Nightlife need not be all about pubs, bars and clubs, and if you’re a sober traveller or a mindful drinker, you’re probably looking to spend your evenings in a different way. There are many benefits to not drinking, including improved health and finances. Ruby Warrington, lifestyle journalist and author of Sober Curious, told Lonely Planet “when travelling sober, you get to experience so much more of a place – and bring all your memories home with you. Jet lag is also so much easier to handle without a hangover!” So, push that jet lag aside and follow our guide to sober nightlife in some of Europe’s best cities.
Coffee-drinking culture is a big part of nightlife in Budapest with many historic coffee houses open until midnight or beyond. This is also the perfect destination for those focused on wellness. Could there be anything more relaxing and more quintessentially Budapest than catching snowflakes falling from the sky at a late-night open-air thermal spa like Széchenyi Baths? If you want to maintain the zen vibe you’ll need to dry off and head out before 10pm when some baths turn into rowdier DJ and laser light “Sparties”.
For those who prefer activity to floating around in warm water, you can also swim at Rudas Baths late into the night on Fridays and Saturdays, and if the open sky is not for you, you can take waters under the starlit dome inside Király Baths instead.
With escape rooms, spoken-word performances, pay-as-you-please stand-up comedy nights, and even night kayaking, alongside live gigs and DJs, London can offer some of your best sober nightlife experiences.
Art aficionados will love the late hours at the art galleries and museums. Some run weekly (Tate Modern; Royal Academy of Arts; National Gallery; the Wellcome Collection,) and some are monthly or just for special events, such as the British Museum, the V&A and Whitechapel Gallery. Late night events can include DJs, live performances and dancing: just a regular party, but without sticky carpets and toilet queues.
If you do want to sample some pub-life in London, head to Brew Dog, which serves alcohol-free beers such as Nanny State and Punk AF. Sophisticated mocktails are on offer at the Shoreditch speakeasy Nightjar or, even better for your health, head to Redemption Bar where the food is vegan, sugar- and wheat-free, and the drinks are 100% alcohol-free.
Synonymous with hedonist creative club nights, you really can’t go to Berlin and not go out to one of its underground clubs and parties. But when it comes to partying sober, the Germans are ahead of the game, with multisensory sober club nights run by Sober Sensations. Expect activities such as yoga and zumba, alongside DJs and live acts, and a menu of innovative alcohol-free drinks.If you miss out on a sober club night but still want to hit the Berlin’s famous edgy clubs there are many options across the city but most are in Friedrichshain, Kreuzberg and Neukölln, often in disused buildings and other repurposed locations. You’ll be better able to remember the visual feast if you stick to mineral water until dawn.
There are plenty of fado houses in Lisbon, where eating your way through the tapas-like petisco menu is the best response to the plaintive soulful sounds of the country. The most popular spots such as Adega Machado and Parreirinha de Alfama require pre-booking, but if you wander any neighbourhood like Alfama, you’ll find a local candlelit fado cafe serving home-cooked food with its music.
If you’re after a more upbeat evening, join in the roar of 65,000 football fans t aEstádio da Luz, home to Lisbon’s champion football team Benfica.
Enjoy the good life with these alcohol-free Paris showstoppers. Ascend the Eiffel Tower to watch the sun set over the city, take a late-night cruise down the Seine and see the lights of Paris reflected in the shimmering river. From there, do a deep dive into French culture with cabaret or opera at famous venues such as Lido de Paris or Folies-Bergère (some shows have surtitles for those of us who struggle with French beyond directions to the train station).
For your sober-life visit to Denmark, you’ll want to prioritise Copenhagen’s New Nordic food scene, which has been on fire for close to a decade now. Michelin-starred restaurants aside, you’ll also want to dine out on an all-you-can-eat smorgasbord, or at food-truck gatherings like Reffen – where you can eat your way around the market, listen to DJs, join in some spontaneous salsa dancing, and soak up the atmosphere with the sun setting late over the harbour in summer. And if you do want to dine at Noma, pre-plan and pre-book!
If you have had enough to eat in Copenhagen’s impressive restaurants, perhaps an evening canal tour is the ticket? In summer, Stromma tours run until 9pm. If you happen to be there in February, the city is lit-up for the Copenhagen Light Festival, and there’s no better way to enjoy the Danish architecture transformed by installations and colourful light art than from the water (there’s heating on the boat, but it’s worth wrapping up).
Rome is stunningly beautiful, and busy with fellow travellers doing exactly what you’re doing: gawping at all that history and beauty. Well here’s the thing: Rome is even more beautiful at night, so take an evening walking tour, when all that majestic Italian architecture, from the Colosseum to the Pantheon, is lit up. Alternatively, take a street photography course by day and then grab your DSLR (or even your smart phone) and hit the streets after everyone else has flopped into bed to take your best shots of the Eternal City. You won’t regret it.