Get festive for free this New Year’s Eve

Summary

You don’t need to spend a fortune or wait in line at a club to get into the spirit of 31 December

Fire, fire, baby

If you’re not what you would call “clubby”, but you also don’t just want to just stay home on 31 December, there are many options for you – some of them surprising and others surprisingly cheap. How much you spend on drinks is up to you.

LEUVEN COUNTDOWN

There’s not many squares prettier than Leuven’s Oude Markt (pictured) during December, and a few thousand people will take to it from 22.00 on 31 December to make merry and boogie a little in the presence of DJs. After the big countdown and midnight smooch session, head to one of the dozens of cafes that ring this massive square – often called the ‘longest bar in the world’.

MECHELEN MASH-UP

Similarly Mechelen’s Grote Markt puts on a free dance party, with a DJ line-up that begins at 23.00. Countdown to midnight, when fireworks light up the sky. The music continues until the wee hours. De Lijn is offering free bus tickets from surrounding towns.

PARTY ON THE LEIE

Ghent’s favourite blues club, the Missy Sippy, is throwing open its doors on the night, with free entrance from 17.00. The party gets going around 23.30, with champagne, a countdown and all-night dancing to jump blues and rock’n’roll provided by DJ Nasty Bartender.

Ghent lays on a city-sponsored fireworks display, too. Join fellow revellers at Portus Ganda, where fireworks shoot up over the water at midnight. Zalig.

PARTY ON THE SCHELDT

Not to be outdone, Flanders’ biggest city shoots its fireworks into the air above the Scheldt river. While you can see the legendary spectacle on both sides of the river all along the waterfront, the absolute best vantage points are the pedestrian bridge found between Plantinkaai and Ernest van Dijckkaai and at Boeienweide open-air museum on the left bank in Linkeroever. The latter offers surprise performances leading up to the big event. According to the city, the evening officially starts at 22.30, with fireworks “a bit before midnight,” so don’t be late.

Sea breeze – well, blast


While getting accommodation at the coast is perhaps not cheap on New Year’s, it is a lovely place to be. The chilly wind whips up a foamy sea, and if you are lucky enough to be staring out at it from a cosy room, all the better.

You will be amazed, however, how many people take to the beach to fight these gale-like conditions in their down parkas. They’re at the beach, and they are walking on it, dammit.

And they are very often rewarded by a sunny day with (relatively) little wind but also by a cheeriness this time of year that cannot be denied. People tend to be pretty happy when they’re at the beach, but it reaches an apex on New Year’s Eve, when the shops and restaurants are full of people buying festive food and drink.

And then there are the fireworks: Many coastal towns put on a fireworks display on their respective beaches, but leading up to – and certainly following – those midnight displays are average citizens setting off above-average fireworks. Hole up in that cosy room and enjoy the show.

In the days following New Year, you’ll also see bonfires on many beaches. People drag their spent Christmas trees onto the sand, where they are piled up and set alight. Sometimes referred to as the Sylvestervuur, the event is often paired with fireworks and/or a little festival.

Conveniently for New Year’s visitors, Oostduinkerke – part of and just north of Koksijde – throws its annual event on 30 December. It comes complete with the bonfire, a fire show, fireworks and shrimp soup and roasted herrings, served up by the famous horseback shrimp fishermen. The fun starts early at 16.00 and wraps up by 18.15.

You’ll also find the Bos van commerce on the beach, a little forest planted right in the sand, with tiny paths that lead to a hut selling warm drinks, a tent with a fire basket and occasional music or performances.

Other coastal towns schedule their Christmas tree bonfires after New Year’s, including Wenduine (5 January), Blankenberge and Ostend (both on 12 January).

Photos: Courtesy leveninleuven.be (top), courtesy Visit Koksijde (above)