Beyond Drinking and Dancing: 8 Alternative Evening Activities

In the most popular destinations, there is nothing easier than finding activities with which to fill a traveler’s day – bargain hunting, cafe hopping, art ogling – However, night time options seem to be largely restricted to bars, pubs and clubs. But what if you’re not really into drinking, and dancing is your worst nightmare? Or maybe you’re simply traveling solo and don’t think that sipping a beer alone will make for a memorable evening.

Whatever your reasons, should you admit defeat and retire sheepishly to your hotel room? Not necessarily. Here are 8 activities from around the world to fill your nights without getting you anywhere near a drink or a dance floor.

Get in touch with nocturnal nature

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Pitching a tent and staying overnight in a national park among fellow campers is not only a great way to stay awake until the wee hours while absorbing the rhythms and sounds of night time nature, but also a good idea for the solo traveler who’d like to meet new people in a relaxed context.

In more urban environments where nature seems far away, check with your nearest zoo for after dark activities such as those organized by the Cairns Zoo in Australia and the Zurich Zoo in Switzerland. The latter offers nights of barbeque dinners and bush walking among crocodiles and cuter marsupials, while the former gives you the chance to see what the Zoo’s animals are up to after closing time. Sleeping over is also an option.

Extend your date with art and architecture

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For some respite from the hordes of people which routinely swamp the famous museums and art galleries of the world, leave your visit for when most other travelers are busy getting ready to hit the pubs. Take a look at museums’ opening hours and you’ll often find that on special days the time within which you can appreciate some of the finest works of art in the world by moon light are stretched a little.

Amsterdam’s Van Gogh’s Museum is open until 10pm on Fridays and so is Paris’ Louvre, with an additional 10pm closing time on Wednesdays. London’s National Gallery will kick you out a little bit earlier at 9pm. If you’re still not ready to call it a day, look for a period movie theatre like Amsterdam’s 1920s Tuschinski Cinema, where enjoying a blockbuster in the main opera-style auditorium becomes an experience in itself.

Sweat or soak in a bath house

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After a day of sightseeing, the last thing many of us want to do is subject our swollen feet to a painful dance floor experience, so if you’re not ready to go to bed yet and happen to be in one of those countries where bath culture is alive and kicking, you might as well head to the nearest bath house to soothe your aching muscles.

Budapest’s 16th century Rudas has a special 10pm to 4am opening time on Saturdays and Sundays, while many of Istanbul Hammams are open until midnight. In Asia it gets even better, with numerous Korean public baths and Japanese Onsen open round the clock. Iceland’s Blue Lagoon, along with many other public pools, is open well into the evening.

Tour the city by night

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When the city is wrapped up in sparkling lights it becomes a different creature from its daytime alter ego, and making the most of this softer side couldn’t be easier. Evening walking tours are a widespread option in every major city, with some of them focusing on more particular themes, like Edinburgh’s ghost hunter walking tour.

For some quality time alone with your favorite urban spaces, also remember that observatories such as New York’s Empire State Building let you take in the night view from up high well beyond the stroke of midnight.

Shop for bargains

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Hong Kong alone has enough market options to keep you busy for several nights, with its Temple street night market and Ladies’ Market on Tung Choi Street having the longest opening hours. But Asia is not the only corner of the world where men and women alike can indulge their shopaholism beyond normal closing times- try France for a medieval square housing a display of local produce in Sauveterre-de-Rouergue or go all the way to Canada for Vancouver’s China town night Market. Both are held in the warm summer months.

Then there are of course those unique cities where there may be no night markets around but finding stores opon until midnight is not as impossible as it sounds. Read Time Out New York’s article about late night shopping in the city that never sleeps for examples of outlets which cater for night owls.

Flex your muscles after sundown

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With a little bit of research, sports fanatics are likely to find  a few options for night activities to keep them busy – squid fishing by torch light in Vietnam or Mexico, sky diving in Johannesburg or night scuba diving in Indonesia.

The less adventurous can opt to join a group night rollerblading spin around the city, something which is becoming increasingly more popular around the world with events held in locations as different as Paris, Sydney and Tel Aviv, or Los Angeles’ ‘Midnight Ridazz’ late night cycling event.

Hunt down late night eateries

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Who said dinner should be gotten over and done with early? The Spanish would cringe at the idea, fond as they are of enjoying their food well after sun down. The best way to do like the Spanish is to enjoy tapas in Madrid or pintxos in San Sebastian or book a tour where someone else does the tapas hunting for you. In countries where people prefer to fuel up earlier, all you need is a little bit of research to find a place to eat; a 24 hour pancake shop in Budapest, a fish restaurant in Istanbul or Melbourne’s China town restaurants.

But there is no need to limit yourself to one spot – food markets in countries where late night snacking is a national hobby give the hungry traveler plenty of room to roam, stare and taste . Sample strange foods at the Beijing Wangfujing Market, hang around in Marrakech’s Djemaa el Fna square which in the evening comes alive with food stalls, or nose around Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market, which rather than getting its late night status by welcoming customers until after midnight, simply happens to open ridiculously early, at 3am.

Sit back and watch

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Just because you cannot dance doesn’t mean you aren’t able to appreciate some quality twirling. Whether it’s flamenco in Spain, a Moulin Rouge performance in Paris, a group of whirling dervishes in Istanbul or a ballet troupe in St. Petersburg, when the dancers on stage are the centre of attraction, the fact that you’re witnessing all of it solo is no longer even an issue.

Check out the following stories about more nighttime activities to enjoy:

Photos by: boltron, richard.pyrker, Joe Mabel, hubertk, mkebbe, pricca, DarkB4Dawn, tumsdebab

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Older comments on Beyond Drinking and Dancing: 8 Alternative Evening Activities

Cynthia Morris
16 August 2010

I love this! Great suggestions. I just did a wild nocturnal thing: I rafted in the Royal Gorge on Friday night. I never would have expected to watch a meteor shower from among the rapids! Wow!

Melanie@TravelsWithTwo
16 August 2010

Such a cool list! Love to add one more: While in Costa Rica recently, just about every wildlife lodge offered a night tour of the jungle, with a chance to see animals like sloths and big cats when they’re at their most frisky. Throw in a tree frog serenade, and you had me at hello.

conniehum
16 August 2010

Beautiful photographs and good suggestions. Drinking and partying while travel doesn’t seem to be my nightly thing anymore but I sure have been loving my alternative night life! I’ve gone night diving in the Red Sea, did a night walking tour of London, visited an old hammam in Istanbul and went swimming in a geothermal pool in Iceland, to name a few. I’m glad that you’re pointing out to travelers that there’s more to do besides get drunk. Thanks again for a great article!

Denise Pulis
17 August 2010

Hi all,

What inspired me to write this sort of article is the fact that I don’t like drinking (Im not so keen on the taste of alcohol) and my partner hates dancing, which means that we often find outselves wondering what to do after 9 pm when we are travelling! I am really glad that other people have found this article useful.

manonthelam
08 January 2011

Hanging out with locals in a cafe is also a great nightly ritual…:>)