Great Destinations After Dark


Forget nightclubs—instead, check out these after-dark hot spots delivering firefly spectaculars, midnight snacks, and stellar light shows. Admire Yosemite's Half Dome by the light of the full moon, or discover a world of nocturnal wildlife in Singapore. Here are 9 destinations around the world that are worth staying up past your bedtime to explore.

WaterFire in Providence, Rhode Island

When fire meets water on warm nights in Providence, magic happens. Crowds begin gathering along the banks of Providence's three rivers before dusk to secure front-row seats to WaterFire, a spectacle of firetenders (torch bearers) slipping slowly downstream in boats, lighting each of more than 80 floating bonfires. Each performance has its own soundtrack that is selected by Barnaby Evans, the artist responsible for the event. WaterFire events usually occur on Saturday evenings between late May and early October.

More fire on water: Since 2007, Kansas City has held WaterFire on Brush Creek. And WaterFire Columbus brings music, fire, and food to downtown Columbus from June through October.

Night markets in Taiwan

Night markets may have gotten their start in small villages—where farmers would gather when traveling salesmen came to town—but these days the phenomenon has an authentically urban vibe. Taiwan has some of the world's most vibrant night markets—after-dark minicities where locals and tourists flock to eat and shop. Shihlin is one of the country's most famous and popular markets, and is the place to go for signature dishes like oyster omelets, stinky tofu, and pearl milk tea.

More night markets:Night markets in North America tend to be seasonal, running throughout summer and into fall. Find thriving night markets in Philadelphia (locations change), in Richmond (near Vancouver), and in Chinatown in San Francisco.

Moonlight Tour in Yosemite Valley, CA

The rise of the full moon signals the start of the Yosemite Valley Moonlight Tour, which is offered on five nights around the full moon during late spring, summer, and early fall each year. The two-hour tram tour reveals the softly lit side of Yosemite's most beloved landmarks, including Half Dome, El Capitan, and Yosemite Falls. Plus, it's a great way to outsmart the crowds that clog valley roads during the day.

More nights out in national parks:San Francisco's Alcatraz is a very different sort of national park, but it also offers night tours, which take place Thursday through Monday throughout the year. The evening includes a ferry ride, a guided tour, and special presentations exclusive to night visits.

Stargazing on Mauna Kea, Hawaii

Wishing upon a single star is nice, but a nighttime trip to an observatory—where, on clear nights, you'll have thousands of stars to choose from—offers much better odds. The Mauna Kea Visitor Information Station on Hawaii's Big Island is open to stargazers every night of the year from 6:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. The evening program includes a documentary screening, star tours of the brightest constellations, and plenty of chances for visitors to look through the telescopes.

More stargazing: Travelers who don't want to make the trip up the mountain on their own can join a tour such as Hawaii Forest & Trail's Mauna Kea Summit & Stars Adventure. The eight-hour tour includes transportation, a picnic dinner, all the cold-weather gear you'll need (temperatures on the mountain reach freezing at night), a telescope, and a knowledgeable guide for $192 per person.

Bioluminescence in Vieques, Puerto Rico

For an unforgettable night out in Puerto Rico, head to the island of Vieques' Puerto Mosquito at dusk to witness the glowing waters. The bioluminescent bay is one of the few places in the world where a large concentration of microscopic organisms actually light up the water as you pass through it. To protect the fragile ecosystem, swimming isn't allowed, but kayak and boat tours provide the perfect way to experience the rare natural wonder.

More glowing bays: Puerto Rico also has two other bioluminescent bays: La Parguera in the southwest and Laguna Grande in Fajardo.

Desert after dark, near Scottsdale, Arizona

The desert comes alive after dark, but you need the right equipment to catch all the action. In the Sonoran Desert near Scottsdale, Arizona, Stellar Adventures leads three- to four-hour night-vision tours. The special goggles transform the dark desert into a veritable stage for nocturnal wildlife. Tours cost $150 and include hotel pick-up, snacks, and beverages.

More dark desert adventures: The Night Lights tour at Frank Lloyd Wright's Taliesin West in Scottsdale offers visitors the chance to appreciate the desert jewel in a softer light. Tours run on select nights throughout the year and cost $35 per person. And for a nighttime desert adventure on a budget, the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center in Ft. Davis, Texas, offers $5 Guided Flashlight Discovery Hikes on select summer Saturdays.

Nighttime culture in Paris, France

Culture lights up the night throughout the year in Paris. The summer solstice brings the Fete de la Musique, when musicians and revelers fill the streets and places with song. During July and August at the Parc de la Villette (site in French), evening picnickers watch classic films from around the world on large outdoor screens. And in October the Nuit Blanche (site in French), or White Night, draws huge crowds with all-night access to galleries, museums, and cultural institutions.

More nighttime culture: St. Petersburg, Russia, hosts one of the most famous White Nights festivals, with six weeks of opera, singers, ballet, and music during the summer months, when the sky never grows completely dark. And San Antonio's annual Luminaria lights up a March night with free dance, art, music, theater, and street performances.

Night safari in Singapore

If your travel motto begins "When in Rome…," take note: When in Singapore, head to the Night Safari. This wildly popular after-dark animal park isn't just for tourists; it's a favorite of locals as well. Offerings range from trails through rainforests teeming with animals to trams that escort visitors past the wildlife of eight geographical regions in Asia and Africa. Tribal performances and educational programs round out the things to do. The Night Safari is open nightly from 7:30 p.m. to midnight.

More nights among the animals: In California the San Diego Zoo Safari Park and Safari West both offer sleepovers in well-appointed tents. An overnight offers more chances to see animals during their most active times.

Synchronous Fireflies, Near Gatlinburg, Tennessee

If you're looking for the firefly equivalent of sparklers, you may only need to head as far as your backyard. But for a real fireworks spectacular, you'll need to be in Elkmont, near Gatlinburg, Tennessee, during the approximately two weeks each year the synchronous fireflies put on their show. Unlike other fireflies, these blinking beetles flash in unison—or sometimes in wave patterns that lucky visitors can see ripple across hillsides. It's a show you don't want to miss, but you'll need to time your visit during the peak mating season, which usually occurs sometime between June 3 and 21. From Gatlinburg, you'll need to catch the trolley ($1 round-trip) to see the show.

More synchronous fireflies: The only other place in the world where you can see synchronous fireflies is in Kuala Selangor, Malaysia, where fireflies cluster around mangrove trees on riverbanks.

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