As a child, is there anything more exciting than staying up when you should be in bed and then doing something really fun to boot? Push back bedtime and give your kids a night they won’t forget with these five ideas from across the globe.
Warning: sleep will be low on the agenda but, as most parents know, getting a decent amount of shut-eye is overrated...
Have a midnight feast at Djemaa el-Fna, Marrakesh
The bustle, the noise, the choices: Djemaa el Fna in Marrakesh is an incredible experience for children, whatever the time of day – but it really comes alive at dinner time. Socialising at night is often an adult-only preserve so children love the chance to be part of the action.
Look up at the big North African sky, then down to the snakes being charmed... Encourage your fussiest eater with delicious chips and fresh bread, all washed down with the freshest of juices. Then get ready to deal with the sensory explosion happening in your child’s head.
Best for... kids who like to be treated as adults and who aren’t fazed by chaos and the exotic.
Alternatively… the less frenetic, more commercialised Asiatique night market in Bangkok has plenty of space, nightly shows and even a ferris wheel for kids.
Marvel at the Northern Lights in Finland
It’s true, seeing the Northern Lights inevitably involves waiting around in chilly temperatures, which can be testing for children. However, this is a once-in-a-lifetime activity which will stay with your kids forever and with a little planning it’s entirely doable.
Firstly, make sure you’re travelling to Finland when you have the best chance of seeing the lights: October to March, when the skies are at their darkest. Make the trip about more than just the lights by throwing in reindeer sledding, snowman building and even meeting Santa (if timings fit). Then, when it comes to the big viewing, keep the children warm (with layers, a fire or a snow fight!) and keep their interest up (with stories, games or a decent guide to answer questions). If the wait still proves too long you can always let them nap and wake them up as the phenomenon occurs.
Best for... active kids who love to try new things.
Alternatively… try stargazing closer to home. Check out your nearest dark sky site, pack some blankets, cushions, plenty of snacks and a flask of hot chocolate. Arm the kids with binoculars or a telescope and if boredom kicks in get them to make up their own constellations.
Take on a new night-time identity in Washington DC
Many museums around the world now offer the opportunity for kids to sleep over within their walls. But how often do you get to spend the night learning how to be the next James Bond?
At the International Spy Museum’s Operation Secret Slumber children are given a secret identity and a mission for the night; they’re taught how to make and break secret codes, sent to gather intelligence and hunt for a mole in their ranks – all before dawn breaks! And in case you thought you were going to be snoozing while your junior super sleuth saves the world, the accompanying adults are kept busy with their own clandestine mission.
Best for... older children with a zest for espionage or a thirst for knowledge.
Alternatively… try sleeping amongst prehistoric friends at Dinosnores in the Australian Museum in Sydney, or channelling your inner mad scientist at London’s Science Museum’s prosaically-named ‘Science Nights’.
Ride the rails from Paris to Venice
You may think the romance of the sleeper train is reserved for adults only but this love affair often starts young. Once aboard the Thello sleeper (thello.com) from Paris to Venice, children squeal at the fact seats turn into cosy beds; revel at the chance to eat meals ‘on wheels’; and soon master the art of scenery spotting without sticking their heads out of the windows.
Taking this trip turns the journey – often a test of endurance for kids and parents alike – into an adventure involving new cities, a comfy cabin and novelty sleeping arrangements. Bonus: children under four can ride for free, if sharing a bed or couchette with an accompanying adult.
Best for… junior train-spotters and well-travelled little ones.
Alternatively… The Ghan in Australia whizzes you across a continent overnight; and the Caledonian Sleeper (sleeper.scot) transports the whole family from busy London to scenic Scotland in style.
Make new friends on the Singapore Night Safari
Often billed as one of Singapore’s top night-time attractions, this night safari does what it says on the tin, taking you on an evening’s journey to meet the animals who come out to play after dark. There’s a 40-minute tram ride through six geographical zones of the world with walking trails leading to areas too hard for the tramcars to access.
As well as the more familiar tigers, elephants and leopards, you can learn about Malaysian tapirs, Himalayan tahrs and Burmese bantengs to name but a few. Children particularly love the interactive and hugely entertaining Creatures of the Night show which runs as late as 10.30pm.
Best for... children who love animals and learning about nature.
Alternatively… bed down with Australia’s famous critters for the Wild Sleep Out at the Walkabout Wildlife Park in New South Wales – or for something different, there’s always Disney and their Starlight Safari at Walt Disney World’s Animal Kingdom Lodge.