Welcoming the New Year in Sydney

Fireworks silhouette the Sydney Harbour Bridge and boats in the harbour.
Sydney Harbour’s famous New Year’s fireworks display. Photo © Anthony Ngo/123rf.

There is no doubt that Sydney is naturally one of the most stunning cities on this earth, but when it wants to it can even improve on its natural beauty. As one of the first cities to welcome the New Year, its firework spectacular has been watched by millions around the world on television. But if you are in Australia, even if Sydney is not your home, a visit to Sydney at New Year’s is an absolute must—there simply is no better celebration to watch live.

One of the first things to remember is that New Year’s down under falls in the middle of the summer holidays, so there is no need to wrap up warm; just put on your summery glad rags. Then, whatever you are planning to do, book early. For organized venues and events, places are limited and sought after.

The main focus of the celebration is the Sydney Harbour Bridge, or the “old coat hanger” as it is affectionately known. A view of the opera house and the bridge are preferable, but fireworks are set off throughout the harbor, and a star-spangled flotilla of boats parades the length of the harbor between the two main fireworks events. There are two occasions to see the magic in the sky: Traditionally, Sydney sends off the first volley of fireworks at 9pm for the younger generation before bedtime, and then the proper full fireworks go off at midnight. The 9pm version is a smaller teaser of the fireworks to follow later.

The best place to enjoy the night is on a boat in the harbor, and it is amazing that by midnight the water seems to have pretty much disappeared beneath the sea of boats. All types and sizes are puttering around on the water, full of revelers and merrymakers. Many are private vessels, but plenty are ferries and cruise ships on which tickets for the night can be secured. Tickets usually include dinner, dancing, and a glass of bubbly at midnight, and prices range from $200 to several hundred dollars.

The cheapest way to enjoy the night is by coming early, and I mean early: surprisingly many camp overnight, and by 10am the really good spots are already taken, especially those by the opera house, at Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair in the Botanical Gardens, or on any of the north shore beaches overlooking the bridge. This obviously takes planning and dedication, especially as numbers admitted and items taken are limited and scrutinized by security, ensuring that people don’t get too crowded.

If you have the budget, being crowded need not be an issue; you can enjoy dinner and drinks in one of the many hotels and bars overlooking the harbor, but you will need to book early and be prepared to part with several hundred dollars per person for the privilege. Some of the best and priciest hot spots for the night are the Shangri La, the bar at the top of the Sydney Tower, or indeed the Opera Bar below the Opera House, where an entrance fee of $300 is charged, excluding drinks.

Either way, it is a night not to be missed, and whatever your budget, Sydney does its best not to disappoint; you will certainly welcome the New Year in a spectacular fashion.


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