newyear.jpgFew celebrations this New Year’s Eve are likely to rival those of Europe where each country has its own unique spin on welcoming in 2010. Whether you plan on celebrating alone with your family, or joining the throngs, here’s the lowdown on the European way of doing things.

London, England

New Year’s Eve is one of London’s biggest party nights, with a host of festivities, fireworks and fun in every corner of the capital. Prepare to be dazzled by spectacular fireworks along the river Thames, at Alexandra Palace Park, or at any one of London’s fireworks displays at parks across the city.

At midnight all eyes will be on the London Eye, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a firework extravaganza that promises to see in the new year in with a bang. The next day more than half a million people are expected to cram into London’s most famous streets for The New Year’s Day Parade. It features more than 10,000 performers representing 20 countries worldwide. Dancers, acrobats, cheerleaders, musicians and performers assemble in the heart of the city for a “celebration of nations”.

The three hours of pomp and frivolity starts at The Ritz hotel at noon and weaves its way along a 2.2-mile route across Piccadilly to Pa iccadilly Circus, then takes in Lower Regent Street, Waterloo Place, Pall Mall, Cockspur Street, Trafalgar Square, Whitehall and ends at Parliament Square in front of Big Ben. The theme of the 2010 New Year’s Day Parade is “Let Us Entertain You.”

Vienna, Austria
  
Superb exhibitions and a dazzling array of events, concerts, and theatrical highlights promise a New Year’s Eve program brimming with excitement from morning until midnight.

On December 31, Vienna’s Old Town is transformed into the venue for a mega party. Entertainment awaits you all the way along the New Year’s Eve Trail, which winds its way through the narrow lanes of the old city from City Hall. It’s flanked by about 80 different refreshment stands offering warming winter punch and a range of culinary delights. Performers on stages around the city contribute to the festive mood with musical entertainment, from waltzes and operettas to rock and folk.

Take the kids for a spin on the Giant Ferris Wheel in Prater Park amusement park (the Viennese landmark runs 10 a.m. to 9:45 p.m. on New Years Eve, and on January 1 from 10 a.m. to 7:45 p.m.) and on a must-do boat trip along the Danube.

For a thoroughly grown-up evening affair, try the Imperial Ball in Hofburg Palace and at New Year galas held in City Hall and the city’s leading hotels. The Majestic Imperator train, a “palace on rails,” allows you to ride into the New Year in luxurious style, while the Vienna State Opera once stages its traditional performance of Johann Strauss’ ” Die Fledermaus ” (“The Bat”). Midnight fireworks top off the night wherever you happen to be. Greet your New Year’s Day in Vienna in classic fashion with a morning brunch with the Vienna Philharmonic’s New Year’s Day Concert that plays on an open-air screen in front of City Hall.

Paris, France

The City of Light lives up to its name on New Year’s Eve (‘la Saint-Sylvestre’). Each year the Champs-Elysées (heralded as “the most beautiful avenue in the world”) is illuminated by a thousand lights. From the Place de L’Etoile to the Place de la Concorde, its 415 trees are decorated with a chain of sparkling crystals.

At the Place de la Concorde, make the most of the superb view from inside the enclosed, heated cars of the huge outdoor Ferris wheel (‘la Grande Roue’). Firework displays range from the grand to the impromptu. Traditionally, crowds gather on the Champs-Elysées to let off firecrackers (it’s legal to buy and launch them) and to find a place to watch the Eiffel Tower erupt into a spectacular light show. It’s the spot where ‘tout le monde’ bestows double kisses on friends and strangers alike.

For something more mellow, head up to the Sacré-Coeur church in Montmartre. Assuming the skies are relatively clear, the knolltop vantage affords spectacular views of the entire Paris skyline.

Close by, Yuletide spirit at Disneyland Paris comes in the shape of a million lights twinkling throughout the resort. Main Street USA is magically transformed into a winter wonderland of snowy streets, resounding to the festive sounds of carol singers. Father Christmas will be toiling away with his elves in the theme park workshop until January 6, 2010.

Two major draws include Walt Disney’s first cartoon, “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” brought to life on the Castle stage, with the chance to meet Snow White and her Prince Charming at the end of the show. You’ll get to attend the Ceremony of the Lighting of the Christmas Tree in Town Square, presented and orchestrated by Mickey and Minnie.

And as the sun sets, there’s an Enchanted Fairytale Ceremony at Sleeping Beauty’s Castle as well as the Disney Fantillusion night-time parade, the “Mickey and the Winter Magic” ice-skating show and the “It’s a Small World” attraction paying homage to end-of-year traditions across the globe. The park stays open until 1 a.m. on New Year’s Eve, culminating in a magnificent fireworks extravaganza above the castle to welcome in 2010.

As the capital of fashion, celebrating the start of the winter sales here heralds a number of special events. From January 6-9, the city’s shopping districts organize a fun-packed calendar of events, including a multilingual “concierge” service available at hotels to accompany guests, plus free shopping itinerary tours in ‘Cyclobulle’ vehicles (electric tricycles) available in front of the Paris Convention and Visitors Bureau welcome center.
 
Northern Scotland, UK

Make the most of the accordions and ceilidhs, the bagpipes and “Auld Lang Syne” at a traditional Hogmanay bash. On the Isle of Skye  every village throws its own party, and the countdown in Portree is led by the island’s own pipe band.

If you have a burning desire to experience a spectacular Hogmanay tradition, then head to Stonehaven  where the locals banish the evil spirits and welcome in the New Year with an awe-inspiring display of fireball swinging. The fireballs (about forty in total) are homemade devices made from flammable material such as wood, coal, old cloths and pinecones (plus the odd secret ingredient), soaked in paraffin and strapped inside a mesh of chicken wire. Just before midnight, the fireballs are set alight and, with the aid of a long metal handle, the swingers proceed to walk up and down one of the town’s main streets swinging their spherical conflagration around their body.  The exhausted swingers make their way to the harbor, where they toss the still glowing fireballs into the sea.  Fireworks finish off the festivities.
 
Krakow, Poland

Celebrations at the city renowned for throwing the best New Year’s party in Eastern Europe center on its Market Square, awash with colonnades, a rich history and – from early evening on – revelers drinking beer and glühwein to the sound of free rock concerts.

Right before midnight the countdown begins and, at the sound of the bells from St. Mary’s Cathedral, a procession of fireworks lights up the night sky. For the best views head to the rooftop of the elegant Hotel Stary  overlooking Market Square. Kids will enjoy the compact Krakow Zoo, situated in the middle of the vast 500-hectare Las Wolski Forest as well as the subterranean world of the Wieliczka Salt Mine. This is New Year at its most wintry – expect snow flurries, cozy blankets and roasted chestnuts. Nasdrovia!