THE WORLD AT NIGHT: 24-HOUR CITIES AT A GLANCE - Life and Style - The Independent

THE WORLD AT NIGHT: 24-HOUR CITIES AT A GLANCE

London, England: You need to be organised to deal with the difficult fallow period between 3.30am, when bars shut, and 5.30am, when the pubs attached to the meat markets open. But there are plenty of illegal drinking clubs for those in the know. London has many late-night sports centres: snooker halls, ten-pin bowling, and even a racquet club in Southhall. Early morning markets are useful, as are the many ethnic shops, from the bagel bakeries to all-night restaurants in Chinatown. Most parks are closed, but St James's stays open, and is a pleasant place to stand and gaze at the stars. Cemeteries are unofficial cruising areas; the odd big movie may be repeated all night; 'theatre' is confined mainly to sex shows; or you might book a sleepover at the Science Museum in South Ken.

MADRID, SPAIN: The Madrilenos' schedule is very different from the average Northern European's, but not as late-night as it was duringthe celebrated Movida period, the swinging times which followed Franco's death in the 1970s. Most people eat at around 10pm, but restaurants stop serving around midnight. There are later-night restaurants, for example the Vips chain, but unlike its sister chain in Mexico City it shuts at three: after that, food comes from the 24-hour shops. Nightlife happens outdoors in the summertime, and Madrid is one of few cities where you will often find yourself in a traffic-jam at 3am. You can start clubbing on Friday evening and run right through to Sunday night: but the Metro shuts at around 1am and night-buses are restricted to a few lines.

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO: Has become dangerous, with 80 per cent of crime attributed to the undercover police. People's fear of being hijacked casts a shadow over street life. None the less, the city is so vast and energetic that there's still adventure to be had. The only truly 24-hour services are the Vips fast-food restaurants, selling good-quality Mexican food, and taco stands called taquerias. Recently the bar scene has taken off, reflecting the obsession with rave culture - but the bars close at two. Discos offer free entrance to women and complimentary drinks, but watch out - locals worry about ice-cubes laced with ether. Another option is dancing salsa at the Salons de Balle, which close at four. Seedier versions, exlusively for men, are the Fricheras where men pay women to dance with them.

LAGOS, NIGERIA: A big, cosmopolitan city based around money and nightlife in all its guises, often compared to New York. Shopping malls shut at 10pm, but almost anything you might want is available throughout the night from hotel boutiques and roadside stalls - there's even a street dedicated to 24-hour tailors. Late-night karaoke is popular at the moment, as are round-the-clock squash, tennis, swimming and libraries; the Shrine, run by Fela Kuti, Nigeria's national musical hero, offers theatrical shows, music and dancers. A few bars have cinema screens, but the pirate-video market cancels out the need for cinemas. For the religiously inclined, particularly the evangelists, churchgoing is on offer round the clock - and witchdoctors are available at most times, if that's your preference.

Nigerians get itchy feet. If they stay in one place, there's a general emphasis on cramming as much as possible into one night and few people wait for the weekend.

PARIS, FRANCE: Parisians' lives are organised around late-night dining and drinking, with lots of 24-hour restaurants where you can drink and talk in the company of Bohemian Paris. Live-music venues closing at around 5am are on the increase, as are late-night kebab shops, supermarkets and grocers. The number of nightclubs and after-hours bars are restricted by draconian licensing laws; although there are 24-hour video-vending machines, late-night cinemas are thin on the ground. A typically Parisian night-time activity is to walk, or indeed rollerblade, along the Seine: the monuments flanking the river appeal to the national sense of romance and pride. The Metro closes at 1.30am, but there are 24-hour buses.

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