Britain’s best traditional New Year’s Eve celebrations

Say goodbye to 2019 and hello to 2020 in style with our pick of the best traditional New Year’s Eve events and festivals taking place across the UK.

Allendale Tar Bar'l (Jamie Chance Travels)

All across Britain, rural communities are celebrating the New Year in their own special way.

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From burning Viking longships in Yorkshire to Wales’ peculiar Mari Lwyd, here’s our round-up of the UK’s best New Year traditions and festivals.

Best New Year’s Eve celebrations

Flamborough Fire Festival, Yorkshire

Viking tradition states that the air could be cleansed of the old year’s spirits with fire, and this New Years Eve festival will see local Vikings do just that! Watch as they swing fire around their heads as part of the Flamborough celebrations. This year there are also two new additions to the Fire Festival programme – the Burning of the Viking Longship and the Torchlight Procession. Entry is free for children 12 years and under, and adults in full viking costume. For others, entry is £5. flamboroughfirefestival.org

Hogmanay Fireball Procession, Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire

The Ancient Fireballs ceremony takes place in the Scottish fishing village of Stonehaven. This unique festival sees 60 fireball swingers dressed in costume parade down the High Street swinging their lit 2ft round cages filled with paraffin soaked rags in a spectacular display to celebrate Hogmanay. Spectators generally start to gather at 10:30pm with the Stovehaven Fireball swingers taking place at midnight. stonehavenfireballs.co.uk

Hogmanay fireball swingers illuminate the streets of Stonehaven carrying on the tradition of welcoming the new year/Credit: Getty
Hogmanay fireball swingers illuminate the streets of Stonehaven carrying on the tradition of welcoming the new year © Getty

Allendale Tar Bar’l, Allendale, Northumbria

Allendale Tar Bar'l (Jamie Chance Travels)
Villagers carry burning barrels and stakes as they take part in the Allendale Tar Barrel festival (Photo by: Jamie Chance Travels)

Taking place on 31 December since the Dark Ages, is the Allendale Baa1 Fire, which sees 45 barrel carriers parade flaming tar filled whiskey barrels through the streets of Allendale in Northumbria.  The barrel carriers are known as Guisers and some have taken part in the ritual for half a century; the procession is thought to be an ancient pagan tradition of fire worship. The parade culminates in the centre of the town as the barrels are thrown onto a bonfire with the cry of “be damned to he who throws last!”. The barrels are lit at 11.30pm but celebrations begin earlier on in the evening.

Mari Lwyd and New Year walk from Neuadd, Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales

Traditionally, Mari Lwyd or ‘Grey Mare’ in English is an ancient Welsh tradition celebrating the end of the Christmas season and the start of the New Year. A group of singers would go house to house with the Mari Lywd and try to gain entry by taking part in a verbal singing contest.

Celebrate Mari Lwyd by taking part in a free torchlit walk, which includes the traditional New Year Mari Lwyd – a mare’s skull dressed in a sheet and ribbons – and makes for a wholly different way to bring in the New Year in the small but exciting town of Llanwrtyd Wells. The walk begins at 11pm from the town square but people gather at 10pm. More information available at Visit Wales. 

Mari Lwyd, An ancient midwinter tradition to celebrate the New Year/Credit: Alamy
Mari Lwyd, An ancient midwinter tradition to celebrate the New Year © Alamy

Nos Galan Road Races, Cynon Valley, South Wales

The perfect event for anyone sporty, the Nos Galan Race is a 5km fun run around the town to celebrate the Welsh runner Guto Nyth Bran and his legendary athletic powers. The Mountain Ash event in the Cyon Valley in South Wales begins at 5.15pm with street entertainment and a fire act. The children’s races kick off the event after which a mystery sports celebrity arrives to light the beacon. After a firework display the adult races begin and then prizes are presented. Online registration is open now at rctcbc.gov.uk

Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, Scotland

Head to the centre of Edinburgh’s this New Year’s Eve and celebrate Hogmanay in style. The city will be putting on a host of events throughout the night, with a torchlit procession starting at 7 followed by a street party at 7.30. At 9pm, music legend Mark Ronson will be DJing everyone into 2020. Bok your tickets on edinburghshogmanay.com. 


Best New Year’s Day celebrations in Britain

New Year’s Day Swim, Saundersfoot, Pembrokeshire

It may seem like the last thing on your mind on a cold New Year’s Day, but after a night of revelling there a few better ways to welcome the arrival of a new year that with a swim in the Ocean. The very first swim took place in 1984 and visitors have been braving the icy ocean ever since with different themed swims – last year, it was ‘yellow’ in celebration of sporting legend Geraint Thomas and his triumphs throughout the year. Keep an eye on saundersfootnyds.co.uk to  register and find out this year’s theme, plus follow the Saundersfoot NYDS on their Twitter page  for the latest updates.

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Up Helly Aa, Lerwick, the Shetland Islands

Up Helly Aa is known as Europe’s largest fire festival; preparations for outfits and parades begin in February the year before each celebration and the next day is a public day of holiday in Lerwick to allow recovery. There are many different things to do and see at the event but perhaps the most dramatic are the Viking squads, the torches and the procession. The days activities begin with the Guizer Jarl and Jarl Squad march in Lerwick town centre. Taking place at the end of January, it is a spectacular way to mark the start of the new year. uphellyaa.org

Up Helly Aa celebrates the influence of the Scandinavian Vikings in the Shetland Islands/Credit: Getty
Up Helly Aa celebrates the influence of the Scandinavian Vikings in the Shetland Islands © Getty