It used to be a guarantee. It used to be that if you turned up in Ibiza, or Las Vegas, or Rio de Janeiro and went for a night on the town, you would be certain you were in one of the world’s party capitals.
Those destinations haven’t changed. They have, however, begun to attract some new competition. For every well-established hub of nightlife, for every city filled with bars and restaurants and clubs that never seem to close, there are now dozens of challengers emerging across the globe. Travel is a fashion, and what was cool 10 years ago may well have lost its crown by now.
The world’s newest party destinations can often be found in the countries that didn’t even figure on travellers’ radars a decade ago. These might be places that have survived hardship or tyranny, places where the ability to go out to a bar or restaurant of your choice and drink and dance and have fun is still something to be celebrated for the act itself.
For travellers, it makes a pleasant change. Gone are the officious bouncers, the unspoken dress codes and the insanely overpriced drinks. In their place are friendly faces, great music, and a feeling of being on the frontier of something exciting and good.
For those who like to party while they travel, welcome to the new world order.
(The Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website has advice for partying safely while overseas. See smartraveller.gov.au.)
PARTY ON If you gather together travellers from all around the world – adventurous, fun people who are on a high after having ticked off a bucket-list experience like seeing Machu Picchu – you’re going to get a great party scene. And Cusco has exactly that. Beginners should head directly to Mama Africa, an infamous club populated nightly with backpackers up for a good time. For those who prefer chatting to dancing, Los Perros is a great little lounge bar, while El Pisquerito (elpisquerito.com) is the place for a pisco sour. For festival lovers, by far the best time to be in Cusco is June 24 for the incredible Inti Raymer, or Festival of the Sun, a recreation of an ancient pageant in the Sacsayhuaman ruins.
CHILL OUT The best way to avoid Cusco’s party scene is to not be in Cusco. Surrounding towns such as Ollantaytambo offer a much quieter experience, but still with the proximity to Machu Picchu, while Paucartambo is even quieter still.
ESSENTIALS High season in Cusco is winter, from June to August, though the shoulder seasons offer great value. The city is fairly safe – the most common problem for visitors is altitude sickness. For accommodation, try the beautiful and historic Inkaterra La Casona (inkaterra.com). See peru.travel
PARTY ON Locals have been promising to “keep Austin weird” for some time now, but what they have also done is keep this Texan musical Mecca fun. This is a city in which live bands rule over button-pressing DJs, with rock, indie and country music played long into the evening. Check out jazz at Elephant Room (elephantroom.com), blues at Victory Grill (atxhistoricvictorygrill.org), hard rock at Beerland (beerlandtexas.com), or world music at Sahara Lounge (saharalounge.com). And don’t miss South By Southwest, the city’s – indeed the world’s – premier music conference and festival, every March.
CHILL OUT While Austin is all about live music, it also has a great offering of friendly, intimate bars in which to hang out and chat. Try Bar Congress (secondbarkitchen.com), or the super laid-back Lustre Pearl (lustrepearlaustin.com), or even the saloon-style Yellow Jacket Social Club (yellowjacketsocialclub.com).
ESSENTIALS There is no bad time to be in Austin – it’s a never-too-hot, never-too-cold sort of place. It is likely to be extremely hard to find accommodation, however, during South By Southwest every March. One of the best places to stay is the Lone Star Court (lonestarcourt.com). See traveltexas.com
PARTY ON Pag is the thinking traveller’s Ibiza, a pumping Mediterranean party island that attracts all of the big-name DJs and dance acts, with all the pool parties and rave action you can poke a little pair of swimming trunks at, but with a more cosmopolitan European crowd. The setting is stunning, just off the Dalmatian coast, but most people come here for the 24-hour party culture. In the main town of Novalja, beachside clubs like Aquarius (aquarius.hr) begin the day with a riotous pool party, before morphing into a club by night. There is a slightly more relaxed vibe at Cocomo (cocomo.hr), a lounge bar that is still extremely popular.
