the street never made it within five blocks of a place where they could see the ball. They waded through the massive crowds and stood on the street for hours for nothing.

The third advantage is that you only have to wait outside for two hours or so instead of 12 or more. Simply step outside the venue at about 10 p.m. and claim a space on the sidewalk out front. Tuck in tight—don’t leave any space between yourself and the barrier or the rest of your party. Before you know it, someone will swoop in and steal your spot if you do. It happens in the blink of an eye.

You’re probably thinking a ticket to an event on New Year’s is out of your budget. I thought so, too, but I was really wrong. Sure, if you’re hoping for a glass of Cristal as the clock strikes twelve, you’re looking at dishing out the big bucks. But I got a ticket to the shindig at Madame Tussaud’s that was being hosted by a B-list celebrity for only $45. We spent a few hours guzzling free bevvies, touring the museum, and chowing down on snacks before snagging our spot outside. We missed the party inside, but that wasn’t why we were there anyway.

5. Expect a LOT of Security

It’s to be expected that security would be high at any packed event in New York, but you ain’t seen nothing like this. There will be cops, firefighters, and everything else you can think of everywhere you look. And they mean business. Don’t make any cracks about sketchy subjects. They won’t tolerate it, and you’ll be tossed out faster than you can count down to zero.

In our case, we got to know the cop manning the gate pretty well in the two hours we were standing outside. I’m not sure we ever actually spoke to him, but he definitely knew who we—and everyone around us—were. If we’d been in trouble, he’d have jumped into action. I never felt safer.

6. Be Prepared for Anything

You’re going to be standing on a hard cement sidewalk. It may be hot, or cold, or both. You likely won’t be able to sit down. You will be fenced in. People will push, shove, and try to take your space, even though you have been standing there for hours. I know you want to look good, but if you do yourself one favor that night, consider your shoes, coat, and other accessories carefully.

Comfort and style can be a hard balance but one you will definitely want to find. I wore low pumps with a three-inch, block heel rather than spiked stilettos. I also chose an off-the-rack sequined dress and didn’t care if it got torn in the crowd. I could also wear it with leggings instead of pantyhose to help keep in the warmth (though it ended up being the warmest New Year’s in 100 years). I popped a pair of gloves and earmuffs inside my clutch to add as the night wore on. I even managed to fit a wee umbrella inside just in case. If I’d been smart, I’d also have tossed in a pair of fold-up flats, but I managed…barely.

7. When It’s Over, It’s Really Over

Once the ball drops, there is nothing left to see or do. The streets clear out fast. We were staying in the Financial District, and even after fighting the subway crowds, we were back at our hotel well before 1 a.m. We even stopped to pick up some street pizza on the way “home.” So if you’re expecting a big party in the streets, don’t. Once the ball drops, the crowd will break…fast. People just want to get out. Remember, some of them may be very hangry from waiting there all day. Of course, if you did buy a ticket to an event, you can always go back inside.

8. Only Take What You Need

The crowds are so thick that you will have no idea if someone pulls off your Tiffany necklace or Cartier watch. People’s hands will be all over you—not necessarily because they want them to be, but more so because they have no where else to put them as you shove your way to your final destination. Only take the essentials. In my clutch, I had the gear I mentioned previously, as well as lipstick and a compact. I tucked a credit card on my body. That was it. I didn’t take a lick of cash or anything else. Just the bare necessities—I even took off my wedding ring and watch, two things I never leave home without.

9. It’s Magical

Now, forget all that other stuff I just said about cops and crowds and all that jazz. None of it matters once the countdown begins. When you’re standing on that street surrounded by strangers and your loved ones, it’s like the world stops spinning for those ten seconds. It’s surreal and wonderful and heart-warming and so many other adjectives that I can’t put into words.

I spent the night standing on a corner with my best friend of 30 years, and I can’t explain the warmth that washed over me when we hugged in the glow of nearly 3,000 Waterford crystals at the stroke of midnight. I’m the least emotional human on the planet, but even I got teary-eyed. I would do it all again in a heartbeat to reply those few minutes of my life.

If you still have questions about what to expect on New Year’s Eve in New York City, shoot me a line via comment on this post or on the Wanderlust Wayfarer Facebook group. I’d love to hear from you.