December 7, 2023
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Nights on the Town

These cities dazzle after dark with candlelight museum tours,
specialty street markets, food truck festivals and more

By Jennifer Davoren

Vacations Magazine: Nights on the Town
Some cities shine a little brighter after the sun goes down.

In Cape Town, South Africa, the anticipated rise of a full moon means a hike up Lion's Head, a 2,200-foot mountain overlooking the coastal capital. It takes about 90 minutes to reach the summit, where backpackers pause for picnics and bird's-eye snapshots as they wait for dusk to fall. The return trek is steeped in a welcoming glow -- while the brightness of the moon makes for a dreamy descent, the twinkle of Cape Town's streetlights beckon, and those ready to toast the end of their journey find themselves picking up their pace.

For a leisurely study of a new destination, consider an independent tour. These vacations offer a few perks enjoyed by their more structured cousins, escorted tours -- accommodations booked by professional price negotiators and the advice of local guides, for instance. But, for the most part, independent tours leave you to your own devices, offering ample leisure time and multiple nights to revel in a single locale.

Select cruise itineraries also take advantage of nightlife around the globe. Departing the Indian Ocean isle of Mauritius on Dec. 9, the luxurious Crystal Symphony will spend 13 nights skimming the African coast, concluding with an overnight stay in Cape Town. Travel discounter Vacations To Go offers ocean-view accommodations for $3,585, 78 percent off the brochure price. Azamara Club Cruises and Oceania Cruises also schedule overnights in locales on their destination-focused itineraries; earlier this year, Azamara announced that more than 250 of its port visits would be overnights or late evening sojourns.

Sample the following five cities after sunset -- we even offer two themes for evenings out, as well as the latest travel deals available through Vacations To Go.

Pageantry: Hawaii's luau scene heats up as night falls, so follow the glow of tiki torches to some big-tent events around the isle of Oahu. On the northeast side, the Polynesian Cultural Center offers "Ha: Breath of Life," a showcase for more than 100 native performers. In Honolulu, the Diamond Head Luau takes place less than a mile from lodgings like the Moana Surfrider and Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort and Spa, and hands-on demonstrations include lei-making and ukulele-strumming.

Enjoy dinner and a show -- the former preferably spent with plates piled high with kalua pork and other traditional fare -- then head for a historic spot for cocktails. Back at the Surfrider, a 120-year-old banyan tree shades a courtyard made for evening drinks and guest performances from the Westin-owned resort's Unwind program.

Pedestrian perks: For more of a local's experience, time a Honolulu visit to coincide with the last Friday of the month. Events include Eat the Street, bringing together live music, family-friendly entertainment and more than 40 food trucks in the Kakaako neighborhood north of Waikiki.

After digging into sushi and grilled shrimp, grab a shave ice to keep you cool on the short walk to the Honolulu Museum of Art, less than a mile east. Also held on the final Friday of each month, the venue's ARTafterDARK series offers exhibits, live demonstrations and themes from "The French Paradox" (June's event, highlighting works from Monet and Matisse as well as a French film festival) to "Midsummer Night's Dream" (July's tribute to Shakespeare).

Keep your eyes on the sky as you make your way back to Waikiki accommodations and wind down your night on the town. Honolulu celebrates every Friday night with a free fireworks display over Duke Kahanamoku Beach.

Pacific getaway: Norwegian Cruise Line offers 10-night cruise tours of Hawaii that bundle a three-night Waikiki Beach Marriott Resort stay with a seven-night sailing to Maui, Kauai and the Big Island. Prices start at $2,889 for an Aug. 23 departure.

Street level: Don't belly up to just any old bar. Instead, explore Sydney nightlife with a tour of historic pubs, especially those dotting The Rocks district near the city harbor. Popular stops include the 174-year-old Hero of Waterloo Hotel, said to be a smuggler's haunt in Australia's penal colony days.

Another peek into the past awaits on night tours of the Sydney Living Museums collection. Guests wind their way through fine colonial homes by candlelight or inspect spookier properties like the Hyde Park Barracks Museum, which examines the lives of 19th-century British convicts shipped to the Southern Hemisphere.