CHILL OUT Those tired of the partying life (or just tired), will find little to do but relax in the nearby fishing port of Razanac, which is still beautiful, though much less developed as a tourist destination.
ESSENTIALS You wouldn’t dream of going to Pag any time but summer – June to September. Most of the clubs are closed over winter, and the island is extremely quiet. The hotel Luaniva (novalja-luaniva.com) offers great apartment-style rooms in Novalja. See croatia.hr
Young people partying on a hot summer day on Zrce beach, Novalja, Pag island, Croatia. Pinterest
HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM
PARTY ON Those communist-turned-capitalist metropolises – Moscow and Shanghai, for example – sure know how to party. And Ho Chi Minh City is no different. There is a great nightlife scene in the city formerly known as Saigon that is driven as much by a hard-partying expat community as the local Vietnamese. For a classy night, check out the rooftop Chill Skybar (chillsaigon.com). For raucous fun with boozy expats and the odd shady local, go straight to Apocalypse Now. For guaranteed enjoyment, however, the best time to visit is during Tet, the Vietnamese New Year festival in late January, when the entire city comes out to celebrate.
CHILL OUT It is not exactly relaxing, but a Saigon “Buddy Tour”, checking out street food stalls with a guide on a motorbike, is a great way to see Ho Chi Minh City by day. For something a little more sedate, try a day trip to the Mekong Delta, where life literally floats by (urbanadventures.com).
ESSENTIALS May to September tend to be the rainy months in Ho Chi Minh, which makes October to April the ideal time to visit. Travellers should beware of scams in the city involving cyclo and motorbike drivers – make sure you agree on a price before being taken anywhere. For accommodation, the Reverie Saigon (thereveriesaigon.com) has beautiful rooms.
TEL AVIV, ISRAEL
PARTY ON Strolling down Tel Aviv’s bustling beachside promenade during the day, you could easily picture yourself in Rio de Janeiro or Barcelona, such is the laid-back, beachy atmosphere. And once the sun goes down in Tel Aviv, that feeling gets even stronger. This is a city that loves to party, and it seems to never shut down. The bar scene is constantly shifting, but you can’t go wrong in the district of Namal, or anywhere on Ben Yehuda Street. Tel Aviv also hosts a huge number of music festivals, from dance music to blues, jazz to rock, pop to reggae.
CHILL OUT To the south of Tel Aviv’s beaches lies the historic district of Jaffa, one of the world’s oldest ports, where hot nights can be whiled away at a traditional hummus restaurant like Abu Hassan, or simply strolling the paved alleyways.
ESSENTIALS Tel Aviv can be extremely hot during summer – aim to visit from October to May for the best weather. Overall the city is safe, and you will find large crowds out until the small hours of the morning. When the night is over, head back to a beachfront hotel like Yam (atlas.co.il).
SI PHAN DON, LAOS
PARTY ON It used to be Vang Vieng. If you were travelling to Laos and you were up for a party, you would head to that infamous riverside town for “tubing” and late-night raves. It is probably not a bad thing that all of that has changed, and travellers are looking further afield. Si Phan Don, or “4000 Islands”, in the country’s south is far more sedate than Vang Vieng ever was, a place where a party means hanging out in a hammock and chatting to friends. One of the best bases is Don Det, a backpacker haven where visitors can go tubing down the river (with or without beer), or just hang out at one of the ramshackle restaurants.
CHILL OUT In case you weren’t relaxed enough, there are a few even more sedate options in Si Phan Don. One of the best is Don Khon, a pleasantly quiet and more relaxed alternative to Don Det, with access to a few great waterfalls.
