When the sun sets over Marrakesh, the market on cobblestoned Djemaa el-Fna square is just heating up. Smells of cumin and sizzling sausage mingle with plumes of smoke above stalls strung with white lights, while fortune-tellers and musicians amuse the crowds.
At this Moroccan market and others around the world, people come together to browse, socialize, and unwind. Sure, there are daytime markets, but under the cover of darkness, night markets feel exhilarating, drawing locals relieved to be off from work. They're entertainment venues pulsating with life; there's plenty to see and do, and dinner's cooking.
Night markets originally took root mostly in Asian cities, where the advent of electricity freed locals to bargain over goods without the pressure of daylight and its oppressive heat. Countries as varied as Canada, Peru, and France eventually put their own spins on the night market concept. But it's only in the past few years that major U.S. cities are seeing the potential.
"It all comes down to a need for community," says Nick Spano, manager of Yamashiro's summer farmers' market in Los Angeles, which launched in 2010. "There's plenty of nightlife in L.A., but little of it appeals to young families and those tired of the club scene. Evening markets fill the void by providing a casual place where people can mingle with a glass of wine, some live music, and lots of amazing food."
San Francisco and Philadelphia have established their own night markets, and Brooklyn, where daytime options like the Brooklyn Flea have flourished, hopes to follow suit.
Some night markets gradually go beyond serving the local community to become sprawling tourist attractions in their own right. After a day out at Laotian temples and monasteries, many visitors stroll Luang Prabang's night market, where more than 300 vendors sell everything from traditional textiles embroidered by the Hmong minority to teas and rare spices such as pandan, used as a fragrance for desserts.
Even at markets where the quality can be questionable or downright kitschy, it's an experience just to be a part of the after-dark hubbub—and you're guaranteed to head home with colorful stories.