Travel tips: The best time of day to be in the world's most memorable places

Hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia

Sail over the Anatolian plains in a hot air balloon and see the diverse landscape of Cappadocia in Turkey, with its limestone caves, river valleys and villages.

It is an odd thing. When we are planning a trip, we spend much of our time focused on the mechanics of the journey: choosing the right hotel, selecting our preferred seats on the plane. We spend far less time thinking about the thing that really makes a trip memorable: the magic of a moment.

Flip through your fondest travel memories and you will find that those magic moments come in all shapes and sizes. It might be something glamorous – say, a round of celebratory drinks in a rooftop bar as the sun sinks over Bangkok – or it could be a happy accident, such as the delight of stumbling across a glorious flower market during your first visit to Paris.

Some might say that memorable moments can't be planned. We beg to disagree. Wherever your travels take you, you can be sure that there are some moments that will make your day. All you have to do is find the right combination of where and when. Which is why we have put together this 24-hour travel guide that stretches from Europe to Asia to the Americas, from deep in the night through to the light of day. It is full of memorable moments: we hope you get to experience some of them yourself.

12am TREAT YOUR FEET IN HONG KONG

As a great way to end the day, a foot massage scores even better than a big glass of syrah. No wonder, then, that so many of Hong Kong's massage parlours stay open until late in the night. That gives you time for a few drinks and a late dinner (or the other way around, if you prefer), before winding up with a spot of reflexology. Ten Feet Tall, which has several outlets, is open until 1am or 2am most nights. See tenfeettall.com.hk

1am VISIT THE EMPIRE STATE BUILDING

When you are in New York City, there never seems to be enough hours in the day. Ticking everything off your to-do list feels impossible. So three cheers for the Empire State Building, which welcomes visitors until 2am. Not only does that free up those peak daylight hours; visit after dark and you also get to see the skyline in all its illuminated majesty. The last elevator to the observation deck leaves at 1.15am. if you are visiting between Thursday and Sunday, get here just a little earlier to catch a live saxophone performance (until 1am). See esbnyc.com

2am TRY A TANGO IN BUENOS AIRES

We love a glamorous tango show as much as the next person. However, the real action in Buenos Aires is at the city's many milongas, or tango clubs, where non-professional dancers come to tango their cares away. Many of these are open until the early morning hours, but La Viruta is the favourite with night owls; here, the dance floor is packed at 3am. On weekends, they even start serving breakfast – coffee and croissants – at 4am, for those who need a pick-me-up. See lavirutatango.com

3am HAVE A SOAK IN TOKYO

Tokyo's bathhouses are among the city's hidden treasures, and some of them stay open up to 22 hours a day. One of the best is Nagomi no Yu, right by Ogikubo Station, which features a bewildering array of spas and saunas. Start with a soak in naturally-heated spring water, move on to try some of the eight different saunas (the stone sauna is a favourite), before finishing with a session in a pool of carbonated water. If you have the time, you can even squeeze in a Japanese massage. See nagomino-yu.com/English

4am GO FRENCH IN SAO PAULO

Paris 6 restaurent, Sao Paulo SunSep2cover - right place at the right time – Ute Junke
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Rio may have a global reputation as a party city, but Brazilians know that if you really want to have a big night out, head for the country's biggest city. Sao Paulo's night owls are so serious about their partying that, rather than refuelling with a doner kebab like the rest of us, they feast on fine food 24 hours a day. If you need a post-midnight snack, head for Paris 6, a bistro in the chic Jardins neighbourhood, where you can nibble on a croque monsieur or tuck into duck confit with cassoulet, washed down with fine French wines. See paris6bistro.com

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5am RISE ABOVE IT IN CAPPADOCIA

