Cool things to do in the dark

Published on on July 29, 2021

It can be mysterious, romantic, soothing, intimidating or inspiring. Darkness is the perfect backdrop for a lot of things—the stars, the Northern Lights, a meal, a light show or just quiet reflection.

All these nighttime experiences are possible in Canada, and most of them take place outside. I am happy to be sharing them with you.

Credit: Cristofer Jeschke, Unsplashed

1. Discover Foresta Lumina
This multi-media night experience involves meandering through an enchanted forest amidst multi-coloured flashing lights, and the sound and stories of mystical creatures in Quebec’s Eastern Townships.The magic of this experience is not just for kids, but fun-loving grown ups who can open their imagination to the stories of fantastical night creatures like Margaret, whose soul apparently still lives in these woods! While all ages are welcome, paths will have you wandering up and down hills and across a suspension bridge over a gorge — so avoid stilettos in favour of comfortable walking shoes. 

2. Experience a Nordic spa at night
The Spa Nordic Station just outside of downtown Magog in the Eastern Townships is all about rustic elegance and relaxing in nature. A stream flows through the spa, forming small waterfalls, and a river at the base of the property is a perfect spot for a cool dip. Intersperse cold plunges with the warmth of a Finnish sauna, a Russian banya and their eucalytus-infused steam crypt. You can also wile away hours in a hammock under the trees, or seated next to an outdoor fireplace. Book a massage offered in one of several private cabins on site and bring snacks or a picnic to enjoy while you are there.

3.  Kayak by moonlight
Paddling is fun any time, but extra special when you can see the bioluminescence while you are paddling. You can do this through the Into the Night Kayak Tour offered by Metta Eco-Experiences on B.C.’s Sunshine Coast, located two hours from Vancouver. The tour description is of a surreal experience where “living organisms emit light, using the water to glow and sparkle like a cosmic mirror” with any movement in the ocean creating a “dance of light.” I’m sold!

4. Dine in the dark
Ever eaten in pitch darkness? You can do this at O.NOIR in Toronto and Montreal and at Dark Table in Calgary and Vancouver to get a “taste” for what it might be like to eat out without the benefit of sight. All wait staff where we ate at O.NOIR Toronto are visually impaired. Admittedly as I got ready to leave for the restaurant, my excitement turned to anxiety. And most of the meal, I ended up clutching my husband’s hand, which was pretty sticky, because we had to put our fingers in our plate to figure out where the food was! I also lost my napkin early on in the evening, so  ended up using my water glass as a finger bowl. A few inconveniences aside, this is s a really interesting experience.

5. See the Northern Lights
The Northwest Territories have been dubbed the best place in the world to see the Northern Lights. There are more than 240 viewing nights per year, with the lights best seen from mid-August to the end of October and mid-December to the end of March. If you book a stay at a high-end lodge, they will likely provide an “Aurora wake-up service” so you won’t miss the light show. You can also take an “Aurora hunting tour.”  where you can be driven outside of Yellowknife to see the aurora from different vantage points. Or you can go to the Aurora Village near Yellowknife and spend an evening in a private tipi, having dinner and watching the aurora with your travel mates.

6. Go to a night market
BC’s Richmond Night Market is the largest night market in North America. Open weekends and holidays through summer, fall and potentially to December, this market is a great place to try Asian foods and other delicacies you may never have tried before. Some gastronomic favourites include deep-fried stuff crab claws with cheese on top, spiralled deep fried potato on a stick and dragon’s beard candy, which is essentially a handmade Chinese cotton candy. The market’s stalls, vendors and entertainment span 18 acres, and include music and dance performances, carnival games and rides. You can easily get to the market from downtown Vancouver by rapid transit.

Credit: Tourism Richmond

7. See the stars
If you want to experience truly great star gazing, visit one of the 22 dark sky preserves in Canadaabout half of which are managed by Parks Canada. Dark sky preserves allow you to view the solar system without the obstruction of artificial light from nearby cities. In Atlantic Canada, one of the popular preserves is Mount Carleton Provincial Park in New Brunswick, which is the highest point in the Maritimes. Another worthy option is northeastern Alberta’s Wood Buffalo National Park, which the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada designated the world’s largest dark sky preserve in 2013. 

8. Sleep in a lighthouse 
Spend the night in a lighthouse, you say? Absolutely! The West Point Lighthouse Inn in western PEI has 11 connected seaside rooms right, but the best feature is to sleep right in the lighthouse, either in their Keeper’s Quarters, the room where the lighthouse keeper’s family once lived, or the Tower Room, which overlooks the Northumberland Strait. At 69 feet, this is the tallest lighthouse in PEI, and its tapered square shape and black and white stripes makes it particularly unique. Reader’s Digest also named it one of the top 10 haunted places in Canada!

9. Take a photo workshop 
Our tour with Maurice Fitzgerald of Far East Photography Tours in Newfoundland was one of the highlights of our trip to the province. “As well as the popular sunrise and sunset tours, many guests like to photograph other low light or night subjects such as blue hour, inclement weather conditions or more creative options like painting with light,” says Fitzgerald. And he likes the challenge of photographing foggy or wet weather in low light. 

Another worthy night photography workshop is a 2.5-hour nightscape photography workshop entitled Hopewell Rocks Night Photography Excursion in the Bay of Fundy. Kevin Snair of Creative Imagery helps both amateur and seasoned photographers learn “the techniques and passion of night photography.”

Outer Battery, Credit: Maurice Fitzgerald, Far East Photography

10. See the Falls at night
Witness Niagara Falls lit up every night of the year. Beginning at dusk, you can see this multi-coloured water and light show as it transfixes the falls into beautiful rainbow colours. Check the Illumination schedule online to find out dates the Falls will be lit up in “custom colours” to celebrate or commemorate certain important dates. For example, they will be illuminated in yellow for 15 minutes to mark COVID Awareness Day on August 6 and in purple and white on August 19 to mark the Paralympic Games.

Credit: Niagara Parks