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40 Ideas to Plan a 40th Birthday Party: Making Memories that Last a Lifetime

Far from being "over the hill," turning 40 is the start of an exciting new chapter in life. With more experience, financial stability, and a whole community of loved ones to celebrate with, the 40th...

40th birthday party ideas Far from being "over the hill," turning 40 is the start of an exciting new chapter in life. With more experience, financial stability, and a whole community of loved ones to celebrate with, the 40th birthday is a milestone worth marking in style. If you're looking for ideas to make your loved one's 40th birthday party truly unforgettable, you've come to the right place!

Party Themes: Unleash Your Creativity

Old "School"

Take a trip down memory lane by throwing a party with a nostalgic twist. Ask guests to dress up in gear or school colors from the birthday guy or gal's high school or college. Decorate the venue with school colors and display old school-aged photos of your friend. Embrace the spirit of youthful enthusiasm and turn the party into a mini "pep rally."

1940s Party

Transport your guests back in time with a 1940s-themed party. Embrace the glamorous era of big band music and movies like "Casablanca." Consider patriotic decorations to give a nod to World War II. Encourage guests to dress in the fashion of the time, with pin curls, fedoras, and zoot suits. Serve retro drinks like soda in glass bottles to complete the vintage ambiance.

Over the Hill

While it may be a classic choice, an "Over the Hill" party is always a crowd-pleaser. Embrace the cliché with black balloons and "over the hill" jokes, but keep the overall atmosphere light and fun. Create a funny slideshow of pictures that honor the birthday guy or gal and have guests dress in black attire. It's a guaranteed recipe for laughter and good memories.

Helping Hand

If the birthday honoree is a bit self-conscious about reaching the big 4-0, why not plan a party that incorporates giving back? Organize an afternoon of volunteering for a cause that's close to their heart. Alternatively, you can accept donations for a meaningful charity in lieu of gifts. It's a wonderful way to celebrate while making a positive impact.

Casino Night

Bring the excitement of Las Vegas to your celebration with a casino night. Invite guests to dress up for a night of gaming and set up a variety of fun and easy-to-explain games like poker and craps. Serve cocktails and finger foods to keep the atmosphere lively. With a casino night, you're guaranteed to have a party that's a winner!


Plan a party that celebrates the birth decade of the guest of honor. Decorate the venue with the iconic decor and play music that defined that era. Encourage guests to dress in throwback clothes that were popular during the time. Indulge in food and drinks that were trendy back then. It's a surefire way to create a nostalgic and fun-filled atmosphere.

Backyard BBQ

For a casual and relaxed celebration, nothing beats an old-fashioned cookout in the backyard. Decorate with red and white gingham tablecloths, mason jars, and twinkly lights for a rustic feel. Enjoy delicious grilled food and refreshing drinks while playing fun outdoor games. It's the perfect recipe for a laid-back and enjoyable party.

Disney Days

If the birthday honoree is a die-hard Disney fan, why not throw a Disney-themed party? Invite guests to dress as their favorite Disney characters and award a prize for the most creative or realistic costume. This theme can take you back to the joy and wonder of childhood. Bonus points if you have pictures of the guest of honor celebrating in Disney style from decades ago.

Nothing is Scarier than 40

Host a horror-themed bash that will send shivers down your guests' spines. Encourage everyone to dress as zombies and serve "finger" food like butter cookies with slivered almond "nails" on the end. Enhance the atmosphere with Halloween decorations like fake cobwebs and biohazard signs. It's a unique and thrilling way to celebrate this milestone.

"Old" Hollywood

Roll out the red carpet and host a star-studded event inspired by "Old" Hollywood. Ask guests to dress as their favorite celebrity who is 40 or older and decorate the venue with Hollywood-style props such as Oscar award statues, film reels, and directors' chairs. Serve champagne and screen movies starring 40-year-old Hollywood icons. It's an extravagant and glamorous affair.

Party Venue: Choosing the Perfect Setting

Bowled Over

For a nostalgic twist, head to the local bowling lanes with the birthday honoree and friends. Coordinate with the venue's manager to reserve lanes next to each other and inquire about food and drink specials. Bowling is a classic activity that guarantees laughter and friendly competition.