In the picturesque Turkish region of Cappadocia, tourists set their alarms early. The No. 1 activity in this scenic area, known for the striking limestone formations often called fairy chimneys, is a sunrise balloon ride. There is no such thing as a bad time of year to take to the air: it is as thrilling in winter, when the landscape is covered in snow, as it is in summer. Cappadocia's balloon rides have gotten so popular that the balloons themselves are now part of the spectacle: expect to see 100 or more other balloons soaring with you through the sky. See hometurkey.com

6am GIVE ALMS IN LUANG PRABANG

<i>Luang Prabang, Laos</i>

Photo: Shutterstock

The sight of a row of saffron-clad monks walking down the road in the soft rays of the morning is, for many visitors, a highlight of their trip to Laos. This ancient ritual, during which locals and tourists donate food for the monks to eat that day, is governed by strict rules. Wear appropriate clothing and be careful to place the food in the monk's bowl, rather than trying to hand it to them directly. Instead of joining the crowds on Sisavangvong Road, find a position on one of the less-crowded side streets. See tourismluangprabang.org

7am HOP ABOARD INDIA'S CUTEST TRAIN

Coonoor, Tamil Nadu, India - January, 25th, 2017. Nilgiri mountain railway, runs between Mettupalayam and Udagamandalam in south India.
 SunSep2cover - right place at the right time – Ute Junker
Credit: Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

Every morning just after 7am, the Nilgiri Mountain Railway sets off on its run from the Tamil Nadu town of Mettupalayam with Udagamandalam, better known as Ooty. Train buffs know that this World Heritage-listed railway is the steepest track in Asia (maximum gradient 8.33 per cent), taking in several loops, tunnels and hairpin turns along the way. Not into trains? Then hop aboard the jaunty blue train for the views and the destination, a charming hill town. If you only have enough time for a day trip, the train makes the return journey in the afternoon. See indianrail.gov.in

8am HIT THE SLOPES IN CANADA

Skiers find lots to love about Canada's famous Whistler-Blackcomb resort, but early risers have a special fondness for the resort's Fresh Tracks program, which offers access to the slopes before the mountain opens to the public. Buy your tickets the day before and you can be on the Whistler Village gondola by 8am, on your way to a hearty buffet breakfast at Roundhouse Lodge. Keep an ear out for the "runs are open" call; that is your queue to hit the slopes. Be aware that access is limited to the first 650 ticketholders who show up. See whistlerblackcomb.com

9am CLIMB A PYRAMID AT PALENQUE

Ruins of Palenque, Maya city in Chiapas, Mexico
 SunSep2cover - right place at the right time – Ute Junker
Credit: Shutterstock
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Photo: Shutterstock

If you are looking for an ancient Mayan site rich in atmosphere, Palenque is the place to go. Surrounded by lush jungle, complete with troops of howler monkeys, this is one of Mexico's most memorable destinations. As you would expect from a city that was a power centre for a thousand years, the infrastructure is impressive, from the grand palace to the soaring pyramids, all covered with intricate carvings that bring the vanished Mayan world to life. There is even an aqueduct that provided water for the city's saunas and bathhouses. The key to exploring Palenque is to arrive early, so you have plenty of time to explore. See visitmexico.com/en

10am TOUR A SLOT CANYON IN ARIZONA

The US south-west is a great place to see nature at its most dramatic, thanks to natural wonders such as Bryce Canyon, Monument Valley and the Grand Canyon. Antelope Canyon near Lake Powell may only be a fraction of the size of its more famous neighbours, but this narrow slot canyon is one of the most dazzling sights in the area. Its soaring sandstone walls have been sculpted into surreal forms resembling frozen waves or lava; they are at their most dramatic in the late morning hours, when the sun makes the walls glow like alabaster. See antelopecanyon.com

11am DRINK CAVA IN BARCELONA

Think that a glass of bubbles before noon is a little decadent? Not in Barcelona, it's not. Eleven am is traditionally the time that locals enjoy a snack known as almuerzo, usually a sandwich with either a coffee or a glass of cava, the local sparkling wine. Head to one of the old-school cafes in the neighbourhoods of El Born or El Raval and you will find plenty of people enjoying a pick-me-up, including a large number of older gents. If it works for them, it works for us. See barcelonaturisme.com