Or you can schedule your Sydney visit for high summer -- on this side of the world, that's January and February -- to enjoy the glow of an outdoor movie screen after nightfall. Catch new releases at the St. George OpenAir
Cinema overlooking the city's opera house and other harbor icons.

Sky highs: Australia's national flag is emblazoned with the Southern Cross, a constellation barely glimpsed by residents of the Northern Hemisphere. Get acquainted with it on a trip to the Sydney Observatory, where nighttime tours include telescope viewings and a visit to the on-site planetarium. Groups gather at 8:15 p.m. for the two-hour tour, available seven days a week. For a family-friendly activity catering to early bedtimes, a twilight tour also is available each day at 6:15 p.m.

If stargazing from sea level doesn't offer enough excitement, call BridgeClimb Sydney. Thrill-seekers strap on safety equipment and hike up the girders of the 440-foot Sydney Harbour Bridge, with 360-degree views of the skyline and some fairly impressive selfies waiting at its summit. Daylight bookings are popular, but groups also meet at twilight, after sunset and, for early risers and up-all-nighters, dawn.

Extended stays: Independent tour provider Monograms offers Sydney vacations ranging from a four-day city stay to a nearly monthlong adventure with stops in New Zealand and Fiji. Look into trips like the nine-day "Great Barrier Reef & Sydney" priced from $1,729, with time for snorkeling along a world wonder as well as four nights at leisure in Australia's largest city.

Hong Kong
Atmosphere: Greater Hong Kong is home to nearly 8,000 skyscrapers, so evenings out often begin with a rooftop cocktail. The highest bar in the world, Ozone, awaits on the 118th floor of the International Commerce Centre. Connected to the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong, it's famed for its Dom Perignon Sunday brunch, but DJ sets, tapas and a range of tempting "Ritz reserve" drinks lure late night patrons.

Hong Kong's most popular attraction also offers a little altitude. Hop a tram to scale Victoria Peak, where the Sky Terrace 428 outlook rewards visitors with panoramic views from 1,400 feet up and options for dinner and drinks are found at The Peak Tower shopping complex. The tram runs through midnight seven days a week, while the terrace and tower welcome guests until 11 p.m. each evening.

Avenues: Hong Kong shoppers find niche street markets dedicated to flowers, jade jewelry, stage costumes, pet goldfish and, at the Temple Street Night Market, after-dark deals. Practice your haggling skills as you browse for unique souvenirs, have your destiny mapped by a fortuneteller or grab a bite at a dai pai dong, an alfresco food stall.

You're sure to see some of the city's famed "A Symphony of Lights" from the balcony of a high-rise bar, but a better perspective is found along the waterfront. Gather outside the Hong Kong Cultural Centre or the promenade lining Golden Bauhinia Square at 8 p.m. each evening for the 13-minute show, a choreographed display of lasers, searchlights and illuminated buildings that casts a colorful reflection across Victoria Harbour. Live narration of the spectacle is offered in three languages, with an English translation provided on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

Escapes: "Hong Kong" Pacific Delight Tours' three-day independent package, is an ideal add-on for those looking to extend a vacation in Asia. Prices start at $499 and include accommodations at The Cityview, a Kowloon district hotel not far from the Hong Kong Cultural Centre.

A handful of 14-night Celebrity Cruises itineraries also overnight in the city, including an Oct. 29 sailing aboard the Celebrity Millennium priced from $1,599. Guests spend their first evening and the majority of the second day in Hong Kong before moving on to ports in Vietnam, Thailand and its final destination, the isle of Singapore.

Dance: Flamenco is an arresting Spanish art, but not one that's native to Catalonia, the region enveloping the northeast corner of the country. Still, the Catalonian capital of Barcelona offers a few spots for demonstrations, including Tablao Flamenco Cordobes along the city's famed La Rambla. Ticket packages combine shows with dinner, drinks or group dance lessons.