Old Stomping Grounds

Take the party to the guest of honor's favorite restaurant from the past, if it's still around. If not, recreate the atmosphere in a new location by using old photos, decorations, and recipes that evoke the memories of good times. It's a sentimental way to celebrate and relive cherished moments.

Roller Rink

Step back in time to childhood and throw a roller-skating party. Rent a party room for snacks and drinks, and prepare for lots of laughter as the birthday guest and crew navigate the roller rink with their 40-year-old feet. It's a lively and energetic venue that promises a good time for all.


Relive the glory days with a tailgate party at a sporting event from high school or college. Serve traditional tailgate fare like burgers, hotdogs, and cold beverages. Paint your face, cheer for the home team, and revel in the nostalgic atmosphere. It's a fun and spirited way to celebrate this milestone.


For a more sophisticated celebration, visit a nearby vineyard or wine bar where your group can sample an array of fine wines. If possible, try to get a glass of the vintage from the guest of honor's birth year. The elegant ambiance and delightful conversation will make for an unforgettable experience.

Birthday Cruise

If you're near a body of water, consider taking your group on a 40th birthday cruise. Many companies offer refreshments, but if not, you can bring your own snacks and drinks. To add an extra touch of whimsy, encourage guests to dress as pirates or don nautical attire. It's a unique way to celebrate this milestone while enjoying the beauty of the sea.

Escape Room

Challenge your party guests to an exciting and immersive experience in an escape room. Work together as a team to solve puzzles and escape from a locked room. Before or after the thrilling "escape," enjoy food and drinks together. Award a prize to the group that manages to escape the fastest. It's a thrilling and memorable way to celebrate.


Indulge in some old-school nostalgia by hosting your party at an arcade. With a wide range of modern and retro games, there's something for everyone to enjoy. Play games, savor cold beverages, and relish in the atmosphere of a bygone era. You can even organize a tournament for some friendly competition.

Take a Trip

For a small and close-knit group, consider taking the party out of town. Whether it's a road trip, a flight to a new destination, or an exciting cruise, a destination 40th birthday party is sure to create lasting memories. Explore new places, try new experiences, and enjoy the company of your loved ones in a new and exciting setting.

Hometown Favorites

Why settle for just one location when you can travel around town? Organize a scavenger hunt with teams and clues related to the birthday boy or girl's favorite places. The first team to check off all the items on the list and meet at the guest of honor's favorite restaurant wins. It's a unique and exciting way to celebrate while rediscovering beloved locations.

Party Games and Activities: Fun for All Ages

Dictionary Descriptors

Buy a nice, hardcover dictionary and have guests highlight a word or words that describe the birthday guy or gal. Provide small bookmarks so that the highlighted words are easy to find. It's a meaningful and personal keepsake that the guest of honor can cherish.

40 Reasons Why

Set up a chalkboard, scrapbook, or other memento where partygoers can list 40 reasons they love the birthday honoree. It's a heartwarming activity that will surely bring a smile to their face and make them feel cherished.

Snail Mail

Give guests pre-addressed and stamped postcards and have them write advice or a sweet note to be mailed to the guest of honor during the 40 days before or after their birthday. It's a beautiful gesture that will remind them of the love and support surrounding them.

Photo Booth

Hire a photo booth company or set up your own DIY version. All you need is a camera or phone and a selection of props like silly hats and feather boas. Capture memorable moments with friends and family, and the photos will serve as cherished mementos for years to come.

Older or Younger

Test your guests' knowledge with a game of "Older or Younger." Show them pictures of various celebrities and have them guess whether the person is older or younger than 40. Keep score and reward the winner with a prize. It's a fun and lighthearted game that will keep everyone engaged.

Board Games

Bring back the nostalgia of childhood by setting up a tournament with the birthday guy or gal's favorite board games. Encourage guests to participate, and let the competitive spirit fly. It's a fantastic way to bond and enjoy some friendly rivalry.