12pm EYE UP MOSCOW'S MEN IN UNIFORM

There really is something about a soldier, judging by the popularity of changing of the guard ceremonies in cities such as London, Monaco, the Vatican and Copenhagen. One of the most eye-catching takes place in Moscow, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier outside the Kremlin wall. We particularly like the guards' smart uniforms, created by Russian designer Valentin Yudashkin; the winter look includes a stylish greatcoat worn with shiny leather boots. Legend has it that to keep off frostbite during Moscow's harsh winters, the guards apply goose fat to their feet. See mos.ru/en

1pm GET MUSICAL IN TRAFALGAR SQUARE

Looking for a break in the middle of a busy day exploring London? Surprisingly, one of the best places to find a touch of tranquillity is bustling Trafalgar Square, where free lunchtime concerts are held every day in the lovely Church of St Martin in the Fields. This beautiful Georgian church makes a wonderful concert venue, with performers ranging from choirs to concert pianists and trumpeters. The church's musical traditions go back a long way: both Mozart and Handel performed here. See stmartin-in-the-fields.org

2pm DRIVE INTO THE DESERT IN JORDAN

It's true: in Wadi Rum, Jordan's Valley of the Moon, the clear skies are indeed perfect for a spot of star (or moon) gazing. That is far from the only attraction in this beautiful desertscape, however. There are red sand dunes to climb, mighty monoliths to explore and ancient petroglyphs to marvel at. Head out on a half-day tour that includes an overnight stay in a desert camp, so you can experience the desert in all its moods. A traditional dinner, accompanied by Bedouin musicians, is yet another highlight. See visitjordan.com

3pm GET GRAZING IN LISBON

LISBON, PORTUGAL - AUGUST 12, 2017: Time Out Market is a food hall located in Mercado da Ribeira at Cais do Sodre in Lisbon and is a major touristic attraction for food lovers all over the world. SunSep2cover - right place at the right time – Ute Junke
CREDIT: Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

There are plenty of culinary treats to enjoy in Portugal's capital, from sardines grilled in the street to those famous custard tarts. However, if you are looking for the city's best bites under one roof, head straight for the Time Out Market Lisboa at the Mercado da Ribeira. This next-generation food court offers the best of the city on a plate. You can try budget meals from Michelin-starred chefs from across the country, or sample the wares of some of the city's best-loved providores, including ice-creams from Santini and seafood from Confraria. See timeoutmarket.com

4pm MEET A MODERN MASTER

If you are an art lover, there is no such thing as a bad time to visit New York's Museum of Modern Art. Even by New York standards, this is one impressive museum. Displaying artworks by Picasso and Pollock, Monet and Magritte, Klimt and Kahlo, MOMA offers more masterpieces per square metre than just about any institution you can think of. And Fridays between 4pm and 8pm, admission is free, making this the biggest bargain in the whole of Manhattan. See moma.org

5pm HIT BANGKOK'S BEST NIGHT MARKET

The freewheeling night markets in the Thai capital go on well into the evening, but it is worth rocking up early to the wonderful Srinakarin Train Market if you are in the mood to do a little shopping. The stalls here (open Thursday to Sunday) offer a wonderful array of vintage furniture, handicrafts, accessories and more – including a selection of vintage cars – but the best items go quickly. The low-pressure sales pitch and the nice buzz of locals hanging out makes this a stand-out among the night markets, and well worth the trip. See bangkok.com

6pm STRIKE A POSE IN HAWAII

Breathe in. Breathe out. Listen to the calming sound of the waves rolling in. Now move into downward dog. If there is a more chilled-out way to end the day in Honolulu than with a spot of sunset yoga on the beach, we can't think of one. Head down to the quiet end of Waikiki Beach – that is the area past the Waikiki Aquarium – to join the rest of the yoga fans breathing in the tangy salt air and stretching it all out. See sunsetyogahawaii.com

