Let’s welcome the New Year in a totally interesting way.
Looking for new things to do this 31 Dec? Experience different cultures and traditions, marvel at breathtaking sights and more to kick off the new year with a bang.
Celebrate New Year’s Eve like a local and partake in an 800-year-old tradition by tucking into toshikoshi soba for dinner. Literally meaning “New Year’s Eve noodles”, your regular delicious bowl of soba is toshikoshi soba when consumed on 31 Dec, so go ahead and have it either warm or cold, plain or topped with tempura. The reasons for eating soba on the last night of the year are varied, but they’re all tied to good fortune. Soba noodles are long and easy to bite off; it’s believed that breaking off the noodles as you slurp symbolises “letting go of the past year’s misfortunes”, while their thin and long shape is synonymous with having a long and healthy life!
Eat here: Nagasaka Sarasina has been around since the 1780s, and has outlets across Tokyo. On a budget? Sagatani in Shibuya is open 24 hours, and serves up quality bowls for under JPY ¥1,000. Take note that New Year’s Eve is the busiest time of year for soba shops, so it’s best to book your bowl in advance.
After 11pm, head to a nearby temple for Joya no Kane, the ceremonial ringing of the temple bells to welcome the new year. The bells are struck a total of 108 times (representing the number of worldly desires that afflict us) into the new year. According to Buddhist belief, each strike will remove every worldly desire afflicting you, so you can start the year with a clean slate. While you’re there, buy lucky charms (such as hamaya or omikuji), and witness throngs of Japanese lining up patiently and systematically to offer up their first prayers of the year (Hatsumode).
Where to go: Sensō-ji Temple is a popular option (it attracts millions of visitors), but for a chance to actually ring the bell yourself, experience Joya no Kane at Tsukiji Honganji, Tenryūji Temple and Ikegami Honmonji.
When 1 Jan rolls around, go to any major department store and shop for fukubukuro (“lucky bags”)—mystery bags filled with items at amazing discounts (some even go up to 90 percent off). Depending where you get yours, the fukubukuro will usually be tied to a category (such as cosmetics, skincare, clothing and so on), but it’s still a lot of fun tearing open your bag to uncover the mystery! Take note that fukubukuro are highly popular but sold in limited quantities, so it’s best to pop to the shops early.
Another New Year’s Day tradition you can do: eating osechi ryori, an auspicious bento meal that’s only available this time of year. Each item in your meal symbolises something, whether it’s sweet chestnuts bringing you wealth or shrimp granting you long life! You can get osechi ryori at major department store food halls and selected restaurants.
There are many exciting New Year’s Eve festivities in Seoul, like hearing the Bosingak Bell Ringing Ceremony and seeing the spectacular 555-second fireworks show at Lotte World Tower (the fifth tallest building in the world!). For amazing views of the city, head up N Seoul Tower on Mount Namsan to see the evening cityscape at almost 480m above sea level, or take a stroll around the vast Namsan Park and watch the New Year’s fireworks in the distance.
A popular New Year’s tradition in Korea is to greet the first sunrise of the year—there are even whole events dedicated to it! Travel to the eastern tip of the Korean peninsula for Homigot Sunrise Festival (free entry, 31 Dec 2019–1 Jan 2020) in Pohang. It has beachside views straight out of a painting, a food event that can feed 10,000 people tteokguk (a traditional rice cake soup eaten during the New Year) and, of course, a pair of Insta-worthy bronze hand sculptures known as the “Hands Of Harmony”.
Alternatively, travel further down to Ganjeolgot Sunrise Festival (free entry, 31 Dec 2019–1 Jan 2020) at Ganjeolgot Cape in Ulsan. The festival starts at sunset on 31 Dec, and you’ll be entertained with a variety of performances lasting throughout the night. Ganjeolgot is also said to be the very first place to welcome the new year’s sunrise, as its beach is in the easternmost point of the peninsula!
Almost as common as greeting the new year’s sunrise is also hiking up a mountain. If you’re up for the challenge, hike up Mount Taebaek in Gangwan-do province (around three hours by bus from Seoul). It’s one of the country’s most sacred mountains, and it’s known for breathtaking views of the sun rising! During winter, the trees here get coated in frost and snow, earning them the nickname “snow flowers” by locals.
For something more chill, hike up to Yeongin Pavilion on the summit of Mount Goseong, and greet the sun rising above Jeongdongjin Beach’s blue waters. Jeongdongjin is also easily accessible by train, and is good for Seoul-dwellers looking for a quick day trip for the sunrise. Fun fact: Jeongdongjin Station, on the seashore of the East Sea, holds the Guinness World Record for being the closest railway station to the ocean!
Prefer to stay closer to Seoul? There’s always Maebongsan Park. Trek up to the viewing area right at the top to see the sun rise above city skyscrapers and the Hangang River.
Taipei has one of the best New Year’s Eve fireworks shows around, with an iconic countdown to boot: closer to midnight, the Taipei 101 building becomes a countdown clock, culminating in an extravagant fireworks show with music, LED lights and more. The event draws thousands of visitors, and for good reason—the light and fireworks show is a must-see!
Feeling adventurous? Unlike other major cities, Taipei is surrounded by sacred mountains that’ll grant you unparalleled views of the city skyline and fireworks. Known as the Four Beasts of Taipei, Elephant Mountain, Tiger Mountain, Lion Mountain and Leopard Mountain are all within a stone’s throw of Taipei 101. They’re also easily hikeable anytime—thanks to forgiving pathways and 24-hour lighting. The most popular peaks to get phenomenal panoramas of the city are Elephant and Tiger mountains, so pack a picnic and go early to guarantee a good spot! Tip: You can also do a dawn hike up Tiger mountain to greet the first sunrise.
Chiang Mai is an exciting city to be in during New Year’s Eve. Tha Phae Gate and the Ping Riverbanks bustle with excitement as locals and visitors alike gather to usher in the new year. You’ll walk by plenty of food vendors and paper lantern sellers—that’s because come midnight, it’s a tradition to light up paper lanterns (khom loi) and release them into the sky! These paper lanterns come relatively cheap (around THB ฿100); just remember to bring your own lighter or matches.
In the minutes leading up to midnight, expect a cacophony of sounds as locals start honking their cars or motorbikes, while some even set off sparklers and firecrackers. Then, when the clock strikes midnight, say your New Year’s wish and release your lit paper lantern. The sight of hundreds, if not thousands, of lanterns filling the night sky is a surreal one to behold!
After midnight, complete your festivities by heading to Wat Phantao, where chanting monks are surrounded by hundreds of candles. It’s a relatively more sombre setting, but definitely worthy of your time.
The Lion City has some pretty epic New Year’s Eve celebrations, and the iconic Marina Bay Sands is at the centre of it all with a wide variety of events, capped off by its world-famous fireworks show.
For a totally unique experience, stimulate your senses at Star Island—a 90-minute multi-sensory fireworks extravaganza combining music, lasers, live performances and partying at The Float at Marina Bay Sands. Your ticket comes with an LED wristband which flashes and glows with the show, making you a part of the performance! Tickets start from SGD $88 and can be purchased on the website.
Are you a frequent headbanger, pit-mosher, crowd-diver? The Singapore Flyer is where you’ll want to go for its VOMG New Year’s Eve party. Besides a battle-of-the-bands showdown and countdown concert, you can witness a Guinness World Record attempt as 1,000 musicians gather to perform The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army and become the world’s biggest performing rock band.