Museums and monuments are allowing small groups of tourists to experience their collections outside of regular admission hours, providing an intimacy and serenity once available only to docents and VIPs.
A number of travel companies — Cox & Kings, Smithsonian Journeys, Kensington Tours, Abercrombie & Kent, Tauck and Adventures by Disney — also offer some private after-hours tours as part of vacation packages.
Here is a guide to some of the most popular attractions in the United States and Europe, where art and history can be had with an aperitif or without the crowds.
Natural History Museum: Night Safari With MasterCard (about $45) offers tours of the central hall and adjoining galleries followed by drinks with the museum’s scientists.
The Dino Snores for Grown-Ups sleepover (about $295) offers would-have-been paleontologists dinner, breakfast, music and movies amid the dinosaur skeletons.
For sleuths 16 and older, Crime Scene Live ($67) is an opportunity to solve a murder mystery. And on the last Friday of each month, Lates With MasterCard attendees can drink and eat at “pop-up” bars and restaurants amid the galleries (free; tickets are required). nhm.ac.uk/visit-us/whats-on/after-hours.
Tower of London: As if the place where queens were beheaded and ghosts are said to linger were not sufficiently chilling, you may now take an outdoor Tower Twilight tour. Evenings through March; ages 12 and older; tickets: $42; hrp.org.uk/TowerOfLondon/WhatsOn/TowerTwilightTours.
Museum of Modern Art: Round up at least 10 friends and you can have a 60-minute before- or after-hours tour with a private lecturer. Tickets (before hours): $63; $59 for ages 65 and older. Tickets (after hours): $75; moma.org/visit/plan/groups/index#afterhours.
Also in New York: The Guggenheim’s popular Art After Dark series highlights certain exhibitions for members and their guests; the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum Complex organizes sleepovers for families and youth groups with chaperones. American Museum of Natural History has A Night at the Museum sleepovers for ages 6-13. Other museums, including the Brooklyn Museum, extend their hours once a month for late-night celebrations with music and wine.
Colosseum: Dark Rome’s tour includes a visit underground as well, down into the tunnels where gladiators (not to mention wild animals) awaited their fate. Tickets from about $101; darkrome.com/tours/rome-tours/colosseum-night-tour.
Vatican Museums: A number of companies have been offering tours to gaze at masterpieces by Leonardo, Caravaggio and Raphael. They include: Italy With Us, Viator and Dark Rome, which also offers a new before-hours package: a breakfast with Italian food and an American buffet in the outdoor Pinecone Courtyard at the Vatican, followed by a tour of galleries and rooms just after opening. Tickets from about $175; darkrome.com/tours/vatican-tours/vatican-breakfast.
Corcoran Gallery of Art: Wine Down Wednesdays allows visitors who stop by after 5 p.m. to enjoy half-price admission and drinks. Even better, on the third Wednesday of every month there is Corcoran Uncorked, a theme night with gallery talks, tours, music and a cash bar. Tickets: $12; corcoran.org/corcoran-uncorked.
Newseum: Groups of 10 or more can follow the history of journalism through photographs and artifacts on a private hourlong tour before or after hours. Tickets: $80 a person; www.newseum.org.