7pm STOP IN AT SINGAPORE'S BEST EAT STREET

D43F68 SINGAPORE - 2013:  Satay Street at Lau Pa Sat hawker food market. Satay chef fans his barbecue grill. SunSep2cover - right place at the right time – Ute Junke
Credit: Alamy

Photo: Alamy

Every evening, hungry Singaporeans take back the street. Well, one street, at least. Singapore is known for its street food but nowhere will you experience a roadside feast quite like this one. At 7pm, Boon Tat Street is closed to traffic and satay huts and outdoor tables spring up magically. Order a big platter of satay – options include chicken, prawn and beef – and some rice cakes to soak up the sauce, and take a seat at one of the communal tables. See visitsingapore.com

8pm GET SPOOKY IN NEW ORLEANS

If you love a spine-tingling tale, something with ghosts and ghouls, dark deeds and murder most foul, then New Orleans is your kind of town. From the ornate above-ground cemeteries to the elegant houses that hide dark histories, New Orleans is as atmospheric as any Anne Rice novel. Each evening, a range of ghost-themed walking tours wend their way through the lovely streets of the French Quarter, with the guides sharing their thrilling, chilling tales of the unexpected. See neworleans.com

9pm MAKE A SPLASH IN PARIS

Think evenings in Paris and you might picture yourself strolling by the Seine or holed up in a little bistro. The idea of doing a few laps doesn't immediately spring to mind. Clearly, that is because you have never visited the Piscine Pontoise. Tucked into the heart of the Latin quarter, this art deco pool is a listed historical monument. It is open until 11.45pm during the week, and in addition to swimming, you can also take a yoga class or detox in the sauna. See en.parisinfo.com

10pm GO CYCLING IN ST PETERSBURG

From June to August, St Petersburg celebrates the White Nights, when the sun stays high in the sky until late at night. Make the most of the midnight sun with a nocturnal cycling tour of this elegant city. As well as taking in the big sights from St Isaacs Square to Vasilievsky Island, the tour wends it way through some of the less-visited corners of the city. There are plenty of photo stops along the way, and you will be treated to the eye-catching sight of the huge drawbridges across the Neva River opening to let the ships pass through. See bajabikes.eu

11pm TAKE A SKY STROLL IN BERLIN

Berlin, Germany: October 12, 2017: The Reichstag Dome on top of the Reichstagsgebäude (The Reichstag building), historic edifice constructed to house the Imperial Diet. SunSep2cover - right place at the right time – Ute Junke
Credit: Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

It is arguably the most history-laden building in a city that carries a surfeit of history, but that is not the main reason to visit Berlin's Reichstag, the home of the German parliament. Visitors come here to stroll the catwalk that twists through the building's striking glass-topped dome, which is open until midnight. Take in the amazing city panoramas and enjoy the up-close view of the remarkable architecture, which includes an inverted cone of mirrors that reflects light to illuminate the parliamentary chamber below. Entry is free, but you will need to book in advance. See bundestag.de

PERFECT TIMING: HOW TO BEAT THE CROWDS

WHERE

Taj Mahal, India

Taj Mahal
 SunSep2cover - right place at the right time – Ute Junke
BREAKOUT
Credit: Shutterstock
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Photo: Shutterstock

WHEN

Sunrise

Not only does the Taj Mahal look stunning in the pale light of dawn, but it is far less crowded than it gets later in the morning.

WHERE

Angkor Wat, Cambodia

WHEN

7am

Huge crowds gather here for sunrise, but many of them head straight back to their hotel for breakfast, making this the perfect time to explore in peace.

WHERE

The Great Wall of China

WHEN

9am

Tourist coaches start arriving in large numbers about 10.30am, so smart travellers get in beforehand and enjoy more room to move.

