Are you the type of traveler that collapses into bed after a busy day of sightseeing? You may be missing out. There are places around the world that flourish with life and luminosity once the sun sets, where night owls roam, city lights shine and interesting things happen. These destinations may be fantastic spots to see during the day, but they take on a totally different persona after dark. Help yourself to a few extra cups of coffee, because these fantastic nighttime destinations are not to be missed!
The northern lights, also known as the aurora borealis, can be seen in the night sky from a variety of destinations in polar regions around the world. In particular, Reykjavik, the world's northernmost capital, is an ideal base from which to view the northern lights. While the aurora borealis is best seen from remote wilderness locations that are difficult to get to, just a 20-minute drive will take you from Reykjavik to spots where the night sky becomes illuminated with spectacular glowing streaks of green, blue and purple. Numerous Reykjavik tour providers offer excursions from the city to rural regions where aurora watching is best.
Sea Turtle Nesting Grounds, Costa Rica
Leatherback sea turtles spend nearly their entire lives in the ocean, but when the female turtles are ready to nest, they drag themselves onto beaches at night and dig holes in the sand with their flippers. Then the turtles lay dozens of eggs in the holes, cover the nests with sand and retreat back into the ocean. After a few months, the baby turtles hatch and scramble down the sand into the waves. Spending an evening watching these endangered creatures painstakingly prepare for the arrival of their young is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. There are various nesting sites on beaches in Costa Rica where the turtles can be seen building their nests at night, including Corcovado National Park and Tortuguero National Park. The best time to see the nesting turtles is usually between October and March.
Red Light District, Amsterdam
Travelers visiting Amsterdam's Red Light District during the day will have an entirely different experience from those who stroll the streets of the District once night has fallen. The infamous neighborhood, where Amsterdam's greatest concentration of brothels, sex shops and "coffee shops" (not the kind that serve coffee) can be found, truly comes alive at night. Noisy crowds swell in the streets, neon lights glow, curls of smoke fill the air and music blares from the doors of dimly lit bars. Travelers who aren't interested in the Red Light District's sinful services shouldn't deny themselves a visit. The neighborhood has plenty of top-notch restaurants and drug-free bars, and its people-watching opportunities at night are unparalleled.
Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah
Bryce Canyon is best known for its scenic landscape of sweeping canyons and vivid rock formations (called "hoodoos"). But the national park offers equally dramatic views in its starry night skies. Due to the region's clear mountain air and low levels of light pollution, Bryce Canyon gets as dark as most astronomical research locations, and is one of the best places in the country to view stars. It's possible to see more than 7,500 stars on most nights in Bryce Canyon — without a telescope. Travelers visiting Bryce can take advantage of a variety of free stargazing excursions hosted by park rangers, including guided full-moon hikes.
Manta Ray Night Dive, Kona, Hawaii
Want to see manta rays in action? Head to Kona, on Hawaii's Big Island, and book a nighttime diving or snorkeling excursion. After the sun goes down, dozens of divers plunge into the waters around the island and shine bright underwater lights, which attract plankton. The plankton in turn entice multitudes of large winged manta rays, who feed on the drifting sea organisms. This ritual has been going on in the waters off of Kona for more than a decade; as a result, countless manta rays are accustomed to swimming to same place each evening to get their fill, and Kona's coastal waters are one of the best spots in the world for divers to watch rays at night. The Manta Ray Pacific Research website offers a useful list of manta ray night dive tour providers.
Las Vegas Strip
The Las Vegas Strip, which glitters and sparkles with millions of lights when the sun goes down, is said to be one of the brightest spots on the planet. The Vegas Strip also has the world's most powerful beam of light, a 315,000-watt ray that rises into the sky from the top of the Luxor Hotel. Don't miss the famous Bellagio fountains (another iconic Strip landmark), which offer synchronized water, music and light shows every 15 to 30 minutes between 8 p.m. and midnight.
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Singapore Zoo Night Safari
One of Singapore's most popular attractions (it welcomes more than a million visitors annually), the Singapore Zoo Night Safari offers travelers an unequaled zoo experience. The Night Safari is the world's first nocturnal zoo. It houses more than 1,000 animals, most of which are nocturnal, in a 40-hectare open-air tropical forest divided into various habitats. Visitors can see the sights on foot or by tram, getting glimpses of fascinating animals like giant flying squirrels, Malayan tigers, Asian elephants, giant anteaters and sloth bears. How does one see the animals in the dark? Night Safari has special lighting that resembles moonlight and doesn't disrupt the animals' natural sleeping patterns.
Jemaa el-Fna Square, Marrakesh
The Jemaa el-Fna Square is a busy open-air market set in the heart of Marrakesh. During the day, the market teems with crowds of travelers, snake charmers and locals selling everything from henna tattoos to handmade crafts. But at night, Jemaa el-Fna pulsates with life, light and the fragrant aroma of untold spices. When the sun sets on Marrakesh, the square transforms into a steamy outdoor culinary show as dozens of food stalls roll into the market to sell freshly made local specialties throughout the evening. A nighttime visit to the Jemaa el-Fna is a must for foodies traveling in the country.
Our reasons for including the City of Lights in this roundup require little explanation. Any traveler who's been to Paris can attest to the sheer beauty of the city under a darkened sky. Paris has been an unforgettable vision at night ever since the 1830s, when gas street lamps first were erected in the French capital. Today, travelers can get a fabulous view of Paris' famous lights by taking an evening stroll along the Seine, booking a Seine river cruise or riding to the top of the glittering Eiffel Tower (which stays open as late as midnight, depending on the season).