40s Bingo

Put a twist on the classic game of bingo by creating two sets of cards. One set lists the guest of honor's favorite things, while the other set includes humorous items related to turning 40. It's a fun and entertaining game that will have everyone laughing.

"Bucket List" Ideas

Have guests write down ideas for the birthday honoree to complete before their next milestone birthday. For an interactive twist, provide an actual bucket for guests to write their ideas on. Fill the bucket with ice and use it to serve cold drinks. It's a thoughtful and inspiring activity that will generate plenty of ideas for the future.

40 Years of Trivia

Collaborate with your friend's family to gather 40 pieces of trivia about them, such as favorite color, food, or the make and model of their first car. Challenge guests to guess the correct answers and reward the person with the most correct guesses. It's a fun way to test everyone's knowledge and learn new things about the birthday honoree.

Video Scavenger Hunt

Divide your group into teams and have each team record themselves completing a list of tasks that are unbecoming of a 40-year-old. Tasks can include walking around town in a princess costume or riding a kid's ride at the supermarket. The team that completes all the tasks first wins a prize. It's an entertaining and adventurous game that will create hilarious memories.

Nostalgia: Reminiscing and Celebrating a Life Well-Lived

Memory Cards

Collect handwritten letters from friends and family in the weeks leading up to the party. The letters should recall fond memories, funny stories, or significant moments shared with the birthday guy or gal. Package the cards together in a beautiful bundle and present them at the party. It's a touching and sentimental gift that will bring tears of joy.

40 Years of Photos

Gather photos from childhood to adulthood from friends and family. Display these photos in a scrapbook, in frames around the venue, or shape them into the number 40. It's a visual timeline that captures precious memories and highlights the incredible journey of the birthday honoree.

Sentimental Snacks

Serve the guest of honor's favorite foods from their childhood. It's a lovely gesture that shows attention to detail and thoughtfulness. Try to find their favorite childhood snacks or recreate them using online recipes. It's a delicious trip down memory lane.

Cover Band

Hire a band that specializes in covering music from the time when the birthday guy or gal was young. Sing along and dance to the tunes that defined their youth. Consider inviting the guest of honor on stage for a special moment that will be remembered forever.


Embrace the power of social media and post throwback photos of the birthday honoree every Thursday leading up to the party. Encourage others to share their memories and stories in the comments. It's a heartwarming way to reminisce and celebrate together, even for those who can't physically attend the party.

Matching Shirts

Create customized T-shirts for guests, featuring a catchphrase or famous photo associated with the birthday girl or guy. This will not only make your group easily recognizable but also serve as a fun keepsake. Add questions about T-shirt sizes to a sign-up sheet to ensure the perfect fit for everyone.

Magic Man

Bring in a local illusionist to perform a magic show for your guests. It's a unique and captivating form of entertainment that will transport everyone back to the wonder of childhood. Coordinate with the magician to incorporate the theme of the 40th birthday party into their tricks and illusions.

Favorite Shows

Have a television or projector screen set up at the venue to exclusively play episodes from the guest of honor's favorite TV show from their younger years. Sit back, relax, and enjoy watching those beloved characters and stories once again. It's a nostalgic and immersive experience for everyone.

Name that Tune

Challenge your guests' musical knowledge by playing songs from the birthday guy or gal's heyday. Award prizes to those who can correctly guess the song titles before anyone else. It's a lively and interactive game that will have everyone singing along and reminiscing about their favorite tunes.

40 Years of Faces

Gather several photos of the birthday honoree throughout their life and enlarge their faces until they are mask-sized. Provide these masks to guests, who can then hold them up over their own faces. Turn it into a game where partygoers guess the age of the birthday guy or gal in each photo. It's a hilarious and amusing activity that will create memorable moments.

However you choose to celebrate, remember that the party is all about honoring the guest of honor and creating cherished memories. Enjoy the festivities, laugh, and make the 40th birthday an occasion to remember for a lifetime.

Sarah Pryor is a journalist, wife, mom, and Auburn football fan living in Charlotte, N.C.