WHERE

Eiffel Tower, France

WHEN

8pm

More precisely, turn up shortly before sunset – which takes place about 9pm in summer – so you can experience the tower both at twilight and also at night.

 

ONE GLORIOUS HOUR

We asked five industry experts where they would rather be – and, more to the point, when.

WHEN

2.30am

WHERE

Laban Rata Hut, 3270 metres up Mount Kinabalu, Malaysia

WHO

Sue Badyari, CEO, World Expeditions

WHY

It's the anticipated moment when trekkers stir from an anxious night's sleep to begin the ascent toward the summit of Mount Kinabalu. In the dark, head torches are adjusted to add to the atmospheric moonlight, as trekkers embark on the 825m climb to the summit in time for sunrise. The distinct air of camaraderie at that 2.30am awakening and the care factor shown by guides and fellow trekkers throughout that last push to the summit stays with you forever.

WHEN

3pm

WHERE

Zanzibar's north-east coast

WHO

Sarah Hoyland, director, The Classic Safari Company

WHY

Around mid-afternoon, driven by the wind, the island's fishermen in their traditional dhow sailboats, pull in to shore to unload their fresh catch. It is a spectacle worth catching, with lots of colour, a cacophony of bartering and the chance to bag the best catch, all set against magnificent Indian Ocean views.

WHEN

7.30pm

WHERE

Cairo, Egypt

WHO

Sujata Raman, managing director, Abercrombie & Kent

WHY

During the month of Ramadan, no moment is as festive as Iftar, the breaking of the fast. As the sun sets, locals sit down with their families to eat for the first time since before dawn. The mood is celebratory, and a banquet-like meal is often followed by a visit to the colourful Khan el Khalili Bazaar, which stays open all night. The market'slabyrinthine streets are lined with shops selling everything from gold jewellery to spices, colourful fabrics to carpets.

WHEN

7am

WHERE

Chiang Mai, Thailand

WHO

James Thornton, Intrepid Travel, CEO

WHY

Getting up before dawn allows time to offer alms to Monks in Chiang Mai. There are less tourists around at this time and you get a behind-the scenes look at the Monk's morning, away from crowds. The quiet at this time of the day also means you get a real and more peaceful insight into the art of meditation.

 

WHEN

Midday

WHERE

Hong Kong

WHO

Sarina Bratton AM, chairman Asia Pacific Ponant Yacht Cruises & Expeditions

WHY

The Noonday Gun on the waterfront in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, is where trading company Jardine used to have warehouses and where a gun is fired off by a Jardine employee at noon every day. It was made famous by Noel Coward in his song Mad Dogs and Englishmen. The tradition is said to have started when a Royal Naval officer became annoyed at Jardine employees firing off a gunshot when the head of the company sailed into port, something normally reserved for military commanders. As punishment, Jardine was required to fire a one-shot salute every day at noon, for perpetuity. The tradition has continued and is a continued attraction for visitors.

TIMES FOR A BITE: WHEN THE WORLD EATS

DRUGIE SNIADANIE, POLAND

Like hobbits, Poles think that one breakfast is not enough: hence drugie sniadanie, or second breakfast. Served about 11am, this is a quick-fix meal, often just a sandwich.

KAFFEE UND KUCHEN, GERMANY

The name means "coffee and cake", and that is exactly what you will be served during this afternoon pick-me-up. We will happily take any excuse to eat more of those delicious German tortes from 4pm.

MIDDAG, NORWAY

When it comes to early dinners (read 5pm), Norwegians take some beating, traditionally eating their evening meal as soon as they get home from work.

APERITIVO, ITALY

The meal you have when you're not having a meal, this tradition started as a drink and a snack. These days, however, many bars – especially in Milan – offer a full-scale aperitivo buffet at 7pm that can double as dinner.

LA CENA, SPAIN

At the opposite end of the spectrum from the Norwegians are the Spaniards, who consider it to be an early dinner if they sit down at the table at 10pm.

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