ESSENTIALS The summer months – June to September – are extremely hot in Laos. A far better time to travel is between November and February. Accommodation is basic but comfortable – check out hostelworld.com for options. See tourismlaos.org
KOH RONG, CAMBODIA
PARTY ON As Pag is to Ibiza, so Koh Rong is to Thailand’s Koh Pha-Ngan – a place of intense natural beauty that travellers are flocking to as an alternative to its more mainstream and established rival. Koh Rong is a Cambodian island off the coast of Sihanoukville, a party destination that still has the adventurous, frontier feel that Koh Pha-Ngan once had. While most visitors head to divey, ramshackle bars like Island Boys, Bong’s and Skybar, there are a few classier alternatives, such as Paradise Bungalows, which sells wine as well as the ubiquitous local beer, and Dragon Den, which has its own microbrewery. Wherever you choose though, you’ll find Koh Rong is cheap, fun, and becoming extremely popular.
CHILL OUT During the day, escape the hungover hordes by hiking through the jungle to one of Koh Rong’s secluded beaches, then float in the warm oceans with sparkling bioluminescent plankton in the evening.
ESSENTIALS To reach Koh Rong, there is a ferry from Sihanoukville that takes about two hours. High season is November to February, though the shoulder seasons are also popular. While drugs are openly sold in Koh Rong, it is worth remembering that they are illegal in Cambodia. For accommodation, check out Bong’s (bongsguesthouse.com). See tourismcambodia.com
PARTY ON A few years ago eastern Europe’s party frontier was probably Prague, with its absinthe bars and three-storey mega-clubs. These days, however, that mantle has shifted to the south, to the formerly war-torn Serbian capital of Belgrade. The scene is in its infancy, pushed forward by a group of passionate DJs and venue owners and a crowd of partygoers who seem to love having a good time. Year-round, check out Sveta and KGB Caffe for the perfect introduction. In summer, meanwhile, pop-up clubs appear all along the Sava and Danube rivers, often hosted in barges that have been moored for the season.
CHILL OUT You could spend days wandering Belgrade’s Old Town; however, during summer there is no better place to relax than Ada Ciganlija, a river island with an artificial lake in the middle, where locals head to sun themselves.
ESSENTIALS While Belgrade is beautiful in winter, for partygoers summer really is the sweet spot, when riverside clubs open and music festivals are staged. For accommodation, check out the charming Square Nine Hotel (squarenine.rs). See serbia.travel
BUENOS AIRES, ARGENTINA
PARTY ON While Rio de Janeiro probably still reigns as South America’s number one party destination, Buenos Aires is hot on its heels. This is a city of dark, cosy wine bars, hipster-friendly speakeasies, and super-clubs whose dance floors don’t start heating up until about 3am. In trendy Palermo, Frank’s Bar has classic cocktails and a secret code to gain entry; La Catedral (lacatedralclub.com) in Almagro, meanwhile, offers tango lessons between sips of red wine. For late-night partying, Pacha is one of the most popular clubs. Remember though: late-night in Buenos Aires is seriously late.
CHILL OUT Buenos Aires thrives after dark, but that doesn’t mean you have to be partying. Take in a tango show at Madero Tango (maderotango.com), or head to a steakhouse in Palermo for a meal – either Don Julio (parrilladonjulio.com.ar) or Miranda (parrillamiranda.com) will provide carnivorous satisfaction.
ESSENTIALS There are no extremes of weather in Buenos Aires, which makes it a great city to visit year-round. While petty crime is an issue, the usual precautions such as not wearing jewellery when you go out should ensure a safe visit. For accommodation, the classic Algodon Mansion (algodonmansion.com) in Recoleta is ideal. See argentina.travel
GILI TRAWANGAN, INDONESIA
PARTY ON Those tired of Kuta’s bogans-and-Bintang scene now have a more enticing alternative in Indonesia: Gili Trawangan, the island paradise you have been hoping to find. Gili T’s party scene ranges from upmarket lounges and cocktail bars – Scallywags is a reliable favourite – to the backpacker-friendly dive bars of old: the likes of Tir Na Nog, Rudy’s and Sama Sama Reggae Bar always provide a good time. The crowds are mixed in Gili T, but they’re good fun.