Atop Montjuic, a hill overlooking Barcelona's harbor, is an 18th-century military fortress, the stately Palau Nacional exhibition hall and the Font Magica, built for the 1929 International Exhibition. This "magic fountain" offers its own evening programming, a dance of water, light and color set to a soaring musical score. Multiple shows are available on Fridays and Saturdays through the end of the year, with Thursday and Sunday night events added in June, July and August.

Other displays: One Saturday per year, the Night of the Museums opens Barcelona's favorite exhibits for after-hours inspection. Guests find free entrance to more than 60 venues, including the Museu Nacional d'Art de Catalunya, with an impressive collection of medieval and Gothic pieces; a museum dedicated to FC Barcelona, the city's pro soccer team; and a theater for "El Rei de la Magia," the King of Magic, with pop-up performances throughout the evening. This year's event, which also opens a gallery for Pablo Picasso's works, falls on May 20.

Another beloved Spanish son, Antoni Gaudi, is celebrated with nighttime visits to his Barcelona creations. At Casa Mila, "Gaudi's Pedrera: The Origins" turns the home's swirling spires and rooftop sculptures into movie screens during a colorful multimedia show. Casa Batllo, thought to be Gaudi's tribute to St. George's dragon-slaying prowess, offers "Magic Nights" in summer, with live music, cocktails and moonlight contemplation of the architect's unique vision.

Drive: "Northern Spain Fly & Drive" is a nine-day Gate 1 Travel journey from Madrid to Barcelona that provides guests with city accommodations, a handful of guided sightseeing excursions, plenty of free time for individual exploration and rental cars for leisurely personal transport through Spain. Priced from $479, the tour spends three nights in Barcelona.

Showbiz: Broadway's big brother, the West End of London has been a big draw for theater buffs since the 17th century. Check the TKTS booth in Leicester Square for half-price passes to same-day performances, including an evening show of "The Mousetrap," an Agatha Christie murder mystery that doubles as the longest-running play in history. It debuted in 1952 and has raised its curtain more than 25,000 times.

For spotlights and spectacle on a more intimate stage, look to Circus,
a restaurant in the Covent Garden district. Here, tabletops double as stages for fire-eaters, acrobats, contortionists, hoop-twirling aerialists and more, and guests dig into pan-Asian dishes from curry to dim sum. Make reservations for dinner, drinks (try the house's famed "party punches") and a date with a snake charmer up to three months before your London getaway.

Shoreline: Nighttime attractions along the River Thames include the Tower of London, where a 700-year-old tradition, the Ceremony of the Keys, locks and secures the fortress each evening at 9:53 p.m. There is no cost to attend, but tickets should be reserved through the Historic Royal Palaces website well in advance of your visit. History buffs can continue the evening's theme at the nearby St. Katharine Docks, where The Dickens Inn serves pub fare in a restored 18th-century warehouse. The docks also are home to The Medieval Banquet, a lively (if not entirely period accurate) eatery with Renaissance Fair flair and family-friendly entertainment.

About a mile away and on the other side of the Thames, temptations in the Bankside neighborhood include a diverse dining scene and Shakespeare's Globe, a re-creation of the playwright's favorite theater. Evening productions slated for the summer include the tragedy of "King Lear," with pre-show presentations from featured actors and Shakespearean scholars. A handful of midnight matinees also are on offer this year: "Twelfth Night" on June 9, "Romeo and Juliet" on June 30 and "Much Ado About Nothing" on Sept. 22.

By land or sea: "London Week" actually an eight-day independent tour with Insight Vacations, includes a West End sightseeing excursion with a "Blue Badge" representative of the British Guild of Tourist Guides. Packages start at $895 and cover accommodations near Oxford Street.

Or, revel in London nightlife before a sailing around the British Isles. Departing from Southampton -- a maritime gateway for the capital about 80 miles to the south -- on Aug. 29, Princess Cruises' Caribbean Princess makes time for ports in Ireland, Scotland and the Channel Islands as well as a break in Paris, with balcony cabins priced from $2,599.

The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in Summer 2017. Please visit Vacations To Go or call (800) 338-4962 for current rates and details.

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