Walk on the wild side: Top 10 after dark experiences

Nightlife in  Tokyo. Photo: iStock
Nightlife in Tokyo. Photo: iStock
Sunset  on Vatican City. Photo: iStock

Sunset on Vatican City. Photo: iStock

Snorkel the coral reef at Lord Howe Island.

 Photo: iStock

Snorkel the coral reef at Lord Howe Island. Photo: iStock

For many of us, one of the best things about travel is the chance to break free from the nine to five. So why do we tend to confine our explorations to office hours? In most destinations, there is plenty of exploring to be done even after the sun sets. From moveable feasts to night-time rainforest walks, discover a different side to your favourite destination with one of these nocturnal tours.

1. Berlin's moveable feast

When you arrive in a new city, the one thing better than having a friend who picks you up at the airport is having a friend who takes you out to all the hot new restaurants. The nice folk at Berlin-Agenten don't run a chauffeur service; however, their brilliant Gastro Rallye delivers not just the restaurants, but also a built-in friend. Gastro-Rallye guests are accompanied by an in-the-know local to not one, not two, but three restaurants, enjoying a different course in each restaurant. The concept is perfect for solo travellers, but also works well for couples and groups. New restaurants are continually added to the roster, and there are different itineraries in different parts of town. For those who love creative cooking, the Gastro-Rallye East is recommended. Looking for something quirkier? Gastro-Rallye The Wall takes a time-travel approach, from old East German favourites such as senfeier (mustard eggs) and Muckefuck coffee to today's cutting-edge cuisine. berlinagenten.com

2. Night snorkelling on Lord Howe Island

There is a reason snorkelling is usually a daytime activity. The joy of snorkelling lies in admiring darting fish and colourful corals, all of which are hard to see in the dark.  At Lord Howe Environmental Tours, however, they have a found a way around that. On their Night Snorkelling Tour, participants are issued with underwater torches equipped with special filters that create coral fluorescence, a somewhat uninspiring name for the phenomenon by which corals reflect vivid neon colours. Find the thought of swimming in the dark a bit challenging? They have that covered, too. Tours take place in the sheltered lagoon, with illuminated boundary markers indicating the limits of the snorkel site so you won't accidentally get lost. lordhoweislandtours.com

3. Jazzing it up in Harlem

Duke Ellington, Lena Horne, Thelonius Monk and Miles Davis: even in New York, few neighbourhoods have as rich a soundtrack as Harlem. Music lovers who want to explore this fascinating neighbourhood, taking in both the legends of old and the best of the new, will love Harlem Spirituals' Soul Food and Jazz Tour. Visit the Apollo Theater, where Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan were discovered, and the site of the legendary Cotton Club. Tuck into a soul food dinner  of fried chicken, collard greens, corn bread and black eye peas  at local landmark, Sylvia's Diner, before kicking back in one of the neighbourhood's buzzing jazz clubs. That's what we call a great night out. harlemspirituals.com

4. Cape Tribulation rainforest walk

There is more than one form of nightlife, and a night out in the wilderness can be just as noisy as an evening in the big smoke. Rainforests come alive once the sun sets, with unseen inhabitants rustling and trickling, scampering and chirping. Experience it for yourself at Cape Tribulation in Queensland, where Jungle Adventures' night-time walks take you deep into the rainforest to discover some of its elusive inhabitants. There is no predicting what will show up in the beam of your flashlight. On any given night, you might see water dragons, snakes, bandicoots, frogs – even crocs. This is a real rainforest experience, no boardwalks in sight, so wear walking shoes and be prepared for the odd shower: it is a rainforest, after all. junglesurfing.com.au

5. A night at the (Vatican) museum

There are more than 20,000 reasons to visit the Vatican Museums after hours. That is how many people typically throng through this tourist magnet on a busy day, which makes it almost impossible to get a good look at any of the priceless treasures on display. Fortunately, night owls yearning to get an uncluttered view of the Sistine Chapel ceiling, the Raphael frescoes and the Apollo Belvedere have another option. Night-time tours, with group sizes limited to 20 people, take place on Fridays between May and October. It costs a bit extra, and you will need to book well ahead, but we reckon it is worth every cent. myvaticantour.com

6. Barcelona tapas tours

There is only one downside to taking part in the oh-so-civilised Spanish ritual of tapas, and that is that everyone else seems to be enjoying it more. Early in the evening in cities across the country, locals pile into their favourite tapas bars, greeting their hosts and each other, knowing without even looking at the menu which bite-sized morsels to order. Taste Barcelona's tapas tours let you do it like a local. Together with your new gang (groups are limited to a maximum of six), visit some of Barcelona's hidden gems, getting to know the stories – and the people – behind the food you are sampling. thebarcelonataste.com

7. Shoot for the stars in Broome

The Kimberley in Western Australia is big sky country, where nothing interrupts the blanket of stars draped from one horizon to another. Most visitors to Broome take a moment to marvel at the glittering, high-wattage skies. Those who sign up for the Broome Astronomy Experience, however, get more than an eyeful: they get a real insight into what is going on out there in the cosmos. Host Greg Quicke runs early and late shows between April and October, with heavy-duty telescopes that give you an even better view. As his bushman's beard suggests, Greg is a real outback character: ask him about how he developed a fascination with astronomy while sleeping rough during his days as an outback mechanic. astrotours.net

8. The Ghosts of Edinburgh

Edinburgh is a city of gloomy skies, dark stones and narrow winding alleys; no wonder Robert Louis Stevenson was inspired to write The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde here. He is not the only one to celebrate the darker side of Edinburgh's past. Mercat Tours runs a range of ghost tours in atmospheric locations around the city. Those who think they have the stomach for it can sign up for their R-rated option, Hidden and Haunted, which takes place late at night. Walk through the spooky South Bridge Vaults and hear bloodcurdling tales of the cut-throats and grave robbers who once stalked these corridors. mercattours.com

9. Thailand's underwater lights

Some places become victims of their own success. Phi Phi Ley is one of them. This lovely island in southern Thailand, sheltered by soaring cliffs and surrounded by coral reefs, now has a tide of day-trippers wash up on its shores on a daily basis. After they head home in the late afternoon, however, the island returns to tranquillity. That is one good reason to sign up for Maya Bay Tours' Plankton Sunset Cruise, which arrives at the island just as the crowds are leaving. Another reason is the local plankton. At night, these bio-luminescent beasties put on an incredible lightshow. Pop on a snorkel and jump into the water for the best view. mayabaytours.com

10. Tokyo by night

There are times when it is great to get lost. On your way to dinner is not one of them.  Navigating Tokyo's neon-lit streets can be confusing for anyone who can't read Japanese. One way to take the hassle out of a night out is to sign up for one of Urban Adventure's Tokyo After 5 tours. Join the crowd of office workers heading for their favourite eateries and drinking spots at the end of the day. There are lots of local specialties to try, including typical snacks such as yakitori skewers and monja-yaki, Tokyo's spin on the omelette. The night winds up in a local pub. Now that's living like a local. Urbanadventures.com

This story Walk on the wild side: Top 10 after dark experiences first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.