CHILL OUT The neighbouring Gili Islands – Gili Air and Gili Meno – are much quieter than Trawangan, and provide great beachy havens for those looking to escape the party scene for a couple of days. Or weeks. Try scuba diving, or hiring a bike, or simply lying around.
ESSENTIALS The Gilis are accessible by private boats or public ferries from eastern Bali or Lombok. The dry season, from June to September, is the best time to visit. For accommodation, there are great rooms available at the Hotel Vila Ombak (vilaombak.com).
WALK ON THE MILD SIDE: THE QUIET DESTINATIONS WHERE YOU CAN GO TO AVOID THE PARTY SCENE
There is a great social scene in Esfahan, where people of all ages gather in traditional teahouses near Naqsh-e Jahan square, or trendy restaurants in the Armenian quarter, and smoke and chat the night away. However, alcohol is banned in Iran, which means everyone wakes up the next morning gloriously hangover-free.
You want peace and quiet? This tiny settlement in eastern Greenland has peace and quiet. Ittoqqortoormiit has only 452 inhabitants, and even if they’re all desperate for a drink, there’s only one pub, which is open one day a week, and only for a few hours. That makes the frequency of raucous parties fairly low.
Of all the countries in Europe, Turkey consumes the least alcohol, at a measly 2.4 litres a head (compared with the Czech Republic, which weighs in at 14.1 litres a person a year). Ankara, the capital, has more tea drinkers than beer drinkers.
DHAMMA GIRI, INDIA
Not only can people not drink here, they can’t even talk. A stay at the Dhamma Giri Vipassana retreat in Maharashtra, India, is a 10-night commitment to discovering your inner truth – or something like that – through long hours of silence. You’ll deserve a beer at the end.
KAMALAYA RESORT, THAILAND
If your idea of a cocktail is an alcohol-free smoothie with kale and spinach in it, then this is the party destination for you. In other words, it’s not a party destination. It’s a place to visit to dry out, to spend a week or so detoxing from excess by enjoying raw vegetables and pre-dawn yoga classes.
TEN CLASSIC PARTY TOWNS
KOH PHA-NGAN, THAILAND
South-east Asia’s original party island still hosts regular full moon parties, as well as half-moon parties and “black moon” parties, and in between all of those, normal nightly parties.
LAS VEGAS, USA
The original “Sin City” is a den of debauchery, a glittering temple dedicated to drinkers, gamblers and partygoers of all colours and creeds. From daytime pool parties to night-time super-clubs, the fun never stops.
Lovers of European dance music and days spent lying around in the sun have been flocking to Ibiza for years. The world’s best DJs play here, and the scene is wild.
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL
The tourists come to Rio to party because the locals know how to do it so well. From beachside caipirinhas to sweaty samba clubs, there is never a dull moment in Rio.
QUEENSTOWN, NEW ZEALAND
During the day: adventure sports like skiing, bungy jumping, sky-diving, or whitewater rafting. During the night: drinks and dancing at some of NZ’s best bars and clubs.
Kuta’s classier cousin has been drawing a party crowd with upmarket beachside bars like Ku De Ta and Potato Head, where expats and tourists drink the long nights away.
Backpackers have been turning up in Lagos to drink and go crazy ever since backpackers have been drinking and going crazy. There is something in the water in Lagos. (Or maybe it’s the beer.)
If you have ever wanted to yell “Spring break!” while shooting tequila and chugging Coronas with a bunch of shirtless American college students on holiday, then Cancun is the place for you.
NEW ORLEANS, USA
It is all about the music in New Orleans, from jazz to blues to rock to almost anything else you can think of that can be performed live. The mardis gras here is also legendary.
This long-time favourite destination of English stag and hens’ groups is known for its red-light district and its lax attitude to pretty much everything that makes a night out fun.