20 unforgettable things to do at night on your travels
Twilight ballooning in Albuquerque, New Mexico
Few sights are more magical than hundreds of tethered, glowing hot-air balloons illuminating a dusky night sky. For many this is the highlight of Albuquerque's International Balloon Fiesta, a week-long festival launched in 1972, which draws enthusiasts from all over the world. Festivities start after sunset and culminate with a spectacular fireworks display.
Take in Manhattan from the Empire State, New York, USA
Watch the city that never sleeps with panoramic views from the Observatory Deck of New York’s most famous skyscraper. Perched 86 floors up, Manhattan’s twinkling skyline can be seen teeming with celebrated landmarks and aglow with streams of weaving night traffic. Take advantage of the 2am closing time and have the midnight vista more or less to yourself.
Join the early risers at a London market
Open from 3am, arrive early to catch the crack-of-dawn butchers in full swing. Housed in a Victorian market hall with arched ceilings and a curious colour scheme, Smithfield’s smart appearance belies its grisly past as a popular site for public executions. By 7am carnivores can devour a full English at the nearby Fox & Anchor.
Take a night safari in Singapore zoo
The world’s first night zoo, this veteran is still high on Singapore’s must-see list, thanks to special lighting techniques and open-concept enclosures which allow up-close animal encounters. Hop on the 45-minute narrated tram or stroll the trails to snoop on the nocturnal activities of nine hundred creatures; hang out with bats, laze with lions or act aloof with leopards.
Watch the Symphony of Light show, Hong Kong
Escape the glitzy late-night malls and snazzy restaurants for one of Hong Kong’s best free thrills. At 8pm every night, forty or so of Central District’s glittering skyscrapers dance to a synchronised routine of sweeping lasers, neon flashing lights and futuristic tunes. Bizarre yet strangely endearing, this fifteen-minute extravaganza is best seen from Tsim Sha Tsui on Kowloon.
Feed hyenas in Harar, Ethiopia
It’s not every night you come face to face with the snapping jaws of Africa’s second largest predator, yet in Harar this is an evening ritual. Just outside the ancient city walls these hulking beasts slink out of the shadows for dinner with the Hyena Man, sometimes snatching meat from a stick held between his, or if you’re brave enough, your teeth.
Admire the Northern Lights in Lapland, Finland
The Northern Lights may be elusive, but with 24 hours of darkness at the peak of winter here, at least time will be on your side. Embrace the long nights by heading out into the frozen darkness to try and catch this breathtaking spectacle. Streams of shimmering particles twist and twirl in a shifting, sweeping dance that illuminates the inky-black sky.
Lose yourself in Beijing’s hutongs, China
Once crisscrossing all of Beijing, now only a few hundred of these labyrinthine, narrow alleys remain. Dating back 800 years, old Beijing really comes to life at night here, as food carts and rickshaws weave past lively games of mah jong, pavement hairdressers and old men watching the world go by.
Night dive with Manta Rays, Hawaii, USA
Gathering in pools of light cast by divers’ torches, specks of glittering plankton draw in manta rays. Hot in pursuit of these microscopic organisms, the rays perform a mesmerising dance, swooping, spiralling, somersaulting and plunging as they weave effortlessly amongst each other and stretch their 13ft tapered wings within reach of the waiting divers.
Stuff yourself at Shilin night market, Taipei, Taiwan
Food is a big deal in Taiwan, something best understood when sampling xiaochi (“little eats”) at Taipei’s biggest night market. Brave the crowds and polyphonic tunes and you will experience some of Asia’s best cuisine: syrupy grass jelly soup, sweet and chewy bubble tea, artery-clogging deep-fried meatballs, and, for the really adventurous, the rather dubiously named yet delicious “stinky tofu”.
See Petra under the stars, Jordan
Thousands of small candles light the Siq, the narrow, hidden gorge that stretches up to the entrance of the ancient city, as a single-file procession arrives at the Treasury. A Bedouin piper breaks the silence as crowds gather behind a blanket of flickering candles that cast shadows, which flit across Petra’s iconic facade.
Watch Thai kickboxing, Bangkok, Thailand
Worlds away form the kickboxing you see in a Western gym class, Muay Thai is kickboxing in its most distilled, aggressive form. With two stadiums, Ratchadamnoen and Lumphini, you can catch the action any night in Bangkok, so prepare for furious exchanges, looming tension and clamouring crowds that will leave you buzzing all night.
Catch the tuna auction at Tsukiji Fish Market, Japan
Take advantage of jetlag and register at 4am for this famous tuna auction. By 5am, the market is frenzied, with trucks and trolleys zipping around laden with man-sized fish and feverish bidders clamouring for the best buys. As the commotion dies down, brave the queues at Daiwa Sushi for a proper breakfast dining on some of the best sushi in town.
Set the town ablaze in Lewes, England
Blazing stakes, flaming crosses and fireworks; Bonfire Night here will certainly set a pyromaniac’s heart alight. This double whammy commemorates the foiling of the 1605 Gunpowder Plot and honours the seventeen Protestant martyrs burnt at the stake here in 1555–7. As the festival is steeped in history, paraders don medieval garb, grasp burning staffs and light effigies of Guy Fawkes and the pope.
Experience Hoi An’s full moon festival, Vietnam
Banish thoughts of glow paint ravers on crowded Thai beaches, Hoi An’s full moon festival is a much more sophisticated affair. Every month on the fourteenth day of the lunar calendar, the town switches off its street lights as glowing silk lanterns, performers and food stalls fill the cobbled streets and the Thu Bon River is lit up with beautiful floats.
Night skiing with vin chaud, France
Staying cosy beside a roaring log fire may seem tempting, but night skiing is an exhilarating end to a day out on the slopes. While some resorts offer floodlit runs, others embrace the frozen darkness with torchlight descents that are beautiful to watch as they snake down the hillside. Afterwards, reward your efforts as you defrost cradling a warming vin chaud.
Stargaze from Mauna Kea, Hawaii, USA
Boasting the world’s greatest collection of telescopes, the observatories at the summit of Hawaii’s highest peak draw space enthusiasts from around the world. However, while serious astronomers will be at home here, a free stargazing programme runs nightly at 6–10pm, introducing curious novices to an expanse of night sky wonders. Globular clusters, planets, double stars, galaxies and supernova remnants are all within reach.
Revel in the White Nights, St Petersburg, Russia
A must-see for all insomniacs, during St Petersburg’s Byele Nochy, or White Nights, from mid-June to mid-July, darkness never quite falls. Sun-filled, sticky days are followed by luminous, breezy nights that are alive with tsusovki (gatherings); vodka-fuelled revelry fills the bars, old friends stroll by the bustling canal, and the Summer Garden teems with lively, impromptu picnics.
Floodlit watering holes, Etosha, Namibia
The name of Namibia’s largest national park may mean “place of dry water”, but its watering holes offer great wildlife spotting opportunities. Okaukuejo Camp boasts a spotlit drinking oasis perfect for spying on nocturnal congregations. Safe on a raised platform you can watch as black rhinos, elephants, lions and giraffes emerge out of the darkness to head to their favourite local.
Join in Ganga Aarti in Varanasi, India
As dusk descends, the ghats teem with life as hordes of residents and saffron-clad pilgrims cluster on the banks of India’s holiest river for the nightly ceremony of Ganga Aarti. Lit by swinging torches, dancers trace slow steps to the rhythmic chanting of the crowds, while small twinkling diyas (candles) float on the dark waters.
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