When Do The World’s Best Cities Go To Sleep?

24-hour transport, late shopping and bars without lockouts are key to a global city. But some of the best don’t have their nightlife sorted the way you’d expect.

Cities make possible the suspension of night and day. With enough neon and insomnia at our disposal, we can turn them into places where we can do anything we want, whenever we want. In New York City, for example, you can shop for nuts and bolts, stalk your crush with a nocturnal flower delivery, nab the latest smartphone and spruce up your hairdo 24/7. Like Simone Beauvoir wrote, “There is something in the New York air that makes sleep useless.”

The big question is, now that we have this potential at our fingertips, what should we do with it? To what extent does a cosmopolitan city depend on infinite opening hours? Many laud the energy, excitement, romanticism and economic benefits of the 24-hour metropolis. Marion Roberts, a professor of urban design at the University of Westminster, concludes that it “generates more jobs, activities and social solidarities”. Others fret about excessive alcohol consumption, noise pollution and the next generation turning into a horde of sleep-deprived, hedonistic narcissists. With the one-year anniversary of Sydney’s controversial lockout laws looming over us, we take a look at how much napping is happening (or not) in some of the world’s best cities, and how essential it is their success on the world stage.




In Germany, closing times are determined by each town or city. For Berlin, this means there’s no such thing as last call. Bars decide on their hours independently, with oodles of them operating according to the ebb-and-flow of demand, and a bunch of 24/7 stalwarts. If your favourite venue does happen to shut, you can always drink on the street outside: the police can’t stop you. Such legislative and cultural looseness has created some of the most diverse and innovative nightlife to be found anywhere on the planet. Night owls flock to Berlin for its epic converted industrial spaces, eternal jam sessions and abundance of arty drinking spots. In 2014, the city topped the GoEuro ‘Ultimate Fun City’ survey.

Possibly because everyone’s out partying, all-night shopping isn’t so much on the agenda. In fact, retail hours are treated with much less laxity: until 2006, 24-hour shops weren’t even legal. The good news is that you need never be without flowers, as there’s a florist at Kottbusser Tor that’s perpetually open. The subway (known as the U-Bahn) runs between 4am and 1am on weekdays and 24 hours on weekends. Buses are always available.



Like that of Berlin, Tokyo’s legislation is uber-relaxed, around both alcohol and hours. Bars, clubs and eateries of all shapes, sizes, themes and clientele always keep their doors open. And the city is committed to a huge array of quirky 24-hour activities. That includes ten-pin bowling, golf, ping-pong, relaxing in an onsen (Japanese thermal bath) and shopping, shopping, shopping. Curiously, Tokyo has no 24-hour public transportation, in the way of either trains or buses. You’re left with pricey taxis, cheap but dodgy hotels, expensive hotels and karaoke booth rental.

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If there’s a country that does late, without any questions or qualms, it’s Spain. The matter isn’t even up for debate. Legislation that packs up the party and sends you off to bed is, so far, impossible to imagine. In Barcelona, most bars close at either 3am or 6am. However, that doesn’t quite turn the city into a 24-hour affair, with a good section of the afternoon committed to siesta. Shops maintain old-school hours and are closed on Sundays. The Barcelona Metro runs till midnight on weekdays, 2am on Friday nights and 24 hours on Saturdays.




When it comes to eating, shopping and services, the legend that Frank Sinatra yearned to be a part of is true. New York really is “that city that never sleeps”. You can hang out in the Fifth Avenue Apple store, score a bargain on an electronic gadget at Best Buy, get your hair cut, buy some hardware for those can’t-wait-till-morning home repairs, show off your ten-pin bowling skills, indulge in a spa treatment and chow down to your heart’s content 24 hours a day. Getting around is a cinch, with both the subway and the Staten Island Ferry running till dawn. That said, neighbourhoods outside of Midtown wind down steadily after 6pm, and stay quiet until the morning commute.

And when it comes to drinking, New York City is more 20-hour than 24. In 1934, the State Liquor Authority legislated that alcohol couldn’t be served between 4am and 8am. In 2008, pressure from community boards to impose 2am restrictions, as apply in most American cities, caused a major outcry. Champions of the darkness, including lawyer Robert Bookman, who represents the New York Nightlife Association, see long hours as crucial to the city’s allure. “If the world starts to realise that New York closes at 2am, we’ll not only lose a great deal of tourism, but many young bright people who would normally choose to move to New York to pursue careers will start to look to other cities,” he told the New York Post. “We might as well rename ourselves Cleveland-on-the-Hudson.”



Since 2009, a 2am last call rule has applied to Rome’s busier and more excitable enclaves, including Campo de’ Fiori, Trastevere and Testaccio. The idea was to cap increasing rowdiness, caused mainly by foreign tourists and students. Romans themselves aren’t particularly big drinkers. Only a small number of bars and clubs, like Obi Wan and La Cabala, are open later. Rome’s Metro operates until 11.30pm every day except Saturday, when it runs until 12.30am. It only works in two directions anyway, so it’s not super useful. There are 24-hour buses.

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London has made a belated entry into the late-night arena. A law established in World War One, ruling that all pubs close by 11pm, lodged itself in place for more than 90 years. Let’s face it; the Brits aren’t particularly known for rushing headfirst into the new. Consequently, finding nocturnal entertainment in London was limited to night clubs and Soho’s famous coffee spot Bar Italia. In 2005, however, the law was finally dropped, in an attempt to stop binge drinkers from guzzling against the clock. There’s now no official closing time. Some pubs are still sticklers for tradition, but loads stay open till 2am or later. Plus there are stacks of 24-hour clubs and raves.

Beyond drinking and dancing, London’s all-night shenanigans are growing at a gradual pace. Beauty salons and cinemas are staying open later, while Shakespeare’s Globe is invites audiences in for ‘midnight matinees‘. The UK’s highest restaurant, The Duck & Waffle, is open 24/7. Soon, the London Tube (that’s the Brit term for subway) will be getting up to speed. At present, it runs until midnight, but, to the relief of anyone who’s spent the wee hours shivering on a sidewalk awaiting a red double-decker, it’ll be doing the rounds 24 hours on weekends as of September 2015.



Paris has long had a reputation for wild nightlife — from its blistering jazz clubs to the dancers of the Moulin Rouge to its cutting-edge electronica. But during the late ‘90s and early ‘00s, some heavy-handed legislative changes put serious restrictions on trading hours. Even though there’s no blanket last call, most Parisian bars must close between 2am and 5am, unless they can get their hands on a rather elusive licence. The changes have certainly had a detrimental effect on the city’s arts scene. In 2009, Berlin-based French DJ Dan Ghenacia told The Guardian, “I haven’t worked in Paris for years. And the artists from my label are leaving to go and live in Berlin or other European cultural capitals.”

Since then, however, musicians and venues have been fighting back. A handful of bars now opens until 6am and the club scene is reviving. Meanwhile, the retail world is still ensconced in tradition, as anyone who’s walked around Paris’s tranquil Sunday streets would know. Recent attempts by major chains like Monoprix to extend opening hours to 10pm have been quashed. The Paris Metro runs between 5.20am and 1.20am, extending to 2.20am on Saturday nights. Night buses fill the gaps.


This feature originally appeared in Concrete Playground.


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